Prop-maker Pierre Bohanna’s amazing career has seen him play a vital creative role in film series such as James Bond, Star Wars and Harry Potter. Chris Burn reports.
Pierre Bohanna has a simple test to know when his team’s prop-making work on a film has been a success. “If I see the film and need to go back and see it again because I have been so wrapped up in the story I haven’t been looking at our stuff,” he explains. “We are all contributing to telling a story and are filmmakers in different guises.”
Bohanna adds that a second viewing of an engrossing film will let him confirm the props he has created fit naturally into the story.
He is a man who should know - having gone from working on building boats to working for a model-making and effects company specialising in TV commercials and eventually working his way up into the film industry, he has been responsible for creating props for some of the biggest movies of the past three decades – including Titanic, The World is Not Enough, The Dark Knight and several Star Wars films.
But he is perhaps best known as the head prop maker for the Harry Potter films and their prequels, the Fantastic Beasts series.
Bohanna is speaking to The Yorkshire Post to promote the DVD release of the second Fantastic Beasts film, The Crimes of Grindlewald, as well as Leeds being in the running to host a national tour of the giant ‘Wizarding World Wands’ which have previously been displayed in London.
The press release describes him as ‘the real life Ollivander’ after the wandmaker in the Harry Potter books and films, and while Bohanna modestly plays down the tag as “not my choice”, there is no doubting the parallel after he led a team of around 50 people in designing all the wands and other props featured in the hit series of movies, which have made almost £6bn at the box office.
Bohanna says when he first got involved with the franchise, he had no idea of how big it would become.
“It was in June 2000 that I got asked to be involved with the film. They were a big thing but not on the scale they are now,” he recalls.
“I read the first book in a few days before the job interview. That was the first time I really got into it.
“I was just happy to have a few months’ work! It was a great project to do. We didn’t feel any pressure about what we were doing. We were totally ignorant of what was to come. The expectation was there was a good likelihood of making a second film but that was about it.”
He says while the filmmakers were keen to be faithful to JK Rowling’s vision, films based on books have to condense the plot and “get down to the bones of the story”.
Bohanna explains that the lengthy process of making the wands for Harry Potter – in which each character has their own unique one – is a good example of the challenges and opportunities of prop-making.
“In Harry Potter, the wands are possessed by one character and have ended up as they are because of the choices and tastes of each character. So at the beginning of the film, you go to talk to the major creatives about it and what their image of the character is.”
After initial drawings are created, discussions then take place to ensure each one is just right.
“Obviously there are changes back and forward until you re fairly confident and then you go and make the wand. Then you actually have to think about how it is going to be used in the film and how many are needed. You always needs spares and perhaps stunt ones.”
He says it is all part of a huge process for each production.
“We will produce thousands of pieces. I had a crew of up to 50 people on most Potter films.”
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. For more information about the Wizarding World Wands tour competition, visit www.fantasticbeasts.co.uk/wandsready.