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The Exorcist: the demon goes missing


Finding a location in Iraq to shoot The Exorcist
Billy Williams Film-maker
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I got a call to go to Iraq, where I'd been about 18 years before in my documentary days. They were shooting a picture called The Exorcist and it was in production in America and there was a sequence, which opens the picture, to be done in Iraq, where the leading actor played by Max von Sydow is established as an archaeologist and he's working excavating, and comes across a small figure, which... of a demon, which predicts some... that something awful is going to happen, that he's going to have to come face to face with something evil, and you then later reveal that he's not only an archaeologist but he's a Roman Catholic priest who’s experienced and has some experience in exorcism, hence the title of the... of the film. Now the majority of the film had been shot. They were shooting it in America, but it was almost as if there was a curse on the film because things kept going wrong. The set burnt down and then an actor died, and there... there seemed to be things going wrong all the way, and I was originally asked to go to Iraq in March and so much had gone wrong and they were so far behind schedule that I didn't actually go until August.

So I went off to Iraq. I met the director William Friedkin at the airport, Max von Sydow, and there was a production designer and assistant director. And I brought my English camera crew... two camera crews from England, and we... we flew to Baghdad. And... initially I went on a long recce with the director to try and find the right place to shoot these scenes of an archaeological dig and in fact I went back to many of the places that I'd been to on my documentary, but we didn't find anything that was quite right. Until we came across a city called Hatra, which was on the old trade route from India about 3000 years ago, and they were excavating this site and re-building the temple, a temple to the sun god, and there was part of this... the old temple, existing temple, with blocks of stone with the insignia of the stonemason on them. Each stonemason, on the corner of these huge blocks of stone, put his mark and you could look around these... this cathedral... well it wasn't a cathedral, it was a kind of temple, and see all these different marks. And the Iraqi people were... were re-building this temple by going back to the original quarry and cutting fresh stone and... and replacing what was missing. So we finally settled on this... this place called Hatra.

Billy Williams, London-born cinematographer Billy Williams gained his first two Oscar nominations for the acclaimed “Women in Love” and “On Golden Pond”. His third nomination, which was successful, was for the epic “Gandhi”. He was President of the British Society of Cinematographers, and was awarded the Camera Image Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

Listeners: Neil Binney

Neil Binney began working as a 'clapper boy' in 1946 on spin-off films from steam radio such as "Dick Barton". Between 1948-1950 he served as a Royal Air Force photographer. From 1950 he was a Technicolor assistant technician working on films such as John Ford's "Mogambo" (photographed by Freddie Young), Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Bob Burke), and Visconti's "Senso" (G.R. Aldo/B. Cracker). As a camera assistant he worked on "Mind Benders", "Billy Liar" and "This Sporting Life". Niel Binney became a camera operator in 1963 and worked with, among others, Jack Cardiff, Fred Tammes and Billy Williams. He was elected associate member of the British Society of Cinematographers in 1981 and his most recent credits include "A Fish Called Wanda" and "Fierce Creatures".

Duration: 3 minutes, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008