Oil and Gas Industry Prepare Smear Campaign Against New Matt Damon Flick "Promised Land"
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Next month Focus Features releases Matt Damon’s new movie and the oil and gas industry is worried sick about it.
The movie, Promised Land, is about a Pennsylvania farm town deciding whether to go forward with shale gas drilling after a team of landmen arrives in the area.
Damon plays one of these landman, who rolls into town presenting himself as a humble flannel-wearing farmboy from Iowa. Damon’s character is an ace salesman, famously good at convincing homeowners to sign away the rights to their land. But halfway through the story, he starts having ethical pangs about his profession. Damon’s internal conflicts grow deeper as he grows closer to locals.
By Hollywood standards, it’s a small film, with a budget of $15 million. The script was written by Damon and co-star John Krasinski (best known for his role as Jim in “The Office”) and is based on a story by Dave Eggers.
The drilling industry is none too pleased about the movie’s at-times unflattering portrayal of landmen and it has already geared up its attack machine to aggressively respond.
The irony here, of course, is that the industry’s plan for taking on the movie runs parallel at times to the movie itself. It a case where art imitates life imitates art.
I will come back to this. But first, meet Mike Knapp.
You can find Mike pretty easily on the internet. He presents himself as an average dude. On his twitter feed he talks about his favorite beers. He sends out instagram shots of snowfall on a barn and pickup truck. He bemoans the passage of time and aging when his drivers license expires. And he’s a solid citizen. “Just loaded up a car full of groceries from our small local market!” he tweeted last month.
Mike is not happy about Promised Land.
On his blog, he writes indignantly about detractors of shale gas, attacking critics of Pennsylvania drilling and laying out lengthy arguments in favor of the industry.
Of course, Mike Knapp isn’t just another Pennsylvanian, despite his “Average Joe” presentation.
Mike is a landman, a participant in the Marcellus shale rush. And he also works for Energy in Depth, the fracking industry’s most vocal front group. Like Damon’s landman character, Mike doesn’t conceal his connections to the industry. But like Damon’s character, Mike Knapp tries to present himself as simply working for the best interests of his neighbors when in fact he works for the drilling industry, pure and simple.
Even though he hasn’t seen it, Mike rails online against the Damon movie.
“Flaming farms? Pasture fields turning brown? Livestock becoming sick and dying? This is what we were afraid of,” wrote Mr. Knapp in a September 26 blog post. “We weren't expecting a 100% accurate representation of the drilling process, but COME ON!”
DeSmog was given an exclusive chance to view the movie before its release and it is quite clear that Promised Land is not an environmental-scare flick. In fact, it’s not even anti-fracking, per se. Instead, the movie takes a close look at the economic realities that drive people to lease their land, the dying prospects for family farms, and remains vague about fracking’s environmental impacts.
Although the film is far from flattering to the industry, it hardly presents the issues in black and white. Matt Damon’s depiction of a landman is humanizing. Damon's fellow leasing agent, played by Frances McDormand, is a pragmatist, a mother looking to support her family.