‘There Will Be Blood’: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Epic Take on American Identity with Day-Lewis’ Performance of a Lifetime

Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson on the set of There Will Be Blood. Production still photographers: François Duhamel, Melinda Sue Gordon © Paramount Vantage, Miramax, Ghoulardi Film Company


By Sven Mikulec

In his fifth feature film, Paul Thomas Anderson, the boy genius who turned into one of the leading American filmmakers of today, takes us into the dusty fields of oil-seeking California before the petroleum boom at the close of the 19th century. There Will Be Blood, a haunting, epic, sprawling story of a silver prospector who built himself into a legitimate oil magnate, is a movie that works on every possible level, as it sucks us in and makes us live out this difficult period alongside Daniel Plainview, the central profit-driven hero of this tragic fable whom Daniel Day-Lewis managed to elevate to probably the most memorable film character of this century. The versatile director was keen on doing something completely different upon finishing his critically praised Punch Drunk Love, and he made a film he later called a mixture of western and horror. While it certainly has some strong elements of both, There Will Be Blood is first and foremost a straightforward, bone-chilling story of America, of the very foundations the country was built on, of the hypocrisy of its self-proclaimed noble intentions and the sobering truth behind their “exploring the wilderness” postulate so often repeated throughout history. Daniel Plainview is as American as film characters can actually get: a self-made man who started poor and, through hard work and zealous dedication, succeeded in transforming himself into one of the richest people in the country. His never-ceasing quest for wealth, accompanied by innate competitiveness and visible disdain for other people, makes him a living realization of the American dream, a personification of typically American individualism and a true champion of capitalism. Paired in the heart of the story with a greedy preacher eager to expand his congregation, played by the great Paul Dano, Plainview is the representative of the American people of that specific era that Anderson chose to illuminate, with a lot of qualities in common with what’s still seen as the ideal self-realized American man. As Anderson sets these characters against a landscape that simply couldn’t be more typical of the Land of the Brave and fuels his story with the themes of ambition, greed, family and the mind-losing quest for power, it’s hard not to think about There Will Be Blood without considering it an honest and rich account of the United States.

Sheets and sheets of texts have already been written about the magical performance of Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the most skilled actors working in the last couple of decades. Without a trace of intention of taking away even a bit of this well-deserved recognition, it’s obvious his namesake in this film was a very studiously written character, fully developed, with multiple volumes of history books thoroughly examined in order to build his background. What Day-Lewis did, and does brilliantly in most of his films, is that he took what Anderson offered and gave it even more flavor, even more subtlety perhaps not so obvious on the first viewing. A dedicated method actor, he was so intense on set he reportedly scared away his first partner, the young Kel O’Neill, who was soon replaced with Paul Dano, who had already had the chance to get to know Day-Lewis and his modus operandi while working with him on The Ballad of Jack and Rose. Unlike Plainview, the highly ambitious, strict and often violent tycoon, Dano’s eloquent preacher Eli Sunday is soft-spoken, gentle and calm, but what lies under the surface is practically the same ambition, greed and thirst for power that keep Plainview’s motors running. From their first real conversation at the Sundays’ dining table to their last controversial encounter in Plainview’s mansion, the two of them have been fierce competitors in a dynamic and captivating struggle for power, even though it seems oil-digging and gospel-reading have little in common. The two actors are joined by experienced Ciarán Hinds and Kevin J. O’Connor, as well as ten-year-old Dillon Freasier, a local boy with no previous acting experience.

Although it’s based on Upton Sinclair’s 1926 novel ‘Oil!,’ There Will Be Blood is not what you would call a typical adaptation, as Anderson used the first 150 pages of Sinclair’s 528-pages-long novel as the basis for his story. It should be said, however, the film would probably never exist had it not been for Sinclair’s writing, because it was the first third of the novel and its meticulous descriptions of oil-drilling and the life of those workers that inspired Anderson in the first place. The film was shot by Anderson’s trustworthy companion, the great cinematographer Robert Elswit, who captured a gritty, sweaty look of history-books America with Panavision XL 35 mm cameras equipped with high-speed anamorphic lenses. The music was scored by Radiohead’s lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, who was slightly skeptical about working on such an epic film, but found himself convinced by Anderson’s enthusiasm and confidence. There Will Be Blood was edited by Dylan Tichenor, also an Anderson regular. The film received no less than eight Academy Award nominations, with Day-Lewis and Elswit taking their statues home.

There are movies that charm us with their faithful presentation of long-gone times, there are those which offer outstanding, larger-than-life characters who stand out and cast a shadow over the rest of the picture, and there are films with noble intentions that manage to convey their message without a lot of harm inflicted on the credibility and the flow of the story. And then there are the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, which manage to pull everything off with style and grace. There Will Be Blood is one of those gems: a multi-layered film that gives us equal joy as we watch it, listen to it and analyze it later, over and over again. It’s a milk-shake we can’t stop drinking.

A monumentally important screenplay. Screenwriter must-read: Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay for There Will Be Blood [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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Director Paul Thomas Anderson admires the straightforward storytelling of John Huston’s The Treasure of Sierra Madre and explains how it influenced his film. The following is an excerpt from DGA Quarterly magazine, written by Rob Feld, ‘Rediscovering Treasure.’ Read the rest of the article at DGA Quarterly.

“This feels so decadent, watching a movie in the middle of the day,” Paul Thomas Anderson says as we drop into easy chairs in the screening room of the DGA’s New York office to watch John Huston’s 1948 classic, The Treasure of Sierra Madre. “I haven’t done this in years.” Anderson is in New York on vacation after completing his first feature since 2002, There Will Be Blood, loosely adapted from Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil! “When I watch this again, all of life’s questions and answers are there in the movie; the way to make movies, live your life, get along, everything.” On the face of it, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre would seem an odd choice for Anderson whose own films, Boogie Nights and Magnolia among them, are sprawling, Altmanesque canvases with multiple, parallel stories. But he saw Sierra Madre as a kid and rediscovered it seven or eight years ago when he began to adapt There Will Be Blood.

“I was trying to find something that was 100 percent straightforward, old-fashioned storytelling,” Anderson says as the titles roll over the grand, dramatic score by Max Steiner. “I definitely tried to mimic that approach. My natural instincts as a writer may be more scattered, so in an effort to be more traditional I used a book, just like they did. Sierra Madre is as direct as you can get—nothing clever, nothing structurally new or different—and I mean that as a high compliment. It’s harder than anything else to be completely straightforward.” Anderson recalls that when he was younger he would teach himself to write by writing down scenes from films in order to see what they looked like on the page. “The films I love the most are, for the most part, very traditional in their structure. So, when I was getting ready to make There Will Be Blood, I put on Sierra Madre before going to sleep at night for a week, just trying to get it to soak into my head and help me approach storytelling in a more old-fashioned way. I suppose I kept looking at it as a film I wished I knew how to make.” —Rediscovering Treasure


Good preparation is part of a director’s job, and storyboards are one of the tools filmmakers use to help plan difficult and complicated shots. Shots for an oil well explosion and rescue are detailed in storyboards by Kevin MacCarthy for Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Courtesy of DGA Quarterly.


Daniel Day-Lewis’s magnificent performance as the ambitious and ruthless oil tycoon Daniel Plainview is at the core of Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically acclaimed movie There Will Be Blood. In this discussion, which followed a Museum of the Moving Image preview screening of the film, the actor and director playfully and thoughtfully discussed their intense collaborative process. A Pinewood Dialogue following a screening of There Will Be Blood, moderated by chief curator David Schwartz (December 11, 2007). Courtesy of Museum of the Moving Image.

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I’ll just say what I think is clear from that response, that this character Danny Plainview is just one of the great characters now in America cinema. An amazing man, who’s a loner and vicious character, and of course, couldn’t be such a great character if he wasn’t surrounded by this amazing movie. Not just the other actors in the film, but every element of the movie—the music, cinematography, production design—everything is amazing. So congratulations for this piece of work. I’ll start, I guess, by asking about Danny Plainview. Let’s just start with his character. Maybe Paul, if you could tell us a bit where he came from? Because I know the [film] was inspired by the Upton Sinclair novel, Oil!, but also by a real life person.
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON: Yes. I’m nervous that you called him Danny, because I think he’d kill you. (Laughter) Daniel Plainview would kill you if you called him Danny, probably. (Laughter) But we did base it loosely on Edward Doheny, and pieces of it come from a character that Upton Sinclair created in Oil!. We were just thinking about it today, and I remember there’s an amazing line that Upton Sinclair wrote in that speech that says, “I have the business connections, so I can get the lumber for the derrick. Such things go by friendship in a rush like this.” I thought, “Well, anybody that can say that is pretty cool, you know?” Those sorts of things helped creating whoever the hell it is, really, you know.

So you created the character, and also got immersed in this whole world of the oil culture in California. Could you just talk a little bit about what that immersion was like for you?
ANDERSON: It’s actually quite easy. You just have to drive to Bakersfield or a town called Taft, which is just southwest of Bakersfield. They’ve done an amazing job of keeping their history alive, just through photographs and letters. Anything that constitutes history, they’ve really kept alive, in what are essentially trailers with all the old oil gear lying around. It was really as simple as driving up there. And the drive alone helps you use your imagination to think, “Driving in this car is kind of a pain in the ass; what would it be like to drive in a Model T to get to the place where you were trying to go, to see if there was the possibility that there might be oil there?” So your imagination is pretty well fed by the time you get there. And then to be there and to see all the great history that they’ve preserved of what the camps were, and what the towns became as a result of the oil actually being there. It was really quite easy, and really quite fun to just be around and be in.

Could you talk, Daniel Day-Lewis, about what attracted you to the script? How did the script take hold for you and get a hold on you? I think as we all know, you do a relatively small number of films, compared to what you could be doing. It seems like it has to be a special choice, when you decide to make a film.
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: Well, Paul came to me in the form of the script for There Will Be Blood, and I felt immediately drawn into the orbit of a world that I knew nothing about. It seemed mysterious and intriguing, and I thought to myself, “God help me, I’m going to have to do this thing.” And that was it. The bag was packed. You know, I sort of went through some sort of coy period of courtship of Paul, you know, where we met and flirted and had numerous breakfasts together and so on. (Laughter) But really, there was no avoiding this extraordinary possibility that Paul had laid before me. So it came to me in that form.

I don’t know, I wouldn’t even want to try and describe—for myself or anyone else—what it was about that story, but it was in the essence of the way in which Paul has created the world, even on paper in the script. It’s very, very unusual to come across real writing, and writing that comes from a place where somebody has imagined themselves into a world, has seen that world through the eyes of the characters that they’re creating. I was lost, that was it.

Did you talk much in advance about what the whole production process would be? Living, basically being based in this ranch in Marfa, Texas for so long. I mean, do you need to know a lot about how the film’s actually going to be made before you decide to go ahead with it?
DAY-LEWIS: Well, happily, there’s like—you know, with the irrevocable sense of something that can’t be avoided, there’s a kind of anaesthetic comes with it. You can’t begin to imagine what it’s actually going to involve. If you could imagine that thing, you’d definitely not get out of bed. So, no; I think we knew without talking about it that it was going to be a demanding time. But the demands are the things—you know, the joy is in confronting those obstacles every day. You know, Paul created the playground that we were going to work on, and so for all that it sometimes perhaps stretched us to our limits, it was a time of great joy, just in the playing of the game.

You know, one thing I love about the character is that he’s both incredibly taciturn—Daniel, I’ll call him now, Plainview—and charming. He’s able to sort of do both. He’s got this sort of—I’ll call it Irish charm, because I did think of John Houston’s voice when I was watching the film—but the sort of tight-lipped toughness that we associate with certain American characters. So could you maybe talk about how you kind of built the voice and the characterization?
DAY-LEWIS: Well, it’s hard to recreate something, the idea of something. For my own sake (and it may just be that I need to kid myself in that respect, as well as in many others connected with the work) but I don’t dismember. You know, confronted with a life that you can’t conceive of—and that’s how it always begin—I’m more often than not intrigued by a life that seems utterly exotic and mysterious to me, so… But I don’t try to dismember that into its separate parts. That would lead me off course very quickly.

You know, we had a long time to work on it, and during the course of that time, as far as possible, I try to allow that life, whatever it’s going to be, to reveal itself. Of course, there are things that have to be, things that need to be understood in connection with the period that we’re working with, the society of that period, that particular group working within the society, the skills you might need to learn—although, in fact, digging a hole in the ground, I mean pretty much anyone can do that! (Laughs) You choose to borrow another person’s life, and like a child, that’s what you do, and as far as possible, it needs to gradually appear to you in its entirety, rather than in its separate bits and pieces.

I want to ask you both about the opening scene, because that seems like such a microcosm of the film. The ambition and physicality and loneliness of the character—so much is expressed. It’s a classic. I mean, I don’t know how many minutes that sequence is, but it’s a classic sequence. I also had heard that you shot the film somewhat in sequence. But could you maybe each talk about what filming that beginning was like?
ANDERSON: Well, my memory of it is that we filmed the beginning at the beginning. I can remember the excitement of going to work on the first day, and being at the bottom of a fifty-foot mine shaft. There was an entrance vertically and an entrance horizontally. It was all so simple for the first couple hours, because it was just Daniel hacking away. And then things started to have to fall, and he started to have to fall. And then he did really fall, and he broke his rib. And then I thought, “Well, alright, now we’re making the movie.” (Laughter) It’s probably not a movie until Daniel breaks a rib or two, you know? (Laughter)

DAY-LEWIS: The first assistant offered me a banana at that point. (Laughter) I’m not quite sure what medicinal effect he expected that to have.

So you’ve done eleven movies, because that’s how many ribs you have, I guess. (Laughter) What about playing a character—I had mentioned this loneliness aspect—he is such a loner, and every time you’re in a scene with another person, you’re trying to charm them or win them over or deceive them somehow. What is that like?
DAY-LEWIS: Well, going back to your question before, certainly one of the things that drew me so quickly into the story that Paul wanted to tell was, as I turned page after page after page, I thought, “How long can he keep this going for?” And it’s described in such beautiful detail. In fact, that sequence before you hear Plainview speaking was a much longer sequence in the script; indeed, we shot a much longer sequence—which finally, the entire film couldn’t hold—but we shot a much longer sequence of that, and there was something so beautiful to me about the idea of revealing a character. Everything you needed to know about that man, about the savagery of his existence at that time in his life, you discovered without any single person saying a word. I thought that was quite wonderful.

Yes, as you quite rightly said, the solitary nature of what he’s doing—which of course, you know, these men who lived like animals in holes in the ground then necessarily had to become showmen and salesmen, and develop a silver tongue to sell themselves; the idea of what they were doing to these poor hapless families that were going to empty their pockets into the coffers of some impossible dream. The idea of that loneliness somehow still, that isolation, the sense of being somehow outside of humanity remaining throughout the whole experience, even when you have to deal with humanity; and in his case, Plainview always sees the very worst of people. He looks for it, and he finds it—as we all tend to look for and find the thing that we’re looking for. So that transition from the solitary nature of his work into the showman was very interesting as well.

This film, I mean to me, seems to be so much about what America has always been all about and sort of what it still is today, in a kind of messed up way. Do you latch onto anything like that; an idea about American movies, American cinema, or about America itself?
DAY-LEWIS: Not at all, no—because that’s not part of my job. You know, I could think about it now, and maybe go off on some riff about it. But my work is—Paul’s work is very different, as far as, to whatever extent as a writer, he gouges into his own subconscious; as a director, he has to oversee the entire workings of the thing that’s going on around him. But my job is a much… I have a much narrower focus, and it’s vital that I don’t objectify the story in that way, think about it in any broader terms than the very specific thing that’s set before us.

So can you just respond to that, in terms of what you’re thinking about when you’re…?
ANDERSON: Yes, it’s not part of my job, either. (Laughter)

Okay, good! You—in the recent New York Times Magazine piece—laid this big clue, I thought, by talking about The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and what that film meant to you; I believe you said you watch it every night or turn it on every night. Could you say anything about how that film might have inspired you or related to this?
ANDERSON: Sure. You know, even before we started filming the movie, people were sick of hearing me go on about it. I know they’re really sick of me talking about it now. I knew that film just because everybody knows it, and I’d seen it and loved it. But in the middle of struggling with writing, at some point early on, I remember just coming across it and feeling like, “Wow; thank God I came across this, because that really helps.” It really helps to see how economical and raw storytelling could help us—could help me try to tell whatever was happening with the story that I was trying to write. The Treasure of Sierra Madre is just mad, it’s great—because it’s really just watching someone go slowly insane, over ninety minutes—and what could be better? (Laughter) But really going the way; not faking it. Not getting halfway or three-quarters of the way and copping out. I mean, really going through to the fucking end and saying, “This is it.”

To see that in a film, or see that from these filmmakers, is encouraging. You say, “Shit. You know; okay. That’s good.” But more or less, too, is that when I look at it, it’s an adventure film or it’s an action film—but it’s really just a play. It’s really just these three guys at each other. It’s just dialogue and the three of them desperate, and ambitious, and jealous, and greedy, and all those things. It’s a play between the three of them, but because of the setting and everything else, it’s really an adventure film, an action film. I thought, “Fuck, alright, that’s good, you know?” And really, more that anything else, it was a way to figure out how to economically tell a story, because I knew that to try to tell the story, we weren’t going to have that much money to do it. So it was, “How to do kind of an epic story, but in a small way, with a few settings?” I could go on and on about The Treasure of Sierra Madre… Daniel is so fucking sick of hearing me talk about The Treasure of Sierra Madre! (Laughter)


One aspect of your filmmaking process that I’ve read that you’re very involved in (and it’s similar to Robert De Niro, who’s another actor who really works a lot with the costume designer) deals a lot with costume as a way of finding character. Is that true? Is that an important part of the process, the choices? It seems like the choices of the hat you wear, every little thing seems to be expressive here.
DAY-LEWIS: Well, it important, but it can only be important in the right way, if it happens at the right time. In other words, if you have begun to understand the world—or at least to believe that you understand that world that you’re creating through the eyes of this other life—then you begin to look at clothes in a different way. You try and imagine the vanity; you try and feel the vanity of that particular man.

We all present ourselves. We choose. Look at people in the street. You know, you see fellows with a certain amount of dignity walking down the street with shopping bags, which slightly reduces that dignity. (Laughter) You can’t quite pinpoint why, but you sort of imagine the man who commands the attention of millions and has a checkbook the size of the telephone directory at his disposal, and you imagine him standing in front of a mirror deciding between this pair of underpants or that pair of underpants, and the hat, and the coat. Every single one amongst us makes these decisions about the way in which we choose to present ourselves. In that context, yes, the clothes then become very important. Why would I choose this pair of boots, as opposed to that? So yes, then it becomes interesting; yes.

Okay; the child who plays your adopted son; I guess [what was] the process of working with him, Paul—casting him and working with him?
ANDERSON: The simplest answer is that he’s naturally gifted, quite honestly. It really begins and ends with that, because I know Daniel probably thought he had to do some explaining to Dillon [Freasier] about some of the nastier scenes. Dillon didn’t need that. Dillon looked at us like, “I get this. I got this from the second you guys started talking to me about it.” Just a natural gift that he has—not really as an actor, but as a person, I think. He’s a young man. He’s an old man trapped in a young man’s body. He was ten when we made it… no, he was nine, turning ten, so ten, mostly, while we were filming it. He’s from a town called Fort Davis, in Texas… It’s hard to describe him. I mean, you saw it; that’s him. I remember there was a scene that was written, perhaps it called for him to cry, or become emotional, or something like that—and he wasn’t having any of it. I mean, it didn’t make sense to him, and it didn’t make sense to him. He wouldn’t do it. He just… You know, I said, “Well, what would you do?” He said, “I’d get angry; I’d give him a stink eye.” So alright, that’s it then, you know? Give him the stink eye.

There’s a great moment where you’ve written something and you have to hand it off to somebody and you hope… you know, it’s their job now. Dillon took charge of his role and contributed things constantly—ideas and his point of view—on it. We didn’t guide him through it and paint by numbers—“Stand here…”—at all. I mean, it was very quick. Within a few a days, he was, “This is what I would do.” He was being himself, and he was being this character, and he was applying both of the things constantly, and he was a natural. I can’t tell you, it was every second. The days that he wasn’t there, there was a gaping hole. We were just all miserable and waiting, whatever, two days, until he would come back. (Laughter) Looking at each other like, “Ah, fuck, let’s just get Dillon back, you know?” (Laughter)

Do you want to add to that?
DAY-LEWIS: That’s it. (Laughter)

Okay, right here. (Repeats audience question) Well, I guess the question is that this script has less dialogue than previous scripts, and I guess the question is whether that had to do, somehow, with the adaptation process? Was there anything specific in terms of how you approached dialogue?
ANDERSON: Ironically, most of the quiet scenes are scenes like the scenes at the beginning are—I wouldn’t say that they’re original, but they’re kind of based on stories of the period; they’re based on Edward Doheny’s first discovery of oil in downtown Los Angeles, you know? Different mining experiences and accidents that I’ve read about… That stuff took care of itself, because I just couldn’t imagine what they’d be saying to each other, even… I mean, Daniel’s alone, so he’s not going to talk to himself, and even those guys out there, you just can’t imagine them [saying], “Hey, look at how much oil we got!” you know? (Laughter) “We’re going to need more buckets!” or something like that, you know? (Laughter) Most of the scenes that come from the book were really dialogue scenes, actually. The real estate scene, the dinner table scene more or less, is very similar. That opening speech, that’s pretty straight from the book.

Is there anything you could say about the pacing of the film, a film that moves around through so many different periods in time?
ANDERSON: Well, a lot of it has to do with Dylan Tichenor, who’s the editor of the film. We cut the movie in New York, ironically enough… and I think it really helped us, actually. It was great to go from West Texas and the middle of nowhere, and edit the movie in New York City. It was so strange. You know, all these quiet scenes and everything, and all you could hear was horns outside honking, and fucking steel, and metal, and everything else. I don’t know, but I think it was good. It actually helped us pace the movie faster. (Laughs) Every Wednesday night, we would have steak and vodka night—where it was just steak and vodka; we’d have no sides—and we said, “This is what the movie should be, steak and vodka.” (Laughter) So I hope that answers your question.

Okay; well, Paul Dano, amazing casting; but the decision to cast him as both brothers…?
ANDERSON: Well, it was a decision that happened. We’d begun shooting the film, and we’d done some rearranging with the cast. We’d had Paul playing Paul Sunday originally, and the idea came—just through a series of events, where we just thought, we just all sort of decided, you know—we should have Paul play this part, but not replace him. Any chance to do a Cain and Abel, I think, we were like, “Alright, well, let’s try to do that.” But we brought Paul in to play Eli on very short notice, which I think was a blessing for him. The way you hear him talk about it, he was just like, “Thank God I didn’t have any time to think about it. I just had to jump in and do it.”

(Responds to audience question) He’s talking about [the] scene—there’s a campfire scene. We put it on this website that we were, like, the horrible purveyors of, really lazy—and we just didn’t need it. We didn’t need the scene. But it was really good, and we wanted to just find a home for it, and we put it up there. (Laughs) Honestly, quite honestly, we didn’t need it… or Dylan thought we didn’t need it. I probably thought we needed it for a long time, and Dylan won that battle.

I wanted to ask you something about the father/son relationship; it was just triggered by talking about this young actor who plays your son. I just wanted to know what playing those scenes were like for you, in terms of… The father/son relationships are so important, and [the question of] whether the father actually loves his son, or what he feels like. In that restaurant scene… there are some very chilling scenes and fascinating scenes, and I’m just wondering what that side of the relationship was like for you.
DAY-LEWIS: Before we actually got to start shooting the film, I already felt very close to Dillon Freasier, and we spent a lot of time together and I was very fond of him. He’s a just a wonderful young man, and I began to worry a little bit about what his experience would be when the story began to unfold. So I talked to him—Paul mentioned it—you know, I talked to him one day and said, “Look, you know, I’m going to speak to you harshly sometimes and I’m going to treat you roughly sometimes.” And he looked at me like I was completely insane.

Plainview’s relationship with his son, or his adopted son, is that of a man who has elevated a junior partner into a senior position and feels, you know, both affection and responsibility for him, but nonetheless, expects him to be able to come to work every day and do his job. Plainview, there’s no part of him that understands what the responsibility is of a parent, and he’s not so consciously cynical as to see—except perhaps at the end, when he’s had time to ruminate upon his life and look back upon it—to see that this young man was a cute face to buy land. That, in effect, was part of the attraction. You know, he understood pretty quickly that it was no bad thing to have this appendage with him. There was real love, real affection; but nonetheless, he regarded this unnaturally mature child as a partner, as a working partner in his life.

The minute that he began to malfunction, he had no way of dealing with that. He had no understanding of how to deal with this very central figure in his life being—working—at a substandard level. So he kind of cauterizes the wound and excises him, pushes him away—as he tends to do with all figures, as he begins to bring them closer to himself, revealing then as he begins to see the fallibility of another human being, then he cuts them away and gradually separates himself, step by step, from mankind.

And since somebody brought up Paul Dano—and it’s such an amazing character, Eli Sunday—if you could talk a little bit about that relationship, because these two characters are flip side of a coin, in a way.
DAY-LEWIS: Well, they’re locked together in clear recognition of each other’s fraudulence, really.

Big fan of Jonny Greenwood and his amazing score; could you talk about the process of scoring this?
ANDERSON: I approached Jonny about doing the film, and sent him a script. He’d never read a script before. And so he said, “It’s great. It’s great… but,” he said, “Catwoman could’ve been great. I don’t really know. I’ve never read a script.” (Laughter) I assured him, “I think it is really good.” We talked a little bit about maybe the instrumentation, and sort of decided it should be strings or old stuff; no computers or anything like that. But he saw the film; I remember bringing the film to him in London. I’d put one piece that he’d written before in there, smear, and a little bit of the Popcorn Superhet Receiver piece, just to kind of show him, you know, “This is how the stuff that you’ve written can work against the picture,”—and I remember him just bounding out of the room being like, “Alright. You know, what do we need? We need some music.” (Laughs) And more or less, the way it sort of worked, just some back and forth. He’s in England, and I was in New York at the time; just sort of back and forth, sending things back and forth, notes back and forth. Ultimately, he went off and just came back with a couple hours worth of music. I remember him sending me a note saying, “I’ve got some music, but I think I’ve gone a little bit overboard,” you know. He did, he wrote so much more than was needed, but it was a pleasure to work with him.

The other Daniel. I guess the question’s about what you go through, what this character goes through and how that affects you. Sort of: does it work for you from the outside in?
DAY-LEWIS: My feeling about talking about that specific part of the story (and indeed, any other part of it) would be that for my own personal sake—and everyone finds their own way of doing things—but the moment you step outside of something and objectify it, then you distance yourself from the experience of that life, and therefore, as far as possible… No, there was no part of me that made any conscious decision about how the younger and middle aged Plainview would develop into the older Plainview. It just seemed to develop out of the story and his experiences, if that answers the question.

Are you surprised when you see the finished film? You said before that you don’t look at dailies, so it must be quite an experience to finally see this.
DAY-LEWIS: I can’t honestly… Paul sent me a rough cut of the film fairly early on in the editing process, and I honestly can’t remember how I felt the first time I saw it, except that it developed so quickly into the kind of correspondence, the to and fro, about how it might develop from there into something else or some other completely different thing. You know, Paul’s attitude towards the work was so fluid, and [he] was obviously still very much searching himself, so I never felt the need to judge it at that early stage, as something that might be a finished piece. It just seemed to be in the process of becoming itself.

ANDERSON: I remember the first time that we saw the film. We’d been sort of leading up to it and really…. (Laughter) I’ll tell you this, we swore to each other that we were going to watch the first time, we said, “No booze. We’re not going to drink. We’re not going to fucking drink.” (Laughter) You know? And it was like a comedy cut; cut to us in the fucking bar, drinking Guinness beforehand just like, “Alright, just one. Just one, and then we’ll watch the movie.” Of course, we had two or three, and then we sat and we watched the film. (But then we had a sober one the next morning, with our cups of coffee.)

DAY-LEWIS: We did have a kind of lover’s tiff when Paul first told me he was going to show me the film. I said, “I don’t want to see the film. Why would you think I would want to see the film?” (Laughter) And then he burst into tears and, you know, we went through that whole thing. But it was great when we made up again. (Laughter) —A Pinewood Dialogue with Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson

~ ~ ~

CinemaTyler’s behind the scenes look at how Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis came to work together; how the character was written by Anderson versus how he was developed by Day-Lewis; how Day-Lewis came up with Plainview’s iconic voice; how the costumes were chosen and much more.



Actor Daniel Day-Lewis and writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson sit down for a conversation about There Will Be Blood, a filmed adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel ‘Oil!’


Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson on There Will Be Blood: Reel Pieces with Annette Insdorf. Keep an eye out for the astonishingly endearing anecdote about Day-Lewis’ personal relationship with the film Giant near the end. Courtesy of Cigarettes & Red Vines.


In this Academy Originals episode, Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges (The Artist, Silver Linings Playbook, There Will Be Blood) shares his creative process with us, including what first drew him to the profession. “The reason I’m a costume designer is because it is everything that I am interested in, and did on my own, as a kid, are all put into one job,” says Bridges, noting his love of drawing, painting, fabrics, and his never-ending obsession with the history of clothes.

Open YouTube video


“Plotting static gaze points onto a single frame of the movie allows us to see what viewers were looking at in a particular frame, but we don’t get a true sense of how we watch movies until we animate the gaze on top of the movie as it plays back. Here is a video of the entire sequence from TWBB with superimposed gaze of 11 viewers. You can also see it here. The main table-top map sequence we are interested begins at 3 minutes, 37 seconds.” —Tim Smith, Watching you watch There Will Be Blood

“To simplify things we can create a ‘peekthrough’ heatmap. A virtual spotlight is cast around each gaze point. This spotlight casts a cold, blue light on the area around the gaze point. If the gazes of multiple viewers are in the same location their spotlights combine and create a hotter/redder heatmap. Areas of the frame that are unattended remain black. By then removing the gaze points but leaving the heatmap we get a ‘peekthrough’ to the movie which allows us to clearly see which parts of the frame are at the centre of attention, which are ignored and how coordinated viewer gaze is. Here is the resulting peekthrough video; also available here. The map sequence begins at 3:38.” —Tim Smith, Watching you watch There Will Be Blood


Quentin Tarantino discusses how Paul Thomas Anderson’s film had a big impact on him.

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Tracking a journey of camera journeys from Hard Eight to There Will Be Blood suggests the director has put away showy things. Video Essay Catalog No. 166 by Kevin B. Lee. Featured in Sight & Sound magazine.

“This two-and-a-half-minute shot is one of the longest in There Will Be Blood, yet it only moves several feet. But within those few feet it is able to create four distinct compositions, a profile closeup of Eli Sunday entering Daniel Plainview’s office, an obstructed wide shot of Plainview at his desk, a medium three-shot of Plainview, Sunday and Fletcher, and a final closeup of Sunday. Each of these shifts changes the dramatic tenor of the scene and the dynamic between its characters, exploring and expositing the space between them. One way that it does so is by providing multiple steady points of visual focus for the viewer, as demonstrated in this scientific study by the Dynamic Images and Eye Movement project, that tracked the eye movements of several viewers to see what they were looking at in the frame. This steady multiplicity of focal points is something radically different from Anderson’s earlier films, where one dominant point of focus takes our eyes through the shot. This camerawork may not look as flashy as those of his earlier films, but the dynamism and energy is there, compressed in slowness, steadily building dramatic tension, pushing towards release.” —Kevin B. Lee


This video by Must See Film’s Darren Foley aims to explore There Will Be Blood as a character study of Daniel Plainview and examine how different characters represent parts of him throughout the film.


One way to deconstruct There Will Be Blood by Evan Puschak.



Robert Elswit, ASC reteams with director Paul Thomas Anderson on There Will Be Blood, the saga of an unsociable oil prospector who strikes it rich but loses his soul. The following is an excerpt from American Cinematographer magazine, written by Stephen Pizzello, ‘Blood for Oil.’ Read the rest of the article at American Cinematographer.

To realize this tale of a driven man who goes off the deep end, Anderson once again tapped cinematographer Robert Elswit, ASC, who had shot all of the director’s previous features: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. Anderson recalls that he first noticed Elswit’s skill while watching Waterland (1992), directed by Stephen Gyllenhall, and the two were eventually introduced by a mutual acquaintance, actor John C. Reilly. “Paul is 20 years younger than me, but I liked him right away,” recalls Elswit, whose recent credits include Michael Clayton and Good Night, and Good Luck. “He had so much energy and enthusiasm. He also loved some of the same movies I love—particularly films from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, many of which are somewhat obscure. Even at 25, Paul was an encyclopedia of American film, and he was very aware of what pictorial style meant. He can respond immediately to something he sees and understands instinctively why it works or why it doesn’t.”

Pondering his relationship with Elswit, Anderson laughs before offering, “It’s kind of a miracle anything gets done, really. We’ve worked together so long the relationship has its own set of advantages, but it also has enormous dysfunction. Bob and I disagree just as often as we agree, but the relationship wouldn’t be as good if we agreed on everything. Sometimes I’ll sit right over his shoulder and all he’ll want me to do is go away. At other times, we have a great time sitting together and coming up with ideas. Or, sometimes, I’ll get distracted and he’ll put something together that’s really lovely.”

Elswit notes that Anderson’s methods can be quite unorthodox, so much so that the cinematographer has occasionally had to dismiss crewmembers who couldn’t grasp the director’s freewheeling approach to filmmaking. “Paul has very clear ideas, but he doesn’t want to plan out every little thing in advance,” says Elswit. “Actors love him because they feel free to play, create and discover. Cinematographers want to control things as much as we can, but what I’ve learned from Paul is how much better it can be to let accidents happen rather than try to force everything to be a certain way. He wants to see things unfold on the set, and if something isn’t working, he’s willing to stop in his tracks and start all over again. So there’s a constant recharging and renewal of creative energy.

“That way of working is particularly difficult if you’re the focus puller or the dolly grip,” continues Elswit. “Those guys are used to more precise timings and methods. When you work with Paul, you’re shooting with anamorphic lenses and there are no marks on the ground. There is no hair-and-makeup or wardrobe on set. There are no final touches, there’s no ringing of the bell, there’s no announcement that we’re shooting. There’s also no standard rehearsal, really; once we figure out what the shot will be, there’s a little bit of rehearsal, but then it starts to change and the rehearsal turns into the shooting. It’s a very organic approach, and you have to be ready for immediate changes. That’s why we have the same crew over and over again — Paul has to work with people who are incredibly alert and aware on set. Everyone is truly a filmmaker.”

“I enjoy the technical side of filmmaking, but I’m only able to enjoy it because I have true technicians with me,” admits Anderson, who has no formal film education. “I actually learned a lot of what I know by reading American Cinematographer. Some of the articles could get a bit technical, but that just made me want to learn more. I’m still a bit of a Luddite, though, and I probably think I know a bit more than I do.”

Elswit says he appreciates Anderson’s combination of experimentation and old-school filmmaking principles, qualities that blend to powerful effect in There Will Be Blood. On the technical side, “Paul knew he wanted to make an anamorphic film because he prefers the anamorphic lens system to shooting Super 35mm and doing an anamorphic release print. We did Hard Eight in Super 35, but every movie we’ve done since has been anamorphic. He just likes the look those lenses produce. When you shoot in anamorphic, there’s a different feeling, a different way of staging and different depth of field. Paul loves older films, and those qualities mean something to him.” —Stephen Pizzello, Blood for Oil


“We’re back with Academy Award-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit, who does a deep dive into how they filmed the plane stunt for Rogue Nation, how his background in effects helped him conceptualize the underwater sequence, and what went into the opera set piece. We also got some details of his working relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson and were blessed with a genuinely incredible There Will Be Blood story. Praise be.” —Light the Fuse


Robert Elswit is one of the most accomplished contemporary cinematographers. CinemaTyler go through some of his cinematography lighting and camera techniques to help you understand his unique style.


Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Photographed by François Duhamel, Melinda Sue Gordon © Paramount Vantage, Miramax, Ghoulardi Film Company. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.


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