By Sarah Staelgraeve
Watching the first Harry Potter Film is a vivid memory I keep within me. I recall sitting around my living room with my family by my side munching on salty popcorn and entranced by the story of the boy wizard and his friends. Although I was only around the age of six or seven when I first watched it, I still remember every detail and that says something about the series as a whole. Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone came out in 2001 and a decade later, in 2011, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 was released. As strongly as I can remember watching the first film for the first time, I can also easily reflect on watching the last one for the first time. I can remember feeling absolutely heartbroken that the exciting world of Harry Potter was over. I didn’t realize at the time that Harry Potter would live on for myself, and all the other Potter fans out there. Laying on my couch as a little girl watching it, I would have never imagined one day meeting the president of Warner Brothers UK when I studied in London, and witnessing with my own eyes how they made the magical seem so real.
I could tell by the seriousness in our professor’s eyes that meeting the president of Warner Bros. UK was a huge privilege for us. “Create well-thought out questions to ask him, dress professionally and be on time. We can’t be late for the president of Warner Brothers.”
It was an early morning as we marched from our flats to the tube at 7:10 AM. We arrived at the station around 7:40 AM to come to the realization we were at the wrong station (what a valuable lesson on the importance of being early!). We hustled to the correct station, which thankfully was not far away, and we were on the train by 8:30. We arrived to The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour right on time. We sat in the main lobby’s café early, awaiting the day to fully begin. We were given wrist bands and then guided outside to another building where we would begin the Magical Day officially. We entered a room and all took a seat and sat waiting and watching for Josh Berger. He was a highly anticipated part of everyone’s experience as we study abroad, and there had been a lot of build up to meet him. We heard all positive things about him, like how he was extremely successful (clearly, he runs Warner Brothers), how he was a very personable man, he graduated from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, he’s incredibly interesting and an overall good person. He took the time out of his busy schedule to meet 20 students from Michigan State. To be 100 percent honest, I was expecting an elderly British man to slowly walk in and talk with words that were way out of our vocabulary. To my surprise, Mr. Josh Berger walked in and he was not an elderly British man, but an adult with an American accent. The hour with him flew by as we learned incredible facts about his life, career, advice, Warner Brothers and of course, Harry Potter.
Mr. Berger grew up in Los Angles, California. He was surrounded by the entertainment industry his whole life and knew he wanted to continue being involved within it. A wise family friend told him since he knew what he wanted to do and knew he would be good at it, he should spend his four college years learning about everything but the show business industry. Josh took the advice and learned a lot during his time at Harvard (casually). After the heart breaking failure of not getting a job he thought he had in the bag, he decided to take a year off and go to Italy. During his time in Italy he learned to speak Italian (go figure) and also found himself unable to stay away from the industry he knew so well. Someone his family knew hooked him up with an amazing opportunity and he took it on full force. Josh went back to school to Harvard to complete his time there and was off into the real world. His best advice to students hoping to succeed in a path similar to his (or any career for that matter) is to take advantage of your connections and try your best to create some of your own. He also advised that if you are passionate about something, work as hard as possible to get to where you want to be. You can read about more about Josh Berger at the following websites: Berger Appointed to Lead BFI and Berger Spain Announcement
Josh’s role in media today is extremely important- think about how many films and shows are produced by Warner Brothers-hint—- it is A LOT. The Harry Potter franchise exploded in popularity in the early 2000’s and will continue to create demand for decades and decades to come. It has been one of the most prominent book series ever, and the same goes for the series of films. Not only are there books and movies about Harry Potter, but there are amusement parks, exhibits, theater plays, huge shops, merchandise, games and so much more. It really has taken over the media and created its own world or franchise that produces millions and MILLONS in revenue. At the start of the tour, they showed a short clip going back to when the Harry Potter series first caught on. Hundreds of screaming fans were jumping for joy and still to this day, there are countless numbers of die-hard fans worldwide. JK Rowling’s imagination and creativity unleashed a media frenzy share by many cultures around the world. Certainly, with the studio we visited in London and the fact that Universal Studio in Orlando has the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as a theme, the draw of Harry Potter is shared by the UK and US. Look at Wizarding World in Orlando
I believe the best word to describe walking through the studio tour would be magical. Simply magical. Most everything set up on display was used in the movies. I couldn’t actually get it through my head that this is where these famous films were created. We were able to walk through “the great room”. A room showed multiple times in all the movies where the students and staff of Hogwarts eat extravagant meals and hold meetings. It was a huge room, but the talented camera crew made the room look enormous for the big screen. The ceiling was filled with lights and other electronics to create all of the wonderful effects. The rest of the tour was a beautiful and chaotic mess of wizards, witches and magic. If you are a Harry Potter fan, everything that could ever pop into your head from a movie was there. Clothing, monsters, Harry’s house, BEERBUTTER available to try – you name it and it is there. There were picture booths with flying brooms, devices that allow us to chop up dinner with magic, the train, platform 9 and ¾ as well as blueprints and sketches from the masterminds. At the very end of the studio tour was a large re-creation of Hogwarts, the perfect way to end the extravagant, magical tour. The experience left me understanding that my love for the Harry Potter stories certainly is shared by people who grew up in the UK and overall, I left the studio feeling like a little kid again just wishing I could attend The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You can link to more information about our wonderful tour here: Harry Potter UK Studio Tour