Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher and Steven Spielberg
This movie was challenging all the way through,” co-producer Wick recalls about “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
“It was a challenging movie to get all of the financing in place because there were no American movie stars. Even though we had a very popular book around the world, you usually use a book to lure in a movie star, and we weren’t able to provide that comfort to financiers.”
However, Wick along with producers Fisher and Spielberg, who originally was to direct the pic, convinced Sony Pictures Entertainment that Arthur Golden’s bestselling novel was worth bringing to the bigscreen on a reportedly $80 million-plus budget.
“Studios don’t normally make all-Asian movies with an all-Asian cast that takes place in Asia,” Fisher says. “It is an unusual set of circumstances, and there were things that came up along the way that we would have never expected.
“For instance, we had to have two different kinds of catering because some people wanted Asian food and some wanted Western food. We would have to have a translator and dialogue coach. These are things when you are (creating) a budget that you can never think of because it has never been done before.”
For Wick, re-creating 1930s Kyoto was one of the shoot’s biggest problems.
“Kyoto doesn’t exist anywhere in the world (as it was in the 1930s), so it was a daunting (set to) build,” Wick recalls. “We actually ended up building three blocks of the city so that there was enough of a location that you don’t have that horrible experience that you sometimes see in movies where they have one street that characters keep walking back and forth on with minimal redressing.”
Finding the right cast was a concern for both producers. Several Chinese actresses were chosen to play Japanese women, which caused controversy.
“(We needed a cast that was) strong enough to carry a whole movie even though they probably wouldn’t be familiar yet to American audiences,” Fisher says. “We thought about the Japanese-Chinese issue, but in movies you always want to have the best person for the part. We wouldn’t be prejudiced against somebody because of his or her race or nationality for any part. So if the actress was Japanese, that would be great. If not, that would be fine, too.”
Once casting was complete, Wick and Fisher faced their biggest challenge. “What was hard was trying to do justice to a book that so many people loved,” says Fisher.