An Interview with John Goberman, Executive Producer of PGM Productions and The Wizard of Oz- Film with Live Orchestra

JOHN GOBERMAN, producer of our upcoming performance of The Wizard of Oz- Film with Live Orchestra, is probably best known as the creator of LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER. Now in its 35th season, this award-winning series of television specials has brought the finest of the performing arts to American audiences. To produce the series, Mr. Goberman developed the video and audio techniques and technology by which concerts, opera, ballets and plays can be telecast during live performances without disruption of performers and audiences.

John Goberman

John Goberman, Executive Producer of PGM Productions

He is also the creator of a new form of film/concert presentation, SYMPHONIC CINEMA, performing 20th century symphonic works composed for film and orchestra, consisting of the film classics ALEXANDER NEVSKY and SCENES FROM IVAN THE TERRIBLE, selected offerings from Hollywood films in the presentation of A SYMPHONIC NIGHT AT THE MOVIES (A Night at the Oscars, Great Loves of the Silver Screen, Screen Classics, Hitchcock, Gotta Dance! and Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies) and the latest additions, the full-length feature films Wizard of Oz and Psycho.

For his work on public and commercial television, Mr. Goberman has received 13 National Emmy Awards; 3 Peabody Awards; 8 Sigma Alpha Iota awards; the first Television Critics Circle Award for Achievement in Music and has 53 Emmy Award nominations. He received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bridgeport and was cited by Symphony Magazine as one of the fifty most important people who have made a difference in the history of American music.

I had the pleasure of being able to interview Mr. Goberman to discuss his thoughts on our upcoming performance of his symphonic adaptation of The Wizard of Oz- Film with Live Orchestra. The interview is transcribed below:

Georgia McBride: Many people are familiar with the term “producer” but aren’t quite sure what one does. In your experience, what does bring a producer entail?

John Goberman: To me, a producer is someone who has an idea, and then gets it done. And the idea here was that there’s a lot of great music written for film and that there’s a lot of bad music written for film too, but, [laughs] you can’t really hear the music if you just play it, because the music has no form. The form of the music is the film. So the idea of taking a sound film where the music was written for the film, and the film made for the music, and taking the orchestral music off the film so the orchestra can play it live, but leaving the sound effects and dialogue is an idea that I had that I thought would work very well for an audience. And so a producer is somebody that has an idea and then finds a way of making it work. On the other hand, another way of saying it is that a producer is a guy who can look at a stage set and say, “that drop is not worth $10,000.” In other words, it’s a judgment of value, impression and effect vs. cost, wear and tear and practicality that is also, I think, a major role of a producer.

GM: So would you say that a producer is positioned where business meets artistry?

JG: It’s actually the resolution of that conflict. You’re capable of making a judgment on both fronts and resolving it one way or the other.

GM: So what were the technical steps involved with making this production happen? Glenda and Dorothy

JG: Well, in this case, this is one of a number of films like this that I have done where we have taken the orchestra music off. We’ve done a lot of them in Houston, actually! But, in this case, the question was, is there a magical way of taking out the orchestral sound and leaving untouched the songs, sound effects and dialogue. And I’ve been doing this for a long time, and there still is no magical way of doing it. You would think that by now, you could have a computer program that would just say, “Ctrl+O” and there the orchestra goes, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s a painstaking digital process to get the music out. And secondly, a lot of the orchestral music itself doesn’t exist- it was thrown away- the sheet music. A good deal of Wizard of Oz is probably buried under the Hollywood freeway somewhere. So a good deal of the orchestral score had to be reconstructed. And it was by John Wilson. So what the orchestra’s playing is what he has taken down off the film.

GM: So he transcribed the score from listening to the film?

JG: Yep. It’s impressive. It’s really impressive.

GM: Why did you choose the Wizard of Oz as one of your projects?

JG: I had done, as I say, other films that had great scores like ALEXANDER NEVSKY, I believe we did that in Houston, and some Hitchcock scenes from films, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Casa Blanca and Psycho. And, certainly Wizard of Oz is one of the greatest films there is but it’s also just absolutely chockablock full of music from beginning to end. The original idea of it was to make it “through composed,” so there’s an awful lot of music in it, which, of course, makes it much more of a performance adventure for the audience than if it were just a film. It’s a performance of a film. So, that’s why!

GM: What was your favorite think about putting this together?

Wiz Crew JG: The reaction of the audience is major. Very often we do it with dress up- kids dress up as Dorothy and also on several occasions, some of the munchkins have shown up- the original munchkins. Margaret Pellegrini is one of the original munchkins and she’s been in several of these shows and she’s just fabulous, you know. One of my favorite stories, though, is from Robert Osborne [film historian and host of Turner Classic Movies]– he was talking about a friend of his, a woman who lives in Los Angeles and loves Wizard of Oz, and she watched it every year on television- it’s one of her favorite things- and so one year, he took her to a theatre to see it and she almost fainted because she had a black and white television set- she’d never seen it in color!

GM: The Wizard of Oz is such a classic- what is something new you hope audiences will take away?

JG: Just how much the film is based on music… you know, it’s really a musical film. There’s no question about it. This is not, you know, funny stories. From beginning to end its music, and orchestral music, and wonderful orchestral music, so you know, you’re going to have the experience of hearing Judy Garland singing Wizard of Oz accompanied live by the Houston Symphony. It gets to be really something.

GM: Have you ever been to Houston?

Yellow Brick Road JG: Yes, but, I can’t be at this performance. But you’ve got Constantine Kitsopoulos conducting and he’s absolutely wonderful! I’ve worked with him a lot in the past, and he’s terrific, so, we’re in very good hands here.

To buy your tickets for The Wizard of Oz- Film with Live Orchestra on Saturday July 21, 2012 CLICK HERE. Don’t forget to dress up as your favorite character from the movie for the concert!

View a sneak peek of Saturday’s performance here:

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3 Responses to An Interview with John Goberman, Executive Producer of PGM Productions and The Wizard of Oz- Film with Live Orchestra

  1. Just curious. Are the seats toward the back of the room on the main level really superior to those in the mezzanine in terms of sight and proximity, or do the boxes and mezzanine actually extend out over the main floor seats to some degree?

    • Houston Symphony says:

      Dear Everett,

      Some of the rear orchestra seats are located underneath the mezzanine. Our representatives at the Patron Services Center should be able to tell you exactly which seats are underneath and which are not. You may call them from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Monday through Saturday, at (713)224-7575.


  2. Pingback: Showing in a concert hall near you: the rise and rise of the cine-concert — News — Royal Opera House

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