29 May 2013

Notes from William Friedkin

"Well, I told you already I was arrogant...

 I was called into a meeting with the heads of Paramount and with the heads of Universal, a guy named Sid Sheinberg and Barry Diller. And they asked me to come to meet with them; they wanted to give me some notes; they wanted to help the director. And so I thought what the hell could these guys tell me? So I said, if you’re going to give me notes, I want to bring my writer and my film editor into this meeting. And they didn’t like that because they didn’t like dealing with the guys who really made the film. They wanted to deal with ‘above the title’ guys. I said no, I wanna have my writer and editor; both editors there, the editor and his assistant. And they reluctantly agreed. 

So then I told Buck Smith, the editor, and Wally Green, and the assistant editor, Ed Humphreys, I’m going to take you into this meeting, into the private dining room at Universal, and they’re going to give notes. And he’s what I want you guys to do… Don’t shave the night before. Wear your shirt buttoned incorrectly, wear mismatched socks, walk in with your shoes untied and then when you sit down, don’t react to anything I say or do.  No reaction, and when they’re talking, just stare at them, like this-  Don’t nod your head, when they’re making these suggestions, don’t go ya, or take notes or anything, just stare at them as though they are from Mars or something. And that’s what we did.

The lunch order comes around, waiters in black tie and stuff, and everyone ordered an iced tea to start with, and I ordered a bottle of Smirnoff. And they started in with their notes, and they were surprised because I told the waiter, I don’t want a glass. So while they’re sipping their iced teas, and getting together their notes, I opened the bottle and I started to drink from the bottle. And they didn’t say anything, they just started giving us notes. We just stared at them. And then about 10 or 15 minutes into this, I fell out of my chair and fell on the floor. I wasn’t drunk, I had a high tolerance for alcohol, I just fell on the floor, and they didn’t say anything.  After a few more minutes, they turned to Wally Green, and said, “Does this happen often?” And he said “Everyday.” 

 The notes went by, the meeting was over, I had my guys carry me out of there and then I thought about- I said to them, look, I don’t shoot inserts, I’m not going to make inserts of the odometers- well, unless, I said to Mr. Diller, you want to send me back to Mexico to shoot some inserts of the truck. He said No, no, no- never mind, it’s ok. But then I thought they were right, and I actually shot the inserts. We shot the inserts on the back lot of Universal.

That was my reaction to my notes. No quarter given. Remember, in order to succeed in those days, you had to make the heads of the studios, in order to let you alone, you had to make them think you were psychologically unsettling. You had to make them believe you would of anything. So they basically didn’t bother with me, because I did that on The Exorcist, you know, they thought I was so nuts, that they just let me alone. They figured, if there was a problem, and I imploded, the film would implode too. So that was a strategy I had active in those days."

William Friedkin on the making of The Sorcerer (1977) at BAM, 2 May 2013, See the entire Q&A here.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like something John Houston would say. Hate to praise the past but I would much rather do business like that than the way its done today with all these processes, metrics, and Dale Carnegie BS.


Anonymous said...

Very nice post with insight into the vagaries filming at that time. But Friedkin said it himself in the linked interview: "I felt I could take an audience through this with not the most likable people on Earth, and I guess I was wrong."

In my opinion what did not work for Sorcerer - but which worked well for Wages of Fear - were unsympathetic characters and the breaking of the basic rule of our desire to root for them. Sorcerer's first half had also a protracted exposition in Paris barely connected to the second half.

Don't get me wrong, Sorcerer is still a nice film easily worthy of a viewing. But I've seen it once and Wages of Fear three times.