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‘The Great Gatsby’ faced tough pre-production obstacles

Dennis King Published: May 9, 2013
Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann

NEW YORK – Engineering a film production that blends the jittery literary genius of F. Scott Fitzgerald with the extravagant visual talents of director Baz Luhrmann was a task that producer Douglas Wick said required years of tough negotiations, more than a little luck and one desperate sprint down a Culver City street.

As Wick (“Gladiator”) told it during a press conference for the release of “The Great Gatsby,” the production team came very close to missing the chance to bring Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”) aboard as director.

“Our version was very lucky,” the producer said. “For about two years we had been trying to buy the rights to the book, and they were controlled by A&E, which had once done a TV movie of Gatsby. And so like everything magnificent about Fitzgerald, here were his rights to one of the great novels of the century held by this TV company and frozen there.

“So we negotiated for about two years, and it was a very tough deal,” he said. “Then we were just closing and had agonized over how do you ever make this movie work for a contemporary audience. The reason we loved the book is that it felt more about now than any other literature.

So one day we’re in our office on the lot at Sony, and we’re having an internal meeting with just two or three employees, and after the meeting a person who’s out in front comes in and says, ‘Oh, Baz Luhrmann was here.’ And I said, ‘Baz Luhrmann was here?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I told him you were in a meeting.’

“So I go running out of the office, down the street, thinking, ‘I’m going to kill this person who’s sent away Baz Luhrmann,’” Wick recalled. “Baz had literally come to visit us to check us out and see if he could possibly stand working with us. He’s very careful about that.

“Needless to say, there are many pieces of casting where you say, ‘Boy, if we could just get this person…’” he said. “But maybe the hardest piece of casting is, what filmmaker in the world could ever make this movie and make it feel about now? And the fact that that filmmaker had come and knocked on our door and been sent away. I think about it, and I still want to put a gun in my mouth.”

From their earliest conversations, Wick said it was clear that Luhrmann was the right director to “make Fitzgerald relevant to a new generation,” and that the Australian filmmaker was incredibly articulate about finding daring and creative ways to marry Fitzgerald’s rich literary language with Luhrmann’s own spectacular cinematic language.

- Dennis King