Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Saturday, 09 March 2013 08:50
Dan Cota's back in Oz.
|Dan Cota displays a brick used in 'Oz the Great and Powerful' which will open in theaters March 8th. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
The Bowling Green resident made his stage debut back in February 2010 in the Black Swamp Players' production of "The Wizard of Oz."
Now he's on the big screen in the big budget production "Oz the Great and Powerful," which opened Thursday night at Rave Cinemas in Levis Commons.
Cota's leap from small stage to silver screen started in spring 2011, when a friend called him to let him know that Disney was looking for dwarves to play the Munchkins in the prequel to the landmark film "The Wizard of Oz."
Cota decided to give it a shot.
He'd met several of the dwarves who played Munchkins in the Judy Garland "Wizard of Oz" at Little People of America conventions. They included Meinhardt Raabe, the coroner in the legendary film and the last of the Munchkin actors with a speaking role to die.
"He was a grand person," Cota said.
The new film, he said, "is not a repeat of what they did, but a continuation."
The movie relates how a small-time circus magician Oscar Diggs arrives in the Emerald City to become its ruling wizard.
Filming took place in Detroit where three large factory spaces were transformed into an imaginary kingdom. Walls and ceiling were covered with blue screens, to create the space where the digital images would eventually go completing the magic.
The key to working on a movie is availability, Cota said, so once the filming of the scenes involving the Munchkins got under way in earnest in fall, 2011, Cota took a leave of absence from his job at ProMedica as a desktop support specialist in the Information Technologies Department.
In 2011, he spent his weekdays in mid-September through the end of November in Detroit at Disney's expense. "Money was not a problem."
About 60 dwarves were engaged as extras. Cota was among the two-dozen or so who did more than simply stand in the crowd and react. His name is included in the credits.
While the stars were set off in their own quarters, Cota appears in a crucial scene where he stood within 10 feet of the stars James Franco as Oscar Diggs and Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis as witches.
He did encounter Franco resting in a staging area. Cota said he gave him a high five and was rewarded with a broad smile.
Work days were long, 12 to 15 hours. The week started early with a 4 a.m. wake-up call on Monday. The start and ending times got later and later as the week progressed. By Friday the shooting could wrap up as late as 2 a.m.
The daily routine was the same. Out of the Marriott, to the makeshift studio. Breakfast, and then make up.
Transforming Cota into Munchkin No. 12 with heavy makeup and prosthetics took two hours. He said Kunis was sometimes just a few chairs down getting worked on. He found her as delightfully chatty as her character on "That Seventies Show."
From makeup the extras were moved to the set holding area. "Their philosophy was we want you here when we're ready for you."
The extras could wait a half-hour to three hours to go on.
|Dan Cota in Munchkin costume in Detroit in fall, 2011, with his casting assistant known as Vegas. (Photo provided)
Once on set, they could do eight takes of the same scene. Occasionally a mistake would require another take, but usually it was because the director wanted another angle or more drama.
Mostly they worked with assistant directors, though director Sam Raimi, who directed the "Spider-Man" movies, was on hand about a third of the time.
As a Munchkin, Cota was called on to react to the action. "It's very animated and over the top," he said. Still it's important to "let things come natural ... respond the way you really would respond."
The work was hard, Cota said. "I was one of the oldest ones there."
Cota was even involved in a dance scene that qualified him for Screen Actors Guild membership.
He was modest in his expectations of how much screen time he'd have, but after seeing the film at a special screening at Royal Oak, Mich., area Tuesday, he was surprised just how much facetime Munchkin No. 12 gets. He's especially visible in a scene when the evil witch first confronts the citizens of Oz. Cota is right in back to her left.
"I don't know if I could do it again because it did take a lot of energy and when you're older, it's a lot tougher," Still he's glad he did it.
While interaction with the stars was minimal, he enjoyed meeting some of the professional dwarf actors, including Martin Klebba who had roles in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
"I had the most fun with these Little People who travel all over the country and perform," he said. "They're all into stunts, some in commercials, some into actual wrestling."
Though the offer of SAG membership might have been tempting once, Cota admitted that's not an option now.
"I would have been incredibly excited if it was 35 years ago, and I was single," he said. "I just don't have that freedom and mobility."
The long stays in Detroit to film "Oz" were difficult on his wife Karen Cota, lifestyles editor at the Sentinel-Tribune.
Still he doesn't rule out smaller roles, and is open to a return to the local stage.
In the meantime, he awaits the reviews. He doesn't expect the film to be a critical darling. He just wants people to be entertained.
Last Updated on Saturday, 09 March 2013 08:57