Escape From New York
• John Carpenter wrote the first
draft in 1974
(his first professional screenplay)
right out of film school (USC), as a reaction to the
Watergate scandal and to 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
a novel called Planet of the Damned
by Harry Harrison.
Snake Plissken 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 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
Broadway element in the movie with the prisoners singing and dancing in the
added Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) and chose the song Bandstand Boogie to be the
song Cabbie plays in his cab and undoes The
President 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. Brain
(Harry Dean Stanton) was
also fleshed out and more lines were added.
had also originally wanted Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to kill The Duke (Isaac
Hayes), but he felt it
would be more effective if The President (Donald Pleasence)
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. came along).
John Carpenter had to fight for Kurt Russell to play Snake
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, a TV movie from 1979 where Russell plays Elvis
Presley which also Carpenter directed. 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 Snake, the role went to Russell. However, the studio was still reluctant
if they wanted to make the movie or not due to the main character's
unlikeability but Russell convinced them that he should play the part because of
his innately likeability. According to IMDb's
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 re-write 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 helped to design
Plissken's outfit. 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. 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.).
Carpenter believes Russell got the idea of the eye patch from
the movie The Vikings (1958),
where Kirk Douglas wears one. 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 (Bob Hauk) 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
also got ready to play Plissken by working out at Vince's Gym for 4 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 (Producer/First Assistant Director) was
Russell's brother-in-law at the time.
The movie came in under schedule and under budget.
The movie was filmed from
August 04, 1980 to October 09, 1980.
John Carpenter also had to
fight the studio to get Lee Van Cleef
as Bob 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 film 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. Bob Hauk was named after
a math teacher in High School who also was a tough guy.
• Ernest Borgnine
(Cabbie) originally wanted to play the role of Bob Hauk since he found
the Cabbie role to be too easy for him, but Lee Van Cleef had
already been cast.
Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) 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 (The Duke) 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 (Maggie) and Isaac Hayes (The Duke) 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 (The Duke) suggested the eye
twitch to John Carpenter as a kind of signal for The Duke's emotional
excitement. He had been given 3 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.
• 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, 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.
• Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) 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 2 bull's eyes in
a row. The gun made her very uncomfortable and she have not used it since.
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 lighting had also become practical. It
is a very high outpost light that produces light the color of daylight. It was
used a bit for night exteriors and lighting large areas.
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)
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 Presidential 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
Bank Robbery Opening Sequence.
To prepare for this project he, John Carpenter and Larry Franco (Producer/First
Assistant Director) storyboarded the effects in a room for two weeks.
Steven Loomis (Costume Designer)
Plissken's jacket at a vintage clothing store.
It is a 1930's "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.
Ken Chase (Makeup
Artist Supervisor) was responsible for Snake Plissken's cobra tattoo. Chase
the tattoo: "I had ordered a
tattoo for Plissken's chest and a schedule change required me to paint the
tattoo by hand as the tattoo was ready in time.
story indicated it was a snake. The usual routine was to have a pattern stamped
on a special transfer paper. As I explained it fell on me to draw the snake by
hand with a marking pen. It was really hard keeping it from smearing."
• The special effects
(involving matte paintings, glass paintings, models
and time-lapse photography etc) were provided by Roger Corman's "New World
Cinema". Future director James Cameron who worked here is credited as a
director of photography of special visual effects
and matte artwork.
He worked on the Manhattan skyline at Central Park matte painting. 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. However, a number of specialists, including Dykstra were consulted, and their ideas were
incorporated into extensive instructions for the New World technicians. He also approached
Jim Danforth, but he was involved in another project.
Roger Corman had just done his most
expensive film 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 (Production
Designer) 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.
• The 1979 actors strike resulted in
many closed down major studio soundstages and back lots. Therefore Escape From
New York was mostly shot on location.
• 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 Sundays 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.
• 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 (Maggie) who had brought a large apothecary jar with her. For about 2 1/2 months
he never saw daylight.
• The camera dolly broke down during the filming of the first scene for the
movie in Atlanta, Georgia so John Carpenter had to use a sound cart for the
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.
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 3 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 4
city blocks burned out on April 2, 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.
Budgetary restraints and lack of necessary permission also prevent them to shoot
the movie there.
Carpenter suggested going on a movie back lot and trash it, but Joe Alves
(Production Designer) convinced him to use real streets for a more authentic
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 (Maggie) recalls being
warned several times that it was not a good area of town to go walking.
This led Donald Pleasence (The President) 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.
It was the first major film in 15
years the city hosted, so they did not even have a film commission.
• 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.)
• Many in the first attempt to
rescue the President sequence in St. Louis were actually from St. Louis National
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 exhaustions,
hard to see through
helmets, a broken ankle
and a dislocated shoulder etcetera.
• 3 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 President's downed plane was an old DC-8 bought from a guy in St. Louis.
Joe Alves (Production Designer) 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 3 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 8 hours to prevent curious
visitors to get away with pieces of the plane.
The next day the St. Louis news paper had a picture of the
sight along with eye witnesses telling them having seen it crash which was false
• The Grand Central Station scenes were
filmed at the Union Station in St. Louis which was as mentioned abandoned at the
time. It was once the busiest and largest passenger rail terminal in the world.
It's 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 U.S. 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, 4 active train tracks and a plaza for festivals, concerts
and other special events.
• The production team
purchased the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
(69th Street Bridge) in St Louis for
$1 from the government
more specific the US 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.
The wall at the bridge took 1 month to construct
with a crew over 60 working at the east
end of the bridge at most
and the scenes at the bridge took 4 days to
The buildings on the side of the 69th
Street Bridge entrance were also built by the film crew.
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. The actors and their
stunt doubles remained available for 6 weeks, making the sequence expensive and tedious.
They worked on 4 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. FBI later came to the production office in a
St. Louis hotel and questioned the production coordinator. They also later came to
the Old Chain of Rocks bridge (69th Street Bridge) to get the liquid smoke. Later there was a claim that they had to
settle for years afterwards. 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.
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.
• John Carpenter read the script for
The Thing while shooting the movie in St. Louis.
• A crew of 65 helped Joe Alves (Production Designer) to turn
the Sepulveda Dam Control Resin
in Los Angeles
Liberty Island Security Control
wall they built was a 33-feet-high, 200-feet-long monolith which took over a
month to build.
• 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's gun is an Ingram MAC-10 machine pistol and was also used in Vietnam.
• The model of Manhattan
measured 10 foot by 10 foot and
was built by 4-5 guys including
of Photography: Special Visual Effects/Matte
Artwork), Dennis Skotak
of Photography: Special Visual Effects/Matte
Steve Caldwell (Camera
Visual Effects) and Tom Campbell
Special Visual Effects/Uncredited Model Builder)
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, CT Summit mentioned in the film had two visiting Communist
nations (People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics)
- the USSR/Soviet Union 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 2 years to
get it sold by Debra Hill (Producer).
In the meanwhile she leased it to a school that teached gliding. 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.
3 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
(Graphic Displays/Uncredited Model
and Mark Stetson
(Uncredited Model Builder).
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
Wash also did the
opening prologue animation for the movie as well as the other animation.
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 (Producer) 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 (Ernest Borgnine) 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.
Nick Castle (Co-Writer)
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 (Director of Photography) on sax,
Barry Bernardi (Associate Producer/Location Manager) on violin and Clyde Bryan
(First Assistant Cameraman) on trumpet. Carpenter also made a cameo
as the United States Police Force guy sitting in
during the Central Park scene.
• 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 the shooting of this movie. Carpenter recalls that
people actually came in here to live.
The scene where Plissken decides to sit on a chair
in front of the escape pod was improvised on the set.
The woman in the diner is played by
who was at the time Kurt Russell's wife. She had just given birth to their son
Boston Russell prior to doing this film. The Girl
in Chock full o'Nuts was originally named Maureen. Said name was revealed
only in the Movie-Tie In Novel, never in the movie.
Maureen was originally described by Kurt Russell to be a "crime groupie" 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 running gag used in the film
about everybody thinking Plissken was dead was also used in the John Wayne
Big Jake (1971).
John Carpenter used his influence as a former USC 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.
Isaac Hayes's (The Duke) '77 Cadillac Fleetwood
sedan with the fender-mounted chandeliers 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 film (a late 1970s Ford LTD Country Squire station
wagon fitted with rebar around the windshield and windows, along with Cabbie's
(Ernest Borgnine) 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.
• 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 (Producer) 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
gladiator ring fight scene. He also threw a trash can in Russell's face about 5
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 (The President) on the set.
• CalArts (World Trade Center Lobby) would not allow Joe Alves (Production Designer) 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 (Brain)
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 (Producer) 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
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
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 (Maggie) 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 film,
and pointed out to Carpenter that Maggie's death was never fully established.
• 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 (Producer) 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
(Producer/First Assistant Director) 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% 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.
• US Army Corps of Engineers was very supportive and provided the production
team with helicopters etcetera.
• The wrap party was held at the Roller Boogie Palace and Still Photographer Kim
Gottlieb-Walker (Kim Gottlieb) 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 (Producer) 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 film'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.
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 Escape From New York, introducing the audience to the movie was added at
the beginning instead of later on in the movie. The early version Carpenter
screened for a test audience confused them.
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.
• John Carpenter and Debra Hill (Producer) 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 film's release. The Bally Pinball Machine Company
was also interested in producing an Escape game.
The film 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 film's "double system
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.
(Note: Kurt Russell's former wife Season
Hubley does not remember this.)
• Debra Hill (Producer) and Isaac Hayes (The Duke) were sent to
Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington and New York on a
The Duke's '77 Cadillac Fleetwood.
Hayes recalls that cops yelled: "What's that?" He answered:
"Don't write me up!" They went to
several drive-in theaters with Hayes as The Duke and signed autographs and
such etc. Hayes was also interested in buying the Cadillac,
but a crew member beat him to it.
• 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 film, 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 film'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 80's 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 (Co-Composer/Special
decision to release it as a soundtrack album after
Varèse Sarabande had reached out to Debra Hill
(Producer) about the idea. Carpenter did not think anyone
would listen to the music outside of the movie. During the scoring session he
brought in a Police record to
the studio which had influenced him. He also
started to overdub the music to bring in more rock influences to it besides the synth work. Howarth
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. Escape From New York was
Carpenter's and Howarth's first project together. Howarth got acquainted with
Carpenter by pure coincidence. When he worked on Star Trek: The Motion
Picture (1979) as a sound designer, 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. Suddenly Carpenter comes over to his
house in Glendale. Howarth then
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. 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. Kurt Russell regards the score as
one of his favorite scores ever.
Kurt Russell has stated that
Escape From New York is one of his favorite of all his films and that
Snake Plissken is his favorite character of all
the ones he has played. Snake'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.
• 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 (Cabbie) kept Cabbie's hat in his home through his life.
Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) 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.