Press > Escape From L.A. > Trivia


Kurt Russell approached John Carpenter on doing a sequel in 1985 on a plane back from New York when doing press for Big Trouble In Little China. There were some plans on doing another Snake Plissken movie earlier and both Lee Van Cleef (Bob Hauk) and Russell wanted to do it if Carpenter was involved. However, the ending of Escape From New York pretty much summed it all up in terms of the character and left Carpenter clueless what to do after that. He also could not come up with something with a resonance. He decided to commission screenwriter Coleman Luck to write a draft of Escape From L.A. based on an outline by him and Russell which would serve as a prequel to Escape From New York. It was Russell's idea from the beginning to have L.A. (which was always their choice) being broken off from a giant earthquake. Carpenter on Luck's script: "It was interesting and had some really fine scenes in it, but as a whole movie it wasn't what we wanted and was a bit too jokey." he also described it as: "Too light, too campy." Russell on Luck's script: "It just wasn't the original. It was like looking at a painting that was kind of a copy." Both Carpenter and Russell though it was ok, but it did not quite work. In Luck's version L.A. (set in 1995) has turned into a lunatic asylum as a result of a mutated harmless genetically engineered virus used to combat a plague of fruit-destroying med flies creating violent insanity to the people. Bob Hauk then captures Snake and wants him to evade a new, top secret military weapon. Snake Plissken from Escape From New York also turned out to be a clone etcetera. It also had an explanation how Plissken lost his eye. The project was being set up at DeLaurentis Studios, but unfortunately, it never came to be because Dino De Laurentis company went under so the project died. However, Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) pursued the rights to Escape while it passed to one bankrupt company's hands to other.

The project remained dormant following that time until L.A. started to become a more dangerous place to be in with more riots, drive-by shootings, mudslides and earthquakes going on. And 5 months after the 1994 Northbridge earthquake when Kurt Russell described L.A. as Pompeii, a city waiting for the volcano to blow and denying it they finally had a story and decided it was time to do the long awaited sequel. Russell also wanted to do it because age wise he was still able to pull off these kinds of movies. John Carpenter, Russell and Debra Hill got together in July (after the January 1994 earthquake) and talked about how the earthquake had effected them for 5 hours in the kitchen in Hill's home. Carpenter did not want to do a sequel at first since he did not know what they would be able to do that would be different. However, the recently released Collector's Edition LaserDisc of Escape From New York contributed to his interest in making a sequel as well as the fact that Francis Ford Coppola originally refused requests to make a Godfather (1972) sequel. He insists that it was Russell's persistence and big stardom that allowed the film to be made since Snake Plissken was a character he loved and the only one he wanted to play again. Russell had also been doing some informal market research when promoting Stargate (1994) in Europe where he asked people if they would be interested in an Escape sequel with much positive responses. Fans in the US also wanted to see another Escape. Carpenter also saw his chance on doing a big-budget movie and was encouraged by Russell's and Hill's enthusiasm to write the script. The idea was that Carpenter would write a spec script to avoid development hell and then get it out to the market place, but while writing it, many, many story conferences were held where also Russell and Hill got involved with the screenplay. Carpenter suggested to them that they should write the scenes and ideas they came up with, then he would edit it all together. He was also busy directing and scoring Village of the Damned during this time. Carpenter then continued with the ideas and premise that he and Russell had penned over a weekend in Aspen, then he put together the first draft with help from Hill that ended up being 160 pages. She wrote the whole Beverly Hills part for instance. Carpenter then continued cutting it down with help from Russell who also helped to make the dialogue scenes play for actors and got it to 137 pages. Carpenter believes he worked harder on this script than any other he has written. The initial idea was to make a brand new Snake Plissken movie but while writing it with Russell, the more it started to resemble a remake due to nostalgia for the original movie and the fact that he felt everything he wrote was "bullshit". They later decided to reinvent the film for a new audience as per the studio's request since many younger people had not seen the original, but with their old fans in mind as well. Carpenter saw two choices for his second Escape. Either doing a complete Xerox of the first film or do something completely different. He later realized that audiences want the same movie dressed up a different way. The script took 8 months to write and was sold in May, 1995.

Many studios were interested in making this sequel including Warner Bros, Rysher Entertainment, Universal and Cinergi. New Line Cinema even had a poster campaign already worked out, but only Paramount trusted and understood their vision right from the beginning. Although, they wanted the picture as soon as August the next year. One company wanted it to have futuristic gangs instead of ethnic ones etcetera. Sherry Lansing (former Chief executive officer of Paramount) was also a fan of the first movie and chased it for a long time. John Carpenter was a bit reluctant to work for a big studio again after his negative experiences on Big Trouble in Little China (1986), but it turned out to be the best time he had ever had with a studio. Contractual agreements allowed him greater control of the finished product and they never interfered. At the beginning Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell originally felt they needed a $56 million dollar budget, but they ended up getting a $50 million dollar budget. $10 million went to Russell who had become a very bankable star during the 90's. However, according to Carpenter they really needed to spend $75 million. Although it is the largest budget Carpenter has ever gotten, certain things from the script had to go due to length and budgetary reasons. It went down to 100 pages and finally back up to 112 pages. There were talks about actually giving Plissken a cause this time since Paramount Pictures wanted a more grown Plissken and some more humanity in the movie, but after many months, Carpenter just looked at Russell and said: "You know what Snake would say about this." That inspired them the go on with the ending in the movie which also Russell wrote. Carpenter had a similar ending, but Russell made it clear what was going on. They also decided to speed up the pace by using more quick-cuts and cameras since audiences had become used to getting their input fast from watching MTV and other movies made in the 90s. Carpenter was a little nervous before starting to shoot the movie wondering if he could go back to the style of the first movie which was written and made with a vision of a young man's ideas, but after 10 minutes after he started shooting it all came back to him. Russell felt like they had just finished shooting the first movie on Friday and being back after a long weekend. It was a blast to make, according to Carpenter despite the grueling schedule and many cold nights etcetera. It also came in $1 million under budget so they used the extra cash to enhance the film visually and musically and add another 81 special FX shots. Russell did many of his own stunts as usual. He also had to use hair extensions since his hair was not long enough for the role. He also originally wanted to team up with many of the original crew from Escape From New York for this movie.

• The movie was filmed from December 11, 1995 to March 20, 1996.

Another early script was written by English screenwriter Peter Briggs, of Aliens vs Predator fame. The Briggs version was written "on spec", meaning he did it on his own, without getting paid for it, in the hope of selling it to the rights owners. However, they, (Debra Hill, John Carpenter & Kurt Russell etc) never got to read it, as it was not distributed or promoted at all.

The movie was shot for 70 nights straight. It left Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) working during the daytime hours and even make some creative and producing choices for John Carpenter so that he could shoot at night as problem-free as possible.

When John Carpenter and Lawrence G. Paull (Production Designer) were location scouting around L.A. they only found a couple of useful untouched sites in Northbridge from the 94 earthquake. Everything else they had to create because it looked too beautiful everywhere else, even in the worse areas. 

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had to turn off the lights in entire sections of downtown Los Angeles. Location Managers were then responsible for trashing the city at night including removing mail boxes, street signs and news racks and then putting everything back to order the next morning when everything went back to normal.
However, coordinating all the buildings and floors to shut down was not an easy task. They had to work with all the building owners and all of their maintenance people in order to shut down dozens and dozens of buildings and floors consisting of different businesses. It required getting all of the approvals of the city and getting the signatures from everyone involved so that everybody knew about it. However, a lot of the stuff they did was in between Christmas and New Years Eve, so a lot of city agencies and city offices were undermanned or not manned at all. The city's idea of an emergency was to put it on a schedule and get to it when they could which did not work well for the production team. The crew that sometimes numbered almost a thousand was supported by 30 fully loaded trucks and semis, working on the already congested city streets. The logistics for the film were a nightmare.

• In early drafts the Forum and the Getty Museum were also going to be in the movie. The Forum was the original choice for the basketball scene. Rodeo Drive scenes were also cancelled due to budget.

• Isaac Hayes (The Duke of New York) was eager to come back and called many times, but Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) had to declare that The Duke was dead. Hayes then said that he could be The Duke's twin brother or an earl. He even took Hill out to dinner and tried to talk her into it. He also lobbied to play the role of Hershe, but John Carpenter and Kurt Russell wanted to have a little fun with the role and casted Pam Grier instead. There was a rumor that the bald, black guard wearing sunglasses holding a gun Snake has a brief eye contact with after the basketball scene was Isaac Hayes in an uncredited cameo. This is not true. Carpenter himself has confirmed it. Hershe's voice was however originally going to be done by Hayes.

• Gary B. Kibbe (Director of Photography) was required by John Carpenter to utilize the same lenses used by Dean Cundey on the first movie which are low-level light lenses called Panatars. Carpenter loves the lens flare it causes when shooting fires burning in the streets. However, they chose to avoid the almost all-blue lighting scheme of the original since Carpenter thought it had became too much of an action-movie cliché. Instead a color combination were used together with warmer colors such as amber and orange since the movie takes place in the West Coast.

• Lawrence G. Paull (Production Designer) was inspired by his own travels in far east like Beijing, Cairo and Singapore experiencing the poverty of third world nations when designing the street life in Escape From L.A. He was also inspired by the 1994 Northbridge earthquake in L.A. (which also caused sustained cosmetic damage to his home) where he saw huge piles of rubble that sat on the sides of the road, and almost became mountains. He also did research on earthquake aftermath scenarios. He studied the historic tremors that rocked L.A. and San Francisco in the first half of the century as well as The Great Hanshin earthquake, or Kobe earthquake that occurred in Japan in 1995 etcetera. 50 to 60 piles were constructed and put on wood rollers for the movie. He used 29,000 lbs. of rubble to create Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Freeway and strategically blocked the L.A. skyline with it. A mile-long strip of scrap-metal shacks and crumpled buildings was created for the Sunset Boulevard scenes and 200 trashed vehicles were brought in from an auto demolition yard and dumped in a jumbled maze for the Santa Monica scenes. While shooting in a finished dressed Los Angeles area another film company came and scouted a location and avoided to shoot there believing it all was real.

• Carol Kiefer (Art Department Coordinator), Lawrence G. Paull (Production Designer) and Bruce Crone (Art Director) studied Escape From New York and its graphics as well as screened other John Carpenter films to prepare for this project. Keifer recalls that there was a lot of tension about the budget and that it was a struggle to stay within numbers.

• Robin Michel Bush (Costume Designer) pulled a lot of their material from clothes found in junk yards, hardware stores and down town alley ways. Each group from the various areas of the island was given a completely different look. Each gang was also distinctively dressed. A lot of the groups that was similarly dressed even started to hang out together and got really into their characters. They also wanted to put Utopia (A.J. Langer) in a fur coat to symbolize a Patty Hearst character, a good girl gone bad due to circumstances, but Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) was not fond of fur politically. Instead they gave her a black velvet jacket with Cuervo Jones (George Corraface) likeness painted on neon colors on the back. Over a thousand costumes were made and transported in 3 compartmentalized 40-foot trailers for the big scenes. The United States Police force designs was carried over from Steven Loomis (Costume Designer of Escape From New York) who was the head of the made-to-order work room on Escape From L.A.

• Karin Costa (Assistant to Director) worked for John Carpenter from 1987-2000 and got the job from her best friend Sandy King (Carpenter's wife) growing up. Costa on Carpenter's requirements: "Coffee. Lots of coffee and breakfast for whatever time the meal was." She also ads: "John is a great guy and has an amazing sense of humor. I adore him."

The only returnees from the original film except John Carpenter, Kurt Russell and Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) were sound crew members Joe Brennan (Boom Operator) and Tommy Causey (Sound).

Steve Buscemi (Map to the Stars Eddie) took the part in this film to help fund his directorial debut, Trees Lounge (1996).

• Peter Fonda (Pipeline) had to tell gossip about Easy Rider (1969) and Dennis Hopper during the reading with John Carpenter, Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) and Kurt Russell instead of talking about the movie or the part.

• The President (Cliff Robertson) is based on televangelist Pat Robertson as well as a Canadian Prime Minister who predicted something that came true and was regarded as a hero. It was Kurt Russell's idea to incorporate this idea to the movie.

• Taslima (Valeria Golino) means "greetings" and is an Arabic name. Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) describes her as the heart in the movie.

• Stacy Keach (Malloy) himself brought in a cactus to put on his desk in the movie. John Carpenter recalls him saying that: "That's the only thing that grows around here."

Pam Grier (Hershe Las Palmas) would put a sock in her pants during shooting and behaving like a guy on the set, slapping other male crew members on the back and get slapped on the back and such to get into the character as a transvestite. She ended up with big bruises as a result of the movie and her manly behavior. She saw many action movies and observed its stars mannerisms to prepare for the role. She also saw boxing matches, wrestling matches and observed them as well. It was Russell's suggestion to make the character into a transsexual and make Snake kind of like that person. Her voice was lowered by an octave and a half in the edit.

• Bruce Campbell's (The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills) make-up was close to 4 and a half hours long and was based on Michael Jackson and Sigfried and Roy. The make-up was all based on real plastic surgery technique, only done more crudely. Rick Baker (Special Makeup Effects) was inspired by his old plastic surgery books studies.

The collapse of L.A.'s Four Level Interchange at the beginning of the movie was constructed by Stirber Visual Network, Inc and was a two-story, 1/4 scale miniature that weighted 11 ton and was shot outside in one take. Prior to breaking it down completely they had a test day, rebuilt the set and used footage from that day as well. It is one of the largest miniatures ever built. The entire set was about 40' tall, so they had to work with lighter materials such as fiberglass to hold something that big up. Breakaway concrete and rebar were also putted inside the pillars. Then they put all of the pillars that was holding up the four-level freeway section on sliders that lifted up and down forward and backward to make it crack. The columns were individually rigged so they could run separately or together and vary the motion to create the motion of a real earthquake. It also had radio controlled miniature cars. The action was then slowed down to create the illusion of an earthquake.

At the beginning of the film, Kurt Russell wears his costume from the original film, which still fit after 15 years. John Carpenter and Russell discussed having Plissken wear the same outfit again throughout the movie, but decided not since they did not want him to turn him into a cartoon character.

The orphan in the cap that Plissken makes eye contact with while being escorted down the hallway at Firebase 7 in the beginning of the movie was played by Kurt Russell's son Wyatt Russell. He also wanted Kate Hudson (His stepdaughter) to play Utopia in the movie and despite a successful audition and being perfect for the role she turned it down because she did not wanted her first significant role to be associated with her stepdad.

During the hijacking, Utopia (A.J. Langer) is wearing a big pin on her suit that says: "True Love Waits", according to the virginity pledge of the TLW program. During this scene cult director Paul Bartel can also be seen.

The fabric of the so-called Stealth Suit Plissken wears was invented and custom made for the movie. It was a combination of silk screenings and some bonding of different fabrics. They wanted Plissken to be undetectable like the stealth bomber and needed it to reflect in sunlight and go black in other light. No fabric on the market could be found that allowed this.

• Those two guards guarding Plissken before he enters the submarine are Los Angeles morning DJs Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps (KLOS-FM). They have had minor roles in about 40 movies and TV shows. They are uncredited in the movie. Kurt Russell put them in.

• There was some talks about actually building and using miniature models for the underwater San Fernando Valley sequence, but Michael Lessa (Visual Effects Supervisor: Buena Vista Visual Effects) chose to do it in CG due to the scope of the movie. It would have required a football-field-sized model according to himself. They first opted to use digital matte painted backgrounds based on photographs of the actual route, with the CG animated sub in the foreground. However, John Carpenter wanted something more dynamic in the sequence and since matte paintings limits perspective changes they went for an entirely 3-D environment so they could have more fun with the virtual camera. The original digital matte paintings were then utilized as guidelines for building the sunken structures in 3-D. It took over 150 computer-generated effects to create one underwater sequence. The Bonaventure Hotel that was destroyed during the beginning of the movie was also relegated to CG. It would have cost at least a million dollar to build a quarter scale 35-to 40-foot-tall model of it which was required according to Lessa. They also had to write additional 3-D programs to achieve more realistic shots of buildings collapsing as well as redesigning the sub in CG to make it longer and stealthier since John Carpenter was disappointed with the full-sized submarine mockup when he saw it on set. Due to its longer size the speed had to be cut in half so they had to redo the animation and film the landing scene in their stage and at Castaic Lake.    

The building Plissken crashes into is the "black tower" at Universal. It is where movie executives work. Carpenter: "I've had my own fights over there and have always wanted to take something through it."

In an homage to the famed studio tour where Jaws pops out of the water, a shark tries to bite the mini-sub just as it passes the sign for Universal Studios.

• Kurt Russell came up with the reoccurring line: "I thought you'd be taller." based on recurrent real life commentaries from people he has met.

• Several of John Carpenter's female business associates, such as his publicist, press agent and his manager's assistant plays prostitutes in the film. They all asked Carpenter if they could do it. However, his press agent insists that it was Carpenter who asked her to be one.

• A mudslide scene cut out of the movie and the Sunset Boulevard chase sequence was the toughest things to do in the movie for Kurt Russell. The crew was a little worried about him doing the mudslide scene, but Russell wanted to do it and got his way. John Carpenter teased us that this scene perhaps would might end up on the LaserDisc release of the movie. The Sunset Boulevard sequence took 4 nights to shoot and he had to put out every time when leaping over car to car so he would not fall and get run over which was close at times. According to himself he did this probably 50 or 60 times every night. 

Kurt Russell practiced playing basketball between scenes at a hoop which had been set up for him as he wanted to make all of his shots legitimately in the basketball scene later on. He made all of those shots purely on his own talent, even the full-court one. He ran 10 miles that night and got very tired. The eye patch did not help much. In the meantime the crew betted money on him. He also did all of these shots with a bad back. The first thing he did during this mist full night shoot was to slip on the wet floor and hurt his back. In fact, he slipped up and fell a lot. The heat was rising up through the floor which was made out of plastic and it was as a cold night.

John Carpenter did not think the Wilshire Canyon surfing scene would be approved by Paramount Pictures, but they liked it and wanted to keep it. Carpenter wrote it because he always wanted to see a scene like that if only for once in a movie. Parts of this scene were shot at Schlitterbahn Water Park Resort, New Braunfels, Texas on a FlowRider called Boogie Bahn which is an artificial sheet wave surfing environment. Skate legends and professional surfers Tony Hawk and Chris Miller had to stand-in for Peter Fonda and Kurt Russell on this FlowRider since it required sustained surfing and only 5 people came in mind that could do it. They rode it in the chill of the night during a grueling three-day greenscreen shoot. Close-ups of Russell and Fonda were shot in a separate greenscreen session in a warehouse in Los Angeles. The idea of putting the actor's faces onto their surfing doubles were discarded. It was the most demanding effects work for Buena Vista Visual Effects but they solved it by a combination of CG buildings and pavement, digital matte-painted backgrounds, CG water built up by some practical shots of high-speed water filmed at the Texas park and as mentioned above separate greenscreen shots of the actors on surfboards. A miniature car driven by a 1/5 scale Map to the stars Eddie (Steve Buscemi) puppet was also used and a lot of surfing footage was studied. Kurt Russell landing on the trunk was filmed against a greenscreen with Steve Buscemi. Another obstacle was to match the effects footage with Gary B. Kibbe's (Director of Photography) principal photography. Michael Lessa (Visual Effects Supervisor: Buena Vista Visual Effects) spent a lot of time with him to later mimic his lighting in the computer. The background elements also had to be color timed to match the production footage.

The Walt Disney Co. refused to allow John Carpenter to taint the name of Disneyland so they decided to call it The Happy Kingdom instead, which Carpenter explains is a bankrupt amusement park that, due to the earthquake, is now by the ocean.

It was production designer Lawrence G. Paull's suggestion to use Universal Studios Courthouse Square for The Happy Kingdom  scenes since he also was the production designer for Back to the Future (1985) and saw the possibilities of turning the buildings into a main street of an amusement park.

Neighbors started complaining about the noise while filming The Happy Kingdom scenes on the Universal Studios lot. To compromise, John Carpenter agreed not to fire any guns or shoot any noisy scenes after midnight, instead they had to optically add the fires later. The entire shooting schedule was disrupted and it became a chaotic shoot and everyone became very tired. Carpenter also got the flu. Christian P. Della Penna (First Assistant Director) tried to cheer him up by placing attractive female extras next to him with instructions to smile at him when he collapsed after every shot but it was fruitless. He did not even notice them.

During the final escape, when Cuervo Jones fires the rocket at the helicopter, just after it is hit, you can see it narrowly avoid crashing into the mountain in Paramount Pictures logo or the Matterhorn at Disneyland if you will. Paramount produced the film.

• The futuristic helicopter was a full-sized 42' mock-of flown on a crane. Miniature and CG helicopter shots were also used. A full-sized silhouette of the helicopter was also built for the crash landing. The cutout was shot locked-off, in the hope that the explosion would wrap around the helicopter shape like a life-sized matte, creating a more realistic effect when Buena Vista Visual Effects tracked the explosion to their miniature helicopter later on. Nothing was left after the explosion which was much bigger than anticipated. 

• The Plutoxin 7 virus hoax was originally going to be part of the first movie, but was never used.

Snake's line to Malloy (Stacy Keach) near the end of the movie, "got a smoke?" is the same line that Napoleon Wilson says repeatedly in John Carpenter's other film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).

• The pack of smokes Plissken picks up at the end of the movie is American Spirit and is a real brand of cigarettes. John Carpenter uses it to show that Plissken represents the true nature of the American spirit.

• The line "Welcome to the human race" that ends the movie was originally used by Plissken earlier in the movie in the scene where Plissken is told that he will be killed if he tries to come out of L.A. John Carpenter felt it did not work there so he cut it out, then Edward A. Warschilka (Editor) added it at the end of the movie after Plissken breaks the fourth wall. Carpenter chose to break the fourth wall to annoy at least one person that would point out that you should never do that. Kurt Russell suggested this idea to Carpenter with Plissken smiling because he had never seen a character doing that before.

• 500 extras were almost used.

The movie boasts nearly 200 effects shots.

Due to time restraints, John Carpenter could not do all the music himself, so he brought in and collaborated with Shirley Walker who also did the score for his Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) to give it a certain amount of orchestral bang which the movie required. The idea was to start the movie in the electronic musical style of Carpenter and make the orchestra more noticeable halfway through the movie. Carpenter's involvement was mostly sending Walker tapes of his material which was transcribed by an orchestrator and then tailored by Walker to work with the scenes. Walker's approach to the score was to do the music different every time Snake Plissken turns around and make his new environment into a different universe and make the music play his thought process to figure out what the ground rules are so he can get to from Point A to Point B and survive.

• White Zombie contributed the track The One written specifically for the soundtrack to Escape From L.A. White Zombie's front man Rob Zombie later went on to direct a remake of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978).

• This was the last movie Buena Vista Visual Effects did before it was dissolved. It was replaced by Dream Quest Images.

• John Carpenter only had 9 total weeks of post-production and 1 day to look at his rough cut before it had to be sent to Paramount for release.
In an interview with Robert Rodriguez, Carpenter said he wished he could have had 15 weeks of post-production time.

The movie was a notorious failure on release, making around $25 million (just half its budget) at the US box office. It was criticized for being too violent, campy and for being too similar to the original film. Although, it has gotten a growing cult following over the years which also Kurt Russell predicted if the movie was not an immediate hit. Russell has also explained that decisions were made during the writing and making of it about which would be the best movie to watch 50 years later. He also believes that it came out in a very politically incorrect time. The movie came out following the Olympics which was held in Atlanta and there was a lot of patriotism going on. Medals were won and adversities were overcome. It did not benefited the movie which was a little more subversive.