The idea for City Lights came to Charlie Chaplin while he was still working on his last success The Circus. The first scene from the film that Chaplin conceived was the last one, in which the Flower Girl, newly cured of her blindness, recognizes the Tramp. Then he cobbled together a number of different plot ideas to make up the final script.
Production began in May 1928, after a year's worth of script writing. Shooting was long and laborious, and the length of production was somewhat unprecedented at the time. As an auteur and a perfectionist, Chaplin often would not settle for anything less than his vision, which led to stalled shooting and longer hours. The relatively brief final scene took 6 days to shoot, and Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill, who played the blind girl, did not get along.
Chaplin wrote, directed, and starred in City Lights just as Hollywood was transitioning from making exclusively silent films to also making movies with talking and sound. As his own producer and creator, Chaplin could make the call about whether or not he would implement sound into his film, and he decided against it. The result was a hybrid feature; while there was no talking in City Lights, the film did feature synchronized music and some sound effects. Chaplin even wrote the score for the film himself, tunes that he dictated to a transcriptionist, Arthur Johnston.