The DGA hosted a screening of Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in New York. It was more than appropriate that the Q&A session was moderated by Mira Nair as two years ago she ran in to Cuaron only hours after he was offered the project. "You said, 'what should I do?' " Nair remembered. "I thought you were ready for it. You're just perfect, because of the magic in your movies and the sparkle in Harry Potter."
Initially, Cuaron had reservations about helming what would be the third installment of an already firmly established franchise. He spoke with close friend and fellow filmmaker Guillermo del Toro who urged him to do it. "Guillermo gave me some amazing advice," Cuaron told the audience. "He said, 'You have to do it, and you should do it without trying to do your stuff. Just serve the material and if you serve the material honestly, you will do your most personal film.' "
"How is it to work with special effects," asked Nair, "where it's sort of, you pay a lot of money to make something happen that you don't have much control over?"
"The tendency with visual effects is that they take so much time and money, everyone wants to show them off," he said. "First off, we decided it was going to be a character-driven film with visual effects and not the other way around. I tried to get rid of the visual effect feel to them," he explained. "A fundamental way of doing that was how Michael Seresin, the cinematographer, lit the visual effects."
Nair asked what it was like to come onto a project and inherit a cast. "Especially children who are growing up, was there a different technique in your rehearsal?"
"These kids are amazing. They are great," Cuaron said of child actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. To establish a common emotional language with the three actors he asked them to write a first-person essay from the time their characters were born to the moment which starts the film. "For me it was an exercise for them to relate to what the characters go through with their own personal emotions," he described.
When asked about his experience working with a big studio like Warner Bros., Cuaron replied, "It was amazing. I still don't understand what happened. I was left alone, alone but at the same time they were highly supportive." While shooting the film, Cuaron proposed cutting scenes to the studio. Due to weather, production had fallen behind in Scotland, and he felt that was the only way to make up the time. "They said, don't make any decision that's not creative ... it was great."
"What would you like to do next?" asked Nair. "Would you like going back to your own work?"
"I would love to go back to Mexico and do a film there," answered Cuaron. "What I really believe is that as a filmmaker, the only reason you make a film is not so much for the result, but for what you learn for the next one. So I would like to do something small and, narratively speaking, absolutely the complete opposite."