In a 2017 BBC radio interview, the director clarified that the film's garish motel settings are genuine motels. They continued operating as working businesses during filming, and some real-life residents and staff are seen in the film.
Producers had originally wanted a major star to play Halley and considered Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, but writer/director Sean Baker felt it would be unauthentic to have a millionaire playing the part.
Christopher Rivera (Scooty) was an 8-year-old living with his mother at the Paradise Inn motel in Kissimmee, Florida, when crew members spotted him. He was able to earn enough money on the film for his family to move out of the motel and into an apartment. After the film came out, Rivera was offered a full scholarship to Rollins University, a private four-year college in Winter Park, Florida, and ongoing support for his education to prepare him for college.
The rainbow that appears at one point over the Magic Castle was originally going to be CGI. Then, as an actual rainbow showed up, the film crew spontaneously decided to shoot the real rainbow, partly due to budget considerations: "We were like, if we shot that, we'd save the production 50 grand", so Baker.
With the exception of veteran actor Willem Dafoe, nearly the entire cast was made up of first-time or inexperienced actors. Writer/director Sean Baker discovered Valeria Cotto (Jancey) at a Target, and Christopher Rivera (Scooty) was living at a motel on the strip like his character.
It was chosen by both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year. Dafoe earned Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards, and Academy Awards.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
While the majority of the film was shot on 35mm film, director Sean Baker admitted to returning to his "guerrilla filmmaking techniques" to capture the final scene, which was instead shot on an iPhone and contains footage from inside Walt Disney World, filmed without the park's knowledge or consent.
In the original script, Willem Dafoe's character Bobby was meant to have a brother who helped out at the hotel. However, as filming progressed, the parent-child relationship theme manifested itself more clearly, and the decision was made for him instead to have a son. Caleb Landry Jones was cast only two weeks prior to shooting his scenes.