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Interviews > David Witz (Unit Production Manager: Escape From L.A.)
How did you end up being
a Production Manager?
I worked for many years for Sandy Howard
Productions starting in accounting and worked my way up to Producing films for
him and when his company stopped making movies I looked for the best job I could
get, which was as a Production Manager. At that time there was a lot of
non-union work and I was able to do enough shows to qualify for placement on the
DGA (Directors Guild of America) qualifications list allowing me to work on DGA
How did you get the
assignment to be the Unit Production Manager for Escape From L.A.?
I was hired by Film Finances to oversee a
series at Showtime that was having budget problems, this series was being
produced by Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer). At first she was very suspicious of
me and the job I was doing, which was basically trying to keep the Bond Company
- Film Finances from having to take over the show. Ultimately it turned out to
be a good working relationship with Debra and when she went on to her next
project Escape from LA she asked me to come in for a 4 week exploratory
budgeting and concept period where we tried to figure out how to make the movie
for the price the studio wanted. A couple weeks after that Debra called to say
that they had agreed to do the show and that she had to put some of her fee
against the budget as a contingency - I don't remember the amount but at the
time Debra told me, "That's as much as a house, don't lose my house!"
How did you prepare for
this project and what kind of challenges did this movie provide for you? Were
there any problems with permits, locations, production material, personnel etc?
It was an exciting project for me as it was
my first big studio project. As I've come to learn over the years each project
is dictated by the way the director approaches their shows and my job is to
figure out how to help them make their movie for the budget. John is a very
pragmatic and smart filmmaker he would not even get out of the scouting van if
he thought the location was going to be to hard to shoot logistically.
Since it was a location heavy show there
were a lot of challenges and problems. The (Los Angeles Memorial) Coliseum did try and extort us for a completely new field. We
had some toxic waste issues at the Carson landfill. At the Universal backlot we
had an issue with gunfire after 10pm because of the neighbors that border
Universal and Universal not wanting to piss them off due to ongoing development
they were doing which later became City Walk.
How did you solve the toxic
waste issues at the Carson landfill?
Not very interesting. We just had to avoid
the dirt and the construction crew that did work in it had have disposable suits
and all the equipment had to be washed down that had the infected dirt on it.
Were there any ideas, props
or sets that didn't got made or wasn't shown in the final movie due to budget or
time restraint etc?
I don't recall anything that was planned
then scrapped as we had a pretty detailed production schedule and budget before
How was the experience
working with the cast and crew and what went on behind the scenes?
I have good memories of working on the show
as it was a group effort to figure out how to do this huge show for a modest
budget with a lot of production challenges - all nights, lots of extras that
needed to have make up and dressed, lots of visual/practical effects, big stunt
I enjoyed working with Debra Hill. She
was one of the few producers that was involved with every aspect of the movie,
from writing the script, casting, marketing, watching dailies every day, cost
report meetings. She could do it all. It was a sad day when she passed away.
John Carpenter was a very responsible
filmmaker. He never wanted to step foot on a set that he didn't know how the day
was going to go and be sure to make his day. I remember one night being woken at
3am by a very upset John Carpenter calling to tell me it was raining and he
couldn't shoot and asking me what did he want him to do? He was really venting
because neither Debra or I was there most nights as we worked the days and split
shifts during most of the filming since he was so dependable and didn't need
look over his shoulder. I told him to wrap and we'd sort it out. John was upset
because he did not want to fall behind schedule - so he made up the time over
the next couple of days and got back on schedule.
Kurt Russell was great to work with always
up to do anything to help the project. One night he was supposed to ride his
motorcycle through a maze of people and stuff and his contacts were irritating
is eyes so he rode the course once with his glasses to see and then did it
without them and an eyepatch on for the shot - he did not want a double doing
Interesting note was that they really
wanted to cast Kate Hudson who was pretty much an unknown at the time (except
for being Goldie Hawn's daughter) as the president's daughter but at
the time she was under 18 and it would have been almost impossible to schedule
the movie around the curfew and hours restrictions for a minor.
What's your favorite
memory or memories of working on the movie?
What do you think of the
I like the movie but have not watched it in
a long time.
What are you currently
doing and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I am still working as a Production Manager
and Line Producer. I recently did some additional photography on Baywatch
last year I did the project Dunkirk.
In my spare time I like to go to movies and play tennis.
Escape From L.A. Crew Photo
Thank you for your time, David.
Photo By Robert Zuckerman/Provided By David