How to fight a Harry Potter wand battle

Harry Potter’s wand choreographer teaches us

Dance might not be the first thing you’d associate with the Harry Potter franchise, but with a number of high-octane and carefully staged wand battles required for Order of the Phoenix, director David Yates brought expert choreographer Paul Harris on board. Harris, having worked across film and TV before (he choreographed the laser scene in Entrapment) seemed like the perfect choice to develop each spell-casting move.

Total film caught up with Harris at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour for a quick lesson in wand technique, and gave us the top 10 ingredients for the perfect wand battle.

Step 1: A flair for dance…..
“It’s a dance battle” explains Harris as he talks Total Film through the different moves he developed for the Harry Potter franchise’s duelling scenes. Harris was brought in to create a wholly new universal wand-technique with elements of ballet, salsa and perhaps just a little bit of kung fu. Any witch or wizard worth their salt would need to be able to swivel those hips to let the magic happen.

Step 2: 10 key moves
Ten moves were created in total, with five key offensive moves fitted together to form a fluid attack, and five corresponding blocks. The moves range from a kung-fu type hand-overhead stance, to a behind-the-back zap, and each defensive move is designed to stop spells at different heights; what’s the use in protecting your face if there’s a curse whizzing towards your knuts?

Step 3: Background Potter knowledge
The Order of the Phoenix wasn’t the first time duelling had been seen in the films, with a more fencing-inspired style seen in Chamber of Secrets. Harris had to take this earlier style into account when designing his more rhythmic moves.

Step 4: Wand Optional (as long as you’re Dumbledore or Voldemort)
Yates was keen to show the difference in technique between experienced wizards and fifth year students, but the clearest contrast comes from Voldemort and Dumbledore, who are both able to cast spells WITHOUT a wand. They’re just that good. Nothing Fancy (unless you’re Jason Isaacs)

Step 5: Nothing Fancy (unless you’re Jason Isaacs)
“The key was to have no superfluous movements” says Harris, “but once the actors had the basic movements, they could adapt them to the style of their character.” From Lucius Malfoy’s flourishes to Sirius Black’s Azkaban influenced street style, each character was able to personalise their style within the grammar Harris had developed.

Step 6: It’s all in the wrist
As Total Film flails about uselessly, casting imaginary spells all over Leavesden Studios, Harris jumps in to advise: ““Turn your wrist inwards, and it’ll make you more accurate.” A crucial tip for all hopeful wand-wavers: turning your wrist at the end of the spell gives same effect as the barrel of a gun spinning a speeding bullet – your spell will shoot off in a straight line.

Step 7: The right actors
Did any of the cast let the side down in terms of wand-technique? Harris is tight lipped: “They’re great actors, and so focussed” he says, though Total Film later learned that Daniel Radcliffe managed to smash his way through SIXTY wands in the course of the eight films. Our money’s definitely on Dan.

Step 8: The special effects
Let’s face it, without some computer-aided whizzbangs, magic battles on screen might be somewhat lacking in action. The muggle actors were required to react in the right way to a spell being zapped in their direction, with lightning reflexes required for the blocks, deflections and dodges.

Step 9: Avoid the common mistakes
“You’re aiming at the floor again” – Harris gives the deep sigh of a man who has coached this a thousand times. There are mistakes that every novice wizard makes: using the wand itself as a weapon (no poking, stabbing or jabbing allowed,) inadvertently aiming at the floor, and waggling it around too much. The trick? K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Squib.

Step 10: Get Total Film involved
What was the one thing missing in Harry Potter’s epic duelling scenes? The presence of Total Film’s expert dexterity and coordination. Bring it on, You-Know-Who.

Wand Week will run exclusively during February half term (16th – 24th February 2013) at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter

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