At 67, filmmaker Paul Schrader is two generations older than the one depicted in “The Canyons,” a thriller-of-sorts about young Hollywoodites written by “American Psycho” novelist Brett Easton Ellis. But his age and his vast, lengthy experience bring something interesting to the film. The screenwriter of “Taxi Driver” and the director of “American Gigolo,” “Cat People” and “Affliction,” he gives a clinical, heavy edge to a film that’s right now best known for its hectic production. A microbudget venture whose funds were raised partly on Kickstarter, it features porn star James Deen and Lindsay Lohan, whose exploits — albeit calm compared to past productions — were memorably captured in a piece by New York Times Magazine.
The opening and closing credits feature shuttered suburban movie houses. It conveys an apocalyptic feeling about the future of film.
In my first email with Brett [Easton Ellis], when I proposed to do something together, I described it as cinema for the post-theatrical era. As I told the cast in our first read-through, this is a movie about 20-somethings in Los Angeles who got in line to see a film and the theater closed. And they had nowhere else to go.
It seems to say cinema, in a sense, is dead.
It’s not that cinema is dead. As they say in the movie, “When was the last time you went to a theater? There are still movies, but the concept of them is being greatly challenged. How long is it? Who do you see it with? How do you see it? What is the difference between a Vimeo clip and a 13-episode cable series? In a way they’re both movies. The need to see a film publicly was never a human need, it was an economic need. We were trying to be the first must-see VOD. One of the reasons I got involved with this was out of damn curiosity, to see if it was possible to do such a thing.
This is a new kind of film for you. Are there new films that were a big influence on this?
One film that influenced me was a film by Xavier Dolan, this wunderkind from Montreal — “Heartbeats.” When I saw that film I realized that in the new language of cinema, you don’t have to have a consistent style. You can do Bertolucci and put him right next to Cassavetes, right next to Sydney Pollack, right next to Michael Haneke. It will come together because that’s how we perceive things now.
How has your collaboration been with Brett?
I personally think this is more Brett than me. And he thinks it’s more me than him. I guess that’s the definition of a good collaboration.
There was some talk in The New York Times Magazine article about how he wasn’t happy with the film. Is that still true, or was it ever?
I think The New York Times was trying to stir up a little something there. There was a phase where Brett was preparing to distance himself from the film, like all artists do. But now that phase is over, and he’s really embraced it.
Was he not happy about casting Lindsay Lohan?
The casting of Lindsay changed the notion of the character. He was initially resistant, but now he realizes it was a good change. The character he had written was more submissive than Lindsay can ever be. She gave the character more muscle than he had written.
There’s a lot of talk about Lohan being difficult. When she’s not running off or showing up with no sleep, what is she like?
She’s a high-maintenance individual, and she lives in a world of crisis. And when there isn’t a crisis, somehow she manages to concoct one. It’s a pins and needles situation, because you’re always involved in some sort of drama. I don’t know if it’s necessary for her to do that, but she does.
How is she now?
She’s in a good place, and she comes out of rehab in another week. She can hold it together if she stays off that damn Adderall.
How was it working with a porn star [James Deen] in the lead?
James has been in front of the camera his whole life, since he was 18 or 19 years old. This guy has more film on him than anybody in Hollywood. He knows his own charisma, he knows his own magic.
Lohan’s reluctance to do the four-way sex scene has gotten a lot of press. How was it for Deen, particularly since he has to get it on with another man?
We had some real pushback from James on that, because he does straight porn. And in porn, actors don’t cross over. He was saying this could hurt his brand. Brett wasn’t exactly the most receptive audience when it came to man-on-man sex.
As a man nearing 70, what did you want to say about youth today?
My generation thought we could change things, make things better. Brett’s generation was about making money. This new generation is the first generation, I think, that doesn’t believe there’s a future. They don't think the world is going to get better for their children. They think it’s going to get worse. And I think they’re right. You have a generation that’s still making money and having sex, but they don’t have a belief system that really works for them. So they make movies and they don’t care about movies, and they hook up and don’t care about it.
Of your films, which is your favorite?
The one that means the most to me is “Light Sleeper.” It’s not necessarily the best, but it’s the most personal. It’s all that yearning that just moves me. “Affliction” is probably the most perfect film I’ve done, in that it was exactly what I set out to do. “Mishima” is the bravest film I’ve done. “The Comfort of Strangers” is the best direction I’ve done. But “Light Sleeper” probably means the most to me.