Exclusive Interview: 'Tin Man' Creators Steven Long Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle
Exclusive Interview: 'Tin Man' Creators Steven Long Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle
John Kubicek
John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
This Sunday, December 2 at 9pm, the Sci Fi Channel will premiere its latest high-profile miniseries event, Tin Man.  A fantasy re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz, Tin Man is a six-hour miniseries that will air over three consecutive nights, Sunday-Tuesday at 9pm.  Created by Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle (who previously created the TV drama The Pretender), Tin Man was originally conceived as a weekly TV series, but was expanded by the network.

BuddyTV spoke to the two creators of Tin Man in anticipation of the premiere.  They discussed how it originally came into being, how they assembled the impressive cast that includes Neal McDonough, Zooey Deschanel, Alan Cumming and Richard Dreyfuss, and the many Easter egg nods to the original book and film fans can expect to see.  Continue reading for a full transcript as well as the audio file of the interview.
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Hi this is John from BuddyTV and I'm talking to Steven Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle the creators of Tin Man, the Sci Fi Channel original miniseries. Hi guys.

Steven and Craig: Hi.


Tin Man is a re-imagining of the classic The Wizard of Oz and I'm just wondering what brought about that idea?

Craig: Well originally we pitched this as a TV series. The idea was kind of always looking for new ways to do storied franchises like cop shows, we kind of came up with the idea of: how about if you had a cop who was working in Oz? And hence the name Tin Man because he wears a badge. Sci-Fi sparked to the idea immediately but basically they wanted us to tackle the whole enchilada, if you will, not just do the Tin Man character but they wanted us to take the whole Wizard of Oz sort of franchise story and re-invent that for their channel.

Steven: Yeah, basically we left the meeting thinking they liked the idea of doing a TV series and we got back and our agents called and said: ‘They're going to do a four hour mini-series,' and we said, “About what?” And they said, “About Tin Man,” and we said, “Well, Tin Man wasn't finished.” So anyhow, they encouraged us to make the entire Wizard of Oz re-invented as a four hour mini-series, which we did. And eventually they liked the script so much they decided to make it a six hour, so here we are.


And is there still any hope, if it's successful, of turning it into a series? Like Battlestar Galactica was originally a mini-series.

Steven: Yeah I think we could definitely go back to right where we were and it'd be a great six hour pilot if you would, but there's a character of the tin man established as a cop and there's some back story and there's a lot of interesting characters and situations that we could grow from. And we know that Neal McDonough who plays the tin man would love to do it.


And then when it was changed, was it always called Tin Man? And did you just not change it after it was turned from a series into a mini-series?

Craig: It was one of those things where you kinda keep calling it the “working title” and before long it grows on everybody and you make your proverbial list of: “OK, what else can we call it?' And everybody kind of came back to Tin Man eventually.

Steven: Yeah, in many ways I think it's a nice homage to the original movie and the original book. But it's also, you know, so we're not saying we're just doing The Wizard of Oz. Although in the six-hour piece the Dorothy Gale character, who we call DG, is in fact the main protagonist in the movie.


And you mentioned briefly Neal McDonough, who at least personally I loved him in Boomtown and he was one of the big reasons I was most attracted to this mini-series I gotta say. And how was the casting for this? Was it an easy mini-series to cast? To get all these roles filled correctly?

Craig: Well fortunately there was a lot of interest from a lot of big named talent. I think we ended up with a really hugely great cast. In terms of Neal, Steve and I did a series with him called Medical Investigation, became fast friends. There was a long period of time there where it didn't look like the schedules were going to match up and Neal wasn't going to be able to do the movie. But Steve and I kind of just kept pushing and pushing: ‘He's the guy. We've got to get him. He's the character.' And eventually it did work out. So we were thrilled with that.

Steven: And we devised the role for him. He's such an iconic character and the role is just a very iconic, role. And we just wanted ... we were very big fans of Boomtown as well, and we loved to work with him on many other things. As far as the other characters go, let's just go in no particular order: Zooey Deschanel as DG was just such a fresh approach to the role that ... we didn't want Judy Garland. Not that a Judy Garland character wouldn't be wonderful, but we wanted something that would be fresh and new and speak to an entirely different generation. Zooey speaks to a different generation, she's a very interesting, quirky actress who brought something very fresh and that's something we really wanted in this role.

Craig: And with the Glitch character who we always saw as kind of the comic relief character of the piece, Alan Cumming was ... when we heard he was interested we all jumped at that because you just need to look at his body of work to see why that is; and we were always just big fans. So those three came together very nicely.

Steven: We also thought that it would be just wonderful to put Alan Cumming and Neal McDonough side-by-side because we knew there would be such interesting energy coming off of them. One guy's such a strong iconic guy and the other is just electric and out there and we were very fortunate to have those two characters because they work great on-screen.

Craig: As far as the Azkadellia character, again, it was kind of on our part to create an antagonist who was very un-Margaret Hamilton like, even though we love what Margaret Hamilton did in the original. We wanted a sexy villainess who again brought kind of a youthful danger, deadly kind of vitality to the piece. All at the same time, was quite frankly beautiful to watch and really had some fun with updating some of the wicked witches nastiness, if you will. So we saw [Kathleen Robertson] in Hollywoodland and wanted different things and felt like she was definitely right on for the part.

Steven: And as far as the role of Raw, Raoul Trajillo, the role is one of an empath. Someone who feels more than he speaks. And what we really wanted was a character who could, quite frankly act without having to say a lot of dialogue. When we saw Raoul in Apocolypto, you know when you watch a role that a man does in Mayan and you understand absolutely all he's doing and all his emotions, we thought we'd be lucky to get this guy and we were. He was just terrific.

Craig: And Richard Dreyfuss, that just kind of speaks for itself. For the part of the Mystic Man you want that really big name that everybody is going to know; and who'll bring the great stuff that Richard brings to a role. So it turned out we got the very strong cast. You know when people see the cast list they're always like, “Oh wow. I love them, and them.” So that came together really nicely.


Definitely sounds like a pretty easy, painless process then to get such a talented cast.

Steven: Yeah. We were very fortunate. And I think too, the roles themselves and the iconic nature of the movie certainly intrigued them to read the script and luckily they responded to the words. It was not a very difficult movie to cast. In many places it was like we had an embarrassment of riches.


And I'm just wondering, based upon the original the Wizard of Oz, what exactly on a thematic level I guess ... are you trying to say something different? Are you just trying to re-state that message? What are you trying to do differently than the original?


Craig: I guess we kind of turn the message on its ear, the “There's no place like home,” we turn that on its ear and part of the goal was while we loved the original movie, it's a fairly thin simplistic story structure. Obviously we had four then later six hours to build that, so we knew we needed to add a dimension to all the main characters as well as the personal journey that our lead character was going through.

Steven: So the thematic of “There's no place like home,” but what we do it build up all the character dynamic and realize that there's no place like home, but home is basically where your heart is literally. And your heart is with the people you love, who are your friends and the people that mean something to you. The exploration that DG goes through brings here to that point and brings characters all together. All of them being better for having been together on this journey.


The first part at least, the entire structure has a very sort of fantasy novel kind of element. Like a fantasy mini-series. And I'm wondering other than the Wizard of Oz are there any other inspirations in this mini-series?

Steven: I guess that you could say that thematically, or just from a structural stand-point that it has very much a Joseph Campbell-ian epic to it. We're big fans of Lord of the Rings. We're big fans of Star Wars and those kind of trilogy movies that actually have a character that goes through not just a small journey, but a huge journey. And that in each journey, in each movie if you will, they learn something about themselves that turns the entire movie, the following movie in another direction. We structurally tried to do that so that, as Craig was saying, the original movie, the original books it's a very thing story but we realized that to make it substantial for six hours we really had to look at the characters and really have them find things about themselves and thing about their inner-relationship with the other characters here that we could sustain. We really went for a big epical story.


Are there lesser, smaller sort of Easter egg nods to the original that you put in throughout? Other than, obviously there's the larger structural things, but are there any little things that fans will have to look harder for?

Craig: We tried to take as many icons as we could from the book especially, and the movie of course, but the book and try to kind of make a nod to it. There's a fun little game you can play with this mini-series which is: “Oh that's a reference to this, or that.” So we tried to take those icons and twist them a little bit.

Steven: And we purposely do something like where you're watching and sitting there and all of a sudden you go, “Hey, where's Toto?” We want you, and I think that's a really good catch phrase you put on it, an Easter egg. It's like an Easter egg hunt. There are definite places where we've hidden things. Definite places both visually and with dialogue that is peppered throughout the whole movie. Part of that was part of the fun for us and we thing that'll be part of the fun for the whole audience.


-Interview conducted by John Kubicek
(Image courtesy of Sci Fi Channel)

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