Where Magic Comes From 

Walking down the main hall of AOL Creative Center One, I heard two familiar voices emanating from the mazes of decorated cubicles and friendly offices. I liked coming in, and I liked the two people who belonged to those voices. They were my first real bosses.

I was always way too hyper after school. Today was no different: I tossed my bag on my desk, and skipped over to say hello.

Sandra: What’s going on?
Dave: I just got out of a meeting with Jacobson and I’m now in charge of the Harry Potter push on the service.
Jessica: That’s awesome!

They both jumped: I had apparated out of nowhere.

Sandra: J.Sto!
Jessica: Whattup!
Dave: Are you doing anything with the cast?
Jessica: I think I’m working with Emma, Rupert and the director at some point on something live. I don’t know; AOL LIVE hasn’t confirmed yet, but it’s Warner so I’m sure it will book fine—Anyway, just think of all the stuff you can do—Trivia, oh and you can have homepage contests and maybe send a fan to do the red carpet at the premiere via a video contest to find the winning fan and photo galleries of all the exclusive stills you could get! No one here has really been on top of that at all. The only existing page that is any good is the Kids Only one. Plus, HarryPotter dot com has all that content up and I think they’re adding more Howlers and stuff.
Dave: They’ve saddled me with it because they suddenly see it as a Kids and Teens property, but I don’t know anything about it. I have to go buy the books today and watch—
Jessica: One sec!

I ran away…

And returned with a paperback copy, my spare copy, of Harry Potter (I had been re-reading the first four in reverse order) and handed it over to Dave. Clearly they had been talking about something while I was gone, and now Dave was looking at the book in my extended hand, and back at Sandra—

Jessica: It was in my school bag. I’m supposed to be reading The Turn of the Screw, but I’ve read that once, so whatever—

Dave grinned.

Dave: How would you like to be my right hand man, the person in charge of creative and promotion and programming, on the Harry Potter project?
Jessica: For the Teens Channel?
Dave: No, for the entire service.

That was and still is a fucking huge, recognizable project, and it made me pause. For a long time.

Dave: Do you have time with school?
Jessica: I’m in.

Sandra gave me a you’ll-be-great wink and headed back to her pod. Dave motioned for me to follow him into his office. I did. As if it were old hat.

Dave: Here’s what I was thinking for the new main screen...

He uncapped a dry erase marker and sketched on the board that spanned the entire wall.

Dave: We just got the style guide.

He tossed me a box with CDs and books. The Harry Potter branding glinted in the light...

This was something special.

Dave: The guy in charge of HP dot com for Warner is named Eli. You’ll be coordinating with him and I’ll find out who your studio contact is.

I grabbed a marker for myself.

Jessica: What if we embed the trailer here in the main movie screen and make everything else sub categories on the left nav, like video games, books… We are working with the property as a whole, right? Then rotate the specialty content here, in this community block, whenever the channels have their own feature or something. I mean the screen already looks a little different from anything else we have, so why not just have them build a totally new template that can be used for all big movie properties?

I took his idea and made it a little more extreme. He laughed.

Dave: This is going to be great, J.Sto.

And so it was that I got paid as a contractor to handle the creative for the Harry Potter initiative on the AOL service.

Yes, a lot of people would kill for that job. They technically should have hired someone more experienced to handle the project, but it wasn’t a year round gig, so they couldn’t justify that. The Specials team was already too overworked and underpaid and didn’t know anything about Potter. At that point, AOL Movies and Moviefone still hadn’t realized that Potter isn't merely a story for kids and teens; it is cross-generational. So Movies should have handled the project, but didn't want to deal with the scope and story expertise needed. There were internal employees who would have liked that job, were it more of an actual staff position like it should have been. Like it is now.

Thus, an important project had slipped through the cracks of the AOL Matrix.

And had fallen to me; a mere kid of a girl.

Dave took me seriously and gave me the authority to do the job, so everyone else did, too. Even me. And, it only seemed natural. No one gave it a second thought. I never did, until today.

I worked with Warner on a production calendar for promoting their content and securing assets, I worked with the design studio on the art and layout, I went to Welcome Screen meetings to secure the most valuable real estate on the Internet for Harry Potter, I wrote every word on the Potter pages, I recruited a programmer from Specials to do the things I couldn’t handle timewise so that she was coordinating through me, someone ten years her junior. If you saw a Harry Potter screen, watched a trailer, took a poll, did trivia or anything on AOL, then you saw something that I coordinated or created or published. Netscape and other subsidiaries copied my work, so you may have seen it there, too. Or maybe you used one of the AIM/AOL icons that I secured. Or maybe it was something else.

Dave: Part of me knows that this trivia needs to be checked beyond the line editor, but I seriously doubt you’ve made any mistakes.

Like I said, he trusted me.

Toward the end of the campaign, some of the higher-ups were invited to the premiere in thanks for the heavy promotion and success of the project. A little make-nice from Warner Bros. Films. Most of them hadn't done anything on the project. Of course I wasn’t invited. I went to premieres off and on when I was in LA shooting, so it wasn’t a deal.

Except it was in London. And it was Harry Potter.

Anyway, Dave was going. I was in his office when he got his invite. He knew I knew what it was.

Dave: I’ll call WB about getting you some swag—
Jessica: That’s OK, I mean I don’t really want anything. I collect movie posters, the two-sided sort, but I have a friend who works at a theater and he already snagged me all the Harry Potter ones…

Dave was gone for a week. I came in one afternoon, knowing that he would be back and wanting to hear all about the trip. His office was locked though, and the lights were off; he must have left early. In fact, it was Friday and the entire Creative Center was dead, except the newsroom guys, who could never leave early. I went to my desk to see if the studio had confirmed the booking for my next shoot—

Something strange was there—A black, leather book. I knew what it was. I had seen it at a bookstore:

The expensive special edition Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I flipped open to the first page. There was handwriting there, a scrawl that I had come to learn to decipher from various notes on mock-ups or messages left on my dry erase board.


Thank you for all of your effort in making the Harry Potter feature on AOL a huge success. I couldn’t have done it without a right-hand person as reliable and creative as you. Keep doing your magic. Good things will happen for you. (I saw the future while flying on my broomstick to the London premiere – and the future is all good.)

All the best,

I closed Harry Potter, leaned my elbows on my desk and rested my chin in my hands.

Staring at the book, a great work of original fantasy fiction and a reward for using a small portion of my ability, I realized that I didn’t really care about the booking.

As soon as the end of summer comes, I’m moving to LA. And then I’m quitting the show.

Comments (8) | Permanent Link | RSS
© 2003-2018 Jessica Mae Stover • All Rights Reserved • Webmaster: Iain Edminster • Design: Greg Martin