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Sorcerer (1977) Poster

(1977)

Trivia

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Despite its look, the rope bridge was actually quite elaborate in its construction and contained numerous safety devices as well as hydraulic lifts in order for the special effects crew to manipulate it into motion. It cost $1 million to build. After it was completed the original river for the scene (in the Dominican Republic) went almost completely dry for the first time in its history, due to a drought. The bridge had to be torn down and a new location was found in Tuxtepec, Mexico. The bridge had to be rebuilt at the cost of another $1 million. However, the raging river that the bridge was built over began to dry up. The crew had to put a 24-hour guard around the bridge because the superstitious locals threatened to blow it up believing it was the bridge and the "intruders" that caused the river to become shallow. By the time filming began the water was only 18 inches deep and looked completely nonthreatening. The crew didn't have the time or the money to find another location, so William Friedkin decided to add an artificial current and rainstorm (using helicopters/wind machines and men on towers with giant hoses). The bridge itself was so rickety that, despite the safety precautions, the truck (often with an actor inside of it) slid off the side and into the shallow water five times during rehearsals and filming. The entire sequence took three months to shoot. Friedkin stated it was by far the most difficult sequence he ever filmed in his career.
Director William Friedkin initially wanted Steve McQueen to star in the film. McQueen accepted the part, but on one condition--he wanted a co-starring role for his then wife, Ali MacGraw. Friedkin would not accept his conditions, and McQueen dropped out of the film. Friedkin later went on record, regretting not accepting McQueen's conditions. He tried to get Clint Eastwood or Jack Nicholson, but neither wanted to travel at that time. He stated that casting Roy Scheider in the lead was the worst casting decision he has ever made. Although he felt Scheider is a good actor who did a great job, he is only interesting in a film as a "second or third banana, he's not a star." Amidou. who played the Arab Kassem/"Martinez", was Friedkin's only real first choice--all the other actors were "fourth, fifth and even sixth choices."
The film opened in America at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood on June 24, 1977. Audiences were so anticipating it that the week of its release, the lines at Mann's went around the block. However, a film called Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) was also released at about the same time. It had initially been released in only a few theaters across the nation), but when it was put into wide release it became a phenomenon and, by the second week of the release of "Sorcerer," the crowds in front of Mann's Chinese Theater had dissipated to almost nothing. One San Francisco movie house, which had broken box-office records when it showed "Star Wars," found that its business dwindled to nothing when "Sorcerer" replaced it for a week. In the end, "Sorcerer" only recouped $9 million of its original $21-million budget, making it a financial disaster.
Tangerine Dream wrote the musical score using only a draft of the script given to them by director William Friedkin. At no time did they see any actual footage of the film.
Had Steve McQueen starred in the film as was originally intended, Marcello Mastroianni and Lino Ventura would have been cast in the two supporting roles played by Bruno Cremer and Francisco Rabal. However, after McQueen backed out, Mastroianni and Ventura also did, since they refused to take second billing to any actor besides McQueen.
In the book "William Friedkin: Films of Aberration, Obsession and Reality" by Thomas D. Clagett, William Friedkin names this film as "my favorite of all the films that I have made. It's one of my only films I can watch because it came out almost exactly as I intended."
Due to the subtitles at the beginning of the film many theater patrons began complaining, believing that they had unknowingly paid to see a foreign film. In order to alleviate that, special posters were quickly printed up and posted in the theater lobby which stated the following. "YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. To dramatize the diverse backgrounds of the principal characters in "Sorcerer", two of the opening sequences were filmed in the appropriate foreign languages - with subtitles in English. Other than these opening scenes, "Sorcerer" is an English-language film."
The jungle scenes were originally supposed to haver been shot in Ecuador, but when that was deemed too expensive it was moved to the Dominican Republic, which at the time was basically a military dictatorship. The town used was in La Altagracia province. Soon after the film was finished, the town erupted in riots (reflecting a scene from the film) when the president nullified an election that he lost to a liberal candidate. The riots spread to neighboring villages, forcing the president to step down.
The robbery of the church in the Elizabeth (NJ) prologue was based on a real-life church robbery that took place three blocks from where the church in the film was shot. The perpetrator of that crime was Gerard Murphy, an ex-con who became an actor. Friedkin gave him the part of the head of the robbery/Donnelly mob.
The fourth prologue vignette, taking place in Elizabeth, New Jersey, contains a scene involving a car crash. It took twelve takes[51] and approximately ten days to achieve what William Friedkin intended. The director recalls the sequence as seemingly "impossible to shoot", having involved several stuntmen from New York, the crew wrecked seven vehicles over the course of a week, without satisfying the director's intents. Friedkin then put himself in the passenger seat to evaluate the negative aspects of the scene's execution. The director became fed up with the situation and decided to listen to David Salven, the line producer, who suggested that they employ a well-known specialist, Joie Chitwood Jr., whom Friedkin described as "short, stocky, part Indian, self-assured, and fearless". After Friedkin supplied him with all the necessary information about the set's infrastracture, Chitwood meticulously analyzed the surroundings himself, and ordered the special effects technicians to construct a forty-feet long slanted ramp which would allow him to "drive the car at top speed on two wheels, flip it in midair, and crash into a fire hydrant". The construction took three days, and the stunt was successful during its very first take.
Due to the delays caused by the extensive jungle shooting (including a hurricane that wiped out a set) the original $15-million budget rose to $21 million.
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William Friedkin personally met with Henri-Georges Clouzot, director of the original film The Wages of Fear (1953), to get his approval to remake the film.
A deleted scene shows Nilo (Francisco Rabal), driving the truck when the truck suddenly comes to a very steep and bumpy road down a large hill. Scanlon (Roy Scheider) quickly jumps to Nilo's side to help him steer as the truck descends the hill too fast while shaking violently. This scene was cut from the film but a clip of it still remains in the sequence towards the end where Scanlon has his emotional breakdown while driving and begins having flashbacks.
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The oil fire was created by pumping up thousands of gallons of #2 diesel fuel as well as raw propane into the air ignited. Once the fire started it was so hot that no one could get within 50 feet of it.
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The production sound man mixed in an undertone of a tiger roar for the sound of the "Sorcerer" truck and a cougar roar for the "Lazaro" truck. Bow draws across a viola were used for some of the sound groans of the rope bridge. The film's only academy award nomination was for best sound.
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In the full-length version, the actual trip of the trucks starts almost exactly halfway through the film.
Cinematographer Dick Bush found William Friedkin so demanding and difficult to work with that he left the film halfway through. Friedkin used second unit cinematographer John M. Stephens for the remaining production. Both received screen credit.
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William Friedkin made sure he had final cut on the film's domestic release but did not specifically request it for foreign distribution. As a result, the opening prologues were either cut, greatly shortened or incorporated into the body of the picture as flashback for the film's foreign releases.
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The film's location shooting was estimated to cost so much money that Universal Pictures partnered with Paramount Pictures to share expenses. William Friedkin and producer David Salven (who was his associate producer for The Exorcist (1973)) had frequent clashes regarding the expensive location shoots. Friedkin eventually fired Salvin and took the producer credit for himself.
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The film was originally to be titled "The Wages of Fear" from the original French film (The Wages of Fear (1953)) and novel. William Friedkin has stated that the strange title of this film refers to the evil wizard of fate.
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Because of William Friedkin's explosive temper and the scene where he used helicopters to create the storm during the rope bridge sequence, this was the film that earned him the nickname 'Hurricane Billy.'
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The rather odd watch worn by the demolitions man who demonstrates the danger of stale dynamite is a Bulova Accuquartz "Big Block" LED watch. Forerunners of contemporary digital timekeeping, the numerals were displayed as luminescent red figures.
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Warren Oates was a candidate for the lead role, but since the movie's budget escalated beyond $10 million, the studio decided that his name wasn't big enough to carry the film.
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William Friedkin talked to both Gene Hackman and Kris Kristofferson to find out if they were interested in starring. Hackman declined, saying the script was too violent. Kristofferson also declined, as he was not convinced he had the acting chops to carry a movie of this size and budget. He made Convoy (1978) instead, which he felt was safer.
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Nick Nolte, a relative unknown at the time except for Rich Man, Poor Man (1976), tried to get the leading role that went to Roy Scheider. Later, he made Blue Chips (1994) with William Friedkin.
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During a sequence involving the detonation of an enormous kaoba tree, William Friedkin was faced with a problem of inadequate explosive power. Initially, Marcel Vercoutere, a special effects man who previously worked with the director on The Exorcist (1973), was to be responsible for the explosion. However, it did not achieve the required effect and barely damaged the tree. This prompted Friedkin to reach for the services of an arsonist hailing from Queens, New York, going by the pseudonym "Marvin the Torch", who arrived at the Dominican Republic three days after the call and utilizing flammable materials obliterated the tree in one take the following morning.
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Paul Newman turned down the leading role.
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The eerie background sound at the bridge crossings, greatly subdued because of storm noise, was a sound effect used in several episodes of The Outer Limits (1963).
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William Friedkin clashed furiously with upper management at Paramount Pictures when making the film. By all accounts of the time, Friedkin's ego was out of control and he did not want the studio interfering with his film; his responses to what he felt was meddling by the studio ranged from throwing visiting executives off his set to deliberately using a real picture of the Executive Board of Gulf & Western (the conglomerate that owned Paramount) to portray the cruel, venal top execs from the movie's mining company. When early test screenings were poor, Friedkin demanded that Paramount pay for full-scale new filming instead of insert scenes that the studio felt would help clarify some elements of the story. Paramount had had enough by that point, and nixed both any new production funds and their plans to actively market and advertise the film, which contributed to it being a massive box-office failure.
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William Friedkin approached Robert Mitchum for the lead role. Despite appreciating the script, he sternly declined, asking Friedkin "Why would I want to go to Ecuador for two or three months to fall out of a truck? I can do that outside my house."
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William Friedkin recalls working with Roy Scheider as difficult, stating the actor had frequent mood swings which did not occur during the filming of The French Connection (1971) and theorized that after achieving stardom with Jaws (1975) he became "difficult", which contrasted with his attitude from The French Connection (1971), where he "would've lied [sic] down in front of an elevated train" for Friedkin. The director stated Scheider at times was "impossible to talk to" and completely indifferent towards any of his suggestions. He summarized the experience by saying the arduous production schedule and difficult conditions in the Dominican Republic were most likely the reasons behind their difficult relationship.[46] Likewise, Scheider also had his reservations about the work with Friedkin, on the one hand praising him as "extraordinarily gifted filmmaker, who told pictures with stories and shot beautifully" but despite his erudition, he was marred with distrusting attitude which made everyone around him very tense. According to Diane Katchmar, Friedkin believed that he inspired others to achieve great results, but Scheider did not favor such working conditions. However, Scheider also admitted that only a director of Friedkin's stature could have persuaded him to perform all the life-threatening scenes he did, and added that upon seeing the dailies he "knew it was worth it". Despite the mutual tensions, the director rated Scheider highly, did not hold any grudges, and regretted he did not receive more recognition for his body of work. However, their relationship eventually "drifted apart".
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Besides internal on-set conflicts, William Friedkin said that approximately fifty people "had to leave the film for either injury or gangrene," as well as food poisoning and malaria. In The Friedkin Connection he added that "almost half the crew went into the hospital or had to be sent home." Friedkin himself lost fifty pounds (23 kg) and was stricken with malaria, which was diagnosed after the film's premiere.
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After William Friedkin read Peter Gabriel's essay on the sleeve of the Genesis album 'Genesis Live', he wanted Gabriel to come up with concepts for a new film. "He was trying to put together a sci-fi film and he wanted to get a writer who'd never been involved with Hollywood before," Gabriel said in 1984. "We [Genesis] were working [on what would become Genesis' album 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway'] at Headley Grange... I would go bicycle to the phone box down the hill and dial Friedkin in California with pockets stuffed full of 10p pieces."

Gabriel asked if he could take a break from the album; the group refused to let him. "Friedkin freaked when he heard he could be responsible for breaking up the band," Hackett says. "Pete came back to it."

With both Charisma boss Tony Stratton-Smith and Tony Smith working out a middle ground for the group, Gabriel ultimately did not work on Friedkin's project, which became Sorcerer.

Source: 'I was aware there was something going on with Peter', prog.teamrock.com, 22 May 2015
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After its poor showing at the US boxoffice, the title wad changed to "The Wages of Fear" for its release in the UK. As well as being severely edited down, it was also shown as part of a double bill with The Last Dinosaur (1977).
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Despite having an occasion to star in a Hollywood movie which was the actor's dream, Francisco Rabal was slightly disappointed with the movie's international scope and said: "[all] my life, I wanted to make a 'Hollywood' movie [and w]hen I finally did, it was filmed in Paris, Israel, Mexico and the Dominican Republic!"
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This was Karl John's final role as he died on December 22, 1977.
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The mock explosion that occurred during the Jerusalem scenes had such power that it broke a window of the city's mayor's house, which was located 6 metres (20 ft) away. The detonation was controlled by Nick Dimitri, a stuntman portraying an Israeli soldier, who positioned himself too close to explosives which resulted in injuries. However, after an hour the director ordered a second take, being adamant about the previous accident. Dimitri praised William Friedkin's craftmanship by saying that "when you watch the movie and everything gets obliterated, you can't even tell if it's the first or second take".[60] Moreover, during the realization of the sequence, an actual bombing took place in the vicinity, which prompted Friedkin to capture additional footage which in his opinion added "a documentary reality".
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For the film's screening, Paramount and William Friedkin prepared specific instructions regarding music: they demanded a three-and-half-minute musical overture to be played prior to each screening, and prohibited any alterations to it.
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Roy Scheider's then-wife, Cynthia Scheider, was an assistant film editor who had previously worked with Bud Smith on The Exorcist (1973). Since shooting the film required a prolonged stay in South America, the actor asked William Friedkin if she could stay with him and have a job in an editing capacity. The director fulfilled his wish and was reportedly "delighted".
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William Friedkin attempted to complete the picture "without relying on dialogue", and "telling the story through imagery" instead. In the film's pressbook Friedkin states that for him creating a film is multi-faceted experience: "[e]very film is actually three films[.] There is the film you conceive and plan. There is the film you actually shoot. And there is the film that emerges with you in the editing room".
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In a 1977 interview for The New York Times, Roy Scheider said that shooting the film "made Jaws (1975) look like a picnic." He mentioned that the stuntmen were unhappy because of the fact the leading actors performed their own stunts, and added that the scene involving crossing a suspension rope bridge is "what really happened". Said scene was also, according to him, the most perilous sequence he has ever taken part in.
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William Friedkin antagonized Paramount, using a Gulf and Western corporate photo for a scene that featured the evil board of directors of the fictional company which hired the men to deliver nitroglycerin. Walon Green recalled the experience in the following way:

"[Friedkin] put Bluhdorn's picture on the wall in the office in the scene where [the oil company foreman] finds out that the well is blown by terrorists and they can't do anything about it. When Bluhdorn saw his picture on the wall as chairman of the oil company he had a shit hemorrhage!"
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Sid Sheinberg suggested Roy Scheider for the lead role. He had previously worked with William Friedkin on The French Connection (1971). However, they had lost contact after Friedkin-at William Peter Blatty's insistence-had refused to cast Scheider as Father Karras in The Exorcist (1973). With Universal unenthusiastic about the project, acquiring Scheider, who had recently enjoyed enormous success in Jaws (1975) made the studio more hopeful and inclined to let the film materialize. Production notes on the 1998 Universal DVD release tell a different story, noting that the casting of Scheider as Scanlon/Dominguez was a "foregone conclusion" and "the ideal (perhaps the only) choice for the role".
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Jackie Scanlon's appearance as an "everyman" was modeled after Humphrey Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs character in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), with a "battered hat, unshaven face and tough guy stance". Screenwriter Walon Green described him as "believable, gutsy, and most important, desperately human". His characteristics are "most likely to reflect the self-image of the spectator".
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A week into the shooting in the Dominican Republic, William Friedkin and his crew went to Los Angeles to process the film and view dailies. The director described the prologues as "beautifully shot", but he was dissatisfied with the jungle scenes which he deemed "underexposed" and "dark". He told Dick Bush a reshoot would be necessary. Bush, on the other hand, argued that filming should have taken place on a stage where he could have adequately adjusted the lighting. The response reminded Friedkin of his previous problems on the set of The Boys in the Band (1970) and offended him, as from the very beginning he had wanted to shoot the entire film on location. Upon seeing the underexposed scenes, Bush reportedly "lost confidence" and was subsequently dismissed, which forced Friedkin to employ a new camera crew. He replaced Bush with John M. Stephens with whom he had worked under David L. Wolper. Stephens applied necessary changes, including the employment of reflectors balancing "the deep shadows of the tall trees", as well as replacing lenses and film stock. This resulted in a leap of cinematographic quality which delighted the director, who has said "the locations looked beautiful to the eye".
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William Friedkin had a feud with the chief Teamsters representative whom he dismissed at some point and which prompted the director to find another trucker crew. The director also fired five production managers, which upset Roy Scheider, who said that he was "tired of going to the airport and saying goodbye to them," as well as adding that he was the only person Friedkin could not drop, as he was the leading actor.
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David Salven, initially chosen as a line producer, had to quit for personal reasons, as he was facing the possibility of a divorce. William Friedkin regretted this situation, as he praised Salven greatly for his previous contributions to his movies. He was replaced by Ian Smith, whom the director described as "experienced and efficient".
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Prior to the post-production process, the movie contained a significantly larger amount of dialogue, and a detailed analysis of the European and American cuts reveals that certain scenes involving the relationship between Scanlon and Nilo, as well as presenting some of Nilo's motives, were removed.
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William Friedkin chose Dick Bush as his director of photography after seeing Tommy (1975) and after finding out that Bush had filmed Gustav Mahler's biography as well as collaborated with Lindsay Anderson, whom Friedkin regarded highly.
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Walon Green said that he and William Friedkin "wanted a cynical movie where fate turns the corner for the people before they turn it themselves." Additionally, their intention was to "write a real movie about what we thought was the reality of Latin America and the presence of foreigners there today."
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William Friedkin originally conceived the film as a "little 2.5 million in-between movie", a stepping stone to realize his next major project, The Devil's Triangle, the planned follow-up to The Exorcist (1973). However, Steven Spielberg at that point had already made Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), which presumably nullified the project. Peter Biskind theorized that Friedkin had always seen Francis Ford Coppola as his competitor, so when Coppola headed to the Philippines to direct Apocalypse Now (1979), Friedkin went to Latin America to shoot Sorcerer.
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William Friedkin's intention was not to create a remake, but to direct a film using only the same basic outline with completely original protagonists. He also wanted the film to be "grittier than Clouzot's [version], with the 'documentary feel' for which [he] had become known." Friedkin initially also wanted to get The Wages of Fear (1953) re-released in American theaters but could not convince any major studio to do so. He felt that American audiences had very limited exposure to the film and the English-speaking world in general was not very familiar with it.
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William Friedkin got to know Walon Green in the 1960s, and was since highly impressed with his work in The Wild Bunch (1969). Friedkin described Green as a multilingual person, fluently speaking French, Spanish, Italian, and German, as well as having "an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music and literature". Prior to writing the script, Green expressed enthusiasm about the project and suggested Friedkin read Gabriel García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Friedkin described it as "another lifechanging work" which served as a workprint for their adaptation. The story outline was created by both Friedkin and Green, and the script was finished in four months.
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Gerard Murphy, who portrayed the head of the Irish gang during the Elizabeth church robbery, was a real-life criminal involved in a similar heist. William Friedkin utilized details from Murphy's stories and used them as an inspiration. The remaining members of the gang were "nonactors but part of Gerry's world", including one IRA member.
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The only actor who was William Friedkin's original choice was the French-Moroccan Amidou, who played the Palestinian terrorist, Kassem. Friedkin was so impressed with his performance in Life Love Death (1969) that he wrote down his name immediately upon seeing the movie, expecting to collaborate with him one day.
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The sequence filmed in Jerusalem was realized with cooperation of Israeli security forces who portrayed themselves in the pursuit scenes.
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Amidou, in an interview for the Morocco Times in 2005, stated that out of all movies in his oeuvre, this one left the most lasting impression on him since he "refused to have a substitute and paid for it physically."
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In Tuxtepec, Mexico, where the suspension bridge scene was filmed, an undercover federal agent informed William Friedkin that several of his crew members, including grip crew men, stuntmen and a makeup artist, were in the possession of drugs and were urged to leave the country or face prison sentences. It reportedly took two weeks to replace the crew workers.
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The movie was filmed during a ten-month production schedule, using approximately 1,200 camera set-ups.
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William Friedkin described La Altagracia as "a prison without walls" with a "sense of timeless poverty and persecution".
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

William Friedkin originally just wanted one prologue for the main character Jackie Scanlon/"Dominguez". However, he and screenwriter Walon Green agreed that would make it far too obvious as to who would survive until the end. so four separate prologues were chosen instead. Originally they were supposed to be shown in flashback form, but that idea was scrapped in favor of four consecutive prologues during the opening.
Sorcerer" is the name of the truck that does not make it through. There's is logical narrative explanation for this.
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Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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