PRODUCTION SOLUTIONS

Expert Advice from Epitome's Production Safety & Risk Management Specialists

RISKY BUSINESS: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

How “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” Demonstrates the Need for Risk Management on Film & Television Productions

How risky was Harry’s 2nd year at Hogwarts? Find out below. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros.)

“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is best known for Dobby the House Elf, Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry & Co. bravely facing giant spiders and enormous snakes, and the final appearance of Richard Harris as Dumbledore. While darker than the first (in tone and image), this is the last of the films to have a “kid’s movie” vibe and the final time that Hogwarts still had that new school smell.

What “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” isn’t as well known for are all the injuries and risks that occurred during production. This movie saw actors deal with bloody hands, bloody mouths, and an outbreak on set.  

So grab your Nimbus 2001s, your Swords of Gryffindor, dawn your house colors, and brush up on your Parseltongue as we travel back to the Wizarding World in the second installment of our eight-part investigative series on the Risky Business of Harry Potter.

Let’s begin by breaking through Lockhart’s memory charm so we can head back to the fall of 2001 where we’ll find the cast and crew returning to set for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”



Knockturn Alley: Safety Issues on Set

Danger lurks down Knockturn Alley. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros.)

When dealing with the aftereffects of a broken memory charm while examining safety issues like we are, it is important to note that the year 2001 is over twenty years ago. Much has changed in the time since “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (HP2) was filmed – the internet, social media, cellphones, what qualifies as a planet – including how we make movies, visual effects technology, and on set safety procedures.

The safety issues we found in our research were the result of poor communication and mistakes not malicious intent or negligence. This was a carefully made and well-funded film, and everyone involved had the best of intentions.

And yet, the child actors in this film were injured and they had to deal with an outbreak during production. We would like to highlight three instances that help make the case for risk management on the set of HP2:

  • Head Lice Outbreak
  • Crabbe and Goyle’s Bloody Mouths
  • Draco Malfoy’s Bloody Hand

Let’s start with the issue that affected the most people and delayed production.

Head Lice Outbreak

Production on HP2 began on 19 November 2001, just three days after the wide release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. A new DP, Roger Pratt, was brought on to give the second film a darker tone and palette but practically everyone else stayed on from the first movie.

Chris Columbus was back in the director’s chair. Production designer Stuart Craig worked his magic again, this time on several new and imaginative locations. And our returning cast – Radcliff, Grint, Watson, Smith, Rickman, Harris, Coltrane – were joined by Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart, Jason Isaacs as Lucious Malfoy, and Toby Jones as the voice of Dobby.  

Also new to the set: head lice.

According to several behind the scenes reports, the production of HP2 saw the child actors dealing with an outbreak of head lice. The situation got so bad that production was delayed for a couple of days.

While head lice do not present a major health risk, they are pests that must be dealt with swiftly. We will address how to help prevent a head lice outbreak in just a moment. But first we must turn our attention to on set injuries.

The first injury involves our two Slytherin lackeys, Crabbe and Goyle.

Crabbe and Goyle’s Bloody Mouths

Oddly enough, HP2 is the film where actors Jamie Waylett and Josh Herdman – Crabbe and Goyle respectively – have the most screen time but the least lines. Most of their scenes saw their dialog overdubbed by Grint and Radcliff because Ron and Harry were in disguise thanks to Polyjuice potion.

Waylett and Herdman were injured during the scene where they eat enchanted cupcakes.  The props and effects departments used fishing wire and fishhooks to suspend the cupcakes in midair. Then, Waylett and Herdman were directed to bite into them. They did as directed and, obviously, bit into fishhooks that subsequently cut their mouths.

This seemingly insane situation actually doesn’t surprise us at all. This kind of thing happens more than you’d think. But we will get to that in just a moment. Before we do, let’s see what happened to Draco Malfoy.

Draco Malfoy’s Bloody Hand

Actor Jason Isaacs had a lot of input into the look of his character, Death Eater and father of Draco, Lucious Malfoy. Isaacs gave Lucious his signature locks and his trademark cobra cane. That cane caused a bit of an issue during Lucious and Draco’s first scene.

According to Isaacs himself, the actor used the cane to hit Tom Felton (Draco) on the hand to stop him from touching something in Borgin and Burke’s, the dark wizard’s Knockturn Alley-located supply store.

The props department made Isaacs’s requested cobra cane with sharp fangs and those fangs stabbed into the back of Felton’s hand, puncturing the skin.

It goes without saying, but no one should be injured while making a movie. Especially not a child and certainly not by a fellow actor.

Let’s take a look at how risk management could have help production avoid these situations.

Phoenix Tears: How Risk Management Could Have Made Hogwarts Safer

Phoenix tears heal wounds while risk management avoids them. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros.)

As always, we want to stress that this is not an exercise in performative superiority. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20 so it is much easier to fix things after the fact (even without a Time Turner). By examining big-budget films like this, however, we hope that we can help others to make their sets safer and avoid the potential dangers on display here.

Avoiding a Head Lice Outbreak

There is no magic spell for preventing head lice but proper planning can help. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros.)

According to the CDC, head lice is a known risk when dealing with a large group of children, especially when those children share hats, cloaks, and costumes. The production could have anticipated the likelihood of lice and prepared for it. One key way to prepare for and avoid lice on set is to assign all costumes.

The leads of a movie almost always have their own clothes. They are usually labeled with both the actor’s and character’s name, stored on their own rack, and placed in the actor’s trailer when needed.

Extras, however, are usually dealing with a grab-bag of costumes that are reused by different extras on different days. Based on our research, it appears as though this might have happened on the set of HP2.

While all the name actors – and likely the named characters (even ones without lines) – all had their own costumes, the large group of actors in the background of, say, the Great Hall scenes or the Quidditch scenes likely did not have assigned costumes.

To avoid a lice outbreak, we would recommend that a production assign costumes to all the actors in a scene, even background. And we would be sure to remind them that to combat a lice outbreak, they might need to shut down production for a couple of days. The cost of making/purchasing more costumes to assign to everyone is far less than a shutting down for a few days.

Avoiding Crabbe and Goyle’s Bloody Mouths

There are fishhooks in those cupcakes. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros.)

As we said earlier, this situation doesn’t surprise us at all. It happens all the time: the production team decides to film a scene one way, prepares for that scene, and then on the day of filming a last minute change is made that turns previously safe decisions into risky ones.

In short, what appears to have occurred here is a clear case of miscommunication and last-minute changes.

Based on our research and experience, what likely happened is that the scene as originally conceived didn’t involve the actor’s eating the cupcakes in the same take that saw the cupcakes floating in mid-air.

Crabbe and Goyle were supposed to take the cupcakes from the air in one set-up. At which point, there was meant to be a cut (probably a reaction shot of Harry & Ron). Then, in an entirely new set-up, Crabbe and Goyle were to bite into the cupcakes, now free of any suspension equipment.

In that case, the props and effects department would not have anticipated that the actors would bite into the floating cupcakes. And, so, the props and effects departments used the fastest and cheapest method to keep the cupcakes in the air: fishing line and fishhooks.

But, in the moment, director Chris Columbus decided that it would look great if the actors just bit into the cupcakes during the first set-up. As is often the case, the director’s last-minute idea was not run past other departments.

This led to Waylett and Herdman biting into fishhooks and cutting their mouths.

Three Tips to Avoid Bloody Mouths

To help avoid situations like this one – which again are quite common – our risk management experts highly encourage every production team to do these three things:

  1. Assume Edible Props Will Be Eaten: Just like we talked about in our last installment, food on set will often be eaten, even when it isn’t supposed to be. Props and effects departments should ensure to the best of their ability that all food on set is safe to eat. In this case, the floating cupcakes should have been suspended with something that made the food safe to bite into.
  2. Avoid Last Minute Changes When Possible: Safety requires that everyone is on the same page. Last minute changes affect the safety of previously made decisions. This often results in risks appearing where they should not. Write a good plan and stick to it as often as possible.
  3. Communicate With All Departments: If last minute changes need to be made – and who are we kidding, movie sets are filled with them, daily – it is imperative that the decision makers communicate their changes to all departments. If Columbus had checked in with the props and effects departments before asking Waylett and Herdman to bite into the cupcakes, those departments would have told him about the fishhooks. And, hopefully, everyone would have either stuck to the original plan (no biting in floating take) or followed tip #1 above and used something safer to suspend the cupcakes.

By following those three tips, productions can easily avoid mistakes that lead to injuries like Crabbe and Goyle’s bloody mouths.

Now let’s turn our attention to another very common production risk: overly-committed actors.

Avoiding Draco’s Bloody Hand

Jason Isaacs didn’t mean to harm Tom Felton. But Felton was still harmed. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros.)

Let’s begin by saying the obvious: Jason Isaacs didn’t mean to hurt Tom Felton. But the intentions of our actors are often at odds with their objectives.

Isaacs’s objective in the scene was to intimidate and discipline his character’s son. To teach him a lesson and show him who’s in charge. To accomplish his objective, Isaacs struck his fellow actor on the hand with a sharp metal prop.

While, obviously, Isaacs didn’t want to hurt Felton, his dedication to his objective overruled his desire not to hurt his scene partner. And, truth be told, many actors would follow the same calculus – and many victims would even welcome the pain of being punctured by the cobra cane’s fangs.

Actor’s processes are often complex and – to outsiders – strange. It is not the job of a risk manager to interfere with an actor’s process. But, when their process endangers others, risk managers must intervene to ensure no one is hurt.

If nothing else, the insurance carriers behind the production do not want to deal with needless on-set injuries like this.

Let’s fix this, shall we?

The Return of Realness vs. Believability

This situation comes right back to the issue that plagues so many productions: an unnecessary drive toward realness. To help a production avoid this situation, we would encourage them to strive not for realness but for believably. To do so in this scenario, they could apply these three proven tips:

  1. Props Should Be Fake: There is no reason for the cobra cane to be made of real metal, and even fewer reasons for the fangs to be sharp and able to puncture skin. Not only is it often cheaper to make fake props, it is also safer. Had the cane or the fangs been made of a safer material (say, painted rubber), Isaacs’s impromptu decision to hit Felton on the hand with it would not have caused any injuries.
  2. Ask Permission to Touch: Intimacy coordinators are quickly revolutionizing sex scenes in the entertainment industry. They are giving sex scenes the same detailed choreography that stunts, and fight scenes receive. But, in reality, no one should touch another person on set without asking permission first, especially if said touching will be aggressive and potentially harmful. Had the culture on HP2 been one where everyone asks permission to touch everyone else – even more important when dealing with a minor like Felton – then Isaacs would not have been able to cause Felton’s hand to bleed.
  3. Rehearse and Stick to It: Safety is best achieved through careful rehearsal. After taking the time to rehearse, it is vital that all parties stick to what they rehearsed. This is often at odds with actors’ desire to “spice things up” when actually filming. But, at a minimum, the leaders on set should attempt to keep actors to their rehearsed blocking. Had the team rehearsed this moment in Borgin and Burke’s, Isaacs would have either shown his intentions in rehearsal – in which case the creative team could have helped make that choice safer – or avoided the cobra cane to the hand altogether.

By rehearsing, asking permission to touch, and keeping props fake, the team behind HP2 could have kept their young actor safe from injury.

It is Our Choices: Bottom Line

Our choices have consequences. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros.)

“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” marks the last moment when Harry & Co. were kids. It is quite easy to imagine an alternate version of the Harry Potter series that branched off from here into an endless series of Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew style mysteries set in the Wizarding World.

Many a fanfic story has done just that. Hogwarts and the Wizarding World are such rich locations that they practically beg for never-ending side adventures.

But Rowling had a different idea. A much larger idea. She was out to tell one continuous saga of the Boy Who Lived. From here on out, things get serious (Sirius?). The books get longer, the children mature quickly, and the dangers grow ever menacing.

Harry’s second year at Hogwarts is the last time these adventures feel safe. But, in reality, all these films – including Chamber of Secrets – had safety issues that endangered and injured the cast and crew.

If we had been hired to provide risk management on the set of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” we would have encouraged production to assign costumes to everyone, even background, to avoid the known risk of lice. We would have helped the creative team design safe props, whether they be food or cane. Finally, we would have communicated the importance of believability over realness and, in so doing, helped to avoid the two major injuries during HP2.

Everyone involved in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” had the best of intentions. But, to paraphrase Dumbledore’s advice to Harry at the end of the film: It is not our intentions that show what we truly are “it is our choices.”

Epilogue

This was Kenneth Branagh’s only appearance in the Harry Potter films. He went on to direct “Thor” and the Oscar Nominated “Belfast” among many other projects. But he has the distinguished honor of being the only actor to get a post credit sequence in a Harry Potter film.

Lucious Malfoy actor Jason Isaacs, returned for all the remaining films save for the very next one, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” His cane remained part of his character, but he never again hit an actor on the hand with it.

Jamie Waylett and Josh Herdman remained in the franchise until the end but HP2 saw them get, by far, their most screen time.

Richard Harris died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on 25 October 2002, just four month before production was to begin on “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” His Dumbledore was kind, wise, and beautifully mischievous. Much like the actor himself. Harris lived at the Savoy Hotel in London during his later years. And as he was being wheeled out of the hotel – for what turned out to be the last time – Harris quipped, “It was the food.” It would have been a real treat to see Richard Harris take Dumbledore on the rest of his journey.

As this series continues, we will highlight risky behavior that led to broken ribs, near drownings, paralysis, psychological issues, and much more. Stay tuned to Epitome’s blog for more Risky Business.


Brian Smolensky is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and a former Air Force Full Spectrum Threat Response Officer with over 15 years of experience in film and television production.



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