Archive for Sunday, June 24, 2007

Wichita teen hits the red carpet with Harry Potter

June 24, 2007

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— A few summers ago, Matthew Vines had a whole lot of time and not much to do, so he created a Web site.

This summer, that site is his ticket to a grand adventure.

Matthew, the 17-year-old producer of Veritaserum.com, an internationally recognized Harry Potter fan site, is traveling the world as part of the official Harry Potter press corps.

He will be among the first in the world to see "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the much-anticipated fifth movie in the Harry Potter series.

He will interview the film's stars on the red carpet in London. He'll see them again at the U.S. premiere in Los Angeles. He'll watch them press their hands, feet and wands into wet concrete outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

And this week he'll appear on an MTV News special as one of a handful of Harry Potter experts, offering his theories about what might happen to the famous boy wizard in the seventh and final book, due out July 21.

"When I started this, I wasn't thinking long-term," said Matthew, who will be a senior at Wichita East High School this fall.

"It was more like, 'This would be a fun thing to do.' And now all this. It's pretty awesome."

All this began, he says, when Warner Bros. Studios, which produces the Harry Potter films, recognized the power of the Internet and particularly of sites like Matthew's to fan the flames of Pottermania.

In 2005, the studio invited Matthew to a press screening of the fourth movie, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." He traveled to London with his father, after persuading his parents to let him miss school.

Matthew remembers signing up for the first screening. He got to the theater first thing in the morning and sat front and center. At 15, he was the youngest person there.

"A lot of those journalists are rather jaded," he said. "There were some of them who were excited, but most of them were like, 'I do this every day.' And I was like, 'Well, I don't.'"

Last fall Matthew traveled to Leavesden Studios in England to watch a day's filming of "Order of the Phoenix" and meet some of the stars, including Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter.

"It was very cool, because I'd never actually seen any of these people who I'd been writing about for a long time," he said.

"I was very surprised, I guess, at how normal they all were. ... When you see them, they're on a 50-foot screen. But when you meet them, it's just like meeting anyone else."

Google "Harry Potter fan sites," and Veritaserum.com is a top-five hit. Named for a truth potion featured in J.K. Rowling's book series "Let the truth be told!" reads a slogan atop the home page the site features news reports, backstage gossip, photo and video galleries, discussion boards and fan polls.

Since 2003, it has evolved from an experiment to a full-time job for Matthew, who spends most of his free time updating the site and managing its staff of computer experts and translators.

And it's apparently a lucrative one. Income from advertising finances Matthew's travels.

And although he wouldn't divulge how much the site earns, he did say "the ads ... do a fine job of offsetting the costs."

The site has taught Matthew about business, Web design, journalism and time management, said his mother, Kim Vines, and has served as a ticket to extraordinary events.

"It's been a very growing experience," she said.

Years ago, she remembers her son excitedly running upstairs to report the site's 100th visitor. Now it averages more than 50,000 hits a day.

Even so, Matthew said, he's still just a Harry Potter fan.

"I really enjoy the series," he said. "It's a lot of fun to read and a lot of fun to follow, especially when you get to do special things and have more access."

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