The real Wilson reported having a mild dissociative experience while watching the film. He started to believe that Paul Giamatti was the actual Eugene Landy and felt "absolutely in fear" for several minutes.
The studio scenes were improvised in a live, unrehearsed pseudo-documentary style with two 16mm handheld cameras. Dano, who once played in a band, was really directing the actors on how to play their instruments, who themselves were also real life musicians. While these scenes were mostly unscripted, Dano directly quoted some lines spoken by Wilson from the original session tapes.
During the Q&A at the film's premier at SXSW '15, Brian Wilson stated that his favorite scene in the movie was the intimate scene between Cusack and Banks, reflecting a happy moment between his real life wife and himself.
Spoken by Dano, the line "You think we could get a horse in here?" was taken nearly verbatim from Pet Sounds session tapes. Wilson intended to bring a horse in the studio and photograph it for the album's cover.
A third era which focused on Brian Wilson's infamous bed period in the 1970s was considered, but ultimately discarded, leaving some of his most troubled years to the viewer's imagination. When asked who would have filled the third Wilson role, Pohlad responded that he had considered Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Beatles song referenced by Wilson's brothers was John Lennon's "Girl" from the album "Rubber Soul". It was one example where the Beatles began displaying prominent Beach Boys influence in their music. Taking inspiration from the cohesiveness of "Rubber Soul", Brian then set out to make "Pet Sounds" an album with no filler tracks. The Beatles then responded to "Pet Sounds" with "Revolver" and, more famously, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" after Brian failed to complete "Smile".
In the 1980s, Eugene Landy and his associates attempted to organize a biopic of Wilson's life entitled Love & Mercy with William Hurt as Wilson and Richard Dreyfuss as Landy. In the late 1990s, another biopic was planned with Jeff Bridges as Wilson.
Paul Dano and John Cusack were Pohlad's first choices to play Brian Wilson. Responding to some criticism over Cusack's physical resemblance to Wilson, Pohlad said that Cusack looked like Wilson during a very particular era, specifically when Wilson appeared in the documentary Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times (1995).
Brian's father Murry (Bill Camp) plays "I Live for the Sun" by the Sunrays and tells Brian that it's going to be a No. 1 hit. The highest "I Live for the Sun" climbed on the Billboard Top 100 was No. 51.
Dano and Cusack did not interact with each other during filming. This was encouraged by Pohlad, who didn't want the actors to simply perform an impression of Wilson, but to create their own organic understanding of his character.
The real Brian Wilson had minimal creative input on the film. He believed that it was "very factual", but focused too much on the dark aspects of his life. Bill Pohlad later claimed that Wilson thought some characters' depictions were treated too fairly.
Atticus Ross's original score, composed almost entirely from original Beach Boys multi-track recording stems, was inspired by the Beatles' experimental sound collage "Revolution 9" and Danger Mouse's Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up "The Grey Album".
The film implies that Wilson resigned from touring just as the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" was released in December 1965. In real life, Wilson gave up touring in January 1965, almost an entire year before "Rubber Soul", and he went on to record two more completed albums for the Beach Boys before embarking on the "Pet Sounds" project.
The opening "Black Hole" sound collage features many studio chatter excerpts taken from Brian Wilson's actual recording of "California Girls", among other 1964-65 songs by the Beach Boys. One line can be heard spoken by the real Wilson, "You're Grass and I'm a Power Mower", which was a working title for "California Girls".
During an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air", screenwriter Oren Moverman recounted how during the filming of the "Pet Sounds" recording sessions in the actual studio where the recordings had been made, the real Brian Wilson stopped by the set and was thrilled by what he had seen.
Some parts of Wilson's life were so outlandish that the filmmakers briefly considered falsifying events or downplaying character performances in order to make it all appear less clichéd and grandstanding. In the end, Pohlad says, "We tried to make it as genuine as we could and to be straightforward about it and not back away."
The script was a major overhaul of a rejected screenplay written by Michael Alen Lerner. In this version entitled 'Heroes and Villlains', the film would have focused largely on Wilson's life between 1982 and 1993 with intermittent flashbacks to the '60s, and ending with Wilson completing Smile in 2004.
Early in the film, the older Brian (John Cusack) explains how he used to listen to the Four Freshmen and wanted to replicate their tight vocal harmony sound. Wilson used the Freshmen sound as a basis for the Beach Boys' harmony.
Engineer Mark Linett performs the role of Chuck Britz, the engineer who often collaborated with Wilson in the 1960s. Linett mixed and engineered many Beach Boys-related albums and compilations, including The Pet Sounds Sessions box set and Wilson's solo album Brian Wilson Presents Smile.
In addition to the recreation of various miscellaneous music videos and television footage from the 1960s, the album covers for Surfin' Safari (1962) and Beach Boys' Concert (1964) are briefly recreated during the film's opening montage.
Brian mentions The Beatles Rubber Soul album in the film but the version of the album he heard in the USA did not match the version released in the UK and elsewhere. Four tracks were removed from the UK version of the album ("Drive My Car", "Nowhere Man", "What Goes on", and "If I Needed Someone") and two tracks from the UK Help album (tracks which had not yet been released in the USA) were added ("I've Just Seen a Face" and "Its Only Love"). The USA release was 7 minutes shorter than the UK version. The "missing" Rubber Soul tracks were later issued in the USA on the album Yesterday and Today.
The session keyboardist 'Al De Lory' is portrayed by 'Gary Griffin (VI)', a composer/arranger who was first employed as a session musician for the Beach Boys in the late 1970s. In 2000, he composed original Beach Boys sound-alike music for the television biopic _An American Family (2000)_.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
"Love and Mercy" is the title of a song written by Brian Wilson. It is the opening track of his solo album "Brian Wilson', released July 1988. Eugene Landy was originally credited as the song's co-writer. After the state of California barred Landy from contacting Wilson, all of Landy's songwriting credits were removed from Wilson's songs.
During the heavily symbolic pool scene, each Beach Boy is as close to the metaphorical "deep end" as they were in real life. Farthest away is Al Jardine, who was the "cleanest" band member. Closer is Mike Love (who partook in some vices), Carl Wilson (entered rehab for alcoholism, cocaine, heroin), Dennis Wilson (ditto; died from alcohol-related circumstances), and Brian Wilson (alcohol, cocaine, psychedelics, amphetamines, and others).
The aggressive piano piece played by Dano right before he segues into the bare-bones "Good Vibrations" chorus is the Ronettes' "Be My Baby", a song which was a lifelong obsession and inspiration for Wilson. This is also a reference to a story recounted by Linda Ronstadt in Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times (1995) where Wilson once came up with a highly complex multi-part vocal arrangement in his head just by playing a simple boogie woogie riff which had no musical connection to the song he was working on.
The real life "Good Vibrations" master tape has been reported lost since 1966, making a true stereo mix of the song a technical impossibility. Despite this, a vocals-only mix is heard in the film for a few seconds. This is because there still exists a tape containing a few discrete vocal stems, according to archivist Alan Boyd: "[It] was apparently copied to a separate, now missing 8 track onto which Brian would have then added all of the rest of the vocal parts and layers heard in the final mix."
The film omits the cataclysmic "Cabin Essence" studio session which caused Van Dyke Parks to leave the "Smile" project. Instead, the event (and numerous others of "Smile" lore) were combined into one single scene located at Brian's pool, and rather than "Cabin Essence", the lyrics for "Heroes and Villains" are derided by Mike Love. His dialogue in this scene was based on an actual vintage recording where the real Mike Love refers to the song as a "nuclear disaster".
In real life, all legalities for Wilson's restraining order were achieved through brother Carl Wilson's lawyer. Legally, the State of California requires it be a family member making the legal filings. The Wilsons' cousin Stan Love attempted to intervene during the initial process; however, Carl did not want Love in control of his brother's life.
The song playing on the car radio at the end is "One Kind of Love" from Wilson's 2015 album "No Pier Pressure". In the screenplay, the song which plays in this scene is referred to only as "a cheesy pop song".
Discounting montages and contextually ambiguous scenes, the film's "past" begins on December 23, 1964 (the real life date of Wilson's fateful panic attack while on a plane) and ends sometime after April 1968 following the birth of his first child. The "future" begins in mid-1986 and ends sometime after Landy was barred from contacting Wilson on February 6, 1992.