On the set of "The Canyons" in Los Angeles last summer: Amanda Brooks, Lindsay Lohan and Paul Schrader.
Lindsay Lohan moves through the Chateau Marmont as if she owns the place, but in a debtor-prison kind of way. She'll soon owe the hotel $46,000. Heads turn subtly as she slinks toward a table to meet a young producer and an old director. The actress's mother, Dina Lohan, sits at the next table. Mom sweeps blond hair behind her ear and tries to eavesdrop. A few tables away, a distinguished-looking middle-aged man patiently waits for the actress. He has a stack of presents for her.
Paul Schrader and Lindsay Lohan on the set of "The Canyons."
The screenwriter: Bret Easton Ellis.
The leading man: James Deen.
The producer: Braxton Pope.
The cameo: Gus Van Sant.
Schrader with Robert DeNiro in Italy in 1975, the year before "Taxi Driver."
Lohan sits down, smiles and skips the small talk.
"Hi, how are you? I won't play Cynthia. I want to play Tara, the lead." Braxton Pope and Paul Schrader nod happily. They'd been tipped off by her agent that this was how it was going to go. They tell her that sounds like a great idea.
Schrader thinks she's perfect for the role. Not everyone agrees. Schrader wrote "Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver" and has directed 17 films. Still, some fear Lohan will end him. There have been house arrests, car crashes and ingested white powders. His own daughter begs him not to use her. A casting-director friend stops their conversation whenever he mentions her name. And then there's the film's explicit subject matter. Full nudity and lots of sex. Definitely NC-17. His wife, the actress Mary Beth Hurt, didn't even finish the script, dismissing it as pornography after 50 pages. She couldn't understand why he wanted it so badly.
But Schrader was running out of chances. His last major opportunity was about a decade ago, when he was picked to direct a reboot of "The Exorcist." He told an interviewer, "If I don't completely screw that up, it might be possible for me to end my career standing on my own feet rather than groveling for coins." A few months later, he was replaced by the blockbuster director Renny Harlin, who reshot the film. Renny Harlin! Schrader is now 65 and still begging for coins.
Pope, dressed in a checked shirt and skinny tie, looks like a producer. His fingers are constantly, frantically, scanning his iPhone. In the fall of 2011, he connected Schrader with Bret Easton Ellis, whose grisly satires brought him early notoriety and who had lately turned to screenwriting. The three were set to make "Bait," a shark thriller, based on a screenplay Ellis wrote, but the Spanish financing vaporized. Schrader suggested they do something on the cheap that didn't look cheap. Pope worked his connections with Lohan's agent, and that's why she is sitting here on this spring day.
Ellis is noticeably absent, holed up less than a mile away waging one of his frequent Twitter wars. (He has mounted social-media jihads against David Foster Wallace, J. D. Salinger and Kathryn Bigelow.) He thinks Lohan is wrong for the part, especially if she's cast opposite the porn star he courted online. But he spent all his capital getting his man cast. Also, his condo is under water. Ellis will give in.
Schrader, Pope and Lohan talk details. The film, "The Canyons," has a microbudget, maybe $250,000. Ellis, Pope and Schrader are putting up $30,000 apiece. The rest will be raised on Kickstarter with promises of cameos, script reviews and — for the low, low price of $10,000 — the money clip that Robert DeNiro gave Schrader on the set of "Taxi Driver." There will be no studio looking over their shoulders offering idiot notes. The actress will get $100 a day and an equal share of the profits, but no vote in decision-making. This last clause is nonnegotiable.
Schrader goes over some ground rules; no trailers on set and one contractually obligated, four-way sex scene. Oh, another thing, Schrader adds: he will not try to sleep with her. This was probably a more relevant point in 1982, but no matter. Lohan stands up and says goodbye, telling everyone how excited she is to be working with them. She leaves the restaurant, followed by her mother and the mysterious man with the presents.
Back at the table, Pope straightens his tie and exhales. He turns to Schrader and asks a simple question.
"What do you think?"
Schrader knows he should be terrified, but he's as giddy as the son of dour Calvinists can be.
"I think this is going to work."
If Schrader wasn't worried about Lohan's reputation, it might be because he is familiar with dysfunction. As a boy, his mother showed him what hell felt like by shoving a needle into his thumb. His father lobbied to prevent "The Last Temptation of Christ," a film his son wrote, from playing in their hometown, Grand Rapids, Mich. After his father died, Schrader found that he owned VHS tapes of all of his films, but none of them had been opened. In his 20s, Schrader slept with a gun under his pillow because he could fall asleep only if he knew there was a way out. Now he never travels without thousands of dollars in the currency of half a dozen countries.
Schrader is convinced he can manage Lohan. He thinks he has seen it all. Thirty years ago, he directed an alcoholic George C. Scott in "Hardcore." One day, Scott wouldn't come out of his trailer. He called Schrader into his booze-soaked sanctuary.
"You're a great screenwriter but the world's worst goddamned director," Scott said. "Promise me you'll never direct another movie, and I'll come out." Schrader dropped to his knees and promised. A few weeks later, Scott read in the trades that Schrader was going to direct "American Gigolo." Next time he saw Schrader, he bellowed, "You're a liar."
It was true, Schrader had broken his promise, but this was Hollywood. Manipulating someone like Scott — or Lohan — was his vocation. Still, it wouldn't be easy. At their second meeting, Lohan complained to Schrader about a biopic she was shooting for Lifetime, in which she played Elizabeth Taylor, one of her role models. She proclaimed the director a jerk, her co-star a nightmare and the crew unfriendly. On it went. Schrader listened for a while. He looked stricken. He softly tapped his balding head on the table. Lohan asked him what was the matter.
"That's going to be me in two months. You're going to turn on me."
The actress touched his arm softly. "C'mon, Paul. That won't happen."
He chose to believe her. That summer, he developed a pet line to steel the less brave.
"We don't have to save her," Schrader said. "We just have to get her through three weeks in July."
A month later, Schrader would be standing naked in a Malibu bedroom, missing his dogs and trying to coax Lohan out of her robe.
Turns out three weeks can be a very long time.
I first metSchrader in 2009 while he was trying to get a combined Bollywood-Hollywood thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio made. "This is the future of filmmaking," Schrader told me over lunch in Manhattan. "Global financing. The American market is tapped out."
But the Indian money dried up, and DiCaprio lost interest. The film slipped away. By 2011, Schrader, who built his career on making movies about dark loners, was convinced that traditional financing for the films he liked to make was gone forever, along with the audience willing to drive five miles and pay $12 to watch them in a drafty art house. Well, the audience was still there, but they were at home. He thought his future lay in pictures that would not only play indie theaters but also be available on video-on-demand the same day. Recent movies like "Bachelorette," with Kirsten Dunst, and "Arbitrage," a Richard Gere thriller, made a comfortable profit that way. Schrader hoped to follow that model, but on a skimpier budget. He wrote his two partners a manifesto of sorts last January:
"The script has to be multicharactered, relationship-based, full of sharp dialogue, set in contemporary locations and have a certain outré value. . . . Cinema for the posttheatrical era. . . . We could attract interesting actors and create a profile for the film via social media. It would be something that we own."
Like Schrader, Ellis was at a crossroads. After his early successes, "Less Than Zero" and "American Psycho," Ellis's books hadn't sold as well, and tired of the novel as an art form, he moved to L.A., looking to break into movies. But nothing had gone into production recently, and he was itching to get something made. He went to work on the script while Pope strategized.
Schrader could talk a good game, but it was Pope who would have to implement the plan. Pope suggested making "The Canyons" the most open film ever. There would be daily Facebook updates, and the cast would be made up entirely of actors selected from audition tapes sent to the movie's Web site. Pope argued that this populist approach could be applied to financing as well. He explained Kickstarter to Schrader: all they had to do was come up with some good prizes, and kids of all ages would pledge money online to be associated with artist outlaws like Schrader and Ellis. Soon, the film was offering donors a Schrader script-critique for $5,001 and a week working out with Ellis and his trainer for $3,000. In a month, they raised more than $150,000.
Ellis cranked out a first draft in six weeks. He had recently become fascinated with James Deen, a 26-year-old known as the Porn Star Next Door. Deen, whose real name is Bryan Matthew Seville, is the Jewish son of Pasadena rocket scientists — really. His 4,000 films have gained him a cult of female fans because he is well endowed and sensitive. But Ellis didn't see Deen as harmless. He wrote the script with Deen in his head for the role of Christian, a classic Ellis sociopathic trust-funder, convinced there "was a devil behind the Jewish boy-next-door cute guy."
Ellis's Christian liked to bring men and women to his Malibu mansion for sex with Tara, his emotionally and economically dependent girlfriend. Christian and Tara would be caught in a sordid triangle with Ryan, a not-bright but cunning pretty-boy actor. There would be sex and a murder and more sex.
Ellis and Deen exchanged flirty tweets as he wrote and the two met for dinner at Soho House in Los Angeles. Afterward, Ellis was even more convinced that Deen was perfect for Christian. Schrader had his doubts, concerned about trying to break bad habits learned over thousands of porn movies. Ellis countered that the other actors read the part with a certain campiness; only Deen read it with the correct malevolence. Eventually, Schrader showed tapes of the three finalists to his wife at their upstate New York home. Hurt told her husband that Deen was the one.
Around the same time, Pope reached out to Lohan. Ellis was skeptical, afraid of the melodrama Lohan would bring to the project. But Pope and Schrader reminded Ellis of what he said in an essay for The Daily Beast the previous year: "Do [Americans] really want manners? Civility? Empire courtesy? No. They want reality, no matter how crazy the celeb who brings it on has become."
Ellis was riffing on Charlie Sheen, but it could have been Lohan. The first child of a drug-abusing, felonious stock trader and a failed dancer, Lohan survived her Long Island childhood, moved to Hollywood and became America's newest sweetheart with winning turns in "The Parent Trap" and "Mean Girls." She cut an album that went platinum. In 2006, she was the best thing in Robert Altman's "Prairie Home Companion." The future was hers to write.
Then — as the voice-over in an "E! True Hollywood Story" would put it — it all fell apart. Big-budget films need insurance in case an actress dies or becomes incapacitated and can't go on with a role. Lohan's misadventures made her uninsurable, her work dried up and she settled in as a generation's snarky punch line.
But Pope thought the talent was still there. (She would make it through "Liz and Dick," a Lifetime movie, with the paramedics having to be called only once during the shoot. This was progress.) Besides, "The Canyons" was so low-budget that they didn't need insurance. If she disappeared, Pope, Ellis and Schrader would simply lose their stake.
Lohan helped her cause by agreeing to a screen test. You could see playing Tara wouldn't be a stretch for her. The large green eyes that read cute a decade ago now conveyed cornered desperation. Of course, casting two known quantities blew up the anyone-can-win, D.I.Y. ethos of the project, but nobody asked for his money back.
A few months after the Chateau Marmont meeting, the cast gathered at Prettybird studios in Culver City for the first read-through of the script. At the head of the table was Schrader, with Ellis to his left. Pope sat at the far end. The actors filtered in and took their seats. There was just one missing: Lohan.
Schrader welcomed everyone and then opened with: "Lindsay said she couldn't make it today, and I told her that was fine, but I have an actress in Paris waiting by the phone." He paused, and the room tittered. "She's on her way."
Killing time, Deen kept looking at his phone. Meanwhile, Nolan Funk — a pompadoured Canadian cast to play the weak link in the film's love triangle — scrunched his brow and read the script quietly to himself. About 20 minutes later, Lohan arrived with a tiny assistant in tow. She smiled nervously and took her seat, adjusting her floral peasant shirt, rattling her bangles.
Schrader gave her an impatient paternal look and then started talking about the film. But Ellis and Funk were distracted. Across the table, Funk could see that his name had been crossed out in Lohan's script and underneath were the names of three or four actors as possible replacements. Ellis saw that Deen's name also had a line through it.
Lohan's private doubts did not diminish her public enthusiasm. She had a thousand thoughts on Tara. Schrader mentioned the character was a failed actress.
"Rejection for an actress is formative."
Lohan snorted a laugh.
"Well, it's nothing like going to jail, I can tell you that."
The usually poker-faced Ellis cracked a wry smile.
"Well, that's also formative."
Schrader mentioned that he was still trying to cast a psychiatrist, a small but pivotal role.
"I called Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe. They're not available. So, any ideas?"
Lohan squealed and said, "How about Jared?"
Schrader nodded approvingly.
"No, Jared Leto."
Pope grimaced. (Schrader eventually cast Gus Van Sant.)
Around 3, Schrader said that was enough for the day. Lohan bolted out of her chair and headed outside for a smoke. She was quite pale, her skin not on speaking terms with daylight. But she was excited to be working.
"I've missed this so much," she said between puffs. Her voice was a nicotine-soaked rasp. "I'm in a good place now. I mean it's Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader! It's a dream. When it's done, I want to go somewhere far away, maybe Africa. Uganda? But right now all I want to do is work, work."
Lohan oozed adrenaline and chattered on with a self-lacerating sense of humor. (She owns coasters that say, "I used to worry, but now I have a pill for that.") She talked of a recent photo shoot where she was asked to wear stripes. She shifted into her best Joan Rivers imitation.
"I said, 'Hello, stripes after jail, so not a good idea!' "
A few minutes later, she said goodbye and hobbled in heels toward her rented Porsche.
Then she disappeared for a few days.
Filming was scheduled to start in less than a week, so Schrader arranged for Deen and Lohan to meet him at Prettybird to map out the movie's sex scenes. Lohan canceled the first day but promised she'd be there the next morning, a Sunday. She never showed. Schrader and Pope texted and left messages on her phone. There was no answer. Schrader thought about what he should do. Right now, he had the upper hand; there really was an actress waiting in Paris. But once they started shooting, he'd lose the power. Lohan could hold the entire production hostage. So he fired her.
He went back to his room at the Orlando Hotel in Beverly Hills and left it to Pope to deliver the bad news. Pope finally reached Lohan, telling her she was done. Lohan began to cry and begged for another chance. Pope told her that Schrader had made up his mind.
Lohan headed for the Orlando. She pounded on doors until she found Schrader's room. As she banged on his door, she texted him manically. Schrader could hear her crying but wouldn't let her in. He texted her instead.
"Lindsay, go home."
The hotel manager rang up to ask if he should call the cops. Schrader told him no and sat down on his bed. Lohan stayed out in the hall sobbing for another 90 minutes before she finally left.
Eventually, the director called Pope and asked him to gather everyone at Prettybird to watch Lohan's and the French actress's screen tests again. Everyone agreed that Lohan was exponentially better. Schrader decided he'd give her one more chance.
Some in the production thought this was Schrader's endgame all along: a strategy to get her back in line. That night, Pope, Lohan and Schrader met at the Churchill, a bar at the Orlando. A waiter brought them drinks — coffee for Lohan, a Manhattan for Schrader, a vodka soda for Pope. A pall settled over the table. Finally, Schrader picked up his glass.
"I need a drink!"
Lohan laughed and wiped tears from her eyes. She explained that she missed the meeting at Prettybird because she had been discussing the script with Nolan Funk until 3 a.m. and then took a sleeping pill. Schrader laid down the law: one more meltdown, and she was gone. If she thought she was unhirable now, wait until he threw her off a microbudget.
Schrader thought Lohan's weakness wasn't drugs — although he counseled her on the math of when to take sleep aids — but fear of being alone. She needed people and chaos around her 24/7. The idea of being by herself scared the hell out of her.
The next day, Lohan arrived relatively on time for a makeup test. She sat behind a table with a can of Sprite, looked into the camera and flashed a wholesome smile that would not have been out of place in the world's best soda commercial. Schrader grabbed my arm and pointed at Lohan's image.
"See? That's why we put up with all the crap. You can shoot bad movies with actresses who are always on time. But look! The rest is just noise."
But there was always noise. A few days later, filming started at 3 a.m. at the plush bar attached to the Chateau Marmont, which Pope had scored free. It wasn't an easy first day. The scene was the opening six minutes of the movie, and there was too much exposition and not enough action. But Pope had another concern.
"Her makeup looks like it's from a different movie."
It was true; Lohan's visage had a Kabuki quality to it. She had chosen to wear layers of mascara and catlike eye makeup with black lines pointing out toward her ears. Before the shoot, Pope showed Lohan Polaroids of her looking beautiful with minimal makeup.
"Look, our interest is in making you look great," Pope told her. "You look beautiful with just a little makeup."
But Lohan was trying to put her pixieish Disney days behind her and thought the Courtney Love approach made her look hip.
Pope let it go. There were only so many battles you could fight.
The trick of "The Canyons" was to make a $250,000 movie look like a $10 million movie. Fortunately, Schrader's reputation inspired the kinds of donations someone straight out of film school was unlikely to get. One Kickstarter donor gave $10,000 to the production and another $10,000 to a designer so that Schrader could use his beautiful house in the Malibu hills for filming. It was a significant break; the house was a stately pleasure dome with giant picture windows, a stairway leading to a pool and a sweeping view to the sea.
It quickly became the most dependable player in the film after James Deen. On the first day of shooting in Malibu, Deen aw-shucked his way around the predominantly male crew. He wasn't a big man; maybe 5-8 and 150 pounds, but they regarded him with wonder. At lunch, a crew member asked the question on everyone's mind.
"Man, how many women have you had sex with?"
Deen just laughed and sheepishly scratched his head.
"Dude, I have no idea. Seriously."
Deen has worked in all aspects of porn: producing, directing and acting. As a teenager, he learned to be comfortable performing for a crowd by "getting freaky" with a girl in front of his friends before moving into another room, as a way of getting comfortable with having sex in public. Once he began working, he took pride in being professional: he was never late, and his behavior was always fastidious. (He could be seen on set making sure the garbage bags were correctly hugging the trash-can lids.) But there was a certain loneliness about him. He told me that his lawyer, a bearded Gandalfian figure, was one of his best friends. On the "Canyons" set, he was the sole cast member who never had pals stop by.
Only Lohan had a visitor on that first Malibu day. It was Steve Honig, her publicist, a stubby, bald man in a denim shirt. He told Schrader having a reporter on set was unacceptable. Schrader told Honig that he understood and that if he wanted to pull Lohan from the movie, he should do so. Honig backed down. Honig and I talked for a few minutes while the crew waited for the marine layer to lift.
"I don't want this to be all about Lindsay being late," Honig said. "Actresses are always late. Julia Roberts is late."
A few hours later, the production broke for lunch. Lohan announced she wanted to grab a bite somewhere on the Pacific Coast Highway. This concerned Pope and Schrader — they could monitor her only as long as they could see her — so they dispatched the co-producer, Ricky Horne Jr., to chauffeur Honig, Lohan and her assistants to wherever they wanted to go.
Horne drove them down the hill, pausing at a security gate. That's when his passengers did a jailbreak, jumping out of his car. Honig frantically pushed buttons until the gate opened and the four of them dashed for Lohan's assistant's car. Horne sat, baffled for a moment, before heading back up the hill and briefing Schrader. The director was furious.
"O.K., she's lost the privilege of leaving for lunch. She stays here."
Lohan returned, only 15 minutes late, emerging from makeup to an angry Schrader. They spent much of the afternoon arguing about continuity.
"Lindsay, you held the cigarette up in the last take, now you have it down. Let's do it again."
Lohan sighed. Now that shooting had begun, she had the power.
"Sorry, Paul, I guess you'll have to fire me again."
By midweek, Schrader and Lohan were locked in battle. One afternoon, he shot some of the lead-up to the movie's pivotal sex scene. Lohan wasn't happy.
"I hope you got my triple chin on that one," Lohan said to no one directly. "That shot was hideous."
Later that afternoon, it was time to rehearse a fight scene in which Christian physically confronts Tara over infidelity. Schrader tried to describe to Deen how he wanted him to throw Lohan to the ground. Deen nodded and went through the scene at half-speed. (It was a constant friction point between the two actors, Deen conserving his energy and Lohan demanding full effort in rehearsals.) After a while, Schrader cut in to show Deen what he wanted, lightly moving Lohan and turning her toward the floor.
"James, you see that?"
Deen nodded, but Schrader wasn't convinced. So he grabbed Lohan, tripped her over his left leg and body-slammed her to the floor. Lohan screamed, and the crew gasped. But she bounced up with a smile.
"That was great! Want to do it again?"
Schrader said it wouldn't be necessary. The next morning they filmed the scene for real. Deen came to life; throwing the negligée-wearing Lohan hard to the ground and pounding his fist into a wall with such fury I wondered if he had broken his hand. Lohan lay slumped on the floor, her hands guarding her face, shoulders shaking, tears pouring down her cheeks. Between takes, she listened to Ryan Adams's cover of "Wonderwall." After three shots, Schrader said he was satisfied, and Lohan fumbled for a cigarette. She headed downstairs, and someone complimented her work.
"Well, I've got a lot of experience with that from my dad."
She didn't elaborate, and no one asked.
The next night, the "Canyons" crew was cut to a minimum. It was time to film the four-way. The scene comes at a crucial moment in the movie, when the usually passive Tara turns the tables on Christian and forces him out of his sexual comfort zone. Filmed incorrectly, the scene might win a Razzie. Get it right, and the rest of the film would click into place.
Pope found two porn actors to play the other participants. The woman walked through rehearsal completely naked, bragging that she refused to conform to porn's norms and shave her pubic hair. Lohan freaked out.
"God, I so don't need to hear about that."
She retreated to a walk-in closet a few feet from the bed where the scene would be shot. Lohan had just fired her assistant and was now holed up with an old friend named Gavin. Schrader waited a half-hour and then went to see if Lohan was ready to shoot. Gavin explained that Lohan was uneasy working with porn stars and actually, truth be told, was uneasy working with Deen.
Schrader lost it.
"The thing that's going to explode from this film is James Deen!"
Lohan screamed from the back of the closet.
"That's what I'm afraid of!"
Schrader stalked away. He waited another hour. He went back to talk to Lohan again, this time as bad cop. Gavin wouldn't let him all the way in, so he yelled through the door.
"You signed the contract. You knew this was coming!"
Another hour passed, and Lohan eventually moved to the bed but wouldn't remove her robe. Schrader worried that the early-morning sunlight would begin streaming through the house. He thought of sending everyone home. But then he realized that there was one thing he hadn't yet tried. He stripped off all of his clothes. Naked, he walked toward Lohan.
"Lins, I want you to be comfortable. C'mon, let's do this."
Pope heard the scream and ran up from downstairs. He turned a corner, and there was a naked Schrader. Pope let out a "whoa" and slowly backed out of the room.
But then a funny thing happened. Lohan dropped her robe. Schrader shouted action, and they filmed the scene in one 14-minute take. About halfway through, Lohan looked directly into the camera and flashed a dirty, demented smile at Schrader. He smiled back.
A few minutes later, Schrader yelled cut. The crew packed up. Pope went to check on Lohan. He noticed that she and Gavin had been drinking, which was understandable for a young woman shooting a sex scene with three porn stars. Quietly, Pope told Lohan that he could get her a driver to take her home. But she refused, jumped into her Porsche and headed down the dark, narrow road toward the P.C.H. They all hoped they would still have a lead actress in the morning.
The next evening, around 6 p.m., Lohan barreled back up the hill. It was the last day the production had the Malibu house, and there were still two essential scenes left. The first one was the movie's emotional payoff: Tara leaving Christian and Christian letting her go in exchange for a lethal favor.
The scene was to be shot at "magic hour," the hour before sunset, and as usual, Lohan was running late. It had been an endless week of switching day for night, and everyone was on edge, including Deen. He had reached his limit with Lohan. During rehearsal, Deen and Schrader argued loudly over how Deen was playing the scene. After Deen remarked for the fourth time that he disagreed with how the scene unfolded, Schrader screamed at him. "James [expletive ]Deen, play the scene as I goddamn tell you."
The two stepped outside and talked for a minute and came back in with sheepish grins. (Later Deen told me, "We yelled at each other because we couldn't yell at the person we both wanted to yell at.") Lohan shook her head disapprovingly at Deen.
"That's unprofessional to treat your director like that. Just very disrespectful."
The light faded while Lohan gave a running commentary on how the scene should be played, which happened to be the exact opposite of what Schrader wanted. She finally stopped talking and turned to the director.
"Paul, how do you want to play this?"
"I was hoping to direct the scene, but it's apparent that you're not going to let me. Let's skip it. It's too late, the light is lost."
Pope rushed in and put his arm on Schrader's shoulder.
"Let's give it a shot."
Miraculously, the cameras rolled, and all the tension, all the ego, all the incoherence exploded into the film's most riveting scene: Deen, cold and evil; Lohan, vulnerable and afraid.
All that remained was to get a close-up of Deen touching Lohan's face with a blood-streaked finger. Only half of Lohan's face would be in the shot. Most actresses would pop in some Visine to well their eyes with tears and be done with it. Instead, Lohan went back to her room, and everyone waited.
I was standing by her door, and soon I could hear her crying. It began quietly, almost a whimper, but rose to a guttural howl. It was the sobbing of a child lost in the woods.
She came out of her room, and I watched the shot on a monitor. Now, without the garish makeup, Lohan looked sadly beautiful, and it was easy to see why men like Schrader were willing to put their lives in her hands. The camera rolled, and Deen moved in slowly to touch her face. Then Schrader cursed.
"That blood looks completely fake. It's supposed to look hours old, and it looks fresh. We'll have to fix it in post. We're done."
After dinner, Lohan emerged changed — wobbly and happy, a playful smile on her face. Schrader tried to talk her through the next scene — a confrontation with Christian over his possibly criminal behavior — but she kept stumbling and giggling, missing her mark by a wide margin. Schrader told everyone to take 15 minutes. He turned to me and shrugged. "If she wants to treat this like 'The Real Housewives' of Beverly Hills, I'll shoot it like 'The Real Housewives.' "
Schrader told the crew they'd shoot the rest of the scene with hand-held cameras. That way, wherever Lohan was standing would be her mark. As equipment was reset, Lohan retreated to the patio for a smoke. She still had her mike on, so anyone wearing headphones could hear her.
"I've got one assistant passed out at my house and the other one in the Palisades saying he wants to hang himself. Life's great."
She exhaled, stubbed out her cigarette and came back inside. Schrader shot the scene for another hour, cursing under his breath as Lohan eye-rolled him from the staircase.
Lohan asked for a quick makeup break and retreated to her room. Schrader popped in for a word and then came out with a mischievous look on his face.
"Do you know that iPhone app that makes explosions?"
He held up the phone and showed me some footage he'd just shot of Lohan having her makeup redone. Then he pushed a button, and a Bruckheimer-quality explosion blew his star into a million tiny pieces.
Schrader smiled for the first time all night. He started talking about "The Misfits," a 1961 film written by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston. The film featured the final performances of both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. The shoot was torturous, 50 days morphing into 90, with Monroe spending a week in the hospital during filming.
"We're making 'The Misfits' on a microbudget," Schrader joked. He scratched his head and arched his eyebrows. "But here's the thing: 'The Misfits' is actually a great film."
Schrader was getting cocky. For all his disputes with Lohan, filming was on schedule; Lohan hadn't missed any days.
"We're getting close to the point where if she disappeared, we still have a movie," Schrader told me one weekend midshoot. "Just one more full day, and we're good."
That's when things started to get really weird. Lady Gaga was now staying at the Chateau, and that wasn't great news for "The Canyons." Lohan missed her morning call, and then she left the shoot for lunch with friends, running up a $600 tab on sushi, sake and vodka.
"I don't think she gets it," Pope said. "Six hundred dollars is huge on this movie. That's six guys' pay for the day."
The next morning, Lohan was scheduled to shoot at Café Med, a West Hollywood restaurant. But when I arrived, Pope was on the verge of panic.
"Lindsay was out with Lady Gaga till 5:30 a.m. Her call was 6 a.m."
By 9 a.m., Lohan was lying down in a Café Med booth with her hands over her eyes shading them from imaginary sunlight. The production had the restaurant only until 11. Schrader paced, breathing heavily.
A doctor arrived and took Lohan's blood pressure. He walked over to Pope and Schrader. His diagnosis: An inner-ear infection. She was done for the day. Schrader didn't buy it.
"That's her doctor, he'll say whatever she wants. I shot one day from a stretcher. She could do it, but she doesn't want to."
Pope and Schrader huddled with the production crew and thought of scenes they could shoot that day as a substitute. "What do we have left for James?" Schrader asked
There was awkward silence before a producer chimed in.
"Uh, I was driving by Burbank airport yesterday and I saw James pulling into the airport."
A call was placed. Deen admitted he was not in Los Angeles.
"Goddamn it," Schrader said. "He agreed not to shoot porn during the shoot. Now he's out of town making porn. I told him things could change; he had to stay in town. Now a whole day is wasted."
The crew moved on to other scenes while Lohan recuperated from the Lady Gaga flu. The stress of the shoot was wearing on everyone; the crew hadn't been paid in a week. Pope, hoping to buck up morale, suggested raffling off two Samsung tablets used in the film. Schrader — whom the crew nicknamed the dyspeptic Lorax — wasn't onboard.
"I don't have a tablet. I'd like one of them."
The next morning, everyone reconvened at Café Med. Lohan was almost on time. A TMZ tour bus drove by, the passengers waving and snapping pictures. During a camera change, I talked to Lohan as she smoked a cigarette in the parking lot. It was just dawning on her that the film was almost over. She seemed genuinely heartbroken.
"I needed time to figure out all the crap in my life that I'd created for myself, essentially, and I kind of realized, What am I doing? I like doing this. I like being here. This makes me happy. There was a line in the 'Elizabeth' movie where she says, 'I'm so bored, I've never been taught what to do when I'm not working,' and I'm kind of figuring that out now."
Lohan wore a floppy hat to protect her skin from the sun and halfheartedly waved to two photographers snapping from a hill 20 yards away. I reminded her that she said she wanted to go to Africa after the shoot was over. Was she still going? She shook her head; she'd changed her mind.
"I don't want to take a while off, I want to keep working. There's some other scripts, and I eventually want to direct, so maybe when I'm not filming, I can be directing something because I learned so much from the people that I worked with."
I mentioned the scene at the house where she dissolved into tears. I may have said that she still had a gift and that it shouldn't be squandered. Lohan's eyes filled.
"I know. I'm trying. I'm really trying."
But then she shook her head.
"I can't cry. I've got makeup on."
There was just one last shot. The film's producers negotiated a deal with the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica for the use of a suite where they could get ready for the scene. It was going to be a tricky one; the script called for Lohan to be followed by a stalker as she shopped at the Santa Monica Promenade. The only problem was that the mall wanted $10,000 for permission to shoot, and "The Canyons" didn't have it. So they went with a risky move: filming one of America's most recognizable faces walking through a crowded mall with hand-held cameras.
Schrader was already scouting the location by the time Lohan arrived at the suite with her entourage. She smiled and waved to everyone and then noticed a magazine with Oliver Stone on the cover. She picked it up and ripped it into pieces, cursing. (Lohan had been considered for a role in Stone's "Savages," but the director eventually passed.) She then went into the bedroom, calling out, "Does anyone want a beer?" Then she popped back out.
"The minibar is empty. Now that's interesting!"
Over at the mall, Schrader paced nervously. "We need to get three shots, and we're not going to get a second chance." He was worried about attracting the attention of mall security. An hour later, Lohan arrived in her black Porsche trailed by four or five paparazzi. Schrader threw up his hands and said, "That's it."
Lohan told him, politely, to shut up.
"Paul, we can do this."
She climbed out of her car and turned to the photographers.
"I'll make a deal with you. I'll give you a good shot, but then you have to go." Lohan turned to her good side and hiked her floor-length skirt up to show a little leg.
"O.K., five, four, three, two, one. Now you have to go."
The photographers backed away. Lohan walked into the mall, and Schrader started shooting. But they were quickly apprehended by the matronly head of mall security.
"You have to stop."
Lohan flashed an innocent smile.
"He's just taking stills. I promise."
The matron snorted.
"You were wearing the same outfit when you were filming upstairs at Sonoma Wine Garden last week. You have to stop."
It was over. Defeated, Schrader headed back to the hotel. Lohan walked to her Porsche. Gavin was behind the wheel. She told me to get in the back. Just before we hit the security gate, a photographer jumped out of the dark. Lohan screamed at him.
"You're a liar!"
The photographer shrugged.
"My camera jammed before."
Lohan gave him the finger, and we pulled onto the freeway.
"I lost a bunch in traffic on the way over to Loews. Then when I got to the Loews, there were more, and it was completely different cars, it was X17 and Splash," Lohan said, speaking rapidly. The paparazzi chase had animated her in a way I hadn't seen before. "They were already waiting at the hotel, they were already there."
I asked why she didn't try a less conspicuous vehicle.
"I've tried everything, I would wear wigs . . . we've had Wranglers, old Cadillacs — I've tried everything."
Lohan yelled at Gavin to make a turn, but he missed it. She sighed dramatically but didn't seem really bothered.
"It's just creepy. I've gotten people ask to pay me 25 to 30 for a shot or sometimes 50 thousand for a bathing-suit shot. I'm afraid they'd put trackers on my car, which God only knows. . . . "
Back at the Loews, Schrader and Pope were debating what to do next. Lohan suggested shooting the scene at the Grove, a tony West Hollywood shopping center.
"Look, we can shoot at the Grove, and we can get it for free."
Pope looked at her with confusion.
"We'll have 'Access Hollywood' pay for it. They'll film it, I'll answer three questions about the movie and then they'll pay for it. It's really easy."
Pope and Schrader were unconvinced. But Lohan was insistent as she left the room. "They'll do it. You just have to know how to work it."
A few days later, Schrader and Pope, having decided on a more conventional approach, filmed Lohan at the Century City Mall, paying $3,000 for the privilege.
And just like that, the film was done. Schrader told me it would take six weeks to edit, but after three weeks I got an e-mail saying it was nearly finished. I met him in a small editing room on the top floor of the Brill Building in New York, where a half-dozen of Schrader's friends from the indie film industry had gathered. He popped in a DVD.
The opening scene dragged endlessly. Some tricky camerawork that Schrader threw in to break up the monotony only emphasized the deadness of the scene. As Pope feared, Lohan's makeup made her look as if she'd walked onto the set from an entirely different film.
But about 15 minutes in, something clicked. Deen had a quiet malevolence. Ellis was right: he was born to play a Bret Easton Ellis character. Lohan was equal parts vulnerable and dissolute.
Afterward, Schrader's friends were noncommittal, but Schrader was ecstatic. We adjourned to a nearby bar. He was certain the film would get into the Sundance Film Festival. Maybe they'd recoup their investment tenfold.
"We thought this was going to be 'My Dinner With Andre,' but it's a real film. We [expletive] did it."
But this was "The Canyons," so the ending couldn't be that smooth. I flew back to Los Angeles and watched the film a few days later with Ellis and Pope. Ellis was the least impressed.
"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."
Pope and Ellis agreed that the opening scene wasn't working. Pope called Schrader about reshooting it, and he was angrily dismissed.
"We could shoot it again for $15,000 in a day," Pope said. Then he corrected himself. "Well, with Lindsay, we'd have to budget two days, but it's doable. But he won't do it."
He was right. Schrader wouldn't hear of it. And for good reason. It took two months and the quasi intervention of Lohan's father to get Lohan to finish two hours of looping for the outdoor scenes. In the interim, Lohan punched a psychic, was accused of hitting a pedestrian in New York, was under investigation by the I.R.S. and watched her parents melt down on a very special episode of "Dr. Phil."
Meanwhile, Ellis, Pope and Schrader battled over the film's final cut. Pope screened a rough cut of "The Canyons" for Steven Soderbergh. Intrigued, Soderbergh offered to do an edit of the movie if he was given the footage for 72 hours.
Schrader said no.
I met him one last time in Toronto, where he was working on the film's soundtrack with the Canadian musician Brendan Canning. He had just learned that the film had not been accepted by Sundance — the film is scheduled to be put up for sale by William Morris Endeavor later this month — and was in a fouler-than-usual mood.
"The idea of 72 hours is a joke," Schrader said. "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?"
I said I didn't. Schrader leaned back in his chair and gave me two middle fingers.
"That's what Soderbergh would do."
Inevitably, our conversation turned back to Lohan. He showed the film to Lindsay and her mother, Dina, in October at his New York City apartment. They were both so furious about how the camera lingered on Deen that Schrader had to move Dina to another room to get through the screening.
I asked Schrader if he regretted casting Lohan. He shook his head.
"No, she's great in the film."
Schrader then told me a secret. Until the screening disaster, Schrader had been in talks with Lohan to star in a remake of John Cassavetes's "Gloria," about a woman on the run from the mob. The director lighted up, childlike; hope triumphing over memories of being stripped naked.
"It doesn't involve a co-star. She would be perfect for it."
Stephen Rodrick is a contributing writer for the magazine. His memoir, ''The Magical Stranger,'' will be published in May by HarperCollins.
Editor: Sheila Glaser
A version of this article appeared in print on January 13, 2013, on page MM24 of the Sunday Magazine.