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March 8, 2013

The Yellow Brick Road Leads to Norris

James Franco and Zach Braff Discuss Their Time in Oz

By Valerie Turpin

Students of Leonard Maltin’s Theatrical Film Symposium (CTCS 466) were able to view an advance screening of Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful in Norris Theatre last night, with a special Q&A with the film’s actors James Franco (Spider-Man, 127 Hours) and Zach Braff (Scrubs, Garden State). The two highlighted their experiences on the blockbuster’s set, the need for keeping a strong relationship and emotional arc in the midst of grand visual technology and the importance of having a strong, collaborative director at the helm.

On acting with high-tech visual elements, Franco noted the necessity of keeping performance throughout the film. “The important thing for the scenes is that the connection between the actors is preserved. It’s great because you have all of this advanced technology, but what it allows us to do is go back to ‘old-fashioned acting’ where you have two performers opposite each other.”

Adding to this, Braff said, “That really comes from [director] Sam [Raimi], too. With CG technology and animated characters become a thing more and more in filmmaking, the key is to not lose the relationship between the actors.”

Before Dorothy ever visited the land of Oz, its namesake would have his own adventure to the mysterious land. Franco stars as Oz, a travelling circus magician who begins his journey in Oz after his hot air balloon is carried through a tornado. Along the way, Oz will have to use his sleight of hand to free the Emerald City from the evil witches who threaten to destroy the land. Directed by Sam Raimi (the Spider-Man trilogy), the film stars Zach Braff, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams.

Zach Braff, James Franco, Leonard Maltin and Dean Elizabeth M. Daley

When asked about how Oz related to its 1939 predecessor The Wizard of Oz, Franco and Braff discussed the ways in which it both honored the original while still forging its own path. “Of course, we needed to be loyal about certain things in Oz that everyone expects,” said Franco. “You can’t have Oz without the yellow brick road or the Emerald City or witches or flying monkeys and munchkins, but the approach and the main character was fortunately not just a boy version of Dorothy. He’s a completely different kind of person, so the audience’s experience through Oz will be different because his experience is very different.”

Braff added, “What the 1939 film did geniously was that it was the most technically advanced thing that had ever happened, and I think that Sam [Raimi] and Disney wanted to do something that celebrated that tradition and did something to push the envelope of 3D and CGI. It’s very hard to make a movie these days that can you bring a nine-year-old to but that the adults will also have an appreciation for.”

Both Franco and Braff have had a wealth of experience in front of the camera, but the two have also taken turns in the director’s seat. On his work as a director, Braff noted, “I think everyone’s job is unique in film; whether you’re a PA or an actor, you have to realize, ‘how can I best serve the director?’ When I made a movie, all I wanted was for everyone to show up and be like, ‘what can we do today to make it work?’”

Franco advised aspiring directors to keep communication and collaboration at the heart of directing. “It’s about being clear and communicating what you’re telling and how you want to tell it. That’s one of the biggest things about being a director—being clear and bringing everyone together. Allow it to be fun, but also collaborate.”

Braff and Franco travel through Oz

The two were appreciative of Raimi’s directing style, remarking on his careful balance of visuals and storytelling. “He is one of the best at balancing these epic-scale movies that use cutting-edge technologies for huge effects with very human stories and narrative,” said Franco. “As much time as he spends preparing for all the visuals, he works with the actors and the writers. We spent almost every single lunch together going over the script and how to make it work for us to really make sure there was an emotional grounding throughout the film.”

Braff also applauded Raimi’s ability in keeping a consistent tone across the board. “The onus is on him [Raimi] or any filmmaker is to make sure everyone is making the same movie and that everyone is operating in the same tone. A film like this could be made in a variety of tones, so across the whole palette, you have to make sure everyone is operating in that same tone.”

Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful opens nationwide today, available in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D versions.