Writing Order of the Phoenix: A New Interview with Michael Goldenberg

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Jan 18, 2008

Posted by SueTLC
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Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg is the subject of a new profile in the Carnegie Mellon alumni magazine. A graduate of the school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Michael Goldenberg speaks of his work writing the screenplay for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” comparing it to composing a musical score:

When you’re writing music, it’s all about what you’re hearing’ he says, “rhythm, pace, the sculptural shape of it. I think movies are very similar to that because it’s taking place in time in the same way that the music is. You just sort of hear it.” One of the moments that he “heard” when he read the novel is the scene in which Harry sees one of the memories of quasi-villain Professor Snape. Snape, then a young student, is being cruelly taunted by fellow student James Potter, Harry’s dad, just to make James’ friends laugh. In terms of the story, Goldenberg says, it wasn’t an obvious thing to keep. But it crystallized the movie for him.

“It’s a powerful moment when your parent”and especially a parent who Harry has idealized enormously because he never knew him”is revealed as a flawed human being. I remember that moment for me, and I know there is a similar moment for a lot of people”and not just your parents but that the people in charge are just as messed up and confused and uncertain as you are, and how terrifying that is. It’s the death of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and God all wrapped up in one.”

Mr. Goldenberg says his favorite moments in the fifth Harry Potter movie involved Harry and his godfather Sirius Black, noting “There are some moments in there that I am very proud of. A lot of that material is not in the book and was written to dramatize the connection between them.” The screenwriter also says that author J.K. Rowling told him “She sees the films as separate from the books…she just wanted to see a great movie.”

In an early conversation, Rowling talked about Harry’s story being, in a sense, a quest for a father. “Jo pointed out that Harry always was secure in his mother’s love, but over the course of all of the books, he keeps coming up with flawed father figures’ Goldenberg says. “In Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore, who has been the overtly paternal figure, is suddenly radically absent from the story. Dumbledore had always been all wise and all knowing, but now he is revealed as just a man”a very smart man, but one who has, in this case, made a terrible mistake, a strategic error that has resulted in disaster, and he is admitting that to Harry”both because Harry deserves to know, but also because Harry needs to be disillusioned. He needs to realize that in order for him to grow up and take on the responsibilities that he needs to take on, Dumbledore has to come down from his pedestal.

“That’s very moving to me. I do think it’s one of the great themes”loss of innocence. I’ve always been attracted to coming-of-age stories that dealt with that. So that was my deepest connection to this story”and the reason I wanted to tell it. Life lessons happen, and he goes from being a kid who sees the world in fairly black and white terms to seeing just how complicated a place it is”and how complicated he is. I thought that was a really good story to tell, particularly now.”

With screen writing duties for Half-Blood Prince now back with Steve Kloves, Michael Goldenberg is currently at work on the screenplay for the adaptation of the classic children’s book Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and is writing his own story for a future film.

Thanks Melanie!





37 Responses to Writing Order of the Phoenix: A New Interview with Michael Goldenberg

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I can’t help but wish he were coming back as screenwriter for DH.

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I personally prefered Goldenberg’s HP script to Kloves’ works. Shame he won’t get another crack at the HP franchise.

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He’s still working on ‘Where the Wild Things Are’? I thought that was in post production?

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he did a wonderful job for such a long book, it turned out really nice. we got the overall picture without any of the important really fun stuff being gone. Yes alot of the little subplots were missing but the book is a whopping 875 or so and very rich with content. Well done Michael, thanks!

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Overall, I liked Order of the Phoenix well enough. My main cmplaint is that the scene with Snape/James et al was cut so short. Why was this Snapes worst memory? Not because James taunted him, but because he insulted Lily and that broke their tie. SHE WAS NOT EVEN IN THIS SCENE. And in Harry’s story, she is at it’s crux. She is the tie that binds Snape and Harry…even reluctantly. Also, I was appalled that the final audience between Dumbledore and Harry was cut. That chapter explains a lot and answers a lot of questions and also underscores the role that Harry must assume. I only hope that in Half Blood Prince, this conference between Protoge and Mentor will unfold. I always knew they would concentrate on the conflict with Umbridge/Fudge and Harry/Dumbledore. I just wish they would not leave out the little things…like Tom Riddle, they are ignoring the House Elves, Goblins, and other creatures that have power in this particular universe. [Sigh] Of couse I know it would be impossible to cram these books into a mere 2-3 hours on screen. I also feel that the writers and directors have all done the best to keep true to the story. Each book is an epic in its own way…I just encourage everyone to read the books lbecause that way they will get the whole story and the whole adventure and not miss a thing.

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I almost cannot express how deeply unhappy I am that Goldberg hadn’t been the script writer for all the HP movies. I’ve heard people fuss about HP:OotP not having one scene or another but they are totally missing all the little touches he kept in the movie that under less skilled hands would have not even been touched upon (e.g., by Kloves). Take for example when Harry, at Grimald Place walks up the stairs and sees Kreature pulling over a box, stepping onto it and polishing a brass plate with a tatty rag. Listen to that bit! Not only does Kreature speak to Mrs Black behind the curtain but you can hear Mrs Black fussing! I think loads of people missed that because it takes only seconds worth of the movie’s time. But I believe it is there for those of us who read the book and so desperately wanted that bit in the movie. Goldberg put loads of little treats in the movie if you just look for them. Goldberg is a skilled and exempliary script writer and I want him back for HP:DH! PLEASE COME BACK GOLDBERG!

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The only thing that I dislike about HP:OoTP movie is the part where Umbrige is able to break into the room of requirement, its just not possible. That scene in the movie just didn’t make any sense to me. I mean any one who has read the books, knows that you can’t break into the room of requirement. Other than that it was an okay movie, not my favorite, but not the worse.

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There seems to be only one photo ever of Michael Goldenberg. Have we ever seen something other than the one in that article? =)

Interesting article. I agree with many here who think his script was a better adaptation than Kloves’. However, as much as I loved OOP, it seems he didn’t “hear” that Lily was the reason why Snape’s Worst Memory was what it was—seems he thinks it’s a lot more about the flawed James bit. Interesting.

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People complain about all sorts of scenes left out of OOTP, but for me, this was one that – finally – got the emotions right. Between Goldenberg’s script and Daniel Radcliffe’s performance – which I don’t see commented on enough – I was blown away by this film . . . I felt an emotional connection I have never felt with the other films.

Yes, I was extremely disappointed that Snape’s Worst Memory was truncated. But the very fact that Lily was cast seems to indicate that Goldenberg actually wrote a much longer scene featuring her. It’s not the screenwriter’s fault if a particular scene or portion of a scene winds up on the cutting-room floor. I am hopeful that we will seen the “extended cut” of this memory, perhaps in “the Prince’s Tale” section of DH, the movie.

Thank you, Michael Goldenberg . . .

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Remember guys, Lily was cast which means Goldenberg wrote her into the script. You therefore cannot blame him for that scene being rediculously short.

Also, James turning out to be a prat IS the most important part of that scene in the context of the fifth book. Snape being in love with Lily isn’t important until the seventh book/movie which is I imagine when we will finally see that part of Snape’s Worst Memory.

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Let’s be fair to Goldenebrg here – the script for OotP is likely to have been written in 2006, or maybe even late 2005, long before Deathly Hallows was released, and it was only in that book that the importance of the Snape/Lily link was revealed, or her importance in that memory. Taking OotP on its own, which Goldenberg will have been doing, James’s behaviour is by far the most important part of that scene, the part that’s really relevant to the plot and Harry’s emotional journey at that point. For my part, I do think that the Lily angle WAS a key part of that scene and ought to have been included, but the filmmakers weren’t to know that at the time; Jo could have tipped them off about not cutting it out, like she did with Kreacher, but for whatever reason she obviously chose not to, so I don’t think anyone’s to blame for that. We know the full story, anyway…

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Damn you, Amy S, you got there first. :P

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Like people who said before, I’m disappointed that Goldenberg isn’t going to be any HP movie. I thought he did a fantastic job with Order of Phoenix.

And to all those who are complaining about Lily being missing from the movie and how that part was crucial…. Have you forgotten that the movie was released BEFORE the final book? How could possibly Goldenberg have known that that was Snape’s worst memory because that scene was the cause of the end of friendship between Lily and Snape? I”m pretty certain most of us didn’t know that, now did we? And it’s not a “mistake” that cannot be fixed. As seen in DH, Harry sees that scene again in Pensive. So in DH, they can easily extend that scene and add Lily in. In fact, isn’t that what they are doing? Wasn’t that why they didn’t include the extended scene as deleted scene in the DVD? (I’m not 100% sure of this, please do correct me if I’m wrong). So please bringing up Snape’s Worst Memory being a problem in the movie. You can’t blame Goldenberg for not knowing. Besides, Goldenberg did write the scene in, and it was filmed, it was just not included in the movie after the editing.

Just my two cents :)

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Oops… Amy S and Muddtallica beat me there. My post is pretty much a repeat, I apologize.

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Amazing that he thought SWM “crystallized” everything, yet it was chopped out of the movie, and changed beyond recognition. Also, Harry never really thinks about it again. He should be applauded for recognizing that it was an important moment, and the point at which many, many readers discovered that Snape was at the heart of the story. And cutting out Lily was a terrible thing to do because it removes the most important foreshadowing for the next two movies – it’s sad.

I don’t blame Mr. Goldenberg – he wrote the scene, and the pictures we had were awesome. The director and editors who decided that Umbridge was more important are the ones to blame. Umbridge is just a cardboard villain who means nothing, and while she was amusing, she is not the heart of the story. So – blah.

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And I don’t think anyone needs to apologize for wishing a favorite scene was in the movie. It’s not just “any” scene.

And so what if it’s in DH – they are chopping that into two movies to make more money. So it may be literally years and years till we see the full SWM, and that’s so crazy.

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The script was written in 2005 at the latest, of course, probably just after HBP came out, but certainly Jo could have egged him on about the importance of Lily in the scene? Certainly if not to him, Jo could have spoken to David Yates, to Mark Day, editor, and hinted at its significance? That’s the surprise to me.

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quote: Mr. Goldenberg says his favorite moments in the fifth Harry Potter movie involved Harry and his godfather Sirius Black, noting “There are some moments in there that I am very proud of. A lot of that material is not in the book and was written to dramatize the connection between them.” The screenwriter also says that author J.K. Rowling told him “She sees the films as separate from the books…she just wanted to see a great movie.”unquote

And you did not fail JKR’s expectation and most of the fans. As I have been saying in all my comments, IMHO, HPOotP is the best film yet, and that credits the actors, director and YOU, Mr. Goldenberg. Thank you for wrting such a beautiful screenplay for OotP cheers just :( you’re not doing the HBP but I hope you work on HPDH.

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i personally like steve kloves given that he goes deeper and in depth into the plot. I think goldbergh was awful pretty much left everything in the fifth movie. Thank God hes gone. I didn’t wanna see another potter film getting destroyed

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Thought that Goldenberg did a good job – although none of the movies, alas, tell the WHOLE story. Also, can’t resist saying – GO CARNEGIE-MELLON FINE ARTS DEPARTMENT!!!!!! My alma mater, too.

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Guys the most shocking thing to me is that JK now free i guess from her writings could very well be present at every screenplay writing.. I mean she should have told steve kloves to include the gaunts and Hepizah if they were that important!!!! In OOTP, she should have tipped them off to include the mirror too like she did with Kreacher but i am surprised she didn’t!!! Anyway, to all book fans, you should REALLY disconnect yourself a bit for only 3 hours from the books and enjoy the movies as they are .. I know a lot was missing especially in GOF and OOTP but overall it was fun, got the whole picture and showed what was the most important thing and that is Harry’s emotions and him being always raged!!! Lets just hope HBP is as excellent as OOTP!!!

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I love more Steve Kloves: He’s been working with Jo Rowling from the beginning and he really understand the story, Thank God he’s doing the last two films. I liked the OOTP,but one thing irritates me- the way they shown Harry-Cho relationship. In the book she’s dirty jelaous b….,and they broke up because she was jealous on Hermione and she started to scream on Harry in Hogsmeade,Remember??? I was really pissed because of that. But it’s OK?

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sniffle

WANT. HIM. BACK.

he condensed a vast book into an excellent screenplay, didn’t kill the characters or go overboard on any character-love, he focused on what was important… and it’s not his fault what ended up getting cut for the final release. he did, in short, a fairly smashing job. kloves tends to be quite hit and miss, and i’m half dreading the hbp r/hr stuff anyway, because there’s no way ron will emerge with the slightest bit of respectability…

Goldenberg ftw.

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I was very pleased to hear that Goldenberg was especially proud of his work with Harry and Sirius. I’ll probably be stoned for saying this, but when I read “Phoenix” Sirius’ death didn’t hit me particularly hard, and I was pretty surprised at the extent of the mourning in the fandom. Goldenberg developed the relationship between Harry and Sirius to the point that Sirius’ death was much more poignant. In that respect, I think he managed to do what so many screenwriters attempt but fail to do: he improved upon the book.

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I think Kloves has done a great job on the 4 movies he’s done. Particularly in PoA where he was given the opportunity throw more of his own touches in, e.g. Lupin’s lines about Lily, all the Lupin stuff was brilliantly done. The only thing missing was a clearer explanation of the Marauders, but it turns out in the end it didn’t matter because they TOTALLY messed it up in Ootp by not even having Snape’s memory intact! Ah well…it’s the movies, they can’t include everything, especially stuff like flashbacks that would just confuse the movie-only audience.

People thing Goldenberg’s better because of things like Ron being stronger. But that’s just how the book is. He’s an idiot through a lot of the GoF book so that’s how that movie had to be. In Ootp he stands by Harry. David Yates also allowed him to be stronger. Other directors would maybe have told Rupert to play him more stupidly.

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As others have stated, Goldenberg wrote Lily into the scene, and she was cast. The scene was supposed to be longer and it was butchered down. That’s not Goldenberg’s fault. He recognized the importance of Lily in that memory, as did I, before the release of DH.

As an aside, I’m surprised most people didn’t see the importance of Lily in that scene before DH. Snape was bullied and attacked all his life, so why would that scene stand out in his mind as his worst memory? The answer was clear: Lily.

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fishscale, I think you are wrong about Goldenberg not going overboard with “character-love.” His “love” was obviously Looney Lovegood. How else can anyone explain her ridiculous role in that movie? In the book she could see thestrals, that’s it, she could just see them, just like Neville, Harry and the stringy Slytherin boy. All of a sudden, she hangs out with them in the forest, and feeds them, and becomes a wise old sage giving Harry advice ala Yoda?

Yuck, Yuck, Yuck, a thousand times yuck! All because when JKR introduced her, she had her wand behind her ear, and Goldenberg “knew she was a writer”.

I’ll take Steve Kloves fascination with Hermione over Goldenberg’s fascination with Looney any day. At least Hermione has a significant role in the series, Looney ended up being nothing but comic relief.

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Very Secret Diary, sorry, but I couldn’t disagree with you more: Luna was incredible in the film, in my opinion. In fact, I think her scenes were some of the strongest in the film, and I think that Goldenberg understood her 100%, and wrote her part perfectly. She’s supposed to be the ironic voice of reason; he imbued her lines with that trait with deftness.

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God, I wish he was coming back for the rest of the movies. He really captured the most important scenes, emotions, and themes of the books.

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It would be a good idea to put both Goldenberger and Kloves on the last movie.

After all there were at least 3 scrennwriter on the Lord of the Rings !

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“Remember guys, Lily was cast which means Goldenberg wrote her into the script. You therefore cannot blame him for that scene being rediculously short.”

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!

gosh.. some people still blame Goldenberg for that… THAT WAS AAAALLLLL YATES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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i agree with linden swallow. “None of the movies tell the whole story.” and imo i believe that some of the actors are not in character.

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well i have to say that this screenwriter did a good job….the last movie is not my favorite one because of yate’s….he is a good director but there was something that i didn like about the movie….

goldenberg did a great job …. the screenplay was good…

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well i can understand that thery have to cut parts and delete scenes, but what i really HATE is when they change things. like when the STUPID scene at the begining of POA, harry is using magic in his home. and he is not expelled, ALfunso did a very bad joooooooooooooob. and so did yates in OoTP. as someone said the made umbridge blast the room. and it was cho who betrayed harry, and the firenze, i was waiting to see umbridge’s face when dd introduces firenze and the worst of all is how sirius died he fell through the veil and was not killed by avada kedavra, i hate you yates.

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@Diana Maybe nobody really could see Lily´s importance in the scene is probably based on Lily´s appearance itself. She handled Snape like he was a stranger to her (book 5). “leave him alone” not “leave my FRIEND alone”. This makes a big difference anyway. She talked to James, not to Snape. First when Snape insulted her, she reacted and said something to him. She spoke of him (towards James) like she would have talked everybody who got tortured by someone else.There was no clue she could have liked him. Ok, later on, when she showed a pitiless behavior towards Snape (book 7) it became clear. And maybe, just maybe, most people would not be insulted for the rest of their lives just someone said something stupid under psychological pressure. But Lily was. As maybe every immature girl would have been. Hermione was better in this way.

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I liked ootp, but I wished they ahad kept a brief glimpse of lily getting mad at james (a few seconds should have done that) and the St. Mungo’s, but I guess they decided not to in the end…

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I hope he returns for the last HP movie! He is far better than Kloves, who is so biased towards Hermione and Ron, and other characters. Goldenberg understands this is “Harry Potter and…”. That was the great thing about the Lord of the Rings movies, they were centered around Frodo, and everythig not directly related with him was cut. That made the films to be coherent and easy to understand. HP should be like that.

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