Leslie Coutterand was on call throughout the entire filming to replace Lindsay Lohan at a moment's notice due to Lohan's repeated absences, tardiness, and feuds with director Paul Schrader and co-star James Deen. Coutterrand was essentially paid to be Lohan's understudy in case Lohan was fired or left the set and never returned.
At the table read, Lindsay Lohan had a script, where in large writing it had Nolan Gerard Funk's name crossed out with the word "NO!" next to it and other casting suggestions. But by the end of the table read she had changed her mind and at the next rehearsal was thrilled to be working with him.
Lindsay Lohan was hired based on starpower, and was supposedly fired before the production due to completely vanishing during a key meeting. When production started, she was in a constant struggle with Paul Schrader, had to be persuaded to do nude scenes, and often showed up late after partying all night (one night staying out until 5:30 AM with Lady Gaga - when she had a 6 AM call time).
Casting was operated through the casting website Let It Cast by providing all actors interested in auditioning for the five lead roles and one supporting role with download access to the audition scene to film their own video audition and submit themselves. As Braxton Pope and Bret Easton Ellis explained in the casting's presentation video on Let It Cast, the motivation to operate the casting in this fashion was to facilitate submissions from talented actors who might not otherwise be seen given the time constraints of the traditional casting process, as well as to open a direct channel to actors whose talent agents might otherwise complicate the process. Paul Schrader wrote a full account on the process of casting the seven actors which were ultimately cast through their Let It Cast audition in this fashion. Lindsay Lohan and James Deen were cast independently of this process.
The rough cut of the film was 1 hour 44 minutes long. Initial edits of the film were disappointing; the film was said to "drag". Bret Easton Ellis, Paul Schrader and Braxton Pope had a disagreement over the final cut of the film. After Schrader showed Steven Soderbergh the rough cut of the film, Soderbergh offered to cut it within three days. Schrader declined, telling The New York Times: "The idea of 72 hours is a joke, it would take him 72 hours to look at all the footage. And you know what Soderbergh would do if another director offered to cut his film? [Puts up two middle fingers] That's what Soderbergh would do." Ellis is quoted as saying: "The film is so languorous. It's an hour 30, and it seems like it's three hours long. I saw this as a pranky noirish thriller, but Schrader turned it into, well, a Schrader film." [10.01.2013] Ellis later changed his mind about the final version and he appreciates Schrader's vision now.
On Bret Easton Ellis' Podcast, he claims to now have a new appreciation of the film, saying he had trouble at first accepting Paul Schrader's vision of his material, but in the end, has come to an understanding over his reservations during the creative process. He also openly praises Lindsay Lohan's performance, calling it "searing," and blames the film's perceived 'failures' on Lohan's reputation in the media, which has nothing to do about the film's quality or her performance in the film. He continued with saying he believes the film to have ended up as being a success both creatively and financially for all those involved. He concludes with saying he is very proud of the final product.
Although Paul Schrader, Bret Easton Ellis, and Braxton Pope initially favoured French actress Leslie Coutterand (who auditioned through Let It Cast), the role of Tara ultimately went to Lindsay Lohan. When Pope approached Lohan's manager about the possibility of Lohan playing the role of Cynthia, Lohan responded that she wanted to play the lead. Two weeks later, she screen tested and was cast.
Director Paul Schrader reportedly said, that The Canyons (2013) had been invited into the competition of the 66th Locarno International Film Festival in 2013. He later decided that a European premiere out of competition at the bigger Venice International Film Festival would be better for the promotion, because the star Lindsay Lohan promised to be there, too. Finally, Lohan didn't keep her promise and didn't show up in Venice, because she was still in rehab. Schrader was especially upset about this and wrote on Facebook, that he would have shown the film in Locarno, if he had known, that Lohan wouldn't come at all.
Bret Easton Ellis had mentioned several times that he had James Deen in mind for Christian and when he, Braxton Pope and Deen met, Deen was promised a screen test. Paul Schrader was reluctant at first, because he thought it was unlikely he would cast him due to his background in porn.
In the docu-series Lindsay (2014), Lindsay Lohan claimed that she did not end up promoting the film, specifically its Venice Film Festival screening, because it would have placed her in a situation that compromised her sobriety.