Harry Potter and the Art of Interpretelling

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.

Harry Potter stories spread like fire across the world.

Harry Potter stories spread like fire across the world.

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.

The Great Hall at Hogwarts set for the Christmas feast - with stunning, immaculate attention to detail.

The Great Hall at Hogwarts set for the Christmas feast – with stunning, immaculate attention to detail.

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.

The model of Hogwarts Castle was on of the great wow! omoments of the tour for me - the other was the animatronic hippogriff which i just wanted to take home with me!

The model of Hogwarts Castle was on of the great wow! omoments of the tour for me – the other was the animatronic hippogriff which i just wanted to take home with me!


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.

There's a lot of work behind creating a Shrieking Shack!

There’s a lot of work behind creating a Shrieking Shack!

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.

2012-12-02 17.03.36LESSON 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)

That's what i call a good panel.  It does it's job which is to give context to these objects ...

That’s what i call a good panel. It does it’s job which is to give context to these objects …

... helping  us to look at these objects with more appreciation.

… helping us to look at these objects with more appreciation.

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.

 

 

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About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
This entry was posted in Attractions, Good places to visit, Interpretelling, Stories, Storytelling, Tips and advice, Training, Visitors. Bookmark the permalink.

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