Harry Potter and the Wizarding World is one of the best-loved and enduring global franchises. It has captured the imagination of children since the first book came out in 1997, with the first film following exactly 20 years ago. On 12 July, the phenomenon’s latest iteration, the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition, opened in London’s Covent Garden.
This showcases iconic behind-the-scenes photographs and draws fans into the stories of the making of the films.
The immersive attraction features a green screen broomstick-riding experience and areas inspired by the Ministry of Magic, Platform 9 ¾, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts. It is also home to London’s only bottled Butterbeer bar.
A great location for the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition
Sarah Roots, Executive Vice President, Warner Bros. Studio Tours & Retail at Warner Bros. Studio Operations, spoke to blooloop:
“The Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition was really the brainchild of Jonathan Sands,” she says.
Sands is a creative consultant behind the Platform 9 ¾ group that established the Harry Potter shops at Kings Cross Station, Heathrow and Gatwick airports.
“We have this fantastic space in Covent Garden, right by the London Transport Museum. It is a great central location. Jonathan had this vision for a photographic journey exploring the behind-the-scenes aspects of on-location filming. That was something we hadn’t previously had an opportunity to focus on.
“There are many locations used throughout all the films. In the early days of filming on Harry Potter, locations were used that were then later built on the site at Leavesden Studio. We feature a little bit of that at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.”
Images, photo ops and more
The Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition showcases around 300 behind-the-scenes images within the exhibition itself. These are supplemented by immersive aspects and photo ops:
“For example, photo ops include Mr Weasley’s flying car and a giant Hogwarts acceptance letter. There is a [green screen] broomstick ride over London, an iconic part of the films. For the first time, fans will be able to pose for their very own Ministry of Magic Identification Card. It’s set within the recreated Ministry of Magic sets. And it does feel as if you’re standing in the Ministry of Magic, which is a nice immersive touch.”
Souvenir photos and videos of fans’ adventures are available to buy in a variety of packages.
Exploring Harry Potter locations
The location element of the experience takes visitors on a journey through locations in London.
Diagon Alley is represented in some scenes by the intricate covered passageways of Leadenhall Market in the City of London:
“We feature Diagon Alley, at the entrance to the Wizarding pub, the Leaky Cauldron,” says Roots. “In real life, this is an optician in Bull’s Head Passage in Leadenhall market. Then there is Platform 9 and ¾ at King’s Cross.”
Sue Quinn, Location Manager on the Harry Potter films, went to incredible lengths to secure the iconic scenes.
“We’ve got lots of insights from Sue Quinn. She talks about how they had to close parts of London to film. For instance, closing the Millennium Bridge for that chase scene with the Death Eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Or Piccadilly Circus, which had to be shut to film scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
We also have filmmakers talking about Hogwarts. The interior and exterior of Hogwarts are an amalgam of locations all around the country. This includes Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Durham Cathedral, Alnwick Castle and the Scottish Highlands.
“We cover features in the film that were shot across Britain: Hogsmeade, the Forbidden Forest, Shell Cottage, the Burrow.”
Fantastic Beasts content at the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which focuses on the disarming ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander, is also featured in the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition:
“We bring in Fantastic Beasts through the Wizarding World,” Roots adds. “We’ve talked about the London Ministry of Magic, but we also have the Fantastic Beasts Ministries.”
“Fantastic Beasts references the Paris Ministry of Magic. It also features the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). So, we have photographic representation for New York and Paris as well.”
Drawing people into the world of Harry Potter
There is, inevitably, a balance to be maintained between allowing people glimpses behind the scenes, and maintaining the capacity for suspension of disbelief so that people are still drawn into that world.
“What the behind-the-scenes side can do is to show the film-making elements,” says Roots. “This can be very inspiring for people in terms of what goes into making a film. Either from a technical perspective, for young people looking at careers in the creative industries, or just as an awe-inspiring experience.”
“Interestingly, what our visitors say to us about the behind the scenes experiences is that, yes, they love the films and books. And they love being immersed in the world. But they also find the behind-the-scenes glimpses completely fascinating. These further enhance their experience of Harry Potter and the Wizarding World.
“We have always been very conscious of the potential to break the magic. But, in fact, it enhances the magic to find out so much more about the process of bringing the films to life.”
The creation of the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition has been a collaborative process:
“We have been working with Jonathan on this location in Covent Garden. It was his concept to do the Photographic Exhibition. He has done a great job in putting these behind-the-scenes stories and insights about the film locations together with these amazing images. The majority of these have never been displayed before.”
Get a souvenir Butterbeer at the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition
The Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition is also home to London’s only bottled Butterbeer bar. Here, visitors can enjoy the wizard’s butterscotch flavoured drink, served in a souvenir tankard at the bar. They can also buy a bottle to take away and enjoy at home.
Brewed in the U.K, bottled Butterbeer comes in crafted souvenir glass bottles. These have exclusive collectable ‘medieval’ inspired labels designed by MinaLima.
The bar itself takes inspiration from the label design and has a medieval feel. Fans sit inside a Butterbeer barrel or a copper brewing tank to enjoy their butterbeer and wizarding world inspired snacks.
“It is the only bottled Butterbeer bar in London,” says Roots. “It’s the only place you can buy butterbeer, at the moment, outside of the Studio Tour.
“We have a lovely food offer, as well as the beautiful bottles of Butterbeer, and beer barrels you can sit inside. Butterbeer is flowing through the copper brewing tank. It’s a really immersive environment.”
Expanding the Harry Potter experience
At the end of the experience, which lasts, Root explains, around an hour and a half, fans find themselves in the gift shop:
“We’ve got lots of unique products in our atmospheric, Lumsden-designed shop under the arches.”
Souvenirs include wands, house robes, and bottled Butterbeer.
“Over the last few years, we have completed many new development projects,” Roots says. “We did the Gringotts Wizarding Bank expansion at the London Studio Tour and we opened the brand-new flagship store in New York. We also have a tour at the Warner Bros studio lot in LA called Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood. This year, we added a new tour centre and a new exhibition, Action and Magic Made Here. This features DC and Harry Potter, as well as a Friends café.
“We have had a lot of new openings, and have been very busy in the shut-down. This is certainly something very new and different that we’ve opened in London.”
The impact of the pandemic
The pandemic affected the project’s progress significantly:
“Everything has been, obviously, hugely delayed,” says Roots. “On the positive side, the pandemic did mean we had the time last year to dedicate to our new projects and products, and to unify our e-commerce operation, so we have one site across all our Wizarding World operations. This has worked out very well, and customers like it.
“We have lots of new, exclusive Harry Potter and Wizarding World products we have designed ourselves. People can only find these here and in New York. It has given us time to do some exciting, innovative projects and product development. Things that we perhaps wouldn’t have had so much dedicated time to do otherwise.”
“It also, of course, shut our business down. We are now, though, in a situation where we have everything up and running. And we’re very much getting to kickstart back to ahead of where we were in 2019.”
There is, for the moment at least, an impact on visitor demographics, she says:
“This year, we’re seeing almost entirely domestic tourists and visitors. In terms of the Studio Tour, we’ve probably got a 10th of the international visitors we saw in the summer of 2019. And it will be the same for the Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition. However, I’m hearing that more tourists are beginning to filter through recently. Generally, though, demographics are much more domestic this year. We just don’t have any international tourism. That is impacting our business across all our shops and attractions.”
Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition is a repeatable experience
The Harry Potter Photographic Exhibition is, Roots says, eminently repeatable:
“Harry Potter is such a rich, textured IP that there is too much to absorb on one visit. The experience includes a lot of interviews with Sue Quinn [Unit Location Manager], Pierre Bohanna [Head Propmaker] and Neil Lamont [Senior Art Director]. With their insights as well as so many photographs, photo ops and immersive experiences, there are always new things to discover. I still go around the Studio Tour in London and see or hear things on a piece of media that I haven’t seen before.”
The Wizarding World continues to grow in popularity, 20 years after the first film came out:
“We are more popular now than we have ever been. One of the interesting things that a lot of people don’t realise is our core market is adults, and then adults with their children. It’s such a lovely cross-generational experience. A Harry Potter fan really is everyone.”