Column: Adapting Oz -- By Request

by Sean Gates

Since it’s been difficult to come up with subjects to write about, and because I want everyone to be interested in it, I’ve opened this column to requests.  Angelo suggested that I write about casting the movie – not Mariellen Kemp or Marie Rizza, whose casting we have discussed at some length, but the rest of our cast as it currently stands.  Feel free to post suggestions for future columns on the Facebook.  No requests likely means no column, so only request if you want to see the column continue.

May I Sign Your Cast?

Everybody wanted to play Scarecrow.  When we built the website and set up the Facebook, we put out an open casting call.  Jared Davis posted about our film at the IWOC forums and then I joined soon after that, unaware that anyone knew about us, and started a thread…at any rate, probably due to Jared’s initial posting and linking to the site, Oz fans, a great number of whom are actors, began contacting us about roles. 

I say roles, but really…role.  Everybody wanted to play Scarecrow.  This was not only not feasible, and statistically unlikely, but flat-out impossible.  No schizo Scarecrow for us, thank you.  So we asked them, “if we decide not to cast you as Scarecrow, would you be interested in another role in the film?”  And everybody said no.  If you’re Jack Nicholson, you get to do whatever you want, but when you’re an unknown drama student, you don’t.  Especially when you’re not what the producers are looking for.  We tried, we really did.  We gave everybody lots of chances to get the performance where we wanted it, and it finally became clear that it just wasn’t going to happen.  The guys just weren’t a good fit.  That’s just how it goes sometimes.  You can dress Britney Spears like Judy Garland, but Britney Spears will never be able to sing like Judy Garland.  Wait, I did that wrong. 

Britney Spears will never be able to sing.

THERE it is.

I’ve known Steve Lowry since middle school, and we’re both thirty-five now.  I’ll leave the math to more interested men, but trust me, it’s been some time.  He’s a creative guy, a writer, lover of art and music, and he majored in philosophy at Ferrum College.  He is also, as his bio here states, a naturally gifted comedian.  But he’s a film nerd like me, and like Clayton, and when he heard what we were doing he wanted to be involved in some capacity, even though he’s not an Oz fan.  He just wanted to support the project and do anything he could to make it happen.  He’s camera-shy and didn’t want to be in front of one, but he was willing to be an extra set of hands for anything we needed.

When he found out about our Scarecrow woes, he asked if he could audition.  I said yes.  Clayton hadn’t met Steve at this point – Clayton hadn’t even met me in person.  So he had to take my word for it when he asked if Steve was likely to be able to do it.  I told him yes, with the caveat that Steve would probably worry it to death and take forever to get the audition to us, but I said that I knew he could do the voice we wanted.  He’s good with voices.  His Sinatra impression kills me every time…

In fact it took Steve right up until we were getting ready to film with Mare before he gave us his audition, which he presented in person on his own laptop.  He’d taken a few shots at it, and while all of them had the right innocence and sweetness, he had one take where he was just messing around, and in that take he had something close to the voice we wanted.  He couldn’t believe it when we told him to just do a Rain Man voice, but he did it for us and it was perfect.  That was our Scarecrow voice.  And that’s how he got the role.  When we actually started filming and we needed two people to operate the Scarecrow puppet, Steve demonstrated a talent for that as well, and it was the obvious choice to give him the job of lead puppeteer as well.  That way he gets to perform both parts of the role and make it truly his own. 

Leah Copeland was another piece of casting that just sort of…happened.  Leah’s father was the minister at my church ten or eleven years ago, I guess, and we got to know the family pretty well.  When the pastor was reassigned (it’s a Methodist thing) they moved away, but some of the people in our church (including my folks) kept in touch with them.  So at some point early on in the Oz process, my folks had gone to visit the Copelands and, being proud parents, had mentioned the film.  And Leah told my Mom that she was interested in being part of the film. 

As long as I’ve known Leah she was always interested in performing, and when she told my Mom she was interested in being in the movie, it was before the casting of Mare, and Leah had actually expressed an interest in Dorothy.  Of course that would be fine if we were going the MGM route, as by this time she was probably around eighteen, but it wasn’t going to be right for our film.  I’d always been fond of Leah, though, and I was happy to have her involved in the film if the right role was available.

After we cast Mare as Dorothy we knew we needed to cast as many of the other roles as we could, just to give her people to interact with as often as possible.  That didn’t work out too well, but when it came to Glinda I remembered Leah.  I hadn’t SEEN Leah since she was eleven or so, but my Mom had seen her just recently and told me what a beautiful woman Leah had become.  And beautiful is the order of the day for Glinda.  So I talked it over with Clayton, looked Leah up on Facebook, explained what this version of Oz was all about, and asked if she’d be interested in auditioning for Glinda.  She said yes.  She was the only Glinda we ever auditioned.  She had the look we wanted, her audition was good, and we just wanted to work with her. 

The next batch of auditions would be thanks to Steve.  He’d been attending services at a Unitarian church, and the congregation was full of creative types, artists, actors…seamstresses.  Steve messaged all his church friends on Facebook and gave them the lowdown on the movie and the roles that needed filling.  He was hopeful that we’d get a significant amount of responses. 

In fact, we got three.

Those three were Marie Rizza, Stacey Pratt, and Madeline Lovegrove.  I actually can’t talk about Stacey without talking about Marie, and here’s why: they both auditioned for the same two roles.  Marie was first.  Her Good Witch of the North was good.  Very good.  Her Wicked Witch of the West was better.  I think we’d have been happy to give her either role, but her Wicked Witch was going to be tough to beat.  In fact, as Clayton said, we pretty much knew right away that she was going to be our WWW.  When Stacey auditioned for the same two roles – later the same day, if I’m remembering it correctly – she nailed the GWN.  She wasn’t going to be able to give us what we were after with the Wicked Witch, but of course that was a non-issue.  It was decided straightaway that Marie would be the Wicked Witch and Stacey would be the GWN. 

Here’s where things get complicated: prior to Marie and Stacey coming out to audition, we’d been contacted by a young lady from New Jersey who wanted to play the Wicked Witch of the West.  She seemed to be laboring under the impression that it was a voice-only role, and when we explained that it wasn’t, but that she was welcome to send a video audition if she still wanted it, she said she would.  And then never ever did.  Ever.  At all.  None audition.  Nunca.  Nein.  She didn’t send us diddly, is what I’m saying.

But we didn’t feel right announcing Wicked Witch casting without having first settled things with her, so we waited.  And waited.  And sent her a gentle e-mail reminder.  And then waited some more.  Even worse, since Stacey had also auditioned for the WWW, and Marie for the GWN, we didn’t want to announce casting on one role without announcing it for the other. 

And then there was Madeline.  Maddy was a high school student then, and she showed up with her father (can’t blame either of them: a teenage girl driving half an hour to the next county to meet two strange men in a place she’s never been?  What could POSSIBLY go wrong?) She auditioned for several roles, live-action and voice work.  She had this stentorian voice that sounded perfect for the Captain of Glinda’s Guard.  She and Stacey had both also auditioned for a few voice roles.  Madeline brought the stern, cold, wary voice we wanted for the Stork, while Stacey was perfect at finding the nervous, spastic energy of the Queen of the Field-Mice.  But between all the cross-auditioning, and the fact that these ladies all know each other in real life, there was no safe way to announce any casting if we couldn’t announce all of it.

I’m sure all three of them were left wondering if they’d gotten roles.  We knew that there was no way this other girl was going to outdo Marie, so we finally told the girls in private e-mails that we were ready to offer them their respective roles, and explained that we weren’t ready to make the public announcements yet. Another week later we were still waiting to hear from the absentee Witch-Hopeful, and while we’d agreed that she deserved a certain amount of time, out of courtesy, we were increasingly aware of how unfair it was to our three lovely ladies if we couldn’t announce their casting on the website.  By that time we’d already gotten bios and headshots from them and I had the announcements all coded up and ready for upload, so we just decided there would be no further waiting on Jersey Girl.

You know we never did hear from her?  She was a teen, and I’m sure her parents nixed any thought she might have had of traveling here to film a role, or of even sending a video audition to two strange guys she didn’t know.  But it was weird that we didn’t even get a “sorry but I must politely decline” e-mail.  I guess her family thought we were perverts.  Of the type that isn’t socially acceptable, I mean. 

Justin Bowen, for his part, contacted us looking for a role or two.  He’s adept at putting on voices and he takes direction very well.  He had a back and forth with Clayton as we nailed down what the various voices should sound like.  It’s about as simple as that…he auditioned and he had the ability to do what we needed, so he’s in.  Same exact situation for Angelo Thomas.  That could potentially be any of you.  Of course for every Justin or Angelo, there’s three Jersey Girls, two Scarecrow Divas and a couple of psychotics. 

Along the way we’ve had a lot of bizarre things find their way into our e-mail, so with past experience as a guideline here, I’ll end this with some advice for anyone who wants to audition: 

1.) Please write to us in clear, grownup English. 
2.) Please don’t try to sell us anything. 
3.) We already have a director, and Oz is NOT an “Epic trilogy.”
4.) We are not capable of helping you with your Oz board game, and we’ve got our hands full with our movie as it is.
5.) If you have an agent, please tell him that e-mailing us in all caps is not advisable, as we will not respond.
6.) Do not e-mail us if you are batcrap insane.
7.) We can’t afford to pay royalties to your dog for use of his image in promotional materials.
8.) Anne Hathaway is not associated with this film.
9.) If you are a minor, do us all a favor and ask your parents or legal guardians before contacting us.  Also, do not expect to audition for an adult character.
10.) Seriously…do not e-mail us if you are batcrap insane.

You may, however, post in our forums if you are batcrap insane.