Finding the Fantastic Beasts Text, 5.1 — The Story of the Text We’re Looking For

fb21After reviewing the story we were given in the cineplex and on the printed page, our first step in rescuing the lost elements of the shooting script, Rowling’s last draft, is clarifying why such an effort is necessary, i.e., that a significant difference exists between shooting script and “original screenplay.”

The first two posts in this series (see Round Up at bottom for links to all the posts in this series), one on Rowling as Screenwriter and the second on the Filmmakers Yates and Heyman, suggests an unusual sequence of story development which ended, not with Rowling, but with the Director and Producer editing the film they’d shot from her final text. Other than the production of several drafts, which Rowling has said is her usual creative process, the genesis and method of this screenplay has almost nothing to do with Rowling’s previous writing with respect to control of story.

The story only comes into existence, for one thing, because Warner Brothers is determined to revive and expand their most successful franchise and property, Harry Potter specifically and J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World in general. The author had refused to write a sequel to Harry Potter and kept that promise by “approving” a story that was made into a London stage production, Cursed Child. That effectively shut the door on future film blockbusters about Harry and friends.

fantastic-beastsWarner Brothers, however, bought the option to a Hogwarts School textbook Rowling had written for charity with the intention of making it into a “documentary.” Rowling, as Heyman puts it, “got wind of” this project and clearly was non-plussed at the prospect of what this money-grab from Warner Brothers would look like (and do to her reputation and legacy). She had some back-story notes about Newt Scamander, the author of the textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and elected to put them together as a story, I presume to forestall Warner Brothers’ butchering of her imaginative sub-creation. Warner Brothers was happy to have her take on the role of screenwriter, if this was not their aim all along, indeed if this entire narrative is not a fairy tale covering of intense financial negotiations about what the movie Megalith could and couldn’t do without The Presence’s approval or participation (see Heyman’s stuttering on this point in the first part of our series). 

More on how the text we’re looking for came into existence — and was lost after shooting in the film editing process — after the jump!

fb67The studio and filmmakers clearly retained the right of final story decision making, however. Rowling describes the Yates and Heyman “team” as one she was happy to be working with to tell her story. They both talk about “Jo” as a newbie screenwriter they had to walk through all her rookie mistakes and screenplay gaffes to get at a story-product, a film, they could put their names on and which would make the greatest possible return on Warner Brothers’ investment. The grease with which cuts have been agreed to and made seems to be the agreement that something, everything, or only a few things that have been cut will appear in later films.

Though Heyman and Yates tell the same story in a different order (see part two of the series), they and Rowling all agree that there were three stages from Rowling’s first script made from her backstory notes to the shooting script. Katherine Waterston tells us this final shooting-script version of the screenplay was “like a book” in its depth of detail, copies of which were kept in a safe on the shooting lot for actors and principals to check in and out at day’s beginning and end. This is the text I think is the source of the film-as-shot before cuts as well as the MinaLima props, the tie-in books’ information, and the LEGO Dimensions video script. It’s what we want, frankly, and what we’re looking for.

fb-script-shotIt is important to note for future reference the three stages The Presence, Yates and Heyman say led to the shooting script “book.” They are (1) a “too dark” version of the story, that Rowling said involved quite a bit of time in New York’s sewers and Yates and Heyman thought a great departure from the atmosphere and message of the Potter films, (2) a “too light” even “whimsical” turn which suggested the first Potter movies that the filmmakers felt needed more edge, and the “just right” version from which they started shooting in August 2015 at Leavesden Studios. As we’ll see in the next few posts, the lack of edge in at least three of Rowling’s story points in the final edited version suggests the filmmakers changed the screenwriter’s message to keep the darkness just off-screen.

We have three primary means of identifying those pieces of the shooting script book that didn’t make it to the “original screenplay:” the interviews given by the filmmaking principals, Rowling, and the actors, the tie-in books and props made by MinaLima which had the shooting script as their source material, and LEGO Dimensions Fantastic Beasts video game.

In the interviews we learned about six cut scenes, discussed in part 3 of this series.

From the MinaLima props and book tie-in prepared before final editing of the film was done, we learned about a host of details and rewritten or re-positioned scenes, discussed in part 4 of this series.

box3I mentioned the LEGO video game in that post as well because of several points of digression it reveals between the shooting script and what we have in the “original screenplay.” If you’re like me, you struggle a bit with the idea of this tongue-in-cheek version of the movie, in which players rack up points by shooting their way through LEGO stop-action animation retelling of Beasts, has any authority whatsoever.

The key here is understanding that LEGO Dimensions is a division of Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment. This video took months to prepare because the game is released the day the film premieres. YouTube had prepared cuts of the game up on 18 November featuring “All CutScenes!” from Fantastic Beasts. So what? What that means is that Warner Brothers is behind the LEGO video, so that, when the LEGO Dimensions videos are made, they use the shooting script on the set. Changes made in the cutting room to that script are not reflected in the LEGO video.

The LEGO Cut Scenes video, >45:00 long, consequently, is closer to Rowling’s final script than the movie in theaters. If you think it’s a just an ad hoc game, look at the star power Warner Brothers has participate in the voice over.

Me and Eddie Redmayne at the voice recording for Fantastic Beasts pack in Lego Dimensions. What an awesome and funny guy! Love my job!

set1No, the video game is not just the shooting script. It has Supergirl, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Gollum, Aquaman, and a host of other guests from LEGO Dimensions games as guest stars and scenes that have clearly been reconfigured for maximum blasting and point scoring possibilities.
That being said, the dialogue Redmayne reads with his co-stars for the video game’s animation voiceovers often reflect the shooting script the LEGO Dimension cast of animators were given to create as a story. Here are three examples:
At 15:07 in the LEGO Cut Scenes video I used (there are five versions last I checked), in the Diamond District, hunting a Niffler:
newt5LEGO Jacob: Ain’t you got no spells to just zap the glass away?
LEGO Newt: I do, of course I do, but they’re all a bit… well, loud, really. And I don’t want to startle him and give him a chance to run off again.
LEGO Jacob: Well, I’m sure we can find a bit of a quieter way in. Otherwise we’ll wind up in Sing Sing faster than you can say Abracadabra.
LEGO Newt: I’d be a wee bit careful how you say that.
The “original screenplay” has none of this. Newt blasts his way into the store with a window shattering “Finestra” (p 123) and we miss a great Avada Kedavra joke, humor for fans akin to Newt’s Groucho-esque “Chaser” response to Mary Lou Barebone earlier.
tina-newtIn the LEGO video at the Pentagram Office meeting of international delegations, Madame Picquery responds to Newt’s declaration that Shaw was killed by an Obscurus by saying that “There is no Obscurial in America! We register every birth, every wand.” The “original screenplay” omits birth and wand registration (p 147), a note that Rowling includes I think to denote the arrogance and ignorance of government officials.
In the LEGO video depiction of Credence’s discovery of a wand in Modesty’s bedroom (25:45), a scene it has interrupt the visit to The Blind Pig speakeasy unlike the “original screenplay,” Modesty says first to Credence and then to Mary Lou Barebone that the wand — not a “toy wand” as specified in the published text (p 202) — “is mine. Betty Burgess lent it to me.”
There are more departures, large and small. I shared perhaps the most important dialogue changes, the ones in the final confrontation of Grindelgraves, Newt, Tina, and Credence, in Part 4, changes we’ll be revisiting in 5.4. The cut Diner scene meeting of Credence and Grindelgraves also discussed on Part 4, really a repositioning with significant dialogue differences, changes how we understand their relationship.
img_5801aAnd we have the Theseus letter’s appearance in the LEGO video, something completely absent from the “original screenplay,” the existence of which LEGO video-opening-scene letter is confirmed by a MinaLima prop on exhibit at the film site. More on that in 5.2.

All of which is to say, again, the “original screenplay” is taken from the final cut of the film, not Rowling’s shhoting-script “book.” From what we have learned from our three sources for that script, our ur text, The Presence’s story took some fascinating turns, downgrades for the most part, as the filmmakers protected the studio’s investment and their own point earnings.

 Let’s start at the beginning, then, with Theseus Scamander’s letter to his little brother and why Rowling would have put this note about Grindelwald at the story opening as Newt sails into New York.

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