Escape From New York
• John Carpenter
wrote the first
draft in 1974
right out of film school (University of
Southern California) and it was his first professional screenplay. He was inspired by the Watergate scandal and the increasing crime and urban decay going on in New York in the 70s
something he had witnessed from a
drew inspiration from the movies
Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish (1974) as well as the Deathworld
novels by Harry Harrison which had a similar premise.
Snake Plissken (Kurt
Russell) was based on a
teenager a friend of his from film school knew
of from his high school
in Cleveland named
Larry "Snake" Plissken who also had a snake tattoo. He literally
wanted to be called "Snake".
He also based Plissken on a collage friend who went to
and came back completely changed. Plissken is an
alter ego of Carpenter as well.
Carpenter tried to pitch the project to several studios but no one wanted to
make it because it was deemed to be too dark and too violent.
They also felt it made too much fun of the President.
Richard Nixon had just left in disgrace and they felt it was too mocking.
The movie got made due to a two-picture deal with the independent studio Avco Embassy
Pictures (1942-1986). The Fog
(1980) was the first movie in this contract and the second one was suppose to be
The Philadelphia Experiment. However, John Carpenter
could not come up
with a third act while writing the script for this movie
so he junked it and pitched his old Escape From New York script instead and the studio green lighted it.
It was a little weird for him at the moment because he had lost interest in it
having worked on it years before unsuccessfully. 10 weeks of pre-production work
was granted and the budget was set to
$7 million dollars.
It was years since Avco Embassy had invested
this much money in a movie but Carpenter convinced them that it was necessary. It was
the largest budget Carpenter had ever gotten at the time but the medium budget
was a bargain according to himself since it could have cost
million if they went all the way with
it. In retrospect Carpenter himself says the budget was more around $5.5 - 6.0
million. 5.9 to be more specific.
It forced him to cut some corners in certain
areas and apply to his low-budget techniques.
also wanted the script to be a little more hipper and funnier so Carpenter rewrote the script with
his former USC film school friend Nick
Castle (Co-Writer) to add a little more humor in it. Something New Yorkers would expect to
see. They also excised the script's most
controversial material such as cannibalism. Carpenter
did not want the movie to become too horror-esque. Castle came up with the
ending of having Snake Plissken tearing apart the Hartford Summit peace tape and
the Broadway element in the movie with the prisoners singing and dancing in the
also added Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) and chose the song Bandstand Boogie to be the
song Cabbie plays in his cab and undoes The
President (Donald Pleasence) at the end. Bandstand Boogie was also used and
sung by Barry Manilow in the Bandstand TV series (1952-1989) as the opening
and closing theme during 1977-1989.
Carpenter to use it.
(Harry Dean Stanton) was
also fleshed out and more lines were added.
had also originally wanted Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to kill The Duke (Isaac
Hayes) but he felt it would be
more effective if The President
did it instead.
He also originally considered the idea of having Hauk tell Plissken
after he rescued The President that the charges in his neck were a fake and that
it was all a hoax but Carpenter decided not to
use it until Escape From L.A.
had to fight for Kurt Russell to play Snake Plissken.
He wanted Russell to play the part due
to his performance in Elvis, a TV movie from 1979 where Russell plays
Elvis Presley which also Carpenter directed. It showcased his acting ability and
mimicry which impressed Carpenter. Avco Embassy
wanted Charles Bronson
Tommy Lee Jones to
play the part. The studio was unsure about Russell and associated him too much
with Disney comedies
and Elvis. In fact, they were not that
familiar with his work at all. Carpenter refused to cast Bronson
interested in the role) on the grounds that he was too old.
Bronson's asking price which had
gone up dramatically after the Death Wish films was also too high for
Avco Embassy. Carpenter originally wanted Clint Eastwood (the role was written
for him) but could not afford him and when Jones passed the deal to play
Plissken the role went to Russell. However, the studio was still a bit
reluctant about the main character due to his unlikeability but Russell convinced them that he should play the part because of
his innately likeability.
Him and Carpenter also decided to find
moments for the character during production to counteract the studio's fear of
him being socially unredeemable.
According to IMDb's (Internet Movie
Escape From New York trivia page
Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges were
also approached to play the character but were uninterested. Kris
Kristofferson was supposedly also considered as a possible candidate for the lead but was
not approached due to the failure of Heaven's Gate (1980).
When Russell was promoting Elvis
in Australia he met director
George Miller who showed him a rough cut version of Mad Max (1979).
Russell later called Carpenter and told him that he knew
what kind of movie they should make next. Carpenter remembers getting a phone
call from him where he said that he wanted to do a movie and he did not want to play a
nice guy. Russell's brother-in-law at the time
Larry J. Franco (Larry Franco) (Producer/First
Assistant Director) had also told him about this
futuristic movie Carpenter had been talking about and that he wanted Russell to play a guy
Russell wanted to read the script right
away but Carpenter wanted to rewrite it first. The script was finished in the
spring of 1980 and he finally got to read it
and it was something he really wanted to do since he wanted to move on in a new
direction in his career.
Kurt Russell came up with most of
look. It was
he who suggested the eye patch and
the long hair etcetera. He also bought a shiny leather shirt from a guy he
walked past in Paris just months before filming begun and knew immediately that
it was the look Plissken's clothes should have. Avco Embassy Pictures did not like the eye patch idea that much at
first because they did not liked the idea of covering half the leading man's face
up. John Carpenter was
onboard immediately. When he asked him why, Russell suggested that Plissken had
an injury that was not quite fixed that he will physically visually carry with
him. He also suggested that it might have abilities we do not know about since
it was a futuristic movie and also described the patch like a scowl of a continuous moral pain that Plissken drags
around with him. Two different
patches were made. One slightly transparent for scenes involving running and
jumping and one you could not see through in close-ups and such
(the same method was also used in Escape From L.A.) However, it was
problematic to adapt to it due to his limited depth perception and he only wore
it prior to filming and never on rehearsals.
Carpenter believes Russell got the idea of the eye patch from
the movie The Vikings (1958)
where Kirk Douglas wears one. The idea came from Russell who in reality had to
wear one four days a month to improve a weak eye. Russell suggested to Carpenter
to show Plissken lifting his eye patch and reveal that he had no eye but he did
not want to go that far. Russell was also involved in adding the scar to tone
his dimple down. In pre-production publicity photos of
was suppose to have the cobra tattoo on his left bicep instead of his stomach.
Russell on the tattoo: "If you're going to have a tattoo of a cobra, that's
where it should be." He was also going to have a rifle as opposed to a silenced Ingram MAC-10
machine pistol. His fatigue pants was also green but
due to Plissken's history in the Leningrad war in Siberia they decided to go
with something similar to black and white fatigues which also suited the
movie's city surroundings much better. They also thought Plissken looked too much like a soldier
and that it did not fit with the character's persona.
The same goes for the combat boots which were
switched to modified motorcycle boots with golf cleats added by Russell. However, these early publicity photos have been
used widely for different Escape From New York merchandise such as posters and DVD's etcetera.
Russell also came up with the performance. When he
knew that Lee Van Cleef was going to star against him he chose to do his own take
on Clint Eastwood's character in Sergio Leone's western movies. Carpenter on Russell's performance: "He
made Snake his own, which is what I wanted him to do. He gave him more depth and
dimension, and makes you care a lot more for him than I thought would be
possible." The only discussion they have ever had about what Plissken would
and would not do and such was during the filming of Escape From L.A. in
an early scene where Russell requested to do another take of a close-up of him
delivering some lines where he felt he did not have the character. Plissken's fighting style was also chosen to be quick and
efficient due to him being a good fighter. Russell
also got ready to play Plissken by working out at Vince's Gym for four months.
He also did most
stunts himself as requested by Carpenter and cut himself up a lot.
Sometimes when Russell came home from shooting he was so tired that he did not
change his wardrobe and some mornings he found himself taking care of and
feeding his few months old son Boston with his
It was a tough movie to make
according to Russell in 1981 due to all the
locations and physical stuff but also the most enjoyable movie he has done
because it was a family affair. Season Hubley (The
Girl in Chock full o'Nuts)
was married to Russell at the time, Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) was Carpenter's
wife at the time and Larry Franco was
Russell's brother-in-law at the time.
The movie got an R rating before it was filmed due to its concept of a president
being held for ransom which upset Kurt Russell.
movie came in under schedule and the only part that went over budget was the
production design. The set budget was less than half a million.
The movie was filmed from
August 04, 1980 to October 09, 1980.
• The movie had the alternate titles: Escape From New York City,
Breakout, Safety Catch, Ten Seconds to Split, Survival
System, Pulsing Red, The Barron, Walled In, Black
Dawn, The Slag, The Detonated Man, Mad City, Slam
Dome, Skaow City, The Crusher, Snake's Fist, The
Panic, The Limit and
Early drafts had scenes such as Snake Plissken
on a futuristic motorcycle being chased by two
helicopters, The Statue of Liberty being a guard tower, escape raft prisoner
surviving the blast from the helicopter and then being shot in a beach, Plissken
having an altercation with a guard in a quarantine room and later kneeing him in
the groin in a hallway, Hauk showing Plissken aerial photos of gangs in a
screening room, Plissken stepping inside the wreckage
of Air Force One and seeing a scalped pilot, Plissken locating the bum with
The President's coat and vital signs monitor in an anteroom in a brownstone
house, Plissken driving
a completely wrecked Times Square and a car
graveyard, The President being kept in a graveyard chamber,
The Duke target practicing at The President in a junkyard,
Plissken being ambushed by The Duke in a sub-basement garage in World
Trade Center, two gypsy cars chasing the taxi at the bridge, The Duke being
killed by troopers, Plissken throwing a cigarette at The President which lands
on the documents (not tape) etcetera.
John Carpenter also had to
fight the studio to get Lee Van Cleef
as Hauk. Avco Embassy
Pictures wanted Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster or William Holden. Lee was
reluctant at first but accepted the role when Carpenter wanted him to play the role with his earring on.
Lee also had a
hard time walking during the shoot. His knee was hurt from a fall of a horse
and it had not been fixed so his wife was also on the set to look after him.
Hauk and Plissken walking down the corridor at the beginning of the movie was the
hardest for him to do because it required him to walk and talk at the same time.
He also altered some speech patterns to make them sound more natural for him.
Carpenter was also forced to use out of focus close-ups of Lee since he had
already left town and could not afford to get him back. Hauk was named after
a math teacher in high school who also was a tough guy.
• Ernest Borgnine
originally wanted to play the role of Hauk since he found
the Cabbie role to be too easy for him but Lee Van Cleef had
already been cast.
Adrienne Barbeau recalls that he spent every moment that he was not on
screen memorizing a one man show he was going to go on the road with after this
movie. Isaac Hayes remembers him fondly telling acting anecdotes and stories
at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge (69th Street Bridge). Cabbie was also written with him in mind.
British actor Donald
Pleasence was reluctant to play The President because he did not
think someone not from America could play the part and with an English accent.
The United States constitution requires that the president must be a native born
citizen of the United States.
John Carpenter had to
convince him to do the part by writing him a
long letter where he explained the comedic elements and why he needed him. Carpenter
also made up a story for him how he became the president suggesting that he was a love
child between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
wanted Pleasence because of his role and performance in Roman Polanski's Cul De Sac
(1966). Someone abused and scorned who completely loses his dignity. Pleasence also made up a story how he got
to be president, including an
explanation for how the character was born in the United States and
could have an English accent.
According to Carpenter it had something to do with Thatcher taking over the
world and making the United States a colony again but he never used it since
the audience would not care. Pleasence also drew on his own
wartime experiences as a prisoner of war for his performance as the imprisoned
He was a World War II pilot in the Royal Air Force who was shot down and
then held and tortured in a German prisoner of war camp where he spent the
remainder of the war.
On a funnier note, several cast members including
Adrienne Barbeau and Isaac Hayes had a hard time holding a
straight face in scenes with Pleasance. "He's one of the funniest men I've ever
worked with.", recalls Barbeau.
• Isaac Hayes used his experiences
being in a gang and living in the ghetto for the part and also suggested the eye
twitch to John Carpenter as a kind of signal for The Duke's emotional
excitement. Carpenter recalls that he also suggested that he should only twitch
when he saw Snake Plissken. He had been given three scars by the make-up department and suggested
the twitch to Carpenter with the possibility of a severed nerve due to the slashes. Carpenter wanted the character to have a gimmick of some
sort and make him into an eccentric figure and agreed. Hayes also worked out too hard in
St. Louis and was so sore that he could hardly walk.
Kurt Russell used to call him up in the mornings and work out together. Russell
recalls that Hayes answered in the deepest baritone you would ever hear. He was also handpicked by Carpenter for the
role since they wanted someone colorful, flashy and unusual.
He had seen him on the TV series The Rockford Files and liked the way he
looked. They met in Atlanta where Hayes lived while filming scenes from the
deleted bank robbery opening sequence.
• John Carpenter and Debra Hill (Producer) originally wanted Warren Oates to
play Brain. The role was rewritten to fit him but the actors strike forced him
into a bind with another contract. However, Harry Dean Stanton turned out be a
great replacement, rehearsing constantly between takes and searching for different
values and emphasis in his lines. When he was offered the role on the phone by
Carpenter he requested to be able to change his lines if he did not like them
and Carpenter agreed as long as he did not mess with his plot. His adlib caused
some creative differences between both of them on set though. He played the role
like a young poet according to himself.
• Adrienne Barbeau roasted and
then boiled a turkey breast clean to use it as a hair clip and painted her nails
silver for the role suggesting that they had melted down batteries due to the
lack of beauty supply stores in the prison. She also had to
learn how to use a .357 Magnum for the role. In fact, it was the first time she
had fired a gun. She ended up with the worst
backache she had ever had, from the tension involved in learning to shoot it on
the first day at the firing range. On the second day she hit two bull's eyes in
a row. The gun made her very uncomfortable and she have not used it since.
It is also one of the few movies where she could wear her own hair without
having to get it straightened out.
Maggie was also written with her in mind.
• Tom Atkins (Rheme) recalls that he "smoked
his ass off" due to his character's constant smoking in his scenes which was
John Carpenter's idea.
His character name "Rehme" is
a reference to the President of Avco Embassy Pictures at the time, Robert Rehme.
• Frank Doubleday (Romero) made the role his
own and got his hair to stick up the air etcetera. It was all his
• Dean Cundey (Director
took full advantage of the Ultra Speed Panatars
lenses from Panavision which were new at the time. They permits filming at
incredible low light levels with the resulting footage exceptionally sharp. Escape From New York was
one of the first movies to test the system.
Another first is the use of a computerized
light modulator invented and built by Cundey and his friend, electronics engineer Joy Brown which allowed
Cundey to mimic the light patterns of fire instead of relying on actual fire
The HMI (Hydrargyrum Medium-Arc Iodide) lighting had also become practical. It
is a very high outpost light that produces light the color of daylight as well
as an intense bluish light. It was
used for night exteriors and lighting large areas. They were purchased
from the lighting team and then sold back to them.
Cundey was always looking for ways to make Manhattan otherworldly
and also give it a primitive look. Using strange colors for the street lights
which they imagined were run by a small amount of electricity in the movie and
occasionally using fires as the only light source contributed to that.
• Joe Alves (Production Designer) gave the
movie two distinctive looks by making the United States Police Force world look
the Manhattan world look medieval and it was a challenge due to their extreme
wanted to prove that they could make a
very medium budgeted movie and make it look more expensive in
a time of financial excess and money just being flaunted indiscriminately. He
did this from re-doing existing things, building only what you need and tie
into them to confuse the audience as to what is real and what is not.
Aside from the sets he also
designed the Air Force One escape pod and the radar tracer bracelet etcetera.
He also had a hand in the creation of the small
"security guard" robot in the Bank
of the United States Colorado Federal Reserve
from the deleted
robbery opening sequence.
To prepare for this project he, John Carpenter and Larry Franco storyboarded the effects in a room for two weeks.
Steven Loomis (Costume Designer)
Plissken's jacket at a vintage clothing store.
It is a 1930s "California Sportswear" brand motorcycle jacket in horsehide.
did some of his costume shopping at city
The biggest challenge for him was to design the
stars outfits which had to be special yet at the same time blend in and be
plausible. The inspiration came from photos and books of ancient cultures.
• The special effects
(involving matte paintings, glass paintings, models
and time-lapse photography etcetera) were provided by Roger Corman's New World
Pictures special visual effects team. Future director James Cameron (Director of
Photography/Matte Artwork: Special Visual Effects) worked here and the Manhattan skyline at Central Park matte painting
was one of the matte paintings he worked on. John Carpenter on Cameron: "At one point, Cameron was
finishing up just minutes before the scene was shot, so the paint was still wet."
He also worked on the Air Force One exterior scene
and built the cloudscape which was made out
of polyester fiberfill
and held up by screening wires.
Carpenter first approached
John Dykstra and Universal/Hartland to provide the effects but their price tag
and celebrity attitude was outrageous according to himself. Debra Hill recalls that he wanted
million as his fee. However, a number of specialists, including Dykstra were consulted and their ideas were
incorporated into extensive instructions for the New World technicians who
agreed to do the project for
$360.000. He also approached
Jim Danforth but he was involved in another project.
Roger Corman had just done his most
expensive movie he had ever done, Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and as a result of
that movie a visual effects facility had been built. After the movie was
finished they were out of a job and at a party Cameron met Joe Alves who said they were looking
for a special effects facility for their 25 shots that they needed to be done.
Cameron said they had one not in use which could be ready in a week and
guaranteed they would underbid everybody. Corman had no idea that Cameron was selling out his place. Luckily he could keep the facility alive
using other people's money until he needed it again which was for Galaxy of
Terror (1981) just after Escape From New York was finished.
• Nearly 95 percent of Escape From New York was filmed at night.
It proved to be physically exhausting for John
Carpenter who took every vitamin known to man through his then wife Adrienne
Barbeau who had brought a large apothecary jar with her. For about two
and half months
he never saw daylight.
• Most of the deleted bank robbery opening sequence was filmed in
Atlanta and the camera dolly broke down during the filming of the Colorado
Terminal Corridor scene at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport so John Carpenter had to use a sound cart for the
(Taylor) blood squibs would not work so they had to redo the scene over and over
at Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center
They originally wanted to film parts of
the deleted opening bank robbery sequence at BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in San Francisco but
they were not too crazy about the plans they had in mind.
• The only scene shot in New
York was the dolly shot of The Statue of Liberty introducing
and following Rehme into a sentry post with a helicopter in the background. The morning shot of Manhattan where
a helicopter is seen was also filmed here. These were the last scenes to
be filmed for the movie.
originally going to be filmed August 05, 1980 but had to be postponed to October
09 due to the actors strike which did not affect the production much otherwise
due to a
signed interim agreement
to permit production.
New York officials not only
approved the script, they also helped them to shoot on Liberty Island.
In fact, it was the first movie in history to be
shoot underneath the Statue of Liberty at night. However, there were many
New Yorkers that were defensive and hostile about seeing New York as a prison. On the contrary, a lot of New Yorkers did not
think it was science fiction at all. They had
the whole island for themselves for an all-night shoot. They were extremely careful and
cleaned up their messes afterwards. It was not easy to get permission though.
Only three months earlier they had bombings by
Croatian freedom fighters and they were worried about trouble.
• The majority of the movie
filmed in St. Louis,
Missouri which had four
city blocks burned out on April 02, 1976 during a massive urban fire.
The area was more or less abandoned due to
economic trouble at the time.
had a run down look that they wanted.
The city's architecture was also
similar to that of a major east coast city
and it also had a big and accessible yet
within close proximity
Chain Of Rocks Bridge) as well as an old abandoned
train station (St. Louis Union Station).
decided early on that New York was not going to work because the look there
would be much harder to control and make it look like a devastated city after a
trip there while standing on the top of the World Trade Center.
Budgetary restraints and lack of necessary permission also prevent them to shoot
the movie there.
John Carpenter suggested going to a movie back lot and trash it but Joe Alves convinced him to use real streets for a more authentic
The manhole covers were however made out of wood due to real ones being too heavy and
streets were sprayed with water to give them
more texture. It was Barry Bernardi (Associate
Producer/Location Manager) who found this city with a goal to find the worst city in the
United States. He also scouted in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit and New York.
Adrienne Barbeau recalls being
warned several times that it was not a good area of town to go walking.
This led Donald Pleasence to order a cab to a Chinese restaurant
the hotel had recommended
to him. The cab driver drove him around the
block to the back entrance of the hotel where the restaurant was located across
the street. Kurt Russell recalls running down a
street in character around a corner without a crew visible and facing rugged
residents in St. Louis who quickly backed off. He later told Carpenter
this character is probably going to work.
The city of St. Louis was very cooperative and
They allowed the production to shut down
all the electricity in this part of the town and do whatever was needed.
The police, street, lighting and
fire departments all helped out. It was the first major film in 15
years the city hosted so they did not even have a film commission.
It was the biggest and most expensive film to be filmed in the city.
• Around 600 people
auditioned in St. Louis and about 150 extras were chosen. Among them 30 Gypsies,
28 Broadways and 55 Prisoners. Only 13 were women.
A punk rocker who played a prisoner intimidated Kurt Russell due to his
aggressive appearance and stares until Russell asked his girlfriend what his job
was. The answer was hair dresser. A reporter from St. Louis Post-Dispatch was
cast as a Crazy and he wrote three articles about the movie and his experiences.
• An average day started at the office at 2:00 PM. Dailies were screened
between 4:00 and 5:30. The lightning and prop crews would go to work with John
at 6:00. The actors would start arriving for make-up and costumes. Dinner and
sunset watching followed until 8:30. Filming began a half hour later and
stopped around 5:30 in the morning. They wrapped Saturday midnight and Sunday was a day off. Everybody
was so exhausted they would go to bed and get up at noon Sunday and disrupt
their usual sleeping pattern.
The crew had to find ways to stay awake
all nights on weekends but bars closed at 1:00 AM in St. Louis. Luckily for
them they could drive across the river to Illinois where a strip joint named P.T.'s
stayed open till 5:00. P.T.'s is mentioned in the credits of the movie.
• The movie was shot in the
summer of 1980 in St. Louis during a searing heat wave.
The temperature was around 95-110 degrees at
The entire crew was
also plagued by
Especially at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge (69th Street Bridge.)
• The Missouri National Guard was used in the first attempt to
rescue The President sequence in St. Louis. The Huey helicopters were also
provided by them. It
started out with 30 men pouring out of the choppers and into the streets but
ended with only 15 tired Guardsmen left due to heat exhaustion,
hard to see through
helmets, a broken ankle
and a dislocated shoulder etcetera.
• Three dump trucks were used to transport
junk from local garbage landfill sites and every night bulldozers piled up
mountains of garbage and old cars to prepare for the night shooting. During the
day all the debris, garbage and ruined cars had to be stored in a local junkyard
due to morning-rush traffic. Carpenter deliberately chose to populate his future with classic
cars because he wanted to include a little bit of reality and a little bit of
the past to give the movie resonance.
• The Air Force One wreckage was an old DC-8 bought from a guy in St. Louis.
Joe Alves and his assistant art director Chris Horner were
first at an airplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona scouting for parts when
the guy there told them about this plane for sale for
in St. Louis. The plane was carved up into three separate pieces and had to be
trucked to the film's location in the dead of night as they did not have the
requisite paperwork and
a guard had to be brought in for eight hours to prevent curious
visitors to get away with pieces of the plane.
The next day the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch had a picture of the sight along with eye witnesses telling them
having seen it crash.
• The Grand Central Station scenes were
filmed at the Union Station in St. Louis which was as mentioned abandoned at the
time. They didn't have to dress it much. It was once the busiest and largest passenger rail terminal in the world.
Its operation ceased in 1978 and in the early 1980s the Station underwent a
$150 million restoration. It was reopened 1985 as the largest adaptive re-use
project in the US (United States) housing a 539 room Hyatt Regency Hotel (St. Louis Union
Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton), a
10-screen movie theater, luxury offices, a lake, four active train tracks and a plaza for festivals, concerts
and other special events.
Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
(69th Street Bridge) in St. Louis
$1 from the government
by the production team
more specific the United States Army of Corps of Engineers)
then returned it to them for the same amount after filming was completed
so that they would not have any liability.
Joe Alves also considered building a section of a bridge
near a huge wall.
The wall at the bridge took one month to construct
by 65 crew members and
it was 33-feet-high
The buildings on the side of the 69th
Street Bridge entrance were also built by the film crew.
The scenes at the bridge took four
days to shoot and
the car chases were the single most
difficult part of the production. John Carpenter had never directed such scenes
before and was delayed by the intricate lighting set-ups.
They worked on four different versions of the
taxi on the bridge.
• Roy Arbogast
had liquid smoke
shipped to St. Louis
from Los Angeles which was brought into a plane unchecked as a flammable
material. The bottle broke and it started to smoke while landing. The pilot
thought the plane was on fire and a runway for emergency landing was prepared.
(Federal Bureau of
later came to the production office in a St. Louis hotel and questioned the
production office coordinator Chip Fowler. They also later came to the Old Chain of Rocks bridge to get the liquid smoke. Later there was a claim that they had to
settle for years afterwards with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the production company ended up having to pay
During a day off in St. Louis a bunch of the crew consisting mostly of
camera men went to Hannibal, Missouri to see where Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
lived. Mark Walthour (Gaffer) was a big Mark Twain fan and he organized it.
A trailer was stolen from the set and a
reward ad was put in St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Kurt Russell worked out at a YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) everyday
in St. Louis unaware of its gay culture and was approached by men in the showers
who admired the result of his training.
There was still a big mess on the
streets when shooting was over and the studio was billed a pretty penny to have
it cleaned up.
• The skeletal weapons being carried by the police in the beginning of the movie
are M16A1 rifles with the ventilated hand-guards and gas tubes removed. In
reality, though the rifles can fire without the hand guards they are unable to
fire with the gas tube removed. Cocking manually, the M16 can fire single shots
even with the gas tube removed but not in semi-automatic, full automatic or
three-shot burst modes. M16A1
rifles were used in Vietnam and John Carpenter originally wanted to "class up"
weapons used in Vietnam as well as some of the present-day automatic weapons and
make them very deadly but not to the extent of being lasers or ray guns. Snake Plissken's gun is an Ingram MAC-10 machine pistol and was also used in Vietnam.
The sound of the gunfire of his Smith & Wesson Model 67 with a scope mounted on
it was processed to make it sound slightly futuristic.
• The model of Manhattan
measured 10 foot by 10 foot and
was built by four-five guys including
(Matte Artist/Uncredited Supervisor: Special Visual Effects), Dennis Skotak
of Photography: Special Visual Effects),
Steve Caldwell (Camera
Visual Effects) and Tom Campbell
Special Visual Effects)
and they had around 10 days to build it. To make an accurate Manhattan they photographed a map of it and
projected the negative in a slide projector on a wall and made the foundation
out of plywood. Due to the modest budget they had to use cardboard and Xeroxes
for the buildings and hand colored them with color pencils since they did not
have the option for color photographs. A pamphlet of Manhattan was used to match
the scale of the buildings.
• Secret Service #2 (the blond
guy with glasses banging on the cabin door) in Air Force One is played by
Steven Ford, former President Gerald Ford's son.
• Kurt Russell came up with an idea about a
They did try to make it work but
due to budget it never really materialized. It
also burned his fingers.
• John Carpenter paid tribute to director George A. Romero and David Cronenberg by naming two characters in the movie: Romero and Cronenberg
• The Hartford, Connecticut summit mentioned in the movie had two visiting
nations: People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The latter ceased to exist in late 1991.
• Bill Bartell was the pilot in the glider when it took off and landed. He sold
the glider to the production company and then flew it. The glider used had the
designation N2927B and was a Romanian-made IS28-B2. During the World Trade
Center roof top landing scene it bumped and smashed against the edge so it took
two years to get it sold by Debra Hill.
In the meanwhile she leased it to a school that taught gliding in the Mojave
Desert. Bartell nailed the landing in one take though.
Hill first hired a helicopter to scout for a
suitable roof top in San Fernando Valley to land on but it was deemed too
dangerous because of the lack of light required for the scene.
Three miniature gliders in different scales were also made by
Eugene P. Rizzardi (Gene Rizzardi)
for the movie.
The graphic displays in the movie were not computer graphics.
Computers capable of 3D wire-frame imaging were large and expensive machines
located at large corporations and universities at the time. The effects required
for the movie were also too complicated to achieve on a computer. Instead, three model
sets were built by John Wash
and Mark Stetson.
John C. Wash on the models: "One
was a 4" by 8" model of the island of Manhattan.
The buildings were made of white plexiglass that
was cut to size and painted black. The edges was then routed to reveal a white
line on each edge.
The other set of models involved larger scale
buildings, about 24 to 36 inches high
so that they could fly a motion-control camera (Elicon Camera Control System) with a snorkel lens between rows
of these graphic skyscrapers. These larger
models were made of wood and cardboard, with high-contrast lithographic line art glued onto
them. The models were shot at the original Dream Quest facility, which at that
time was in the garage of a '50s ranch-style house just south of Santa Monica.
Once we had shot
all of the models on high-contrast film, the footage was then colored and
combined with graphic overlays at Modern Film, an optical effects house in
The large wireframe city model sets
also used in early pre-production in the model shop for Blade Runner (1982).
Mark Stetson (Chief Model Maker) worked on this movie as well and used it to experiment with the
of the city and
then repainted and reused some for the movie.
When Kurt Russell was to work on the wiring to
open the elevator on the roof of the World Trade Center the elevator control box
exploded from the wall and burned his hands a little bit. It scared him more
than it hurt. Afterward he told them to use the take for its element of surprise.
Debra Hill wore a sexy outfit and sweet talked the building
manager to use the Century Plaza Tower buildings for the World Trade Center
• Everyone's Coming To New York, the song sung by the men in drag at
the stage show scene where
Plissken first meets Cabbie was recorded in post-production
and was based on the song There's No Business Like Show Business. Steven
Sondheim's song Everything's Coming Up Roses was
their original choice and the one that was used for filming but somehow they
could not get the rights from Sondheim to use it afterwards.
wrote the new lyrics and the show was also choreographed
by him. His parents were famous dancers and choreographers.
The band consisted of
Nick Castle on piano,
John Carpenter on guitar and kazoo, Dean Cundey on sax,
Barry Bernardi on violin and Clyde Bryan
(First Assistant Camera) on trumpet. Carpenter also made a cameo
as the United States Police Force guy sitting in
during the Central Park scene. He also dubbed Steven Ford's (Secret
• The actress playing the rape victim in the basement of the theater tried to
talk John Carpenter out of doing this scene.
This scene was cut out of the movie when it was aired for the first time on TV.
This theater (Wiltern Theatre) was in a
bad shape during this time and they had to acquire special permission to
film there due to it being condemned. Carpenter recalls that
people actually came in here to live.
The scene where
Snake Plissken decides to sit on a chair
in front of the escape pod was improvised on the set.
The Girl in Chock full o'Nuts is played by
who was married to Kurt Russell's at the time. She had just given birth to their son
Boston Russell prior to doing this movie. The character was originally named Maureen
which was revealed
in the Movie-Tie In Novel.
Maureen was described by Kurt Russell to be a "crime groupie"
as suggested by Hubley since it would be
more fitting in a penal colony. She was originally going to wear a t-shirt covered
with crossed off names of criminals except for just one: Snake Plissken. The
gangs Skulls and The Turks she mentions having been in and the latter one being
in was based on real gang names Russell remembered from his neighborhood in Los
• The running gag used in the movie
about everybody thinking Snake Plissken was dead was also used in the John Wayne
Big Jake (1971).
John Carpenter used his influence as a former USC
(University of Southern California) student to shoot
the interior library scenes
facilities. The campus facility
proudly allowed their famous graduate to erect a full-size oil rig in the middle
of the floor for an entire day's shooting.
• The day scene was added during production since people felt the movie was
going to be too night oriented and that the audience would want a moment of
brightness at some point.
• The movie was suppose to have a food drop sequence but when they realized that
the packages would fall behind the Manhattan skyline at Central Park which was a
matte painting on a piece of glass the camera would film through they dropped
• Many sources mentions Madison Square Garden as being The Duke's lair. The
correct building is in fact Grand Central Station. It is mentioned in the script
as well as the
Movie-Tie In Novel
and Debra Hill clarifies this in the commentary track she did for the
US Special Edition DVD.
Professional wrestler Ox Baker
(Slag) struck Kurt Russell very heavily with some of his blows during the
ring fight scene. He also threw a trash can in Russell's face about
times. Baker had problems remembering the moves and began to swing very wildly.
Russell finally had enough and asked him to take it easy, tapping him in the
groin to let him know he was serious. Baker then calmed down. It was the hardest
scene in the movie to do since it took a whole day to shoot and was very
physical and somewhat dangerous according to Russell who also wore an eye patch.
Real bats with real nails were also used in
Russell got his payback when he was going to kill Slag with one. A nervous Baker had
to lie still while Russell aimed his bat for a nail that was sticking out of a
block taped on Baker's head. Luckily for him, Russell succeeded on his first try.
Baker also cut his leg while he was entering the ring
to shoot the scene. John Carpenter asked him if it hurt. Baker responded: "Does what
500 extras were
used in this scene.
The idea of being put a wig on while
being in captivity was improvised by Donald Pleasence on the set.
• CalArts (World Trade Center Lobby) would not allow Joe Alves to graffiti their walls so he had
to use hundreds of yards of butcher paper instead. Students also helped out
making the graffiti.
Harry Dean Stanton
ran up and down the stairs to make him look exhausted before the take where they
run down to the lobby.
• The 69th Street Bridge was invented by John Carpenter since they could not
stop the ten-lane, double-decker traffic of the George Washington Bridge and
could not afford to rebuild it somewhere else. The 69th Street Bridge was built
somewhere between 1980 and 1997 and Debra Hill suggested calling it the Richard N. Nixon
Memorial or even the John B. Anderson Memorial but that was before the
In a later interview Carpenter claimed naming it the 69th Street Bridge was
a cheap adolescent joke. In a
more recent interview he claims he did not know New York that well
and that it was meant to be the The
59th St. (Ed Koch Queensboro)
Plissken was originally written to throw his cigarette at the president's chest
and let it bounce it off his body at the end of the movie
but Kurt Russell was not comfortable
with that so a compromise was done to throw it in his direction instead.
• Inserts and close-ups of
Snake Plissken's life-clock on his wrist and interior helicopter shots had to be filmed
additionally for the movie.
Inserts of Plissken's
hands on the joystick inside the glider, him
crawling up the
wall and The President's hand on the rope lever were shot at
Roger Corman's New World
Pictures/Venice effects facility where they built a portion of the wall on the
parking lot. John Carpenter recalls that Kurt Russell had gained some weight a
few month after shooting for the inserts so the costume did not quite fit.
Once filming was completed, John Carpenter realized audiences wanted to see what
happened to Maggie after The Duke hit her with his car. Therefore Carpenter and then-wife Adrienne Barbeau decided to arrange and
shoot the scene
in their garage. Apparently this scene was added
after a then teen-aged J.J. Abrams suggested it to Carpenter. Abrams saw
an early cut because his father worked for the studio that produced the movie
and pointed out to Carpenter that Maggie's death was never fully established.
Carpenter wanted a shot of Maggie dead as well.
• The movie had a crew of 180 people
since it was a union-made movie. It was the first fully union-made movie John
Carpenter and Debra Hill had ever done
order to get some of the crew they had worked with earlier on Escape
and into the union,
Hill had to find a way around a catch-22 situation. You could not work on an
union film unless you were in the union and you could not get in the union
unless you had worked 30 days on an union film. Hill solved this by signing
contracts with the ones they wanted on Escape before signing the union
contracts. That way they had to honor the previous contracts.
• Every time something went wrong during production John Carpenter, Larry Franco
and Jeffrey Chernov (Second Assistant
would cover their nose and grab their balls. This pose is described as: "We're
going down!" Several other crew members did this as well.
Approximately 25 percent of the movie was shot using a Panaglide
to draw the audience voyeuristically into the situations. The Panaglide
is a variation of the famed and award winning Steadicam and allows the operator
to achieve extremely steady hand-held shots, even in smaller areas.
• The wrap party was held at the Roller Boogie Palace and Kim
Gottlieb-Walker (Kim Gottlieb) (Stills) who wore skates for the first time of her life
got hit by a very large guy, fell and broke all three bones in her
Hill brought her to a hospital and stayed with her all night. This
was on a Saturday night and since they had one more day left to shoot on Monday
which was going to be the 30th day required to get into the union, Walker had to
return with her arm in cast and take pain pills.
The Elicon Camera Control System was
used to capture roughly 12 to 14 special effects segments. The exceedingly
precise "computer-controlled camera movement repetition device," which earned
its developers, Peter Regla and Dan Slater, an Academy Award in Technical
Achievement allowed for the creation of in-camera mattes. In Escape From New
York the device was predominantly used to recreate the movie's New York City
backdrop. This eased and expedited the matting process by eliminating the need
for more complex blue screen matting techniques. As a result, the sequences
captured using the Elicon Camera Control System were completed nearly a month
ahead of schedule.
Escape From New York was
John Carpenter's and Alan Howarth's
first project together. Howarth got acquainted with
Carpenter when he worked on Star Trek: The Motion
Picture (1979) as a sound designer where he slipped some cassettes over to the
editor Todd Ramsay (who knew he was a musician) when he found out that his next
assignment was Escape From New York and that Carpenter needed someone to
work on the soundtrack with. Carpenter then came over to his house in Glendale
where Howarth played him a few things in his dining room studio and it was a go. The score was created at Howarth's home
studio with the entire latest technology. Howarth
had to acquire a Linn LM-1 Drum Computer which had just been invented due to
Carpenter's need for drums for instance. He called the inventor Roger Linn
and and went to his garage where he had just done his first batch of them and
purchased it personally from him.
Linn even modified it afterwards for him.
During the scoring session Carpenter
brought in a Tangerine Dream and a Police record to
the studio which had influenced him and also
overdubbed the music to bring in more rock influences to it besides the synth work.
decided to watch the movie on tape while playing the music
to synchronize the movie with the music which was new to Carpenter at the time.
A piano was also rented and Howarth achieved the sound effects in the Up The
Wall part from the track
Up The Wall/Airforce #1 by
hitting the piano with his hands. The sound effects in The Crazies Come Out
part from the track Back To The Pod/The Crazies Come Out were achieved by
banging around on a pedal steel guitar with a steel slide.
The Main Title is one of
only two themes that Carpenter can think of that he had ahead of time instead of
improvising it on the spot. It took some time for it to come out though.
The rest of the music was improvised
on the spot. Howarth about their collaboration: "I would prepare the studio,
dial up all the sounds, create a palette for the synthesizer, keep all the
sequencers and John's interest was to light cigarettes, have coffee and play
black and white notes and then say, 'alright, give me something else, give me
something else'. I was the engineer housekeeper person and my main job was to
make sure the red light was on when he was playing." However, Howarth came up
with the sequence for
Chase Across The 69th Street
Claude Debussy's composition Engulfed Cathedral
is used during the glider flight into New York.
It was not intended to be in the movie. Todd C. Ramsay (Todd Ramsay) (Editor) used it on the
tempo track and John Carpenter
felt that it worked well with the scene so they
incorporated it. For some reason a few disgruntled folk claimed that Carpenter
stole it without attribution but it is clearly credited in the end titles. It
would be a crime against nature according to himself.
• Mr. Walter Abell and Lt. (Lieutenant) Col.
(Colonel) Dennis R. Foley received a special thanks credit in the end credits.
Abell was a director of street in St. Louis and Foley arranged getting the Huey
helicopters for the Sepulveda Dam Flood Control Basin (Station
17/Liberty Island Security Control/Station 21/Central Park/Station 19)
filming location located in San
Fernando Valley, California. Foley
about his involvement: "My
involvement was so short that it's hardly worth your time. I was working in the
Los Angeles Army Public Affairs Office and got a call from someone in the crew
that they needed a few helicopters to fly over the Sepulveda Dam for the film. I
made a few calls, arranged it with the local Army Reserve unit and it was done.
I simply called the aviation unit to see if they could fly over. That's the
extent of it."
According to IMDb's Escape From New York Trivia Page:
"The opening narration is not, as
some reported, provided by an uncredited Jamie Lee Curtis. The computer voice in
the opening and in the first prison scene is producer Debra Hill." It is none of
has confirmed this. That means that it was
Blanchard who did the voice. She also did the narration in Escape From L.A.
Also, the prologue narration for the movie introducing the audience to the
movie was added at
the beginning instead of later on in the movie and a graphic display of a map
was added as well. The early version Carpenter
screened for a test audience confused them. Especially some kids who did not
know that Manhattan was an Island that could be closed off.
The Movie Tie-In Novel by Mike McQuay includes more motivations and backstories
such as Snake Plissken's parents being killed by the United States Police Force in a
hostage situation, Plissken losing his eye due to gas in Leningrad, Plissken and
Fresno Bob in Kansas City, New York being the first North American target to be
attacked by deadly nerve gas (and fire bombs) as a result of World War III
that turns the survivors into Crazies and then spreading and turning other poor
Americans from a collapsed economy into criminals and Crazies,
United States Police Force being
mad war veterans, Hauk's past being similar to Plissken's, Hauk becoming
the warden, Hauk having a Crazy son living in the prison etcetera.
• John Carpenter and Debra Hill approached Marvel to make a comic book of Snake Plissken but Marvel passed on the deal, claiming they did not have enough lead
time to be on sale during the movie's release. The Bally Pinball Machine Company
was also interested in producing an Escape game.
• Avco Embassy thought they made too much fun of the president
but John Carpenter told them to relax since it was in the future and that the
audience would enjoy that.
The studio also
trusted the filmmakers and did not interfere
The movie previewed to an enthusiastic audience as an unannounced feature
at Filmex, the former-annual Los Angeles Film Festival. It had also been set to
screen at the USA Film Festival in Dallas but was pulled from the schedule
because they did not have the equipment to screen the movie's "double system
Test showings were held in Hartford, Las Vegas,
Newport and Victoria etcetera.
• Isaac Hayes and Debra Hill were sent to
Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington and New York on a
The Duke's '77 Cadillac Fleetwood
together with the car's owner and designer Mario Simon.
They also went to St. Louis where the movie opened on June 26 instead of July
10. Hayes went to several drive-in theaters and signed autographs as well. At
the premiere party at New York New York in New York the car was parked illegally and got a
Hayes was also interested in buying the Cadillac
but a crew member beat him to it.
has been used as an
influence for the modern-day art car - a vehicle decorated or customized as
works of art. Two other vehicles used in the movie (a late 1970s Ford LTD Country Squire station
wagon fitted with rebar around the windshield and windows along with Cabbie's Checker Cab with wire mesh cages) were the ancestors of the mutant vehicles seen
at Burning Man (a public art festival outside Reno, Nevada) or during the annual
Houston Art Car Parade.
Kurt Russell could not get his family in the
theater for free when watching it on the first with an audience in New York on
42nd Street. He could not convince them that he was in the movie.
• A convict escaped from a drive-in theater in Riverton, Wyoming while watching
the movie with three other inmates and a guard during a supervised excursion.
• A youth gang about 20 assaulted a group in a drive-in theater in Carson before
a screening of the movie.
• It was during this movie John Carpenter got exposed to helicopters for the
first time and later he decided to become
a pilot for many years.
He started taking lessons in 1981.
In the Korean dub of the movie, Snake Plissken was
called "Cobra" while in the Italian version he was called "Hyena".
When released in Italy the subtitles
mistranslated nuclear fission as nuclear fixation.
John Carpenter about
the Statue of Liberty's fallen off head in the poster:
the thing - before the poster ever existed, we shot the Statue of Liberty,
because it's part of the police base out there. So it was in the movie. That was
put in the poster by the artist that did it, and I didn't have anything to do
with it. Someone thought it would be an interesting idea - I don't know why
that something waaaay out over the water would be in the middle of the street.
It didn't make any fucking sense, but it sold the film. So I wasn't thinking of that necessarily as much as I was thinking 'Boy,
whatever knocked that head…' We were out there at night shooting the statue of
liberty, and the sun came up on us - the crew - so we kind of trudged back
across the water. It is forever to the city (laughs)! Forever!
So I don't know about that, it's like throwing something from Heathrow over to
London Bridge. So you go 'Wait a minute now…'. But I accepted it." - The
Den of Geek interview: John Carpenter
• The original German one-sheet poster prominently misspells Snake's last
name as "Plessken".
The movie grossed $25.2 million in
American theaters in the summer of 1981 with around the same amount grossed in foreign
markets. It was a modest box-office hit.
In US the film opened to just over $4.1 million in box-office grosses on
579 screens, screening best in New York City, where it pulled in $922.367 from
An Avco Embassy Vice-President (Robert Rehme) identified the movie's
10-day opening of just over $9 million as the biggest in the company's history.
Around 80.000 copies of the soundtrack
on vinyl was sold in the 80s and it was the
most expensive and eclectic score John Carpenter had created to date. It
was the biggest selling soundtrack on Varèse Sarabande at the time and it helped
them to establish their label. However, the images of Kurt Russell, Adrienne
Barbeau and Donald Pleasence on the cover had to be covered by a yellow
with the composer's names on
due to rights issues of the images.
It was Alan Howarth's
decision to release it as a soundtrack album after
Varèse Sarabande had reached out to Debra Hill
about the idea. Carpenter did not think anyone
would listen to the music outside of the movie.
Kurt Russell regards the score as one of his
favorite scores ever. It is also one of his favorite things about the movie.
Kurt Russell has stated that
Escape From New York is one of his favorite movie that he has starred in and that
Snake Plissken is his favorite character that
he has played. Plissken's costume is the only one he has ever kept from
a movie. Although he gave away the boots and a shirt to his kids friends who
were Escape From New York fans. Russell also got many fan letters from women after the movie.
Many of them found the cobra tattoo very appealing.
John Carpenter and Russell also got many fan
letters about how Plissken lost his eye, but they have decided to keep it to themselves with many
possibilities. One example being that he just decided to put an eye patch on
one day and another one being due to gas earlier in Siberia or something as
suggested by a letter someone wrote who most likely must have read the Movie-Tie
In Novel. Carpenter and Russell have also decided to keep stuff about Snake's
personality and statistics for themselves.
• John Carpenter's favorite
sequence in the movie is Snake Plissken walking to the escape pod which includes him
contemplating his hopeless situation which was not a common thing to do for a
protagonist of this kind.
• Kurt Russell's favorite
line in the movie is: "The President of what?"
John Carpenter has said in retrospect that he would
have liked to have had a superimposed countdown clock during the 69th Street Bridge
• Ernest Borgnine kept Cabbie's hat in his home through his life.
Adrienne Barbeau still owns and
occasionally wears Maggie's boots.
• Robert Rodriguez has said that after seeing Escape From New York at age 12,
1981 in a theater he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker.
• The glam metal band Motley Crue was
influenced by the Escape From New York
look to stick out from the pack.
The movie was not shown on TV for around a year after
9/11 in the US.
• The movie Lockout (2012) was found
guilty of plagiarism in 2015 and
$95.000 was the original sum the
makers were going to pay John Carpenter, Nick Castle and rights
holder StudioCanal. The sum went up to
more than $500.000 in 2016 after the movie's producer Luc Besson had appealed an
original ruling in the case. StudioCanal also wanted to go after the video game
Metal Gear Solid which they also felt was a rip-off but Carpenter told
them not to do that because he knew the director of those games and consider him
to be a nice guy.