Press > Escape From New York > Exclusive Interviews > Jeff Sillifant (Extra)

How did you get cast as an extra in Escape From New York?

I owe that to Ann Robinson, 1953's War of the Worlds star. She hooked me and some of our mutual friends up with a lady she knew who cast non-union extras from her agency.

Which scenes are you in and how was the experience filming your scenes?

I was part of the group shouting at the helicopter making a food drop in the only daytime sequence filmed. We shot that at Sepulveda Dam in the San Fernando Valley heat and did around three takes running through high weeds and stickers. The scene was cut to the bone, of course.
Another element of the sequence was a skyline matte painting lined up with the foreground trash. Bob Skotak (Director of Photographer: Special Visual Effects/Matte Artist) had a little bit of trouble getting it all matched perfectly I think. Bob and his brother (Dennis Skotak) (Director of Photographer: Special Visual Effects/Matte Artist) were there. We talked between takes. They're both old friends.

Gang posed at food drop site
Me out front at food drop site after our portrait shoot

Eric Caidin, owner of Hollywood Book and Poster Co. and my dearest friend, is in #1 wearing a cowboy hat at center. I'm to his left wearing sunglasses. We lost him May 18, 2015 at age 62 while attending a Palm Springs film convention.

The Chock full o'Nuts shoot was quite an experience for me as a newbie to film acting. I'm whistling past Kurt Russell as he sidles along the outside restaurant wall before we moved inside. While John Carpenter put Kurt and Season Hubley (
Girl in Chock full o'Nuts) through set-ups, stunt man Dick Warlock and I were getting prepared for the take-down scene in a cubbyhole under the floor. As Kurt is machine-gunning Crazies bursting through the front door, Season tries to run away but yours truly grabs her legs and pulls her under. This was pretty tricky. Dick elevated me with his shoulder and arms in the cramped chamber and blew smoke from a canister after the hole was boarded up with balsa wood. We had to hold our breath as the scene above unfolded and the "fog" came close to turning me blue by the time Season and I got up close and personal. Two takes on that… don't think I would have survived a third. I was filmed crashing up out of the floor and crawling directly toward the camera all mean and gnarly but my close-up ended up on the ole cutting room floor. Between filming, a couple of fun things happened. The Smothers Brothers, friends of Carpenter, showed up and we had some laffs. The next night, a giant screen remote was rolled onto the outdoor set in order to watch a Mohammed Ali boxing match, which he lost.

Me second from left outside restaurant as Production Assistant (Geoffrey Ryan) prepares for run
Me sprinting past Snake
he entire restaurant gang. I'm second from left holding a lethal weapon made out of rubber.
Kurt, Season rehearse with Carpenter as I proceed into my hole
After pulling Season through the flooring, I crash out. Cut scene.

Mark Groseclose is in #1 at left smoking a cigarette and in #3 kneeling at my feet. Mark was part of the Wiltern and restaurant gang but didn't get used for the drop. He died in 1988 at only 42. My best friend for many years. Was the most talented soul I've ever known. He excelled as a surfer, band drummer and artist. One of his greatest paintings hangs on my living room wall. He did backgrounds on the animated TV series, BraveStarr from 1987 until his passing.

Then came the stage show sequence in which Ernest Borgnine's Cabbie spies Snake walking past him. The theater audience pan shot captures my zombie-like presence before focusing on Cabbie happily rocking in his seat. Men in drag pranced around and sang as Carpenter played the guitar and kazoo with his band at the stage pit. A funny bit but somehow I managed to keep a straight face. Got my close-up after all! The entire sequence that began with Snake entering the building was shot at the Wiltern Theatre in West Los Angeles before being remodeled. During a break two of us wandered down the block to a grocery store to glares and stares. The look on the cashier's face when two scummy-looking tramps produced twenty dollar bills to pay for snacks was priceless. Only then did we spill about our movie roles. Too hard to resist. The only input any of us had dealt with choosing our wardrobes. I had three changes that included dirt makeup and black paint spray to make the costumes look even more grungy. Other than that we just followed the 2nd AD's (Assistant Director) directions.

Sitting in front of Cabbie at the theater. It may look like I'm not enjoying the stage show but I'm laughing inside.

How long did you work on the movie?

I believe the dam shoot took two days. The restaurant shoot lasted four nights and took us into the early morning hours. A lot of hurry up and wait as I'm sure you know. My scene with Ernie only took two takes each for the head-on and the side view when Snake passes by. Scenes away from me took longer but I wasn't around by then.

How was the experience working with the cast and crew and what went on behind the scenes?

The entire experience stood out since the only other part I played was "Victim" in a much smaller science-fiction yarn called The Aftermath, my only screen credit. A small business I started in 1977 regrettably prevented me from continuing with extra work. Just being involved in a John Carpenter film, one that ultimately earned cult classic status, rewarded me with a life highlight.

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

You know, my favorite memories involved the goof-off time with my two best friends, Mark Groseclose and Eric Caidin, acting out our characters with a juvenile lack of aplomb. I miss them terribly.

What do you think of the movie personally?

It ranks #2 on my Carpenter film list. Have to go with Assault on Precinct 13 as #1.

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

After a four-year stint in the Air Force followed by a career as a newsman and police reporter in Los Angeles, I began the aforementioned memorabilia business called Still Things. I sell movie and TV photos, posters, autographs and other goodies through mail order and eBay after a lifetime of collecting. Up through the 1990's I also sold at science-fiction and other types of conventions. From 1995 to 1998 I co-hosted Starcon and Hollywood Memories shows at the Pasadena Convention Center, sometimes bringing more than 100 celebrity guests together. I quit that entire scene by moving to Las Vegas with my wife in 2000. Wanted to get closer to my money.

Since moving to the gambling capital, I've written 11 thoroughbred horse racing handicapping booklets, all of which have been Top Ten ranked by a racing newsletter considered the bible of the biz. My wife, meanwhile, cares for all variety of dogs in our Northwest valley home. Area friends and neighbors appreciate having a place other than a kennel to leave their pets when taking a vacation. That's the pinnacle of our adventure at the moment but plans for our 50th wedding anniversary next April are in the works, speaking of adventures.

Thank you for your time, Jeff.

Visit Jeff's Still Things site here:

Photos By Kim Gottlieb-Walker/Mark Groseclose (Top)/Provided By Jeff Sillifant