The magical world of Oz is one that generations of readers and movie-goers alike have shared a mutual love for. L. Frank Baum's literary work has been transformed into a number of movies throughout the years, the most notable one being the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. Decades later, director and company have decided to bring the fictional world of Oz back on the big screen in a major way with the prequel Oz The Great And Powerful. The cast (including , and ) and director took the opportunity to converse with us about what it was like making a major prequel such as this.
To sort of add the theme of the history of cinema from being a sideshow carnival attraction to becoming a great force that can motivate crowds and inspire?
Sam Raimi: What I was trying to do, and what I think the screenwriters were trying to do and the art department, prop department, were trying to set up Oz's knowledge as a tinkerer, Oz's awareness of Edison's kinescope and early motion picture cameras so that we could properly support the idea that he could have created this technology with the help of the tinkerers once he got to the land of Oz in the climax of the picture. I wasn't trying to do a history of cinema as much as set up the character with certain abilities in the first act to let them properly pay off in the third act.
We cinema lovers love your work on indie films before this and this is your first big blockbuster. How is that experience doing this CG visual effects and of course director Sam Raimi's, yourself?
Michelle Williams: I knew the moment that I met Sam that it wasn't really going to be that different from other experiences that I've had because he is first of all a consummate family man and his sets feel like little homes. And it feels very cozy and it feels very safe and it feels like all of your ideas are welcome, even the bad ones. And that's the way that I've grown accustomed to working, and I like working, and I had that with Sam. I think we all really had that with Sam, and what people have said before, and it's entirely true, the thing that I've never experienced before is a director with an unflagging sense of humor like Sam. He really taught me a lot about how to keep your chin up, like when the day is long and things aren't going quite as you had sort of planned them out in your head, Sam is there with a smile. Sam is there with a hand. Sam is there with a joke. He really taught me a lot about keeping a good face and not getting down on yourself.
Sam Raimi: Another question like that please. [smiles]
The visual effects and they were absolutely stunning and the 3-D really, really worked. And I'm just wondering for you was there any particular big challenge for you this time around 'cause obviously you've worked with effects in the past.
Sam Raimi: There were a tremendous amount of new challenges for me. I didn't know anything about 3-D so I had to go to school and learn about 3-D. I had to meet with technicians and study the camera systems and go to effects houses and hear what the different visual effects artists had to say about working with the systems. I had to basically shoot some test days and see what the effects of convergence was on the audience and why the audience gets a headache. I used to get headaches at 3-D movies and I didn't want this movie to give people headaches so...
There's about four reasons that I learned about, there may be more. I'm sure technical people at this point are going, Raimi, you're getting it wrong! But I'll tell you what I know, which is you don't want to dramatically change the convergence from shot to shot, breaking the screen plane in the foreground and then quickly go to a shorter shot where there's something in the deep background, and then again cut to a shot where you're playing the convergence in the foreground. It has to be delicately handled and you have to let the audience's eyes adjust. Have longer shots, if you intend to make that dramatic adjustment, or take them to a little stairway from convergence level to convergence level so that their brains can adjust and their eyes can adjust. Otherwise you're making their heads work so hard, it's forcing those eyes, the muscles and the brain muscle to work in a way it's not used to working and it gives headaches. You do develop a muscle for it, though. A tolerance for it, you could say, that I developed. So I couldn't trust my own instincts after a time. I had to just go by the numbers. What is the convergence on this. How different is it, et cetera.
In addition, I didn't want to turn this into a technical conversation but it's about where images are on the screen. You don't want to make the audience look both left and right dramatically from cut to cut and change convergence. It's just too difficult, too much of a strain, but it has to do with brightness, also. It has to do with ghosting in the background and a minimization of that and a contrast ratio that's much tighter than in a normal-normal picture. And there's a lot of other technical ways to minimize stress on the audience. Anyways, I had to learn so much about 3-D. I had to learn about creating a whole world. I surrounded myself with the best artists. Not just actors but artists, storyboard artists, visual effects artists, concept artists, landscape artists, greenery-greenswomen and men and people that really knew how to create a world from the ground up because I had never created a world before. Every single blade of grass and little blossom has been thought out by a individual artist. Every insect is not from a library, is not from nature photography. It's created by artists. There's little zebra bees. You can't even see them. There's little-strange little white-haired squirrels that are half-muskrat, half-squirrel, that inhabit this land and giant creatures that lope like dinosaurs, you see only in the background but everything had to be animated and designed so I'd never been part of anything so gigantic before. That was a new challenge.
I wanted to talk to the ladies about your-your big fight at the end, the wire work and everything. Was it painful? Was it fun?
Michelle Williams: I think we both really loved being on the wires.
Rachel Weisz: Yeah, it was very fun. I mean, it was a little scary on the first day. We had a rehearsal period where these wonderful stunt coordinators who had worked extensively with Sam on these Spider-Man films, so they were all experts in making people fly.
Sam Raimi: But the ladies have been very good sports. And truth is, I think it's fun for the first, like, twenty minutes, on the wires. But around hour four, hanging up there, I know those wires, they cut into you. The straps do. They dig into your legs, into your arms. You've got to always exert a great degree of muscle control to look like you're floating on your own power and it gets very exhausting and leaves its marks.
Mr Raimi, was there a temptation to make Theodora a little more scary, given your background in horror? And for the ladies, what was the best part about being a witch?
Sam Raimi: Well, I love making those horror movies but I was really guided by 's performance and what her instincts were in playing that character. I've heard her say that she was playing her like a woman scorned. So even though she wasn't really thinking about the fact that she was green, she told me she was playing it as an innocent who fell in love and her heart was broken and she suffered. She couldn't take the suffering and wanted to end that suffering and her sister was all too willing to let that suffering end and it awakened something that was already there but just fueled the fire of, I don't know what you women call it, hatred, anger, mixed with love, jealousy, rage. Rage is a good word. That rage drove her. And I wasn't tempted to make it more like a horror movie. I wanted her to guide us and I would follow her with the camera.
Could you comment on your experiences with the first film, the Judy Garland film, and how much you had to either draw on that or discard those memories to do the work you did here.
Zach Braff: I think that the spirit of it that was what was so cool. I mean, Sam wasn't trying to remake The Wizard of Oz. It was like we were gonna return to that world. So I think that was what was exciting for us. It was a way to go back and re-visit that world without the pressure, necessarily, of trying, or the audacity I should say, of trying to remake what for a lot of people is so sacred. And like everyone, I grew up on it and loved it. I remember particularly just liking the physical comedy and the way that the characters moved. I thought that was, as a kid, so intoxicating and fun. We didn't grow up on the Fred Astaire of old cinema because we didn't see those as much. For us, The Wizard of Oz was on in rotation and the actors who did those animals were my early experience of physical comedy and a big inspiration in my whole career.
Michelle Williams: Say the same?
Zach Braff: Say the same.
Michelle Williams: Same. [laughs] I don't remember the first time that I saw the movie or anything like that but I do remember the feeling I had when I first realized that the characters in her waking life were the same as the characters in her dream life. That the woman on the bicycle was the wicked witch. And I remember being really affected once I had discovered that because I felt kind of like somebody had been tricking me or playing with me. Like something was working on me on a subconscious level that I wasn't aware of and that kind of freaked me out as a kid. Other than that, I think it was just a great place to take inspiration from.
Rachel Weisz: It was the first film I remember seeing so it's my earliest film memory. So I guess it has that kind of power and I remember my Mom taking me to the cinema. I remember being about five. I remember being really traumatized by the wicked witches. They were very, very scary. I loved Judy Garland's voice. I love how she sings. She gives me goose bumps. So yeah, for me it's about her singing, and it really makes me feel good.
Finley is such an adorable character, for one. Could you talk more about the experience of actually doing the voice while on set 'cause it seems like a different approach than most movies.
Zach Braff: Yeah, it was a little tricky and Sam was really intent on having me there, interacting with everyone, which was great for me because when he first cast me, I was worried I was just gonna be confined in an audio booth the whole time. But we ended up finding on set that most of my stuff is with , obviously. We ended up finding when I was actually there, when it was possible for me to be physically there, interacting with James, we were getting the best stuff. So we figured out a bunch of ways and very often I was just kind of scrouched down. We figured out if I was on my butt and hunched over, I was roughly 36 inches tall, which is how tall Finley is. So often I was there in my little bluescreen onesy, which even after six months still made people laugh when I put it on. I really would just often scrunch down and just play the scenes straight with James. There were three different cameras that were on my body and face and Sam cut that separate from the three film cameras. Sam cut that video footage together to create the performance that the animators would eventually animate Finley off of.
Sam, the Oz books have a legions of fans who are very loyal to it. Because of that, did you have any trepidation about sort of getting into that field? Secondly, did it help having in the past done something like Spider-Man let you know what it's like to deal with legions who are very loyal to a form of printed material?
Sam Raimi: Yes. Spider-Man helped me because I learned that you can’t be loyal to every detail of the book. Every filmmaker knows when you make a book into a movie, the first thing you have to do is kill the book, unfortunately. You’ve got to re-create it. But I decided I could be truest to the fans of Baum’s great work if I recognized what was great and moving and touching and most effective about those books to me, just to me, and put as much of that into this picture as I could. And that’s so I was not slave to the details. But I was a slave to the heart and the soul of the thing. In as many ways as I could express it, I put it into this movie.
Oz The Great And Powerful is out in US theaters now.