EXCLUSIVE: The sight of Mila Kunis' Lily (possibly) tormenting Natalie Portman's Nina in "Black Swan" on the big screen this winter still feels fresh. Which may be one of the reasons why a new script from one of the people behind that film has caught the eye of studio executives in Hollywood.
Mark Heyman, the Darren Aronofsky producing partner who penned "Black Swan," has written a new script that offers a few callbacks to his worldwide hit. A thriller titled "XOXO," the script is, like "Black Swan," an upscale genre story about a complicated relationship, according to a studio executive who has read it. Aronofsky will produce "XOXO" with the producer of "Sideways."
"XOXO" tells of a twentysomething man who meets a female contemporary on Facebook and begins a digital relationship with her, only to find the object of his affections take the relationship to an obsessed and stalker-y place. Think "Fatal Attraction" (but with Facebook).
Of course, when one thinks of Facebook, it's impossible not to think of "The Social Network," which means that the script is a bit like two of the 2011 Oscar heavyweights got together themselves (perhaps on Facebook). Unlike that film, though, "XOXO" assumes a social-media world that exists seamlessly within our own -- much as it does in real life -- instead of one that is discovered as a novelty over the course of the film.
"XOXO," which makes use of streaming video and other social-media platforms in addition to Facebook, also evokes the documentary "Catfish" in its exploration of slippery digital identities (The letter-centric title is, of course, a reference to affectionate, and potentially creepy, online sign-offs.)
The script is now being circulated in Hollywood, including to numerous genre labels, as it seeks financing and distribution. A message to Heyman was not returned.
One of the historic challenges in depicting digital life on a movie screen is showing characters interact with a computer screen in a way that's also cinematically interesting. "XOXO" seeks to avoid the problem by constructing the digital interactions in stylized visual sequences, according to a second person familiar with the script who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about it publicly.
Heyman developed "Black Swan" closely with Aronofsky after a much earlier version of the movie hit the skids in development. The pair revamped the movie -- it was originally a murder-mystery set in the theater world instead of a horror story in the realm of ballet. They also heightened the ambiguity of the Lily-and-Nina rivalry.
Heyman, who was nominated for BAFTA and Writers Guild of America awards for the screenplay, has been a hot commodity ever since "Black Swan" became a worldwide hit. He's currently writing a movie titled "Age of Rage" for director Marc Webb, about teenagers who fight a virus in an apocalyptic America, and has also been developing "Machine Man," a "Robocop"-infused story about a man who's targeted after he gives his body a titanium-heavy upgrade.
When "Black Swan" became a phenomenon last year, many wondered if it would spawn a renaissance in upscale horror films. That hasn't quite happened, but the subject has certainly transfixed one of the key people involved in that film.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Natalie Portman in "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight