May 28, 2014

Advice from Director William Friedkin: 'Leave Film School' & Study Alfred Hitchcock

William FriedkinOscar-winner William Friedkin, director of The French Connection and the greatest scary movie to ever grace the cinematic world (um -- in my opinion), The Exorcist, has quite the reputation in the industry. Friedkin has gone to great, often shocking lengths to capture his vision, including straight up slapping actors across the chops to get a favorable reaction. And though his latest work hasn't managed to reach the acclaim of his early films, he is still considered to be one of New Hollywood's big contributors. In this 2012 Fade In Magazine interview, the director draws from his over 50 years of experience in film to share his thoughts on the current state of cinema, as well as the films that influenced him the most.

First of all, Friedkin admits that he doesn't watch very many contemporary films, saying that the number of new films he'd view dropped off somewhere around Alien and Blade Runner. (Yikes!) However, he does list a plethora of classic films that were inspirational to him as he started on his own filmmaking journey, even noting that Citizen Kane was the film that made him want to become a filmmaker. He names work from directors like Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Alfred Hitchcock as some of his favorite influential films -- he even goes so far as to say that aspiring filmmakers should quit film school and study Hitchcock's work in order to learn everything they need to know about filmmaking.)

In fact, Friedkin dedicates a significant amount of time to talking about how Hitchcock's body of work is all a fledgling filmmaker needs to learn everything they need to know about the craft, highlighting not only his expert timing and pacing (of course), but his technique. He lists Vertigo, North By Northwest, and Psycho as some of his favorites. (He also adds that Psycho is the scariest film he's ever seen -- coming from the director of The Exorcist, that's saying a lot!)

Near the end of the interview, the director talks about the current state of cinema -- making an interesting point about how filmmakers today have access to technology that can make whatever crazy things are in their imagination come to life on-screen, but fail, in his opinion, to offer much truth about the human condition, human experience, or culture in which we live.

What are your thoughts on Friedkin's favorite films? What do you make of his observation about the state of current cinema? Let us know in the comments.

[via Fade In Magazine]

Your Comment

29 Comments

This is great. I was just reading the section of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls that talks about him. Pretty interesting (if not 100% factual) stuff.

May 28, 2014 at 4:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Neil Kripalski

I know Friedkin still watches contemporary films, but avoids a lot of crap like Transformers or Twilight. He was a big fan of Narc from 10 years ago which is why I saw it in the first place.

May 28, 2014 at 9:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sling

Thanks for this, V.
What a powerful ending, and so true.

May 28, 2014 at 9:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jeff

So unexpected, too. I felt like I got pummeled with a brick of truth. So many things to think about!

May 28, 2014 at 10:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

What many people don't realize is that Hitchcock was an experimental filmmaker who pretty much did everything cool you think some current filmmaker invented. Contained thrillers? He staged WW2 on a lifeboat. Serial protagonists like in PLACE BEYOND THE PINES? Check out how PSYCHO works. The film is a single long take? ROPE (more or less). Multiple intersecting stories? TOPAZ sucks, but that was that was the experiment. How about RUN LOLA RUN's same story told more than once with different outcomes? He did that. Those are just the story experiments... ROPE not only limits the POV, it uses the Kuleshov Effect to create emotions in the audience. He understood how camera movement, framing, angle, etc was a *language* and could create emotions in the audience. I wrote a book on Hitch's Experiments In Terror... and how his films influenced today's filmmakers (whether they know it or not).

May 28, 2014 at 11:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Love me some Killer Joe.

May 29, 2014 at 12:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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His knowledge of history is lacking. The KKK was not started to curb crime. It was started after the South surrendered by Southerners who couldn't accept losing to the North. They wanted to repress the rise of black people after the Civil War. One thing they engaged in was voter intimidation, whipping and beating black people at voting polls. A high ranking general in the Southern army was Nathan Bedford Forrest. He built the KKK from a very small group of men into a group that had hundred of thousands of members. But even he left the KKK when it became as violent as was portrayed in Birth of a Nation.

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He should have mentioned good movies like Schindler's List, Shawshank Redemption, Pelle The Conqueror, L.A. Confidential, Sling Blade, As Good As It Gets, Unforgiven, The Pianist, The Sixth Sense, A Beautiful Mind, Good Will Hunting, The Limey (seems like The Limey would be right up his alley), The Fugitive, The Fighter, Inception, True Grit, The Debt, The Artist. I wouldn't think he'd like all of those great ones. But to leave out simply all of them?

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BTW, he speaks at colleges. Has he spoke at Xavier, Wilberforce, Tuskegee, Howard, etc?

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The current state of cinema? The 60's generation, i.e. Baby Boomers, and their children now dominate American culture. The 60's didn't so much care for reality, "Turn on, tune in, drop out". This not wanting to be in touch with reality has not only lead to the kind of entertainment he talked about but it has also been fertile ground for economic bubbles, the DotCom Bubble, the Housing Bubble, the currently building Money Printing Bubble.

May 29, 2014 at 1:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

^ lol, this guy. He never stops.

May 29, 2014 at 7:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RainerJames

Meaning?

May 29, 2014 at 9:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

Meaning you are straight up strange man. I have no idea why you went off on the KKK thing but whatever. lol was funny though.

May 30, 2014 at 12:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chad

Friedkin defends Birth of a Nation by citing the same KKK propaganda depicted in the film. The problem people have with Birth of a Nation isn't about "political correctness"; it's that the film is a pack of lies that led to rise of the modern KKK. Friedkin's a smart guy and should know better. (And I have nothing against honoring the film's contributions to filmmaking.)

May 30, 2014 at 5:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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kenorasis

Chad,

It's odd that people don't have issue with him endorsing the KKK. Do you know what the KKK is?

May 31, 2014 at 2:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

@Gene. No offense, I just found your list of films rather pedestrian besides Unforgiven and to a lesser degree, Sling Blade. Again, no offense because everyone has their opinions but what did you find so revolutionary about those films? Though, I do wholeheartedly agree with your point on the insane monetary and fiscal experiment we are conducting on most of the people in the world by a bunch of loony central bankers. A race to the bottom...

August 26, 2014 at 4:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ghostdog

The money printing bubble goes way beyond this. Do some research, it has existed since the installment of the Federal Reserve and amplified when the Dollar was removed from the gold standard. It seems your own knowledge of history is lacking.

November 16, 2015 at 5:42PM

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His career is careened off to some .... eh ... strange directions. The last decent film he made was "To Live and Die in LA". "French Connection" is my favorite Friedkin film and, IMO, it has to do as much with the Eisenstein's editing technique from "Battleship Potemkin" as anything Hitch may have done. Friedkin's style then was really symbolic of the more chaotic 1960's and 1970's than of the classic film noir thrillers. The style however did return to the more "classic" structure of the 1940's and 50's, at least, with the major films pretty much with the release of "Jaws".
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He is right about studying Hitchcock but there are a number of other worthy filmmakers too. And writers and cinematographers as well. It just depends om what tickles your fancy.
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PS. An amazing thing about the recently departed Gordon Willis was his ability to go from the "classic" style cinematography like "Godfather" to almost a hand-held documentary visuals of "Annie Hall" and the "real fake" documentary style of "Zelig". Coppola, as an example, for all the greatness of the "Conversation", is a purely "classic" stylist. As is Spielberg, the landing scene from "SPR" aside. (and that was basically a rip-off from Josef Vilsmaier's "Stalingrad" anyway).

May 29, 2014 at 2:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

I would give some props to his metaphorical "Bug" & dead, dead deadpan "Killer Joe" but yes, after his fight with distribution on "Rampage" he kind of fell off a cliff and was kinda/sorta blackballed with "The Guardian". But it was nice to see him make a comeback at his age. How many people would or could have the energy to do that? And while not great films, Rules of Engagement & The Hunted, were predictable but well helmed Hollywood storytelling. not my thing but you could feel he understands how to shoot it.

August 26, 2014 at 4:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ghostdog

If anyone hasn't seen his film Sorcerer (1977), they need to. Its a slow burn in the beginning setting up the characters but when it picks up it just goes and the suspense and tension is at a high. The scene near the end with the flame is just out of this world, so well shot. The story behind it is just as incredible as the film, I urge any film lover to seek it out if they haven't seen it, one of my top films ever.

May 29, 2014 at 2:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Xiong

Great post. Thanks for posting, V. Essential listening.

May 29, 2014 at 7:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RainerJames

His film "Sorcerer" which is finally out on Bluray deserves a bigger audience. It didn't benefit from being released at the same time as "Star Wars" but is as tense as thrillers get IMHO.

May 29, 2014 at 9:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Darren

Aw man, I love this guy! To Live and Die in LA (despite containing Wang Chung music which is pretty dated) is easily an equal to French Connection for me. So Friedkin's made basically the two best dirty cops movies ever made. Plus remaking Wages of Fear takes balls, and Sorcerer is easily as good as the original. I also wanna shout out Rampage. A great, muted serial killer movie, that's WAY ahead of its time and woefully under rated. I should really catch Killer Joe. Especially since we're in the midst of the McConassance.

May 29, 2014 at 1:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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kev

Sorcerer is a classic. I own it on VHS. That soundtrack was killer too, Joe ;-). Bill Peterson getting a hole in his head in the locker room in To Live and Die was pretty brutal cinema too man. But Regan McNeil? Are you kidding? IMO the most demonic figure to ever grace a mainstream film in my lifetime.

May 29, 2014 at 2:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Today you go to film school not to learn filmmaking, you can pretty much learn that yourself, but to make connections. If you have connections than you don't need film school, there are many other schools that can make you a more interesting filmmaker than a film school. If you have no connections however, film school is almost a must.

May 30, 2014 at 8:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jeff G

Thanks V for another great post! But it is really frustrating to hear those long list of great films... I watch 3 to 5 films a week, and I am aware i'll need at least 3 lifetimes to watch them all. Specially after watching Mark Cousin's Story of Film... I keep the crap to the minimum (even if i do enjoy it sometimes), but there is just too much to watch. So, trying here to find the balance between watching films and filmmaking. As he said, sometimes is better not to have seem something, because later on we can be tempted to copy it and no really develope our own tools/vision.

May 30, 2014 at 8:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Billy Friedkin is one of those directors who always kits his movies out with a distinctive score which almost acts like another character -- e.g. "To Live and Die in LA," "Sorceror," and "The Exorcist."

May 30, 2014 at 1:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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June 3, 2014 at 5:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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June 20, 2014 at 10:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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August 5, 2014 at 2:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Friedkin still the maverick and at his age still kicking ass! I love it

August 26, 2014 at 4:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ghostdog

I wonder what his favorite recipes are.

August 26, 2014 at 7:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Archie