Press > Exclusive Interviews > Eddie Surkin (Special Effects: Escape From New York) (Phone Transcript)




How did you end up being a Special Effects Technician, Coordinator and Supervisor?

Very simply. Roy Arbogast (Special Effects Supervisor) and I have been friends probably for fifteen years before the movie. We've both worked for Universal Studios and we did Jaws one and two together and whenever he had a movie that he wanted someone to supervise he would call me. I did a lot of movies with Roy and then later on I did movies for myself. We did Jaws one, Jaws 2, Return of the Jedi, Escape From New York and many, many other ones. I've known Roy for many, many years and I've known Kevin (Pike) (Uncredited Special Effects) for many years too but Kevin came much later in the game. Kevin didn't get into the special effects into probably twenty years after I was an effects man and Roy. Roy and I started about the same time and we worked for Universal Studios for many, many, many years. We worked under a great supervisor, a guy named Orn Ernest. He was just a brilliant man and a great teacher. He taught both of us you know. Roy went more into rubber work and breakaway effects. I went more into the big metal workings, explosives and big hydraulic mechanical effects you know, and electronics. That was my main thing. You know, when people wanted things to be controlled on the set they call me up because everything was always electronically or hydraulically controlled. Roy and I have been friends for about, probably forty-nine years or so. He's a great guy.

How did you get the assignment to be a Special Effects Technician for Escape From New York?

Basically my experience you know. We don't work all the time. When we finish a movie everybody is reading notes, this guy is available, this guy is available that's around. As soon as Roy got the movie. I believe he got the movie from Joe Alves (Production Designer) no, Carpenter. He got to be friendly with Carpenter. He got to be the coordinator. He immediately called me up and said, "Do you want to do this movie with me?" I said, "Sure." because I just came back from South America from King Kong with Dino De Laurentiis. I took King Kong on a road show to Argentina and Brazil and I just came back. He heard about it and called me to do the movie for him and I said, "Fine." you know.

How did the special effects team prepare for this project and how did you work together?

We have meetings and then we decide who's going to do what. You got to have a team that prepares. I think I was on the movie for probably two or three months before the movie started. We prepared most of the stuff in a shop, you know in Roy's shop. Then we took everything pre-ready to St. Louis. Then we had the water scene where they're swimming away from Manhattan. The bodies we blew up and stuff like that.

How did you manage to blow up the cab at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge (69th Street Bridge) in two pieces?

I prepare this car in the shop and basically this car would come apart and come together again as many times as they wanted it to. We did this scene probably at least ten times. I made a system. The car comes a part in two halves. I would pull it together and with a small piece of explosive we take it apart. It's called a quick disconnect and the explosion on the bridge. You know, a bridge have what they call a manhole cover. A manhole cover is a hole and we created a basket to fit this manhole cover and the basket contained an explosion and when the car came to it we blew it up and took the car apart. 

Which scenes or effects were the most challenging, problematic, memorable or fun to work on?

I think the water scene to blow these guys up was very memorable to me because you know we were in the sea with explosives in deep water. It was night. Very difficult. That was actually done after the main movie finished. It was a second unit shot.

Another memorable scene was before the taxi goes to the pile of cars. He makes the hole between the cars. Remember? He exits and one car pulled out. We had to shoot in with live arrows with fire into the doors. Normally we would shoot it down on a wire but we couldn't shoot the car with a wire because the car was moving fast. I said to the stunt guy, "I'm going to shoot in with a bow and arrow." "There's no way you can hit the car." I said, "I can do it." I took a bow and arrow and I followed the car. When it got close I shot it perfect.

Isaac Hayes (The Duke of New York) car with the chandeliers. I remember the first jump we did it didn't sail through the air so I told the stunt guys I want weight on the backside. We didn't have any weight. It was right there. It was twelve midnight. We needed to do the shot. I remember going to the side of the road and filling the trunk full of dirt because the engine was too heavy and it oozed on the first shot but I put weight on the backseat and it went nicely. Of course you got to have everybody's agreement too you know. I got to hear with the stunt people to make it sure it's ok. They are good team.

I want you to know that the entire movie was shot with fire which I made. Every night I lit up the entire place with fires. It was hardly any lights. Everything was with fires. Only the stars were with light. Everything else was lit with fires. I had five guys with me. It was a very, very hot summer and I remember we never even put on a shirt. We just wet all night long from sweat. It was extremely hot. It was the hottest summer ever and people were dying in St. Louis. I remember never going to work with a shirt and just work all night long to keep the fires up you know. The set dressing crew would bring all the garbage everyday and at night. In the morning when we finish then another crew would take all the stuff off and at night we pulled it all back together. Everything that was flammable I burned. If there was anything that wasn't flammable it wasn't on fire. It was crazy. Of course I had fire bowls and propane bottles and all that stuff you know but it was a very, very tough shoot.

I built the oil pump inside the library too in my shop.

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

Probably one of the most exclusive scenes. I mean, I had a lot of great scenes but talking about scenery and just a big spectacular shot was when they catch Snake Plissken and they bring him to the headquarters. I think it was called the Sepulveda Dam. That was a pretty exciting night with a lot of work.

I remember the stunt crew one Sunday morning. You know, we worked so hard. Sunday morning is the only time you can sleep. They called me in and woke me up about ten, "We're gonna go see the arch. You're coming with us." I was so tired. They drag me up there. We had a great Sunday. It was the only Sunday off we ever had. I remember it very well.

I became good friends with Debra Hill (Producer). I became very good friends with her and Carpenter. I remember having some great parties with them. I've done some other movies with her too. You know, there's only so many people around so we keep going around and around seeing each other in different things.

What do you think of the movie personally?

I love it. It's my favorite movie. I've done almost two hundred movies in my life and that is probably one of my favorite movie of all time.

What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Well, first of all I own a lot of properties now. I became a well-to-do person. I have a lot of properties and I have to manage all the properties. I have properties in California and Florida. I have a couple of yachts. One in California and one in Florida. I maintain them and enjoy them. When I'm available then I do explosions for other movies just as a cameo, you know what I mean. The next three days I'm gonna be doing explosives. On Friday I'm flying to Florida for the Portland Boat Show. It's one of the biggest boat shows on earth. I'll probably spend eight days in Florida you know, taking the yacht around. We might go to the Bahamas. We'll see. I work hard. I save my money. It's what I do now.               

Thank you for your time, Eddie.