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That was then this is now …  The Canyons – with Paul, Bret, James and Lindsay

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New Hollywood, from the late 1960s to early 1980s, was marked by an innovation in film business (production, marketing, audience) together with an opening up of film form. Today, some 50 years later, film culture is again in flux with new models of funding, production and distribution for the digital age. The impact of these developments on screenwriting is (necessarily) speculative at this stage. The focus of this article is on screenwriter/director Paul Schrader, a jump-cut from Taxi Driver (1976) to The Canyons (2013) – his experiment in ‘post-theatrical cinema’ with novelist/screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis. The film was written for microbudget and crowdfunded on the Kickstarter platform. It assembles the notorious cast of porn star James Deen and celebrity maelstrom Lindsay Lohan. The Canyons rolled out with an aggressive online marketing strategy and innovative ‘day and date’ distribution model with an eye to video on demand. Larry Gross has described the film as belonging to ‘this cultural moment’. In this analysis of The Canyons I ask: What does it mean to conceive, and write, a screenplay for the present, for ‘now’? How does screenplay development and creative collaboration differ in a crowdfunded/microbudget environment? How does the film interact with new forms, and aesthetics, appropriate to this ‘cultural moment’? In the final part of the article I attempt to situate the film within a wider narrative framework via Schrader’s diagnosis of ‘narrative exhaustion’, Douglas Rushkoff’s theory of ‘present shock’ and Ellis’ rumination on the American ‘post-empire’ condition.
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Keywords: Bret Easton Ellis; Paul Schrader; The Canyons; crowdfunding; microbudget; post-empire; present shock

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Technology Sydney

Publication date: September 1, 2014

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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