"Two Donkeys In Poland" a.k.a "The William Friedkin Story"
**PLEASE READ WITH DISCRETION--ADULT CONTENT**
All right, without further ado, The William Friedkin Story, a.k.a. “Two Donkeys In Poland”.
First, a bit of background. I’m a filmmaker. Or, I should say, I was a filmmaker; now I’m a teacher—I teach screenwriting at the University of British Columbia. Way back when, in the beginning of my career (late ‘80s early ‘90s), I went to film school at NYU (Tisch), back when there were, really, only two primary film schools of note, USC and NYU, three if you count UCLA’s grad program at the time. Consequently, NYU would arrange for us to have some amazing guest lectures, screenings, previews, etc.
While I attended NYU, I was also a teaching assistant. This allowed me to get into every guest lecture or screening, regardless of my program. We would regularly screen movies well before their release, presented by their director. One of those screenings was a screening with William Friedkin, where he showed his then upcoming film The Guardian. Being that it was Friedkin, EVERYONE at NYU wanted to show up, but it was limited to about 40 of us, all packed into a small screening room.
One more thing you need to know to make this story ‘work’. NYU’s film school had a reputation—and it was (and probably still is) exclusive. Meaning that, at the time, the film program, particularly if you were whittled down to direct anything, was very small compared to programs today—and these directing majors were the folks in the room. Add to that the fact that so many Hollywood luminaries had come through NYU’s gates (Scorcese, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, etc.) and that there was a bit of a sense that we were all in a bit of a Hollywood ‘farm team’ environment and you may get what is at the core of this story: complete and utterly misguided hubris of the sort that only folks in their twenties, with a little bit of knowledge, can possess. (For example, I myself would soon win a fellowship from Warner Bros. that paid for my thesis film and gave me a job in Hollywood—so, you know, the signals were easy to misinterpret by even the most level-headed of us.)
Okay, here we go.
Friedkin comes into the room and he walks in like he owns the place, all charisma, SoCal charm and swagger—and friendly as hell. Great stuff. He sets up his film, The Guardian, and talks a bit about what he was going for, how they’re still working out the bugs, but this is a decent enough cut for us to see, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, he screens the thing and then, afterward, he answers some questions.
Things are going as expected, the usual questions about technique in the film we just saw, some about French Connection and The Exorcist, etc. Then it happens.
Someone in the back of the room says this:
“Mr. Friedkin, I’m sure you’re aware that we are all directing majors and that this is NYU—we all have a bright future ahead of us.”
At this moment, my buddy gives me this “WTF?” look and nods in Friedkin’s direction. There was what can only be described as a mischievous smile beginning to form on Friedkin's face. The kid continues:
“I guess what I’m asking is this: When we go out to Hollywood—and many of us have already got some offers—how do you go about deciding what project is right for you?”
Friedkin now looks genuinely puzzled. And he asks for the kid to ask the question again, pretending that he didn't hear the question. The kid begins repeating the question. Now, remember, this is a small screening room and we’re in a pretty intimate setting—you don’t need to raise your voice to be heard in here. (Remember this.)
Anyway, the kid’s about ¾ of the way through his repeating his question when Friedkin cuts him off. “Okay, I think I get what you’re getting at. You guys are the cream of the crop here at what may be the best film program in the world—hell, all sorts of guys have come out of here-Marty, Oliver Stone—and you’re almost out of here, things are happening. Hell, you’ve probably got a film out in the festivals right now—am I right?”
Well, the kid couldn’t be happier—Friedkin knows! He’s one of us! There’s hope! And what’s even better, I’m sure the kid was thinking, He’s going to confer on us some inside knowledge, some real deal stuff for us real deals!
And that’s when Friedkin goes into ‘Friedkin’ mode. And that’s when I knew that, for the kid, it was all over. Here’s what Friedkin says:
“Well, here’s what might happen… uh, sorry, what’s your name?”
(Let’s say the kid says, ‘Dave’.)
“Okay, Dave. Right. Well, you’ve got a point; you guys have to really start thinking about this, you've got to start getting your shit together. You’ve got your work out there, in festivals, and, here, NYU, and USC, the studios, the big boys, are checking you guys, your stuff out. NYU’s got quite a history of big boys coming out of this program.”
Now some of the other knuckleheads in the room are getting on board.
“You know, you’re going to go out to L.A. and your going to have a meeting. Dave, you'll have a lot of meetings, sure, but let's say you’re going to have a meeting that might go a little something like this: They’re going to give you a script, Dave. But you know this. You’re going to come out of here and your going to see a lot of scripts. But you’re at a meeting at Universal for this one, at the lot. And this one’s the one, man. I mean the picture's on the studio's Christmas release schedule. This is big stuff. Here’s how the script starts, Dave:
It opens up in the clouds. Nothing but clouds, a perfect shot taken from IN the clouds, Dave—but that’s okay; beautiful credits are over these pillows of loveliness, Dave. Your credit, directed by… what’s your last name, Dave?”
He tells him.
“Great. And now we’ve got a big swell of music, Dave, right on the ‘Directed By’—which is your name, Dave. And you know whose music it is? John f%$#@n Williams, that’s who—the best. Like I said, Christmas release. And now, now, Dave, we come out of the clouds…"
He makes this moving shot gesture with his hands, his face oohing and aahing, at the shot he’s composing in front of us.
“And now we see them, Dave. Our main characters. They’re small—just dots, just dots on the horizon, a green horizon—a beautiful, green meadow in Poland, Dave.
And now the camera comes down—one of those perfect helicopter shots, just like that opening of The Sound of Music—you know the one.
And now, Dave, now we see what’s happening, we see our stars.”
And Dave and the rest of the chumps are hanging on every syllable now—who are the stars, they wonder? Bruce Willis? Eastwood? Meryl Streep?
“Two donkeys, Dave. Two big-ass, donkeys. And you know what they’re doing? They are f%$ing Dave, like no two donkeys have ever f$#%ed in the history of the world, I mean they are going to town. This is like The Last Tango In Paris of donkey movies.”
Well, finally, it dawns on Dave and company. It’s over.
“You still with me, Dave?”
Nothing. All we can hear is the air-conditioning.
Friedkin’s fired up now. “And this scene goes on, Dave, and on—for six pages! You look through the damn thing—all 137 pages—and you see that the whole thing is one donkey f%$# scene tied to another! And then the executive asks you, Well, whatta ya think? You want the job? We shoot in six weeks.”
Friedkin walks up the aisle a bit, gets poor Dave in his sights… and then lets in with:
“You know what you say, Dave?”
Dave says nothing. Wishing, no doubt, that he could just disappear.
Then Friedkin lowers his voice and says: “This is what you say, Dave…
YES! HOLY CHRIST, YES! I’M YOUR GUY! I’M YOUR TWO DONKEYS F%^$%ING IN POLAND GUY! I’VE BEEN WAITING TO SHOOT, FINALLY, A REAL EASTERN EUROPEAN DONKEY F$%#-FEST PICTURE FOR MY WHOLE MISERABLE LIFE. YES, YES, YES! JEZUZ ON A POGO STICK, YES, I’LL TAKE IT!”
He walks back down to the front and then says: “Dave—or any of you—if anyone, ANYONE, graces you with a job offer to clean the f&^%in’ studio bathroom—that’s what you say: YES!”
Edited by Number 6, April 02 2013 - 10:30 PM.