When Christian, an L.A. trust-fund kid with casual ties to Hollywood, learns of a secret affair between his girlfriend Tara, a former actress, and the lead of his film project, he spirals out of control, and his cruel mind games escalate into an act of bloody violence.Lindsay Lohan as TaraJames Deen as ChristianNolan Funk as RyanAmanda Brooks as GinaTenille Houston as Cynthia GreyGus Van Sant as Dr. CampbellChris Zeischegg as ReidVictor of Aquitaine as RandallLauren Schacher as CaitlinJim Boeven as JonPhilip Pavel as ErikLily Labeau as Young hot girl
Braxton Pope, Bret Easton Ellis, and Paul Schrader were originally involved in a film project, Bait. When the project lost its financing, Pope, Ellis, and Schrader decided they wanted to make a lower-scale film. Ellis was in charge of writing the script. After it was completed, Pope suggested raising money via Kickstarter. Throughout May–June 2012, the film raised $159,015, with a goal of $100,000 in funding. The budget for the film was $250,000 and the actors were reportedly paid $100 a day.
On July 13, it was announced that Brendan Canning would be scoring the film. On July 18, 2012, the official press release for the movie was published on the Facebook page of The Canyons. On July 24, 2012, it was announced that American Apparel would be supplying the cast with wardrobe and was planning to issue logo T-shirts based on Ellis, The Canyons, and Schrader.
The first teaser was released on YouTube on June 16, 2012. On October 8, a "retro style" teaser trailer was released. IndieWire called The Canyons one of the "50 Indie Films We Want To See In 2013" in January 2013. On August 2, 2013, rapper Kanye West released a new version of the trailer; he worked with Nate Brown on the re-editing and created new music with Noah Goldstein.
Following the film's release, Schrader accused Lohan of not supporting the film, saying she had pulled out of interviews and never showed up for promotional photo sessions.
In the docu-series Lindsay, which chronicles (in eight one-hour episodes) Lohan's return from her sixth stay in rehab for addiction and her attempts to revitalize her career, she claimed that she did not end up promoting The Canyons, specifically its Venice Film Festival screening, because it would have placed her in a situation that compromised her sobriety.
Casting of The Canyons was operated through the casting website Let It Cast by providing all actors interested in auditioning for the five lead roles and one supporting role with download access to the audition scene to film their own video audition and submit themselves. As Pope and Ellis explained in the casting's presentation video on Let It Cast, the motivation to operate the casting in this fashion was to facilitate submissions from talented actors who might not otherwise be seen given the time constraints of the traditional casting process, as well as to open a direct channel to actors whose talent agents might otherwise complicate the process. Paul Schrader wrote a full account on the process of casting the seven actors which were ultimately cast through their Let It Cast audition in this fashion. Actors Lindsay Lohan and James Deen were cast independently of this process.
Although Schrader, Ellis, and Pope initially favored French actress Leslie Coutterand (who auditioned through Let It Cast), the role of Tara ultimately went to Lindsay Lohan. When Pope approached Lohan's manager about the possibility of Lohan playing the role of Cynthia (the yoga instructor), Lohan responded that she wanted to play the lead. Two weeks later, she screen tested and was cast. Pope said, "She's very charismatic and she has a lot of acting skills...So for this part, we felt that she was really the right actor for a host of different reasons." Fleur Saville was also considered for the role of Tara.
Early on, the filmmakers considered casting Sean Brosnan as Christian, but later, they wanted to cast somebody "more edgy and unexpected". Ellis had mentioned several times that he had Deen in mind for Christian's role and when he, Pope and Deen met, Deen was promised a screen test. Schrader was reluctant at first, because he thought it was unlikely he would cast him due to his background in porn. After being surprised by Deen's acting abilities and charisma, Schrader was still reluctant to cast him but with Ellis and Pope were collectively intrigued by the idea of casting Lohan and Deen in the leads and ultimately did. Other actors that had been considered for Christian's role were Alex Meraz and Daren Kagasoff among others.
Funk was cast as Ryan. Other actors who had been considered for Ryan's role included gay porn star Sean Paul Lockhart, Alex Ashbaugh, who was cast in a different role, Zach Roerig, and Chris Schellenger, who was also given a different, smaller role in the film.
Gina was cast through Let It Cast. The primary selection criteria were: who would be the best counterpoint to Lohan, in physical appearance and personality. After many auditions, Brooks was cast. Other actresses who had been considered were Spencer Grammer and Jessica Morris, among others.
Cynthia was originally called Lindsay, but her name was changed so she wouldn't be confused with Lohan. She was also cast through Let It Cast, and the primary criterion for the actress was to balance Lohan and Brooks.
Houston's audition was sent in early and remained a favorite. Other actresses who had been considered included Fleur Saville and Cameron Richardson.
In tertiary roles, Boeven was cast as Jon, and Aquitaine was cast as Randall. Philip Pavel, who was cast as Erik, had also been considered, among others.
Caitlin's character was originally supposed to be cast through Let It Cast, but was ultimately cast through mobli, because Pope had wanted to cast Caitlin through mobli. Lauren Schacher was cast.
Director Gus Van Sant's casting in the role of Christian's psychotherapist was reported in July 2012.
When asked about casting The Canyons, Ellis stated: "Dealing with the casting of The Canyons was a great, liberating process—for both the production team and for actors in general. We used Let It Cast and saw some amazing actors that we will definitely keep in mind for future projects. The way the entire cast came together so quickly was a thrill and everyone who landed their roles deserved them. Using social media as a way to help build a film is really like riding the wave into the future." Pope said, "Nothing about this film was orchestrated in a traditional way. We wanted to actively embrace all the digital and social media tools at our disposal and give the film real cinematic value—The Canyons is the result of a forward thinking experiment with a terrific cast." Schrader said: "Bret Easton Ellis' characters are beautiful people doing bad things in nice rooms. Lindsay Lohan and James Deen not only have the acting talent; they also have that screen quality that keeps you watching their every move."
Principal photography began in July 2012 with the shooting of the first six minutes of the film in the bar of the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angeles. Many key scenes were shot at the Malibu home of designer Vitus Mataré. Filming was moved to Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles after a failed attempt to film at the Santa Monica Promenade. Scenes were also shot in Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood and Cafe Med restaurant at Sunset Plaza, West Hollywood, as well as Palihotel Melrose and The Churchill bar of The Orlando Hotel, both in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Schrader says about filming The Canyons: "...we’re making art out of the remains of our empire. The junk that’s left over. And this idea of a film that was crowdfunded, cast online, with one actor from a celebrity culture, one actor from adult-film culture, a writer and director who have gotten beat up in the past—felt like a post-Empire thing. And then everything I was afraid of with Lindsay and James started to become a positive. I was afraid we wouldn’t be taken seriously and people would think it was a joke. My son and daughter didn’t want me to do it. That just shows you how conservative young kids are."
The rough cut of the film was 1 hour 44 minutes long. Initial edits of the film were disappointing; the film was said to "drag". Ellis, Schrader and Pope had a disagreement over the final cut of the film. After Schrader showed Steven Soderbergh the rough cut of the film, Soderbergh offered to cut it within three days. Schrader declined, telling The New York Times: "The idea of 72 hours is a joke, it would take him 72 hours to look at all the footage. And you know what Soderbergh would do if another director offered to cut his film? [Puts up two middle fingers] That’s what Soderbergh would do." Ellis is quoted as saying: "The film is so languorous. It's an hour 30, and it seems like it's three hours long. I saw this as a pranky noirish thriller, but Schrader turned it into, well, a Schrader film."
On Ellis' Podcast, he claims to now have a new appreciation of the film, saying he had trouble at first accepting Schrader's vision of his material, but in the end, has come to an understanding over his reservations during the creative process. He also openly praises Lohan's performance, calling it "searing," and blames the film's perceived 'failures' on Lohan's reputation in the media, which has nothing to do about the film's quality or her performance in the film. He continued with saying he believes The Canyons to have ended up as being a success both creatively and financially for all those involved. He concludes with saying he is very proud of the final product.
The film was not accepted by the Sundance Film Festival, but was scheduled for sale in January 2013 by William Morris Endeavor. It was also publicly rejected by SXSW citing they had "quality issues" with the film, which enraged director Paul Schrader, who was very proud of his final film. IFC Films bought the rights to distribute the film theatrically, accompanied by a special screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (on July 29, 2013) featuring a conversation session with director Paul Schrader and the film critic/New York Film Festival Program Director Kent Jones. It was released on August 2, 2013 in the United States at the IFC Center in New York City, the Bell Lightbox in Toronto, and on video on demand platforms. It was shown in the out of competition section at the 70th Venice International Film Festival. The film was also featured on the cover of the July/August 2013 (Volume 49/Number 4) issue of Film Comment Magazine, featuring a full centerpiece article on the film's production. The issue also featured an article, by Schrader, on the hardships and merits of working with Lindsay Lohan.
The Canyons was given an R rating for "strong sexual content including graphic nudity, language throughout, a bloody crime scene, and brief drug use".
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 23% approval rating based on 86 reviews, with an average score of 4/10. The site's consensus says the film "serves as a sour footnote in Paul Schrader's career—but it does feature some decent late-period work from Lindsay Lohan". At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 36, based on 29 reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
Linda Barnard of the Toronto Star gave the film one out of four stars, calling it "a howlingly bad soap-opera-meets-soft-core-porn mash-up". Writing for The Village Voice, Stephanie Zacharek praised Lohan's performance, likening her Tara character to "a nectarine on the far side of ripening, and this isn't a story about innocence lost—she sold that off long ago. But there's a dreaminess about her that could never crystallize into hardness." Zacharek also wrote that the "nuts and bolts of the plot are the least interesting things" about the film.
While the negative response to the film was overwhelming, The Canyons also received some praise. In a glowing review, Richard Brody wrote in The New Yorker that movie "isn’t a study in character but a view of the world; it’s a masterful setting of mood", praising Deen for doing "terrific job exuding a sense of imperious entitlement" and saying that Lohan's "performance itself is electrifyingly alive". Jason Shawhan's Nashville Scene review claimed "Lohan tears into this role with fierce energy, walking the fine line between dominance and desperation." Kent Jones also highly praised the film in Film Comment as "a visually and tonally precise, acid-etched horror story of souls wandering through a hyper-materialist hell, with a fearless and, I think, stunning performance by Lindsay Lohan at its center. On another level, it’s an inspiration and an example to us all: it’s difficult for me to imagine another filmmaker of Paul Schrader’s stature diving into the world of crowd-sourced moviemaking, let alone with such fervor, dedication and rigor."
The Canyons was screened as a part of the 14th Melbourne Underground Film Festival and won four awards:Best Female Actor for Lindsay LohanBest Screenplay for Bret Easton EllisBest Foreign Director for Paul SchraderBest Foreign Film.
The Canyons made its DVD and Blu-ray debut on November 26, 2013 courtesy of MPI Media Group. The release included a 100-minute 'Unrated Director's Cut' of the film. The new cut of the film only runs about a minute longer than the version that was in theaters and video on demand. During a "live tweet" session of the film on Twitter, where Bret Easton Ellis via his own Twitter account and Paul Schrader using The Canyons' account, discussed their feelings on and experiences with making the film- while viewers watched from home. Here they confessed that a sex scene had to be edited down for the final cut. A sex scene at the beginning of the film, which featured the characters of Tara, Christian and Reid (Danny Wylde), had to have cuts made to meet the content standards of iTunes. Thus the shots of Reid indulging in masturbation had to go, since they were unsimulated, unlike the other sexual content shown in the film. These shots were included in the version of the film shown at the Film Society of Lincoln Center screening but did not appear in the theatrical or video on demand edit. These shots are restored in the 'Unrated Director's Cut' available on Blu-ray and DVD. A DVD has also been made available featuring the edited version, which the MPAA gave an R Rating to in the United States.
Debuting only at the IFC Center in the U.S., the film earned $13,351 by the end of its opening weekend. On video on demand and iTunes, the film was said to do "extremely well". The film has grossed a total of $56,825 in United States and $265,670 all around the world. IFC Films has not released the Video on Demand profits of the film, but Bret Easton Ellis, on his Podcast, claimed "The Canyons was, something like, the number one Video on Demand film IFC released last year. The film has made a profit."
The soundtrack was made by Brendan Canning with Me&John and features songs by Gold Zebra, A Place to Bury Strangers, and the Dum Dum Girls. It was released on July 30, 2013.
- "Canyons Theme"
- "Without the Night" (featuring Adaline)
- "No More Sympathy" (featuring Rob James)
- "Back Home to Michigan"
- "Son of Perdition"
- "Teil Cock"
- "Love, French, Better" - Gold Zebra
- "Soon to Be"
- "Fear" - A Place to Bury Strangers
- "This Isn't Good for You"
- "Driving Sines"
- "Goddamn So High" (featuring Adaline)
- "My Preacher's Daughter" (featuring Adaline)
- "Coming Down" - Dum Dum Girls