With contributions by Kathleen Davis
Along a carpet resembling a certain yellow-bricked road on Tuesday, March 5, “Oz The Great and Powerful”, a special premiere was held at the Royal Oak Imagine Theatre to celebrate and screen the film for Michigan natives involved in the movie process.
The made-in-Michigan film, which was released nationally March 8, is a new twist on “the Wizard of Oz”, but is far from a remake. The Highlander was invited to interview individuals involved in the locally filmed box-office blast.
This movie is a prequel to the familiar story, discovering the background of the wizard, with the handsome Academy Award nominee James Franco as Oscar Diggs, the small-town con artist who pretends to be a great magician.
After a large tornado, Diggs is whisked away to Oz, the beautiful and extraordinary place that helps him transform into the great man and leader he is supposed to be.
Other well-known cast members in “Oz”, inspired by L. Frank Baum’s 14 novels, include Golden Globe nominee Mila Kunis, Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz, and three-time Oscar-nominated actress Michelle Williams.
The director, Sam Raimi, decided it would be best to film the picture where he grew up, in metro Detroit, according to producer Grant Curtis. The Groves High School graduate was convinced that Michigan had everything the movie needed and apparently, he was right.
“We don’t have to import workers from California or New York, they’re right here in Michigan,” Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America told the Highlander. “In addition to the dollar incentives, a company knows they can come to Michigan and they can make a movie here and they don’t have to import workforce—it’s right here. So it’s a great advantage for the state.”
The movie, which included 683 Michigan extras, was filmed at the new 675,000 square foot sound stage facility, Michigan Motion Picture Studios, in Pontiac from July to December 2011. Raimi concluded that it was important for actors to be able to really touch the scenery, not just rely on a green screen. He wanted it to look real. So to bring the Land of Oz to life, Raimi assembled a strong team of set designers who could make the magic happen.
According to mackinac.org, “Oz” received $39.7 million of the $75.2 million Michigan handed out to film producers in 2010. Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed cutting the amount the state gives to filmmakers to a cap of $25 million.
Michigan Senator Randy Richardville said people who have underestimated the mitten may begin to think of the state as a perfect place for movie making because for the success “Oz” has earned.
“I was recently down in North Carolina. The reason I was there was because they’re filming “Iron Man 3” down there; they wanted to come here,” Richardville said. “Our studio is much better than the one they have down there, our work force, I believe, is better too.”
Dodd was glad to work with Senator Richardville and was impressed by the determination he had for Michigan to work on “Oz”.
“It’s exciting to be here and to celebrate the work of the senator who has led the charge, and to thank all the wonderful people who produced this incredible film,” Dodd said. “[The film crew] has spent over 100 million dollars, in Michigan, 100% of the dollars spent in this state to make this movie.”
The fourth installment of “Transformers,” according to freep.com, is also going to film in Michigan, receiving $20 million in incentives, announced on March 20. This will make “Transformers 4” the second-biggest project under Michigan’s film incentives. The movie will also be filmed at Pontiac’s Michigan Motion Picture Studios.
Curtis, a producer of the film, which is now being called the biggest made-in-Michigan movie ever, said he enjoyed his time in metro Detroit and would definitely come back.
“I would come back here in a heartbeat, this was a great experience,” he said. “It sounds a little cliché, but it was like family here after you’re here for seven months away from your own family. You bond, you go check out the sites, and I loved it here. Loved it. Would come back here in a heartbeat.”
“Oz” has made a worldwide total of $289,745,940 as of March 22 and is continuing to grow.