The Friedkin Connection – A Memoir
By William Friedkin
Harper – 2013
512 Pages, $29.99
Back in the mid-80s I caught a late night show (I think if was Charlie Rose) interview with William Friedkin, where the filmmaker spoke in detail about what a film director does. To this day, I consider it to be the single best explanation of film directing I’ve ever heard.
For years Friedkin has refused to write a book about his career. Thank goodness he finally decided to do it. This memoir is easily the most engaging read I’ve had this year. It’s a killer combination of William Friedkin’s incredibly diverse life and the way he communicates it through his words.
What I love most about The Friedkin Connection is how Friedkin tells it like it is. Unlike Hollywood, he doesn’t have to be politically correct or sugar coat the truth. Like his reality-based gritty directorial approach on The French Connection and The Exorcist, he shares his life story with cold hard facts, even admitting his shortcomings.
Friedkin’s failures are just as fascinating as his success stories. It’s honestly miraculous that he actually got to direct The Exorcist because Warner Bros. didn’t want him. They had a select list of five directors and Friedkin wasn’t on it. The only reason he got the chance was because William Peter Blatty was in the room when Friedkin told Bake Edwards the negative opinion about a screenplay Edwards was considering Friedkin directing. This was a situation where if he would have played nice, he would have got the job but instead he told his true feelings that the script stunk. As Friedkin was walking away from the meeting, Blatty chased him down and let him know that Friedkin was right about the script. Blatty didn’t forget this and after his novel became a best-seller, Blatty earned the right to help pick the person to make the film and he was Blatty’s choice because of this.
Only after the studio brass saw The French Connection (Friedkin was the youngest director to win an Academy Award) did they agree to let him helm the movie. But that was not the only battle Friedkin had to endure to make the movie. After Friedkin excitingly read Blatty’s first draft of the script he told Blatty, “Bill you wouldn’t give this to your worst enemy” and that it needed a page one rewrite. Surprisingly, this is after Blatty went to bat for him and helped him get the job. There is a hilarious story of what Friedkin experienced casting Ellen Burstyn in her first lead role. For Jason Miller, Friedkin had a hunch to consider him after seeing Miller’s Broadway written play That Championship Season. But after screen testing him, Friedkin was unimpressed. It was only after Miller read the novel and paid his own way to Hollywood (by bus because he was afraid to fly) for a second screen test was Friedkin convinced. The story he tells about how he cast Linda Blair is classic Friedkin and should have you laughing. There were so many more skirmishes between what Friedkin and Blatty wanted versus the studio. Warner Bros. didn’t want it shot in Georgetown, New York and especially the opening in Iraq to name a few but in each case they got their locale and we all better because of it..
The things Friedkin had to do to make The French Connection, Sorcerer and Cruising all should be considered legendary in filmmaking lore.
The info you learn about Friedkin’s “Nightcrawlers” episode in the mid-80s The Twilight Zone, To Live and Die in L.A., Rampage and Blue Chips most certainly increases your filmmaking knowledge.
William Friedkin is an uncompromising voice in film who has directed not only feature films, but documentaries (where he got his start), TV shows, music videos, award shows and even operas. He is married to one of the most powerful accomplished ladies in Hollywood history (Sherry Lansing), has battled some serious health issues and lives to tell about it in this brilliant book.
If you are a film director then it’s absolutely essential to read this. If you are a fan of any of his movies, you won’t want to miss out on hearing how those movies where made. If you are none of the above but just want to read a page turner, than The Friedkin Connection is a book you must get.