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The difficulties of shooting The Exorcist in Iraq


The Exorcist: the demon goes missing
Billy Williams Film-maker
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The equipment then arrived and we were staying in Mosul, at the Railway Station Hotel. I remember coming back from a recce one day with... with Bill Friedkin and there was all the gear laid out in front of the hotel and there were about 200 items because, you know, when you shoot with Panavision you get a case for everything, all... every lens has a separate case. So there were two complete camera outfits and there was a Fisher dolly, and there were various lamps. I had no idea what I was going to have to shoot before I got there, so I took some tungsten lighting. But there was one thing missing and it was a huge packing case, about 7ft high and about 4ft wide. It was the biggest item and it wasn't there. It was the only thing that was missing. Inside this packing case was a fibreglass statue of a demon, and it was the replica of a demon that had been unearthed some centuries before and which the original is now in the Louvre, and this demon is called Pazuzu and he's a sort of demon god. And the art department in Hollywood had made one fibreglass statue of this demon and it was the climax to the whole sequence that we were going to do in Iraq, that our archaeologist priest was going to have to come face to face with this statue, and then you cut to the modern day period with the exorcism and the... the girl, you know, afflicted with the demon.

So this... this statue was absolutely vital and it was missing, and nobody knew where it was. Well, this was 1973 I think, after the revolution in Iraq, and it was no longer possible to make an international phone call. And David Anderson – the same David Anderson that got me my first feature film – was... he was the production manager, and in order to make an international phone call, he first caught the overnight train from Mosul to Baghdad and he got on a plane in Baghdad and he flew to Beirut in the Lebanon to make a call, and they found this statue in Singapore. They'd forgotten to take it off the plane. So some days later it turned up and we shot the sequence, but it seemed to be quite extraordinary with a film that about exorcism that the demon should disappear, that there should be so... so much go wrong with this film. It was almost like there was an evil eye over the production. But of course, when it came out it was the most enormous success; it was a big, big hit.

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, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008