By EW Staff
Updated August 13, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Davi Russo

STARRING Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams

Blue Valentine, the story of a young couple who fall madly in love — and then terribly out of it — over the course of six years, left Sundance in January with a $1 million distribution deal with Focus and fizzy awards buzz for stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. But making the film was a wrenching 12-year struggle for co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance (Brother Tied), who repeatedly postponed production as various financiers dropped out. Up until a week before the 30-day shoot began in the spring of 2009, the Brooklyn-based filmmaker was paying for preproduction out of his own pocket.

Fortunately, Cianfrance had truly devoted stars — both of whom signed on before they’d earned their respective Oscar nods. When Cianfrance first met Williams in 2003, he recalls that she even brought him gifts — an Iron and Wine CD and a book of Galway Kinnell poems — that she thought evoked the wistful, raw spirit of the script. ”One of my inspirations all these years is that Supremes song ‘Where Did Our Love Go,”’ says Cianfrance. ”That question, that yearning, that mystery is what I wanted to build the film around.”