Press > Escape From L.A. > Exclusive Interviews > David Witz (Unit Production Manager)

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 shows.

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 L.A. she asked me to come in for a four 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 etcetera?

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 (Carpenter) (Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer) 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 10 PM 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 etcetera?

I don't recall anything that was planned then scrapped as we had a pretty detailed production schedule and budget before we started.

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 sequences etcetera.

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 3 AM 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 (Snake Plissken/Producer/Co-Writer) 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 it.

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 (Cliff Robertson) 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.

Escape From L.A. Crew Photo

What's your favorite memory or memories of working on the movie? 

See above.

What do you think of the movie personally?

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 and last year I did the project Dunkirk. In my spare time I like to go to movies and play tennis.

Thank you for your time, David.

Photo By Robert Zuckerman/Provided By David Witz