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David Yates


Name: David Yates

Born: 30th November 1963

Occupation: Director

Years active: 1988 – present


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David Yates (born 30 November 1963) is an English director of film and television, best known for directing the final four films in the Harry Potter franchise. His first two Potter films (Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince) became the highest-grossing entries in the series after the first instalment, which was later surpassed by Yates’ Deathly Hallows, making him the most commercially successful British director in recent years.[2][3][4] Yates has revealed that he has ambitions to develop a war-drama film called St. Nazaire and has stated that he has “so many scripts piled up” that are a part of his potential upcoming projects.[5]

He achieved international attention for his award-winning short films early in his career, which led to him becoming a prolific television director with credits including the BBC costume drama The Way We Live Now, the acclaimed political thriller State of Play and the BAFTA-lauded two-part drama Sex Traffic.[6] Due to the success of these dramas and subsequent projects, Yates is considered as one of Britain’s most celebrated directors of film and television.[7][8][9][10] Throughout his works, Yates uses hand-held cameras to visually provoke the subject matter; the technique is noted as one of his directorial trademarks.[11]

Yates is married to Yvonne Walcott, who is the aunt of Arsenal football player Theo Walcott.[12][13]


Early life

David Yates was born in St Helens, Merseyside, England on 30 November 1963. He was raised in the village of Rainhill and was inspired to pursue a career in filmmaking after watching Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws.[14] When Yates was fourteen, his mother bought him a Super 8mm camera; this he used to shoot various films and videos in which his friends and family featured.[1] He then attended St Helens College where he completed the courses of sociology, political studies and literature before moving on to the University of Essex and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.[15][16][17]


Film and TV projects

The National Film and Television School, where Yates trained as a director and from whom he received the Honorary Fellowship in 2010, joining the likes of Lord Attenborough, David Lean and Alan Parker.

In the 1980s, Yates made his first serious film When I Was a Girl with the assistance of Cre8 Studios in Swindon. The short film, which was shot in Swindon town under a grant from Southern Arts, entered the festival circuit where it was named Best Short Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival, in addition to obtaining other awards. It also contributed to Yates’ acceptance into the National Film and Television School and led to the BBC hiring him to direct Oranges and Lemons, a short drama film in 1991. Before completing film school, he began to direct, produce and write the screenplay to the dramatic short The Weaver’s Wife. He also made his fourth short film Good Looks, which was presented at the Chicago International Film Festival. After graduating in 1992, Yates directed an episode of the film studies programme Moving Pictures, which oversaw low-budget filmmaking in Britain.[1][15][17][18][19][20][21]

From 1994 to 1995, Yates directed several episodes of the ITV police procedural The Bill (Full Contact, Death and Taxes, Other Voices, Feeling Guilty and Life’s a Bitch), before directing and producing three episodes of the television documentary Tale of Three Seaside Towns alongside producer Alistair Clarke. The programme followed media personalities Russell Grant, Honor Blackman and Pam Ayres visiting and exploring the South Coast towns of Brighton, Eastbourne and Weymouth.[22][23] Yates directed the short film Punch before making his feature film debut in 1998 with The Tichborne Claimant, a small independent film starring Stephen Fry and Robert Hardy, based on the Tichborne Case and shot on location in Merseyside and on the Isle of Man.[24][25][26]

Yates returned to television in 2000 to direct the episodes of Greed, Envy and Lust for the BBC miniseries The Sins, starring Pete Postlethwaite, as well as The Way We Live Now, a four-part television adaptation of the novel of the same name by Anthony Trollope. At the 2002 BAFTA Awards, Yates shared the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Serial with screenwriter Andrew Davies and producer Nigel Stafford-Clark for The Way We Live Now.[27] One year later, Yates returned to the BAFTAs with a British Academy Film Award nomination for Best Short Film for the fourteen minute film, Rank, which expressed the elements of racism, friendship and adolescence through the story of a street gang that cross Glasgow to witness the arrival of a group of Somali refugees.[28][29] Yates said that even though The Way We Live Now was “a very big production” and “enormous fun to do”, Rank was an opportunity to “shake all that off” and “get back to [his] roots.”[1][18]

The 2003 six-part thriller State of Play was Yates’ next directorial achievement.[30] The acclaimed “hard-hitting” BBC serial, scripted and created by Paul Abbott, was a major turning point in Yates’ career; he collected the TV Spielfilm Award at the Cologne Conference in Germany and won the Directors Guild of Great Britain Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement.[17][31][32] The serial was recognised by various award ceremonies, notably being nominated for a British Academy Television Award and receiving the Peabody Award for Broadcasting Excellence. The quality of the serial sparked Hollywood film bosses to consider adapting it into a film, with producer Andrew Hauptman declaring that “it’s a blistering political thriller and we want to make an equally blistering movie.” Hauptman’s Mission Pictures acquired the rights from Abbott and sold them to Universal Studios.[33] State of Play is regarded by critics from The Guardian and The Times as one of the best British television dramas of the 2000s.[34][35][36]

Yates then moved on to helm more high-profile projects such as the television adaptation of nine-year-old Daisy Ashford’s novel The Young Visiters, starring Jim Broadbent alongside Hugh Laurie. Broadbent gained an acting nomination at the BAFTA Awards under Yates’ direction, which was a different approach in comparison to his immediate previous work. According to the review by Variety for BBC America, Yates and his team yielded “a warm and surprisingly unsentimental production that has ‘evergreen’ written all over it”. The Young Visiters tells the story of a bumbling man (Broadbent) seeking help from an aristocrat (Laurie), who attempts to improve his social graces for him to be accepted by a high society woman.[37]

In 2004, Yates’ two-part drama Sex Traffic was broadcast on Channel 4. It won eight BAFTA Awards including Best Editing for Mark Day, who regularly collaborated with Yates on many of his television projects and short films. Day commented on working with Yates saying that “we are very good friends because we have spent so much time together” and “David shoots in a similar style from piece to piece, although this wasn’t quite as frantic as State of Play.”[38] Yates was nominated for another Directors Guild of Great Britain Award for his direction of Sex Traffic and won his second BAFTA for Best Drama Serial at the British Academy Television Awards.[39] Being a British-Canadian production, Sex Traffic gained four wins at Canada’s annual television award ceremony, the Gemini Awards, including Best Dramatic Mini-Series. Spanning across two parts, the three hour long drama reveals how the trafficking of young women into slavery is a big business which operates throughout Europe.[40][41]

Also in 2004, Yates was involved in plans for a film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited for Warner Independent Pictures. He was set to work with Paul Bettany, Jude Law and Jennifer Connelly on the project, but pulled out in the later stages due to constant budget issues affecting the film’s production.[42][43]

Yates then directed Richard Curtis’ script to The Girl in the Café, a television film starring Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald. In June 2005, the film was aired on the BBC in Britain and was also broadcast in the United States on the premium cable television network Home Box Office. The Girl in the Café achieved three wins at the Emmy Awards, most notably the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Made for Television Movie, and gained a total of four nominations including Outstanding Directing for Yates and Outstanding Casting for Fiona Weir. The film became widely known for being conceived to coincide both with the BBC’s Africa Lives season of programming and with the global Make Poverty History campaign. The message of the film is conveyed through the character-driven story of Lawrence (Nighy) and Gina (Macdonald) dealing with their feelings for one another while challenging political concerns at the G8 Summit in Reykjavík.[15][44][45]


Harry Potter films

David Yates at his first Harry Potter premiere in Los Angeles, California.
7 July 2007.

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 Harry Potter picture. He was then confirmed to direct Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by Warner Bros. Pictures, with production scheduled to begin in early 2006.[43][46] When asked how Yates got the job, producer David Heyman (“a big fan” of Yates’ television work)[47] stated 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.”[48]

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.”[32] The first scene 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.[32][49] After the post-production material was well-received by the studio, Yates was selected to direct Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which was to be “a cross between the chills of Prisoner of Azkaban and the fantastical adventure of Goblet of Fire“.[7][42]

Order of the Phoenix opened to critical and commercial success, with Yates winning the title of Best Director at the 2008 Empire Awards and collecting the Best European Film Award from the European Film Academy.[50] Yet the film was criticised by fans for having the shortest running time in the series; Yates said that the original director’s cut was “probably over three hours”, resulting in much footage being chopped to fit within the studio’s preferred time frame.[51][52]

During production on Half-Blood Prince, Warner Bros. President and COO 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.[53] 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 and 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.”[32]

After attaining widespread “Oscar Buzz”, Half-Blood Prince became the only film in the franchise to gain an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.[54][55] Yates worked alongside French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel on extensively colour grading the “incredibly rich” and “elegant” picture, which was heavily influenced by the Dutch painter Rembrandt.[56][57][58] The film garnered a mix of accolades and was highly acclaimed for its stylised character-driven approach, but some fans complained about the script’s deviation from its respective novel and the slight romantic comedy nature.[59] In response to this criticism, renowned BAFTA member Mark Kermode praised Yates for “getting a sense of an impending catastrophe” and ranked the film “second best” in the series.[60]

Yates began to film Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Deathly Hallows – Part 2 back-to-back in early 2009, finishing on 12 June 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 “much more operatic, colourful and fantasy-oriented”, a “big opera with huge battles.”[61][62][63]

Part 1 was released worldwide in November 2010 to record-breaking success along with generally positive reviews, some of which reflected on Yates’ 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’ 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.”[64][65] 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, feeling like the “prelude it is” and the somewhat disjointed pacing.[66][67]

David Yates has worked in production on the Harry Potter film series for six consecutive years; from 2006 to 2011. All of his entries have been a success financially and critically. 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 commented on working with Yates, saying that he “added his own sense of grit and realism [to the films] that perhaps wasn’t there so much before. I think we all had a fantastic time working with David. I know we did.”[14][68]


Future projects

Yates is developing a war film called Saint Nazaire, based on the St Nazaire Raid in the Second World War.[11] The movie is reported by The New York Times to be written by Joe Fisher and produced by Heyday Films through Warner Bros. Pictures.[69] Yates has stated ambitions to adapt his TV drama, Sex Traffic, for cinema.[11] He had also been chosen to direct an adaptation of The Giver, but he pulled out due to his increasing work on Deathly Hallows, therefore postponing The Giver for several years.[70] During an interview with Collider.com in November 2010, producer David Heyman revealed that he is in talks with Yates about upcoming projects.[71]



Yates contributed to the 2011 First Light Awards by awarding young filmmakers within the United Kingdom, some from disadvantaged and minority ethnic backgrounds. He was a member of the judging panel and was a part of the featured line-up including Emily Mortimer, Daniel Craig, Sienna Miller, Paul Greengrass and Terry Gilliam amongst others.[72] Yates has been acknowledged for his “smooth transition from television to feature films” and American film critic Michael Sragow has constantly supported Yates through his online blog “Sragow Gets Reel”, naming him “a big-screen master of tension, atmosphere and emotional suggestion”.[30][73][74] Friend and colleague Bill Nighy spoke of Yates in an interview, calling him “a quiet genius”.[75] Actor Rhys Ifans described Yates’ personality on set, saying that “When he’s pleased, he says ‘fabby’. When he’s happy, he jumps up and down. And when he’s ecstatic, he skips.”[76]



Yates with David Bradley (The Way We Live Now) and Jim Broadbent
(The Young Visiters) on Harry Potter.

Throughout his television and film work, Yates has collaborated with a number of people from cast to crew members. After he joined the Harry Potter team, Yates said that he cast and recruited “a couple of key people” from his early projects to work on the franchise “because they are super talented and I couldn’t have done the work I’ve done without their help.” He went on to say that “I see Potter as a continuation of much of the work we’ve been doing together.”[1]

Yates has worked with editor Mark Day and composer Nicholas Hooper on various projects including The Way We Live Now, State of Play and The Girl in the Café. Day and Hooper were chosen by Yates to work on his Harry Potter films, all of which Day edited and two of which Hooper composed.[20][38] Yates has also worked with director of photography Chris Seager, one of the Vice Presidents of the British Society of Cinematographers.[77] Yates and Seager collaborated on The Way We Live Now, State of Play, The Young Visiters and Sex Traffic. Seager was originally considered to provide the cinematography for Yates’ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but the job went to Sławomir Idziak instead.[78] Yates hired Paul Harris to choreograph the wand battle scenes in Order of the Phoenix; Harris had previously worked with Yates on The Tichborne Claimant, The Sins and The Way We Live Now.[79] Yates has also collaborated with casting director Fiona Weir on The Girl in the Café and on Harry Potter.[80]

Aside from collaborating with crew members, Yates has worked with a variety of actors and actresses throughout his career in film and television including, but not limited to, John Simm on State of Play and Sex Traffic;[81] Jim Broadbent on The Young Visiters, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Deathly Hallows – Part 2;[82] Kelly Macdonald on State of Play, The Girl in the Café and Deathly Hallows – Part 2;[83][84] Bill Nighy on State of Play, The Young Visiters, The Girl in the Café and Deathly Hallows – Part 1;[85] Guy Henry on The Young Visiters, Deathly Hallows – Part 1 and Deathly Hallows – Part 2;[86] and Andy Linden on Punch, State of Play and Deathly Hallows – Part 1.[87]

Yates is set to collaborate with some of his previous colleagues, including editor Mark Day, writer Joe Fisher (who wrote the screenplay to The Tichborne Claimant) and producer David Heyman, on his post-Potter projects such as St. Nazaire among others.[69]



  1.  “David Yates on Harry Potter”. Film London. 23 December 2007. http://filmlondon.org.uk/news/2007/december/david_yates_on_harry_potter. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
  2.  “Box Office History for Harry Potter Movies”. the-numbers.com (The Numbers). http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/series/HarryPotter.php. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  3.  “Statistical Yearbook 2010, 7.3 UK directors”. The UK Film Council. http://sy10.ukfilmcouncil.ry.com/7.3.asp. Retrieved 4 March 2011. “David Yates’s two Harry Potter films (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) made him the British director with the most commercial success in recent years, with total box office takings of $1.87 billion”
  4.  “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 Conjures International Box Office Magic, Becoming Top Earner of Entire Film Series”. Burbank, California: Business Wire. 9 March 2011. http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110309007122/en/Harry-Potter-Deathly-Hallows-%E2%80%93-Part-1. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  5.  “David Yates discusses Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″. Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation. June 14, 2011, 11:40am. http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/322593/david-yates-discusses-harry-potter-and-deathly-hallows-part-2. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  6.  “NFTS graduate gets Order of the Phoenix!”. nfts.co.uk (National Film and Television School). 30 November 2005. http://www.nfts.co.uk/index.php?module=News&news_id=22&action=Details&pageID=17. Retrieved 4 March 2011. “internationally acclaimed, award-winning short films, prolific television director”
  7.  “Ten Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince facts”. Virgin Media. http://www.virginmedia.com/movies/movieextras/top10s/potter-hbp-rumours.php. Retrieved 19 April 2011. “Director David Yates, one of British TV’s most respected director (thanks to the drama series State Of Play)…”
  8.  “UK DVD-Blu Ray NEWS: Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1″. The People’s Movies. 19 March 2011. http://thepeoplesmovies.com/2011/03/19/uk-dvd-blu-ray-news-harry-potter-the-deathly-hallows-part-1/. Retrieved 19 April 2011. “From celebrated director David Yates…”
  9.  “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Ultimate Collector’s Edition Arrives June 14th”. Brian Gallagher, MovieWeb.com. 21 February 2011. http://www.movieweb.com/news/harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-ultimate-collectors-edition-arrives-june-14th. Retrieved 19 April 2011. “From acclaimed director David Yates (BBC’s State of Play, Harry Potter series Years 5-7)”
  10.  “DVD REVIEW…The Girl in the Cafe”. Dennis Landmann, MovieFreak.com. http://www.moviefreak.com/artman/publish/dvd_girlincafe.shtml. Retrieved 19 April 2011. “acclaimed director David Yates”
  11.  “Q&A: Harry Potter Director David Yates Talks Deathly Hallows”. Vanity Fair. 23 July 2009. http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2009/07/qa-harry-potter-director-david-yates-talks-deathly-hallows.html. Retrieved 4 March 2011. “doing a lot of hand-held camera work, So you’re hearkening back to your gritty days of State of Play?, Yeah, indeed … I’m developing a war picture called Saint Nazaire that’s about a reckless commander raid in the Second World War. I want to make a movie version of the TV thing I did called Sex Traffic…”
  12.  “Harry Potter director honoured by National Film and Television School”. NFTS.co.uk. 26 February 2010. http://www.nftsfilm-tv.ac.uk/index.php?module=News&action=Details&news_id=321. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  13.  “Theo Walcott’s girlfriend Mel Slade to star in next Harry Potter film”. The Daily Mirror (UK). 1 March 2009. http://www.mirrorfootball.co.uk/news/Theo-Walcott-s-girlfriend-Mel-Slade-to-star-in-next-Harry-Potter-film-article35221.html. Retrieved 4 March 2011. “Her cameo appearance came about through Theo’s aunt Yvonne, whose partner, David Yates, is the director of the movie.”
  14.  “St Helens-born David Yates enjoys Harry Potter BAFTA honour”. St Helens Star. 13 February 2011. http://www.sthelensstar.co.uk/news/8850608.Yates_enjoys_Harry_Potter_BAFTA_honour/. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
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  23.  “Cast & Creative … Honor Blackman”. My Fair Lady. http://www.myfairladythemusical.com/uk_cast_Blackman.htm. Retrieved 14 March 2011. “Honor presented a documentary for Workhouse TV/Meridian about Brighton which formed part of A TALE OF THREE SEASIDE TOWNS.”
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