I recently stumbled upon an exclusive interview with Terence Donnelly, the First Assistant Director on The Exorcist during its production in 1972/3. Retired from the film industry for over a decade, Terence reflects on his experience as William Friedkin‘s First AD (having already worked on The French Connection in 1971) and confirms a few things about the production; including some order of events. The interview was recorded in 2012.
It’s interesting to hear from a First AD as their role primarily involves working very closely with Producers (in this case, William Peter Blatty, among others) on budget and overall progress; and with Directors (William Friedkin) on things like script breakdown, daily scheduling, and looking after cast & crew. To put it mildly; he’d have a lot of inside information on the production.
Here are some interesting things about The Exorcist production Terence confirms as the First AD:
- The famous incident of the set burning down remains a mystery. It held-up production a total of 6 weeks while they went through a large insurance claim.
- The scene where Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is told of Burke Dennings’ death was coincidentally filmed on the same day the actor who played Burke, Jack MacGowran, died of a heart attack in Dublin, Ireland; two weeks after completing his scenes on the film.
- Originally scheduled for 79 shooting days, the production was forced to endure a staggering 204 days.
- As a result of the extended schedule, the original budget of approximately $4 million blew out to a then-unheard-of $12.9 million.
The interview with Terence was conducted by Dan Weecks and you can watch it below.
Incidentally, I believe Terence is almost definitely the gentleman seen in the rare test footage released by Bloody-Disgusting last Halloween:
When this exclusive 16mm test footage surfaced last year, it was speculated that the unknown moustached man, seen in almost every shot, could be William Peter Blatty. I was sceptical, because it isn’t really the role of a Producer to be mixing it up in test shoots like this, whereas a First AD could possibly be participating, especially in such early stages of production.
Having never seen a picture of Terence Donnelly before this interview footage, I’m convinced it is him in the test footage, though I have no confirmation at this stage.
What do you think?