Director Darren Aronofsky

Producers Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W Messer, Brian Oliver

Production companies Protozoa Pictures, Phoenix Pictures, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Cross Creek Pictures

US distributor Fox Searchlight

International distribution Fox Int’l

US release date December 1, 2010

Darren Aronofsky had always wanted to make a film set in the world of ballet. So when Phoenix Pictures’ Mike Medavoy approached the director and his producing partner Scott Franklin at Protozoa Pictures with a Broadway-set script called The Understudy, they were intrigued.

“We liked the element of a double but didn’t want to make that film,” says Franklin. “About a year later, we tried to set it in the world of ballet and couldn’t work out how to get the duality idea in there. Then Darren saw Swan Lake and it went from there.”

Protozoa had an overhead deal with Universal Pictures and set up The Understudy at the studio in 2007 with Phoenix. They brought in John McLaughlin to set the story in the ballet milieu but the studio, uncertain of Aronofsky’s commercial allure after The Fountain, put the project into turnaround.

Then The Wrestler came out in 2008 and Aronofsky was bankable again. Protozoa brought in Mark Heyman, a co-producer on that film, to revise the script. After 20 drafts Aronofsky and Franklin felt they had cracked the story. It was time to find money.

“It was brutal,” Franklin says now. “We went out with this script and had a budget of $27m and nobody would take it. We took it down to $16m and we found a company but six or seven weeks into pre-production they left us high and dry.”

In late 2009, discussions with Fox Searchlight — with which Protozoa had collaborated on The Wrestler — were reaching an advanced stage but things were getting hairy. Natalie Portman, whom Aronofsky had approached about the role some 10 years earlier, had another project lined up.

“We were three weeks away from shooting and [Fox Searchlight] wanted to wait until we had something in the can, but we couldn’t wait,” says Franklin. “They agreed to come in for half and CAA found us Cross Creek Pictures to come in with the other half. Brian [Oliver, Cross Creek president] and I go back about 10 years so there was trust. We pushed one week and Brian funded us $500,000-$700,000 out of his own pocket to get production going and less than a week before the start of principal photography we got the rest of the money.”

Production on the reconstituted $13m Black Swan ran for 42 days from December 2009 to March 2010.

“Our first 10 days on the shoot were the coldest December New York had seen in 50 years,” Franklin recalls. “As hard as it was shooting on that budget for 42 days, we got a real sense of accomplishment. That’s why we make films.”

Six months later the film would receive a rapturous reception at its world premiere in Venice. Portman picked up the best actress — drama Golden Globe and the film has 12 Bafta nominations.