Syriana with Writer-Director Gaghan

Gaghan told me that oil was the world's crack addiction, and I knew he would find a novel way of exploring that idea.
–Soderbergh, producer of Syriana

Writer-director Stephen Gaghan, winner of the 2000 Screenplay Oscar for Traffic, has chosen as his follow-up project Syriana, a political thriller that unfolds against the intrigues and corruption of the global oil industry. From the players brokering back-room deals in Washington to the men toiling in the old fields of the Persian Gulf, the film's multiple storylines weave together a complex tale that illuminates the consequences of the fierce pursuit of wealth and power.

Background

I started thinking about the machinations of the global oil industry while doing research for Traffic. I had met a host of powerful people in Washington, including those at the Pentagon who enforce America's anti-narcotics policies. It was then that I began noticing some interesting parallels between the trafficking of drugs and the power plays of the oil industry.

Narcotics and Terrorism

In 1999, the Pentagon's anti-terrorism and anti-narcotics branches were the same branch. I started thinking that maybe the biggest addiction in our country is how were hooked on cheap foreign oil, and that our easy access to oil is what gives is a good deal of our edge.

Researching the Film

I researched the film for a year before beginning work on the screenplay, investigating the inner workings of the industry in the U.S., as well as journeying in the UK, France, Italy, Switzerland, Lebanon, Syria, Dubai, and North Africa to speak with people at every level of the power chain that makes up the petroleum industry.

The Film's Title

While Syriana is a very real term used by Washington think tanks to describe a hypothetical reshaping of the Middle East, in the movie, it is used more abstractly. Syriana, the concept, the fallacious dream that you can successfully remake nation-states in your own image, is a mirage. Syriana is a fitting title for a film that could exist at any time and be about any set of circumstances that deal with man's unchecked ambition, hubris, and the fantasy of empire.

Bob Barnes, CIA Agent (George Clooney)

What we have done is preserve the essence of Bob Baer from his memoir, See No Evil, even though his storyline is fictional. Bob also helped me understand the web of players in the Middle East and in the oil business that ultimately led to the choice to tell this story through multiple narratives.

Bob's Character

Bob has always put his career first, even before his family, not only out of dedication and a belief in the value of what he is doing, but also out of necessity. CIA officers lie to everybody, for their entire careers. They lie to their families, they lie to their children, they lie to their wives, they lie to their friends. As a result, Bob is estranged from his wife and has a difficult relationship with his son Robby, who resents the life he's been made to lead, constantly moving and having to start a new life everywhere his father travels. As Robby prepares to go to college, Bob fears he may finally be losing his son forever.

Traveling with the Real Bob Baer

Bob himself took me to explore the regions of the Middle East where he worked gathering intelligence for 21 years, introducing me to a multitude of figures that exists on all sides of the industry, including oil traders, CIA operatives, arms dealers, and the leader of the Islamic movement Hezbollah.

Multiple Perspectives

I discovered really hospitable people with very articulate points of view. I found that if you ask the same question to five different people, you get five different stories, and it's still not the whole story. Starting from there, I tried to focus on how this whole world of clandestine information worked.

The Film's Goal

I hope Syriana will make issues and characters that seem alien and distant to American audiences much more accessible. Any time the lens by which youre viewing the whole can also be the lens by which you view the specific youre in better shape. Were able to go from Wasim, working with his father in the Persian Gulf, where he says, Someday we'll get a real house and get your mother here, to Bob Barnes visiting a college campus with his dad, Bob. The power of those specific images next to each other is that you hopefully start to feel connections that show you the whole: How we all inhabit the same world, and we all just want better lives for our children.

Ordinary People

The movie uses ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances to explore the idea that personal responsibility does matter, that our daily choices contributes to where we are on a global level. Bob Barnes is ultimately a company man who's trying to do his job well and put his son through college.

Bryan Woodsman (Matt Damon)

Bryan is an energy analyst at an energy trading company, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Bryan's got a wife and two children, and then he faces the worst thing a father can go through when he loses his son.

Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright)

Bennett is a lawyer investigating the merger of two oil companies, Connex and Killen. But back at home, he has a very difficult relationship with his father, so he's trying to deal with these complicated issues in his work, while also holding it together at home, which is a situation we all find ourselves in.

Political and Personal Relevance

It's through these characters everyday lives that were able to enter into a world that at first blush seems abstract to most people, but is incredibly relevant, because this nexus of oil interests, terrorism, and the possibility of democracy in the Middle East powerfully affects our economy as well as our psyche and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Global Casting

The movie has over 70 speaking parts, cast with talented actors culled from over a dozen locations around the globe, including L.A., N.Y., London, Cairo, Bahrin, Dubai, Kuwait, and Damascus. The script enticed a host of exceptional performers to come together as part of a large ensemble, including Oscar-winners Chris Cooper and William Hurt.

The Actors

You get actors of this caliber and they just bring so much to the script with their performances. It happened with the whole cast throughout shooting.