Dances with Wolves is a 1990 epic Western film directed by and starring Kevin Costner. It is based on the 1988 book of the same name by Michael Blake, and follows a US Army Lieutenant named John Dunbar who is sent to a military post in the frontier. There, he encounters a tribe of Native Americans and begins to build a relationship with them. The film was a landslide at the box office and was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, winning seven, including Best Picture and Best Director. See what makes Dances with Wolves such an iconic film and everything that had to happen for it to be made.
It Started Off As A Novel That Nobody Wanted To Publish
Inspired after reading about the Plains Indians, screenwriter Michael Blake pitched Kevin Costner with the idea for Dances with Wolves. The two had met in an acting class, and Costner suggested that he turn the idea into a book first, rather than a screenplay, to hopefully garner more interest from the studios.
Blake wrote the book over a series of months and submitted it to a series of publishers. Unfortunately, nobody was interested in it, and after more than 30 rejections it was picked up by the small publisher Fawcett.
Costner Sought Out Other Directors Before Taking The Job Himself
Once Costner agreed to be part of the project, he sent scripts to three prominent directors who have remained nameless. Hopeful that at least one of them would be interested and a good fit, he was met with disappointment. According to Costner, each one of them wanted to change something crucial to the film.
“Some wanted to get rid of the opening Civil War sequence, some thought it was too long,” he said. “Somebody thought it shouldn’t be a white [love interest], that that would be cliché.” In the end, Costner decided to direct the film himself.
Costner Performed Most Of His Own Stunts
Producer Jim Wilson estimates that the actor-director performed around 95% of all the riding, shooting, fighting, and dancing that his character did. While this is impressive, it made the rest of the production team nervous considering he was both the star and director of the film.
At one point, while filming the buffalo hunt scene, he was thrown from his horse, which struck fear into the heart of everyone on set. Thankfully, Costner was unharmed and continued with the scene.
It Was The Highest-Grossing Western Of All Time
Although Westerns had been an increasingly popular genre in the preceding decades, Dances With Wolves helped to revitalize and modernize the genre. In the six months that it was in theaters, it made $184 million domestically, far surpassing the previously most successful westerns.
Over 25 years later, it’s still the highest-grossing ever, barely beating True Grit. Yet, despite being so financially successful, the film never managed to top the box office charts
Costner Is Now An Honorary Member Of The Sioux
Although not everyone agreed, many Sioux were appreciative of Costner’s direction with the film, showing the peaceful day-to-day lives of their tribe. They honored Costner as an honorary member of the tribe.
At the induction ceremony, he was given a feather to wear in his hair and a hand-woven quilt. Unfortunately, years later, he lost favor with some of the Sioux after he purchased several hundred acres in the Black Hills in South Dakota and announced his plans to build. Thankfully, he abandoned the plan in 2013.
There’s A Sequel
Although it hasn’t been adapted for film or TV yet, there is a sequel novel to Dances with Wolves titled The Holy Road. Blake published the book in 2001 and continues following John Dunbar, who is now a full Sioux warrior, as he tries to protect the tribe from the encroaching white settlers.
The novel was praised for its portrayal of westward expansion and the struggles the Native Americans faced. While it seems ideal for a movie or a miniseries, nothing has come to fruition.
The Movie Temporarily Helped Orion Pictures
Although Orion Pictures may have seen major success with films like RoboCop, Platoon, and Caddyshack, in the 1980s, it wasn’t doing the best as a production company. When Dances with Wolves first came out, its stock was down 50% and the company was a shocking $50 million in debt.
While Dances with Wolves was insanely successful and helped keep the company afloat, unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Just a year later, the company filed for bankruptcy and was eventually bought by MGM.
The Buffalo Hunt Took Meticulous Planning
Impressively, there were no there was no movie magic used when filming the buffalo hunt. That was a real herd of over 3,500 buffalo running across the plain. If they were lucky, the crew would have maybe one opportunity to film the stampede each day.
First, they had to get the animals rounded up and according to producer Jim Wilson, “The trucks began herding the buffalo at five o’clock in the morning in hopes that they would be in position by 11.” To film, they had 20 wranglers, a helicopter, and ten pickup trucks with mounted cameras.
Costner Had An Interesting Relationship With Writer Michael Blake
Before Blake started working on Dances with Wolves, Costner tried to get his friend to work with a variety of different studios. In one interview, Costner eventually revealed that Blake made the whole process difficult by arguing with the representatives. He claims, “I really started to lose patience with him.”
From there, their relationship soured, with Blake eventually moving to Arizona to wash dishes at a Chinese restaurant while finishing his book. When Costner finally agreed to read it, he was stunned, stating, “It was the clearest idea for a movie that I’d ever read.”
The Actor’s Lakota Wasn’t Perfect
Even though Doris Leader Charge did an incredible job teaching Lakota to numerous individuals who knew nothing about the language before shooting, some aspects were left out. Lakota is a significantly difficult dialect to master, and even has “gendered speech” so some words have different meanings for both men and women.
Because this would have been too complicated to incorporate, the gendered speech was left out. Those who saw the film and spoke the language found it humorous that the male warriors talked like women.
Costner’s Daughter Made An Appearance
Kevin Costner’s daughter, Annie Costner, had a small role in the film playing Stands With a Fist as a child. She can be seen running away from the group of Pawnee that killed her family in a dream sequence.
While running, she looks over both of her shoulders. This was because Costner told her to look over her left, but she was too young to know her left from right at that time. She was only six years old during production.
The Film’s Dialogue Coach Was A Unique Individual
As the film progressed, more than a quarter of Blake’s script had to be translated into the Sioux Lakota dialect. While some people wouldn’t have wanted to go through the hassle and would have everything spoken in English, this wasn’t the case here.
One of the biggest issues was that few people were still alive that knew the Lakota language, let alone well enough to translate it. Yet, Costner found Doris Leader Charge, a teacher at South Dakota’s Sinte Gleska University, who taught the Lakota language. He sent her the script, and she had it translated in three weeks. She then became the dialogue coach for the whole production and even had a role as Pretty Shield, the wife of Chief Ten Bears.
The Film Was An Investment For Costner
Unfortunately, the film ran way over budget, resulting in Costner digging into his own pockets to make up for the initial $15 million budget. Because of this, there were rumors that the film was going to turn out to be a Western disaster such as Heaven’s Gate, with some people even referring to it as “Kevin’s Gate.”
Regardless, the film went on to win the first Best Picture Oscar for a western since Cimarron in 1931. Costner’s investment also paid off and he earned an estimated $40 million.
Some Characters Are Based On Real people
Although there was a John Dunbar, a pro-Native American missionary who made allies with the Pawnee in the 1800s, he has no real connection to the character in the movie. However, Stands With a Fist was based on a real person.
Her character was inspired by Cynthia Ann Parker, a young girl who was kidnapped by the Comanche in 1836 when she was just ten years old. She lived with the tribe until 1860, when she was recaptured by the Texas Rangers.
There Were Major Production Delays
There were countless delays during production due to the unpredictable weather of the South Dakota plains, working with real wolves, and the complexity of the Native American battle scenes. However, the most challenging aspect of the film to shoot was the epic bison hunt sequence.
This particular scene took over three weeks to make and required 100 Native American stunt riders, not to mention a real stampeding herd of thousands of bison. However, it wasn’t all for nothing and is considered to be one of the most breathtaking scenes in cinematic history.
It Was A Very Complicated Shoot
Although the movie may look as though it was filmed in one central location, that’s far from the truth. Filming took place in more than 30 different locations throughout South Dakota and Wyoming.
The script required 3,500 live buffalo, three dozen tepees, 300 horses, and enough Native American extras to make up a relatively large village. To top it all off, the weather drastically changed during the July to November shoot, ranging from just 20 to over 100 degrees.
The Reason Behind The Abandonment Of Fort Sedgwick
After Dunbar requests that he be stationed in the West, he is sent to Fort Sedgwick. However, upon his arrival, he discovered that the outpost is abandoned and falling apart. The film never explains how the outpost came to be in such ragged condition, but a deleted scene does.
The scene explains that the garrison stationed there had abandoned the location after their horses were stolen, they survived several Native American attacks, and were waiting for a supply train and reinforcements that would never come. The soldiers then abandoned their post shortly before Dunbar arrived.
The Wolves Were Tempermental To Work With
Producers used two wolves named Buck and Teddy to play “Two Socks,” the wolf that Dunbar befriends. Even though these were considered to be trained and docile wolves, that didn’t mean they were easy to work with by any means.
To get the wolves to cooperate, handlers had to have a lot of patience and meat scraps on hand. One of the trainers was even bitten by a wolf, so Costner had to fill in to get the scene done.
Costner Wanted An Older Woman To Play Stands With A Fist
While most films show an older man becoming romantically involved with a younger woman, Costner wanted to try a different approach. He wanted a mature and older-looking woman to play Stands With a Fist, the white woman raised within the Sioux tribe who helps bring Dunbar into the community while they simultaneously fall in love.
In the end, the part went to 37-year-old Mary McDonnell, who learned her Lakota lines with ease and was convincing at re-learning English in the film. Her performance earned her an Oscar nomination as well as all-around praise.
There Were Separate Marketing Campaigns For Men And Women
One of the main reasons that Dances with Wolves was such a success was that aspects of it were appealing to both men and women. In order to attract men and women separately, the advertisement campaign was tweaked to create different trailers and print ads that were alluring to the specific genders.
The female-focused marketing campaign focused on the love interest between Dunbar and Stands With A Fist, whereas the male campaign focused on the Wild West and gunslinging aspects of the film.
The Actors Didn’t Actually Ride Bareback
Historically, the Sioux rode most of their horses bareback. But for the actors, this posed a higher risk of sliding off of the horses, especially during dramatic chase scenes. For this reason, the re-enactors and horse wranglers recommended that the actors used saddles.
The producers agreed, saying, “As long as we don’t notice, that’s fine.” The actors used saddles and then covered them with blankets, so that it looked like they were riding bareback. It looked accurate on screen, the actors didn’t have any major accidents.
250 Civil War Re-Enactors Worked On Set
For the opening Civil War scene, the producers hired 250 Civil War re-enactors. One was Jim Hatzell, for whom Dances with Wolves was his first movie. He got the job by sending a photo of himself in cavalry clothing to Andy Cannon, the re-enactment coordinator.
Because many re-enactors had military discipline, they worked far more efficiently than the staff had anticipated. They saved Costner time and money by working swiftly and teaching him military stances, such as the right way to salute. In a sense, the re-enactors worked as unofficial technical advisors.
Graham Had Bologna In His Shoes
In an interview during The Red Green Show, the host asked Graham Greene what he thought about Dances with Wolves. He responded with, “the native guy was OK. Should have gotten the Oscar.”
Maybe he should have received the Oscar for what he did to help better the role. He had to help make Kicking Bird’s back discomfort more believable, so he added slippery bologna slices to his shoes. That’s some dedication to a role.
The Buffalo Stampede Began With An Oreo
Producer Jim Wilson struggled to force his bison to stampede. The set had 3,500 bison, and two were domesticated–”Mammoth” and “Cody.” ”Cody was obsessed with Oreo cookies,” Wilson says. ”You could be 100 yards away, pull out an Oreo, and he’d take off like a bullet straight for you.”
In the scene where the buffalo tramples over a fallen boy, he (the buffalo) is actually running after an Oreo. Wilson kickstarted the entire scene by waving one Oreo in Cody’s face, and the rest of the bison followed.
Ten Bears Holds A Conquistador Helmet
During one scene, Ten Bears talks to Dunbar about the “men who came during the time of his grandfather’s grandfather.” He shows Dunbar a historically-accurate Conquistador helmet called a Morion. Conquistadors were Spanish soldiers who explored the Americas from the 15th century through the 19th century.
Morions were typically used during the 16th and 17th centuries, which would make sense given the timeline that Ten Bears offers. The helmet seen in the movie was likely a prop, not an artifact. But it does hint at what happened to the Sioux tribe long before the film’s timeline took place.
Costner Forked Out Personal Money
The film cost a lot and Costner had to pay a little extra so that they could finish the production. How much extra? Well, with all the bison, wolves, and then having to figure out filming outdoors, things went over the $15 million budget.
That wouldn’t stop Costner. The man ended up shelling out an additional $3 million from his pocket to complete the movie. It says a lot about how much he wanted this thing done.
Costner Profited Big
Costner might’ve supplied the movie with some extra millions, but he undoubtedly made that all back and some. He put up $3 million and his return would end up more than triple that investment.
After the film took off at the box office, Costner started to see the money pour in like a flood. The actor would get upwards of $40 million in profit! It was a good thing he gave them that three million.
The Oscars Loved It
We’ve discussed some of the details about the Oscars and the awards this film won, but we haven’t told you all about it. Would you guess that this movie won three Oscars for some of the biggest categories?
The film editing, sound, and cinematography all went to Dances With Wolves that year. That’s quite the accomplishment for the time and effort everyone put in to make this as iconic as it is.
If you have a good eye at noticing the little things in film, you probably picked up on this fact. The last scene filmed was the one where Costner rides up to tell everyone the bison have arrived.
It’s one of the only out-of-sequence shots in the movie. He’s wearing pants and a shirt, but if you pan out, you’d see that everyone else on set had on heavy coats because it was freezing cold.
Added To The National Film Registry
Clearly, not every film gets added to the National Film Registry. That’s an honor saved for movies that make the Earth move after being released, for various reasons. For Dances With Wolves, it was easy.
It made the cut for “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films,” in 2007. It looks like it hit the head on all three with ease. The real question is, what took the registry so long to finally add this movie in there?
Audiences Were Intrigued By The Real-Life Characters
With all the ways the cast added depth to their characters, it was enough to capture the attention of the audiences. They did have to speak the Lakota language, put meat in their shoes (as we just mentioned), and so much more.
Audiences loved the details that went into their existence. You might notice that in a lot of films today. The plot might be about giving viewers background on cultures not everyone knows about, which strikes up more interest to learn about it.
The Skinning Wasn’t Real
Production used paper animals that looked very real. There was really a funny story involving the fake animals and the cops. Because someone thought that bison were getting hurt, the cops came after a call.
Upon arrival, they had their weapons drawn and were ready to take the poachers in for justice. The police ended up leaving with laughs after the whole thing got cleared up. That sounds like a sticky, but funny, situation for everyone.
The Music Won ‘Best Original Score’
The music was composed by John Barry, who also made music for the James Bond films (including the iconic theme song). Barry received much praise for “Tthe John Dunbar Theme” and “The Love Theme” in Dances with Wolves. In 1991, the movie won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
Barry’s music wasn’t just great; it also pioneered the use of synthesizers in a film score. He would often watch the film and jot down which scenes needed more music or more drama. Barry also won Academy awards for Out of Africa, The Lion in the Winter, and Born Free.
They Only Had One Day To Work With The Bison
Although the bison scene took a long time to organize, the crew only had one day to pull it off. Before then, they spent one week at the ranch. The herd of 3,500 bison belonged to South Dakota rancher Roy Houck. It was the largest privately-owned bison herd in the world.
Staff set up several cameras around the ranch in the week leading up to the shoot. Wire-and-fur dummies were laid out to replicate the fallen animals. Then, they released the bison five times for five shoots, which lasted a maximum of eight minutes each.
The Feasting Scene Was Filmed Indoors
In the movie, the Sioux gather for a feast after the bison hunting scene. There, Dunbar and Wind in His Hair exchange gifts and become friends. The scene looks like it was filmed outside, but it was actually filmed indoors.
The staff filmed the scene in a Quonset hut at night because it was too cold outside. At the time, the crew was in South Dakota, and winter was rapidly approaching. Because the movie was mostly outdoors, the staff had to work around the harsh weather conditions.
The Cinematographer’s Daughter Broke Her Hands On Set
The cinematographer of Dances with Wolves, Dean Semler, worked with his daughter on set. She was one of the many horse wranglers needed throughout the film. While riding, Semler’s horse got spooked and threw her. She ended up breaking both of her wrists.
Her work wasn’t for nothing, though. Her father Dean won the Academy Award for cinematography for Dances with Wolves. The Semlers weren’t the only staff members who got injuries. This was one of the many complications of dealing with animals while filming.
Staff Had To Continually Fill The Pond With Water
While the crew filmed the Fort Sedgwick scenes, South Dakota was undergoing a harsh drought. The nearby pond quickly evaporated. Every day, staff had to transport water in trucks to fill up the pond. They didn’t want any inconsistencies.
The Fort Sedgwick scenes were filmed just outside of Fort Pierre, near the Triple U Buffalo Ranch where they shot all of the bison scenes. The set was constructed for the movie and then taken down, so you can no longer visit it today. At least the pond no suffers from a drought.
Why You Need A Great Score
A film’s score can help to make it or break it. Some ordinary films become extraordinary thanks to the music that comes along with it and adds to the drama.
For this movie, the score was enough to attract a very important person. Dances With Wolves’ score was a favorite of Pope John Paul II. John Barry composed it, and he also did work on the James Bond series. Quite impressive!
Neil Young Brought The Goods
For a movie involving a ton of animals, the production team had to figure out creative ways to supply the set with the furry creatures they needed. One method involved the rocker Neil Young.
That’s right, Young gave some animals for the movie. It wasn’t a lot, but he provided the film with two domesticated bison. Domesticated bison aren’t that easy to come by, so this was a huge help for everyone involved. Remember, it took over three weeks to film the bison scene!
Top Dollar For A Bison
This film really needed bison and the details prove it. Not only did Niel Young provide a couple, but the production team also went to further lengths to secure one more bison. It was a costly choice.
Production ended up making an animatronic bison, and it was pretty costly. It wasn’t like it was a few thousand, no, that fake animal set them back a quarter of a million dollars.
Greedy Facts About There Will Be Blood
There Will Be Blood is a 2007 epic period piece written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The film follows an oilman named Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who is overcome by greed during the Southern California oil boom in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The film was hailed for its acting, cinematography, direction, and is considered to be one of the greatest films of the 21st century. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it took home Best Actor for Day-Lewis and Best Cinematography for Robert Elswit. Now, take a look into some lesser-known facts about the film and what’s made it stand out in history.
Daniel Day-Lewis Is In All But Two Scenes
The lead of the film, Daniel Day-Lewis, is in almost every scene of the movie except for two. These are the short montage of H.W. and Mary Sunday leading up to their wedding and the scene when a mud-covered Eli Sunday yells at his father.
Daniel Day-Lewis, who has always been picky about the roles he chooses, was interested in the film after seeing Paul Thomas Anderson’s work on Punch-Drunk Love. Of course, Anderson was thrilled to bring such a renowned actor onto his project.
The Actor That Plays Adult H.W. Plainview Is Deaf In Real Life
One incredibly memorable scene in the film is when a young H.W. Plainview loses his hearing due to a gas blowout. Because the film spans a large amount of time, in later scenes, we see H.W. Plainview as an adult who is played by Russell Harvard, who is deaf in real life.
They chose to use a deaf actor because the appropriate portrayal of deaf people and others with disabilities has become more prevalent in the movie industry.
A Widely Circulated Picture Taken On-Set Wrongly Claimed To Feature Daniel Day-Lewis
When filming the movie, an on-set photographer took a photo of a man that they claimed to be Daniel-Day Lewis. Even though the picture didn’t look like the actor, the photographer thought it was because he had changed his appearance.
It didn’t take long for the image to be released to the press, where it circulated various magazines and websites, leading to rumors spreading that Day-Lewis changed his appearance to play the lead role. The actual actor photographed was Vince Froio, who played one of Daniel Plainview’s associates towards the end.
Some Scenes Were Shot Several Times In Multiple Locations
Notorious for being a perfectionist, Paul Thomas Anderson wasn’t entirely sure where each scene in the film would take place. As a result, some scenes were shot multiple times in different locations, and during editing, the particular location that was added that best fit the film.
During the editing process, Anderson and his team would eat steak and drink vodka every Wednesday night to feel like Daniel Plainview and best map out the story of his life and eventual downfall.
A Pyrotechnic Test Stalled The Production Of No Country For Old Men
At the 80th Academy Awards, There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men were tied for the most nominations, with each film having eight. As well as being head-to-head at the awards ceremony, ironically, both films were being shot in Marfa, Texas, at the same time.
On one occasion, director Paul Thomas Anderson and his team were testing out some pyrotechnic special effects for an oil fire scene in There Will Be Blood. However, the smoke from the pyrotechnics got into the background of a shot of the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men. They then had to delay their production for a day until the smoke cleared.
The Film’s Connection With Milkshakes
One of the most famous and quoted lines in the film is when Daniel Plainview screams, “I drink your milkshake!” at Eli Sunday before murdering him. This line was taken from an official testimony by New Mexico Republican Senator Albert Fall, who used the milkshake metaphor to describe how he would accept bribes for oil-drilling rights.
Anderson found this appealing, so he added it to the script. Milkshakes are also involved in the film since Anderson claims the fake oil that was used contained the same substance that McDonald’s uses to produce their chocolate milkshakes.
Daniel Plainview’s Hats Showed His Character Development
The costume designer for the film, Mark Bridges, has noted that Daniel Plainview consistently wears hats throughout There Will be Blood, which are designed to show the character’s development.
In an interview with The Denver Post, Bridges explains, “Leading up to the first time we see [the main] hat, [Plainview’s] hats kind of echo or inform what’s going on with his career and life.” Day-Lewis also had a say in the hats his character wore since it was his ideas for the hats to have meaning in the first place.
Eli And Paul Sunday Weren’t Initially Going To Be Twins
During the casting for the film, Paul Dano was given the small role of Paul Sunday, with actor Kel O’Neill being cast to play the more significant part of his brother Eli.
However, the two brothers weren’t twins in the original script, yet after Dano shot his only scene as Paul, Anderson decided to make the brothers identical twins and asked if Dano would also like to play Eli. Paul Dano was then expected to be ready to play one of the film’s biggest roles just four days after it was offered to him.
Daniel Plainview’s Dark Personality Attracted Day-Lewis To The Role
Actor Daniel Day-Lewis has never been known for playing lighthearted roles, so it’s no surprise that the darkness within Daniel Plainview was attractive to him.
In an interview with NPR, Day-Lewis explained, “I daresay, because the unconscious plays such an important part in the work, the imagination being on the front line of that … what could be more liberating than to explore with impunity the darker recesses of one’s imagination and psyche?” In the end, it all worked out too, because Day-Lewis’ take on Daniel Plainview can be described as nothing less than unnerving.
Anderson Was Inspired By The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
Although there were rumors that Paul Thomas Anderson watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre every night before filming began, Anderson admitted that although he watched it a lot, the number of times “has gotten completely exaggerated.”
He also told Filmmaker Magazine, “It’s essentially a dialogue, a dynamic between these three guys. [The film’s] traditional straightforward storytelling was what I was influenced by, and it was something that seemed to apply when trying to make a big story on a limited budget.”
Dillon Freasier, Who Played H.W., Never Acted Before
When casting the role of H.W. Plainview’s son, they went through a number of professional child actors before Anderson decided they needed a “boy from Texas who knew how to shoot shotguns and live in that world.”
Casting director Cassandra Kulukundis then began searching around schools in the area, and according to the Los Angeles Times, she was looking for “a child who didn’t play with GameBoys but worked outside.” One of the boys recommended was Dillon Freasier, whose police officer-mother ironically pulled over Kulukundis the same day Freasier auditioned for the role.
Day-Lewis Didn’t Do As Much Preparation As He Usually Does
Although Daniel Day-Lewis is notorious for going to great lengths when preparing for a role, this wasn’t necessarily the case for There Will Be Blood. Since the film is loosely based on the book Oil!, Day-Lewis told IndieLondon, “I read the book [Oil!]. The first 150 pages or so introduce you to the world of the oilfields at that time, and there’s a lot of great detail about the world of the drillers and the prospectors.”
Besides that, the actor admitted he didn’t do much else except for mastering his character’s voice by listening to old recordings of director, writer, and producer, John Huston.
Philip Seymour Hoffman Was Almost Involved
Initially, Paul Thomas Anderson had wanted to cast Philip Seymour Hoffman for the role of HM Tilford. However, he decided against this and decided to cast someone else to distance himself from some of his other works.
He wanted to have a kind of rebirth of his works, which wouldn’t have been as effective if he had used Hoffman, who had been in Anderson’s more lighthearted films such as Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love. Regardless, Hoffman was busy anyway filming Synecdoche, New York.
The Final Scene Was Supposed To Be Much More Graphic
In the final scene of There Will Be Blood, Daniel Plainview chases Eli Sunday around his bowling alley before finally beating him to death with a bowling pin. As horrific as this was, the scene in the original script was going to be substantially more graphic.
The plan was to still have Plainview beat Eli to death, but it was going to be a tumbler instead of a bowling pin. Plainview was then going to throw Eli’s corpse into the bowling pins and down into the cellar. Yet, when it came time to film, it was decided that the graphic nature of the scene didn’t fit right.
They Used Real Mine Shafts
During filming, the town of Marfa near the Texas-Mexico border was used to look like Bakersfield, California. One of the main reasons for using this location is because there are several abandoned mine shafts all over the area that had been dug at the beginning of the twentieth century.
One of the shafts that were used in the film is incredibly deep, sixty to seventy feet that connects to a mechanically dug perpendicular tunnel at the bottom. Other sets, such as the church, were built on the site.
There Were Rumors That Daniel Day-Lewis Built His Own Oil Rig
Known as one of the most intense method actors in the business, some outlets reported that Day-Lewis built an oil rig in his backyard. Nevertheless, these claims were false.
In an interview with IndieLondon, Day-Lewis commented, “It was rumored apparently that I’d built a derrick in a field behind my house in County Wicklow […] and I must say when I read that I thought: ‘That’s not a bad idea, I might try that!’ But we were a bit short on help at the time.”
Dillon Freasier’s Mom Was Nervous About Her Son Working With Day-Lewis
Even though the film was an incredible first job for the young boy, Dillon’s mom was nervous about her son working so close with a man that she didn’t know. So, she decided to watch one of his movies and landed on Gangs of New York.
Upon seeing the film, she was horrified over Day-Lewis’ performance as Bill the Butcher, so someone sent her his movie The Age of Innocence instead to calm her nerves. When Day-Lewis won Best Actor for his work on There Will Be Blood, he thanked his young co-star, but he was already asleep.
Paul Dano Wasn’t Always Sure What Day-Lewis Was Going To Do
Acting the opposite of Day-Lewis in such an intense film would be daunting for even the most experienced actors.
Regarding his experience, Dano told Collider that there were “definitely some moments where, you know, I was going, ‘Holy [expletive] … Because we didn’t really rehearse and so sometimes, I didn’t know how big something that was going to come out of him was going to be, because he’s so powerful. And I don’t really want to say specific instances.” Certainly, this was a moment in Dano’s career that he would not soon forget.
The Movie Was Only Partially Based On Oil!
Although the credits claim that the film is based on Upton Sinclair’s novel, Oil!, the book didn’t have all that much influence on Paul Thomas Anderson’s vision for the film.
Anderson told The A.V. Club, “[W]ith There Will Be Blood, I didn’t even really feel like I was adapting a book […] I was just desperate to find stuff to write. I can remember the way that my desk looked, with so many different scraps of paper and books about the oil industry in the early 20th century, mixed in with pieces of other scripts that I’d written.” He went on to note that they were pretty “unfaithful to the book.”
Day-Lewis Based His Character’s Mannerisms On John Huston
Daniel Day-Lewis took inspiration for Daniel Plainview’s mannerisms by studying John Huston, who ironically wrote and directed 1948’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which influenced There Will Be Blood.
According to Day-Lewis, “I did listen to some tapes of Huston’s voice, among others. And there was something about the vigor of Huston’s language appealed to me.” It appears that Day-Lewis’ study of Huston worked out int he end, considering his voice in the film is one of the most memorable parts of his performance.