Half- bloody revenge
Delaying the latest Harry Potter film has infuriated fans, writes Lauren Schuker
JEAN Fink, an artist who also works as an administrative assistant in Los Angeles, was so distraught after a night of fitful sleep that she dashed off a scathing, misspelled message to the man who betrayed her. ‘‘ I can’t breath amymore because you just ripped out my heart,’’ she wrote in an August 15 email.
Her tormentor: Alan Horn, president of Time Warner Inc’s Warner Bros. On August 14, Horn had announced the unusual decision to delay releasing the newest instalment of the Harry Potter series, initially set for release in November, for another eight months. ‘‘ What he was doing was screwing up the world,’’ Fink says. ‘‘ I wasn’t . . . going to go kill the guy, but I was angry. And I’m not done yet.’’
To a world of wand- wielding Harry Potter loyalists, the studio executive had crossed to the dark side. Within hours of the decision to postpone the release of Harry Potter and the Half- Blood Prince to next July, hate mail began to pour into the studio. An online petition expressing fans’ disgust with the decision garnered more than 45,000 signatures. The studio says it even received death threats. ‘‘ I hope you choke on your own saliva,’’ one fan snarled in an email.
While executives’ private email addresses circulated via the web, angry homemade videos were being uploaded on to YouTube. In one, Greg and Penny Gershman overlaid their own subtitles to a German film about the final days of Adolf Hitler. ‘‘ How am I supposed to get my Potter fix now!’’ Hitler violently shouts, according to the new subtitles, when told of the delay by one of his officials. He adds: ‘‘ We are going to make Warner Bros suffer.’’
The withering attacks over such a family friendly franchise as Harry Potter show how the nature of fan uprisings has grown increasingly hostile. Thanks to the web, angry fans can arm themselves with the latest information and speedily deliver profane brain dumps straight into executive email boxes.
It’s an unpleasant new challenge for the entertainment industry, which is more used to quaint letter- writing campaigns such as the one that briefly saved the television show Star Trek from being cancelled in the late 1960s.
But Warner Bros is in some ways a victim of the same forces that drove its success. The five previous Harry Potter films have grossed almost $ 4.5 billion in worldwide box- office revenue, making the series the biggest franchise in history. In the past, Warner Bros has invited staff of Potter fan websites to movie premieres to help whip up hysteria. With its transgression, Warner Bros has inadvertently unleashed this powerful force against itself.
On August 19, Horn issued a formal apology, assuring fans that the studio ‘‘ would certainly never do anything to hurt any of the films’’. He also noted a ‘‘ silver lining’’, which is that HalfBlood Prince would now open closer to the studio’s seventh planned Harry Potter film, due out in November 2010.
But die- hard fans, sometimes called Potterheads, weren’t appeased.
In response to Horn’s apology, one Potterhead sent 30 angry letters to Warner Bros in bright red envelopes: an allusion to howlers, a magical kind of hate mail in the Potter world that screams loudly at the recipient and explodes violently if left unopened.
People at the studio say that while they knew that tampering with the film’s release date could stir up dark forces, the studio never expected the actual onslaught.
Potter fans felt particularly betrayed by the studio for giving them such late notice about the delay. In late July, just two weeks before the announcement, the studio released a trailer for the film, which explores the teen wizard’s early struggles with romance and promises the shattering death of a main character. And Time Warner’s Entertainment Weekly had just put star Daniel Radcliffe on its cover.
An eight- month delay for a big- budget movie is highly unusual. But because Warner Bros elected not to associate the Harry Potter movies with many corporate sponsors, Half- Blood Prince is less encumbered with the kind of deadlines typically faced by big Hollywood movie releases. ( The film is delaying some ancillary products, such as a Half- Blood Prince video game.) Many fans felt the studio’s stated reason for the delay — that the film would make a bigger splash in the middle of summer — was a crass admission that the studio cares only about bigger box- office returns.
‘‘ YOU just slapped the face of EVERY Harry Potter fan and told us you don’t care what we want, you only want our money!’’ stormed one fan, Natalie DeGennaro.
‘‘ You are blasted, greedy, money- driven executive b—,’’ wrote another, Lauryn Adams.
Anthropology experts on Potterheads aren’t surprised by the venom.
‘‘ A lot of our fans live in a fantasy world that they share with hundreds of thousands of other people, so when some people get angry, they feed off each other,’’ says Melissa Anelli, who runs fan site The Leaky Cauldron and has written a book about the Harry Potter phenomenon that comes out this November.
To appease fans, the studio could release an additional teaser or other content, suggests Andrew Sims, who helps run MuggleNet, a fan site named after the Potter term for someone lacking magical powers. ‘‘ If something new came out, everybody would forget about it. But I’ve got to be honest, a little part of me died inside when I heard about the delay,’’ says the 19- year- old college student.
Some think the fans’ reaction could be a boon for the studio. Steve Sansweet, who runs fan relations for George Lucas’s Lucasfilm Ltd, says: ‘‘ Warner Bros should be delighted. Sure, they have a problem on their hands, but they are also seeing the passion of their fans. The real problem comes when you have fans that don’t give a damn.’’
The fans, however, are still angry. Many are still signing petitions, planning protests and uploading angry videos to YouTube. Fink, the artist and administrative assistant, recently stood outside Warner Bros’ Burbank lot with a large sign. ‘‘ Dear Mr Horn,’’ she scrawled in red marker. ‘‘ You will forever be known as ‘ The man who changed Harry Potter’s release date.’ Are you happy now?’’
‘‘ Harry Potter is for the fans, he’s for the underdogs, and so am I,’’ she says. ‘‘ I won’t stop fighting this.’’
The Wall Street Journal
Hold- up spells trouble: David Thewlis, left, and Daniel Radcliffe in a scene from last year’s film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix