Paul Schrader calls on his background as a one-time film critic and film scholar when he talks of the travails of his latest film, “The Canyons.” At 67, the screenwriter of “Taxi Driver” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” and writer-director of “American Gigolo” has been through his share of cinematic controversy. But he’s never worked with Lindsay Lohan before.
“There’s a kind of hurricane force to her celebrity,” he discovered. And as tales circulated of how difficult it was to get her on the set, on time and sober enough to make the sexually charged thriller, based on a Bret Easton Ellis script, you could forgive Schrader for quoting Danny Glover’s catch-phrase from the “Lethal Weapon” movies.
“I’m gettin’ too old for this —-.”
“I like to quote John Huston about working with Marilyn Monroe on ‘The Misfits’ (another notoriously difficult star on an infamously difficult film shoot). Every day I wonder why I put myself through all of this. Then I go see dailies.'”
Schrader’s glory years were the ’80s, when “Cat People” and “American Gigolo” were sensations, films of taboo-tackling sex and box office buzz. In more recent decades, he wrote and directed the film that won James Coburn his Oscar (“Affliction,” 1997) and the kinky Bob “Hogan’s Heroes” Crane bio-pic “Auto Focus” (2002). But being over 60 and far removed from a hit, he is, as the New York Times put it, “still begging for coins,” still scrambling to find even the money to get low budget movies made.
Enter Bret Easton Ellis. The “American Psycho/Less Than Zero” novelist, no stranger to erotically charged, controversial material himself, and Schrader teamed up for a no-budget movie aimed at the video-on-demand market. They put in their own cash, raised some funds through the crowd-financing site Kickstarter, landed Lindsay Lohan and porn actor James Deen as their leads and “The Canyons” was born.
A thriller about a manipulative rich film financier (Deen), his one-time actress girlfriend (Lohan) and their infidelities, schemes, lies and crimes in the high-rent district in the hills above L.A.’s canyons, the film was notorious by design and even more notorious by buzz. A New York Times Magazine piece on the movie this past spring detailed Lohan’s poor work habits, Schrader’s outspokenness and stubbornness and the film’s lurid content — an orgy, assorted other group sex situations.
“We created a volatile stew, here,” Schrader says with a laugh. “Lindsay polarizes just about everybody. Bret polarizes the ones that she doesn’t. And the idea that (porn star) James Deen can cross over to mainstream movies (ticks) some people off. Some people. I’m the least polarizing ingredient in this whole stew.
“Was it difficult? I’ve been on films where we ran out of money, shut down, and never started back up again. I’ve had films where the weather ruined everything, or where people got injured.
“When you’re doing a story with high intensity people who are exploring their emotions, you are always going to have an element of melodrama.”
Schrader has been outspoken in talking about his star’s drug problems and reliability issues. Lohan, fresh from her latest stint in rehab, has signed up to guest host on Chelsea Handler’s E! TV show, to sit down with Oprah and to star in a reality documentary series about her rehabilitation. She’s getting a career bounce out of “The Canyons.”
But “The new Lindsay didn’t show up” to make “The Canyons,” Schrader notes. “The old one did.”
The movie isn’t winning the acclaimed writer-director good reviews, but it is doing wonders for Lohan, “who taps a vulnerability beneath her dissolution to remind you why she’s still a movie star.” ( Entertainment Weekly). And Schrader, who has his next film project lined up and can afford to be generous, is happy for her.
“She’s saying and doing all the right things. She’s 27 now, it’s time to step up. But only she can do it.”
As for him, his experiment in micro-budget movie-making is already a financial success, thanks to the movie being picked up by distributor IFC.
“The appeal, here, in making a movie with little money and doing everything through social media, was in landing on Terra Incognita, an unknown shore where you forge your way inland to see what you find.”
Schrader laughs, remembering the scramble for cash, the efforts to attract and then keep his cast “on $100 a day, doing their own hair, makeup and wardrobe,” and get a movie out of them.
“I don’t think it would be as exciting the second time around.”