Friday, July 16, 2021

The Return of The Wonders of Oz

 People who've checked out the schedule for the virtual version of OzCon International this year will have noticed a new version of The Wonders of Oz as part of the program.

The Wonders of Oz was a a low budget fan documentary series I made over ten years ago. While the enthusiasm was evident, a lot about the production left quite a bit to be desired. So it was a goal of mine to revisit the concept and produce a new version.

I actually wrote the first draft of the new version's script in 2015. I had previously mentioned to other Oz fans and my filmmaker younger brother about producing a new version of the series.

The original version had many episodes, partly because YouTube didn't allow longer videos at the time, and because I was trying to cover as many versions of Oz as possible, from the early Oz silent films and plays to Wicked as a book and musical and other versions we'd seen in the twenty-first century. For the new version, I decided to reduce the number of episodes to three, the first being about the life of L. Frank Baum, the second celebrating the other authors of the Famous Forty Oz books and other Oz stories in literature, and the third would talk about how Oz has been retold in new formats over the years, keeping it alive in the public consciousness, making it an international cultural phenomenon.

Colin Ayres, who took over chairing OzCon in 2019, started The OzConnection YouTube channel as part of a long time plan to give the convention a YouTube presence. Given that we couldn't hold the convention in person last year, he used the situation to finally launch the channel to host video content for a virtual version of the convention. Afterward, he launched new series to keep content going throughout the year.

Finally, I floated the idea of a Wonders of Oz reboot to Colin and he said he'd like to have the first episode for this year's virtual convention. So I revisited the 2015 script and did some revisions. Colin had suggested Oz R. Chase to narrate, and he agreed. Rather than do it as audio only, we had him film himself. It's not a usual format, but in this case, it gave the new version a face, and allowed me, when editing, to cut back to him speaking when I didn't have many visuals on hand to layer over it.

I reached out to several people to provide commentary to use in the episode. However, I wound up with only three: Sam Milazzo, Erica Olivera and—the biggest commentator—Gita Morena, L. Frank Baum's great-granddaughter. In the end, the first episode clocks in at 31 minutes and 9 seconds. This new episode is about twice the length of the corresponding first two episodes of the original version, especially since the opening titles and end credits were much longer in the original.

I was puzzling over how to make the new version's opening titles. I explained the original version's look to Erica, using the original map of Oz from the Fairylogue and Radio Plays, and she suggested I use it again. There was a test version of the new titles I sent to Colin which was basically a slideshow of the credits. He suggested a more dynamic version which you can see in the new version. It was created by having two visual layers: the bottom layer would zoom in on the map while the top layer would have the titles.

During the original version of The Wonders of Oz's run, Scottish artist and singer Alan Cook approached me about doing a new version of the theme song. The original theme song was "Everywhere in Oz" from 1964's animated Return to Oz, however, since my use of it in the series, I've seen one other cover call it "The Wonders of Oz," which feels like a more fitting title. Alan's new version was a little more somber than the original, but felt very magical. He gave me two versions: a demo and a full version that went over three minutes. Both versions cut some lyrics from the original, but Alan wrote a totally new second verse for the full version.

In creating the new version of the series, there was no question which version of the song I was going to use, bringing Alan's version back. The opening titles use the opening instrumental of the demo, while during the credits, you hear the beginning of the lyrics. Perhaps when we get to the final episode of the new version, we can figure out a nice way to use the full version of the song.

I put all the remaining episodes of the old version as unlisted on YouTube to drive searches to the new version as it debuts. There's some elements from the old version I still like that I didn't replicate, such as a loving quote about Baum from Ray Bradbury and finding different songs to close out each episode. The original Baum biography episodes ended with a cover of "I'll Be There" by the Escape Club, intended to be a take on Baum's feelings to his wife. I don't think the intention came through, plus given how music can be a big copyright issue for YouTube, I'm being a little more careful about what songs I use this time.

The new version will be hosted exclusively on The OzConnection for a very good reason: there are many other videos talking more indepth about various aspects of Oz. This way, The Wonders of Oz can serve as a context for these other videos, even if they're not officially connected. For example, Disney's Oz projects will be touched on in episode 3, however, the OzConnection already has a video by Eric Shanower that explores Disney's history with Oz in further detail. If people want to learn more, they can see his video. As I explained to Colin, The Wonders of Oz can serve as a view of "the big picture" of Oz as a history, while other videos on the channel can zoom in on more specific stories.

So, one episode down, two to go. This is going to be fun!

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