In a 2011 interview with "The A. V. Club," David Hyde Pierce said that it cost him more to join the film actors' union (so that he could appear in this movie) than he was paid for his role, so he had to borrow the dues money from his agent. His character's name was "Bartender at Fashion Show," and his one line was, "Sorry, the bar is closed."
The name of Michael J. Fox's character, Jamie Conway, is almost an anagram of author Jay McInerney's name. In the novel, the primary character's full name is never given, he is referred to as "Coach" by Tad, and in the second person ("you") in the narration.
The book "Bright Lights, Big City" is one of the few well-known novels in the English language written in second person ("you") form, and the film's narration is a result of this adaptation. Much of the narration is lifted directly or adapted from the novel; for example, the movie's first line, "You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning..." is also the first line of the book.
Before the role was handed to Michael J. Fox, casting was about to hire a man working in Tiffanys in NYC named Chris Salales and wanted to make him the star role without knowing him or any prior experience.
"Gotham", the fictitious New York magazine for which Jamie Conway works as a fact-checker, is clearly an unflattering caricature of "The New Yorker", a magazine which had employed the original author of the story, Jay McInerney, as a fact-checker.
In 1985, Jerry Weintraub took the property to United Artists when he became chief executive there. . Since that meant he couldn't/wouldn't be able to produce it, he looked around for another producer. Sydney Pollack and Mark Rosenberg agreed to do it, but wanted a rewrite of the script. They hired Julie Hickson to write a script. Tom Cruise and Joel Schumacher grew tired of waiting for a workable script, but before they could be replaced, Weintraub left United Artists. The project became entangled in a complicated settlement with the studio, months being lost before it finally stayed at United Artists.
The film was made and released about four years after its source novel of the same name by Jay McInerney had been first published in 1984. The book was also an inspiration for a rock musical of the same name, which premiered in 1999 and later went on to be a studio album.
Final film directed by James Bridges. The picture was Bridges' first film in about three years, the last having being 1985's Perfect (1985). Bright Lights, Big City (1988) is the eighth of only eight feature films that were directed by Bridges.
Robert Lawrence, a vice president at Columbia Pictures, championed the novel against resistance from older executives. He felt that the book spoke to his generation and described it as "The Graduate (1967), with a little bit of The Lost Weekend (1945)".
Jay McInerney wrote a draft of the script. It was to have been directed by Joel Schumacher, produced by Jerry Weintraub and starring Tom Cruise. McInerney, Cruise and Schumacher scouted locations in New York City and checked out the atmosphere of the club scenes described in the novel before they dropped out following production delays.
The filmmakers shot two different endings - one where Jamie decides to start his life all over and an alternate one, to please the studio, where he has finished writing a novel to be called Bright Lights, Big City with a new girlfriend who is proud of what he has written.
Studio executives did not like what Joyce Chopra was shooting and, a week into filming, the studio's chairman and its president of production flew from L.A. to New York to check on the film. Both executives had not read the script and were unaware of how different it was from the novel.
Ulu Grosbard and Bruce Beresford were considered to direct before James Bridges was chosen. Bridges received a call on a Friday that the film was in trouble, read the novel that night and flew to New York on Sunday. He saw Joyce Chopra's footage and agreed to direct if he could start from scratch and hire Gordon Willis as his cinematographer.
A possible director's strike forced the production to shoot in seven weeks and use Jay McInerney's first draft, which James Bridges liked the best. Bridges worked on the script on weekends with McInerney, who was enlisted to help with revisions. The two agreed to share screenwriting credit but the Writers Guild of America decided to give it to McInerney only.
[Jay McInerney on director James Bridges] I think we're probably lucky that [Jim] was not a thirty-two year old director... I often feared that someone was going to try to make a music video out of my book.
Paramount initially showed interest in the novel, but after flying McInerney to Hollywood, a shakeup in management caused the project to be dropped. Jerry Weintraub and Columbia commissioned three drafts of a screenplay from McInerney, but the author heard nothing back from him. Ultimately, three years later Bridge entered the picture.
Second and final of two cinema movie collaborations of veteran Hollywood actor John Houseman and director James Bridges. The first had been around fifteen years earlier with The Paper Chase (1973) where Houseman had won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award (Oscar) for his role.