The events in this movie are loosely based on a shooting that occurred in 1991 on the Iowa City campus of the University of Iowa. The shooter, 28-year-old physicist Gang Lu, had recently received his PhD from the university's Physics and Astronomy Department, but believed that his failure to win a dissertation prize had kept him from getting a job as a professor. On November 1, 1991, he attended a departmental meeting, and shortly after the meeting started he shot three of his former professors and the winner of the prize he had wanted. He then walked to a different campus building and shot an administrator whom he felt had ignored his grievances, as well as a student employee in the grievance office. Gang Lu then committed suicide by shooting himself. All of the shooting victims died from their wounds except for the student employee, who was paralyzed from the neck down. She later died from inflammatory breast cancer, brought on by the condition of her paralyzation.

The release date was delayed by film bosses because its plot eerily resembled the events of the Virginia Tech massacre, despite being filmed a year before.

In December 2012, the Tuscaloosa News reported that a PhD candidate in Theoretical Particle Physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Alabama was arrested on charges of stalking and making terrorist threats. A deposition filed in Tuscaloosa County District Court said that he sent threatening emails to several UA officials, including the university's president and other administrators; some of the emails included references to this film and implications that the thwarted physics student character's actions in the movie would be a model for a real-life attack at UA.

Val Kilmer was originally involved but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.

Taylor Schilling did not get to actually play opposite Meryl Streep during the shoot, though she did have to share the same pair of jeans since their characters were supposed to reflect each other in different time frames.