creativity takes courage

The Magic of Writing

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first film in the epic eight-part Harry Potter series, is reaching its 20th anniversary this year.

The Wizarding World and all its fans are celebrating. There is a new HBO Max special reunion released; there is a new Fantastics Beasts movie coming out later in the year; and there are millions of articles, podcasts and videos with people talking about Harry Potter once again.

Yesterday, while I was thinking about how writing is really hard to do, I started reflecting about one of the most successful partnerships between writers of all time (in my humble opinion).

The Harry Potter movies achieved the massive amounts of popularity, profit and success because of a masterful collaboration effort that many people don’t know or talk about. This “artistic duet” is the enduring professional partnership between J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves.

Writers J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves talk about the Harry Potter books, movies and characters

Billions of people around the world obviously know J.K. Rowling for writing the Harry Potter book series. However I don’t think many people know about the other genius behind the movie scenes. Hardcore Harry Potter fans are quite aware of Steve Kloves, the screenwriter wizard that J.K. Rowling trusted with her life’s work.

It’s funny how gigantically successful partnerships develop sometimes. In many cases, people end up knowing about one person, but not the other. However, it was the duo’s genius and their close collaboration that made everything possible. It’s true in so many stories: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, Walt Disney and Roy Disney. I could go on and on.

I strongly believe the J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves’ partnership is one of the most underrated writing phenomena of our time. I truly wish more people knew about it by reading or watching them talk about their work.

When we think of movies, generally speaking, I feel most people are more interested in actors or directors when compared to screenwriters for some reason. If you go deeper, and think about screenwriters as more public figures, unless you are part of the movie industry there’s very little awareness of who they are, or meaningful names to the craft (that’s just my opinion – I could be completely wrong). I mean, there are so many screenwriters in the world. Why don’t we know their names? Even among writers, I feel we give way more weight and attention to book writers than movie writers. I’m not sure why.

Most of the famous screenwriters such as Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and other big names are quite often known more as directors first, then screenwriters second. I’m sure some of them would think it’s the other way around. They would probably rather be known as screenwriters first.

When it comes to J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves, I think the trouble with level of recognition also stems from the fact that is hard to find them together in video format, so making the connection between writers in this case is not an easy task for the general public. There are bits and pieces of both of them in many documentaries, speaking separately, but I could only find two video interviews / conversations with both of them in the same room. Maybe Steve Kloves just doesn’t like the spotlight, and that’s perfectly acceptable.

One of my all time favorite videos in all the Wizarding World throve of web content is an in-depth conversation between them. It was one of these DVD extras from a massive book+disc collectors boxes made for Harry Potter fans. Thankfully, the (almost) hour-long video conversation is available on YouTube for anyone to watch.

In this video they speak deeply about the Harry Potter characters, the experience of writing together, the issues in adapting book scenes to movie scenes, their own personalities, and much more. It’s a fascinating conversation that leaves me always wanting to hear more (and I’ve watched it many times). It’s easy to see from this conversation why the movies became so successful, even with all the challenges of adapting the long and detailed Harry Potter books to the big screen.

It’s also easy to forget now, but when the first movies were released, the entire book series was not yet fully published. Therefore, Steve Kloves didn’t have the full plot and details of the storyline to work with. He had to “follow the characters” and trust that it would all fit together with the guidance of J.K. Rowling.

In a 2019 magazine article simply called “Kloves & Rowling” the magic is described further:

[…] Steve Kloves is also the mastermind that adapted most of the difficult-to-explain parts of the Wizarding World in a simple and comprehensible visual language. Kloves accomplished such feats as a clear portrait of the Time Turner behavior on The Prisoner of Azkaban (a task half of the time-traveling movies fail to do so) and condensing the thick Goblet of Fire book into a standard Hollywood movie runtime (an assignment so overwhelming that, at the time of pre-production of the fourth Harry Potter movie, hardcore fans petitioned to avoid by dividing Goblet into two different movies). Kloves knows how to turn the ultra-detailed plots created by Rowling into “small” two hours and a half long movies.

What made everything work for the movies was the deep collaboration and trust between J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves.

The other fascinating aspect they talk about in this conversation is how a lot of their interactions were done over email. They were writing these movies together, but physically apart, and collaborating through the medium of writing as well.

One thing you realize by watching them talk is that Kloves is just as inventive and brilliant as J.K. Rowling. He added his own ideas and twists to the vast world she created; and she trusted him enough to do so. He didn’t just mirror or copied over her writings. It was quite the contrary… and even more after the Prisoner of Azkaban movie. The two mediums (book and movies) started to split and create their own paths, but at the same time remained consistent in the core story thread.

Some of Kloves’ ideas got into the movies, other didn’t. In the video conversation, Kloves talks about a scene from the first movie (that didn’t make the cut) in which Harry played with broken toy soldiers in The Cupboard Under the Stairs. Harry also spoke to a spider named Alastair. It’s a fascinating scene completely invented for the movie by him.

Then there’s another one of Steve’s invention, which happens to be my favorite scene of the entire saga, and one of the most controversial scenes in the Wizarding World movie franchise. The dance scene between Harry and Hermione.

JKR: Speaking about something that I never wrote, but I thought it was perfect and I loved… you know what I’m going to say..

SK: Yeah, the dance.

JKR: The dance.

J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves

I think this scene speaks volumes about how this writing collaboration evolved over time. Steve Kloves was so deep in this world and he knew these characters so well, that he had the insight and freedom to build this out in so many layers. The layers of emotion, friendship, love, desperation, sadness and awkwardness. But in the end it moves you. It’s a perfect scene, if you really understand all the intentions and dynamics that he was bringing to the table. Plus a great song on top of everything else. No wonder J.K. Rowling loved it.

There’s so much to reflect and “speak” when it comes to these two writers and their work. I feel I could continue writing this post for the entire night and I wouldn’t be done. That’s a good outcome. Interesting writers encouraging their “readers” to be involved in their world and maybe even write too. What more can you ask for?

Their relationship continues. The dynamic duo will be back again this year with Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. As Ollivander would say: I think we must expect great things from you, Mr. Potter.

All I could do to end this post is encourage you to learn more and watch them talk.. or write.

More content

The Rowling Library Magazine – Issue #36 – December 2019

A Conversation with JK Rowling and Steve Kloves | Harry Potter Behind the Scenes