What It Was Like to Make The Canyons with Lindsay Lohan, a Producer’s Tale (2022)

I was having dinner with Bret Easton Ellis and Gus Van Sant, discussing a movie we were developing at the time, in the garden of the Chateau Marmont. A musician friend was always groaning about Los Angeles (The merciless traffic! The unsupressed fame-hunger! The Angelenos!) until he stayed at the Chateau in between weekend performances. It has a decayed subtlety and insularity that makes it attractive to talent. A couple nights in a suite overlooking Sunset Boulevard, never having to leave the property, and the curse of L.A. was lifted. As the martini glasses emptied, my conversation with Bret and Gus drifted from what it might have been like to have a pillow fight with the Franco brothers to how we felt about the mobile-phone app Grindr. As neither topic was requiring much of my attention, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I returned, Lindsay Lohan was in my seat.

I wondered what to do exactly, whether I was going to get my chair back, or if I should find another. It was clear that she recognized Gus and was a fan of Bret’s. She indicated no inclination to move, so I grabbed a wicker chaise and pulled it up to the table. She ordered a drink and lit a cigarette. You simply never know what comet will streak through the Chateau’s stardusted galaxy.

We chatted for a while, and I liked listening to her, the husky, tobacco-aged, noir-ish quality of her voice. I had always been intrigued by her talent. A couple years later, we would find ourselves back at the Chateau, this time talking about a film role. “I know you,” she said, almost accusatorily, remembering our previous encounter. Her surety created this connection and confidence that we were already in this together. By the end of the meeting we had agreed to embark on a film that might resuscitate her career and possibly even open a new path for post-empire filmmaking.

Stephen Rodrick, the astute writer of the New York Times Magazine cover story on The Canyons, got mad at me when I remarked on Twitter that journalists are fabulists. Maybe he was right to take umbrage. The world of Lindsay can make you distrustful of the media, placing you in a carnival funhouse, with concave and convex mirrors distorting everything you say. Much of what I have read about The Canyons isn’t particularly accurate. Some of what is written reflects the agenda the journalist brings to the story. Some is the result of not letting facts intrude on a good tale. Lindsay is my friend, so I have a natural disposition to defend her. The reality I experienced as producer of The Canyons was different than the emphasis of the New York Times article, which isn’t to say that events or facts relayed in the piece were untrue. But there were many consecutive days on set that proceeded without incident, when actors took direction gamely, interpreted the script in ways that were revelatory and compelling, and when we started and finished as scheduled. Sadly, the ordinary work of film doesn’t make for compelling journalism, tabloid or otherwise. Lindsay’s life, on the other hand, has become a public narrative. What was interesting about making The Canyons, though, from a producing perspective, wasn’t the will-she-or-won’t-she of working with Lindsay—she did fine work, and you’ll see that on-screen—but the collision of talent and personalities working in a new paradigm.

The Canyons originated when a film I was producing that Bret wrote and Paul Schrader was going to direct, Bait, lost financing weeks before shooting. During the following months, I kept in touch with Schrader, and he e-mailed me suggesting that the DNA of what Bret writes is ideally suited for a minimal budget—beautiful people in rooms behaving badly. He asked whether I would talk to Bret, with whom I have a production company, about trying something smaller in scale. I did, endorsing it strongly. Bret has, contrary to his novelistic persona, a remarkably easy personality—even when it comes to working with industry people. There are only a couple rules: don’t schedule meetings in the A.M., ensure there is privacy in the restaurant bathroom, and don’t mistreat the wait staff. (The last is hardest to control, given the temperament of spoiled film financiers with trust funds.)

The enterprise of The Canyons, the idea of taking control and just doing it ourselves, excited all of us. We decided that Bret would write an original script, keeping budget parameters in mind. He would limit locations, characters, and stunts, while expanding the story beyond the film-fest genre of characters brooding about their romantic lives. The film would not utilize vérité camerawork, though; it would be more formal. Bret would write, Schrader would direct, and I would produce, and we would all split the cost and ownership equally. When the script was finished, both Schrader and I were bullish on it, enlarging our ambitions. That meant raising more money. I suggested Kickstarter, which felt like scary new territory at that point, pre–Veronica Mars, pre–Zach Braff. I didn’t want my community of peers to think we were reduced to jingling a cup of loose coins outside the Salvation Army.

I was unsure how Schrader and Bret would respond to crowd-funding. They had their professional reputations to consider, too, after all. But they were immediately in. Schrader quickly offered up, as a reward, the inscribed money clip DeNiro gave him on the set of Taxi Driver. Bret agreed to slog through unpublished novels and offer donors capsule reviews. One thing Schrader, Bret, and Lindsay have in common: they are not afraid. Our community was born.

I also suggested that we keep our process transparent, even at the price of revealing some aspects of the production that might be clumsy. If people wanted to post photos, let them post photos. I didn’t want to run everything by a million handlers and useless PR execs and people who, as Didion observed, derived their importance from their proximity to someone famous. Schrader hesitated, relying on advice from more traditional peers to keep things under wraps. Bret supported candor, subscribing to the post-empire paradigm he explained in an essay he wrote for the Daily Beast. Eventually I mentioned Emmy Rossum’s Instagram, which featured her frequent postings from the set of Beautiful Creatures, a film directed by Schrader’s colleague Richard Lagravanese. That did the trick. A few weeks later you couldn’t tear Schrader from our Canyons Facebook page. Nurturing a dialogue with your community of followers via social media was critical for a small movie like The Canyons.

As for building the production, it all happened quickly. Let It Cast, an online casting service based in Paris and Los Angeles, was suggested by Mary Vernieu, a casting director whom I use frequently. We ended up hiring an experienced indie crew, locked coveted locations, and bartered for proper production offices. The line producer, Ross Levine, was invaluable in negotiating advantageous deals with vendors. We grew the production from a lo-fi endeavor into a shoot with cranes, steadicam, extensive dolly track, two alexas, and expensive locations that we rarely paid for and that offered aesthetic value. I relentlessly asked favors of everyone I knew, and we were able to shoot at an architectural home in Malibu with panoramic views of the ocean, the Bar Marmont, the Churchill, Century City Mall, and Amoeba Records. The mission was to film a neo-noir thriller with cinematic elements.

The biggest gamble, though, was our lead actors.

There was a profile of James Deen in Good magazine that revealed the unique space he occupies in the adult-film world. His constituency is, primarily, adolescent girls, not the demographic you think of as typical triple x consumers. Deen is polite, self-deprecating, and non-porny. He doesn’t do drugs or drink to excess and seems comfortable in his own skin. His background—dual scientist parents, one of whom worked at the Jet Propulsion lab—is not exactly in sync with our ideas of a porn-star origin story. I shared the article with Bret, and he was immediately intrigued and began tweeting at James. His casting was thus set in motion. On set James was so punctual, prepared, and naturally emotive that after the third day I completely forgot that we were supposed to be stressed about the risks inherent in hiring him for his first mainstream role.

Lindsay was a different story. Her talent was well established, but her problems continually eclipsed it. We thought of her for the role of the yoga instructor later played by Tenille Houston, and I submitted the script to her via her manager, a friend of mine. Lindsay asked to meet, and Schrader and I ventured to the Chateau (again) to discuss the film. We arrived first and ordered a drink. She arrived late, as we were told she would. She wasted no time exhuming from a luxury bag a well-thumbed script, dog-eared and heavily annotated. Lindsay likes making lists. I still have her suggestions of musical artists and songs for the soundtrack, neatly handwritten on a complimentary pad of hotel paper. With mother Dina at the next table (sitting with the gentleman bearing gifts who notably made an appearance in Rodrick’s Times story), Lindsay announced that she wanted to be in the film, but there was a catch. She refused to play the yoga instructor. She would only participate if she was the lead. I loved the idea.

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Francesca Jacobs Ret

Last Updated: 11/27/2022

Views: 6183

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (68 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Francesca Jacobs Ret

Birthday: 1996-12-09

Address: Apt. 141 1406 Mitch Summit, New Teganshire, UT 82655-0699

Phone: +2296092334654

Job: Technology Architect

Hobby: Snowboarding, Scouting, Foreign language learning, Dowsing, Baton twirling, Sculpting, Cabaret

Introduction: My name is Francesca Jacobs Ret, I am a innocent, super, beautiful, charming, lucky, gentle, clever person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.