Press > Escape From L.A. > Exclusive Interviews > Martin Jedlicka (Second Assistant Director)

How did you end up being a first assistant director and second assistant director?

I started in locations as a location assistant. My first job was on Viva Shaf Vegas with Paul Shaffer from The David Letterman Show. I drove a fake New York City taxicab to Las Vegas and scouted places like trailer parks and cafes. I found out about the Director's Guild training program and decided that the ADs (Assistant Directors) worked better hours than the location managers. I got in the program in 1988 where my first assignment was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Two years later I was an AD working as a 2nd 2nd on (Francis Ford) Coppola's Dracula.

How did you get the assignment to be the Second AD for Escape From L.A.?

Chris (Christian P.) Della Penna (First AD) and Jason Roberts (Second Second AD) both called me. Chris wanted as his 2nd Jason Roberts but the studio and UPM (Unit Production Manager) felt that Escape was a complex show with many locations and required a veteran. Jason knew me socially so when Paramount suggested me based on my experience doing Fire in the Sky for them and also True Lies for Fox he reached out to me at my home in Utah. David Witz, the UPM was the husband of Patty Witcher who was the UPM on True Lies so he was a supporter of mine. Jason became the 2nd 2nd and we put together a production team that included guys like Mauritz (Pavoni) (Production Assistant) who worked with me in Miami and Jey Wada, an AD that I had done extras coordinating with as well as guys that Chris and Jason had worked with on their earlier collaborations.

What exactly did you do as the Second AD on the movie?

The 2nd AD does a lot of the organizing of what the crew is going to shoot as opposed to the 1st AD who focuses on what is being shot. I ran the call sheet which is the logistical menu for the cast and crew that shows where and when and what we're going to do the next day. I also organized and set the background extras with Jason. I'm very particular about background action and Escape was the chance to do some really fun and interesting work.

Which scenes or locations were the funniest, hardest or most problematic to work on?

We shot a scene at the Universal backlot where we had all these low-riders (tricked out and lowered Chevy Impalas) and a couple hundred gang members firing guns for some rally of Cuervo's (Jones) (George Corraface). Props handed out over 50 AK-47s which were all full auto. Another 40 handguns as well. We broke some record that day for blank ammunition used by a non-war movie. Hot brass was flying everywhere. It was crazy. An ejecting shell broke an extra's tooth but that guy was a real hardass gangbanger. He was like, "It's just a tooth. Gimme more ammo." It was real party and those guys didn't have to do a lot of acting. I'm probably a little deaf from that night. You can't monitor a walkie-talkie with earplugs.

The location in Carson turned out to be a former Monsanto plant and had been condemned by the EPA (Environment Protection Agency). We would wrap before sunrise and these guys in hazmat suits would spray down our shoes and car wheels so we wouldn't track the contaminated dirt out of the site. My wife was pregnant at the time and she was pretty upset I was working there but it was a spectacular location. You can't shoot in places like that nowadays. The Queen Mary hull is now off limits to shooting due to asbestos so it was a rare opportunity to have filmed in there.

Me showing a female extra playing a food vendor how to cook fake rats on a propane fed grill. She also held a baby which was a plastic doll that we put chopsticks into the arms so she could puppet it to look like a real baby. The trick is not to melt the fake rats is what I'm probably saying.

The crew at video village. I'm in a black fleece standing behind the video assistant/playback operator who's sitting at his cart. We're at Universal backlot for the rally of Cuervo's where the bouncing low riders and gunfire was.

3: Me in action as an extra myself. I often would get in Mescalito wardrobe to cue and direct background from within the shot. I would regard where the camera was pointing and rally the gang members so they'd stay in frame. In this scene we had propane mortars that would go off and could light an errant extra on fire so I'm keeping the other extras from getting too close to the mortars. Once in the scene where I come out of a car with four other Mescalitos to find the dead hombres after the circular firing squad, the camera operator and script supervisor noticed my radio earpiece which I tried to hide under a cowboy hat as I turned to say in Spanish, "Leave them alone. They're dead." John (Carpenter) (Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer) didn't mind and printed that take and moved on.

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

John is a great old-school director. He knows exactly what he wants and shoots just that. There's no dithering or musing with him. Just, these are the shots. He shoots fast so you have to be up on your game in terms of having the actors and sets for the next scene ready. Sometimes actors sit around in trailers for hours waiting for all the coverage to be completed for the prior scene. With John the coverage was minimal so the scenes would shoot quickly and I was always speeding people through make-up/hair/wardrobe. I wasn't used to that fast pace then but that's pretty much how we shoot TV shows now. John's a huge basketball fan and I'll never forget how the whole crew and 400 extras all watched the Laker game on the Coliseum Jumbotron while shooting the shot-clock scene.

Kurt (Russell) (Snake Plissken/Producer/Co-Writer) was very friendly. Another job of mine is cueing actors and background extras so that we can replicate action across takes. I wore a headset that received the recorded audio so I could hear the dialogue. There's a scene where Snake enters in the hull of the Queen Mary, a decommissioned Ocean Liner in Long Beach. I talked to Kurt about giving him a hand cue behind some set dressing when he told me couldn't see me without his glasses. So I got into costume as a Saigon Shadow and stood on a ship's ladder where I could wave my AK-47 to cue him. Except now I'm blind also since I wear glasses and forgot my contacts that day. We had a laugh about that both being barely able to see each other but the timing worked out every take.

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

I remember shooting in Downtown L.A. at an old movie theater. We filmed an alley behind the theater where there were all these extras playing prostitutes and drug dealers and customers. After setting the background all night at dawn I was wrapping the extras. I collected all the fake money and piles of fake drugs. The prop guys had gone home so I took all this stuff home and just dumped it on my desk. The next morning was Saturday and I flew home to Utah. When I came back to L.A. on Sunday my house was broken into. All that was missing was the fake cash and drugs. Someone had spotted it through the window. The cops were fascinated. They told me they'd know who stole it when that guy would turn up dead from trying to sell it.

Under a modern high-rise in L.A. we shot in an abandoned red car station from L.A.'s old subway system. Gary (B.) Kibbe, the DP (Director of Photography) was born and raised in L.A. and we were looking at this rail station half buried in dirt and he told me about how he would as a kid board a train right here and ride all the way to Santa Monica to go swimming. I certainly knew that L.A. had public transit in the 40s and 50s but that made history come alive. It was something to think about in traffic on the way home.

Shooting so many nights turns you into a bit of a vampire. My neighbors got used to seeing me on my porch in L.A. at 9 in the morning drinking beer. I didn't sleep a whole lot on that show since people are always calling and I was dealing a lot with the production office which had daytime hours. Driving home in heavy morning traffic after working 16 hours was tough. A camera operator told me this trick of using one hand to reach over to hold your other shoulder blade while driving. If you fall asleep the hand falls and you'll wake up in time to grab the wheel. It works!

What do you think of the movie personally?

The movie is very entertaining but it's not exactly my taste. I'm more of an English Patient or A Very Long Engagement kind of viewer. It had decent performances but not great ones. It is a fantastic tribute to L.A. Every landmark is in there and considering that I was moving to Utah while we filmed it I certainly related to the title.

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

I currently am the 1st AD on ABC's (American Broadcasting System) comedy series Speechless. We shoot on the Fox lot in Century City. I play rhythm guitar for a couple industry-related bands on the weekends. I'm a skier and snowboarder. I used to mountain bike but have no collarbones left to break.

Thank you for your time, Martin.

Photos By Robert Zuckerman/Provided By Martin Jedlicka