Memoirs of a Geisha
Key credits: “Holy Smoke,” “Chicago,” “Collateral”
Awards: BAFTA, LAFCA awards for “Collateral” (shared with Paul Cameron)
Connection: “(Director) Rob Marshall and I had already been talking about doing something together after ‘Chicago,’ ” says Beebe. “I had read the book and was excited about getting involved on this project. Just the possibility of trying to realize this world was what got me interested.”
Equipment: Panavision Platinum and Millennium cameras using Panavision’s C and E series anamorphic lenses; Kodak 5218, with a 500 ASA film, along with a bit of the 5274. “It was important to have a widescreen format, in case we had to finish the film optically, in order to preserve detail and depth of field,” notes Beebe.
Challenge: “Probably the hardest thing was to re-create the world of the geisha, and to make it believable and exciting,” says Beebe. The decision to film mainly in California created difficulties because Marshall and Beebe both agreed that the unfiltered Southern California sunlight was too harsh to be convincing. The solution was ingenious: A huge silk tent was fabricated and hung over the seven-acre set built in the San Fernando Valley, replicating in detail a Japanese village and other settings. The tent had flaps and could be altered like sails to control the sun. “The tenting gave us a way to control fluctuations in the weather — but more important, it gave us a way to manipulate light to convey the subtle changes of the seasons, which are such an important part of Japan’s aesthetic,” Beebe says.
Setback and solution: In one sequence lensed on the Russian River north of San Francisco, Sayuri, the film’s heroine, is reduced to dyeing cloth for kimonos during World War II. “During the filming, a lot of our trucks got stuck in mud, so we had to airlift in a 50-foot technocrane to achieve that shot,” says Beebe. “There was also some very tough negotiating to get access to some of the temples in Japan for the sumo wrestling sequences, but our great location scout, Michael Fantasia, pulled it off.”
Creative mantra: “Every time I start a movie, there’s a whole new set of parameters, and I first carefully read the script to think of what I can bring to the project,” Beebe says. “But if there’s one quality that I always try to emphasize, it’s to be bold.”
Upcoming: After “Geisha,” Beebe reteamed with director Michael Mann (“Collateral”) on “Miami Vice,” which wrapped in mid-December. Says the Australian-born d.p.: “I’m not going to do anything for a while, but then I’d like to do something down-and-dirty and fairly dark.”