Debra Over Filmland Barrier With Thriller (The Indianapolis News/Aug 01/1981/US) By David Mannweiler



Hollywood has rarely trusted woman with money to make films.

In the male-dominated chauvinistic movie community, females are paid to act or to write scripts. A few are allowed to direct.

But the sex barriers soar when a woman says she wants a couple of million dollars to produce a movie.

The only way a female can beat the system is to produce a small film that becomes a box office winner. Barbara Streisand has leaped the barrier. So has Goldie Hawn. Bo Derek just did it with Tarzan the Apeman.

And Debra Hill has done it.

The first film Miss Hill produced for director John Carpenter was Halloween, a 1978 movie that started the flood of scare movies. Halloween was shot in 20 days and cost less than
$400.000. It has grossed more than $55 million.

Their third collaboration is Escape From New York, a thriller-adventure movie that opens Friday in Indianapolis. In the film, the island of Manhattan has been turned into a walled penal colony in 1997 and a new prisoner is sent to rescue the president of the United States who has crashed in Air Force One onto the island.

"At
$400.000 for Halloween, $1 million for The Fog, and 7$ million for Escape, our next film should cost $49 million," joked Miss Hill.

She and Carpenter were unknowns when they met on Carpenter's second feature film, the now-cult Assault on Precinct 13. Carpenter wrote, edited, scored and directed the film. Miss Hill was a script supervisor and assistant editor.

After that film, the two began writing together. "John taught me that nobody looks at the title page of a script to see if a man or a woman wrote it. They judge by the contents."

The pair co-wrote Halloween and Miss Hill put together the financial package that allowed the film to be made. Riding that success, they retuned to their typewriters for the ghost story, The Fog. Carpenter again scored and directed the film while Miss Hill produced.

"We wrote the screenplay for Escape years and years ago (in 1974) but we couldn't get it made. It obviously had to be a large budget. We got stood up time after time. After The Fog we needed another film for Avco Embassy (they had a multi-film package with the studio) and we pulled it out of the archives and everyone liked it."

As the producer, Miss Hill deals with the business end of making a film and tries to free Carpenter to be artistic. "The business end has gotten more and more complicated. I try to keep John oblivious to that so he can be on the set, insulated from what goes on behind the scenes.

"We're making a sequel, Halloween
II, that will be out in October. I stood on the set for Halloween II and thought back to the first Halloween, when there were 15 members of the crew, two actors and one truck. Now we have 60 crew members, eight trucks and a budget 10 times as large."

Wave Of Horror

She and Carpenter are hoping Halloween
II will put an end to the wave of horror films that has washed through movie houses in the last two years. "There had not been a successful horror film in a long time before Halloween. But if you remember, there was no blood in Halloween. Everything since then has been blood and guts. We want Halloween II to end the trend.

Halloween II is a continuation of the same night (when a killer stalked a babysitter played by Jamie Lee Curtis). It will be another emotional roller coaster without any visceral images. We can leave that up to the imagination of the audience."

Miss Hill said Escape From New York took a great deal of preproduction time (before the cameras began rolling) to map out what needed to be done for each scene. "It was a real collaborative effort. We really had to sit down and do a story board for almost every scene."

Although the picture is set in an abandoned, destroyed New York City, Escape was shot mostly in St. Louis. "We sent the production manager on an all-expense-paid tour of the slums of the United States," Miss Hill said. "We needed someplace that looked like an Eastern U.S. city but where we could have total control of the streets, because we had to dump tons of trash and overturned cars.

St. Louis gave us 100 percent control of the streets we needed. We needed a double for the 69th Street Bridge and we used the Chain of Rocks bridge in St. Louis. We looked at the Brooklyn Bridge and the George Washington Bridge in New York but we needed to close down the bridge for two weeks. We used the old Union Station in St. Louis for Grand Central Station. We shot the interior of a library at UCLA and matched it to the exterior a library in St. Louis.

Early Collaborators

The Hill-Carpenter film once again uses many performers who have been in their earlier collaborations. Among them are Carpenter's wife, Adrienne Barbeau; Kurt Russell; who was in a made-to-TV film on Elvis Presley that Carpenter directed; Donald Pleasence, who has been in four Carpenter films, and Russell's wife, Season Hubley.

Carpenter co-wrote the script with Nick Castle, who played the killer in Halloween. Larry Franco (who is Russell's brother-in-law) debuts as a coproducer after serving as an assistant director on The Fog. Dean Cundey, who photographed both The Fog and Halloween, is again behind the cameras.

"John also worked in small tributes to two of his favorite scare-film directors," Miss Hill said. "There is a character in Escape named Dr. Cronenberg who was inspired by David Cronenberg (who wrote Scanners) and another one named Romero, who represents Night of the Living Dead creator George A. Romero."