Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, who co-wrote the screenplay, based it on their experiences in the summer of 2009 practicing freeganism and joining an anarchist collective.

The East was originally intended to be a sequel to A Civil Action, with John Travolta reprising his role as a now broke and emasciated Jan Schlichtmann. However, scheduling conflicts prevented the appearance when Travolta signed on to shoot Killing Season with Robert De Niro. The script was modified, and Ellen Page eventually signed on for the role.

Toby Kebbell who plays Doc, later plays the similarly named Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four (2015). Both self-proclaimed doctors commit acts of terrorism which they believe are for the greater good.