OZ PRODUCTION NOTES

The executive producers of OZ are Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana; co-executive producer, Jim Finnerty; supervising producer, Bridget Potter. The series is a Levinson/Fontana Company production, produced in association with Rysher Entertainment.

HBO recently sat down with BARRY LEVINSON and TOM FONTANA for an in-depth discussion on their hit series, OZ. The interview below appears courtesy of HBO. The complete cast interview and more show related information can be found at HBO's official OZ website.

HBO When the show completed its first season, and won some CableACE awards, and then you saw you were going to be awarded...were you guys surprised at how well it was received by critics and the audience?

BARRY LEVINSON Always. [laughter] I think it's a terrific show. And Tom's writing is extraordinary in all of the episodes. But, any time you get critical acclaim, and that kind of acceptance, you have to go..."OK." [laughs]

HBO Did you visit the institutions? As far as the vision of this show? I mean, you had a vision in your head. And you were matching it with a director. Until you see it all together, is it...

BARRY LEVINSON Well, I would say I was surprised by the response of the people on the street that I talk to. Because when we were making it, I thought, nobody's gonna want to watch this. And then eventually, they'll have me put away. [laughter] In a mental institution. And then we'll all be fine. But, people on the street...to have a white, middle class couple going "Oh my God, that show!" And then to have a young black guy come up to me, and go, "Oh my God, that show!" You say to yourself OK, well, we must be doing something right. It's got that kind of appeal. Wide appeal.

HBO People see these characters, who aren't necessarily very likable, and some of them are actually killers. What do you think is the appeal...

BARRY LEVINSON I think it's a combination of good story telling, and very interesting characters. And, when that merges in the right way, it has a much wider band than you may initially think. People say that we don't know how to relate to these people. Except, we don't always have to know how to relate to everyone. I think there's enough to be captivated in the storytelling. And it sort of draws you in. I think you never quite know. And that's always the surprise of it. But, it comes down to really good story telling. And very, very compelling characters.

TOM FONTANA Yeah, and I also think that people want to see villains. And here, it's only villains.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

TOM FONTANA So you go: "Wow, which one is the worst villain?"

BARRY LEVINSON As opposed to who's the hero of the piece? There is no hero. There's just all these people who are...who are flawed, and exceed our level of villainy.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

HBO How are you guys finding Kathy Bates on board? I think a lot of people were kind of surprised to hear that she was directing the episode.

TOM FONTANA She paid us fifty dollars cash.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

TOM FONTANA Now, we had to split the fifty dollars.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs] Yeah.

TOM FONTANA So that...that kind of bothered me. But...you know.

BARRY LEVINSON But she's a good friend of Tom's. And they've known each other a long time.

TOM FONTANA We've known each other forever. And she's such a great actress. And now that she's wanted to start directing, it's great to see her do this other thing. And talk to the actors. And come up with all the great stuff that she's doing.

HBO A couple of the actors that I've spoken to said they really liked having an actor direct them. Do you think that makes a big difference?

TOM FONTANA I think the problem with a lot of television directing, and I'm probably gonna get a nasty letter from the DGA for this, is that most television directors fall into a pattern of being technicians. As opposed to, doing the other part of the job. Which is to talk to the actors. Actors in television shows aren't used to having directors give them actual character notes. It's rare when that happens. So, I think that's what it's coming from. I think that Kathy's strength is the fact that she can talk to actors. Whereas, another director's strength may be their camera work.

HBO Do you think the show could only be done on HBO?

TOM FONTANA Probably. I think it's something that the networks would be afraid to deal with. And I think that HBO has, throughout the years, tried different kinds of material. And this certainly is a brave choice to step up to.

BARRY LEVINSON Yeah, Tom.

HBO Have you guys ever been inside real prisons?

BARRY LEVINSON I was, when I did MCGIVER. Which was the the Baltimore City Jail. And the penitentiary, as well.

TOM FONTANA Jessup.

BARRY LEVINSON Which scares the hell out of you.

TOM FONTANA [laughs]

BARRY LEVINSON If you ever walk into a cell, and just have somebody close the door, and within a minute, your body begins to react. It's quite frightening.

HBO What do you think this year's...

TOM FONTANA Well, all the prisoners are wearing dresses.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

TOM FONTANA And that's kind of a new thing we're trying out.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

TOM FONTANA [laughter] I don't know; I think it's just more of, hopefully, the same stuff there. The terrific acting. And directing. I can't really think of anything that we're doing any differently this year.

BARRY LEVINSON No, but it's evolving. Because obviously, the various characters have died off.

TOM FONTANA Yeah.

BARRY LEVINSON So, you've brought a lot of new people. New faces.

HBO And clearly, one of the big drawing points of the show is the involvement of the two gentlemen. What's the dynamic you guys have together? Do you guys collaborate on story ideas?

TOM FONTANA Barry is a great person to bounce things off of, and get reactions. He watches a cut of the show, or reads the script, and says: "Well, you know, what about this? And what about that?" I enjoy working with Barry because he and I come at everything from completely different directions. But we also have an ability to communicate with each other. We have like a shorthand.

HBO [to BARRY LEVINSON ] Do you have anything else to add to that?

BARRY LEVINSON No, I think that's true. It's interesting...because the approach is different; and I think that ultimately is supportive. Tom often asks to see the loan -- it's a type of layout for the season -- And does all of that material. I'm doing a much more of a supportive position.

HBO Based on last season's work, what got the strongest response? I know there was some really gritty, violent...

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

TOM FONTANA I think the character of Beecher. The design of that character was a way to invite a certain kind of audience into the show. I think that the journey of that character has had a very big impact. I also think that a lot of the stories had a big impact. The riot itself. Leading up to the riot. The pressure of that got a big reaction.

HBO Is there anybody you won't step over? I mean, you have people...

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs] Not yet.

HBO ...go to the bathrooms.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

HBO ...getting shaved. And getting branded.

TOM FONTANA There's...there's something in the first episode. As I was writing it, I had to close my eyes; because I didn't want to see myself writing the words I had to write down. And the actor. The poor actor. [laughs] He read the script, and he called me up, and he went: "Now, you...this is a joke, right? You're not really doing this?"

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs] Right.

TOM FONTANA ...then you wouldn't watch the first episode.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

HBO Anything else interesting about this season? As far as character developments, or plot twists? Without being too...

TOM FONTANA I don't want to give away too much; because there's a lot of plot twists. [laughter]

HBO Do you think there's another season of OZ in your future?

TOM FONTANA Oh, I hope so. I hope there's a lot of seasons of OZ.

BARRY LEVINSON There's probably a million stories to tell. And it's never been done. To just follow the various inmates over a long span of time. I don't think I've ever seen anything that's quite worked this way.
So, I think that, as long as he's got the energy. [laughter]

TOM FONTANA [laughs]

You see, energy is what...a polite way of saying...the insanity.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

HBO You still write long hand?

TOM FONTANA Yeah. I write long hand. Every morning, 5:30.

HBO Really?

TOM FONTANA Yeah, a computer's no fun.

BARRY LEVINSON I can't write on a computer. I'm afraid it just will delete everything that you did.

TOM FONTANA Yeah. [laughs] There's something great about crossing out, and then throwing it across the room.

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs]

TOM FONTANA In disgust.

HBO OK, I have one last question. Is that really you, getting a tattoo in the beginning?

TOM FONTANA Yeah, it's still there.

HBO That was a pretty big step to take, for a show.

TOM FONTANA Well, you don't know where my other tattoos are. [laughs]

BARRY LEVINSON He's got four failed-pilot tattoos. That he doesn't like to talk about.

TOM FONTANA [laughs] Well, actually, the thing I was gonna do was if the show got canceled, I was going to put a period. So it said "ounces."

BARRY LEVINSON [laughs] Or else, meet a girl named "Roz." Would you go out with me? I have a tattoo with your name.