Lindsay Lohan's 'The Canyons' Aims for VOD Success

"The Canyons"

The Paul Schrader/Bret Easton Ellis film opens in New York on Friday but may find a bigger audience as it also launches on video-on-demand platforms, where, says IFC's Jonathan Sehring, it's "must-see" viewing.

For a movie that cost only a few hundred thousand dollars, The Canyons, Paul Schrader’s look at the darker corners of Los Angeles’ film business, has gotten millions of dollars worth of publicity – thanks to its trouble-prone leading lady Lindsay Lohan and the casting of porn star James Deen opposite her.

IFC Films opens the movie Friday at the IFC Film Center in New York and at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. The film’s limited platform rollout will take it to Los Angeles, Austin and Vancouver on Aug. 9.

Whether the buzzy feature, written by novelist-provocateur Bret Easton Ellis, attracts a curious audience probably will be tested not at the box office during the next few weekends but on VOD platforms the next three months. The movie’s trailer points in that direction, saying, "See it Aug. 2 in select theaters or in the privacy of your home."

"It’s must-see VOD," says Jonathan Sehring, the president of Sundance Selects/IFC Films who has been on the forefront of distributing first-run movies as VOD offerings. "We'll be doing a number of theatrical bookings. But Paul thinks, and I don’t disagree with him, that aside from the types of movies the studios are doing, the big tentpole things, this is going to become the new normal. Today we’re talking about The Canyons, but more and more filmmakers are going to be talking about this model."

FILM REVIEW: 'The Canyons'

As Sehring relates it, way back at the 2008 Telluride Film Festival, even before the specific idea for The Canyons had been developed, Schrader was talking about making an indie movie outside the studio system and taking it out via digital platforms.

Having closely followed production on the movie – its travails were chronicled in a juicy New York Times magazine profile that appeared in January -- IFC acquired North American rights to The Canyons in February and zeroed in on an August release date. The film was subsequently selected to screen at the Venice Film Festival, which doesn’t kick off until Aug. 28. But, Sehring says, IFC decided there was no reason to delay the movie’s North American opening. "We love our date," he says. "Even after we got the Venice news, it doesn’t make sense to move. We have a movie that is already a PR juggernaut – so Venice doesn’t impact our plans one way or another. If anything, it will keep awareness of the movie in the news."

The whole production history of the movie is unconventional – Schrader, Ellis and producer Braxton Pope put up about $90,000 of their own money, another $170,000 was raised on Kickstarter, and actors agreed to about $200,000 in deferments. And IFC is taking an equally unconventional route in marketing the film. While its execs wouldn’t reveal how much they’ve budgeted, Shani Ankori, IFC’s director of marketing, says, "We've held off our actual media spend until the film became available on iTunes and other platforms. We've approached it in a unique way, heavily using social media. There has already been a big conversation, and we're seeding it all with unique assets throughout social media."

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Given Schrader’s standing in New York film circles as the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and director of such films as American Gigolo and Affliction, The Film Society of Lincoln Center agreed to host the movie’s premiere July 29. In explaining why the society had given its imprimatur to the project, New York Film Festival program director Kent Jones hailed Lohan’s performance as "stunning" and commented, "It’s difficult for me to imagine another filmmaker of Paul Schrader’s stature diving into the world of crowd-sourced moviemaking, let along with such fervor, dedication and rigor."

The wave of social media that has surrounded the movie crests with its opening Friday as Schrader and Ellis – and possibly Lohan, if she is available – take part in a "Live Tweet" at 10 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. PDT using the hashtag, #TheCanyons.

In terms of publicity, Schrader, Ellis, Deen and Pope also have spoken to a variety of traditional and online outlets. "There have been a lot of stories to tell about the movie," says Lauren Schwartz, IFC’s head of publicity.

There was one obstacle, though. Lohan herself was unavailable to take part in the walk-up to the release since she was undergoing a 90-day rehab at the Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center, which she didn’t complete until Tuesday. She could make up for lost time quickly, though.

Thursday night, Lohan recorded a gig as guest host of Chelsea Lately, and the show will air Aug. 5 on E!. "I had such a blast today! Thanks everybody :)," she immediately tweeted. She’s also scheduled to sit down with Oprah Winfrey for an interview slated to air Aug. 18 on Oprah’s Next Chapter on OWN.

"We’ve been a bit overwhelmed," says Sehring, "by how much press the movie has been able to generate on a consistent basis."