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Recap: 'Orange is the New Black' Panel, William Friedkin Conversation at the LAT Festival of Books

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Author Piper Kerman and Jenji Kohan discuss 'Orange is the New Black' at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. (Photo: Christine N. Ziemba/LAist)
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We hit up two programs at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC yesterday, and both turned out to be highly entertaining and informative—though neither were solely focused on literature.First up was a discussion on the upcoming Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, with creator Jenji Kohan (Weeds) and cast members Taylor Schilling and Danielle Brooks. They were joined by author Piper Kerman, who wrote the book on which the series is based—a personal memoir on Kerman’s 13-month-stint in a federal prison. The Smith College-graduate was convicted for money laundering (10 years prior) for an ex-girlfriend drug dealer.

The audience watched highlights from the first couple episodes, which were filled with elements of pathos and quintessential Kohan humor, focusing on Schilling’s Piper and interactions with her family, other inmates and guards. The series follows Piper as she navigates a new world with a few basic rules. “Just keep your eyes open and your mouth shut,” Kerman explained to the audience. “It’s crucial to your survival.”

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'Orange is the New Black' actors Taylor Schilling and Danielle Brooks at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. (Photo: Christine N. Ziemba/LAist)

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An audience member asked Kohan and Kerman whether they were worried about trivializing a serious issue like the TV show Hogan’s Heroes, which made light of Nazi prison camps. Kerman immediately defended Kohan’s approach, noting that the comedy-drama MASH was one of her favorite shows growing up. “Humor makes tough issues more accessible,” she said.And in an Oprah Winfrey “Favorite Things” moment, every single audience member attending the panel received a paperback copy of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison and a three-month subscription to Netflix streaming—which was pretty freaking awesome. We’ll definitely save the Netflix offer for when the show comes out in July.

Though there weren’t any giveaways in the next panel, hearing William Friedkin speak was enough of a treat. The 77-year-old director of such classic films including The French Connection and The Exorcist was feisty as ever and didn’t pull punches when answering questions about his career or his just-released memoir The Friedkin Connection.

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Director William Friedkin at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. (Photo: Christine N. Ziemba/LAist)
The French Connection features one of the greatest cinematic chase scenes through the streets of New York. Friedkin said that Bullitt (1968) with Steve McQueen was the best cop film he’d ever seen, but he doesn’t think much of the heralded chase scene through the streets of San Francisco. He looked much further back for action inspiration in his own films, calling out Buster Keaton’s chase scenes “magnificent.”

Friedkin was interviewed by novelist and LA Times writer Christopher Goffard and many of the questions focused on the 1973 film The Exorcist, which has been scaring the crap out of audiences for the past 40 years. Based on a true story about a 14-year-old who was officially declared as being possessed by the devil by the Catholic Church, Friedkin said that he “approached [creating] it like a documentary.”

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The master storyteller captivated the audience in attendance, regaling them with tales of how he worried about scarring a 14-year-old with the intense role—until he met Linda Blair and her mother and immediately knew he’d found Regan. “I knew she could handle it.” He also told a funny story about how he took offense at a Long Beach porn theater that was screening a pirated copy of The Exorcist—not because it was stolen but because the bad print was out of sync—and the lengths he went to retrieve the film.

Friedkin’s conversation touched on everything from Star Wars (“It changed the zeitgeist completely”) to how the current film ratings board is “completely arbitrary” to films that scared him. (He mentioned recent films Disconnect and The Call).

The festival continues today. There’s still dozens of panels, discussions, signings and performances on tap—and in case we forgot to mention, there are books for sale, too. It is a Book Festival, after all.