Published in 1995 to great critical acclaim, Snow Falling on Cedars has sold more than four million copies and been translated into 30 languages. Ten years in the writing, its roots lie in both the inner and outer life of its author, David Guterson. He explains: "The book grew out of the history of my own community, Bainbridge Island, on Puget Sound, where I've lived for the past 15 years. Many of the Japanese Americans who live there were interned in 1942. But it also reflects my own personal searching. At the time, I was asking myself the same philosophical questions that are posed in the book: Given that we live in an indifferent universe, where horrible things happen every day to innocent people, how should we conduct ourselves, how do we go on?"

Guterson, who received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Snow Falling On Cedars, believes the book's phenomenal success comes from its effective re-creation of another time and place. "Based upon what people have said, or written, to me, I've concluded that the book makes them feel as if they've entered into some sort of dreamworld, lush and deeply textured."

Certainly, that is how Scott Hicks experienced the story when he first read it. "I was captivated by a combination of the story's intricacy and the dense atmosphere of its setting," says Hicks. "What an amazing, closed world David Guterson created...the cold of the blizzard, the over-heated atmosphere of the courtroom. It was the kind of thing cinema is well equipped to express."

Dashed when he learned the book had been optioned by Universal Studios, Hicks was soon swept up in the Shine phenomenon, traveling around the world on its behalf. But Shine's stature opened up new directorial opportunities for him and, more than a year later, when he read Ron Bass's screen adaptation, he eagerly embraced it as his next project. Fate, possibly.

Hicks soon asked producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall to join forces with him. The odyssey they embarked upon together would become one of the most arduous, yet emotional and fulfilling of their lives, as well as the lives of their cast and crew.

"The people who made this film cared about it to an exceptional degree," says Kennedy. "Each department explored its area of responsibility thoroughly and in depth. The details had to be right because the backdrop for the story is a true piece of American history. The book was our reality guide."

She continues, "Scott's vision was so clear. Each person set about helping him achieve his vision of the story. There was no way of being taken off-course."

A highly-credentialed team of creative collaborators was assembled, including: Robert Richardson, director of photography, who shot Casino, The Horse Whisperer and Wag the Dog, as well as 11 films for Oliver Stone, including JFK, for which he won an Academy Award; Jeannine Oppewall, production designer, who boasts such disparate works as The Bridges of Madison Country and Ironweed among her credits, and who has received two Oscar® nominations (for Pleasantville and for L.A. Confidential); and Renee Erlich Kalfus, costume designer, who had just completed The Cider House Rules, and also created costumes for Dead Man Walking, The Evening Star and What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Following principal photography, two additional artist-craftsmen commenced their work: Hank Corwin, master editor of The Horse Whisperer, Nixon, and of numerous world-class music videos and commercials; and composer James Newton Howard whose many honors includes five Oscar® nominations (My Best Friend's Wedding, One Fine Day, Junior, The Fugitive and Prince of Tides as well as Emmy and Grammy plaudits.

"The physical production was one of the most challenging we have ever put together," says producer Marshall. "Although the story might seem simple enough at first glance, none of the visual elements existed in one place; moreover, much of the landscape is contaminated by strip malls and other signs of modernism. We had to create the town, to find the courthouse and the lighthouse...the boats."

The location scouting alone took 10 months, as did the casting.

© 1999 Universal Studios