Having completed the 8th and final film in the Harry Potter series, Warner Bros. decided to open their doors at Leavesden Studios to showcase the ‘behind the scenes’ action from the Harry Potter films. This is a fantastic opportunity to see the actual sets used in the largest and most popular film franchise of the modern era. Having only recently paid it a visit and without revealing too many secrets, here is what I thought of the experience.
Touring around a film set is a unique attraction in itself, though it must be stressed that while sets and props are original, it is all purposely arranged for the exhibition. By this I mean that most of it is all in one building and that the room around the sets that would usually be reserved for cameras, lights and access has been removed. You will not see any technical equipment with regard to filming on this tour, though if you look upwards you will see that the ceiling is properly rigged for lighting (it is a studio after all!).
Even though each pre-booked ticket (tickets MUST be pre-booked) is £28, it can be assumed before attending that everything has just been chucked in a warehouse for you to look round while they count their money. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The location and the facilities are excellent and everything has clearly been set up especially for the tour. Everything from the car park to the surprisingly reasonably-priced Studio Cafe is clean, new and very well staffed. In my experience, all of the staff were very helpful and professional and there is no lack of guidance or direction.
For the tour itself, it is a lot more than just looking around as you would in a museum. The first 10 – 15 minutes is guided (but I won’t say anymore than that!) and from then on you are free to go around on your own. Throughout, TV screens and signs provide information about the sets or props you are looking at as well as information from an audio guide should you choose to take one in. There are also a few interactive parts, such as having your photo taken riding a broomstick or in Mr Weasley’s car, should you wish to. At about halfway through the tour there is an outdoor section complete with a food outlet and places to sit for refreshments. Depending on how fast you choose to move between the displays, the whole tour will last around 2 to 3 hours. It should also be pointed out that the tour is one way and so once you have left a room/building, you cannot go back, so be sure to take time to see all that you want to before you move on.
Staff are on hand throughout should you require help or information. The tour ends by leading you into the Studio Shop for souvenirs and all the usual merchandise you’d find at an attraction. Even the shop is quite interesting to look around though, as it’s probably the only place that you can find wands, robes and even Harry Potter jewelery for sale. The shop can be visited before or after your tour, so can be worth looking round while waiting for your time slot.
In terms of what you see on the tour, it is fascinating to take a look at some original film sets. I noticed that for many (if not all of them), the set appears bigger in the film than it actually is in real life. With clever filming and lighting, you can actually have quite a small film set and make it look like a bigger room. Moving parts that are not imposed with CGI are demonstrated, many of which are remote control. The level of detail in the props and the sets is there to be marveled at. Each set is so well dressed to a surprising degree of detail. This is the same with the props, some of which you will not have even noticed in the films yet still have spent hours in production. Costumes are also on display for most of the main characters, most being the originals as worn by the actors.
On the tour, some of the sets you will see are:
- The Great Hall
- Dumbledore’s Office
- The Ministry of Magic
- Potions classroom
- Privet Drive (outdoors)
- Diagon Alley
- Large scale model of Hogwarts Castle
There are many many more including thousands of original props and costumes.
Any problems? There are only two that I can think of, and these are probably minor preferences. The first that despite tickets and time slots for the tour being pre-booked, there are still crowds around the sets and you have to be patient to ensure that you see everything. The second (affecting the first) is the decision to allow photography all the way round. Iin a way this is a good thing, so those that want to keep memories of the experience can, yet you also get those with expensive cameras who have a desire to take at least 20 photos every minute. This being so that if you gave priority to those with cameras and got out of their way, you will never see anything. ‘No, I don’t want to be in your photo but I do have a right to stand here.’ If you are going to allow photography, it is of course tricky to regulate the number of photos taken, but it certainly slows down the flow of traffic through the tour.
Overall though, I was thoroughly impressed with the whole experience and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in film sets and production. You don’t have to be a big fan of Harry Potter to enjoy the tour and appreciate the amount of work put in to churn out eight films. If you are planning on going, I would recommend:
- Allowing plenty of time to get there before your tour starts. Should you arrive early you can spend plenty of time in the cafe or the shop.
- Bring your camera – but respect those who just want to enjoy the displays
- Be satisfied that you have looked at everything before moving on – you can’t go backwards!
I congratulate Warner Bros. for offering this experience and executing it exceptionally well. It is certainly something that is unique in terms of film-based attractions.
For more information and to book your tickets, visit: http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/