[WATCH] ‘The Wiz: Live’ production designer Derek McLane on being inspired by Dorothy’s dreams

During early conversations with “The Wiz: Live” director Kenny Leon, Emmy and Tony-winning production designer Derek McLane kept asking himself: “What would Dorothy dream?” The answer, as he reveals in our webcam chat (watch above), “We imagined a whole scenario for her life: why does she want to get away? We decided she sees herself as more sophisticated than the other farmhands, that she isn’t really meant to live in Kansas for the rest of her life. We imagined she wanted to travel.”

From this core idea, McLane began drawing from his personal experiences. “That’s the way I knew to do that for myself, was to make it personal, and think about what would my dream for this be, channeled through Dorothy.” As a child, McLane had lived in India and often traveled around Asia. “It was so exotic to me,” he recalls, “and so gorgeous and strange and otherworldly. I thought, what if Oz is based on her imaginings of Asia?” He continues, “The other thing that’s interesting about dreams is the way in your dream real things and kind of imagined things get all mixed up. Very frequently, there are elements of your family and elements of your own house, and yet it feels totally different and totally strange. So one of the things I tried to do was to mix elements of Kansas with this kind of Asian dream. For example, when she meets the Scarecrow in the cornfields, there was corn, but the corn was growing in terraced fields such as you would see in Vietnam or Cambodia, or even China.”

McLane had served as production designer on the last four Oscar telecasts, three of those under the guidance of “The Wiz: Live” producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. “One of the things I’ve learned a fair amount about in the last several years is what works on camera, and what doesn’t work as well.” He’s also learned, “how a digital camera perceives things, which is not exactly the same as a film camera, and it’s certainly not the same as the naked eye. That can be a hinderance, but it can also be a great help.”

For his efforts on the 2014 Oscars, McLane took home an Emmy award; he was also nominated for the 2013 and 2015 ceremonies, as well as for his work on “Peter Pan: Live” (2014). He won a Tony for “33 Variations” (2009), and was nominated for designing productions of “The Pajama Game” (2006), “Ragtime” (2010), and “Anything Goes” (2011). Such recognition “gives you a wonderful sense of belonging that you can get recognized by your peers.”

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