'Insurgent' Producers on Expanding the Franchise, Keeping the Controversial Ending and Working With Your Spouse
Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher, co-heads of Red Wagon Entertainment, open up about continuing their relationship with 'Divergent' author Veronica Roth, splitting the final book into two films and making their marriage last for nearly 30 years.
This story first appeared in the March 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Making a business partnership work in Hollywood can be tough enough, but making a three-decade marriage work on top of that might be considered the impossible dream. Douglas Wick, 60, and Lucy Fisher, 65, took different career paths for the first 15 years of their marriage before Fisher joined Wick's production company, Red Wagon Entertainment, in 2001. "We spent most of our careers avoiding working together," says Fisher, a Harvard grad who navigated her way through the studio system, serving as vp production at 20th Century Fox, executive vp worldwide production at Warner Bros. and vice chairman at Sony before becoming a producer.
Wick, the son of actress Mary Jane Wick and former U.S. Information Agency director Charles Wick, built his reputation making solid studio films through Red Wagon, including Working Girl; The Craft; Girl, Interrupted; Stuart Little; and Gladiator, which garnered him a best picture Oscar in 2001. Since combining forces, Wick and Fisher have made such smart and profitable films as Memoirs of a Geisha, Lawless and The Great Gatsby. Most recently, they adapted Veronica Roth's Divergent, starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James. After it earned $288.7 million worldwide last spring on an $85 million budget, Red Wagon and Summit/Lionsgate had a new YA franchise on their hands and quickly dated three sequels. Ahead of the March 20 release of the next installment, Insurgent, the power couple, who oversee eight employees and have raised three daughters now in their 20s, invited THR to their airy offices near Culver City to talk about expanding the Divergent universe, the challenges facing producers today and their leap into television.
When the 'Divergent' cast autographed a copy of Roth's book for Wick, star Shailene Woodley signed "from the fourth daughter," counting herself as an honorary member of the couple's family.
Did Insurgent's bigger budget of $110 million-plus allow for more special effects and action scenes?
WICK They definitely gave us much more leeway on the second one. But none of it is the big exploitation stuff. Our biggest action is showing the inner life of a young woman who's going through a lot of fear. So, the fact that we have giant action sequences that express character and emotion has been a real challenge. We're very aware that the fan base is so attracted to the authenticity of the book. We had to figure out how to dramatize it and how to adapt it for the big screen.
FISHER When we bought Divergent, it was an unpublished manuscript. As we were shooting the movie, the book kept selling and selling, and our budget was able to increase because of the book's popularity. By the time Insurgent came, we'd gone from zero sales to over 30 million. That was a big change in terms of just what the entity had become. And we also had, in terms of the budget, added two new fantastic stars with Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer.
The third book, Allegiant, will be split into two movies. The Hunger Games did this and Mockingjay — Part 1 was criticized and underperformed at the box office. How did you come to this decision?
WICK One thing that we decided very early on was there's a lot of story in the third book, but what we would never do is shoot it all at once and cut it into two movies. So, the challenge was: Could you make one really good movie, go through all the filmmaking process, then release it and then go back and make another movie? Without being a spoiler, there are some very gigantic emotional events that occur that sort of felt like they deserved their own book.
In the women's bathroom hangs an original Japanese kimono from the 1930s, a gift from Steven Spielberg (who produced 2005's 'Memoirs of a Geisha' with Wick and Fisher).
Allegiant's ending upset a lot of fans. Do you have any plans to change it for the movie?
WICK No, because, without getting into the spoiler stuff, that tradition in movies of that kind of ending can be incredibly powerful. We're going to embrace it.
Have you considered adapting Roth's spinoff novella, Four, into a movie after the Divergent franchise ends?
FISHER No, but we've considered expanding in other directions. Four takes place when [Four, a main protagonist in the book trilogy] is in high school. It would pain us too much to have Four be anybody but Theo [James, who plays him onscreen]. She wrote a lot of material that she didn't use, too. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but we'll mine her brain. But we keep Four as Theo James.
So have you talked to Roth about adapting her next book, which she has described as "in the vein of Star Wars"?
FISHER Yes, we've talked to her about it, but it's still early. She's just writing it, and she's very protective in the early stages.
Director Mike Nichols, who worked with Wick on 'Working Girl' and 'Wolf,' gave the producer this plaque. "He's the smartest person I've ever worked with," says Wick.
How have you made your marriage last for nearly 30 years while working together?
WICK For me, it's becoming partners after a point where each of us has managed to be [successful] in the world. Deal with your ambitions, deal with your identity issues. When you get to a place where, above all, you want to do really great work, then it becomes less about your own identity and more about who you can work with to do really good work.
How do you split up responsibilities on projects?
WICK It's pretty organic and mostly based on interest. Some things that she finds more boring, I find more interesting, like five-hour development meetings, which I love. For her, there's many things that she really enjoys doing, like being incredibly scrutinizing for casting or being very detailed about approvals, which would put me to sleep.
Do you have a "one that got away" project?
WICK One recent one happened after living with F. Scott Fitzgerald through Gatsby. I don't even know if it's getting made, but when we heard that someone had bought The Last Tycoon, I suddenly had a wave of "I'd love to hang with F. Scott Fitzgerald some more." That was almost more about just the sort of pleasure and privilege of hanging with his art and his words.
A photo of a young Fisher presenting Eleanor Roosevelt with flowers at an event her father (right) chaired in her hometown of Englewood, N.J. hangs in Fisher's office.
Red Wagon once had a first-look deal with Sony, and Lucy also worked there. How did you feel the day the Amy Pascal emails leaked? How did you feel about the hack debacle that followed?
FISHER I, sadly, was filled with much relief that I was here and I wasn't there in charge. But I felt sorry for our friends and neighbors. I hope that everybody ends up in a happy place and that it becomes a functioning, profitable, excellent studio. Many studios go through various upheavals. I worked at Fox once, and I had four administrations in four years.
What do you have to do as producers to survive in the industry today?
WICK We've always been very selective, slightly swinging for the fences and looking for creative world creation. The only thing that's not bad about what's happened is the middle has completely dried up. So now in the marketplace, everyone's saying, "What groundbreaking filmmaker plus this idea might really create something that you actually have to go to the theater to see?" That's the most fun challenge, as opposed to stuff that's just basically straight product.
FISHER Also, we branched out in a way that was very happy for us. After Hunger Games [hit big], we said, "We want to find a YA book." We made it our mission. We had both, in our careers, gravitated toward female projects, so we knew we wanted something with a female heroine. We were lucky that an executive here found us the manuscript of Divergent. Luckily, we were able to have it catch on the way that it did. And we're also branching out into TV.
Wick's family used to spend every Christmas with the Reagans. While Wick is a "lifelong Democrat," he keeps this photo of him helping President Ronald Reagan into a Santa suit in 1984.
Lots of film producers are transitioning to TV these days. What kinds of projects are you looking for?
WICK We have three in the works at three different networks, but we can't say much about them yet. There's astonishing work happening on cable TV. There's been basically a renaissance of amazing work, amazing performances, great storytelling and great writers.
How do you pick your projects?
WICK A lot of the selection process is sort of intuitive over the years. We love casting. For example, I bought Girl, Interrupted just because I knew that I would end up getting great actors [Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie] to play those parts. You come at it from different ways. Part of Memoirs of a Geisha was that we knew the fun of re-creating 1930s Kyoto would be something that movies do well. Above all, you're basically saying: "What speaks to me? What turns me on?" And also, "What can I live with for one to 20 years?" — because it can take a really long time to get it made.
FISHER That's exactly what it's supposed to feel like: "We need to make this, however long it takes."