THERE WILL BE BLOOD explores the powerful confluence of ambition, wealth, family and the magnetic lure of the West. Paul Thomas Anderson's fifth film plunges the audience into an astonishingly raw and real turn-of-the-century California and revolves around one unforgettable character: Daniel Plainview, a rough-and-tumble prospector who transforms himself and an entire town through oil. As he ascends from a rugged miner to an imperious tycoon, in the mold of such historical oil pioneers as Edward Doheny and John Rockefeller, Plainview will bring progress and riches to a land that has never known them, at a cost that will blacken his very soul.
As portrayed by Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Plainview is a man whose charm, aspirations and uncompromising obsession with remaining self-made will stir up a maelstrom in the Central California town of Little Boston. As oil gushes up from the ground, Plainview will bring changes of operatic sweep to this insular world– pitting belief, hope, love and hard work against cynicism, greed, seduction and monstrous corruption.
Shot in Marfa, Texas where the legendary oil-themed GIANT was filmed decades ago, Anderson and a devoted cast and crew have crafted a symphonic tapestry of images that appear to come to vivid, visceral life right out of a sepia-toned photograph–yet are completely original and intimately specific to Daniel Plainview's meteoric rise and bloodcurdling descent.
Paul Thomas Anderson, a two-time Oscar nominee, has previously directed four films set in the West, though each has been its own entirely distinctive exploration of the territory. His first film, HARD EIGHT, was a crime thriller set amidst the casinos of Las Vegas. This was followed by BOOGIE NIGHTS, a kaleidoscopic look at the adult film industry; MAGNOLIA an interwoven tale of one devastating and magical night in the San Fernando Valley; and PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, that rare fresh take on the romantic comedy.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD marks Anderson's first journey into the foundational days of California's lavish wealth and power, before movies, before high-tech, when oil was the driving force of the land and brought hungry, ambitious men Westward in search of fortune and a new future.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD began with Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil! although the tale took off in its own cinematic direction from there. While in a London bookshop, a homesick Anderson spied the novel and its California-themed cover instantly drew him. Once he began reading, he was compelled by Sinclair's view of the state in a time when tenacious, risk-taking oil prospectors were changing the then-rural landscape with derricks and oil fields. “The novel is set in an area, Signal Hill, I know well and that part of California's history has always been interesting to me,” says Anderson. “Reading the novel was quite exciting.”
Upton Sinclair, of course, is best known for his still widely read 1907 novel, The Jungle, a triumph of muckraking fervor set in the slaughterhouses of Chicago that forever changed the American food industry. Two decades later, he would write an epic intended to similarly probe the corruption and exploitation at the heart of the then-burgeoning American oil industry.
Set in California, Oil! follows the relationship of a millionaire oil tycoon named J. Arnold Ross, modeled after several of the nation's wealthiest oilmen from the era, including Edward Doheny, with the son he hopes will take over the family business. Instead, his son rebels against him and begins organizing oil workers in collusion with a dirt-poor family of holy-roller fundamentalists, which includes a charismatic and power-seeking boy preacher named Eli Watkins.
Anderson was primarily inspired by the 500-page novel's first 150 pages, wherein Sinclair delves in exquisite detail into the gritty, precarious lives of oil prospectors and oil workers. He was also drawn to Sinclair's pitting of unbridled greed against unchecked spiritual idealism, each with their own insidious consequences. From that foundation of inspiration, he found his own characters of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday wending in their own directions, towards their own intertwined fates.
Anderson began to do further research–prowling through the oil museums that dot California–letting the era's plentiful, richly atmospheric photographs further fire up his imagination. “You get giddy looking at all those amazing photos,” Anderson notes, “getting a real sense of how people lived their lives. There's so much history in the oil areas around Bakersfieldthey're filled with the grandsons of oil workers and lots of folklore. So we did an incredible amount of research and I got to be a student again and that was a thrill.”
In addition, Anderson read numerous books and was especially influenced by The Dark Side of Fortune, an acclaimed biography of Edward Doheny by Margaret Leslie Davis, which recounts Dohenys rise from an intensely driven son of immigrants to a failed silver miner in Silver City, New Mexico to an icon of fame, power as well as corrupting greed as California's first big oilman. To further follow Dohenys trail, Anderson made his own trip to Silver City, immersing himself in the old pictures and yellowed newspapers that fill the town's libraries and museums. Ultimately a mix of history, landscape and the very nature of bringing this slippery, precious substance up from the ground became the propulsive force in Anderson's screenplay, melding lyrical frontier dialogue with intensely visual sequences of escalating suspense.
Now, the research ended and, as Anderson says, it was time to pick our heads up out of the books and get out on the road. He did so in concert with his long-time producing partners, JoAnne Sellar and Daniel Lupi. Sellar had known that, following PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, Anderson was looking “to do something completely different,” and was drawn in by the world he hoped to create in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, though she knew it would be their biggest challenge yet.
“Paul had sent Daniel Day-Lewis the script when it was about three-quarters of the way done and Daniel committed to it immediately, which was wonderful because I don't know if Paul even would have made the movie without Daniel,” recalls Sellar. “Now we had a script and we had Daniel and the trick was to figure out creatively how to do this.”