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How’s this for a grisly coincidence: “There Will Be Blood’s” ending scenes, which show an old Daniel Day-Lewis as a rich oil baron and include the film’s violent climax, were shot at Greystone Mansion, the famed Beverly Hills building that 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, 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 producer JoAnne Sellar, who also produced Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love,” “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights.” “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 take a trip out 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.”
“The Kite Runner” is a rare creature: a Hollywood-born foreign-language film.
In adapting the best-selling Khaled Hosseini novel, director Marc Forster not only wanted to re-create the book’s Afghanistan setting but also sought to make sure he got the same production value as in his other films.
The movie filmed in Kashgar, an old Silk Road town in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. The landscape and architecture matched what the filmmakers were looking for, the locals were game and “you just saw you could shoot 360 degrees and really only change the wardrobe and the signs,” said E. Bennett Walsh, one of the producers on the film.
The international crew mixed it up with the local ethnic group, called Wigars, as well as the Chinese, all of whom had different perspectives on how to make a film.
“The Wigars are used to doing local TV dramas; the Chinese are used to local films,” Walsh said. “Until they see how you do it, their point of reference and quality is different. So what was amazing to see was, after a week or two of filming, everybody came up to what Marc wanted to get.”
Although Kashgar is only 50 kilometers from Afghanistan’s border, it took three months to secure visas for the Afghani actors. Ten thousand extras were hired and outfitted. Four hundred beards were made for a scene where two people are stoned in a stadium.
The signature kite-flying set piece required 200 kids to be trained in kite flying, despite the fact that when the scene was shot, none of them actually flew one since the kites were later added digitally. The sequence took 10 days, required 50 rooftops and “a lot of walkie-talkies and a lot of translators,” Walsh said.
The production became a melting pot, with call sheets in four different languages — Mandarin, English and the Afghani dialects of Dari and Wigar — and mealtimes led to three catering lines, for Muslim, Chinese and Western foods.
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