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Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara and other top studio executives, staff members and guests celebrated the launch of the new Hogwarts Express attraction, part of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter, on Tuesday night.
When asked how important the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trilogy was in extending the Potter film world and whether the combined franchise set in the magical world was comparable to the likes of Star Wars — which also is getting new installments — Tsujihara noted the similarities.
“[Beasts] is really a wonderful gift from [J.K. Rowling] to the fans, and we are a part of it. It is like Star Wars. It is not exactly a linear story but an adjacent story,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “And Jo wrote [the film version of Beasts] herself, which is just absolutely amazing, and she is so talented. You see the passion that everyone has for the world that she has created, and it’s just fantastic to extend it.”
Warner Bros. U.K., Ireland and Spain president and managing director Josh Berger and Dan Dark, senior vp and managing director of Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, also were on hand Tuesday evening to formally mark the launch of the Hogwarts Express attraction as an addition to the tour at Warners’ studio facility in Leavesden, just outside of London. Among the other attendees were Harry Potter producer David Heyman, actor Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick) and James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley).
In a speech, Tsujihara highlighted the importance of the U.K. to the Time Warner-owned film studio, mentioning The Dark Knight, Inception and Sherlock Holmes as some of the films beside the Harry Potter franchise that have been shot at the former Leavesden Film Studios, now Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden. He called the studio a “world-class production facility.”
Warners bought it for that reason a few years ago, and the studio is in Britain for the long haul, emphasized Tsujihara, saying: “At Warner Bros., we consider the U.K. our production home away from home.”
He also highlighted that more than 4 million people have come to the studio tour since it opened about three years ago, adding that the Hogwarts Express is another “iconic” part of the Potter franchise that now has been added. The Olton Hall, the British train used in the films and now on display at the tour site, went into use in 1937, said the Warners boss, joking that it was “the same year I was born.”
Tsujihara also paid tribute to Rowling: “Jo couldn’t be here tonight, but she’s here in spirit.” He added: “This place embodies the world of Harry Potter and brings it to life.”
In his comments, Berger lauded Tsujihara for championing the U.K. studio and for having been “the driving force” behind “our ongoing and expanded partnership with Jo Rowling.”
He also called the new Hogwarts Express attraction “an example of the creativity and craftsmanship that exists here,” as well as part of Warners’ commitment to investing in the U.K.
Tsujihara told THR that the U.K. is now truly Warners’ home away from home. “We now have two studios — one in Burbank and one here,” he said. “We absolutely love it here, and the talent loves shooting here, as well. So it’s really win-win.”
Would it make sense to open another studio facility abroad, maybe in another part of the world? “What makes this place so special is that this is [a] home and is authentic and was created here and was grown,” Tsujihara told THR. “It’s homegrown. You can’t replicate something like this somewhere else. It’s part of what makes it so unique and special.”
Harry Potter fans will be able to visit the steam train and Platform 9 3/4, known from the books and films, as part of the studio tour. The tour underwent a 20,000-foot expansion to make room for the new attraction.
The experience allows fans to walk through the train’s adjoining carriage filled with props used during filming. They also can see prop luggage outside the train. There’s an area where visitors can sit in train seats and view green-screen effects of images used in the films through the window, such as a chocolate frog and silhouettes of Dementors. Visitors also can be photographed with their hands on a trolley that they seemingly push through the wall at Platform 9 3/4.
While the last Harry Potter film came out in 2011, Warner Bros. last summer created the Harry Potter Global Franchise Development team, based in both London and Burbank, that was tasked with developing and executing a “high-level strategic vision for the Harry Potter brand” in collaboration with author Rowling.
The Potter spinoff trilogy, Fantastic Beasts, will be filmed at the Leavesden studio and released over the coming years. Warner Bros. has said the David Yates-directed first installment will hit theaters on Nov. 18, 2016, with filming set to start later this year. The second film will be released in November 2018, with the third installment set for November 2020.
When asked what else may be next for Leavesden, said Tsujihara: “Right now, we are focused on Fantastic Beasts. And Jo has a storyline in her head, and right now, we are letting her go [with it].”
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