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‘Geisha’s’ elusive charms

As with 'Rain Main,' the right chemistry has been tough to coalesce

HOLLYWOOD — As “Memoirs of a Geisha” inches closer to being made into a film, its producers are hoping the long process of adapting the bestselling novel proves that good things come to those who wait.

After seven years of development — including multiple screenwriters, a hunt for a director and, most recently, complicated negotiations among three studios — “Geisha” looks set to go with Rob Marshall at the helm and Columbia, DreamWorks and Miramax co-producing.

The most recent talks came about because Columbia has rights to the book, DreamWorks’ Steven Spielberg is onboard as a producer and Miramax holds an option for Marshall to direct his next pic there.

A three-way deal would cap long journey.

Producers are sensitive to their projects getting labeled as “difficult,” but the lessons of pics like “Rain Man” show that it can take awhile before a creative team gels and a great film can be made.

“Rain Man” started out in 1984 as a story idea by Barry Morrow.

Martin Brest was first hired to direct what was then imagined as a farcical comedy following the hijinks of a hustler and his autistic brother.

But after going through a series of directors — starting with Brest and proceeding through Spielberg and Sydney Pollack — as well as a slew of writers, a more complex pic ultimately emerged with Barry Levinson at the helm. It won four Oscars in 1989.

“Geisha” has a similarly complicated history.

Author Arthur Golden, an estranged member of the Ochs-Sulzberger family that owns the New York Times, spent years working on the book before it became a surprise bestseller in 1997.

Film rights were quickly purchased for $1 million by Red Wagon’s Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher, and Spielberg announced the following year that he would make the pic his next project.

In 2002, and several Spielberg pics later, the director ankled the project and the search for a new director was on. Kimberly Peirce and Spike Jonze were interested, but no deals were ever done.

Then this summer, Wick and Fisher turned to Marshall, who was looking for a follow-up to “Chicago.”

He was interested, but then came the tangled talks between Columbia, DreamWorks and Miramax, which now hope they have pacted to make the next “Rain Man.”