That Time William Friedkin Drove 90 MPH Through NYC Without Permits

Billy Friedkin Drives 90 MPH Without Permits in NYC for the French Connection
We've all done crazy shit for the sake of art, but probably not as crazy as this.

I remember when I made my first couple of short films I did some unsavory things for the sake of a shot; I've towed a broken car near some train tracks, ran stop signs in a school zone and strapped myself to the roof of a moving car for a shot. These things were calculated, but still very dangerous and by many accounts very dumb. When I think about doing something like that now, after knowing so much more (and just getting older and, hopefully, smarter) I'm not as eager to take those kinds of risksHowever, the things I've done don't really compare to what director William Friedkin (who urges you to quit film school) did for the chase sequence in The French Connection

In this video, Friedkin talks about how they pulled off the shot and why'd he never do anything like it again:

Of course, there weren't zero safety parameters. There was cooperation between NYPD and the Assistant Directors of the film. However, IMDB states:

In many instances, they illegally continued the chase into sections with no traffic control, where they actually had to evade real traffic and pedestrians. Many of the (near) collisions in the movie were therefore real and not planned (with the exception of the near-miss of the lady with the baby carriage, which was carefully rehearsed).

Here's a look at the infamous scene (please only watch these if you've already seen the movie, you really want to experience this stuff clean — that is to say: with as few preconceptions as possible):

To add to the topic of the moral dilemma of being a filmmaker, director Sidney Lumet talks about this qualm in his great book Making Movies. How far should a director go to get what he needs for a shot?

I had learned my lesson many years earlier…I needed tears from an actor on a particular line. She couldn’t do it. Finally, I told her that no matter what I did during the next take, she should keep going and say the line. We rolled the camera. Just before she reached the line, I hauled off and slapped her. Her eyes widened. She looked stunned. Tears welled up, overflowed, she said the line, and we had a terrific take. When I called, “Cut, print!” She threw her arms around me, kissed me, and told me I was brilliant. But I was sick with self-loathing…and knew that I would never do anything like that again. If we can’t get it by craftsmanship, to hell with it. We’ll find something else that’ll work as well.

What do you think? What's the craziest thing you've ever done to get a shot?     

Your Comment


Well, I've pulled a fire alarm...... Twice.....

January 18, 2015 at 1:38PM

Darren Place
Visual Effects Artist


January 18, 2015 at 3:48PM

Micah Van Hove

I jumped backwards off of a 30 foot bridge into a lake for a scene. We wanted to reverse the shot so that it looked like I was jumping onto the bridge. The hardest part was keeping my eyes on the bridge as I fell to sell the effect ...

January 18, 2015 at 4:10PM

Luke Neumann

Considering all of the factors not too risky but I wouldn't think of doing it today! Guess that shows you how much age changes your outlook on this stuff.

January 18, 2015 at 4:12PM

Luke Neumann

I have a pretty good story.

I was shooting a music video for a band that was a heist story. Modeled after Point Break, and some old Steve McQueen movies. We had a scene that took place in an old run down motel room, where 2 guys in president masks bust in the door and rob a man.
Of course I did not tell the motel clerk that we were shooting this scene. Instead I told her we were shooting some halloween photos and liked the atmosphere. She agreed and I paid $40 to rent a room.
2 hours later: Myself and one other crew member show up and start unloading pelican cases into the room. The band shows up shortly after. I hand them the president masks and tell them to stay inside the room. Well we all know that's NOT gonna happen.
They walk across the parking lot with the masks on.
5 minutes later:
Two police cars come screeching up to the room and get out. They say someone called in a suspicious looking vehicle with "gun cases" and men walking around in masks.
2 more police cars show up.
They ask if they can search the boxes. I agree.
10 minutes goes by, and finally the cops realize that it is a video shoot and tell us to continue. They were very nice and asked a few questions about the band , etc.

About this time the motel manager comes over furious. Asking the cops what happened. The motel manager tells us we have 15 minutes to pack up and leave.
We agree, and she walks away.

I turn on the camera, and we shoot the scene in 5 minutes. Just as the last shot is finishing she's running over screaming.

All that matters: WE GOT THE SHOTS WE NEEDED

January 19, 2015 at 6:32AM, Edited January 19, 6:32AM


Some students in Melbourne got arrested by the Australian equivalent to a SWAT team in a similar situation (although they were also holding replica firearms). In that case the police were not happy at all and they were charged with various offences. The cops were pretty mad they were put in a situation were a film student could have been shot. Pretty sure those filmmakers regretted what they did to get the shot.

January 19, 2015 at 2:41PM

Josh Stafield
Director of Photography, Editor

Haven't done crazy stuff (yet).

Just one time we were shooting a music video, and we planned on shooting the actor going in the ocean and eventually submerging himself. We got a few shots from the beach (had the guy wearing a dry suit so he was pretty comfortable considering the Dutch weather). But we also wanted a couple of shots of his face as he was walking in. So I put on fishing pants (that go up to your chest) and got the camera with just one battery (DSLR) so that if the camera would die, the battery grip wouldn't die as well.

So I got in the water and did a take, went alright. Got in again, this time a little deeper. It's a really weird feeling when you get in the water and feel the pressure building up, and you're not getting wet. So for the final shot of him actually submerging, I went in further than I've gone before. Felt water going over the top of my pants, and the camera caught two waves I didn't see coming. Got the shot and returned to shore.

The camera survived and is still fully functional (2 years later).

January 20, 2015 at 7:30AM


Put a camera in a garbage can and dropped it off a parking garage on a home-made zipline : )

January 20, 2015 at 7:47AM

Sean Anderson
Video Production Team Member at Fotodiox

Interesting timing on this article...I just finished Friedkin's book two weeks ago. It's an excellent book and I highly recommend it for filmmakers of all levels. I watched him film the Sorcerer in 76...first time I ever saw a Panavision camera up close...defining moment...

January 22, 2015 at 1:17PM, Edited January 22, 1:17PM

Jeffrey S. Gould

Almost got hit by a train one time. Don't mess around on train tracks.

January 22, 2015 at 8:04PM

Justin Kuhn
Director of Photography