During the jail cell scene, Joaquin Phoenix breaks a real toilet. His actions were entirely improvised. Due to the historical past of the building where the scene took place, the toilet was considered "historical." Joaquin had no intentions to break the toilet, nor did he think it was possible.
After a few days of shooting, Paul Thomas Anderson noticed that Joaquin Phoenix would use the whole space where they were filming, even if it was outside the marks, so he told the lightning crew to have the whole space ready to follow Phoenix with the camera if necessary.
Drinking Jug-Juice, the NAVY slang for imbibing fuel mixed with cans of fruit, was detailed by the staff of the Aircraft Carrier, USS Hornet Museum - one of the locations utilized for the shoot. The scene in which Freddie gets ethanol out of the torpedo on the ship is also based on a true story told by Jason Robards to Paul Thomas Anderson.
The trailers for the film were edited by Paul Thomas Anderson himself without any permission from the studio. The trailers were notable for consisting mostly of footage not featured in the final cut of the film.
Paul Thomas Anderson has acknowledged that L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology served as partial basis for the character of Lancaster Dodd and his cult, "The Cause." This revelation sparked much discussion in the press, as the Church of Scientology has a long history of litigation against critics of Hubbard. Though the Church released no official comment on the film, Anderson claims that when he screened the film for his friend Tom Cruise an outspoken Scientology advocate, Cruise erupted with anger, specifically objecting to scenes where Dodd's son Val admits that Dodd made up the tenants of "The Cause," which parallel's real-life admissions by Hubbard's son. Anderson has admitted to a heated exchange with Cruise, though both the actor and director have kept details of their argument, and the outcome private.
The primary influence for the film was John Huston's 1946 Documentary: Let There Be Light (1946). Director Paul Thomas Anderson has stated that he was taking material from the film "left, right, and center". Producer JoAnne Sellar has also stated that they also used the film as a reference for production design and costume design.
Paul Thomas Anderson wanted a workprint to match the Avid cut, so he had his editors assemble the physical film daily to match the digital edit by hand. Anderson also bypassed the use of a Digital Intermediate instead color grading the film with a photochemical timer, which resulted in a higher film resolution due to less manipulation of the filmed image.
Paul Thomas Anderson initially wanted to put his own children in the film during the early scenes set at the portrait studio, but he decided against it because his mixed-race children did not have a period appropriate look.
In order to achieve the effect of clenching his mouth and talking out of one side, Joaquin Phoenix had his dentist attach metal plates to his teeth with rubber bands to hold them shut. The rubber bands weren't strong enough to hold his mouth shut, so he removed them. But the metal plates, complete with screws that slightly cut up the inside of his cheek, were enough of a constant reminder that it allowed him to play that aspect of the character.
The decision to shoot in 65mm came from a desire to replicate the look of photos taken by vintage Pressman cameras, which use large-format 4x5-inch film. This also led to the use of the narrower 1.85:1 aspect ratio (65mm has a native aspect ratio of 2.2:1). Anderson initially suggested shooting the film in VistaVision, and test footage was shot in that format, but the shallow-focus effect was not pronounced enough.
The first motion picture in 16 years to be filmed on 65mm format using Panavision's System 65 camera. Around 85% of the film was shot in this format, with the rest shot on 35mm. The last full-length motion picture to be shot in 65/70mm was Kenneth Branagh's 1996 adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet (1996).
Jeremy Renner was originally going to play Freddy when the film was prepped to shoot years ago, but when financing fell through, and Joaquin Phoenix was available following his I'm Still Here (2010) project, the filmmakers were able to cast him.