Steven Long Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle wrote and executive produced the highly anticipated mini-series “Tin Man,” an edgy science-fiction fantasy take on the classic “The Wizard of Oz,” for the SCI FI Channel.
“Tin Man” is set to premiere in December 2007 and stars Zooey Deschanel as DG (Dorothy), Alan Cumming as Glitch (the Scarecrow), Neal McDonough as Cain (the Tin Man), Raoul Trujillo as Raw (the Cowardly Lion) and Richard Dreyfuss as Mystic Man (the Wizard). The story follows the characters through the Outer Zone (OZ), which is filled with wonder and oppressed by dark magic.
Our Slice of SciFi online reporter and interviewer, Linda Craddock sat down with Steven and Craig for an indepth chat about “Tin Man,” and spoke about their involvement with Kiefer Sutherland’s “24,” and other projects. For all you “The Pretender” fans out there we have a real scoop for you from Steven and Craig that they shared with us during this interview and you get it here first. Sit back, read and enjoy.
Updates: More exclusive news from Steven and Craig about The Pretender can be found elsewhere on Slice of SciFi:
Mar 2008: An Update for all “The Pretender” Fans from Series Co-creator
May 2014: The Pretender Lives: An Interview with Craig Van Sickle & Steven Long Mitchell
Linda Craddock (SoSF): Steven and Craig, thank you for joining me here at Slice of SciFi.
Steven Long Mitchell & Craig Van Sickle (SLM & CVS): It’s our pleasure.
SoSF: So, right of the bat tell our fans how Strange Highway Entertainment evolved?
SLM: It’s a company that has evolved from of all the past work we’ve done in a genre what we like to call “We do weird”. It’s kind of a catch phrase for Strange Highways and it encompasses everything from going all the way back to “Alien Nation” to The Pretender” to “The Flash” to really what we’re doing on the “Tin Man” movie. So it’s sort of a culmination of this thing, our favorite genre to deal with and make weirdness and things like that.
CVS: And the way to connect with our fan base which we feel is very strong coming out that sort of conspiracy enigmatic-slash-sci-fi audiences thankfully have been there for us.
SoSF: How long had you been working with the idea of the “Tin Man” for a 6-hour miniseries?
CVS: Originally we sold the idea of “Tin Man” I believe it was about 3-1/2 years ago. Pitched kind of along the idea about a cop in “Oz” and it evolved into more of what it is now. We kept the title in “Tin Man”; the “Tin Man” is still the main character but its evolved more into a reinvention of the entire “Oz” legend.
SLM: The whole “Wizard of Oz” story we all grew up with.
SoSF: How difficult would you say it was to remain true to the classic demeanor of “Oz” and yet create a modern day characterization of the Outer Zone as you call it, typically called “Oz”? Talk about some of the dynamics that set this particular incarnation apart from previous movies?
SLM: Well, to start with our goal was always to pay homage to the original story and the original movie, it being such an icon in our lives and quite frankly our parents and our children. So we kind of walked into this territory with great respect but we still wanted to reinvent it for a more modern audience.
CVS: I think part of the problem with some of the previous projects is that in some ways a lot of them tried to play it a little too safe, try to retell the same story as opposed to what we like to say with ours is it’s a reinvention of the world, a reinvention of the characters. It’s a whole new adventure that if you watch it and you see it and you’ve seen the [Judy Garland] “Wizard of Oz” you will smile and recognize the elements, and if you’re not familiar it, [then it] will be a whole fresh new tale.
SoSF: The Ozian realm has been plagued by dark magic and fear at the hands of the sorceress Azkadellia. Describe some of the other fantastical inhabitants of Oz!
SLM: One thing that’s interesting is we’ve created lots of different characters, and fantastical creatures, if you will in Oz. We have a lot of similar ones, ala, the flying monkeys. We’ve reinvented them and given them a purpose in life and an origin of who [they are] and where they came from. We have things called “pappe runners” who are creatures who had once lived in a magical forest that was basically the dark magic of Oz and basically [were] killed off and taken what were peaceful creatures and turned them into essentially carnivorous creatures who are dangerous and whose lives were taken away [from them].
CVS: We, again, tried to draw from the characters that we created for this piece in a place called Milltown as a big story payoff and it’s kind of a neat low-tech, high-tech world that is new to this version of “Oz” and the idea of the “Emerald City,” which was more of a bigger icon… we, again, tried to turn it into a modern edgy place that has a little or a lot more corruption than that of the book or the [Garland] movie and really tried to create a world there that is dangerous in a new way for our character DG who is basically our Dorothy.
SLM: We wanted to have these characters and these places in Oz have a humanistic quality but also having some quality of [that] humanity having been taken away from some of these people which is easier to fight for and finding those thematics. We tried to put a lot of very human thematic in all those characters and those situations in Oz so that as Craig was saying earlier you recognize the â€œTin Manâ€, you recognize the cowardly lion, you recognize the Scarecrow, if you will, but because they all have their own human stories this time, or stories with human qualities this time, it gives them that much more to hold on to on every character level and something that if you join this story, if you’ve been hidden away on the planet, and don’t know the story of the “Wizard of Oz”, you’ll enjoy it on a whole different level.
SoSF: What attributes were you looking for in an actress to play DG?
CVS: Well, first and foremost, somebody to bring a fresh vitality to that part. Again you can watch it and it’s a very different lead character for the “Wizard of Oz” and Zooey [Deschanel] just brings this unique kind of energy that has a lot of youth appeal. Older adults like her. She’s got sort of a wonder-lost, but there’s strength underneath it that carries you through. Just a real unique take on the character and the world she’s in and she’s dynamite, I mean really interesting!
SLM: And she’s not a little girl. Her character’s a young woman and Zooey has the qualities, child like quality in the package of a young woman which really kind of transcends both of those.
SoSF: DG rides a motorcycle wears a leather jacket, versus driving a car. Did you choose the mode of transportation based on the tone you wanted to establish for her character as rebellious and unconventional?
SLM: Yes, we wanted our character, unlike in the book or the movie, we wanted her to have a little bit more edge, a little bit more of a modern feel and so those choices were made with that in mind.
SoSF: So a slight change in the characterization, and DG lives with her parents Em and Hank and Toto, versus the movie where Em was her aunt.
SLM: Well wait a minute, you said “and Toto, of course”, but how do you know?
SoSF: (laughing) According to my research I saw Toto.
SLM: Well, maybe Toto was there, or not! (laughing) We’re not confirming or denying Toto lives at home.
SoSF: And for the fans out there, you’ve heard it first.
SLM: But he is in the movie. (laughs)
SoSF: (laughs) Well, that’s great, they can live with that until December, I believe.
SoSF: You cast Richard Dryfess as the Mystic Man, the “Wizard” of Oz, Alan Cumming as Glitch and Neil McDonough as Cain, a.k.a. Tin Man among this wonderful ensemble of actors. Tell us about the casting process and what impressed you most about the actors you selected?
CVS: Well, we’ll start with Neil because he’s somebody we’ve worked with before several times and are close to and he was somebody that we really fought for the role of “Tin Man”, basically straight ahead, just manly strength and grit and durability. The ‘Cain’ character is very, kind of a western iconic character, traditionally strong, do the right thing, honorable, etc, etc. and we think Neil embodies all that. With Alan we’ve seen his work on several different fronts and when it came to the part of Glitch, he just brings inventiveness to that, I mean we couldn’t do any better than that, he’s just so interesting to watch and so funny and just brought so much to it. Raoul Trujillo, he impressed us because we saw him in the Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto and his role didn’t speak English at all.
SLM: It’s certainly the first role we’ve ever cast where their audition was in mime.
CVS: His face was so expressive, which the character Raw that he plays… Raw may have 20 lines of dialogue in the entire 6 hours so we needed somebody who was emotionally expressive with face, eyes and body movement and Raoul certainly embodied all that. Kathleen Robertson was one of the later arrivals…
SLM: …who plays Azkadellia and she’s wonderful. She’s been in the popular “Beverly Hills 90210” and she brings a sexy vitality, if you will, to [what was] a traditionally green wicked witch, where she’s not that. We also wanted someone who had to play a very complex character because our witch is far from one knowledge and her relationship throughout this movie as we peel the onion of who she really is and has a very big part in the entire epic story here.
CVS: And then Richard Dreyfuss brings a very inventive, twisted quality to our Mystic Man character who is essentially our take on “The Wizard” and again we try to do something a little edgier, a little more adult with that character and Richard has been very good and…
SLM: ….he’s Richard Dreyfuss!
SoSF: So what made you choose this western look for Cain’s character?
SLM: Well, it kind of goes back to what Craig was saying. We wanted something that’s close to a very strong, male threat. When you go back to your John Wayne or your Clint Eastwood, it’s that kind of iconic role that comes through because out of “Tin Man”, it’s not like he doesn’t have a heart. His heart has been shattered and we wanted to have a man who is strong and forceful and hurt and he just embodies all that and the look we felt would speak that to the audience as well.
SoSF: Now when we think of “The Wizard of Oz” we think, the yellow brick road, we’re off to see the wizard and one line to always remember, “there’s no place like home.” Does this translate to “Tin Man”?
SLM: Well, all of those qualities are in this movie and what we took were all of those icons and put them over here a little bit. There is quote on quote — “the yellow brick road”, “there is no place like home” and we have a similar homage to that and whether it’s the flying monkeys or the singing Dorothy or drop a house on her, all those icons. we tried to put in the movie in a way that the audience would sit there and just smile and go, “I understand exactly what that means”. Glitch is not a scarecrow but we know his character’s inspired by the scarecrow and the same thing with why Cain being inspired by the tin man although he’s a totally different character and the same thing with Raw being by the “cowardly lion”. We think that anyone who has seen the [Garland] movie or are big fans of the movie will be pleased with all the ways that we kind of twist and turn the icons but gave it an entirely new story approach.
SoSF: As we all know from the past the movies have always been written as musicals. Will the music score in “Tin Man” embrace the storyline, the scenery of the sets. How is that going to help your version?
CVS: We wrote an original song or two that actually plays into what we did with the Mystic Man character which I touched on earlier and we won’t give anything away, but it’s a fun little bizarre number that comes in the middle but this is not a musical like the original. We won’t kid you there, and as for the score, we’ve only heard some of the temp score stuff that’s grand.
SLM: It accompanies the visuals but the score itself does not drive the story as it did in the original movie.
SoSF: As a team, you have been credited with a number of television series including NBC’s highly rated “The Pretender” as executive producers during its five year run. What inspired that particular project or concept?
SLM: That was a labor of love and a script that was originally a spec pilot, which rarely happens in television where you develop outside the studio or network system. What really inspired it was the idea of a character could be a hero as everyone in life is searching for their identity and how we fit in, we wanted a hero who would be searching for his identity but who also could have any identity he wanted, but didn’t know who he was. We wanted a hero that could come into your life and learn things from you by helping you and in his own way be helping himself. There’s a movie that Tony Curtis did called “The Great Impostor,” which is based on a book by a guy named Ferdinand Demara, which was a great inspiration to us but then we also had a system the C.I.A. had in the early ’50s that we built upon as well.
CSV: It was called the “Genius Project.” They would take genius kids and basically bring them into the C.I.A. In the morning they would teach them the regular math, reading, all that stuff and in the afternoon they would have them play games like thermo-nuclear war. They would literally brain pick ideas out of these genius kids that later on actually did become C.I.A. hardware, operations tactics and what not. So we thought that would be interesting to have a genius who could do a lot of different things and knew about everything there was to know because that’s the environment he was raised in and just the idea of the fantasy of a lead TV character that could become anybody he wanted to be. We just felt it would be an interesting series franchise and had a great time doing it. Our fans still clabber for the answers because we never closed “The Pretender” out. We will just say to them please be patient, it’s going to happen, hopefully soon.
SLM: And it will happen in relationship to “Strange Highway.”
SoSF: Thank you gentlemen. Another Slice of SciFi scoop, oh, that will be great!
SLM: We will continue the story line of this digitally on the web.
SoSF: I loved that series.
SoSF: Talk a little about “She Spies” and creativity that went into that project?
SLM: Well that project was one that, again for NBC and they came to us saying they wanted to do a show about empowerment and a fun action thing reminiscent of “Charlie’s Angels”. I have three daughters and Craig has a daughter so we thought let’s create a show that would be a fun thing for our daughters to watch. This was a show we were only around for the creation of and then we went off to other projects and handed it off to other people who actually ran it. Its inspiration was just to have a show our daughters could watch.
SoSF: You were nominated this year for a Writers Guild of America award for writing an episode for the Fox Network TV series “24”. Tell us how you got involved with that project?
SLM: The guys over at “24,” Joel Surnow and Bob Cochran, are old friends of ours from our days when we were all working for Stephen Cannell and they actually called us one day and said look we’re in trouble and we need someone to help step in and do a script for us. We’ve been big fans of the show, big fans of Kiefer and were thrilled for the opportunity to just go in and help out but it was a very unique experience. Writing for “24” is literally like watching an episode or being in an episode. It runs at rapid pace. No one really knows what’s going on and you have to find Chloe to give you the answers to what you’re supposed to write. (starts giggling)
CVS: So it was a kick! (laughing)
SoSF: Can you give us a sneak preview of any new projects you are working on?
SLM: We’re about to do a pilot for Fox that is in the same realm as â€œTin Manâ€ that deals with well, another icon… it’s a fantasy… er…
CVS: …Somewhat of a fantasy world, one foot in reality and one foot in fantasy that’s in an iconic kind of character enters into….
SLM: …It’s very much reminiscent of “Blade Runner” but we can’t say a lot about it. Kind of a cross between “Blade Runner” and “Twin Peaks.”
SoSF: Steven and Craig, I know you have to run but thank you both for joining us here at Slice of SciFi.
SLM & CVS: It’s been our pleasure. Anytime you want to talk again just give us a shout.