Obviously film makers know about storytelling. Their job is to make stories that grip us, absorb us and stay with us.
Just like heritage interpreters.
So interpreters, especially interpretellers like me who are fascinated by story as a medium, should sit up and pay attention in the presence of film makers. A great place to do that is the Warner Bros. ‘The Making of Harry Potter’ near Watford, UK. Four of us – the family as mentioned above and daughter Hannah’s boyfriend, Will, went a couple of weeks ago to celebrate Will’s birthday.
J.K. Rowling is also a mistress of the art of story. One of the many ways I have been lucky is that my daughter was just the right age for Harry Potter books as they were published. We were early adopters and reading the first five books as a family was one of the things that we most enjoyed. We enjoyed Harry Potter hugely then. We enjoy looking back on it now. Sharing those stories was part of making us who we were.
Just like heritage interpretation.
J.K. Rowling took us to places that we can only reach through our imaginations. Hogwarts is in a different dimension from our world. They do things differently there.
Just like the past, or the bottom of the pond. Heritage interpretation too takes us to people, creatures, places and times that are not like ours.
I saw many lessons for interpreters showcased by Warner Bros. Here are a handful:
LESSON ONE: Beginnings matter – and to my utter amazement Warner Bros got it wrong. Queue management, guys, come on! – it’s the trailer, it’s the cover of the book. It’s the anticipation builder. It really matters. You know this stuff, how come you forgot it here? For a time, and too long a time, I really felt I was standing around in a warehouse.
But moving on … as we did (Eventually …)
LESSON TWO: Trust the real. Look to your strengths and build on them. Be clear and truthful. This is not a tour of Harry Potter Land, this is a journey into how they made the films about Harry Potter. It is celebration of the film industry and its creatives. It is a tribute to great stories and their powerful telling. It is a glimpse into a solid, real, contemporary world that is full of amazement and wonder. It is an excellent visit.
LESSON THREE: Think and create visually. Build exciting spaces. Boy, are these guys good at that! Of course they are. I was so impressed by the use of space, environment and objects.
LESSON FOUR: Use words, especially written words, only to convey what the visuals cannot. That may be personal stories, specific details, backstory and context. The written texts were very good. Maybe if you really understand your visitors and your story, writing good panels isn’t that hard. Which rather begs the question of why there are so many very poor panels in the countryside and at historic sites. (Answers available from this blog later)
LESSON FIVE: Respect your audience. In this case a very, very high proportion of the audience is very, very expert in your subject matter and have a specialist, informed and passionate interest. There are always some visitors like this at heritage attractions, but usually they are quite rare.
But at the end of the day, there was one overwhelming reflection: filmmakers have big budgets and vast teams of skilled people to create their storyworlds.
That is not in the least like heritage interpretation.