By Megan Malamood and
Arts & Entertainment Co-Editors
Students representing their collegiate school newspapers from across the country joined together Sunday, Feb. 17 for a special interview. This was no ordinary press conference, however. The entire conference was conducted over the phone—a sure sign of growing possibilities. This rare opportunity invited journalists to listen in on a Disney College Conference Call with movie director Sam Raimi and actor James Franco, regarding an upcoming film.
On March 8, Disney Pictures will be releasing the new movie, “Oz The Great and Powerful,” in all U.S. theaters. The highly-anticipated movie tells the story of Oz, the adored protagonist first introduced through L. Frank Baum’s novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” In this prequel, an average magician named Oscar Diggs (James Franco) embarks on a journey that takes him from the sprawling fields of Kansas to the fantastical Land of Oz. There he discovers he effortlessly possesses two forces, wealth and fame—but they do not last for long.
Once Oscar encounters three witches who doubt his wizard supremacy, he soon finds himself deeply immersed in the Land of Oz, as well as all the challenges and problems that lie within the magical and enchanting world. He must live up to the superior wizard image he created for himself and help save the Land of Oz, as well as himself.
Disney had invited various newspaper writers and staff members from colleges and universities nationwide to partake in this conference call, also known as their “Oz Junket.”
Prior to the call, journalists were asked to submit questions that would be sent to Disney and produced in time for Sunday’s phone conference.
Once on the conference phone line, students were instructed to mute their lines for the sake of sound clarity.
First was Raimi, and after he warmly welcomed all students listening, he answered questions for a half-hour.
Following Raimi was Franco who proceeded to do the same for an additional half-hour. Both offered opinions and remarks about their production of “Oz The Great and Powerful,” singing humble praises for the soon-to-be released film.
Sam Raimi, notable for his directorial work on the “Evil Dead” series and “Spider-Man” trilogy, largely departs from his previous works with his newest, most substantial project. The amiable director first took the liberty of answering a question regarding the star-studded cast that will no doubt serve to augment his film.
“You want to find the right person for the role,” Raimi said, before highlighting Mila Kunis as a prime example of his insight.
Kunis’ character, Theodora, will be introduced to audiences as a supposed ally of Franco’s character, Oscar Diggs, but will ultimately be revealed as the infamous Wicked Witch of the West.
To harmonize this dichotomy between initial and eventual personality traits, Raimi wanted an actress that was able to channel an “innocent, positive force” as well as a “witchy quality.” He cited Kunis’ role in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and her Golden Globe-nominated performance in “Black Swan” as films that demonstrated her ability to portray such characters, respectively.
Theodora’s older sister and eastern counterpart made famous by the house that crushed her in 1939 film is being portrayed by Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz. In addition, three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams will depict Glinda, the Good Witch.
When asked about his inspiration of the film, he made sure to acknowledge how the 1939 classic would have been impossible to ignore. However, Raimi also cited the illustrations from L. Frank Baum’s original books as strong factors that influenced his conceptualization of the Land of Oz.
Raimi discussed the most challenging aspects of working on “Oz the Great and Powerful,” mentioning how he felt obligated to appropriately balance the significance and relationships of Baum’s many characters. He wanted to attend to what he felt drove the story and the fictional universe in the right direction, while omitting what was unnecessary.
Upon being asked where “Oz” fit into his body of work, Raimi was reluctant to provide a direct answer. He stated that he didn’t feel as if he would use such a label to describe his filmography, despite the fact that this project is largely a genre departure.
“I’m an entertainer,” Raimi said, concluding that his job was to make movies and to tell the stories that he felt should be told.
Regarding takeaways from the film, Raimi wants audiences to be inspired by the message of the film. The path from a conning magician to a powerful leader that Franco’s character takes will likely provide a human element to the film that keeps people emotionally invested in their revisit to Oz.
Raimi, who dropped out of Michigan State University in order to pursue a career in filmmaking, also took the time to offer sage advice to aspiring directors. His own decision to terminate his schooling was fueled by his innate desires to fulfill his life goals.
“I wanted to become a filmmaker,” Raimi said.
To those wishing to direct one day, Raimi believes that there is no sooner time than now to start building a portfolio. They should be continuously writing scripts and taking the time to film them on the weekends.
“Keep shooting and you will be a filmmaker,” Raimi said.
James Franco, an Academy Award nominee who starred in “127 Hours” as well as “Spider-Man” and many other movies, took on a very different role when he agreed to play Oscar Diggs. His unpredicted decision to be involved in a family-fun movie was inspired primarily by the film’s personal meaning and background. Having read and loved all of Baum’s “Oz” books as a child, he felt he could relate to the character.
Nonetheless, Franco felt some reluctance about portraying Diggs’ character.
“I just wanted to be sure the role had a sound approach,” Franco said. “I wanted to be loyal to Oz but give it a fresh take too, and I didn’t just want a male version of Dorothy.”
There were many preparations, both physical and mental, that Franco had to undertake in order to ensure a successful and convincing role. Because magic is a very crucial part of Diggs’ character, Franco needed to be able to perform as a magician. He received private lessons from one of the most highly respected and well-known magicians, so that he could be a real part of the magic in the film.
Upon reading the script for the first time, Franco quickly discovered that Diggs is a womanizer and a flawed man who believes that success comes solely from fame and other material objects and ideas. He was pleased with this original nature because it “allows for growth in the character.”
When asked to define the most challenging aspect of filming “Oz The Great and Powerful,” Franco hesitated momentarily to find an answer—an action that served as unspoken endorsement for the movie. The answer he came up with was the length of the filming process. He described the half-year process as “fun but long—the fact that it was so long made it most challenging.”
Another huge plus for Franco was working with Raimi again.
“I feel Raimi gave me a little less love than Tobey McGuire in ‘Spider-Man’ because I was not the protagonist,” Franco said.
But that changed throughout the process of filming “Oz.” Franco is feeling the love and declared Raimi to be one of his absolute favorite directors.
Apart from his acting career, Franco teaches creative programs at U.C. Santa Cruz. He explained that it is not too tough balancing between his acting and academic career, but that he loves the academic world.
“It saved my life,” Franco said.