I’m afraid to start writing. Writing demands remembering. And once you’ve remembered everything, the forgetting is not far behind.
How do I even begin to forget?
I mean, just trying to recall everything that happened that day, that most amazing, special day, is too much, too overwhelming for me even now, 3 days and a month later.
I’m writing about the Great Warner Brothers Studio Tour last May 10, of course. Or at least trying to write about it.
Disclaimer: if you plan on visiting the Studio Tour soon and you don’t want to be spoiled, do not continue reading this blog entry, for I assure you, there will be spoilers.
Now if you’re the type who doesn’t mind spoilers, like some people who actually requested me to write about it in the hopes of vicariously living through the magical experience via my own eyes and words, then read on.
It was the proverbial Holy Grail for us three witches. It was the Elixir. The Lost Ark. The anti-matter. It was the pot of gold. The Triwizard Cup. The One Ring. The mothership.
It was the stuff our magical dreams were made off. We planned it. We dreamt it. We prepared for it. And then May 10 came. Finally, reality was right in front of us.
Was it everything I fantasized it would be?
Let me count the ways as to why it was not.
The day started off quite early. We had to be up and ready by 730 am since we had to take the subway and the national rail for Watford Junction. At WJ, we had to wait for the bus that will ultimately take us (for 2 pounds, return ticket) to the studio lot. The schedule that we booked was for 11 am, but lo, we arrived at the studio well before 10 am (we were with the first batch from the bus station).
No worries. We had enough time to chill and have our second breakfast, thanks to the Studio Café at the venue. We had scones with clotted cream and coffee (yes, there’s a Starbucks corner inside the café). We took photos of the general vicinity, yes. We checked out the WB shop, of course. Good thing we had the foresight not to buy anything before the actual tour started. If we hadn’t, then we would’ve burdened ourselves with shopping bags all throughout the tour which lasted practically the entire day. There will be enough time for shopping later.
Just follow Felton.
Finally, 11 am came. We queued up and readied our cameras, our digital guides (we had to pay extra for this Tom Felton digital guide, yes), and ourselves for the experience that was about to start.
Photo courtesy of Giselle.
We went in by batch (according to the time slot that we booked prior to the actual day of our visit). I’m guessing there were about 60 of us that were herded inside this dark room filled with screens on the wall. Inside the room there’s a lady telling you bits of things to expect, what you can and cannot do inside (you may take photos anywhere EXCEPT while inside the mini-theatre and at the Quidditch green room), and other things. Then a short video begins, with David Heyman and other production people talking about the backstory of the entire Harry Potter film series.
Imagine us just standing there, in the dark, taking it all in. The excitement was slowly rising I tell you.
And then we were asked to proceed inside the belly of the whale, i.e., the mini-theatre. We went for the front row seats, of course! It was a short film with Dan, Rupert and Emma briefing the audience about what to expect inside, at the very studio where they practically grew up as actors and as individuals. Dan’s parting shot was, “you may have to change the way you think about Quidditch.” In all it was over after about 5 mins, maybe even less.
And then, the screen went dark.
Here we go.
And then, the screen went up. . . and up. . and up. . . revealing. . .
The Door. The Door of the Great Hall.
There was this almost inaudible gasp all around. I remember exchanging a meaningful look with Giselle. We were both teary-eyed already. It was just—–oh I can’t think of a word to describe the moment.
I’m finally home.
The tour coordinator asked for a volunteer from the audience. I think I was channeling Hermione that moment for my hand went up the air even before she could finish her sentence. She thanked me for volunteering, thanked me for coming in costume, and asked for my name and I said “it’s Frances. . . ah no, it’s Professor Snape.”
The task was to open the Great Hall door with her.
Again, no words.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Thank heavens for Giselle and her sly camera work, she was able to record the moment. I guess a video clip is worth ten times more than a thousand words.
Click here to see the video of the grand entrance.
And so we were finally inside the Great Hall, with John Williams’ music playing in the background.
You see the huge fireplace. You see the many flambeaux designed with the four House animals up in the air. You see the Faculty table right up there at the far end of the room.
It was really like walking the path taken by all Hogwarts students. It felt like we were about to be sorted by Professor McGonagall.
Alfonso and Frankie. Photo courtesy of Giselle.
Once we’ve all had our fill of the Great Hall, we proceeded with the rest of the pack to the door on our left side where we see photos of all the directors who helmed all the HP films—Columbus, Cuaron, Newell and Yates. Thanks to their individual and collective visions, Harry became all the more real to us via celluloid.
Now this was the point, the very spot where the madness would begin. Mad not because the whole thing was disorganized, heavens no. It’s probably one of the most organized places on the planet (maybe third only to the White House and the Buckingham Palace). It was madness because as a fan, there were too many things to gawk at and scrutinize. Your eyes will water just by looking at everything. Your neck will ache from too much twisting and straining. Your knees will buckle from too much walking around and standing still and then walking around some more. Your stomach will make all these grumbling sounds because it’s already way past your lunch time and you’re still inside this cavernous gallery with nothing to eat save for your trusty, fruity Mentos. Your fingers will go numb trying to press every possible button on your digital guide, for you fear you might miss a detail or two (did Steve Kloves say “the” or was it “an”? Even mundane things like that, oh yes). Your camera will heat up from too much usage, and you will be filled with terror at the possibility of going cam-ando, that is, diving in with a low-batt camera amidst a life-changing event.
Gissy and Abbey listening to Mr. Felton
It was beginning to overwhelm us, all the sights and the sounds and the desire to not miss anything so we decided to just take a break in front of Hagrid’s Hut, finished listening to the digital guide (btw, it’s not a glorified map of the venue, no. It’s like watching an extended version of the special features you never saw on your DVD or Blu-ray, and so much better because Tom Felton is actually talking to you as if he’s just there in front of you, or maybe right next to you, whispering in your ear), and then proceeded with the tour, this time mentally guided by the insights courtesy of the digital guide.
Oh the props. Oh the costumes. Oh the wigs and make-up. Oh the wands, the broomsticks, the Horcruxes and the Hallows.
I ask you again. How do you even begin talking about these magical things?
Gryffindor is leading.
People of all ages and sizes were everywhere, taking photos of the props, and of themselves either in front of, behind, and beside every possible item. Some of the items are well-known and very film-visible like the Horcruxes, while some like the House Point Counter and Dumbledore’s amazingly huge telescope complete with comfy swivel chair were rarely seen onscreen yet still mind-blowing to look at. Just thinking about the creativity and the inspiration and the skill involved in making all these items is now giving me a headache and some heart palpitations on the side.
I can probably try to enumerate every little thing I’ve seen inside that gallery but I won’t even dare. It wouldn’t be right. It was an experience after all, not some diorama to probe. It was truly a case of having to be there, taking it all in. Writing about it now is probably already considered sacrilegious, I don’t know. How do you dare write about an experience?
The thing with the whole set-up is this: once you’ve had your fill of a given area, then you go enter a new set. But make sure you’ve really had your fill. You can’t go in and out. Once you’re inside a particular area, say the Props hall, you can’t just turn and go back to the previous area, say the Great Hall. Once you’re done with everything inside the first main hall, why not proceed to the green room and try flying a Ford Anglia? Or how about a lesson in flying your very own broomstick?
Flying lessons inside the green room. Photo courtesy of Giselle.
I’m telling you, I was so game to try everything I didn’t mind if I looked silly flying the Firebolt while personifying Professor Snape at the same time. I mean come on, it was most likely a once in a lifetime experience. Self-consciousness be damned, I am going to try my hand at every possible thing inside this lot.
And I did, funny face and all.
October 31, 1981. Photo courtesy of Giselle.
Once we were all done inside, it was time for us to see the skies. We’ve been cooped up inside the studio for four hours now we didn’t even know it started raining. See the next stop was the outdoor lot where you will see the Knight Bus, the Riddle gravestone, #4 Privet Drive, Godric’s Hollow, the Hogwarts bridge, and the huge chess pieces from the first film installment. Since it was already pouring by the time we got out, we fancied a short break and figured it was time for us to taste the Butterbeer.
Ready your galleons. Photo courtesy of Giselle.
Oh the Butterbeer.
BEST. DRINK. EVER.
It was sweet, but not sickening. It was cold, but not bitingly harsh. It was foamy and frothy, and heavenly and magical and all the good things you have ever experienced in your life, mixed by Hogwarts’ elves most likely. A glass will cost you £2.95 but it’s a small price to pay for a glass of comfort and happiness.
Now I know exactly how Harry felt that fateful night. Photo taken by Abbey, from the files of Giselle.
After the Butterbeer break, we then had our photos taken at the great outdoors, rain be damned. A little bit of rain is nothing to a hardcore HP fan, am I right or am I right?
And then we found ourselves at the creature shop where we got to see Aragog, and the Mandrake, and Fawkes, and Dobby, and Hedwig and the rest of the magical creatures ad nauseam. Giselle tried to overcome her fear of spiders by having her photo taken near Aragog. I’m not sure if it worked, though.
Photo taken by Frankie, from the files of Giselle.
Photo of Baby-mort courtesy of Giselle.
Dummies of actors were carefully arranged everywhere. Masks and more masks. Hey there’s the Monster Book of Monsters. Careful, it bites. There’s baby-mort, too. Push a button and you’ll see it move. Very creepy. Push the button again! And again! And again! Oh this is so much fun!
Photo courtesy of Giselle.
Hey, there’s Diagon Alley! Every shop mentioned in the books and shown in the films is here, amazingly built to scale. There’s Ollivander’s. There’s Flourish and Blotts. There’s Gringotts for your banking needs. The Daily Prophet office for the latest news. Eeylops Emporium to your right. Quidditch Quality Supplies stands next to it. And there at the far end, you see the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.
Photo courtesy of Giselle.
There’s also this huge hall filled with artworks. It’s just white walls everywhere filled with drawings and concept art and paintings. Every floor plan of Hogwarts is there for you to see. Every buttress of the castle lovingly imagined by the artists is there for you to adore. And the paintings, my dear Godric. The paintings! I loved it all.
Photo courtesy of Giselle.
At this point I must take a pause. The experience, I know, no, I recall, is about to reach its end. It is always difficult to write about the end, isn’t it? Especially if you know that it is the end. No surprises anymore. Just the memories.
A few steps before entering the last room of the entire studio, you will hear it. Cue: Harry in Winter track from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by Patrick Doyle.
And then you will see it. The pièce-de-résistance.
It was truly the best piece of prop inside the studio. What showpiece. Such artistry.
I can’t even begin to tell you how hard I tried to be cool and to stay composed during this moment. Just the fact that I knew right then that I was at the very last room of this tour, and that I was there next to the Hogwarts castle, with Doyle’s soulful music playing in the background. . . . Part of me wanted to clap and whoop at the brilliance of it all. The people behind this whole thing really know how to do it, how to conceptualize and how to stir up the emotions. And a huge part of me just wanted to sit down and cry.
Just so you know, I didn’t clap nor whooped.
I did find a seat and sat down.
And actually cried.
Just looking at the castle, my school. . . our school. . . it was the very definition of magnificence.
Just sitting there, and taking it all in was the icing on the proverbial cake of the Great UK Adventure. I knew then that we’ve yet to set foot in Scotland. We’ve yet to attend the conference. We’ve yet to see Edinburgh Castle and Alnwick Castle and all the other great landmarks UK has to offer.
I didn’t care. At that moment, there was only one castle that mattered. And I was sitting right in front of it.
It may sound trite, but it was magical.
Going back to my initial question: was it everything I fantasized it would be? Again, the answer is no.
Photo from the files of Giselle.
For right there, on Holy Ground, I realized that reality is so much better than the fantasy.
I didn’t want to leave my spot. I didn’t want to go back to London, back to King’s Cross, back to our little hotel. I wanted to stay right there. I wanted to be part of the bigature castle. I wanted to live there, amidst all the props and the costumes and all the things we’ve experienced before with the films. Everything there reminded me of the grand story we’ve all read before, from the pages of the books as imagined and written by JKRowling. I wanted to be part of all that.
Then again, as all things must end, we had to leave.
Oh sure, there’s the shop where every conceivable candy and chocolates are being sold. Every wand, every costume, every prop replica you can think of, yes, it’s all there. I did well with my finances given the crazy shopping opportunity, I think. I only bought for myself a wand (McGonagall’s, huzzah!), an Azkaban shirt, a pair of Gryffindor Quidditch gloves, a box of Peppermint Toads, a bag of Fizzing Whizbees, a spanking Marauder’s Map, a few keychains, and a couple of official photos taken inside the green room. I was angling for a hoodie but they didn’t have one in my size for the design I wanted.
Oh, look at the time. We’re practically three of the last people still inside the studio lot. It’s nearing 5 pm, we’re a long way from central London where home currently is, we haven’t had lunch, and we’re still dragging our feet ever so slowly, as if dreading the act of leaving.
While on the bus going back to the railway station, I tried to bury the whole day event. I didn’t want to touch it. I didn’t want to mess with it. I just wanted to preserve it in my mind. So there I was, minding my own, when Gissy said something that shook me to my foundation. She said, “my mom will ask me how it was and I will tell her I wouldn’t have wanted to go here with anyone but you two.”
For a moment that contained an eternity (thank you, JK), I just sat there, looking at this witch and I literally wanted to slap her. You know that thing you feel in your throat, coupled with a slight stinging in your eyes, and you find yourself trying so hard to maintain your composure in public kind of scenario? Yep, I was smarting through that, courtesy of Giselle. I couldn’t even say thank you, or any equally charming statement in return. I may have said, “stop it” but I’m not sure.
I knew what she meant. And I’m sure she knew what I was going through at that moment as well, screwed up face and all (not sure if she knew about the desire to slap, though).
The thing is, the tour may have ended, but the experience lives on. Harry died in the books once before. Harry died a second time in the movie adaptation. But Harry always finds a way to come back to me, to us, every time we have a great need for him.
The friendships that we found and have made courtesy of Harry and JKR stand as testament to the magic that lives on. For that alone, I am forever thankful to Ms. Rowling.
As for Harry, he lives evermore.
He will forever be our hero. He will never leave us.
The same way we will never leave him. We have his back.