David Yates (born 8 October 1963) is an English filmmaker who has directed films, short films, and television productions. He is best known for directing the later four films in the Harry Potter series. His work on the series brought him critical and commercial success along with accolades, such as the British Academy Britannia Award for Excellence in Directing. Yates also worked on various short films and became a television director early in his career. His credits include the six-part political thriller State of Play (2003), for which he won the Directors Guild of Great Britain Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement, the adult two-part documentary drama Sex Traffic (2004) and the Emmy Award-winning television film The Girl in the Café (2005). Yates is a founding member of Directors UK. He has had a close partnership with Warner Bros. as a director and producer.
Television and film career (1988–2005)
During the period of working on plans for Brideshead Revisited, Yates was told by his agent that he had made the director shortlist for the fifth film in the Harry Potter series and that Warner Bros. was eyeing him to direct. He was then shortly after confirmed to direct Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by Warner Bros. Pictures, with production scheduled to begin in early 2006. When asked how Yates got the job, producer David Heyman (“a big fan” of Yates’s television work) said that “actors in David’s television projects give their best performance, often of their career. It’s important to keep pushing the actors, particularly the young ones on each Potter film. This is a political film, not with a capital P, but it’s about teen rebellion and the abuse of power. David has made films in the U.K. about politics without being heavy handed.” Before production began, Yates invited Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire director Mike Newell to a pub and “picked his brains about what it was going to be like to step into someone’s shoes on a movie of this scale”. The first scene that Yates shot featured a giant interacting with human characters. The scene was the very first high-scale visual effects piece Yates filmed in his career. After the film’s post-production material was well received by the studio, Yates was chosen to direct the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which according to Yates was going to be “a cross between the chills of Prisoner of Azkaban and the fantastical adventure of Goblet of Fire”. In 2007, Order of the Phoenix opened to positive reviews and commercial success. Yates won the title of Best Director at the Empire Awards and collected the People’s Choice Award from the European Film Academy. However, the film was criticised by fans of the series for having the shortest running time out of the five released instalments; Yates said that the original director’s cut was “probably over three hours”, resulting in much footage being cut, condensed and edited to fit within the studio’s preferred time frame. During production of Half-Blood Prince, Warner Bros. executive Alan F. Horn announced that the seventh and final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was to be split into two cinematic parts with Yates, once again, as the director. Yates spoke of the decision to appoint him as the director of the final films, remarking that “they wanted to do a Harry Potter that felt … more grown up. What’s smart about the studio and the producers is they have always wanted to push it a bit. Chris Columbus did a wonderful job of casting and making this world incredibly popular. But rather than do more of the same, they said, ‘Let’s bring in Alfonso Cuarón and let him run with it. Then later, let’s bring in David Yates, who’s done all this hard-hitting stuff on TV.’ It’s a testament to their ambition to try to keep the franchise fresh. The bizarre thing is, I did one [film] and they asked me to stay for three more, so obviously they liked something.” Half-Blood Prince was released in 2009 and became the only film in the series to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography. Yates worked alongside French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel on, what Yates called, extensively colour grading the “incredibly rich” picture by making it look “very European” and drawing influences from the Dutch painter Rembrandt. The film garnered a mix of accolades and was acclaimed for its stylised character-driven approach, but some fans complained about the script’s deviation from the novel and the film’s slight romantic comedy nature. In response to this criticism, renowned BAFTA member and film critic Mark Kermode praised Yates’s direction and ranked the film “second best” in the series, behind Prisoner of Azkaban. Yates began to film Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Deathly Hallows – Part 2 back-to-back in early 2009 and finished reshoots in late 2010. He stated that he had shot the two parts of the final adaptation differently, with Part 1 being a “road movie” and “quite real”, “almost like a vérité documentary”, while Part 2 is “more operatic, colourful and fantasy-oriented”, a “big opera with huge battles.” Yates reshot the final scene of the Harry Potter series at Leavesden Studios after the original version, filmed at London King’s Cross railway station, did not meet his expectations. In the film, the scene takes place at the magical Platform 9¾. Part 1 was released worldwide in November 2010 to commercial success along with generally positive reviews, some of which reflected on Yates’s directing style. The Dallas Morning News affirmed that “David Yates’ fluid, fast-paced direction sends up the crackling tension of a thriller” and The New York Times analysed Yates’s approach to J. K. Rowling’s character development by saying that he has “demonstrated a thorough, uncondescending sympathy for her characters, in particular the central trio of Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and Harry Potter himself.” The film was praised for its “dark” atmosphere and its loyalty to the source material, but it was criticised for its slow middle act, the handling of exposition, and the somewhat disjointed pacing. Part 2 was screened in July 2011 and became an instant record-breaking success with critical acclaim. The Daily Telegraph described Part 2 as “monumental cinema awash with gorgeous tones” and Total Film wrote that Yates combines “spectacle and emotion into a thrilling final chapter.” Author J. K. Rowling remarked that “everyone who watches Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is going to see that he’s steered us home magnificently. It’s incredible.” Part 2 is the only Harry Potter film to pass the $1 billion mark during its original theatrical run; it became the highest-grossing film in the series and the highest-grossing film of 2011, making Yates the director of the highest-grossing non-James Cameron film of all time in August 2011. Amongst other accolades, Yates won his second Empire Award for Best Director and joined the principal creative team of Harry Potter in receiving the 2012 ADG Award for Outstanding Contribution to Cinematic Imagery for their work on Deathly Hallows – Part 2 and the series in general. Yates attended the 64th British Academy Film Awards in February 2011, where he was joined by J. K. Rowling, David Heyman, Mike Newell, Alfonso Cuarón, David Barron, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson in collecting the Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema on behalf of the Harry Potter films. Daniel Radcliffe, who portrayed the films’ titular character, commented on working with Yates, saying that he “added his own sense of grit and realism [to the series] that perhaps wasn’t there so much before. I think we all had a fantastic time working with David. I know we did.”
By 2012, Yates was working on a few Warner Bros. projects, including a Tarzan feature film and an Al Capone biopic called Cicero. He also controversially said that he was working with BBC Worldwide on plans to develop a Doctor Who film, although this was denied by the showrunner, Steven Moffat, in July 2012. Because of production delays, Yates began to explore other projects including television work. In 2013, he returned to television by signing on to direct the television pilot of Tyrant, an American drama production set against the US–Middle East conflict. The following year, Yates began shooting The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, and Christoph Waltz. The film, released in 2016, opened to mixed reviews and a worldwide total of $356.7 million. Yates directed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a 2016 film which is the first in a series of five instalments based on J. K. Rowling’s book, set in the world of her Harry Potter novels. David Heyman and Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves joined Yates and J. K. Rowling in developing the script. The film was released in November 2016, it received generally positive reviews and was a commercial success having grossed $814 million , The film stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, and Johnny Depp. Yates directed the 2018 sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald which received mixed critical reception but emerged a box office success having grossed $654 million. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he stated he was open to directing all five planned films in the Fantastic Beasts series.