Director Sam Raimi discusses ‘Oz’
After directing the cult-classic horror movie The Evil Dead and producing dozens of other successful films, Sam Raimi went on to direct the now-famous Spiderman Trilogy. It was this success that lead him to direct Disney’s upcoming movie Oz the Great and Powerful. Last month, Raimi took part in a phone interview with several student presses across the country. Suffolk University was one of them.
PRESS: What was it about these actors, who between them have a very diverse acting background, that makes them so prefect for their respective roles?
SR: Well it all comes down to the casting process. I wasn’t looking for, necessarily the very best actor or actress in the world. I was looking for that actor or actress that had the qualities of the character they’re going to portray. And I guess that’s the essence of the casting process. And, I guess, the old saying is, you want to find the right person for the role. So I’m looking for, like with Mila Kunis’s character, she plays Theodora…
And Theodora is a good and innocent character, so I’m looking for someone who could portray that innocence and also she makes a turn for the wicked side. The wizard breaks her heart and first she’s heartbroken, but then a deep anger starts to stir within her, and she becomes a raging woman scorned. So I needed somebody who would portray both sides of that character. And there are a lot of great actresses, butwhen I saw two movies it told me that she could handle both sides.
One was Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I saw this real positive vibe that she put out as this, I guess, Hawaiian hotel clerk. And I thought, there is an innocent positive force, that is I believe she could play Theodora. And then when I saw the brilliant, what was the movie? Black Swan, where she had this real dark and nasty witchy quality. That told me that she could play the other half of the role.
So between those movies, I thought that she had everything it took to become Theodora. The same is true, I want to get through all the actresses, but for instance with Michelle Williams, who plays Glinda the Good Witch. Primarily I thought the most important thing with this character is a source of pure goodness. And I needed an actress that had a good soul. So suddenly that ruled about 90 percent of the actresses in Hollywood. (joking)
What I mean to say is that when you spend time with Michelle Williams, she puts out a very sweet aura. And I consider her to be with a very good soul. And that’s something that I thought couldn’t be faked by an actor, no matter how fine they were. Because when the camera gets in close, really close to the face of the actor or actress, the audience knows whether they’re true or not. They know in their heart whether or not… they can judge it from a critical point of view, I don’t know, but you can feel it.
And I needed her to radiate that goodness. So, next question.
PRESS: What inspired your version of the World of Oz?
SR: Well I drew it all from the great author L. Frank Baum, his vision of Oz, that he had written about in 14 some books. And then, I was also inspired by the illustrator, Denslow (W. W. Denslow), he was the original, the original illustrator of the L. Frank Baum books. So a lot of inspiration was taken from – from his drawings. But I was also inspired by the great classic movie, Wizard of Oz, of course, who would not be inspired by that?
A lot of the visuals of the (movie), but – but more than the visuals; what inspired me about the Wizard of Oz movie, was the character’s sense of love that they have for each other. How friends come together and that very soulful sweet message that comes at the end of the picture when we learn from the Wizard that all of us are complete, all of us broken, lonely individuals are completely, we have within us the thing to make us complete if we only recognize it. That-that gave me a great source of inspiration.
Also the end of that movie, the Wizard of Oz, gave me great inspirations as I’m sure he did everybody who is on the call, when we go from that tearful scene of Dorothy saying goodbye to all her friends, and then she awakens in Kansas. And, ah, the friends aren’t really gone, they’ve always been a part of her life and always will be. It reminds me of the enduring power of love after death for instance, how things go on. And I always believed that in my heart.
And then I saw that dramatization of that in the movie and I knew it was true. And here’s somebody else that had recognized it and put it in a drama and it was incredibly moving for me and life affirming for me, and brings tears to my eyes. So that was a source of inspiration. Those are just some of them.
PRESS: What was the best part of working on the film? And also, what was the most challenging part of working on the film?
SR: The best part of the picture for me was, as a director, was once I had worked on the thing for like two years and eight months, was to hear Danny Elfman, our composer, create such a fantastic score. Because he took the emotions that were in the movie and he elevated them. He took the drama and he deepened it, the thread enhanced it. So he basically made everything better, he was the secret sauce that brings it to the next level. That was the best part for me, to see the movie whole and be made better and be brought together.
Ah, what was the second part of that question?
PRESS: What was the most challenging part of making the film?
SR: The most challenging, I think was probably not dissimilar from other filmmakers and their ensemble movies, where there are many characters, and many back stories, and many interconnected relationship tales, and juggling what part of their back story should I include? What part should I cut out? What part should I give the audience? And what part would be most effective if I let the audience use their own imagination to fill in the blanks?
Because, that’s really the secret I think – letting the audience participate. Not spoon-feeding them everything, but giving them just enough tools to finish building the bridge and make them their own collaborator. And it’s that part about it, part of that is what to withhold.
PRESS: Where does Oz fit into your body of work thus far?
SR: Well, I don’t really look at my movies as a body of work for some reason. So it’s hard for me to relate to that question. I just am a filmmaker, a storyteller, and I tell stories, trying to, I’m an entertainer, ah, like a comedian or a, somebody who sits around the campfire and tells stories to people. So I mean, I think back and think, oh that was a good story I told, hey they really liked that one, I want to really scare them this time, and I want to make them laugh this time. So I don’t know where it fits in the body of work. I’ve tried to make it as entertaining as possible and put as much thrills and chills into the picture.
And I tried to make the characters as richly developed as they possibly could be with the help of these great actors. All I can say, is I hope the audience enjoys it. I don’t have a good answer for that question.
PRESS: What is your favorite creature or location aspect in the Land of Oz?
SR: Ah, my favorite creature in the Land of Oz? I think that would be the China Girl. Ah, Baum, L. Frank Baum wrote about this porcelain village called China Town and the inhabitants were all made of porcelain too. And I feel bad for her because her family and her village were destroyed by the evil witche’s winged baboons, and she’s a broken character, literally, until the Wizard glues her together. And despite her tragedy she’s got a lot of spunk, which I admire, she’s got a lot of courage, she doesn’t mope about her place in the universe.
She goes out and does the best she can in spite of her tragedy. So I admire her and she’s-she’s my favorite. She’s, ah, voiced by Joey King. And what was the second part of that question?
PRESS: Your favorite location aspect in the Land of Oz.
SR: What’s a location aspect?
PRESS: Maybe the favorite part of the world that you created?
SR: Well I like Glinda’s kingdom, it’s so beautiful. That beautiful French Nouveau Castle, where our production design is that of Robert Stromberg, who designed that castle in that style and I thought it was a lovely choice because it’s very feminine and, this is a female kingdom, with a female leader. And I like the fact that the art department came up with the idea that everything in the kingdom would have a pearl essence [Pearlescence].
Kind of a beautiful glow, like Glinda’s bubbles, or her dress with the shimmering sheen that-that it gave off. Or like, um, so it was all of a kind, all of a single thing. I-I like the consistency of vision so much, I think that’s why I like that place, it speaks, it comes out of the character.
PRESS: You’re also reconnecting with composer Danny Elfman for the first time since the Spiderman trilogy, what you do think Elfman’s music will bring to the atmosphere of the film?
SR: What he did was, it was what he contributed to the atmosphere; he made the love story much deeper. And he did that by, he connected the dots. See-see the Wizard in Kansas, he has a love story with a girl named Annie, played by Michelle Williams, and this is a love that’s right before the Wizard, if only he would recognize it and embrace it, he would really be happy. But he’s too blind, he only sees fame and fortune and the more [menial] aspects of our existence as the, as the road to happiness.
And it’s only once he gets to Oz that his eyes start to open, he becomes a little less selfish and he starts to realize that true love is the most valuable thing that one can strive for. It’s one of the stories in the picture. And so, Danny Elfman creates a love theme that he’s decided to play with Annie and the Wizard and it’s an incomplete fragile broken thing. But later when the Wizard meets Glinda and their love story blossoms, you’ll hear that theme in all of its orchestrated fullness.
And it helps tie the threads together, it helps you help feel that, yes, a mistake that he made in the past, could be corrected, the same love can be reborn with the new realization that it was real and important and true. And, he’s done so many things like that, connects so many threads like that with his music that it just enhances the whole experience for me. But he also added great mood when those winged baboons are around, and the drums and the horns come on. They’re very primal and they get your heart beating and he’s basically, he’s the emotion of the picture.
Danny is the-the heartbeat, the thrills and the, ah, I think like you said in your question, he’s the, he becomes the mood of the picture, he enhances the mood of the picture.
PRESS: What are you most excited about for audiences to take away from seeing the film?
SR: I’d like them to feel, and ideally I’d like them to feel uplifted. I’d like them, you know, the-the best thing that stories could do for us is reverberate with truth and show us the, show us the way in a way that is not pushy or, ah, preachy, but you basically, if you could recognize this is true, and that’s true, and see there is a way to be happy with material goods, without the pride, without sense of self being everything [and] all dominating, there’s a simple beauty in loving another person and friends coming together, in being selfless.
And that’s what this movie’s message is. That’s what I’d like the audience to come away with.
PRESS: This one comes from Michigan State University.
PRESS: You attended Michigan State University before dropping out to make Evil Dead …
SR: I don’t think we need to talk about the dropping out part, on this call.
PRESS: Why did you decide to do so? How did that help your career? Is there anything you miss about MSU?
SR: Well, um, MSU is a great school, it’s got a beautiful campus, and I know you guys all probably have beautiful campuses, but that, everyone’s [campus is] special to the guys that went to their particular school. What I remember about MSU are the, is the Bagel Fragle and I don’t know if it’s still there, but I remember some great, great professors that made all the difference. You know, when you get a professor that really loves the subject, suddenly that subject can be the best thing in the world.
Like, I’ve had poor professors for Shakespeare, [but] when you have one that really understand the beauty of the writing, and the brilliance of the plays, and gives you insights into the characters, and what Shakespeare was joking about, what was socially relevant at the time-it makes the whole thing come life in-in a, an incredible way. And so, the best part of my University experience, is probably your guys’ best part, is having a great professor that loves to teach, that loves knowledge, and loves to share the knowledge and the joy of it with the other students.
That’s the, one of the questions. Let’s see State News. Ah, so I dropped to make Evil [Dead], there you go with the dropping out again, I told you to quit mentioning that. (joking). Dropping out to make Evil Dead, why did you decide to do so? Well I wanted to become a filmmaker, that’s why. I was studying literature and history; I thought that I would be one day 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.
I decided to do the outrageous and drop out and become a bus boy at the Midtown Café and, try and raise money to hire attorneys to put together a private placement memorandum. That is, a legal document by which I could legally go out under the state of Michigan law and solicit investments for my cheesy horror picture. So that’s what I did because I wanted to become a filmmaker and that movie, Evil Dead, was the movie I made. So it wasn’t that, how did Evil Dead help me with my career, it’s that Evil Dead was my goal.
I wanted to be, to become a feature filmmaker and that is the fruit of my labors, it was a bitter fruit of horror, but that was my fruit.
PRESS: What advice would you give to aspiring directors looking to forward their careers after college?
SR: To inspiring directors looking to forward their careers, I would say, be directing now, not after college. Every day you should be writing. Writing a script or a scene, every weekend, every Saturday, you should be shooting on video a scene from the script you’ve been writing. Around Sunday you should be cutting the thing, and on Monday you should be showing it to a, to a university audience. And they won’t like your damn little picture. So you’re going to have to take it back and recut it and make it better, and rewrite it on Friday, reshoot it on Saturday, recut it on Sunday, put some music on it, and show it to them again on Monday.
And they might like it a little bit better. That’s what you got to do and you got 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. You just do it now and you will always be a director. So get to work you lazy bums. (joking).
PRESS: Any last words for the people …
SR: For the drop out? Quit rubbing it in for crying out loud, I wished I could’ve finished school. (joking).
PRESS: Thanks so much for listening guys, we appreciate all your questions and support for the film. And a big thank you to Sam.
SR: Perhaps the kids would like to remind me that I’ve been mean to my mother also. (joking).
PRESS: Take care guys.
SR: Yeah, thanks a lot.
OZ The Great and Powerful is scheduled to be released March 8th featuring James Franco and Mila Kunis