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Matt Patches

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Patches is a pop culture writer and reporter regularly waxing poetic on the web, TV, and radio. He's lost much of his life to the "best" vs. "favorite" argument.

Director’s Cut: Paul Schrader on ‘The Canyons’

lindsay lohan the canyons

Based on the revealing and much discussed New York Times profile on his latest film, the Kickstarter-financed “The Canyons,” director Paul Schrader and controversial writer Bret Easton Ellis do their fair share of butting heads. But the way Schrader puts it, they also share commonalities: The two are drawn to what Hollywood keeps behind the curtain, primed to stoke fires when no one is asking for them to be stoked and throw caution to the wind when it comes to being themselves in an industry where split-personalities are all the rage. Call it eccentric, but neither Schrader nor Ellis have ever been known to flinch from their visions.

This has kept both at odds with the benefactors who make larger-budgeted movies possible. That’s why, when it came to teaming up for “The Canyons,” the duo latched on to producer Braxton Pope, an equally aggressive voice who knew that all press was good press. Like many of Schrader’s films — he’s the writer of “Taxi Driver” and the director of such bold entires as “Hardcore,” “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” and the little seen “Adam Resurrected” — the core values of “The Canyons” are provocative. He cast Lindsey Lohan and prolific porn star James Deen in the lead roles. He recruited non-union actors to strip down and simulate sex for mere pennies. And in the finished film, he points fingers at Hollywood. Schrader knows why he’s struggled to get all of his movies made: He’ll never be anything but his explorative, crass self. Thank God.

We spoke to Schrader about his road to “The Canyons,” his dystopian perspective of Los Angeles, how pornography drapes across his steamy drama, and even got the lowdown on a potential Criterion Blu-ray release of “Mishima.” The interview, as one might expect, is dripping in personality.

FILM.COM: From an outsider’s perspective, it seems you and Bret have had your fair share of hurdles in Hollywood. Are you kindred spirits in that way?

PAUL SCHRADER: I would say so. I met Bret years ago because he was a fan of ‘American Gigolo.’ I always knew we were in the same page together, but not in the same book.

What are those two pages?

A generation apart. I am from the ‘Let’s Change the World’ generation and he’s from the “Let’s Make Some Money” generation.

“The Canyons” came together quickly after ‘Bait,’ a shark attack movie you and Bret were working on, fell apart. How did that film’s collapsing beget this picture?

I sent Bret an e-mail explaining what had happened with ‘Bait.’ And in this e-mail I say, ‘Enough of this. Let’s just do something ourselves. The economics are right. You write it, I’ll direct it, we’ll pay for it, and we’ll make cinema for the post-theatrical era.” He responded to that. It was always conceived as a VOD film from moment one. He wrote the script very quickly, which leads me to believe it was an idea he probably had already, unsuccessfully. I said, ‘Let’s do something from one of your books.’ And he said, ‘All my books are optioned.’ Then he came up with this.

Did you end up working on the script at all?

Not much. There were a few credibility things I had to fix. He’s not that big on credibility.

What does that mean exactly?

You say, ‘Oh, this could never happen that way.’ And he says, ‘Who cares?’ Then I added the thing about the theaters.

I find those moments in the movie especially intriguing. How did you know Bret’s script could support this underlying commentary about the death of the theatrical experience?

When I had my first table read with the cast, I said to them, ‘This is the story of some 20-something Angelenos who got in line to see a movie, but the theater closed. But they stayed in line because they had nowhere else to go.’ That’s how I felt about these characters. They were making movies and didn’t care about making movies. They were hooking up and didn’t seem to care much about that either. The idea of the ghost of the multiplex, wandering the mall after the theater closed, it started to become an image in my mind.

paul schrader lindsay lohan the canyons

Have you come across many people in your line of work like the characters you’re describing? People who make movies, but lack a passion for them?

This is a terrific time for filmmaking. There are so many good filmmakers. The ergonomics have exploded. On the other hand, it’s so hard to get revenue. It’s a push pull situation.

Lindsey screen-tested for the movie and that’s how you cast her. Had you ever seen any of her previous work?

Most of the stuff she had done was rom-coms. I felt like she could step up. She had no moved on to the Ann Margaret phase of her career. It was time for her to play one of these tough broads.

The goal of “The Canyons” from the beginning was total transparency. There was the Kickstarter, Facebook updating, the New York Times profile — anyone with an ear to the ground knew about the film’s production. Does that transparency work its way into the film? Are the real lives and histories of Lindsay and James Deen inherently part of their work in the movie?

It overlaps. Bret wrote this character without thinking of Lindsey, so it’s not like it was designed for her. She responded to it. I didn’t press her too much on it, but I imagine there were many points of intersection between the character and her own life.

Was there a visual cue for this movie that influenced all of your choices?

It all had to do with that house. When we got that house — we got it for free and we got it through Kickstarter — as soon as I walked in, I saw how the movie would look. We spent the first eight days there. There’s not a bad angle in that house. At least, I couldn’t find one, though I’m sure there are directors who could. As soon as I started working in that house, I said to myself, ‘I’m making ‘Gigolo” again.

How does that define your aesthetic?

The rhythm of musical walking and driving and sitting down and talking. Back and forth and in and out of that rhythm. Along with a clean palette. The opposite of ‘Only God Forgives.’ No gels!

I’m guessing you just saw ‘Only God Forgives.’

Yeah, I’m friends with Nic Refn. He was going to do a script of mine ['The Dying Of The Light'] several years ago. He was going to do it with Harrison Ford. It fell out because he and Ford tangled. That’s when I got to know him. It’s going to happen, but I’m going to do it.

Does porn inform the look and style of ‘The Canyons’?

It informs the characters. This is a post-porn generation. These are people who have grown up with constant access to pornography. That’s a generational change and it’s a big one. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is.

Do you find it easy to relate and explore a generation you’re not part of?

I have never been interested in period films. I’m always interested in what’s happening now. So, of course, you’re following everything.

So how much porn did you watch before shooting the movie?

[Laughs] What’s the cutoff point….

I know Steven Soderbergh saw ‘The Canyons’ and offered to do an edit of the film. Why did you turn him down?

Steven thought it was too cutty. He wanted to hold on these certain shots longer. He didn’t understand, of course, that I was very limited in what I had at my disposal in terms of these performances. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t have improved it by holding on certain angles longer. The performances came apart. He just offered this as a friend, and I knew it couldn’t work.

It ended up in the New York Times because I was in Toronto doing the music and I had told this to my producer as an anecdote. But then he called me up and said, ‘We think this is a good idea.’ And I blew up on the phone [laughs]. ‘What do you mean it’s a good idea for another director to take over my film!? Don’t you know how insulting that is?’ So I was more angry at Braxton than Soderbergh. But the guy from the Times was sitting right there and heard the whole phone call.

One of the Kickstarter rewards was you providing script coverage for a few people. That sounds somewhat nightmarish. Have you done that yet?

I haven’t. I know Bret has to read five books though [laughs].

We’re big fans of ‘Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.’ Is there any chance of Criterion releasing the film on Blu-ray in the near future?

Yeah, it’s on the list. Because it changes the packaging, they’re waiting for the old packaging to sell out.

Is ‘Bait’ a project that could still happen? Do you have a passion for a shark attack movie?

No, no, no. It all turned out for the best. ‘Bait’ would have been a disaster, trying to make a shark movie without any money. We got lucky on this one. We’re out of the woods already, financially. I feel like I went into a casino and put everything on red and it came up red. If I had any brains, I would get the heck out of the casino.

“The Canyons” arrives on VOD and at the IFC Center on Friday, August 2nd.


Categories: Interviews

Tags: Director's cut, Interview, James Deen, Lindsay lohan, Matt Patches, Paul Schrader, The Canyons