Possibility Three: Back to the Future

Warner Brothers has sold Rowling on a return to the successful formula of the original Harry Potter film franchise: she writes wildly successful novels and Warner Brothers then adapts them for the screen.

This is third of three speculatives posts about why Rowling has ceased from tweeting on her Twitter home page, a social media platform with 14.7 million followers she had been using to share announcements from Lumos and the several Rowling, Inc., enterprises as well as airing her center-left political beliefs about Brexit, anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and President Trump. The first speculative post was “Possibility One: Personal Problems” in which I reviewed the potential reasons Rowling wouldn’t want to make public that are keeping her from tweeting; the second was “Possibility Two: Court Ordered Silence” in which we covered the chance that she stepped back because the Sherrif (judge) in her case against a Personal Assistant ordered all litigants to be silent on social media.

If you’ve read those posts, you know that I think it is a stretch to think any of the reasons discussed in them — disease, addiction, relationship agonies, and a court order — are serious possibilities. None of them, to get right to the point, explain why Rowling’s office staff of four full-time employees and two part timers, not to mention the contractors and employees who work for her directly and indirectly at PotterMore, Bronte Studios, or The Blair Partnership, could not re-tweet announcements from Lumos, Volant Charities, Bronte Studios, Cursed Child, Hacheete Publishing, or Warner Brothers. Even a court order wouldn’t explain silence after the 4 April sentencing of the former PA.

So, we’re left with a mystery. Why would Rowling forsake the use of the largest Twitter platform of followers of any author ever? Instead of looking for causes that would apply to every other human being, which search has pretty much come up empty, it’s time to think about reasons that might apply only to J. K. Rowling, the Master of Narrative Control and Media Manipulation. Think “Hermione and The Quibbler.” Or, better, “Hermione and the ‘Bug’ in a Jar.”

Rather than wondering about the mystery of Rowling’s silence and what might have caused it to happen to the author, we should consider the possibility that the silence is intentional on her part and the effects — heightened interest in her activity (or lack of same) and the enigma of her disappearance — rather than the accidental consequence of forces outside her control are exactly her purpose.

Why would she want to do that? Here are my three guesses.

(1) It’s A Warner Brothers Deal: Rowling tweeted on 10 December 2018 that she was all but done with the Fantastic Beasts 3 script and the then-President of Warner Brothers film studios announced on 27 February in an LA Times interview that, no, she wasn’t close to being done:

The second film didn’t perform as well as the first, but I think we know what we need to do to get the third film hopefully even better than the first one. J.K. Rowling is really working hard now on that third script, and we’re going to get it right. She has an incredible vision of where she wants to go with this that is incredibly exciting. The hardest part of the franchise is you have such a big core fan base. That fan base really knows the lore and they want to go deep into these characters. But what you don’t want to do is intimidate people. You want to be able to create a stand-alone movie that’s enjoyable for someone who isn’t steeped in the lore.

I think that can be read without squinting or eye strain as his announcement that Rowling’s first script was kicked back to her as being unsatisfactory with respect to being “a stand-alone movie,” one of the criticisms of Crimes of Grindelwald. Kevin Tsujihara is gone (“I Need to Be Careful”: Texts Reveal Warner Bros. CEO Promoted Actress Amid Apparent Sexual Relationship, Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara: ‘I Deeply Regret That I Have Made Mistakes’Nolte: Charlotte Kirk Is a #MeToo Heroine in the Warner Bros. Text Scandal) but whatever agreement he made with Rowling is almost certainly still in place.

How could Warner Brothers have incentivized Rowling to rewrite a screenplay that she was happy with? She doesn’t lack for money and is overloaded with distractions that most screenwriters never dream of (Do you think Steve Kloves worries at night about cage children in Eastern European orphanages? About his legacy as a novelist? Me, neither). I can see Tsujihara cutting a deal with Neil Blair to give Rowling’s charities a point or two of the Fantastic Beasts 3 gross if she agreed to concentrate on the script and deliver a satisfactory version to them by the end of the summer. 

Which concentration would mean twitter abstinence. That would explain why there is no activity on the platform, not even for Lumos/Volant or Warner Brothers. The attendant mystery is a happy by-product that will make “coming out” and return to daily twittering a global media event.

(2) Keeping Her Powder Dry: Rowling is an observant reader of her contemporaries and a great admirer of President Barack Obama. No doubt she noticed the lesson he learned as POTUS, namely, the more he talked, the lower his approval ratings fell (hard for people today to believe given the media portrayal of President Trump as the most unpopular President in history, but his approval ratings today are higher than Obama’s were at this time in his first term). President Obama went all-but-silent during the last months of his Presidency, before and after the 2016 election, and his popularity grew and grew. No doubt his quiet contrasted favorably to the bombast coming from the two least admired candidates in American history.

Rowling is no idiot. She knows that her brand suffered throughout the Crimes of Grindelwald release. Her supposed fans were ripping her right and left about Jonny Depp, Nagini, Professor McGonagall the time traveler, Dumbledore Not Gay Enough, even the history of toilets at Hogwarts. And politically things were at least as bad. She won few friends for taking a principled stand against Labour’s anti-Semitism and her full throated support of a second referendum of course was not a winning position for those who voted for Brexit. It got to the point in January where the twitter-sphere was advancing the revisionist history that Rowling was never really on the dole and that her Cinderella story was flat-out fraud.

I think the possibility is quite good, as good of any of the other gueses I’ve offered, even better, that she took stock of the trends and decided to take the chance that she might lose followers by going silent in the hope that the PC blow-back to her every announcement would decrease. It turns out that she has actually gained followers since January; she’s up to 14.7 million from 14.6. And the number of negative stories and twitter take-downs of her every tweet are also way down. If this is her strategy, i.e., lay low to preserve and foster the respect she has left in her global audience, it’s working.

(3) Back to the Future: Now for my wish-fulfillment fantasy. This is the least likely, I’m sure, of the possibilities I’ve run through in these three Twitter Silence posts, but it is also the most fun and exciting prospect.

It came to me after reading this comment from Brett Fish on a HogwartsProfessor post:

WB’s only hope for matching the excitement on display for Avengers: Endgame is to bring back the original actors and continue Harry’s story. I think the ship has sailed on Fantastic Beasts being a possible phenomenon.

Especially when Kelly Loomis shared this after another post:

The press release about the movie date said, “Frequent ‘Harry Potter’ director David Yates is expected to direct all five films, with the first two being written by Rowling.”

The thing is, Warner Brothers bean-counters are well aware that, while this franchise is the hottest property the studio owns and, as Joel likes to remind us, is not losing money but remains something of a cash cow, it is not performing anywhere near the Harry Potter standard of a billion dollars take almost guaranteed at the box office and later distribution. They have to want a return to the financial success of the original eight film series.

That would involve, though, not “bringing back the original actors and continuing Harry’s story,” but returning to the original formula of the blockbuster success the film adaptations of Rowling’s novels earned. That formula, to risk stating the obvious, was (a) Rowling writes installments of best-selling novels about Wizarding World characters and institutions that run together as a masterful series of satisfying stand-alone stories that have readers frantic for the next one, (b) Steve Kloves adapts the individual novels into a Warner Brothers recipe-compliant screenplay; and (c) David Yates and David Heyman make the film.

Hence the intriguing part of Kelly Loomis’ close reading of the press release, which she says that Rowling has written the first two films’ screenplays but which does not say she will write any of the others.

It’s something of a commonplace (or at least it used to be) that blockbuster films would be followed by “novelizations” of the screenplay. I bought and read a couple of Indiana Jones books years ago. The Star Wars franchise turned these screenplay-to-novel adaptations into an industry of spin-off fictions, to include Shakespearean versions of the first six movies in that series.

If Rowling did that, wouldn’t it take years for her to complete the re-writes? Not necessarily. The actress who plays Tina Goldstein gushed in an interview at the release of the first Beasts film that the Rowling screenplay that was under lock and key for consultation only on the set was mammoth, at least as long as any novel.

Where does that leave us?

  • Rowling wrote a screenplay for Beasts3 that she finished at the end of last year.
  • Warner Brothers kicked it back to her, delayed production of the third film, and announced last week that this movie will not be in theaters until November 2021.
  • We assume because we have not been told otherwise that the third film will also be written by Rowling and that there won’t be any other Beast news or releases until filming is done and the trailers start coming out.

What if, though, Warner Brothers said to Rowling the hard truth, which is,

“You’re not a screenwriter, Jo; you’re the best selling novelist of our times. Screenplays are a different, um, beast entirely than novels and this is just not working. HogwartsProfessor is saying we’re butchering your stories, and, frankly, they’re right. But what choice do we have? You’re not writing stories for projection on a screen. And we don’t want you to. This current set-up is like asking Picasso to paint your bathroom walls egg-shell white.”

“So how about we go back to what works? You re-write and publish the first two Fantastic Beasts stories as novels and write this third screenplay draft into one, too. They’ll sell a gazillion copies and become a second Potter-mania. Then, just like old times, Steve Kloves will turn novels three to five into screenplays we can film, movies that, because of the almost year’s delay for books from manuscript to printing, we can make and release almost concurrently with the book’s publication.”

What does this off-the-wall possibility have to do with Twitter silence? For one thing, if true, it means that Rowling is re-writing three screenplays into the form of novels as well as working on Strike5. She’s very busy, no matter how close to a novel her real screenplays were before they were cut into shooting scripts and the edited final cut travesties.

It would also mean that we’d be getting Fantastic Beasts novelizations in time for Christmas 2019, 2020, and even 2021 when the third film will be released. This will be the literary-media event of the year if true — and Rowling will want to be almost a fresh face for the news release without any of the clinging social media scandals and Twitter wars hanging from her neck like an albatross at the announcement.

Yes, I love this ridiculously improbable idea. Let me know what you think by clicking on the ‘Leave a Comment’ link up by the post headline. Could Rowling’s twitter silence mean we’re looking at a Back to the Future like return to the glory days of the first Wizarding World movies? Or is she just on a social media vacation to press re-start to her reputation and brand?

 

Comments

  1. Usually, when folks in my PhD program find out how deep my undying devotion to Harry Potter is, the first question they have is “what do you think about Fantastic Beasts”?

    My answer has uniformly been the same since 2 years ago: They should have been novels. That was made especially clear after CoG last year.

    I don’t think your wish fulfillment idea is a shot in the dark— I think if the powers that be at WB have any sense, they’ll be pushing for novels.

    It makes sense on a practical level. I know she wants to stretch her wings, and she’s skeptical of doing Harry Potter style novel releases again… but it’s obvious that the story needs the room to breathe that a novel allows.

    Let me be frank: Many of the same fans that hated CoG last year would have devoured and loved a 650 page novel with the same story. Me being one of those.

  2. Beniy Waisanen says

    Your idea would be a dream come true. May it be so!

  3. Kelly Loomis says

    It definitely would be a dream come true for many fans. So many people I interacted with after CoG wished for a novel. I would have devoured a 650 page novel of it!!

    Please be true!

  4. Dolores Gordon-Smith says

    When I saw CoG with a friend we both said immediately that it should have been a book first. That way the gaping plot holes and sheer daft ness could’ve been sorted out on the page and (hopefully) turned into something worth watching

  5. Kathrin Franke says

    While I would love to see novelisations of the first two Beasts scripts, I really can’t see how adapting novels – no matter how well it has worked before – would result in any less butchering of those stories than cutting a few scenes (that most people wouldn’t even know about) from a screenplay. And yes, I’m going by the published versions here, even if I like your posts about deleted scenes. Because, frankly, there were plenty of things in the HP films that people didn’t like either – say the burning of the Burrow, or Exploding Voldy – no matter how much sense they made in terms of movie dramaturgy/ filming logistics. Sure, it was easier for us, because we knew the books and knew what was going to happen – whereas with Beasts we sort of only know of one very important event, i.e. the Dumbledore-Grindelwald duel, and not much else. And I, for one like it that way. I’m not saying the first two Beasts were perfect, but they weren’t any worse than the HP adaptations (esp the later ones from HP4 on), either – though my favourite out of the two is definitely Beasts 1.

    Maybe she’s just re-writing the script with Steve Kloves, or some other screenwriter. They may even be working on the scripts for the three films concurrently.

  6. Louise Freeman says

    John, I will echo the sentiments of the rest and say that JKR reverting the Fantastic Beast scripts to novels would be a dream come true. As a Trekkie of the 80’s, I cite another precedent, the disappointing Star Trek: the Motion Picture, that was somewhat redeemed in many fans’ eyes by the novelization— by Gene Roddenberry Himself. It filled in many of the gaps that were left on the editing board and the cutting room floor. Then, the next three movies were brilliantly novelized by Vonda McIntyre.
    However, I sadly must join you in believing this is highly improbable. If WB did indeed kick back the script, I can think of a much simpler reason. They don’t want any cliff-hanger endings, so that they can reasonably end the series with #3, if that makes the most sense financially. If the current trend continues, production costs will get higher and higher, as the actors can demand higher salaries and the CGI effects get ever more expensive and elaborate. At this point, they have no reason to think viewership will go anywhere but down. #2 may have made money, and so, likely, will #3, but after that, all bets are off.
    I am reminded of the Insurgent and Allegiant movies, and the way Lionsgate overplayed its hand, first by planning to squeeze 4 movies out, then rolling back when Allegiant proved a disappointment in both novel and movie form. They appeared to intentionally twist the endings of both movies to be more up-beat than the comparable places in the books, so they could be prepared to end the franchise if the proceeds did not justify continuing. (See http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/insurgent-movie-strays-from-book-but-strangely-satisfies/#more-11141 for my review.) And of course, after Allegiant, that’s exactly what they did. Ta-ta,, Ascendant.
    I’m thinking WB is looking for a way back to the original 3 film idea.

  7. Kathrin Franke, I have to agreed with you. While it might’ve indeed been smarter to start the FB franchise as novels first – since this is clearly JKR’s strength – I cannot see how this would decrease the danger of butchering when the novel gets transformed into a movie. I have to say that I was never very fond of the HP movies because IMO they are inferior to the novels. I only ever saw DH2 in the theater. Therefore I was very pleased initially when I heard that JKR herself would write the scripts for the FB franchise. To be honest, it worked pretty well for the first movie, although not so much for the second installment. And I think there’s indeed a good chance that her third script was found wanting (especially in the stand-alone category, and that a complete overhaul has been suggested/ordered. If that’s so, we have to assume that someone (maybe, tested and tried Steve Kloves) will assist her to get it right for FB3. This takes time. Thus the delay.
    Another possibility is that WB are indeed looking for a replacement of Johnny Depp. Unfortunately he has turned into a huge liability, and it’s very hard atm to anticipate any future developments on that front. Just this morning I found alerts in my mailbox which hinted at exactly that. Upon further reading it was really only an unsubstantiated rumor. But I think there’s a very real chance that this might happen. And this would also mean that addidtional time is needed to straighten this out. And since JKR’s Twitter activities have lately been more harm- than useful, it might’ve been suggested to her to be silent for a while. And after a while she might’ve liked it😉.

  8. She may be just writing something altogether new? Meyer wrote something unpublished about mermaids and then The Chemist (tv series on the way). :\

  9. It’s only a wild rumor so far, but we are in a very speculative mode here😉 And if they really contemplate to cut their losses and replace Johnny Depp, it would be absolutely logical that JKR has shunned Twitter and other social media for quite a while now. Every tweet could turn into a land mine!
    The truth is that the casting of Johnny Depp has turned out into a huge liability for several reasons. His tumultuos private life is one reason. But the powers-that-be have also miscalculated the artistic value of Johnny Depp and how popular he still is as an actor. The answer is: not overly popular anymore. I guess they were looking for a charismatic superstar for the role of Grindelwald – but unfortunately Johnny Depp’s starpower has been on a downward spiral long before all private hell broke lose. I have no dog in the race as far Depp’s private life is concerned, since so far it’s mostly a he-said-she-said situation, and I understand JKR’s and David Yates’s loyalty to a certain extent . But I think Depp is the wrong actor for the role of Grindelwald. So far he wasn’t exactly bad. He even had some strong moments. But at least for me he never stopped being – Johnny Depp with a bad haircut, creepy eyes and a really tasteless outfit. While Jude Law was perfect as Dumbledore, I had probles whenever Depp appeared onscreen. I was taken out of the movie and I had to remind myself constantly that he is supposed to be Gellert Grindelwald who is so extraordinarily dangerous because of his immense seductive powers. Dumbledore has been infatuated by this guy! Maybe, he still is to a certain extent. Johnny Depp’s interpretation however advertizes so overtly that he is THE big bad villain. Part of this may not even be his fault, and David Yates, the costume designers and make-up artists are to blame, too, to a certain extent. Although I heard that Johnny Depp has been given considerable freedom to design his look.
    I honestly don’t know if there is a realistic chance that Depp will be replaced. But if more bad news from his private life make it into the news, he could become such a liability that there may be no other choice. While I would feel bad for him and his private situation, I would probably not miss him in the upcoming movies if they find an adequate replacement for him. It wouldn’t be an ideal situation. But actors who have been cast in leading roles in a franchise have been replaced before for various reasons. It doesn’t kill a franchise. Heck, people had to get used to Michael Gambon as Dumbledore instead of Richard Harris! Since Richard Harris was immensely popular this wasn’t an easy situation and I think that a replacement for Johnny Depp would be far less controversial since he wasn’t nearly as popular to begin with.

    Louise Freeman, I agree that the idea to stretch the FB franchise over five movies and eight (now already nine) years was the wrong decision – especially if the audience is left on their own for several years with whopping cliffhangers. Fans love cliffhangers if they don’t have to wait overly long for the denouement. But if the downtime ist too long they resent cliffhangers and may subsequently lose interest. Therefore it would probably have been wiser to tell the Fantastic-Beasts story as a trilogy – which probably should’ve been named “Crimes Of Grindelwald” right from the beginning, since this is obviously the story JKR really wants to tell. Or each installment should’ve worked as a stand-alone movie. And I think that’s what they may be working on now. I wouldn’t have minded if the FB series would have been mapped out as a trilogy. But I don’t think it can be retroactively re-worked into a three-movie- series. The timeline of the story still hasn’t progressed beyond the late 1920s. I can’t see how the story could progress to the duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald in 1945 within one installment, even if it is a very looong movie. They would’ve to bridge more than 15 years within one movie. Therefore I guess that there have to be at least two more movies. Otherwise JKR’s overarching story as she has mapped it out would seriously suffer.

  10. Mr. Granger,

    After giving it some thought, I decided to have a look for myself if Ms. Rowling had, in fact, gone dark on twitter. Rather than going to her own Twitter account, I decided to see if her non-existent partner in crime, Robert “Bob” Galbraith had kept busy in the last few days. It turned out all was quiet. However the one caveat was that the last Tweet came from April 13th.

    I’ll admit that’s not recent by any means. However, I also don’t think it counts as nothing. I decided to go a bit further. I checked out the Lumos Foundation account. The result was I discovered a Twitter feed that remains as active as ever. The last entry was just under nine hours ago. That whole place is (thankfully) still up and running. Going further still, the last entry at Pottermore was just an hour ago.

    After examining all this, my own conclusion is that Ms. Rowling has deliberately gone dark, while letting her other accounts speak for her. If I had to suggest a plausible reason, then it may be a simple question of not feeding the trolls. Twitter has become a breeding ground for a lot of harassment. This is something Rowling is all too familiar with. I can’t think of a worse irony than, after spending most of a lifetime escaping and putting such situations behind her, she one day finds herself more or less back where she started, in the same environment that turns human beings into monsters.

    I find it more than easy to understand why she would therefore choose to fall silent in the first person, while still keeping her hand in the game at second or third. She’s simply let the works that make her famous do the talking for her. It doesn’t get rid of the trolls, but it does give her the high ground advantage. They can attack her on Twitter, only to get shut down for being too quick on the draw, leaving them vulnerable to fans who would come to her defense. Whether or not this is the perfect strategy, it does seem to be working. Anyway, there’s my two cents.

  11. Brian Basore says

    I came late to the first JKR mania, so this is all exciting as HogPro and company helps me get some notion of the size of the world JKR creates as a writer. She tells us a few stories from that universe, and has Pottermore to hint how few the stories and how much more there is she could say. So much richness in one place, and so little time to explore it; it’s not fair. This is fun.

  12. Brian, indeed, so much richness to explore. That’s why I actually believe JKR that she had a back story for Nagini all along. Unfortunately this notion has been ridiculed by those who don’t fully understand JKR’s modus operandy and don’t know that she has accumulated tons of material – including background information about many characteres which so far hasn’t been used in her writings and in the movies. But I also think that she didn’t handle the situation very well. Instead of giving an interview and explain herself a bit better, she choose to address the question of Nagini’s origins with a Twitter quip. And since she has indeed introduced a few iffy retcons over the years, where I also question if they have really been part of her original Hogwarts concept all along (especially her claim that Hogwarts has been always been more diverse than the so far published material led on), many fans didn’t believe her assertion that she has known about Nagini’s story for the last twenty years or so. And the public relations disaster intensified when JKR choose to address the accusation of cultural appropriation of an old Indian saga via Twitter, too, and mixed up the Indian vs the Indonesian roots of the Naga saga. Twitter is an aweful medium for assessing and discussing complex subjects. A lot of misunderstandings can arise which are then multiplied by re-tweets and are very hard to correct once they are out in the Twitter-verse. I believe that at least one reason for JKR’s prolonged Twitter abstinence ist that she wants to reduce these unfortunate dynamics, which have really hurt the Fantastic-Beasts project as well as her personal image. She may also have underestimated the increasing tendency of her fans to question her assertions – especially if they are dispensed in the form of one-liners. The HP fandom has grown up after all for a while now.

  13. Moonflower says

    Novelizations of FB are my secret wish too! I watched Crimes twice; still had to read articles and listen to podcasts to grasp the basic storyline. It was the screenplay with its minimal directions/descriptions that provided all the nuances I didn’t get from the film.

  14. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Lots to think about, thanks both to post and comments to date! How much more widely interesting would post-two-movie- and pre-however-many-more-movie-FB-novels be likely to be than the two published ‘screenplays’?

    How much have the self-presentations of the author, especially as Tweeter, been simply variously off-putting to HP enthusiasts? In how far has the author as opiner, etc., undermined the appeal of any and all of her work, to whatever varying extents?

    How much difference might mere (temporary) silence make?

Speak Your Mind

*