LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - How’s this for a grisly coincidence: The violent climax to “There Will Be Blood,” featuring Daniel Day-Lewis as an aged oil baron, was shot at Greystone Mansion. The famed Beverly Hills building was built by oil tycoon Edward Doheny in the 1920s for his son, who died in a murder-suicide.
The 55-room mansion has been used in many films, including the “Ghostbusters” movies and “Batman & Robin,” and as the site for Hollywood weddings. While the “Blood” filmmakers transformed one room into a beautiful study, their biggest coup was discovering, and then refurbishing, the mansion’s lost and dilapidated bowling alley.
“It was just an empty shell of a room,” producer JoAnne Sellar said. “The structure was there, but it had deteriorated over the years. There wasn’t anything of the bowling alley left.”
With some elbow grease, the production refurbished it to what it would have looked like back in the mansion’s heyday.
“It’s still there now,” she said. “We left it up for people to see.”
While “There Will Be Blood” is set during the turn-of-the-century California oil rush, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson and his production team had to leave the state to find its locations.
“We scouted all over California looking for a California that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Sellar. “There’s always a Burger King or a Starbucks or a freeway in the way. You can’t get away from it. We couldn’t have a 360 (degree) view.”
The production scouted nearby states, but what Anderson was looking for was something that would give his vision “scope,” Sellar said. Then they came across some pictures sent by the Texas Film Commission of a private ranch near a small town named Marfa. Anderson was intrigued enough to travel there, and as they say in the biz, he “fell in love with the place.”
The ranch had the vistas that approximated the long-lost California, the space to build all the sets and the needed privacy. It even had a private rail line that was only used a couple times a month.
But the hard work was just about to begin: The production had to create an entire community from scratch. Under the guidance of production designers, carpenters reported for duty three months before the start of principal photography to build the town of Little Boston, the train depot and the home of preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). The production even constructed a life-size oil derrick, designed to historic specifications, that they burned down for one of the film’s key scenes.
“Everything you see on the film was built,” Sellar said. “There was nothing there; it was just an empty piece of land.”
That empty piece of land also happened to be in the middle of nowhere. The nearest airport was three hours away in El Paso, and there weren’t any local crews to speak of, thus necessitating transporting everything into a town of 2,000 people.
But the remoteness of the production helped the actors, Sellar said. “When you went to work on this ranch, you felt you were going back in time,” she said. “There were no distractions, and we were totally in the movie. When we did come back to L.A., it was a culture shock because you got so used to living in that environment.”