AS: Was There Will Be Blood a huge build?
JF: We rented a 55,000 acre ranch and built just about everything in that film. We shot in Marfa, Texas, within twenty miles of where they shot Giant. The derrick we built was 90 feet tall. I went to Taft, California and started going through the files at an oil museum there. They were selling a print for 99 cents, of an 1896 plan of a derrick. So I bought a couple and those became our plans. They even included a lumber list. We pretty much built that 1896 derrick and added a staircase. How are you going to design a derrick better than the original?
Paul and I spent a couple of days walking around the ranch to find a place to erect the derrick. We decided on a hill. I did a SketchUp drawing of a foundation that I thought would hold the derrick but then I got a little scared, because of the responsibility – the derrick is 90 feet tall and big and heavy and you’re out in the plains and you get high winds. And the actors are going to be up there. So I got a local engineer and he looked at the drawings and he says, Well, that’s more than you need. That’s what we use for those hundred and fifty foot wind towers.
So we brought a truck out and it drilled holes about fifteen feet deep and three feet in diameter, and we filled them with rebar and pumped in cement. Once we got the concrete pilings up to level we started building our deck. The derrick was really built by two carpenters, plus one operating a cherry-picker. You get too many people up in the air and they get in each other’s way. We’d have to stop if the wind got to 30 mph. Safety people would pull them off. It took us about three weeks to build that derrick.
AS: You have an eye for the authentic sources…
JF: When I did the interior ship at the beginning of Thin Red Line I went to see the ghost fleet on the James River in Virginia. Where they keep all the old military ships. I was able to get permission to go out and board some of those ships. There was this old troop ship that was built before WWII but it had no electricity on it. I went out with flashlights and went through it and shot a lot of pictures and videos for research on how to build this ship. I took a neighbor, a friend of mine from Virginia. He found these bunk covers, these canvas covers that the guys slept on and underneath they had done all these drawings on them. He got real excited and he took pictures of those. He ended up arranging with the military to get a lot of those covers before they destroyed the ship and he did a museum display and wrote a book about them. I believe some of those covers are now in the Smithsonian. All from that one trip. I talked to the people at the harbor and they gave me the original plans for the ship I documented. I was able to take those with me to Australia and we built off drawings of a real government troop ship.