This past Sunday, City on a Hill Press participated in a conference call interview with director Sam Raimi and lead actor James Franco of the upcoming motion picture “Oz the Great and Powerful.” The film, a prequel to the 1939 Technicolor classic “The Wizard of Oz,” is largely inspired by L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and the series of subsequent “Oz” books that followed. A handful of colleges were included in the call and a moderator selected one question from each college to ask both Raimi and Franco.
The two men spoke about the rewards and challenges of revisiting such a familiar setting and story while also commenting on their personal experiences off-screen. For Franco, this meant discussing how he balanced between his acting career and his extensive collegiate endeavors, while Raimi shared the memory of his decision to drop out of college and direct the cult classic “The Evil Dead.”
Michigan Daily, University of Michigan
Q: What inspired your vision of Oz?
A: Hey, Michigan, that’s where I’m from! I drew the vision of Oz from L. Frank Baum and his many books. I was also inspired by the original illustrator of Baum’s books, W. W. Denslow and his drawings. But I was also inspired by the great classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” of course — who could not be inspired by that film? What inspired me about the original film was the characters’ sense of love that they have for each other, how friends come together and the very soulful sweet message that comes at the end of the picture, when we learn from the wizard that all of us broken and lonely individuals have within us the things to make us complete if we only recognize them.
The Lantern, Ohio State University
Q: What was the most challenging part of working on “Oz the Great and Powerful”?
A: Because the film was an ensemble piece with many characters and many backstories, it was a challenge juggling which parts of their backstories to include, which parts I should cut out, which parts I should give the audience and which parts would be most effective if I let the audience use their own imagination to fill in the blanks. That’s really the secret, I think, is letting the audience participate. Not spoon feeding them everything, but giving them just enough tools to help make them a collaborator.
The State News, Michigan State University
Q: How was your experience at Michigan State University (MSU) and why did you decide to drop out and make the film “The Evil Dead”?
A: I remember some great professors at MSU that really made a difference. When you get a professor who really loves a subject, suddenly that subject can become the best thing in the world. The best part of my university experience was probably having a great professor who just loves to teach, loves to share that knowledge and enjoy it with students.
I dropped out because I wanted to become a filmmaker. I was studying literature and history and I thought that one day I would be dragged back to my father’s furniture and appliance store — because a kid from Detroit shouldn’t be making movies in Hollywood — it just wasn’t talked about then. And I decided to do the outrageous and drop out and become a busboy at the Midtown Café and try to … solicit investments for my cheesy horror picture. “The Evil Dead” was my goal, I wanted to become a feature filmmaker. That was the fruit of my labors.
City on a Hill Press, UC Santa Cruz
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring directors looking to forward their careers after college?
A: Be directing now, not after college. Every day, you should be writing a script or a scene. Every Saturday you should be shooting a scene from the script you’ve been writing. On Sundays, you should be cutting the thing and on Mondays you should be showing it to an audience. And they won’t like your damn little picture! So you have to take it back, make it better and re-write it on Friday and re-shoot it on Saturday and re-cut it on Sunday and put the music on it and show it to them again on Monday. And they might like it a little bit better. That’s what you have to do and you have to keep doing it. Just keep shooting and you will be a filmmaker. If you wait for some after school thing or sometime in the future to start your career, that waiting will expand. Just do it now and you will always be a director. Get to work, you lazy bums!
Washington Square News, New York University
Q: Recently, you’ve been doing a lot of serious movies. Why did you decide to focus on a more family-oriented adventure film?
A: I’ve been a fan of the L. Frank Baum “Oz” books since I was a boy — I read all of them. They were some of the first books I read on my own for pleasure. I saw the role as something I could have a lot of fun with, and to be fairly creative with. The character was written as a very comedic character in a fantastical world … and I thought that combination of comedy and fantasy would result in something entertaining.
Flyer News, University of Dayton
Q: What was your interpretation of the character Oz when you first read the script?
A: This character starts off as a flawed man, he’s selfish, he’s a bit of a womanizer, he thinks happiness will come from financial success and fame. It blinds him to the love of the people around him. Starting the character off that way allows for growth, so that the movie isn’t just about the physical movements through a mystical land, but it also involves an inner journey of the character Oz, as he progresses from a flawed character to a better man.
Daily Utah Chronicle, University of Utah
Q: What did you personally bring to the character Oz?
A: I’ve been doing a fair amount of comedies recently and I saw this character as an opportunity to use some of the comedy chops I’ve been developing in these other full-out comedies but … within a movie that has more of an adventure tale structure. I like the idea of a comedic character within an epically scaled movie.
The Lantern, Ohio State University
Q: What was the most challenging part of playing the role of Oz?
A: “Oz” was a really long shoot. Maybe that was the most challenging part of it, working on something for almost half a year. It was quite an undertaking. But I had a great time shooting mainly because I was working with Sam Raimi, and he’s just the most fun director to work with.
City on a Hill Press, UC Santa Cruz
Q: How has it been balancing between your acting career and your collegiate education and endeavors?
A: Banana slugs! My brother went there, he’s a banana slug. I insist on having a balance between an academic and acting career. In a lot of ways, the balance has helped save my life and made me a happier person. I love the academic world. During the past seven years, I’ve gone to quite a few schools and I became a little addicted to school, but now I’m doing more teaching than studying. I usually teach in more creative programs, from film to art to writing, and it really takes me out of my own work and into other people’s work.