Have you ever been tempted to look inside his little black book?
In Little Black Book, Stacy Holt (Brittany Murphy), an associate producer for daytime talk show hostess Kippie Kann (Kathy Bates), is frustrated when her boyfriend Derek (Ron Livingston) refuses to discuss his past relationships. With the encouragement of her co-worker Barb (Holly Hunter), she delves into his Palm to learn about his ex-girlfriends. Using the show as a ruse and Barb as her guide, Stacy interviews and befriends them, only to discover that the past, in a few instances, is rather present.
A modern day immorality tale of snooping in the electronic age, Little Black Book asks the question: Have you ever been tempted to go where you shouldn’t? Further, it delves into the consequences of what can happen to you when you succumb to temptation.
‘The Tangled Web’
Producers Jason Shuman and William Sherak, partners in Blue Star Pictures, were introduced by mutual friends while in college. Soon after, they co-directed the short film Spoof! An Insider’s Guide to Short Film Success. After each working stints as production executives, Sherak and Shuman formally paired up to produce their own films starting with the independent features Comic Book Villains and Four Dogs Playing Poker. After bringing their Blue Star Pictures shingle to Revolution Studios in the fall of 2000, they produced the horror/thriller Darkness Falls, which debuted at #1 its opening weekend.
Little Black Book fit in perfectly with the young producers’ creative goals — to tell great stories that feature multi-faceted characters, in a wide variety of genres. “It was an interesting character choice, and an interesting story to tell,” says Sherak.
“That’s what attracted us initially.” They first heard about the project about two and a half years ago when a manager friend of theirs who represented screenwriter Melissa Carter recommended the screenplay. “We read it and thought it was really universal and provided the framework for a really great movie,” says Sherak.
Another screenwriter, Elisa Bell, was brought in to work on the script. Blue Star submitted an early draft to producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas (Mona Lisa Smile, Maid in Manhattan), a partner in Revolution Studios who runs the company’s New York office. Goldsmith-Thomas became the driving force behind the film.
Says Shuman: “Elaine brought the movie to where it is today.” “I’m attracted to movies with flawed heroes, and what Melissa Carter beautifully outlined in her script was a story about a real character who you do love, but who is compelled to go in the wrong direction,” notes Goldsmith-Thomas. “I knew that if we could layer this story with real people who are both heroic and flawed, it would be that much more compelling. Audiences are used to rooting for the innocent heroine against a guilty villain. However in this movie every character, either by action or by omission, is a bit guilty. We brought in Elisa Bell in hopes of making the story that much more layered, and we continued to do a great deal of work on it throughout the process.”
Goldsmith-Thomas played a major role in the script’s development. “The thing Elaine has that is so amazing is her ability to convey the idea of real people,” says Sherak. “When you watch the movies she’s produced, you’re always watching real people living their lives. You’re getting a glimpse into the characters’ lives and what they do every day. She makes them compelling to watch.”
Shuman concurs. “That was the goal from the beginning,” he says. “The story had to be real. Nothing on Stacy’s journey should make you think, ‘That couldn’t happen.’ It all had to stem from a place people could identify with.”
Adds executive producer Herbert W. Gains: “It’s a very smart script with a lot of dialogue, and we needed it to come off as real,” he says. “In terms of the locations and the cast and the dialogue, it all had to have the unmistakable feel of truth.”
The project picked up further steam when actress Brittany Murphy was added to the mix. The star of such films as Uptown Girls, 8 Mile and Riding in Cars with Boys, she was the first and only choice for the role of Stacy.
“Deb (producer Deborah Schindler) and I were at my house reviewing lists of potential actors, and my niece happened to be there. When we mentioned Brittany Murphy, her face lit up,” recalls Goldsmith-Thomas. “Both Deb and I had been great admirers of Murphy’s work and her range. She is quite adept at comedy and drama, and she has this very real vulnerability, which is the perfect embodiment of our lead character.”
Murphy, who had read an early draft of the script, showers equal praise on Goldsmith-Thomas. “Three days after our first conversation, Elaine sent me a revised script,” remembers Murphy. “And in reading the new draft I realized she’d studied my rhythm and speech patterns from our first meeting.”
Murphy fell in love with Goldsmith-Thomas’ approach to the story. “I really adored the concept of the film,” she says. “I was overwhelmingly impressed by not only how thematically relevant the script is, but how fresh, witty and real this modernday romantic comedy is.”
“As a story, I see it as an ensemble piece about a lot of people who are all harboring their own little secrets while, in their work on the Kippie Kann Show, they expose other people’s lives,” Murphy adds. “That got me excited.” Murphy welcomed Goldsmith-Thomas’ generosity. “Elaine accorded me a lot of respect in allowing me to be part of the entire process,” says Murphy. “She was very receptive to my ideas.”
With the script coming together, the focus now turned to the search for a director. British-born Nick Hurran had directed the British film Plots with a View starring Brenda Blethyn, as well as a number of British television shows.
“We went through the process of looking for a director with a unique, fresh voice,” explains Shuman, “and realized there are a lot of amazing people out there. Then we got a call from Nick’s agent. We knew his work and loved it.”
“Deb, Rachel (executive producer Rachel Horovitz) and I watched a tape of Hurran’s Plots With A View,” recalls Goldsmith-Thomas. “What most impressed us was that there was a life on the edge of the screen. You really believed that this wasn’t just happening, but that the camera happened to catch it. I remember screaming and saying ‘Oh, my God, can we get him?!’ Luckily for us, Nick had flown himself in.”
Starring: Brittany Murphy, Ron Livingston, Kathy Bates, Holly Hunter, Rashida Jones, Sharon Lawrence, Julianne Nicholson
Directed by: Nick Hurran
Screenplay by: Elisa Bell
Release Date: August 6, 2004
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content/humor and language.
Box Office: $20,698,668 (US total)
Studio: Revolution Studios
Related Link: Little Black Book on Movies Central