Off to see the wizard every day for seven months — getting up before the sun, entering a spectacular fantasy world with a clip-clip here, a snip-snip there, and a couple of tra-la-las, then heading home in the dark — Jon Lieckfelt (pictured below) felt himself beginning to hallucinate.
“You started thinking you lived in Oz,” says Lieckfelt (LIKE-felt), renowned upmarket hair and makeup artist and owner of Priss Salon in Birmingham, who accepted the most challenging assignment of his 20-year career when he joined the legion of stylists designing hair for the new Disney blockbuster Oz the Great and Powerful, filmed at Michigan Motion Picture Studios in Pontiac.
“You started losing your sense of reality,” he says. “It was seven months of my life, a lot of 20-hour days. I didn’t see my family or friends the whole time. It was just work, go to bed, wake up, go back on set … this repeat cycle that seemed never-ending.”
For Lieckfelt, 43, it wasn’t his first brush with moviemaking magic. Since he made the decision to expand his business footprint beyond his tony salon, he’s worked his behind-the-scenes wizardry on a dozen films, including the Elmore Leonard adaptation Freaky Deaky and the acclaimed independent feature Kill the Irishman. Rarely, though, has his taste of Hollywood been so accessible. “It was not only the most unbelievable experience,” he says, “[but] it was also the closest movie set I ever traveled to. It took me five minutes to get there, but it was such a different reality inside.”
Oz, which opened last month, is the ambitious prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, starring James Franco in the dubious carnival magician-turned-wizard role immortalized by Frank Morgan. Lieckfelt was part of a team of stylists charged with creating hairpieces for the multitude of Oz inhabitants surrounding the Good Witch Glinda (Michelle Williams).
“In the hair and makeup department alone, there were hundreds of us,” Lieckfelt recalls. “I was working alongside Academy Award-winning artists I drew a lot from. We actually hand-sewed and hand-dyed all the hair, and it was very time-consuming. Our fingers were bleeding from all the sewing and dyeing and gelling. There were hundreds of extras, so you can imagine how many pieces we had to make. Then, once they were made, we had to keep them organized in bags with their pictures on them, and every day they would come in, and we would install them onto their heads again.”
The glamour of the movies? Forget it. “The girls wearing these heavy, loopy things we made for them — they were getting bald spots the size of half-dollars on their heads from the weight of them,” he says. “They would be in tears. But they kept coming back. They wanted to be in this movie bad.”
Lieckfelt’s backstage expertise brought him into a professional relationship with Glee actress-singer Kristin Chenoweth, who took him on a 19-city concert tour last summer as her personal hair-and-makeup artist. But Lieckfelt, a self-described “welfare kid” raised on a farm in tiny Baldwin, Mich., who migrated to Detroit to earn his marketing degree from Wayne State, has no intention of forsaking his salon for the allure of Tinseltown.
“The reason I stay loyal to Birmingham and the Detroit area is because the clientele here has always been loyal to me and valued what I do,” he says. “I feel really blessed to work in an area where women can afford to patronize me and utilize the things I can do for them. There’s not a lot of cities nationwide where I could say that.”