The film was originally going to be produced by Gilbert Miller, and would be based on Anita Loos's 1954 non-musical stage adaptation. However, producer Arthur Freed had developed an interest in Colette's story in 1953. It took Freed $125,000 to get the rights from Colette's widower, and $87,000 to get the rights from Anita Loos (both had held on to the rights and the film could not be made without them).
Gaston's walk through Paris while singing "Gigi" uses camera magic to make parts of Paris which are miles apart seem adjacent to each other. This technique, called "creative geography", was created and named by French filmmaker Jean Cocteau.
The title song was Alan Jay Lerner's favorite of all his compositions. Also, in his semi-biography, "On the Street Where I Live" Lerner stated that in the song "She is Not Thinking of Me" the line "She's so ooh-la-la-la, so untrue-la-la-la" was the one line in his career that it took him the longest time to write.
When Alan Jay Lerner met Leslie Caron in London to discuss the film with her, he was surprised to discover that Caron, who was of French birth, had become so immersed in the English culture that she had lost her French accent.
Cecil Beaton had to supply over 150 period costumes for the scene in the Bois, and 20 ornate gowns for the scene in Maxims. Beaton had difficulty procuring such a large amount of costumes in Paris but when the production moved to Hollywood, he found warehouses stuffed to bursting with period furniture and costumes.
The songs "She is Not Thinking of Me" and "I Remember It Well" were filmed by an uncredited Charles Walters, as Vincente Minnelli was overseas working on a new project. The first song had originally been shot in Maxim's, but Alan Jay Lerner was unhappy with the way it turned out and at great expense a Maxim's set was recreated on a soundstage and reshot.
By mid-July 1957, the songwriters had still not come up with the title song. One evening, Frederick Loewe was at a piano while Alan Jay Lerner was indisposed in the bathroom, and when Loewe began playing a particular melody, he later recalled Lerner jumped up, "his trousers still clinging to his ankles, and made his way to the living room. 'Play that again,' he said." That melody ended up as the film's title song.
The cat in the movie reacted violently whenever it was in a scene with Leslie Caron, but director Vincente Minnelli insisted on having that particular cat, so it had to be heavily drugged. This is especially obvious during "Say a Prayer for Me Tonight".
Alan Jay Lerner's usual collaborator, Frederick Loewe, hated working for Hollywood and had vowed not to work on another movie. However, he was sufficiently charmed by the original novel to renege on that promise, albeit under the condition that it be made in France.
Leslie Caron's singing voice was dubbed by Betty Wand. However, original demo recordings of Caron singing "The Night They Invented Champagne" and ""Say A Prayer for Me Tonight" were retained, and have been released on CD.
According to Vincente Minnelli, when shooting in the French restaurant Maxim's the film crew the restaurant's famous mirrored walls to be covered up because they would reflect the equipment, but Minnelli contended that they had to be seen (and uncovered) as they were the hallmark of Maxim's. Eventually cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg resolved the matter satisfactorily, by putting suction cups on photo flood lights.
When the stage production of 'My Fair Lady' was trying out in Philadelphia, producer Arthur Freed tackled songwriter Alan Jay Lerner about doing a film musical for him. Lerner had a pre-existing contract with MGM and owed Freed another musical. After reading Colette's novel, he knew he had found the right material to fulfill that contract.
The song "Say A Prayer for Me Tonight" was meant to be sung by the British Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady." This can be seen in the verse: "Onto your Waterloo, whispers my heart / Pray I'll be Wellington, not Bonaparte." Being sung by a French girl, this is considered an arguably strange sentiment to express. However, the French lost at Waterloo, and Gigi is hoping to win this "epic battle," so to speak.
From 1954-56, Arthur Freed had to battle the Hays Code in order to bring Colette's tale of a courtesan-in-training to the cinema. He eventually convinced the film industry's Code Office to view the story as condemning rather than glorifying a system of mistresses.
When the film was originally completed, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe were unsatisfied at first; Lerner felt it had slow action and was twenty minutes too long. He proposed changes that would cost Arthur Freed an additional $300,000, which Arthur Freed was dead against spending. The songwriting team offered to buy 10% of the film for $300000, and then offered $3 million for the print. Impressed with their faith in the film, MGM executives agreed to the changes, which included eleven days of considerable reshooting and put the project $400,000 over budget. However, the test screenings of the film changed from favourable (before the change) to affectionate (after the change), and Lerner felt the film was finally complete.
With only four letters in its title, this movie set the record for the shortest title of any film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. This record was tied by Argo (2012). The Best Picture winner with the longest title is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) (10 words and 35 letters).
The Broadway production of the stage play "Gigi" by Anita Loos opened at the Fulton Theater on November 24, 1951, ran for 219 performances and closed on May 31, 1952. The title role was portrayed by then unknown Audrey Hepburn who won the 1952 Theatre World Award for her performance.
In 1957, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lost money for the first time in over three decades. When this film began to have cost overruns the studio ordered the main unit back from location shooting in Paris to complete the film on the back lot.