Behind the scenes at Oz the Great and Powerful.
Rose and Sander Rubin, sister and brother raised in Farmington Hills, got some big surprises during the filming of Oz the Great and Powerful, an imagined prequel to one of the most beloved films of all time, The Wizard of Oz.
Thinking they were entering the massive Pontiac sets at the now-named Michigan Motion Picture Studios (formerly Raleigh Michigan Studios) strictly as observers, the two wound up as extras among big stars in the highly anticipated film.
The casting was thanks to their uncle, Sam Raimi, who grew up in Michigan and returned to direct the movie, a months-long local commitment.
Rose, 18, whose scene ultimately was redone in California, will be found as a townsperson in the Land of Oz. Sander will be shown as a Kansas farmer.
Their big screen attention starts March 8, when the film opens its run in movie theaters across the continents. The movie imagines the origins of the wizard character created by L. Frank Baum for his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was adapted into the classic film The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland.
Oscar Diggs, a small-town magician played by James Franco, gets thrust away from Kansas and into the Land of Oz. He meets three witches — Mila Kunis (Theodora), Rachel Weisz (Evanora) and Michelle Williams (Glinda) — unconvinced he is the wizard they were expecting.
The smooth-talking magician, believing he is going to have an easy ride, must put his skills to work separating good from evil inhabitants as problems unfold for resolution.
The Diggs character is assisted by a winged monkey named Finley, whose lines are voiced by Zach Braff; the former Scrubs star also plays Frank, Diggs’ circus assistant in Kansas.
“I have been blessed to have the opportunity to go on movie and TV sets my entire life,” says Rose, a freshman at Michigan State University working toward a career in supply chain management.
“This movie is by far the biggest, most surreal film I have ever seen in production, and I have had conversations with Zach Braff about it.”
Allowed to bring friends on set, Rose and Sander could share their excitement and have others to share in the recollections.
“It was a magical experience in every way, and I am so happy I was able to experience watching a movie being made from beginning to finish right in front of my eyes,” explains Rose, whose role required an imaginative costume with a complementary hairdo.
“From special effects to costume design, every part of this movie is more amazing than the next. I have no doubt in my mind that this movie will be everything I am expecting and more. My uncle will not let us down!”
Rose, who went to high school at the Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit and whose family is affiliated with Temple Israel, counts herself among many relatives cast by or observing Sam Raimi in action.
Ted Raimi, the director’s youngest brother, plays a villager not accepting the magician’s abilities.
He brings considerable acting experience to his role. Film credits include Apollo 11 and Clear and Present Danger. Among the observers were Sam Raimi’s parents, Celia and Leonard Raimi of Franklin, who allowed Sam and his two brothers to experiment with early home movie tech to launch dramatic interests.
Sam’s sister, Andrea Raimi Rubin, also on set, can recall the director as a young magician earning money at his craft. When Sam was not old enough to get behind a wheel, she often was the designated driver, taking him to children’s birthday parties so he could wow the guests.
In the midst of Oz activities, Andrea didn’t recognize her son, Sander, when he first approached in full costume.
“I probably went to watch the filmmaking about 20 times,” says Andrea, an extra in a Raimi-directed Spider-Man film shot in New York, where three streets were closed during production.
“Oz the Great and Powerful is going to be a 3-D movie so I learned a lot about the different ways that technology has to be handled.
“I was there so many times that the people got to know me. The cinematographer would see me and bring extra chairs so we all could sit behind Sam as he was directing.”
Andrea, who recalls Sam as a student at Birmingham Groves High School, will not forget the elements of Oz she could not have imagined — gigantic, fantastical sets filled with dozens of people working on every aspect of filmmaking.
After working hours, there was time to spend with Sam and his family, who rented a Bloomfield Hills home as Oz took up residence in Michigan.
With a mom’s eye, Andrea had fun observing James Franco with her daughter and her daughter’s friends. Sam had told Franco that the young women loved the actor’s smile, and Andrea noticed the actor’s smile widen each time he talked to the college students.
“Usually these girls can’t stop talking,” Andrea says. “With him around, they had a hard time speaking.”
Among Andrea Rubin’s favorite personal Oz memories are having Franco and Braff introduce themselves early in the process and instantly agree to being photographed with her.
She found it enlightening learning about Kunis’ Russian-Jewish background directly from the star and was touched watching the real-life wedding of producer Grant Curtis on the opulent castle set. (Other Jewish cast members include Franco, Braff and Weisz.)
Before Sander Rubin went on set for his camera time, he had to be ready for makeup at 2:45 a.m. and be available 7 a.m.-10 p.m. for filming and re-filming.
“It was not so much making me up to look better as it was making me up to look dirty,” says Sander, 24, a third-year medical student at Michigan State University, Sam’s alma mater. “I also needed a hairpiece and mustache.”
Sander, a graduate of North Farmington High School and the University of Michigan, has been on Spider-Man sets but found the Oz sets so much bigger.
“My friends were all starry-eyed,” says Sander, who spent winter break with buddies enjoying accommodations at Sam’s California guest house. “The actresses I met looked better than they look on screen, and it’s so different seeing them in person.
“I learned to appreciate the amount of detail that goes into making a movie. There are 50 things going on at once.”
Both niece and nephew of the director emphasize how much their uncle loves the state and wanted to help the economy by making the motion picture in the area.
“I think my uncle is honoring The Wizard of Oz,” says Sander, who, along with his sister, has seen the Judy Garland version several times. “I think he’s really tipping his hat to it.”
Rose liked the directorial style of her uncle, who also has written, produced and acted. She noticed that he was relaxed with the major cast members and encouraged their comments on scenes about to be shot. He seemed to want to make them feel comfortable.
Andrea Rubin looks back on her Oz experience with one overall impression.
“It was funny to see Sam in charge of all those people on such large sets,” she says. “But, he’s still my little brother.”
-By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer