Behind the Scenes with the Writer and Director of 'Syriana'

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This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," December 8, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: George Clooney plays a CIA operative in the newly released political thriller "Syriana." The film follows five main characters brought together by terrorism, oil and power.

Joining me now is the writer and director of "Syriana," Stephen Gaghan. He won an Academy Award for the 2000 hit "Traffic."

So we're big fans of Bob Baer around here. Is this Bob Baer's story?

STEPHEN GAGHAN, WRITER AND DIRECTOR OF "SYRIANA": It is a little bit. He was incredibly generous to me with his time and really with his Rolodex. In 2002, particularly, he and I went on an incredibly long trip. He called me up and he said, "All right, Gaghan, you want to find out how this world works? You've got to come with me to the south of France in August." And I'm like, Middle East, south of France in August, I don't understand. And he said, "Listen, man, anybody that's worth a darn in the Persian Gulf and in Beirut, they go to vacation in August in a 50-square-mile area off the south of France, and if you come with me I'll let you talk to anybody you like and ask any questions you like, and maybe you can figure it out."

GIBSON: Well, what's the drift of your story here?

GAGHAN: What do you mean?

GIBSON: I mean, I know quite a bit about what Bob Baer did, and I know about his book "Sleeping with the Devil." Is the point of this — are we talking about, you know, the oil policies of Saudi Arabia, the United States, and how does big oil get involved in this? You know, I sort of regard big oil as the guys who make sure I can put some gas in my tank, drive to work. Are they the bad guys here?

GAGHAN: You know, not at all. I think you know, what we're trying to do is look at a system, and it's a system that's created an incredibly great standard of living here in America. And we have to remember that. You know, I think the interesting thing about "Syriana" is there aren't really any good guys or bad guys. You know, there's a system and there's nuances and shades of gray.

And you know, over that long research period I went on, which is, you know, it really was about 18 months in total, and I was in the Persian Gulf, I spent a lot of time in Washington, I was in New York, and I had met many, many people across the spectrum. And what I discovered is that, you know, we all have our ideology and we have our self-interests, and it crosses in a different place for everybody. And where that is is quite interesting.

And I try to examine that. And you know, I always say that if you're going to point the finger, you know, first you have to sort of point it at yourself, and I really feel that way.

GIBSON: But am I going to see a story that shows me the dirty underside of all that goes on to make sure I can pump $60 worth of gas in my tank?

GAGHAN: Well, $60 is right, and unfortunately I think it's going to get a lot higher. You know, what I think is interesting about today is we live in a time when America consumes 26 percent of the oil and gas in the world, and 70 percent of what's left is now under the control of what we would call fundamentalist Muslims, who we're sort of at war with. And I think this has tremendous repercussions for the future, for all of us coming down the pike. And that includes me out in California, putting $60 in my tank and you in New York putting $60 in yours, and everybody in between.

GIBSON: Hey, Stephen, you're the director. I know you're not the star, but Clooney seems to have a thing about FOX. He didn't want ads bought on FOX for the movie. He wants to debate Bill to get some, to gin up some interest. What's the deal?

GAGHAN: Oh, man, I have no idea. You've got to, you know, you've got to ask him. I think he's great in the film. I think it's amazing that a guy who's a movie star, you know, a big movie star, and movie stars are generally the people, you know, they get to score the touchdown and they get the girl. And he was willing to really disappear inside this role. And, you know, he was a worker among workers, and he's a wonderful guy ...

GIBSON: Why is he so mad at us?

GAGHAN: You know, I don't know, actually. This is sort of the first I'm hearing about it. I'm sorry, because ...

GIBSON: When you go back, will you tell him you had a good time at FOX and we promoted his movie for him?

GAGHAN: I absolutely will. Because you sound like a nice person, and I can tell you, he's a really good guy too.

GIBSON: All right, Stephen Gaghan. He is the writer and director of "Syriana," which is a fascinating-looking film, and I'm always interested in anything that's going to be about our buddy Bob Bear, because he's lived an amazing life, and we're all interested in what he has to say.

Stephen, thanks very much and good luck to you.

GAGHAN: Hey, you're welcome. Bob's worth five movies.

GIBSON: He certainly is.

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