The A.V. Club’s love affair with There Will Be Blood started quickly and intensely. “I’m thinking that not only did I see the best film of the year—in a walk—but maybe one of the best movies I’ve ever seen,” wrote Josh Modell in a breathless blog post under the headline “OMG, There Will Be Blood.” Although No Country For Old Men took top honors in our “best films of the year” feature that year—Josh doesn’t vote in those, though his ballot probably would’ve listed There Will Be Blood 10 times—There Will Be Blood was the main feature that drew us to Marfa, Texas, for the second season of Pop Pilgrims.
Whereas Marfa’s other famous films, No Country For Old Men and Giant, did a limited amount of shooting there—a couple scenes in No Country, exteriors only in Giant—There Will Be Blood shot nearly all of its 158 minutes on McGuire Ranch, just outside of Marfa. (The film’s final scenes, in Daniel Plainview’s mansion, were shot in California.) For roughly nine months in 2006, Paul Thomas Anderson’s production took over Marfa—overlapping at times with No Country For Old Men—though all the filming took place outside of town on the private property of an enormous ranch whose dirt “roads” required trucks with four-wheel drive.
In charge of all of it was David Williams, McGuire Ranch manager and the production’s go-to guy for pretty much everything. Need to hose down the roads so they’re passable? Talk to David. Need supplies? Talk to David. Need to cast another part in the film? Hey, David can do it. (Williams appeared in several scenes opposite Daniel Day-Lewis.) Even after production wrapped, his There Will Be Blood duties continued: Once the film came out and quickly earned awards-season buzz, Williams found himself answering questions from reporters and frequently taking them on tours of shooting locations around the ranch. It happens less frequently now, but here it is, six years later, and he’s still doing it.
For people from densely populated urban areas—like the A.V. Club crew—it’s easy to forget that vast parts of this country remain unpopulated or sparsely populated. And standing on one of the many vistas on McGuire Ranch—watching javelinas root around in some bushes—that vast emptiness is especially striking. There’s nothing around for miles and miles. Even crazier, much of what you see to the horizon is all part of the same ranch. McGuire Ranch has so many different areas that it effectively functions like a (giant) studio backlot, with numerous options for different settings. It took us all afternoon to drive to the various There Will Be Blood locations; although all were contained on McGuire Ranch, some were separated by miles of land.
And some aren’t even accessible by truck. The Bandy house—he’s the guy who insists Plainview get baptized before allowing him to run pipe on his property—sat in a depression, flanked on all sides by 30 feet of rock. For that one scene of Plainview riding his horse out to the property, the production spent a month building Bandy’s house, the parts for which had to be lowered into the area by crane. All that’s left of it now is a horse carriage. If visitors didn’t know anything about There Will Be Blood, they’d see all this stuff that looks like it dates back more than 100 years, only it’s in too good of shape considering Marfa’s unforgiving conditions.
The ranch’s owners let all the sets stand after filming completed—many of the buildings are solidly constructed—until the state and county started taxing them like real structures. Only the church and the train depot remain, with new tenants: Bees in the latter, and in the former, it appeared that undocumented migrants had made camp there while crossing over from the Mexican border 50 miles away. Maybe those sets were built too well.
But someone could film another movie on McGuire and never even see the There Will Be Blood ruins. With the decline of cattle ranching in Marfa, Williams hopes McGuire will remain on the minds of filmmakers. While we were there, he told us that The Lone Ranger wanted to shoot on McGuire, but eventually decided against it because of its remoteness. Considering the problems that production is facing, Williams probably dodged a bullet on that one. But hey, Gore Verbinski, if you’d like to reconsider, we know a guy.