Press > Exclusive Interviews > Jeffrey Chernov (Second Assistant Director: Escape From New York) (Phone Transcript)




How did you end up being a Second/First Assistant Director, Unit Production Manager and Producer?
 
My first job in the film business was as a Production Assistant on Dino De Laurentiis' remake of King Kong back in nineteen seventy-five. After that I got involved in working on commercials which is where I learned a lot. Then I was given the opportunity to become a Location Manager on a very small movie which taught me a lot and then through those two or three years I was able to get into the Directors Guild (of America) as a Second AD and the guild opened up the doors to allow more membership. Once I got in as a Second AD I was invited to go to work for a whole week on a very small movie which is where I met Larry Franco (Producer/First Assistant Director) and after that one week of working with him he took a liking to me and hired me on a movie called Cutter & Bone which eventually became known as Cutter's Way. The movie was actually released once and then re-released. After that Larry had established a relationship with John Carpenter and asked me to come on to work on Escape From New York. Then Debra Hill (Producer) who produced many movies for John Carpenter asked me what I wanted to do next and I told her I wanted to be a Production Manager so she granted me that wish and they started working on the Halloween movies and went on to work with many movies with Debra. I was able to get enough experience to start working as a Line Producer. That's kind of my climb to what I do now.     

How did you get the assignment to be the Second AD for Escape From New York?

Answered above

What exactly did you do as the Second AD on the movie and how did you, Larry Franco and Geoffrey Ryan (Production Assistant) collaborate?

Larry as the First had a very specific way of working which he learned from another First AD named Jerry Ziesmer and Jerry was an amazing Assistant Director of some of the largest movies back then. Larry basically laid out how he worked and I took that and just started applying myself to what I thought would be the best way to support him. One of my big questions to Larry when we were doing it was, "Who's in charge of the background?" and Larry said, "You are." and I said, "Great. I love setting background. It's one of my favorite things." On Escape From New York I set all the background which I'm very proud of because I think the background of that movie had as much to do with the overall success of the movie in that I feel that the background in a way were a character in the piece. I brought Geoffrey on. Unfortunately Geoffrey Ryan is no longer with us. He's passed on. It was very unfortunate getting that news. He was a friend and a fellow worker. We used to dress up as the background so that we could intermingle with the background while we were shooting because otherwise we stood out so much so we used to go to wardrobe and put something on and dirty our faces and our arms and everything then we would go out every night and we set background. I learned through the process that if you're not amongst the background sometimes you don't see what's going on because back then having video playback wasn't something that was common so we could go and look at it. I used to find myself ducking and hiding behind cars or whatever and then I wouldn't know what we were doing because they couldn't get back behind the camera quick enough once I set the background. I decided that I become one of the backgrounds so I could actually like be a part of it all and see what was going on. That was kind of how I found my craft of setting backgrounds and to this day I don't do it anymore. That was one of my favorite things. I loved doing background.
            
Which scenes or locations were the funniest, hardest or most problematic to work on?

I have to say the movie was pretty problem free. You know, we spent a month shooting in St. Louis. It was almost all night. Something I don't think I can even fathom today. It's a young man's business when you're working nights all the time. This is a testament of John Carpenter and Larry Franco. The movie was so well prepped and things went so smoothly that you really didn't run into many problems. No problems at all really. When we went to St. Louis they were so excited to have us that they would shut down streets and reroute traffic. They would ask us, "What do you want us to do next?" and when we got to Los Angeles, back then in the late seventies it was a lot easier to make movies. It wasn't as difficult and there weren't as many restrictions so I have to admit that everything went very smoothly and there were never really any problems.
I never look back on it and say, this was a horrible day, this happened, I don't know why this didn't. It wasn't one of those movie at all. I have plenty of other stories to tell from other movies but it didn't happen on Escape From New York. It really didn't.

How was the experience working with the cast and crew and what went on behind the scenes? How were the extras cast and chosen for the different scenes for instance?

In terms of the cast I mean, you couldn't have asked for a nicer assemble. You know what they say, if you have a good time making a movie usually the movie isn't good and if you draw blood then usually the movie is good but that was one of the few movies that was a lot of fun and was you know successful. The cast was wonderful. There was no drama. Everybody got along back then. Actually, it was a lot more fun than sometimes now where they can be much more problematic. For me it was my first movie with Kurt Russell and I went on to do The Thing with Kurt. He's the greatest guy you can possibly imagine. Down to earth. Generous. Friendly. Funny. Just a regular guy. Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie), you couldn't ask for a sweeter man. Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie), lovely. Harry Dean Stanton (Brain), just one of the great guys, great actors of our time. Isaac Hayes (The Duke), that was a trip. Isaac Hayes was like the coolest you know you could ever be around. All of them were. You couldn't have asked for a better group of actors.

Touching on the background. We had a big casting call that I did with the extras casting and hundreds of thousands of people showed up and we met everybody and divided them up into separate groups such as the sewer rats as I call them. The people who lived underground and would come up from the sewers. I'm sure you remember how they moved like they drag their leg when they went across the pavement. That was something that I introduced to John. I didn't know if he'd like it. We did it on take one and I went up to John and said, "Do you like that or should I change it?" and he said, "No, I like it. Have them drag more. Have them more like they've lived in the dark you know scared to come out." You know, they're very ghoulish and very kind of like low to the ground so that became the signature for the sewer people. Then there were just kind of like you know the mad hatters. The ones that were like the stronger of a group who tried to dominate the streets and then there were the gangs and the various groups within the gangs and the ones that were afraid of gangs and didn't come out. So we were very careful to make sure we cast everybody to the proper areas of gangs and people that were less violent, you know children. We took a lot of time.
At least I did to make sure that I gave John a little bit of everything when he needed it and then we would like grab different groups of people and then make sure that we had created a kind of class within the prison on this island.

How was it working on the Broadway and Grand Central Station scenes with so many extras?

That was the coolest. Do you remember the shot where they all come running out charging down the stairs and out (Deleted Scene). I really wasn't sure how to get people to go at different times and I really didn't know what to expect when I told them to run out of there. I basically told everybody I was gonna call out the months of the year and if you were born in that month then you had to run. I was inside so I didn't get to see the shot but after we had done take one I went outside and said, "So what do you think guys? How does it look?" and they were like, "What did you tell them?" and I said, "I just told them to run." and they said, "They came out like they were crazy." I have to say that, maybe it was good casting or we got lucky but really it was just you know  go, run, get out there and that's what they did. I can't remember how many takes we did but I do remember the energy that was in that first take was extraordinary.           


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

I'll tell you the whole thing. I've never had more fun. I was never more excited to go to work. I saw that we were doing something that had never been done before and it was just so exciting to be a part of it. It was a great crew. This is a crew that's been together for many, many movies. Everybody just loved going to work everyday. We just tried to like, better yourself and up ourselves everyday to bring John's vision to the screen. We knew it was unique. We knew it was different and we knew that maybe we could do something that could change the course of you know film a little bit so I hope we succeeded at that. 


What do you think of the movie personally?

It's one of my favorite. When people see it on my resume it's usually one of the movies they first get drawn to that they want to talk about.   


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


I decided that my hobby is making movies so I don't really do much of my spare time except recover from a hard day's worth of work. I'm currently working on a movie for Warner Brothers. We try to do a movie called Flashpoint which is a superhero movie based on Justice League. We are doing the standalone movie for The Flash and prior to that I did Shazam! which comes out in April and prior to that I did Black Panther so I've been having a great time in the superhero world.     

Thank you for your time, Jeffrey.