Macomb Co. Native Helps Organize Charity Premiere of 'Oz: The Great and Powerful'

Colin McConnell of Macomb is a driving force behind the Michigan premiere, which will raise money for dwarf advocacy and honor hundreds of extras from this locally-made film.

A movie isn't just about its stars or the big-money production value. It's about people — oftentimes the ones working in the background, hidden by make-up or off stage.

And that's why when two local actors and one social media guru set out to host a premiere of the Michigan-made Disney film Oz: The Great and Powerful, they wanted to make sure it was all about the extras, the cameramen and everyone who helped make this otherwordly yet very local film possible.

But even more than that, the "yellow-brick-carpet" premiere of Oz — set for 6 p.m. March 8 at the Palladium 12 in Birmingham — will also serve as a fundraiser for the Coalition of Dwarf Advocacy (CoDA), a non-profit headed up by a Michigan native and one of the film's more familiar Munchkins.

"There's hundreds of extras in this movie that aren't going to have that Hollywood atmosphere (at a premiere)," said Colin McConnell, a Macomb resident, owner of Biz Match Connect and a driving force behind the charity premiere.

In helping him organize the premiere, McConnell is joined by an unlikely duo: the well-known dwarf actor and Troy native Martin Klebba, as well as the unusually tall Royal Oak real estate broker Tom Hutt.

Both Klebba and Hutt are supporting actors in Oz. Klebba — a Hollywood veteran from films like Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion and Planet of the Apes — plays several Munchkins in the film. On the opposite end of the height spectrum, the 6-foot-9-inch Hutt plays one of the Winkies.

According to the trio, it was Hutt's idea to host a separate premiere for the film's extras. Klebba suggested the premiere benefit CoDA, the nonprofit he helped found with Little Person Big World's Matt Roloff in 2006. And it was McConnell — a fellow graduate of Klebba's alma mater, Troy Athens High School — who helped bring it all together.

'Oz' directed by Groves grad, filmed in Pontiac and features hundreds of Michigan actors

While Oz may have all the hallmarks of a big, Hollywood production, the film has strong ties to Michigan and the Metro Detroit area.

Starring James Franco, Oz was filmed at Pontiac's Raleigh Michigan Studios and is directed by Groves High School graduate Sam Raimi, who's credits include the blockbuster Spider-Man films. Raimi's former theater teacher at Groves, Jim Moll (now a principal in Royal Oak) also makes an appearance in Oz as one of the townspeople.

For Hutt, a real estate broker, the chance to participate in the film was an opportunity he never thought he'd have, but one he couldn't pass up.

At a towering 6-foot-9-inches tall, Hutt said he heard the film's producers were looking for tall people and so, curious, he attended a casting call. He didn't have to worry about making the cut; Hutt said the casting directors had their eyes out for Winkies and immediately pulled him aside.

"I thought, how many times am I going to be able to do this?" he said.

At the charity premiere, Hutt and Klebba will be joined by hundreds more Michigan residents who were a part of the film, as well as their families. Inviting families was an important detail. Hutt said most premieres allow attendees to bring one guest. The charity premiere in Birmingham, meanwhile, will give extras the chance the bring their entire family.

"(This cast) is a big family together," McConnell said. "And if you could give back to the community, do it."

Proceeds go toward dwarf advocacy, adoption programs

It was the drive to give back that brought in Klebba and CoDA, which has hosted several dwarf-celebrity basketball games to raise money for the non-profit, including one at Oakland University last spring. Five dwarves on the team, Klebba said, make an appearnce in Oz as well.

According to Klebba, CoDA is dedicated raising awareness of the challenges little people face. Key to their mission is also adoption of dwarf children, Klebba said.

"We all feel love, and we all feel pain," McConnell said. "We all deserve a loving home."

McConnell said the group is hoping 1,200 people attend the charity premiere so they can raise up to $10,000. Tickets are $15 for a 2D showing of the film and $18 for 3D. Attendees will have a chance to walk down a yellow-brick-carpet and pose for a mass of photographers. Currently, McConnell said they've sold more than 900 tickets so far.

To buy tickets for the charity premiere of Oz, visit www.gofundme.com/CoDAmovieFundraiser. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/DwarfAdvocacy.


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