Barbra Streisand insisted that she wanted Elvis Presley for the part of John Norman Howard. She even went to Las Vegas to see Elvis after one of his performances in 1975, and talked to him directly to convince him to play the part. Elvis wanted to do it, but Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, was angry that Streisand did not come to him first. He told the producers that if they wanted Elvis, Elvis' name had to be at the top of the movie poster, above Streisand's name. Moreover, it was told that he asked them a very large sum of money, while Elvis hadn't been in a movie since 1969, and nobody knew what he could do at the box-office. Because of all that, Elvis Presley didn't make the movie, although he had been Streisand's first choice since the beginning of the project.
Director Frank Pierson was so angered by his experience working with Barbra Streisand on this film, that he wrote a first person account, published in both New York and New West magazines, detailing what a horrible experience it had been. Pierson portrayed his star as egocentric, manipulative, and controlling. The article was published just prior to the film's release in December 1976 and Streisand and Pierson have never worked together again.
Kris Kristofferson did not get along with the director. According to Kris, Frank Pierson, himself a World War II veteran, looked down on Kristofferson for being in the Army, but not going to war in Vietnam. Kristofferson later said: "I was too drunk to give a shit."
The version of "Evergreen" during the recording studio scene is a live recording, filmed in a single take. This was done at the insistence of Barbra Streisand: she hates doing lip sync work; she wanted to be able to have close-ups during the scene (which would expose any flaws in lip sync); and she wanted a more "natural" feel to that version (as evidenced by the kissing and laughing). Kris Kristofferson, however, was very reluctant about singing live on-screen, and had to be talked into it. A more formal studio recording was used for the final credits and soundtrack album.
Kris Kristofferson compared making the movie to going through Ranger School, the elite U.S. Army Ranger program, which he did in 1963. In Ranger School, you sleep an average of three hours every twenty-four hours, and your skills and will to succeed is constantly challenged to the maximum for three months.
Producer Jon Peters was not okay with the central story element, where John Norman committed suicide after his fall from stardom. While this detail had been part of the script in every previous version, as well as the original Frank Pierson script, Peters successfully pushed to make Norman's death ambiguous. He dies in a car accident, but it's not clear what caused the fatal crash in the final cut.
When this project was first brought to Barbra Streisand by her boyfriend, Producer and former Hollywood hairdresser Jon Peters, the title was "Rainbow Road" (according to an early report on the film by Rona Barrett).
The rock concert footage was shot before a crowd of forty-seven thousand at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, with Barbara Streisand and Kristofferson headlining, and included other acts such as Peter Frampton and Santana, booked by famed concert promoter Bill Graham.