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James Franco as 'Oz,' with Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams, films in Michigan

Sam Raimi's "Oz The Great and Powerful" began filming on Monday, with James Franco playing "a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics" who is "hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz," where he meets "three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams)" -- for my money the most attractive group of spell-slingers since Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon costarred with Cher in "The Witches of Eastwick."

Mitchell Kapner ("The Whole Nine Yards") and David Lindsay-Abaire ("Rabbit Hole") wrote the script, and as Variety used to say, "all tech credits are pro:" Peter Deming ("Mulholland Dr." "Drag Me to Hell") is doing the cinematography; the production designer is Robert Stromberg ("Avatar") and the editor is ("The Hurt Locker," Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy).

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But for Baltimoreans, the most intriguing detail may be that "Oz" is shooting "at the new Raleigh Michigan Studios, the 200,000 square foot sound stage facility in Pontiac, Michigan, once the location of General Motors' Centerpoint business campus and truck manufacturing plant."

It's the kind of production site that can help bring major films into a state despite fluctuations in tax-incentive programs.

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Let's hope that the next time film and TV production in Baltimore reaches the critical mass it had in the days of "Homicide" and "The Wire," studios, networks, and producers, and local businesses and the state, collaborate on this kind of building. If we had one a half-dozen years ago, we might not have lost the musical "Hairspray" to Toronto and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" to New Orleans.

Photo of James Franco on June 20, at the Los Angeles Film Festival, by John M. Heller of Getty Images

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