A few weeks ago we were invited to attend the press conference for the new Disney film Oz The Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi. The film stars James Franco as the titular character seeking to become better than a good man and becoming a great one. Opportunity comes knocking after he is sucked into a tornado and transported into the world of Oz, where its people think he will fulfill the prophecy to defeat the wicked witch.
The film is a visual delight, especially in 3D, and is a near perfect family film. In this portion of the interview, Raimi talks about how he got the 3D to work in this film, and some of the things that influenced his approach to direct it. Stars Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz talk about what it’s like to be a witch and how much fun they had with wire work, and Zach Braff talks about his duel role in the film. All this and more after the jump.
Sam [Raimi], did you purposefully try to interject themes of cinema into a cinematic movie like this?
Raimi: What I was trying to do and what I think the screenwriters were trying to do in the art 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 can properly support the idea the he could have created this technology with the help of the tinkerers once we got to the land of Oz in the climax of the picture. So I wasn’t trying to do a history of cinema as much as set up a character with certain abilities in the first act to have it properly pay off in the third act.
Michelle how was your experience on a big budget cgi film like this one?
Michelle Williams: I knew the moment that I met Sam, it wasn’t going to be that different from other experiences that I’ve had because he’s, first of all, he’s a constant family man on sets you know, he makes little homes, and it feels very cozy and feels very safe, and that’s the way I’m accustomed to working and that’s how I like working, and I’ve had that with Sam, we’ve all had that with Sam. People have said before, and it’s entirely true, the thing that I’ve never experienced before with directors, with an unflagging sense of humor like Sam. He really taught me how to keep your chin up, like when the day is long and things aren’t going as you would have planned them out in your head, Sam is there with a smile, Sam is there with a hand, Sam is there with a joke, and he really taught me about keeping a good face and not getting down on yourself.
Raimi: Thank You. Another question like that please.
This film obviously pays homage to the original film, but at that one moment it looked like it was going to be a musical, it get’s shut down, where do you draw the line on that?
Raimi: Yeah that was a tribute to the great Wizard of Oz picture, but early on the writers decided that we shouldn’t imitate that fantastic musical, there was no comparison to the great quality of music in the original. IN fact ours was more based on the Balm works, so we decided not to make it a musical and just tell the fantastical tales he had been in. But that one number was a tribute to the great Wizard of Oz movie.
Was there a challenge with the effects and the 3D while working on this film?
Raimi: Yes, there were a tremendous amount of new challenges for me. I didn’t know anything about 3D, so I had to go to school and learn about 3D. I had to meet with technicians and learn about 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. Why the audience gets headaches – I used to get headaches in 3D movies, so I didn’t want to give these people headaches.
Rachel Weisz: Oh did you figure out why?
Raimi: There are about four reasons that I learned about, there may be more, I’m sure there are technical people going ‘Rami you’re getting it wrong,’ but I’ll tell you what I know is, you don’t want to dramatically change the convergence from shot-to-shot and have something breaking in the screen playing foreground and then quickly going to a shorter shot where there is something in the deep background and then again cut to a shot where there is convergence in the foreground, it has to be delicately handled and you have to let the audience’s eyes adjust, have longer shots where 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 are making their heads work so hard, forcing their eyes and the brain muscle to work in a way that it is not used to working and gives headaches. You do develop a muscle for it though, a tolerance for it you could say. But I couldn’t trust my own instincts after a time, and just had to go by the numbers – what is the convergence on this, how different is this, etc. In addition, I don’t want to turn this into a technical conversation, but it’s 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 the contrast ratio is much tighter, then a normal picture, there are a number of ways to minimize stress on the audience. Anyways I had to learn so much about 3D. 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, and people who really knew how to create a world from the ground up, because I never created a world before. Every single blade of grass and blossom has been thought up by individual artists. Every insect is not from a library not from nature photography, it’s created by artists. Those little zebra bees, you can’t even see them, white haired squirrels that are half muskrat half squirrel. And giant creatures that mope like dinosaurs in the background. But everything had to be animated and designed so – I never have been a part of anything so gigantic before. That was a new challenge.
Ladies, what was the wire work like? Was it painful? Was it fun? How did it work for both of you?
Williams: I think we both liked being on the wires.
Was it fun?
Weisz: Yeah it was very fun. I mean it was a little scary the first day. We had a rehearsal period where these wonderful stunt coordinators who worked extensively with Sam on the Spider-Man films, so they were all experts in making people fly right, I think?
Raimi: They were experts. But the ladies were being very good sports. The truth is I think it’s fun for like the first 20 minutes on the wires, but around hour four, hanging up there, I know those wires cut into you, the straps do, they dig into your legs and your arms, and it just becomes – you got to always exert a great deal of muscle control to remain – to look like you are floating on your own power, and I think it get’s very exhausting and leaves it’s mark.
What about getting through the pain to sell the scene?
Weisz: I don’t know, you hear Sam say action.
Willaims: Everything else goes… I feel like your always acting through something like: It’s really hot, or it’s really cold, or you know there is always something else that is going on
Or hanging from the ceiling?
Williams: or I am hanging from the ceiling.
Sam, was there an expectation to make the Wicked Witch a little more scary given your background? And for the ladies, what was the best part about being a witch?
Raimi: I love making those horror movies, but I was really guided by Mila Kunis’ performance and what her instincts where in playing that character and she decided, I heard her say it was like playing a woman scorned, so even though she wasn’t really thinking about the fact that she was green, she was playing an innocent who fell in love and her heart was broken and she suffered and she couldn’t the suffering and wanted to end that suffering and her sister was all too willing to let that suffering end and it awakens something that was already there but it just fueled the fire of hatred, anger, mixed with love, jealousy, and rage. Rage is a good word. 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.
What’s the best part about being a witch?
Weisz: Flying! It’s really hard to beat flying as a skill. Yeah. I would say. Yeah, flying. Number one. Number two-lightning bolts for me. Um.
Williams: Making little girls smile when you walk by.
Raimi: You didn’t have that problem, I guess.
Weisz: I guess not. I guess not. But my winkie guards were very fond of me. Do you remember on the-on the last day, when I-I kind of ran off and they had more shooting? And they were all like in unison, “Bye, Evanora!” Like that, they-I was their leader.
Weisz: They believed in me.
Raimi: You were-
Weisz: Yeah. I basically beat them all down, those winkie guards, and they-they’re-they’re my, uh, they’re my soldiers.
Raimi: That was funny.
Weisz: Do you remember that?
Raimi: Yeah, they formed a bond. With her.
Weisz: Bye, Evanora.
Weisz: Yeah. You have children. I have winkie guards. Oh, lord.
This question is for all three of the actors. I’m wondering if you could talk, uh, very briefly about your experiences with the first film, the Judy Garland film, and how much you had to either draw on that or discard those memories, uh, to do the work you did here.
Braff: Good morning, everyone, um-
Braff: No, I-I love the film. Um, the-um, sorry, what was the question? Do we love-was oh, our experience of “Wizard of Oz”? I like making these two laugh, though, it makes me feel good. Um. Sorry, these three. Sam. But them first, then you. I think that the spirit of it, uh, that was what was so cool. I mean, we weren’t-Sam wasn’t trying to remake “The Wizard of Oz”. He was-you-you know, he was-you know, that sacred classic. 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-without the pressure, necessarily, of trying-or the audacity, I should say, of trying to remake what for a lot of people is so-so sacred. And like everyone, I grew up on it and, uh-and, um, and loved it. And Iremember particularly just liking the physical comedy and the way that the characters moved. I thought that was-you know, as a kid, so intoxicating and fun, you know, we didn’t-grow up on the Fred Astaires 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-was my early experience of-of physical comedy and, uh, and-and a big inspiration in my whole career.
And for you Michelle?
Braff: Say Same.
Williams: Say Same?
Braff: Say same.
Williams: Same. Um. Yeah, I don’t remember really like the first time that I saw the movie or-or anything like that but I do remember-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 a I-I felt kind of like somebody had been pl- tricking me or playing with me. Like, oh, I didn’t-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. Um. And other than that, you know, I think it was just a great place to take inspiration from.
Rachel can you tell us about your first experience watching The Wizard of Oz and did how did it affect your performance in this film?
Weisz: Um, it was-it’s the first-was it you who asked the question? Who am I looking at? Hello. Uh, it was, um-the first film I remember seeing so it’s my earliest film memory. So I guess it has that kind of-that kind of power and the bits that I remem-I remember my Mom taking me to the cinema. I remember being about five. I remember being really traumatized by the-the wicked witches. They were very, very scary. And I guess the thing I loved-I loved Judy Garland’s voice. I love how she sings. I-she gives me goose bumps. Um. So, yeah, for me it’s, uh, it’s about her-her singing, and it really makes me feel good. Yeah.
Rachel and Michelle, can you talk little bit about your costumes? Those amazing dresses that you wore? How did that change how you were approaching your characters and did you ask to keep them when the shooting was done?
Weisz: Um. I didn’t actually ask to keep my co-I don’t know where I would wear that dress. I imagine-I don’t have the right life for that dress. I would like to have that life. But I just-it doesn’t fit in. It’s funny ‘cause Sam is so, um, up for exploration. You know, he’s making this great big budget movie. I can’t even imagine the level of pressure that he was under but he was just up for an exploration and-and-all the time so-so there are these incredible drawings of our costumes that were done by that German artist his name I’ve-
Braff: Just forgotten-
Weisz: Forgotten, yeah, but they’re incredible drawings. And, you know, my character looks a bit like a bird of prey and slightly militaristic and via Las Vegas or however you want to see it. But because I was getting into my character-Sam was like, “Well, you know, play around.” So Gary and myself, the costume designer, spent a f– you know, couple of weeks in a room and I cooked up this costume, which I brought to the first screen test, where basically I looked a little bit like the Duchess of Windsor. I should be so lucky. I mean, I don’t really look anything like her. It’s this little green dress and a little crown and it was this height of my character who just desperately wanted to be queen. And Sam looked at it and just said, “It’s just-uh, it’s just not right. You need to go back to the original thing.” But he kind of let me go-it was like part of my process, I think. It was me finding my desire to be a-to be queen. I wanted to be queen.
Did you have any trepidations about sort of getting into adapting books by L. Frank Baum? And, secondly, did it help having in the past done something like a Spider-Man let it know what it’s like to deal with legions who are very loyal to the printed material?
Raimi: Yes. Spider-Man helped me because I-I learned that, um, I can’t-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.
Back to the dress question for Ms. Williams.
Williams: Well, it just-I’ll make it very, uh, very short. I just remember that I-I had the idea-it-it came very clear to me that Glinda needed to change her dress to go into battle and that she needed something that she could move more freely in and that she needed something that looked like armor. After we had already shot something of me in my other dress doing something in battle. And I came to Sam, and I was like, “it’s really important to me and I know what it should look like and is there any way, please,” and Sam is as accommodating to say, “if it means that much to you, then it means that much to me,” and we got to re-shoot something once I had this new dress, so thanks.
Raimi: And Disney said the same thing to me.
What was it like for you getting to be able to bring this thing that-that Walt Disney wanted to do something decades ago and never got to do?
Raimi: Well, it-I had learned that Walt Disney wanted to make an Oz picture only recently, after the, um, after we were done shooting, when the movie was almost finished. And the guys in the marketing department said, “Take a look at this reel we’re putting on the DVD” and it showed how Walt was trying to get the rights to the Oz books and how he was gonna get his army of Mouseketeers together to each play a part. That part I didn’t think was gonna work very well, actually. That’s weird. For his show. But anyways, it was a dream-a passion and dream of his, and I thought that was very touching because I have-all I wanted to do was making the ultimate Walt Disney picture. I thought this movie always could be. It could be for families. It could be uplifting. And it makes sense in retrospect that it was Walt’s dream to make an Oz picture. And I hope that Walt would have, uh, uh, ap-appreciated, uh, I hope he would have liked the movie. Um. There’s no violence in the picture so I think he would a like that. He’s got, uh, some classic Disney princesses and witches in the picture. I think he would like that. And he’s got those Disney, um-you know, little bluebirds and, uh, cuddly creatures like the blue monkeys. So I think he might have liked it. Unless he hated it. But I-but I-it’s hard to say. Hard to say what he would have liked. But I was honored to-to make it and surprised to find out that he had intended to make an Oz picture.
Zach, watch was your experience like actually doing the voice while on set ‘cause it seems like a different approach than most movies.
Braff: Yeah, it was-it was a little tricky and,I was intent on having myself there, interacting with everyone, which-which was great for me because I was-well 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, uh, most of my stuff is with James, obviously. And we ended up finding when I was actually there, when it was possible for me to be physically there, interacting with-with James, uh, we were getting the best stuff. So we-we figured out a bunch of ways, um, and-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 was-which is how tall Finley is. So often I was there in my little bluescreen onesy, which is-even after six months, still made people laugh when I put it on. But I really would just often scrunch down and-and just play the scenes straight with-with James. And they were, um-three different cameras that were on my-my body and face and Sam cut that v– uh, separate from the-the three film cameras. And Sam cut that video footage together to create the performance that the animators, uh, would eventually animate, uh, Finley off of.
That’s it for this portion of the interview, check back later this week for part two with James Franco, Mila Kunis, Joey King, and Joe Roth.