“My heroes are always people who have the courage to say, ‘I see how it is, but it doesn’t have to be that way. They are the ones willing to ask, ‘Why is it this way?’”
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, whose seven beloved Harry Potter books were adapted into the top-grossing film franchise of all time. Her script was inspired by the Hogwarts textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, written by her character Newt Scamander.
There are growing dangers in the wizarding world of 1926 New York. Something mysterious is leaving a path of destruction in the streets, threatening to expose the wizarding community to the No-Majs (American for Muggles), including the Second Salemers, a fanatical faction bent on eradicating them. And the powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, after wreaking havoc in Europe, has slipped away…and is now nowhere to be found.
Unaware of the rising tensions, Newt Scamander arrives in the city nearing the end of a global excursion to research and rescue magical creatures, some of which are safeguarded in the magical hidden dimensions of his deceptively nondescript leather case. But potential disaster strikes when unsuspecting No-Maj Jacob Kowalski inadvertently lets some of Newt’s beasts loose in a city already on edge—a serious breach of the Statute of Secrecy that former Auror Tina Goldstein jumps on, seeing her chance to regain her post as an investigator. However, things take an ominous turn when Percival Graves, the enigmatic Director of Magical Security at MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), casts his suspicions on both Newt…and Tina.
Now allied, Newt and Tina, together with Tina’s sister, Queenie, and their new No-Maj friend, Jacob, form a band of unlikely heroes, who must recover Newt’s missing beasts before they come to harm. But the stakes are higher than these four outsiders—now branded fugitives—ever imagined, as their mission puts them on a collision course with dark forces that could push the wizarding and No-Maj worlds to the brink of war.
Before Harry Potter There Was Newt Scamander
In the summer of 1997, a book entitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by a then-unknown writer named J.K. Rowling, was first published. With the words, “You’re a wizard, Harry,” it ushered us into a magical realm that soon became known as the wizarding world. And our world would never be the same.
Through seven best-selling books and eight blockbuster films, millions of people around the globe have been captivated by the stories of Harry Potter and his friends as they came of age and took us all on thrilling, magical adventures. Favorite characters like Harry, Hermione, Dumbledore, and even He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named became instant contemporary icons, and words like Muggle, Quidditch, and Hogwarts were embedded in our cultural lexicon.
Now, almost two decades after the arrival of J.K. Rowling’s first history-making book, audiences will be transported back to the wizarding world in a new era of magic in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
Although “Fantastic Beasts” unfolds in an entirely different time and place, it has an organic connection to Harry Potter, as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was one of Harry’s textbooks at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. J.K. Rowling, who made her screenwriting debut on the film and also served as a producer, recalls that she initially brought the primer into being as a project for charity.
“During the writing of that book,” she says, “I became interested in its ostensible author, Newt Scamander, and he took on quite a bit of life for me. So I was very enthusiastic when the studio came to me and said they wanted to make it into a movie because I already had the back story in my mind and it just so happened that they’d optioned the very thing I was most interested in. And I knew if it were to happen, I would have to write it because I know too much about Newt to let someone else do it.”
Set in 1926, the film’s story brings the self-proclaimed Magizoologist to life before he had written the textbook that would someday be required reading at his alma mater, Hogwarts. Coming to the end of a journey that took him to far-flung lands in search of magical creatures, Newt arrives in New York, where the escape of his precious beasts sweeps him into a chain of events that threatens to reveal the wizarding community, which hides in plain sight amongst the No-Majs.
Found within the tale are other, albeit more subtle, links to J.K. Rowling’s previous works. Producer David Heyman, who also produced all eight of the “Harry Potter” films, confirms that amidst the magic and fun, are concepts that have become hallmarks of her writing. “Many of the underlying themes of the Potter books are in evidence here: the virtue of tolerance in contrast to the dangers of intolerance and repression; being true to who you are; outsiders coming together and connecting… There is an emotional universality and relevance to those ideas that are utterly relatable to people across the globe. The beasts may be in the title, but it’s the humans who are the heart of the story.”
Regarding J.K. Rowling’s writings, director David Yates observes, “There is a grace and humanity in Jo’s characters…a celebration of being who you are without apology, and not overly trying to conform or hide your potential to be everything you can be. She cherishes individuality.”
“My heroes are always people who have the courage to say, ‘I see how it is, but it doesn’t have to be that way,’” Rowling asserts. “They are the ones willing to ask, ‘Why is it this way?’”
Eddie Redmayne, who stars in the central role of Newt Scamander, relates, “A theme at the core of this film is the fear of things we don’t understand and also how people react to that fear by taking extremes. It’s why wizards are living in hiding in New York and there’s absolutely no interaction between them and the Muggles, which is permitted to some degree in the UK, where Newt is from. And it’s why they want to destroy magical beasts, who might inadvertently reveal the existence of magic. Those are notions that J.K. Rowling explores and they seem to be at the forefront here.”
Apart from the fear of exposure, another dark threat is causing widespread unrest in the wizarding world. Heyman offers, “There is a powerful wizard named Grindelwald, who is an anarchist and believes that wizards are a superior race. He hasn’t been seen for a while, but he’s been gathering supporters and the anti-Muggle, or anti-No-Maj sentiment he preaches is building a following. So whether it’s Voldemort in the Harry Potter books, or Grindelwald, who is the unseen specter hanging over this film, the notions of intolerance and stigmatizing certain people remains at the heart of Jo’s writing, here and in all her works.
“I was delighted to begin a new chapter in this rich universe,” Heyman continues, “one that expands it to another continent and time period. It felt very familiar yet completely new, and Jo’s screenplay encouraged all of us to stretch our imaginations.”
Having helmed the final four installments of the ‘Potter’ franchise, Yates says his return to the cinematic wizarding world was “like coming home. It was lovely to step back into the place I’d spent six wonderful years.”
“Fantastic Beasts” is the first film set in this world not based on a book, which afforded the filmmakers even more creative freedom. Yates says, “Working with Jo as she developed the screenplay was exciting because this wasn’t an adaptation; we were right at the source. It was particularly interesting to shape the film directly with the creator of that world and also a real advantage because she, of course, knows the rules inside and out. Jo obviously has this kinetic mind—the ideas just flow out of her—but she is also a great creative partner who understands that making movies is a collaborative process; she likes to see things from different perspectives.”
“David Yates really knows this world and we work very well together, so I was thrilled that he wanted to do the film,” Rowling states. “And David Heyman has been there from the start, so I couldn’t imagine doing it without him.”
Rowling also appreciated that Steve Kloves, who had scripted the “Potter” films, came on board for “Fantastic Beasts” as a producer. “I wanted Steve involved because—having never written a screenplay before—I knew I would need some guidance,” she says. “Just having him there for advice was huge.”
Kloves, in turn, virtually sang Rowling’s praises, noting, “For me, any writing that is successful, including screenwriting, relies on rhythm and a kind of musicality. When it’s absent, you might not consciously recognize it, but you feel it. Conversely, when it’s there, the work resonates within. Jo composes one hell of a melody,” he says with a smile.
Yates agrees. “It was funny, it was tender, it was unexpected and scary…all those things that a filmmaker looks for in a piece of work that allows you to flex all your muscles as a storyteller.”
Their sentiments are shared by Redmayne, who says, “The thing that blew me away about the script was that it was sweeping in scale but still had genuine intimacy, and as I read it, I went through a tremendous range of emotions. I was astounded at how J.K. Rowling managed to delicately stitch all the elements together. What she does with such elegance is create real people with both wondrous qualities and broken qualities.
“And I can’t think of a more passionate director than David Yates to capture all of those elements on the screen,” the actor continues. “He’s extraordinary, really. With a film of this scale, there are so many departments to shepherd, and what’s amazing is he managed to juggle all of these things while remaining absolutely focused and scrupulous about the characters. He never missed a beat. He has a childlike sense of wonder that galvanized everyone. Making this movie was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had.”
“David is someone I admire enormously as a director,” notes Heyman, who counts “Fantastic Beasts” as his fifth film with Yates. “He is forever searching for truth, pushing for that authenticity, and I think that helps elevate everything, from the story to the performances. He brings out the best in everyone, in front of and behind the camera. He is also a great collaborator. Even when he has a strong opinion of his own, he is willing to listen to the ideas of others. And, ultimately, he always makes the best choice.”
The talented ensemble of actors joining Redmayne in front of the camera included Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo and Colin Farrell.
Behind the camera, a number of other “Potter” alumni were reunited on “Fantastic Beasts,” including production designer Stuart Craig. Over the course of eight films, Craig had realized Rowling’s vision of the wizarding world, perhaps most notably the Hogwarts Castle, whose silhouette has become as recognizable as the characters who inhabited it. For this film, Craig created another wizarding world institution—the headquarters of MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America). However, most of his designs were rooted in the No-Maj milieu of 1926 New York, which was literally built from the ground up at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden in England.
Producer Lionel Wigram says it was a joy to return to the studio they had called home for a decade during the production of all eight “Harry Potter” films. “It was exhilarating to be back at Leavesden, which has been completely revamped since ‘Potter.’ With the sets, we really wanted to push the boundaries and make it rich in scope, but at the same time the level of detail is astounding. When we walked on the New York City streets, we all felt we’d stepped back in time.”
Under Yates’ direction, the wide assortment of fantastic beasts featured in the film were brought to the screen by the visual effects department, headed by supervisors Tim Burke and Christian Manz, and the VFX creature animation development team, led by Pablo Grillo.
Yates also reunited with his longtime editor Mark Day, while collaborating for the first time with cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, costume designer Colleen Atwood and composer James Newton Howard.
Together with the director, writer and producers, their combined efforts provided the entire cast an extraordinary setting in which to create magic.
“I hope people care deeply about these characters,” J.K. Rowling reflects. “I hope audiences become invested in their stories and want to see where their adventures take them in the future.”
David Yates concludes, “For everyone who’s grown up with Jo’s books and the movies that followed them, it’s thrilling to be able to take them back to her world once more as she extends her universe in ambitious and surprising ways, writing directly for the screen and creating new stories and characters that feel timeless and captivating.”