NFTS Graduate & Director David Yates Describes “Blessed” Journey from Film School to Directing Harry Potter 

After a rousing welcome by NFTS Director, Nik Powell, triple BAFTA-winning director and NFTS graduate, David Yates gave students a fascinating insight into his journey from film school to directing international blockbusters such as the Harry Potter series and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. (If you would love to work on digital effects for movies like these, don't miss our Digital Effects MA open day on the 17th May - sign up at

(Still from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)

Starting with a glimpse of his NFTS graduation film followed by a clip from his award-winning political thriller, State of Play, David explained that he has always been drawn to a diverse mix of textures, colours and tones, right from his early career to the Potter movies: “I make full utilisation of the tools at hand to express the texture and story.”

He stressed how exciting it can be at the start of your career to work with new and unknown cast and crew: “Starting out, you tend to by necessity discover other wonderful people and bring them to people’s attention. Go with those who inspire and excite. James McAvoy had only done one piece of telly then. It was very exciting; hopefully you’ll find some fantastic people to work with too! Everyone in this room who makes something will know what you feel when you meet the right actor; it’s instinctive, like falling in love; you know it’s them!

Even the extras in David’s productions get special attention: “Background action is so important; you need to make that part of the movie feel alive!” In State of Play, David asked the extras playing journalists to create their own desk space so it would feel personal and in The Legend of Tarzan, the extras were put through workshops including history lessons.

(Still from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2)

On working with VFX for the first time on a big scale on the Harry Potter movies, David said: “I had a privileged introduction to big movies thanks to working with great producers like David Heyman who told me he loved what I did and to just get on with it! It was an amazing experience wondering into the movies and feeling that no one would say no to anything I suggested.”

David encouraged the students to be open to change in the filmmaking process: “Filmmaking is a constant process of evolution and change. It’s organic; you have to be open to things; it’s a very fluid process. The more confidence you gain, the more open you are to fluidity and change. I do loads of preparation including previs and storyboarding but that’s the groundwork. It’s good to prepare but also to be open to improvisation; I’m a strong believer in that.”

“The directors who will really succeed are the ones who aren’t concerned about everyone on set knowing they are the director and can be succinct with their direction! The director is there to help everyone discover their best and realise a vision you feel strongly about.”

(David Yates with NFTS Director, Nik Powell)

Despite David’s huge success, he feels he still has a lot more to learn: “I’m still evolving; I’m genuinely curious and feel that I’m half-way through a journey of discovery of the filmmaker that I am. I haven’t got to making the thing I want to be remembered for yet. However feted you become, take it with a pinch of salt, it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

A student asked David what his state-of-mind was when he went into directing the Harry Potter series: “I was both excited and scared! The producers were great – they all watched my back and believed in me, and allowed me to do my thing. My journey has been very blessed without people trying to muscle in, which I know is not the norm.”

More questions came in thick and fast, from what it was like working with ‘wonderful’ Production Designer, Stuart Craig and his ‘beautiful sets’ to how David picks his cinematographers, “I employ people who inspire me. I’m looking for a partner and ally; a flexible DoP who won’t spend too long lighting!”

And, on what it was like working on both The Legend of Tarzan and Fantastic Beasts at the same time, “actually, it was one of the most exhilarating years of my life, I love being busy!”

If you’d love to come to inspiring masterclasses like this one, sign up to one of our upcoming open days to find out more. For those looking to work on visual effects on movies like Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts, register for our Digital Effects open day on the 17th May or if Editing, Composing or Sound Design is more your thing, we have a Post Production open day on the 26th April – more info here: