On February 17, 2013, I had the privilege of attending the press junket for ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, CA. Hosted by Walt Disney Studios, we were given a chance to talk to the cast, director, and producer of the new film that returns us to the magical land of Oz, and get to ask them questions about the film’s production, hear stories from the set, and so much more. The junket consisted of two different panels, so I felt that the best way to talk about the event was to separate our coverage of the event into two separate posts, to give you the most in depth look at it. This first part will cover the first panel, which featured stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Joey King, and the film’s producer Joe Roth.
The thing I love about these press junkets is the reactions, stories, and tidbits that we learn from those involved in the production, and this one is no different. One of the questions that started the panel going was when the cast was asked about the first time they saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and how it effected them. James Franco, who stars as Oz in the film, started off by saying that it was a film he’s been watching since he was young, anytime it would come on TV during the holidays, in a time before home media. The movie led him to eventually read the books by L. Frank Baum, which he fell in love with, and as he admitted, they were his ‘Harry Potter’, so it holds a very special place in his heart. Mila Kunis than followed that up as well, saying that when CBS would run the remastered version of the film every year, her family would sit down and watch it, because they didn’t have much money and that was the kind of entertainment they could afford. She then recalls a night that CBS played the film as a double bill will ‘Poltergeist’, a night that she remembers very vividly, and I won’t lie, that sounds like a very strange double feature. The thing I loved about this story though was it showed how much love and affinity both had for the material, and you could tell that making a film about the land of Oz was something very close to their hearts, and they wanted to make sure it turned out to be the best film possible.
Another very cool and interesting tidbit I learned was from Joey King, the girl who plays the little China Girl in the film, who is a girl completely made out of porcelain. While I knew that her character was CGI, the most interesting I thing I learned was that any scene with her character in the film, she was on set to do the voice of the character while they were filming it. They’d use a mannequin artist to make her character to come to life on stage and help capture the movement, and the guy who did it was so good and convincing at doing the movements, Sam Raimi would begin to directing him instead of Joey. Also, when she was on set, she and Zach Braff would be in a little room together that had cameras on them at all times, so that it could capture their facial expressions when they would do the voice acting for their characters, that way the animation artists could use it to make their characters facial expressions mirror the actors as best as possible. They put a lot of work into making sure the characters were relatable, as well as believable, and all the time and care put into it is incredibly impressive.
Throughout the junket, producer Joe Roth would drop some very cool tidbits, such the fact that they build seven full blown sets for the film, so that actors could work on full sets instead of just against green screen back drops. When he was talking about this, he said when he produced ‘Alice in Wonderland’ a few years ago, that Tim Burton was incredibly CGI heavy on the film and had very little in the way of real sets, something that was hard for Roth to wrap his head around. He said that was the biggest difference working with Sam Raimi, who wanted to make sure his actors had real backdrops to work against. Having sets is a big deal for me, because part of the magic of filmmaking, for me, is the amount of real sets that are built for films, and unfortunately, that seems to be a sort of dying trend in films. Raimi, who is, admittedly, one of my all time favorite directors (sitting comfortably at in the top three, up there with Steven Spielberg and David Fincher), it’s good to see him sticking to his guns and building real sets in a day where they rely so heavily on CGI.
James Franco also talked about how he learned real magic from one of the top magicians from Las Vegas, so he could learn professional slight of hand, among other tricks, so he could do it convincingly while filming. Jokingly, he said while he doesn’t keep up with his magic, he wouldn’t turn down an invite to be a member of the Magic Castle if they asked him. But my favorite moment from the panel actually came at the end, when Mila Kunis began gushing about how much she loved the movie and how proud she was of finally being a movie for families. She hadn’t realized, until recently, that she hadn’t really made any movies that she could watch with her future children or grandchildren, and that she was really excited to finally have a movie that would give her fans that are under the age of 17. She said she was so proud of it, it was the only movie of hers she stayed and watched all of, she’s that proud of it. I think that’s incredibly telling, not only of the film’s quality, but how much love and effort was put into the film itself. It’s devotion and love like this that really turns out great films, and I’m glad to see so much was put into it.
There’s a tasty morsel of the things we learned at the junket, and below is the entire audio from the first panel, for your listening pleasure. Part 2 will follow this one shortly, so keep your eyes out, and look for my review of the film on March 8, 2013.
‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’, starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Zach Braff, Rachel Weisz, Joey King, and Michelle Williams, and directed by Sam Raimi will be released March 8, 2013.