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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Burtt

'The Wiz' Had The Most Expensive Film Sequence Shot At This NYC Landmark

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

On Friday, I was invited to the premiere of By Sidney Lumet, a documentary on the four-time Oscar-nominated director. While most of the focus was on his films like Serpico, Network, 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon, I was fascinated by his work on 1978’s The Wiz.

While the film was a huge bomb at the box office — only taking in $13.6 million against a $24 million budget — The Wiz is now considered a cult classic. Lumet, who passed away in 2011, talked about his favorite scene in the movie.

Since the film was shot in and around New York City, Lumet decided that the World Trade Center would represent Emerald City. The production for the scene was massive and they had to place 22 playback speakers for the dancers, otherwise the dancers in the back would hear the music a half-second after the dancers in the front.

The Louis Johnson-choreographed piece utilized 400 dancers making three costume changes in this one number. The “Emerald City Sequence” was the most expensive shoot ever filmed at the World Trade Center.

A few other interesting facts about The Wiz:

1. In the gold scene, music producer Quincy Jones is seen playing at the piano. It was the first time he ever worked with Michael Jackson. The friendship they developed on the film, turned into one of the most successful musical partnerships ever. Jones went on to produce albums like Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad for Jackson.

2. In the green scene, supermodel Iman is seen. Check her out at the 1:22 mark.

3. 385 crew members were on location to help shoot the scene.

4. It took four nights to shoot the Emerald City scene.

5. As of 2010, Diana Ross is the only leading cast member still alive. Ted Ross passed away in 2002 (Lion), Nipsey Russell (Tinman) and Richard Pryor (The Wiz) passed away in 2005 and Jackson (Scarecrow) passed away in 2009.

And if you haven’t ever seen the “Ease on Down the Road” scene, treat yourself. It’s iconic and you might notice, we barely see the characters’ faces — a powerful filmmaking choice. The scene always radiates so much joy and reminds me of the friendship Ross and Jackson shared over the years.

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