Raimi rules box office
Once an MSU student, Sam Raimi brings Spartan touch to big screen
State News staff members Rebecca Ryan, Christine LaRouere and Caitlin Leppert share their thoughts on Sam Raimi’s latest film, “Oz The Great and Powerful.” Raimi attended MSU before starting a successful film career.
Oz isn’t the only thing that’s green.
As people across the globe flock to see the latest Disney blockbuster, “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” Spartans can count director Sam Raimi as one of their own.
Raimi has led the movie to the No. 1 spot in the box office, grossing close to $150 million worldwide this weekend — the movie’s first weekend since being released March 8.
Prior to directing the prequel to the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz,” Raimi attended MSU in the late 1970s and produced several short films before moving on to feature films. Raimi’s most successful films in the box office came when he got the nod to direct “Spider-Man,” which was released in 2002, and both of its sequels. Combined, the trilogy grossed more than $2 billion worldwide, and each of the movies rank in the top 25 in the all-time U.S. box office, according to the Internet Movie Database.
But the path from a Detroit kid to a Hollywood star wasn’t always clear as Raimi attempted to realize his dream of directing movies.
Taking a risk
It all started about 30 years ago. Raimi, who was studying history and literature at the time, was only at MSU for two years before he made a bold move to keep his dream of a filmmaker alive — he decided to drop out of school.
“I thought that I would be one day dragged back to my father’s furniture and appliance store because a kid from Detroit shouldn’t be making movies in Hollywood,” Raimi said. “It just wasn’t talked about then.”
So Raimi did the “outrageous” and dropped out.
He started working as a busboy at a local cafe to earn money to hire attorneys to draft a private placement memorandum, a legal document with which he could solicit investments for his first feature film — “The Evil Dead.”
“I wanted to become a feature filmmaker and (‘The Evil Dead’) is the fruit of my labors; it was a bitter fruit of horror, but that was my fruit,” Raimi said. “So it wasn’t ‘How did Evil Dead help me with my career?’ It’s that Evil Dead was my goal.”
In 1981, his dream of being a feature filmmaker came true. “The Evil Dead” was released and developed a cult following in the years that followed.
The film featured several MSU students and staff, including MSU professor Bill Vincent, who was cast in a small role. Vincent first met Raimi, his brother Ivan and Raimi’s roommate and longtime work partner Robert Tapert at MSU. Continued contact with the Raimi’s and Tapert throughout their careers has given Vincent the chance to appear in several of their projects.
This past summer, Vincent got to travel to New Zealand to take part in the remake of “The Evil Dead,” which will be released later this year. Raimi and Tapert both serve as co-producers of the film, alongside Bruce Campbell, who starred in the original trilogy.
Vincent said while he was on set for the first film in “The Evil Dead” trilogy, he saw greatness in Raimi and knew he would be successful in his career.
“I knew watching Sam that he was going to be something (great),” Vincent said. “He already had all the attributes of a good director. Mostly, he could get other people (to) do what they didn’t think they could do.”
A Spartan production
Just two years removed from graduating in 2011, Mikayla Bouchard can say she is in a blockbuster film and one of Disney’s financially-largest productions ever.
Just months after graduating from MSU in 2011, Bouchard met some of the movie’s producers during the last few months of filming and landed an audition. Although the role was small, since many of the other parts already were filled, Bouchard said she felt blessed to receive a chance to be on the big screen.
“To have the opportunity to audition for not only Sam Raimi, but then interact with him and receive direction from him — it’s something I will absolutely never forget,” Bouchard said. “He kept the energy up and it was always creative.”
The MSU Drumline also was asked to partake in the production.
Scott Oliver, an electrical engineering senior and drumline member, said being part of the movie was one of the best events the drumline has done since he’s been on the line, even though the lone scene they were in was cut from the movie.
“I’d say (it was the best) just because it was on a big movie set,” Oliver said. “It was a great opportunity to just represent Michigan State and make ourselves noticeable.”
Psychology senior Spencer Frost, who has dwarfism, a growth hormone deficiency which causes people to not grow as tall as the average person, was at a convention held by Little People of America in 2011 when the movie was casting the roles of munchkins. He signed up to receive a call if they cast him for the role.
About three weeks later, he received a call saying he was cast for the part and spent a couple days on set in August and essentially five days a week throughout October and November 2011.
“This was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life,” Frost said. “(It was) almost indescribable.”
Although acting is not a career path Frost has considered, he said this was one of the most thrilling experiences.
He felt satisfied when he heard his grandparents, who are in their 80s, saw the film on opening night, despite “never” going to the theater. They called him afterward saying they got to see him about four times, Frost said.
Now, Frost said he is “itching” to see himself on the big screen for the first time tonight as he will watch the movie with close friends.
“The most exciting thing I’m (looking forward to) is just to see my name on the credits,” Frost said.
“It sounds silly, but it just means a lot to have my name and my family’s name (on the film) — even though I’m just an extra.”