Promised Land

Promised Land Information

Promised Land is a 2012 American drama film directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, and Hal Holbrook. The screenplay is written by Damon and Krasinski based on a story by Dave Eggers. Promised Land follows two corporate salespeople who visit a rural town in an attempt to buy drilling rights from the local residents.

Damon was originally attached to direct the film, but he was replaced by Van Sant. Filming took place mainly in Pittsburgh from early to mid-2012. During filming and afterward, the film's highlighting of the resource extraction process hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as "fracking", emerged as a topic of debate.

The film had a limited release in the United States on , 2012 and followed with a nationwide expansion on , 2013. The film had its international premiere and received Special Mention Award at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival in February 2013.


The story centers on Steve Butler (Damon) who has caught the eyes of top management at his employer, Global Crosspower Solutions, an energy company that specializes in obtaining natural gas trapped underground through a process known as fracking. Butler has an excellent track record for quickly and cheaply persuading land owners to sign mineral rights leases that grant drilling rights over to his employer. Butler and his partner Sue Thomason (McDormand) arrive in an economically-struggling Pennsylvania farming town whose citizens are proud of having long-historied family farms passed from one generation to the next.

We learn that Butler came from a town and a life very similar to that of the people he is now determined to win over on behalf of Global. Butler tells the story of how his own town died after the local Caterpillar assembly plant closed; he also belittles the idea of a town surviving solely on family farm passed down through generations as a fantasy that he could no longer buy. He claims to be offering the town its last chance.

The town decides to put Global's offer up to a community vote and seems willing to vote in Global's favor until a local high school science teacher (Holbrook) -- who happens to be a successful engineer in his working life -- raises the question of the safety of fracking during a town meeting. Butler and Thomason's sales pitch is further challenged when an unknown environmental advocate, Dustin Noble (Krasinski), starts a grassroots campaign against Global, motivated by a tale of his family losing its dairy farm after all of the cows died as a result of Global's industry-standard fracking process.

At the hotel that night, Butler receives a package from Global that includes a enlarged copy of a picture of dead cattle on a farm field that Noble said came from his family's Nebraska farm. The enlargement shows that what everyone thought was a silo is in fact a lighthouse, proving that Noble has been deceiving everyone.

Butler tells the town's mayor and then visits Alice, trying to prove that he's not the bad guy. He returns to the hotel to find Noble is loading his truck and leaving town. They talk, and Noble accidentally reveals that he knows the picture of the dead cattle in the field with the lighthouse was taken in Lafayette, Louisiana. Butler suddenly realizes that Noble is also with Global and that Noble's job was to discredit the environmental movement. Noble reveals that he arranged for Butler to receive the "confidential" photos of the farm and the lighthouse and that he engineered the entire public relations effort. Noble wishes Butler good luck back at the company's headquarters in New York.

At a town meeting the next day, the citizens are prepared to vote on Global's efforts to buy their property. Butler tells how the barn in the picture reminds him of his grandfather's barn. He reveals that Noble had manipulated them and that he actually is employed by Global. He leaves the meeting to find Thomason on the phone with Global. She tells him that he's fired and that she is leaving for New York. Butler walks to Alice's home and she welcomes him in.



Promised Land is directed by Gus Van Sant based on a screenplay by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who are film producers along with Chris Moore. The screenplay was based on a story by Dave Eggers. Krasinski came up with the film's premise and developed the idea with Eggers. They pitched the idea to Damon, suggesting that both Damon and Krasinski would write and star in the film. The project was set up at Warner Bros. with Damon attached as director in October 2011, in what would have been his directorial debut. Filming was scheduled to begin in early 2012.

In January 2012, Damon stepped down as director due to scheduling conflicts but remained involved with the project. Damon contacted Gus Van Sant, who directed him in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting, and Van Sant joined the project as director. The project was in turnaround at Warner Bros., and by the following February, Focus Features and Participant Media acquired rights to produce the film. The title was announced to be Promised Land. With a production budget of , filming began in Pennsylvania in late April 2012. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provided the production company in tax credits since filming would provide jobs and revenue. Over eighty percent of the crew were hired out of Pittsburgh. Filming mostly took place in Avonmore, Pennsylvania, which was the main setting for the film's rural town of McKinley. Additional filming locations for the town were locations in Armstrong County including Apollo, Worthington, and Slate Lick. Other filming locations in Pennsylvania were Alexandria, Delmont, Export, and West Mifflin. Filming also took place at the Grand Concourse at Station Square in Pittsburgh. Several hundred extras were hired for the film, and filming lasted for .

The film score was composed by Danny Elfman. Three songs by The Milk Carton Kids including Snake Eyes, The Ash & Clay and Jewel of June were also written for the film.

Fracking as film topic

See Hydraulic fracturing for more information Promised Land was criticized by the energy industry for its portrayal of the resource extraction process hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as "fracking". The portrayal was first reported in April 2012 by filmmakers raising funds for the pro-fracking documentary FrackNation. They said, "Promised Land will increase unfounded concerns about fracking." Phelim McAleer, the director of FrackNation, said Dimock, Pennsylvania was the likely inspiration for Promised Land. McAleer said despite Dimock families' claims that fracking activity contaminated their water, the state and EPA's scientists did not find anything wrong. In September 2012, CNBC reported that a group of residents from Armstrong County, Pennsylvania were protesting the film and formed a Facebook group. The group said, "They filmed this movie in our backyard. They told us it would be fair to drilling. It's not. We're p*ssed [sic]." Mike Knapp, one of the organizers of the Facebook group said, "One of the things that really aggravates me, is that they seem to have a very condescending view" of farmers as portrayed in the film.

Krasinski, who co-wrote the screenplay and stars in Promised Land, said the film's original premise involved wind power. Krasinski said wind power was replaced by fracking as a more relevant backdrop based on news coverage in recent years. The Huffington Post reported, "The procedure has caused concern due in part to the chemicals injected into the wells for drilling, which may taint nearby drinking water." It said Damon had posted in 2010 a YouTube video to promote the Working Families Party, which works "to prevent risky natural gas drilling". Politico said Promised Land reflected a trend about fracking since the release of the 2010 documentary film Gasland, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Leading up to the film's release, a spokesperson for Independent Petroleum Association of America said, "We have to address the concerns that are laid out in these types of films." The industry planned to send scientific studies to film critics, to distribute leaflets to film audiences, and to use social media like Facebook and Twitter as a response to the film. Where the industry launched "direct attacks" at Gasland, it instead sought to portray Promised Land as "derivative, condescending and cliched". In Pennsylvania, the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition bought a 16-second onscreen ad to be shown at 75 percent of theaters in the state at the same time Promised Land was released.

James Schamus, chief executive of the film's distributor Focus Features said, "We've been surprised at the emergence of what looks like a concerted campaign targeting the film even before anyone's seen it." As the film was released, he said, "Fracking is a great premise for real drama. It represents Americans deeply conflicted about how to deal with these issues." He compared the industry's stealth campaign against the film to the one depicted within the film.


The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, reported that Promised Land was financed in part by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media, which is wholly owned by the United Arab Emirates. The foundation said that the UAE, as a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has "a direct financial interest... in slowing the development of America's natural gas industry" and suggested that its financing of the film "may have an impact on the public's view of the [fracking] practice". Image Nation said it provided financing to the film as part of an ongoing partnership with Participant Media, "regardless of genre or subject matter".


Theatrical run

Promised Land had a limited release on , 2012, making it eligible for the 85th Academy Awards, but failed to win any. The film was released in and grossed an estimated $53,000 on its first day, a "sobering" average of $2,120. For the opening weekend, Promised Land grossed an estimated $190,000. Box Office Mojo reported before the film's wide release the following week, "It's unlikely that it will be able to pull many people away from the various other appealing options in theaters right now." Promised Land expanded to on , 2013. It grossed over the weekend, which the Los Angeles Times judged as "a bad start" even with its budget. According to CinemaScore, audiences gave the film a "B" grade. The Times said the grade and "middling reviews" indicated the film was unlikely to be a success. As of , the film has grossed .

The film had its international premiere at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival in February 2013 where Gus Van Sant won a Special Mention.

Critical reception

Reviews of the film have been mixed. The Los Angeles Times reported that most critics felt that Promised Land did not reach its full potential. Rotten Tomatoes reported an average rating of 5.8 out of 10 among 105 reviews. Based on the reviews, it gave the film a score of 52%. Metacritic gave the film a score of 55 out of 100 based on 32 reviews. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott praised Promised Land as a film that "works" mainly "by putting character ahead of story" and by "inviting the actors to be warm, funny and prickly". Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail is critical of the film: "Apart from its warm, gentle tone, much about Promised Land simply isn't good, especially the inconsistencies in the screenplay. After the mood-setting first half, things start to unravel."

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