William Friedkin at the AFI

Excerpts from an interview with William Friedkin in Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Movie Makers:

On influences:

“There’s a scene in Day for Night, a wonderful Truffaut picture, where you see this little kid sneak into a theater and steal the still photographs from Citizen Kane from a movie display. Like most youngsters of my generation, I was influenced by Citizen Kane. I’ve seen that picture maybe fifty times. I’ve studied it on the Moviola. It’s a veritable quarry for filmmakers, just as Joyce’s Ulysses is a quarry for writers. The films I admire the most, just off the top of my head, are Citizen Kane, Paths of Glory, All About Eve, 8 1/2, The Magnificent Ambersons, Night of the Hunter, Rififi, L’Avventura, La Notte, 2001 and what might be my favorite picture, Raoul Walsh’s White Heat.

[…] Obviously anyone who’s interested in movies has to see early Bergman, The Seventh Seal up through Persona. But if you want to know what has influenced me more than anything, it’s the fact that I’m just a guy from Chicago who never got past high school. My old man never made more than fifty bucks a week. I remember stories in Chicago that haunt me. I used to see cops shoot guys in the stomach and holster their guns, and you’d never see it in a newspaper. I saw a man die in the electric chair. I photographed an autopsy and the birth of triplets. Every piece of film I’ve ever exposed is both an adventure and an education. That was the world I knew and saw. My curiosities went beyond that, but my influences were right there in the streets of Chicago on the west side.”

On collaboration:

“If you’ve ever really been involved in filmmaking, you know that there are too many people who contribute to the success of a picture. It’s true that one intelligence can and does generally inform a project, but the fulfillment of that vision requires a great many talents. To deny that is a joke. […] I’m on an ego trip, like everyone else. I enjoy the fruits of success, the money and the ability to order my own existence. But you can’t erase the essential point that this is a collaborative medium.”

On being a filmmaker:

“I have a lot of money to play with, but I’m the same guy I was. I was a sonofabitch when I was broke, arrogant and quick-tempered, and I’m a sonofabitch now. I haven’t changed. These are the clothes I had fifteen years ago. I like them. I’m not out to impress anyone or fake it. I just like it. It’s a good gig. Directing is a good job. It’s problematical. It’s often disappointing. It’s frustrating as hell. It’s extremely demanding and totally satisfying work. There are guys out there really working for a living, cleaning streets or coal mining, or teaching. Directing is playing. I live in a mad, unreal world. It’s a constant struggle to maintain a sense of balance and sanity, which is why I go to movies and sit in theaters and eat in McDonald’s. The hamburgers are lousy but you can overhear conversations.”


“Always remember what a gift you have, which is the chance to serve the audience and not look down on them. When I look at that line outside the theater in Westwood, I see everybody. We’re all in line. Everybody is there, and that gratifies me. That’s why I made the pictures I did. I don’t know anyone, including Alain Resnais who makes heavy-headed pictures, who doesn’t want long lines outside the theaters. He might want it on his own terms. I want it on my terms. His standards may in fact be huger than mine. Yours might also be. All I’m saying is, don’t let your standards get so lofty that you put yourself above the audience. The luckiest thing I know of is the gift given to every filmmaker: he is permitted to serve the audience. Never forget that.”