|One Thing Led to Another...
|The Start of a Beautiful Relationship
After the main interview concludes, the moderator opens it up to some Q&A from the audience.
Many questions mimic those already asked, but one person manages to stump Goldenberg. It
was a specific Bed of Roses question. Goldenberg admits, somewhat sheepishly, that it’s been a
long time since he’s looked at it so he
couldn’t answer the question properly.
Our time with Goldenberg is through, but he sticks around a bit to meet with people as
everyone makes their way out of the large conference room. Approachable and kind,
Goldenberg smiles at the visitors who have come out to see him as they pass.
He smiles as I approach him and asks about the website when I mention that I run one. We talk
about how warm and loving everyone who works on Harry Potter is and he admits to me that
now he’s afraid he’s spoiled. He spent three wonderful years working on Order and now he
must move on to other projects.
He gives credit to Heyman who works so hard to keep “Hollywood” out. Heyman strives to
keep the set and those who work on it “down to earth.” Goldenberg describes it as living in a
“little bubble,” separated and protected from the pressures of big studios with high demands
for their investments.
Though it is a global phenomenon, you couldn’t tell on set or by working with the people. They
do not have problems with attitudes or other influences poking their noses into the making of
the film. It is secluded from that sort of thing and surrounded only by those who believe in it
and are serious about producing a good product.
The people were great and he had a great time making the film. He knows this has been a
singular experience. It is rare when such a great film with a dedicated group of collaborators
come around, and he realizes it’s unlikely he shall come across it again. He’s honored to have
been a part of it, that much is evident in the grin on his face and the slight broadening of his
shoulders as he speaks about his time on Potter.
He was a fan of Harry Potter before being asked to come on board. He’s read all the books and
feels he was best suited to adapt Order. He connected most with the subject and themes in Order
and, if he had been given the choice, it would have been this fifth installment. And though he’s
been completely ruined by the indulgence of his working environment on Potter he wouldn’t
change a thing.
He finds it fulfilling to help other writers tell their stories, but looks forward to getting back to
some of his own original work.
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Under the Influence
Books and Wands
The early morning crowd that’s gathered in the large conference room sits in
anticipation awaiting the arrival of the Guest of Honor at the Screenwriting
Expo organized by Creative Screenwriting magazine. He is late, due to
“transportation mix-ups.” We’ve already endured the meandering commentary
of one random staff member and now get to hear from the manager of the Expo,
The Screenwriting Expo has arranged for there to be several Guests throughout the conference,
those who’ve ‘made it’ to come speak to those who have not. And with LA traffic and tight
schedules, sometimes things don’t run as smoothly as everyone would like.
After a few answered questions and complaints, the door finally opens and in he walks. Tan
slacks, black button down shirt, Michael Goldenberg has the classic lazily composed uniform of
a writer. Goldenberg doesn’t walk in with a pompous air, he’s casual and shyly cool, the high
school nerd made good.
He speaks about his early career: starting out as a playwright in off, he exploited a contact he
had in Hollywood – the friend of his aunt. He wrote what is called a spec script, or an original
screenplay. It got him a lot of attention and from there he moved on to write and direct Bed of
Roses with Christian Slater and Mary Stuart Masterson.
He then received a call asking him to work on Contact, a novel by Carl Sagan. Contact had been
struggling through the Hollywood circuit for quite sometime trying to become a movie and
many people shifted in and out of the project.
Goldenberg even left to make Bed of Roses and then came back to Contact. By that time, Robert
Zemeckis had come on board and revitalized the project. The novel drifted around the studios
for ten years, and in 6 months with Goldenberg and Zemeckis it was going into production with
Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey set to star.
Goldenberg then took a meeting with David Heyman, producer of the Harry Potter movies. At
the time, Heyman was looking for a writer for Philosopher’s Stone. Goldenberg felt the first
meeting didn’t go very well, but offered the draft of the opening sequence he wrote up prior to
their meeting. Heyman accepted the pages, though the final product doesn’t resemble
Goldenberg’s draft at all.
That, he feels, directly led to his next job which was writing the latest Peter Pan adaptation.
Though he has no proof, he believes Heyman and that “dummy” scene somehow reached the
Pan producers: Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher and Patrick McCormick.
Goldenberg modestly describes the Pan producers’ desire for him to write Pan with a sense of
wonderment, like he doesn’t quite understand why they came to him with the project, why he
was suddenly the guy for the job. This is why he believes Heyman had to have played a role in
So thrown by the eagerness and the subject of the project, Goldenberg even said no...twice! He
said no on the grounds that Pan is a classic story with so many adaptations, we weren’t in need
of another one at the time. Hook had most recently come out and was a wonderful retelling.
However, the more he thought about it, the more he was able to see the relevancy the story had
to modern times and agreed.
He had to, as he says, “get in touch with his inner Wendy.” He looked at the story as Wendy’s
and wrote the screenplay with her as the central figure. Though, director PJ Hogan had a
different view of how the story should play and eventually rewrote the script, he did keep
Wendy as the character through which we view the world of Pan.
By that time, Steve Kloves was going off to do his own thing and Heyman was once again
looking for a writer. He turned to Goldenberg.
Goldenberg admits with a bashful, self-conscious laugh, that his first thought was “this’ll be the
first thing on my obituary.” It’s a line stolen from the brilliant William Goldman, writer of Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride, among others.
Goldman jested about winning an Oscar that it’s the only thing for which you will be
remembered. Goldenberg knows that no matter what he moves on to do, in his credits Order
will always be listed first.
Receiving the call from Heyman, Goldenberg rushed to catch up with the story. He ran out to
the theaters to see Prisoner of Azkaban and reluctantly bought the hardcover edition of Order. He
laments over having to carry the heavy book back and forth to London to make his notes while
he was having those first meetings with everyone.
He visited the set while the Goblet of Fire was still in production describes them all as “lovely
people.” Rowling herself he found to be “agreeable and supportive” to his proposed changes.
He had conversations with her about adapting novels which he has done several times now.
The adaptation of a novel is always about compression, he says. The process now is
“practically intuitive” to him. He goes to find the spine of the story and then everything that
supports that and chops out the rest, more or less. It may be a lovely part of the book but if it’s
not necessary to the spine, it shouldn’t go into the movie. He says it’s about “being ruthless
when translating it to a different medium.”
He spoke with Rowling, whom he calls Jo, about using a “different muscle set” for going
between writing a novel and a script. They both thought it was like “different ends of the
telescope.” For the script, the process “distills it down” to the basic story.
When he looked at Order he found that though it was much thicker than its predecessors, there
wasn’t necessarily more narrative. He actually found it much easier than other adaptations he’s
done in the past. The choices were “obvious,” there was a “strong storyline with strong,
established characters and a great villain.” He laughingly describes it as “cherry picking.”
However, the first read through of the script with the entire cast was a giant reality check for
him. The process finally went from abstract to reality. He got his first taste of how enormous an
enterprise Harry Potter actually is in sitting down with the cast, directors and producers. This
was larger than anything he had done before. “It’s a global phenomenon and you have to
subordinate yourself to that.”
Goldenberg gives credit to Heyman for his casting. He did a great job casting Goldenberg
himself and David Yates, the director. The two hit it off immediately. They both wanted to do a
good job and prove themselves to Rowling. He connected with the themes of alienation and
anger so he feels he was well-suited to the story. He wanted to convey to Rowling how
seriously he took it. He and Yates were earnest in their desire to produce a good product.
When he finally met with Rowling, he expected her to be jaded and cynical, he expected it of
Heyman as well, with Order being the fifth in the franchise, but neither was like that at all.
He reveals that she wanted to take a step back from the story. She trusted them to make a good
She did read several drafts and was always available for questions, but in large part, left them to
it. For this, they felt even more strongly the desire to make good for her.
Goldenberg admits to practically begging her for notes. Rowling was happy with what he’d
done, but eventually emailed him. He says it was “little stuff.” She never ripped him apart, her
notes were more on things like wording and phrasing, and “how the characters speak.” He even
asked Heyman about how little she criticized. Heyman said that was typical Rowling.
Heyman conveyed to him that she has an ear for the characters’ diction and that’s basically all
she comments on. Goldenberg said after a while of writing the characters, he too could work
out the characters’ speech without thinking much about it.
The one major correction was when he’d cut Kreacher from the film. He figured since we hadn’t
seen much of House-Elves since the second book, they weren’t relevant. When he received that
note, he admitted to coming up with the Kreacher scene we have in the film in about five
When asked about how he was able to pull of the torture scene with Umbridge’s quill, he
replies that they were able to “use the capital of [Rowling’s] popularity to push how far you
could go” in a ‘children’s film’. There was more freedom because Potter is so established and
since it came from the book, there wasn’t much of a fight over what was appropriate to show.
Goldenberg describes the minefield of working with different directors and the strains that can
have on the final product as really unnecessary. It’s the job of the writer to serve the story in the
best way possible, while also trying to please the director, the studios and the public.
It’s also about navigating the creative gap between the writer and the director. In reality, there
shouldn’t be a gap as they are both different aspects of the same job of storytelling, but in effect,
since there are so many pressures in filmmaking there can be clashes and even brutal
separations. Sometimes these conflicts can ultimately damage the story.
Each director has a different style. The director on Contact before Zemeckis came on board
always asked the question “what would really happen.” Zemeckis thought more about how
things would work/look cinematically. In that sense, Goldenberg felt he had to guard the story
to keep it real. With Hogan, since he had a very clear image of how the story should look and
feel, Goldenberg felt it was best to give Peter Pan over to him.
He and Yates were inducted into this new universe together; both were the new kids on the
block. Since they both felt they had something to prove and they both took Potter seriously, they
formed a quick bond.
David Yates started his career in Britain working for the BBC. “He comes from a culture that
respects the writer.” He was eager for Goldenberg’s input. Goldenberg was always invited to
set and viewed several rough cuts of the film. T his is not usually the case in moviemaking. The
writer is generally thought to be intrusive and annoying; often, he or she is quickly separated
from the project.
Goldenberg felt the difference immediately and appreciated it. Their relationship was “less
adversarial,” Goldenberg didn’t feel he had to protect the story. He felt free to write openly and
experiment. He admits to writing scenes that Yates was uncomfortable with, so they reworked
them and produced a better scene with which everyone was pleased.
Goldenberg found ways to find a solution to help whatever problem the story was presenting to
Yates. He feels that “being that included and involved in the process made a better movie.”
The two filmmakers respected each other and worked together to make as great a finished
product as possible.
He was even able to invite his niece to the set. At that time, she was nine-years old and an avid
Potter fan, she had even dressed as Hermione for Halloween. Goldenberg smiles with obvious
affection at the memory. He admits to being a Star Wars geek when he was younger so seeing
his niece experience Potter like that, with such awe, brought everything home to him.
Being a writing convention, the conversation pretty much revolves around writing and
technique. So the topic moves to individual scenes from Order. The moderator, who clearly has
not read the book, asks how Goldenberg came up with the memorable scene of Luna standing
barefoot in the woods. He admits that it was that image that stuck with him as a viewer.
Goldenberg recalls the part of Order where it is mentioned that Luna’s things were being stolen.
He wanted to embed a scene where Harry and Luna bond into the film, but he was afraid that if
he kept the scene straight from the book it would get cut.
A similar scene had already been cast to the cutting room floor. So he included the characters
sharing information that bonded them together, their visions of death, set it in the forest with the
Thestrals and somehow the image came to him of Luna barefoot. He made it so her shoes were
the objects stolen and he got the scene of Luna and Harry connecting into the film.
He reveals that the scene he wanted to see most in the film the most was a St. Mungo’s scene.
He admits that while reading it he was entranced by St. Mungo’s and immediately began
imagining it on film. Originally, it started out as a 6 page scene.
He tried to anchor it by having the scene between Harry and Sirius take place in the waiting
room. He kept making it shorter hoping it could make it in the final film. It ended up being
compressed to a 90 second fly through just enough for us to see it, but it was eventually cut.
That’s the scene he misses most and still wishes could have been included.
And the scene he most connected with? Snape’s worst memory provides the theme that struck a
chord with Goldenberg. The Pensieve memory is the classic coming of age moment where
Harry realizes James isn’t the hero he always imagined him to be.
It’s this loss of innocence theme that Goldenberg connected with and was concerned would get
cut. He feels it was thematically important but not necessarily essential to the Order storyline.
He is proud he managed to squeeze it into the film.
This scene is also the one that resonated with Daniel Radcliffe. Connecting with the loss of
innocence and coming of age theme in the memory Harry witnesses, D. Rad shared the same
concern of it being cut. He even asked Goldenberg about it during that first table reading. He
really felt the scene held a lot of significance to Harry’s character and wanted to see it in the film.
Goldenberg is pleased with the finished product and, though he would still like to visit St.
Mungo’s, thinks all the major points of the story were covered. He may be sad that some things
got cut, but in the end, he assures that is just proof of those scenes not being vital.
And after reassuring Heathy and me of his love of the books and that he actually read them, he
It is important to note that the Holden cousin, Heathcliff, thankfully had the presence of mind to
practice ancient Zen breathing techniques to calm Rilian down...which was the only reason they
weren't arrested for assault at the convention. For the record, however, Rilian was ten seconds
away from throttling the Butcher...as any true fan would.