It’s good to have Sam Raimi back at the helm of a big budgeted picture. His last outing, Drag Me To Hell, was more a more intimate affair, bringing Raimi back to his low-budget horror roots after being seeped in the large spectacles of Spider-Man. One hopes with Oz the Great And Powerful that Raimi is once again comfortable tackling huge studio pictures again, particularly those of this ilk, as he seems tailor made for them. For a film like Oz, it perfectly caters to the goofball humor Raimi tends to stick into his films.
We were lucky enough to sit in with Mr. Raimi, as well as Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, and Rachel Weisz, to hear them discuss Oz the Great And Powerful. This is what they had to say:
For Sam Raimi, this film is sort of a metaphor for the history of cinema. What made you want to incorporate that into this world?
Sam Raimi: Well, 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. So 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.
For Michelle Williams, you’re more noted for your independent projects. How was the transition over to a bigger picture?
Michelle Williams: Well, I knew the moment that I met Sam that it wasn’t really going to be, uh, that different from other experiences that I’ve had because he’s first of all like a consummate family man and his sets feel like, he makes 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, um, grown accustomed to working, and I like working, and I had that with Sam. I think we all really had that with Sam. And the-and-but-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 like 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. And he really taught me a lot about keeping a good face. Yeah. And not getting down on yourself.
There’s a moment where the film looks like it might be a musical, and then it’s not. Why is that?
SR: Yeah, that was a tribute to the great Wizard of Oz picture. But early on I think 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 Baum works. So we decided not to make it a musical. And just tell the fantastical tales that he had written about but that one number was a tribute to the great Wizard of Oz movie.
Can you talk about the challenges of the stunning visual effects and your use of 3D?
SR: 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 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 and 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 3D movies and I didn’t want this movie to give people headaches so-
Rachel Weisz: Oh, did you figure that out?
SR: Yes. They actually-
SR: They know why.
SR: 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 and have something in the-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 a-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, if 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, etcetera. In addition, I don’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 for-too much of a strain. But it has to do with brightness, also. And 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. This is some-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.
For the actors, we were wondering what your experiences with the original film were.
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. 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 I remember particularly just liking the physical comedy and-and the way that the characters moved. I thought that was-you know, as a kid, so in-intoxicating and-and fun, you know, we didn’t-grow up on-on the Fred Astaires of-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 was my early experience of physical comedy and a big inspiration in my whole career.
MW: 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, um, 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 felt kind of like somebody had been 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-a great place, um-to take inspiration from.
RW: It was 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 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. 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.
Oz the Great and Powerful is in theaters now.