Press > Escape From New York > Exclusive Interviews > Ken Tipton (Extra) (Phone Transcript)

How did you end up being an actor and entrepreneur and can you tell us a little bit about your movie Heart of the Beholder which is based on a personal true story which you also directed, wrote, produced and acted in?

A lot of the answers to your questions are at In grade school I was chosen for a fourth grade class. I played Stephen Foster in a school play and I kind of liked it so I continued being in choirs and in High School I was in musical plays and in dramas and stuff like that. Any movie that was shot in St. Louis I tried to get on. My first movie was Corvette Summer and then Escape From New York. Corvette Summer we shot there with Mark Hamill in it. In fact, this was after Mark Hamill been in Star Wars and he actually crashed one of the Corvettes in that movie so that's how he got his scars. At that time I was working for IBM as a computer engineer. After the Air Force I had electronic experience so I got to work in IBM in St. Louis but still I was a movie geek. I opened the very first movie cassette rental place in St. Louis in 1981 and that was called Video Library and that is what my movie is about:

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

When they were shooting movies in St. Louis, anytime they shoot a movie they usually advertised for auditions for small roles. Extras and such so I went and auditioned and the first one I saw after I got out of the Air Force was Escape From New York. So I auditioned to be one of the groups, the bad guys and I didn't get anywhere from the audition. They just didn't take me. Even when I applied just to be an extra. However, I found out where they were shooting and I just showed up. When you watch the movie, there's a lot of people in the crowd scenes and stuff like that and they're not paying attention on who's doing what. So after a couple of nights of me just showing up they just kind of accepted you know, that guy is part of it. I didn't sign in so I didn't get paid or anything like that but I got fed and got treated like a background extra. That was my very first real experience and it was fun to watch them making a real movie because I grow up being a movie geek. I mean every weekend two, three movies. What intelligence I had came from watching movies. It didn't came from home or school, I know that.

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

My kids and I, we got the DVD, put it on a big screen and we have done it frame by frame and I can show you that I was in the shot where they have a match at the Union Station. I'm there but you can't see me. In some of the other scenes it's either too far away or I'm in the dark so it makes me nuts but I know I was there and that's all I care. In fact, later on when I actually had a feature role in a movie I took all my family and friends to see it later. It was called Naked Gun 3 1/3 and I took all my friends there and found out I was cut from the movie which is embarrassingly enough. I kind of learned not to tell anybody anything till I've seen it and I can see myself.

How long did you work on the movie?

I think it was a total of twelve to sixteen nights. We did get rained out a few nights.

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

What we had was called an extras wrangler and I think it was the second assistant director who basically said. What they do is, they put us in an area in the background and it would basically be a place of chairs and some snacks and things like that. We just sat there until you know, background's needed and they would say, "Come and I'll take you, I'll take you, I'll take you." or they take everybody. It depends how much background's they needed and how many times you've been seen before because if you have been established in one scene and they go to another scene there's no way you have gotten across town in two seconds. They would keep track of that. A lot of us blended in. We all just kind of looked like scrubby you know, homeless people but still they were careful to what they call continuity. They didn't put people in the same places. We just sat there a lot and talk, read books, whatever until they said, "Ok background extras, let's go." What was nice about it. All of this was in like a ten block area so we would just move from block to block. There is a scene in the movie where there's nobody there. Snake Plissken and maybe another person. Would he just walk around a corner there's sixty, two hundred people sitting there and we just don't know it because we don't see it.      

Everything was shot in night time. We had about ten o'clock to eight in the morning or something like that. It was chilly most of the time because it was night time. It was fun just to watch all the stuff that went on. In other words, when we sit in the theater we have no clue what it actually takes to make that. It's hard work. Shooting the same scenes over and over in different angles. It can be fun but it's really, really hard work. When you see all the people that it takes to shot one simple little scene it freaks me out still. It amazes me. The absolute best part of making that movie besides actually sitting there and getting to see Kurt Russell who I was a fan of and Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) who I had a big crush on and there was Isaac Hayes (The Duke). I remember in college, his number one hit was the Shaft theme. It was like, cool. These are people but the person I got to sit to and talk to was Harry Dean Stanton (Brain). He only lives like three blocks from where I live now. He was cool because I was sitting in line with the other extras to get food and he got in line with us which was kind of strange because all of the principle performers they either had their trailers and their food was brought to them. They didn't get near the extras. That's the way it was. Not Harry. He was just a guy. He had already had some exposure with Alien and stuff and we just treated him like a normal guy. I remember sitting down at a table and he came and sat next to me. Then we're just talking. I was in the Air Force and he told me all about his time in the Navy and he was just telling me all kinds of stuff and great stories and it just made me feel good. Here I am working on a major motion picture. You know, director of Halloween, John Carpenter. James Cameron is doing the second unit visual stuff and special effects. Even if I'm not suppose to be here I'm having the time of my life just being a part of it. Me and Harry Dean Stanton are just talking like guys and it was funny because I actually called him years later because I wanted him to be in my movie and I was able to get his phone number and he remembered me. It was very cool twenty or thirty years later this well known actor remembers this extra from St. Louis.  

Working on the movie was very interesting because of that time St. Louis had parts of it that used to be really great looking but basically over the years they were run down and they started to look like shit. That's why they shot this movie there because it was suppose to be New York City in its decline and beat up buildings and stuff. This was really how St. Louis looked. There was a section of St. Louis down by the Arch called Laclade's Landing and it was just old warehouses and stuff like that and it looked like crap. They shot also at Union Station which was one of the biggest railroad hubs in the nation but by nineteen eighty it was all closed down and abandoned and it just looked like crap. The one that was hurt the most was the Fox Theatre. It was called The Fabulous Fox. This was one of those old times absolutely beautiful theaters. In fact, the very first movie I saw was at the Fox Theatre in nineteen fifty-nine. When my grandmother took me there it was like a church. It was big and beautiful. The organ came up from a hole in the stage and it was like, "Oh my God." I remember asking her, "Is this a church?" and she says, "Well, it can be." Movies became my religion in a way. So here we are shooting Escape From New York and the Fox Theater is just plain terrible. After the movie came out it made St. Louis look so bad because of all these derelict places that they got some bonds and put some money together and they cleaned up St. Louis. The Fabulous Fox is now back to its glory. Lacklade's Landing is beautiful. The Union Stations is now hotels and shops. That movie did more for St. Louis than anything. It basically embarrassed the hell out of them. About five miles north of where the Arch is there was a bridge called the Chain of Rocks Bridge across Mississippi and it really was falling apart so they shut it down. People couldn't use it anymore. That's where they built the scene at the end where the bridge goes into a wall. That wall was basically just a plywood wall that they just threw up. That wall stayed up there for a long, long time and people came up there to play on it. They'd get on top of it and say you know, "A number one." and whatever Donald Pleasence (The President) is yelling at the end of the movie. It was weird how they were able to take piece of crap locations and make them look cool.

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

Obviously looking at Adrienne Barbeau. She was hot. There was one actor, the skinny kid, blond hair with lots of makeup (Frank Doubleday: Romero). He's the one that approaches the military and he kind of walks in an almost John Wayne walk side by side by side and he hisses. I never know who that was but damn that guy is a good actor. I don't know if he went on to do other things but watching him do the rehearsals and prepare for the scene and everything else because he'd go from just talking like a normal human being and all of a sudden, "Ok, action!" Boom! He was creepier than anything. I'm just looking at him, "Wow. How the hell is he doing that?" It was fun to watch everybody work their craft. From the actors to the grips to the catering to the lightings to the makeup. All of these people getting together with all these different skills and at beginning of night nothing existed but by the end of the night it created something that was entertaining, educational, whatever and I just thought that was fascinating. That's what movies are all about. Entertainment, education. Just enjoyment. I just love movies.

What do you think of the movie personally?

I thought it was great. I watched it just the other night. It's what I call a popcorn movie. When you go to movies you go in there to forget your problems, sit in the dark, be entertained and eat some popcorn and that's what it was. When you come out of that movie you should not feel any worse than you went in. You feel good. It was a good story. You know, Snake Plissken wins. It had an interesting. I mean, you've never seen that topic before. Manhattan being turned to a Maximum Security Prison. That's a cool idea. The President's plane gets blown up and his pod lands in the security prison. That's kind of cool. I thought the whole thing was cool. I didn't really know about John Carpenter before that. I'm not really a horror movie fan. I scare to easy. I didn't watch Halloween and stuff like that but to sit there and watch John Carpenter direct was fascinating. On a scale of one to ten I give it about eight point five because I enjoyed it.

Then we get around to Escape From L.A. When I heard they were gonna make that, boy I was not gonna. I was gonna do everything I could to make sure I got on that movie in a speaking role or a non-speaking role. I don't care. I'll even show up just like I did on the other movie. It was a little bit different now. I couldn't find out where they were shooting but I really wanted to be in that movie because again, what goes around, comes around. I started in that movie and here's a sequel. I wanted on it so I have some contacts. I was doing bodyguard work at that time and one of the bodyguards had worked with somebody who was a friend with Sandy King who was at this time married to John Carpenter. Sandy King was originally the script supervisor on Starman and when John made Escape From New York he was married to Adrienne Barbeau but they got a divorce and later he married Sandy King. So this little script supervisor goes from being a script supervisor to the wife and now producer of John Carpenter's movies. From this bodyguard friend of mine I managed to get John's home number. I figured, I got absolutely nothing to use. I've been sending faxes. I've been dropping off deliveries. No one has responded to me. I don't even know if they're getting my stuff. Apparently they were getting my stuff but I was making it sound so weird that they thought I was too weird. They thought I was some crazy guy because I was talking about, I'm from St. Louis and I was an extra on Escape From New York and then I got these video stores and I went out of business and John Candy helped me. They just thought I was some kind of flake so they ignored me, so here I am calling the house and Sandy King answers. I said, "Hi is this King?", "Yes it is.", "My name is Ken Tipton. I've been sending you some faxes, some emails, some deliveries how I've been in Escape From New York as an extra in St. Louis." About then she says, "You can stop right there. I know who the hell you are. You've been sending all that crap to our office. I'm gonna let you know, you're never gonna work in this town again. You don't call this house. You're never gonna work in this town again." Click. I'm like, "Oh fuck. I think I just screwed myself up big time." because she's a producer for John Carpenter. "Oh my God. I hope I don't get in trouble. I hope I don't get blacklisted or anything like that." Well, it turns out nothing happened. She didn't have the power to do anything and you know, big deal but she was not nice and I never let John knew anything about it.

I wasn't in Escape From L.A. and I'm very thankful because that movie sucked. As good as Escape From New York was, Escape From L.A. absolutely sucked. When I watch it I just, John, John, John, you could have made such a better movie. I mean like Starman or The Thing. The Thing is one of the absolute best movies ever made but Escape From L.A., no. There's so many ridiculous things in it. I mean just ridiculous. What's funny about it is that I live right by the Cahuenga Pass where the submarine goes from one side of the valley to the other. I know all these places and now we got Peter Fonda (Pipeline) surfing down La Cienega. I mean Escape From New York was believable. Everything in it was believable. In Escape From L.A. nothing was believable. I'm sorry but John fucked up.              

Do you have any favorite memories of working as an actor/extra in St. Louis you'd like to share with us?

White Palace was a movie with Susan Sarandon and James Spader. That was a cool experience because it was called White Palace based on a hamburger chain called White Castle. You couldn't say White Castle because that was the franchise name and they didn't want them to use it. I'm sitting in one of the scenes as a costumer and James Spader brings back a bag of White Castle's or White Palace's. This was a two or three minute scene. It took eight hours to shoot but I just sat there in the background in the cafeteria and I'm just watching and I'm just absorbed by it. How are they gonna move these lights, how are they gonna shot it from this angle, how great an actor James Spader is just by doing something simple, quiet. Nothing big but you can still get the emotion by the way he cocks his head or the way he delivers a line. It was just fascinating to see how real actors do their craft so that was one of my favorite movies.

The big movie that changed my entire life was. During nineteen eighty-seven they shot the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles in St. Louis with Steve Martin and John Candy. At that time I had six video stores and they were very, very big. My stores were five times the size of Blockbusters. I mean, we had ten thousand movies in every store and because I was such a big video chain my video distributor treated us very well. I think Paramount shot Planes, Trains and Automobiles. When they found out it was gonna be shot there, my video distributor said, "Hey, they're shooting this movie at the airport, Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Steve Martin and John Candy and they're looking for some extras and stuff. Since you're the biggest video guy in town, you're buying lots of movies, c'mon down and bring some of your best employees and we'll make them extras and stuff like that and you get to see a movie being made." I'm thinking, "cool." That time I was about maybe two eighty in weight and when I got there. Basically we were gonna be extras just like I've done a million times before but because I was a video store owner they treated me a little bit different. They introduced me to John Hughes who was the director and we got to talk and I told him I had been in Escape From New York and stuff like that. I said, "I kind of look like John Candy don't I?" and Hughes says, "Yeah you do. How would you like to be his stand-in for today?" and I'm like, "Yeah!", obviously. Even for the movie work I've done before as an extra I saw what the stand-ins did because basically all stand-ins do is just stand there. The star is over at his trailer but you're standing there while all the cameras making measurement for the focal length or the camera or the lightening guys setting up things so I knew it was gonna be BS. The problem was. I never got to meet John. I would do my thing and they'd say, ok go get John and while they were getting John they would escort me off. I'm like, "Screw this I want to meet John Candy. I'm his stand-in. I should meet him." We worked four or five hours and I was having a good time and they were fussing over me, "Are you ok, kid?" and stuff like that. I said, "Yeah, but what I really want to do is to meet John.", "He's busy, he's working on his script and he got lots of work and a lot of memorization." Basically, everything blew against me. You're not going to meet him so shut up.

I remember after out lunch I learned who the assistant was to John Candy and I just kept an eye on him and I saw him going to the food court making a tray and it was not your normal tray. It looked like a tray that was gonna feed four people and I'm thinking, he's bringing lunch for John Candy. I basically followed him and I cornered him at one point. You could see John's trailer. It's John Candy right. It was a big ass trailer so I intercepted the guy and he's just some assistant, production assistant. I said, "I'm John Candy's stand-in." and he's just like, "Ok." There's a lot of time in life you can bullshit your way through things if you just act like you're suppose to be there or whatever so he hands me his tray and I walk over to John Candy's trailer, knocking the door, "Lunch for Mr. Candy." He said, "Come on in." so I opened and got in and there's John Candy over at his couch. He's got his script, he's memorizationing, he's marketing it up smoking like a chimney. I laid off the food and said, "Is there anything else I can do for you?" He said, "I'm fine thanks." so I pulled a chair and sat down. I know he's thinking, what the fuck are you doing in here. Excuse my language. I mean, what did I have to loose. I mean, you kick me off the set. Ok. Dammit, I'm gonna spend five minutes with the guy and so I did and he looks at me and he says, "You want something to eat here?", "Well, I'll take a banana." and I said, "I don't know if you know this but I'm your stand-in.", "Oh no. I didn't know. In fact, I thought someone else was my stand-in.", "He's your stand-in for all the locations except for St. Louis airport. They allowed me to be your stand-in since I own the largest video stores here and they were kind to throw me a bone because I always wanted to be in the movies and I've been an extra." He could see that I wasn't the normal stalker, weirdo guy. Just a guy who wants to be an actor trying to start somewhere so it was cool. We had had a long conversation. He was tired of working and started to eat his lunch. We talked about how he got his start in Second City and how he's from Canada and he remembers how hard it was the first time he was on a movie trying to get recognition and stuff like that and it was just really cool to sit there and talk one o one. We had a nice time and then we got a knock on the door, "Mr. Candy. Ten minutes." and stuff like that and not knowing they had been looking for me for a half hour to set up things as a stand-in I got in trouble. When I did go back to where I was, "Where have you been?" They had to get another guy to be the stand-in. I actually got fired. At that point I had worked for a half a day and I had lunch with John Candy so I was happy. Well, during the lunch I said, "I'm stuck here in St. Louis. I still work for IBM but I own these video stores, my passion is movies and acting and stuff." He said, "You know what, sometimes you got to follow your passion." and he was telling me about his hard times and everything. The last thing he said before I left. I shock his hand. We really had a nice time. He said, "You know what, if there's anything I can help you with, give you advice maybe for acting, look me up." Then later, you know what, he didn't really mean that. I mean, I'm some duffus in Missouri but it was nice that he offered so I just left it as that went home to tell my wife and kids about it. When we actually got to see the movie I wasn't in the movie at all because I was stand-in. However, about seven of my employees from the video stores were in the airport scene so that was kind of cool. I never in my life expected to meet John Candy again: (PDF)

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

I have projects and they're mine and they're passion projects that has to do with sequels and stuff like that but right now I'm acting as a producer for my wife. She's now retired. We believe in karma. We absolutely are believers in karma, karma as a concept of what goes around, comes around. A non-religious concept of what comes around, goes around. I'm actually working on a website now that will be released in a month or two that is hers but I'm helping her producing it. I am doing everything on the website, the design, the art, the music. It's like I'm producing a movie. I'm writing, directing and producing a movie but it's an internet thing and she's the star of it and it's called If you go there it tells you what it's about. There's a couple of videos that explains what it is and my wife is Darleen and she will be known as Karma Dar. This is what we wanna do because we're at the fourth quarter of our lives. We're both sixty-three and we've lived good lives and had ups and downs and paid our dues and stuff but now we want to kind of give it back. We want to do things that helps others that is for the greater good of people of the planet. I know it sounds very Californian, very fufu but there's nothing wrong with it. It makes us feel good and so we're doing it through this Amazing Karma website.

Thank you for your time, Ken.

More about Ken Tipton here: