Ben Gazzara was unhappy with the role initially, unable to find a way to connect to Cosmo Vitelli. That changed when shooting a scene, Cassavetes spoke to Gazzara about the gangsters in the film as a metaphor for the people who are constantly trying to steal or ruin people's dreams. Cassavetes started to cry and Gazzara saw that playing Cosmo was representing John Cassavetes and the movie was a metaphor for the director's struggles for his own dreams.
The original 1976 theatrical version ran for 135 minutes. About two years after the first release, director John Cassavetes in 1978 edited a new different cut with a running time of 108 minutes, it being twenty-seven minutes shorter.
The shorter 108 minute John Cassavetes 1978, referred to on the DVD as the Director's Cut, has scenes in it not in the 1976 original 135 minute cut. The scenes in the later version also have different edits and different orders.