Friday, December 09, 2011

Interview with Hugh Gross, director of 'After the Wizard'

Earlier this week, I got the opportunity to interview Hugh Gross, the director and writer of the indie film 'After the Wizard', which premiered in Kingman, Kansas on July 2nd. 'After the Wizard' is a modern sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and tells the story of a young Kansas girl named Elizabeth, played by Jordan Van Vranken.

Could you tell us a little bit about how the movie came about, and what the premise of the movie is?

I had a vision some years ago about the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman coming to Kansas to find Dorothy. It was very sketchy and I didn't do much about it until six or seven years ago when I wrote “After The Wizard” as a children’s book. I’m a published novelist and playwright and I did have an agent, but we were unable to interest a publisher. In 2009, while a play I wrote called “Stated Income” had a production at a small theater in Hollywood, I started thinking about other projects I could adapt for the theater. I tried to adapt an unpublished novel I’d written about a professional poker player, which didn't work well on the stage, and I tried “After The Wizard,” which did. However, the challenges involved with a 12-year-old lead, dog, balloon launch and tornado were overwhelming. I had previously worked in video production and post-production so I was somewhat aware of recent advances in camera technology and editing software. It made much more sense to proceed as a film than as a stage play. I adapted the work as a screenplay and was able to secure financing.

Did you take any inspiration from the 14 Oz books by L. Frank Baum, or did you mostly rely on the 1939 movie and your own ideas?

Everything in “After The Wizard” is drawn from the original books by L. Frank Baum, which are in the public domain, or original to our movie. We were very conscious on all fronts – story, dialogue, design, music, etc. – not even to wink at the 1939 movie or any of the other later adapted works such as “The Wiz” and “Wicked” which are not in the public domain and to which we do not have rights. That is why, for example, you will not find ruby slippers or even a spoken reference to ruby slippers in “After The Wizard.”

Last we heard, distribution was being worked on by the production. What are the current distribution plans or hopes? Any idea when we'll be able to see the movie?

Producer’s rep Ronna Wallace of Eastgate Films just signed to represent the film. Ronna has placed many significant independent films. This is a great development for “After The Wizard” and I’m very optimistic. With just a little luck the movie should be available for viewing in 2012.

How was the general reaction from the audience at the premiere screenings in Kingman, Kansas over the summer?

The response was overwhelmingly positive. We had more than two hundred volunteers from Kingman who participated as extras or behind the scenes in the movie so perhaps it wasn’t an entirely objective audience. Still, we had coverage from Wichita network affiliates of CBS, NBC and ABC. An article that appeared in the Hutchinson Times (we also filmed in Hutchinson) was picked up by Associated Press and ran as far away as The India Times. As you know there is an incredibly deep affection for the original story and characters. In addition, “After The Wizard” is a true family film, which seems to come as a relief and broadens its appeal. Audience members particularly seem to enjoy a sense of having the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman visit America.

How was your overall experience working on the film? Did the cast and crew get a long when the cameras weren't rolling?

Working on “After The Wizard” was immensely satisfying. There were deep friendships made through production and post. At the same time, and speaking honestly, I don’t think there’s ever been an independent film in the history of the world where everyone got along at all times. We filmed in six states. Our schedule was brutal. Definitely, there were some tensions among the crew. Without question it was a very talented group that came together to make the movie and I trust now that we’re done everyone will take great satisfaction in what we've been able to accomplish.

Why do you think Oz fans should check out this movie in particular?

“After The Wizard” is not only a take-off and/or adaptation involving the original characters, it’s about what the original story and characters mean to those who love them. The movie is therefore a little unusual even in the Oz-inspired universe, heartwarming and hopefully inspiring to all.

Thanks to Hugh for doing the interview! Looking forward to seeing this movie. Let us know what you think of the movie in the comments below!


rocketdave said...

Mr. Gross says how careful they were to avoid any allusions to the MGM musical, and yet the scene in the trailer where the Scarecrow and Tin Man confuse kids with Munchkins probably owes itself to the 39 movie firmly cementing the idea of Munchkins being "little people." I recall a post in this blog addressing the ambiguity of whether Munchkins were truly intended to be smaller than average humans or not. I can't blame anyone for automatically assuming Munchkins are meant to be short, though, just like I can't blame anyone for picturing a green-skinned woman when they think of the Wicked Witch of the West; the MGM movie is so deeply rooted in the public consciousness, it could be very easy to reference it unintentionally.

At any rate, I have to admit, I wasn't sure what to think of this movie based on the poster, but now that I know a little more about it and have seen the trailer, "After the Wizard" definitely seems worth a watch.

Angelo Thomas said...

Actually, in the trailer, they mistake school children for being Munchkins. Baum did say that they were short, so...

rocketdave said...

Yeah, he did say the first three Munchkins Dorothy meets are short, but as Jared pointed out in the post I alluded to earlier, he also described them as old, and old people have a tendency to get shorter. Baum may very well have meant them to be short, but it also seems plausible to me that he forgot about that detail in later books. Someone else remarked that Unc Nunkie in The Patchwork Girl is a Munchkin, yet Neill's illustrations depict him as a normasized man. Nowadays, it would definitely be going against convention to suggest they were anything but small, but what Baum's true intention was seems rather vague to me. Not that it's really important.