Sam Raimi Director of OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL Interview #DisneyOzEvent
Sam Raimi Director of OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has quite the filmography résumé. An American film director, producer, writer, and actor; he may best known for directing the cult horror/comedy Evil Dead series, the action/superhero film Darkman, the supernatural horror Drag Me to Hell, and the blockbuster Spider-Man films. Raimi is also the producer of several successful television series.
As he entered the room I noticed right away that he is not tall, I don’t know why I thought he would be. He didn’t command attention and seemed relaxed in his suit and tie.
Bring on the mommy blogger questions –
What’s it like having the weight of the Oz movie on your shoulders?
I had a great sense of responsibility not to tread upon the good name and the beloved classic, “The Wizard of Oz”. That was my biggest fear, and that was a heavy responsibility. In fact, I didn’t even wanna read the script. When I heard it was a prequel to “The Wizard of Oz”, I said, “I don’t wanna mess with that classic.” And so I didn’t read the script. And then a couple weeks later I was looking for a writer. And somebody said, “Read this. It’s a writing sample.”
He continues as he thinks back and falls in love with the story –
So under that auspices I read the script. And I thought, “I’m falling in love with this story and this world and these characters.” And so I thought, “That’s why I gotta make this movie ‘cause I feel uplifted by the end of this thing.” I love watching the main character, this selfish guy found a little bit of goodness in his heart and learned how to become this selfless individual. And that could be really uplifting for the audience. So it’s really those things that drove me to make it. And I thought, “If that’s really what I make the movie about, I won’t be treading on the good name of “The Wizard of Oz” at all ‘cause it’s another positive story.” Yes?
How did you make your judgment call on what was going to be too scary and how to reign back the scary so that that it would be appropriate for younger children?
That’s something I was weighing all throughout the process. In the writing of the script I’d made sure there was no violence in the film ‘cause I really wanted to make it a family picture. And there really isn’t any violence in the film. The worst it gets is when these real scary baboons come out of the mist where they go looking for our main characters so they hide in the cave. And there’s a scary witch at the very end. But I changed the makeup once or twice to make it a little less scary. When I think back about the original ‘The Wizard of Oz” I think, “This is the sweetest movie I’ve ever seen. But it’s also the scariest.”
He laughs –
It was the scariest! So I wanted to (keep it true)– I tried to find a line like you’re saying where it’s scary for the kids, but not so scary the parents think, “I shouldn’t have brought my child to see this.” Just to the edge where the parents are about to take the kid away but the kid’s going, “No, let me stay.”
He laughs again –
So I was trying to find that line actually. And I thought, “If there’s no violence and good wins out, then I think we should have a good scary witch and a frightening moment with the baboon.” But I hope I found the line. I don’t know, did you think it went too far?
Interesting, being a mom of a 15 and a 12 year old, it’s easy for me to think back on when my girls were younger and if I would have let them see this film. My oldest child loved the original Wizard of Oz. She watched it over and over again. My younger daughter loved the movie too, as long as the flying monkeys and the Wicked Witch were off the screen. She didn’t do well with scary. So if my girls were younger, my older daughter at 5 or 6 could have handled this movie. My younger daughter would have needed to be a bit older. Maybe 8 or 9. That was just the type of kid she was, she would get scared easily. So, to answer Sam’s question, I think he did perfect. It’s not too scary, but it totally depends on the kid.
As far as the role that James Franco played, did you always want him for Oz?
No, I wasn’t thinking about James. I had a long relationship with James and I really liked him very much. I was thinking (maybe) Johnny Depp would play the part with thoughts of one or two other actors and it didn’t work out for them. And then I heard that James was interested. So I thought, “I never considered James. But he has the qualities”.
Speaking of the character Oz, Raimi continues –
This was the story of a real heel. A cad. A two-timer. He’s not a good friend. He’s a very selfish individual. Yet he wants to be great. He wants to be something more. He just doesn’t know how. He doesn’t know what true greatness is. And through the love of this little girl who looks at him like a father and through a flying monkey who like a good friend demands he do the right thing. And — and wanting to become worthy of Glinda’s love, he grows as an individual. He finds a little bit of selflessness in himself and in doing so becomes the great thing he always thought he could be. Never expecting that that was the route to become this great wizard.
Raimi saw a little of the characteristics of Oz in Franco –
And I thought, “Because I’ve seen this in his real life, he’s a good enough actor. I think we can make this work on screen.” That’s really what it was. And that’s what casting’s about for me. Finding the essence of the character in a person. Sometimes a great actor comes in but they’re not the essence of the character. But James had all the qualities, and I’d seen a little bit of human growth within him in real life. So I thought he could portray this type of growth. The dramatic melodramatic growth onscreen in our picture. Yes.
With the sets there was so much lushness and detail. Did you go into it saying I want this set to be so real for the actors to experience and become that or what was your thought process on that?
Once the look was decided by myself and the production designer of the entire production, then it came down to what are we gonna build and what would be just CGI (Computer-generated imagery)? And yes, it was important for me to have real places for the actors to touch and see so they could ground the movie. Because it’s such a fantastical adventure, I really needed to ground it more than a regular drama with real human performances. We had to explain the emotions that we understand and can connect. So having them grounded was important. And that’s why we did have sets. But we also had sets because I wanted a very unique look in Chinatown, a unique look in Emerald City. I wanted the Land of Oz to be this uniquely fantastical place. The dark forest to be a particular type of scary, et cetera. So many worlds within this fantastic world. So I found because so much of the world is created by CG artists, if I could photograph a particular rock. James Franco on that yellow brick road. Dappled sunlight happening on that yellow brick road, the CGI artists that had to continue that world had to do just that. Just continue this look we filmed on set. With the lighting, the exposure, the detail. They don’t have to create it on their own because I thought I’d lose control of the look of the picture. So I wanted to really specifically always have some stylistic element on film that the artist’s job was to extend. Which is still a great artistic job, but at least it’s of a kind of a unique look that’s carried on. Yes?
Yes! The fact that the sets were tangible was evident in the film. It is visually the most amazing film I have ever watched simply because of the beauty of the sets. Amazing!
How different was it working on this movie as opposed to other movies that you have worked on before?
Well the size of it was enormous. That took some getting used to. Because the Land of Oz is how Frank Baum wrote it, it has such impassible deserts, fantastical waterfalls, outrageous mountains and woods. We couldn’t really go and shoot Ireland and let it work for the green hills of Oz. Or we couldn’t shoot some great New Zealand mount scape ‘cause it just wasn’t outrageous and unique enough. So everything had to be created in the computer. Working with the great production designer, Robert Stromberg, he did that by creating the smallest things first. The smallest blade of grass. What does it look like in Oz? What does the smallest blossom look like? And then multiplying by a thousand to see what a field might look like. And then working into building each individual tree to make it a unique thing. Everything had to be created. There was not a pocket watch that should have been, you know, manufactured by some Swiss company. No, no, it had to be an Oz watch. There’s not a vehicle. Every car had to be handcrafted. So the enormity of building a world was the most difficult job.
I love how you paid your respects to the original movie and portions of that was very nice to see. At the end I would like one more. So are we gonna get a sequel?
That’s very nice of you, thank you. I think that’s all up to the people of Disney Studios. Most probably the movie would have to make a lot of money for them. It would have to be critically acclaimed and the audience would have to want it. So that’s still way down the line. It’s all unknown right now, whether that would happen would be for the Disney people to make that decision.
I would be surprised if the magic of Frank Baum’s Oz stories to screen ends here. With 13 books in the series I am hoping Disney Studios gives the green light for another Oz story to be brought to life.
Sam Raimi was wonderful to interview. He’s such a normal guy – sweet dad to 5 married to Gillian Greene since 1993. I really hope he gets the opportunity to make more Oz films! I am a Raimi fan!
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL lands in theaters on March 8, 2013!
*This event and trip was sponsored by Disney. All opinions are my own.