It didn’t take Warner Bros. long to persuade the creator of their multibillion-dollar Harry Potter empire to come out of her spell-casting retirement.
J.K. Rowling has signed on with the studio for a series of movies based on the wizarding world of Hogwarts, Azkaban, and Diagon Alley, just two years after the release of the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The new films will be set in the same fantasy realm occupied by Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but the action will take place 70 years before they were welcomed into Gryffindor.
The series will mark Rowling’s screenwriting debut; after writing the original books, she handed over adaptation duties to the experienced Hollywood screenwriter Steve Kloves. The success of those eight movies and the rest of the Harry Potter franchise is estimated to have generated more than $20 billion worldwide.
The upcoming set of no-doubt blockbuster movies has an extremely humble origin, however. The movies will be based on a 42-page booklet that was released as part of a British charity campaign in 2001. Rowling agreed to create one of the Hogwarts textbooks, called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for Comic Relief, an anti-poverty charity founded by Richard Curtis, who wrote the screenplays for Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually.
Rowling said Warner Bros. had approached her for the rights to use the pamphlet but she decided to have a go at pitching her own vision for an adaptation. “It all started when Warner Bros. came to me with the suggestion of turning 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' into a film,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “I thought it was a fun idea, but the idea of seeing Newt Scamander, the supposed author of 'Fantastic Beasts', realized by another writer was difficult. Having lived for so long in my fictional universe, I feel very protective of it.”
Warner Bros. confirmed that they had signed “an expanded creative partnership” with Rowling that will include the films as well as a computer game, websites, merchandise and the growing stable of Harry Potter–themed resorts, the latest of which are scheduled to open in California and Osaka, Japan.
“Having lived for so long in my fictional universe, I feel very protective of it.”
Rowling was keen to differentiate the new movies from the classic tales taken from her books, but Potter fans are expected to be well catered for. “Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen years, 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world,” she said. “The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but Newt’s story will start in New York, seventy years before Harry’s gets underway.”
Rowling, who was recently exposed as the anonymous author of a detective novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling, gave no indication of how many movies would be included in the series or when the first one was expected to be released.
“I always said that I would only revisit the wizarding world if I had an idea that I was really excited about and this is it,” she said.
Kevin Tsujihara, chief executive officer, Warner Bros. Entertainment, could scarcely conceal his glee. “We are incredibly honored that Jo has chosen to partner with Warner Bros. on this exciting new exploration of the world of wizardry, which has been tremendously successful across all of our businesses,” he said. “She is an extraordinary writer who ignited a reading revolution around the world, which then became an unprecedented film phenomenon. We know that audiences will be as excited as we are to see what her brilliant and boundless imagination conjures up for us.”