“The buzz got out that it was actually good,” says “Little Miss Sunshine” producer Marc Turtletaub of the weeks preceding Sundance 2006, when the long-gestating project suddenly became Utah’s hottest commodity. “The film had only been seen by the actors and their agents, but we were hearing from some of the studios’ specialty divisions that they’d be interested in purchasing the movie, sight unseen.”
What a difference five years makes. It was 2001 when Turtletaub and his Deep River partner David Friendly first read Michael Arndt’s repeatedly rejected script, brought to them by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa of Bona Fide Prods. The four met with Arndt and quickly took up the reins.
“We made the commitment that we would find a way to make the movie if no studio were interested,” Turtletaub says.
That commitment turned out to be prophetic. With directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton attached, the foursome finally secured an interested studio and set up the project at USA Films. Yet after three years of development purgatory and USA Films’ morphing into Focus Features, “it became apparent that it was not going to get made,” Turtletaub says.
Earlier that year, Turtletaub had established Big Beach Prods. with Peter Saraf. “The first thing Marc showed me was ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ which was the project that was his favorite,” Saraf recalls.
With Saraf onboard as well, the five producers bought back the rights to Arndt’s screenplay from Focus, and from there “everything went along pretty smoothly,” Turtletaub says.
Which is not to say the now-independent production didn’t have a few concerns, such as the harsher elements of the script that had previously turned off so many studios.
“It’s probably the first R-rated family movie I know of,” says Turtletaub. “It’s got drug use and language. We talked about whether we should shoot it PG-13. Fortunately we came to our better senses.”