ArcLight Cinemas and Geffen Playhouse presents a special Q&A with William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist. Before directing the legendary film, Friedkin mostly worked on live television shows and documentaries, including directing for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The first film he’d ever done was Good Times in 1967, starring Sonny and Cher, and admitted it as one of his worst films. He was later approached by Blake Edwards to work with him on a feature film of his TV series Peter Gunn, however, found it to be “the worst script [he] ever read”. When leaving Edward’s office, Friedkin was approached by a man named William Peter Blatty, who admitted to being the one who wrote the script.
Four years had passed, and Friedkin received a book in the mail from Blatty wrapped in a paper bag. It was a book entitled The Exorcist, based on a story of demonic possession Blatty heard when attending Georgetown University in 1950. Being so impressed with the novel, he cancelled everything he had planned for the evening to call Blatty after reading, as the writer left his number in the book. He wanted Friedkin to direct the movie, solely due to the fact he was the only person that was honest about his work.
Originally, The Exorcist was a film about the mystery of faith; Friedkin didn’t want to turn the project into a horror film at first. However, upon meeting Father Robert Henly, the president of Georgetown University, the project took its now acclaimed form. Henly revealed to Friedkin one evening after taking shots of whiskey the diaries of the priests, doctors, and nurses of the incident in which the film was based on.
The make-up for the film originally was tested on a stand in for Linda Blair. While Friedkin didn’t think it was impressive at first, he eventually decided to use it in the film during a 12 second period as the face of the demon. The scars on Blair’s face stemmed from Friedkin’s own inspiration during the infamous crucifix scene; he thought it would make sense if she carved them into her own face with the crucifix or that it burned her skin, as it is a holy object. In order to get the scars just right, he researched burns that were obtained from being in contact with fire.
This summer, the Geffen Playhouse, will show a play adaptation of The Exorcist, penned by playwright Jon Pielmeier. Tickets are available at Geffen Playhouse. Moderated by Variety editor Stuart Levine.