Press > Escape From New York > Exclusive Interviews > R.J. Kizer (Project Supervisor: Special Visual Effects)

How did you end up working for Roger Corman early on in your career?

I was first hired by Roger Corman, at the recommendation of Mary Ann Fisher (Producer/Liaison: Special Visual Effects) (whom I had met at a party hosted by one of my NYU classmates in Venice, CA), in May of 1979 to do a recut on a monster fish movie that was filmed in the Philippines by Charles B. Griffith, and produced by Cirio Santiago. Corman was the overall producer. He and Griffith were having some kind of argument over the final cut of the film. So I was hired to work directly with Corman and do Corman's cut of the film (which was the cut released to the theaters). I wound up getting hired as second film editor for Battle Beyond the Stars and during the troubled post-production of that film I got to know many of the visual effects people. When Escape from New York happened, Jim Cameron (Director of Photography: Special Visual Effects/Matte Artwork) was the person who had the original contact with Joe Alves, the production designer. Jim then set about convincing Roger and Mary Ann that effects crew from Battle Beyond the Stars should do the job because there wasn't any work on the immediate horizon coming from Corman. But we did know that there was a film called Planet of Horrors (filmed under the title Quest, test screened as Planet of Horrors, initially released as Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror, retitled, Planet of Horrors, and finally released as Galaxy of Terror) that might be happening sometime in 1981. EFNY was perfect for keeping the "old gang" together and employed until then.

How did you get the assignment to be the Project Supervisor of Special Visual Effects on Escape From New York?

Though Jim Cameron was the person who was the original contact between EFNY and New World, Jim was not a very good "company man." Both Roger and Mary Ann wanted someone else, someone they felt who would mind the budget and the schedule. Chuck Comiskey was the original supervisor of the effects department for Battle Beyond the Stars, but once that project was over, he lit out for greener pastures. All the other key personnel had objections with one another. So I was put forward as a compromise candidate. And that was acceptable to the all the parties. That's how I got the position.

How did you prepare for this project and what exactly did you do as the Project Supervisor of Special Visual Effects?

What did I do as a "Project Supervisor"? First of all, that title was my creation. In terms of work: I helped negotiate the contract between New World and Slam Dunk which really means that I had input as to the specifics of the contract: namely how many shots, over how much time. The means and methods of doing the shots was largely up to the key effects personnel in the New World shop. There was a lot of back and forth, but once a methodology for a shot was determined, we then worked out which unit was to do what aspect of the shot. Basically my job was to make sure work was getting done, and to liaison with John Carpenter and the film editor.

What sold Carpenter on using New World was Jim's proposal to use 70mm front screen projection background plates with anamorphic 35mm cinematography. Having done that, we now had to build a very large front screen made from the Scotchlite material, construct a 70mm process projector, and line up a movie lab to process the 65mm negative and make fine grain 70mm positives. The screen we finally managed to build and hide enough of the seams to get by. The projector was Austin McKinney's (Director of Photography: Special Visual Effects) project, and he found a 70mm movement and a chassis and, with C-clamps and 2x4 pieces of wood, managed to jerry-rig a perfectly operational projector. The lab was Metrocolor on the MGM lot. Luckily, one of MGM's screening rooms could run 70mm, so that became our screening room for checking out our 70mm prints.

All the work down at the New World Effects facility used the cover title "Prisoner of Venice."

The work occurred between late July and early December of 1980.

The Screen Actors Guild went on strike starting July 21 and ending October 23 of 1980 (94 days, their second longest strike so far). This strike shut down the entire motion picture and television industry in Los Angeles. Film laboratories were operating only 2 days out of the week. Because New World had landed the Escape from New York project, it was one of the only effects houses actually working during the time of the strike. This generated a lot of resentment among the visual effects community.

New World's work on Escape from New York was for 21 weeks. It started on July 28 and ended Dec 19, 1980. There were 22 shots contracted.

From August 7 thru Aug 11, Jim Cameron, Randy Frakes (
Camera Assistant: Special Visual Effects), and myself went to New York City to take reference photographs. We went with both a 35mm SLR (Single-Lens Reflex camera), and a rented 5"x4" negative Speed Graphic camera (the kind that newspaper photographers used in the early twentieth century). We might have also had a 2"x2" negative camera, but I can no longer remember. We barely got hotel space for Jim and Randy because the Democratic National Convention was happening between August 11 and 14. I crashed at a friend's apartment in Manhattan. I do remember that we were on a very tight budget; we had very little spending cash.

I also remember that we missed our original outgoing flight because Randy was late getting to the airport. We found another flight on another airline, but it might hauling our gear and luggage several terminals away.

In New York, our task was to take photographs for the Central Park shot, reference photos of the World Trade Center, reference photos looking out from the rooftop of the WTC (World Trade Center), and reference photos of the Brooklyn Bridge. The large-format camera was obtain fine grain images suitable for significant enlargement.

On top of the World Trade Center we were confronted by Port Authority representatives who demanded to see our shooting permits. They claimed that the view from the observation deck was copyrighted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the owners of the World Trade Center). This controversy was triggered because we had the Speed Graphic camera on a very solid, professional tripod. Clearly, we were not tourists taking holiday snapshots. While I kept the guard occupied with a cock and bull story of our being art students at Cooper Union and that the large camera was taking a slide for us to project on the large wall of the auditorium as a guide for our proposed mural showing New York City after it had been abandoned by humanity sometime in the dim, dim futureā€¦ Jim was quickly and quietly taking as many photographs as he could. Eventually the guard got too suspicious of my story and ordered us off the observation deck. Luckily we had taken a good amount of large-format photos. Prior to the guard's arrival, I had taken some general reference photos with my 35mm SLR camera.

One thing we noticed as soon as we walked onto the observation deck of the WTC was that the whole premise of landing a glider on the rooftop was physically impossible. The North Tower had the huge TV and radio antenna on top of it. The South Tower (where the observation deck was) had a rooftop covered with air ducts and pipes and motors for air conditioning and elevators plus there was the observation deck itself that went all around the South Tower. Well, it's only a movie.

Austin McKinney (
Director of Photography: Special Visual Effects) (1-2, 6, 8), Randy Frakes (Camera Assistant: Special Visual Effects) (1-4, 6-7), Jim Cameron (Director of Photography: Special Visual Effects/Matte Artwork) (1, 3, 6-7), Stephen Barncard (Uncredited Motion Control Designer) (8)

Photos: Copyright 2017 Abe Perlstein

How was the experience working with Robert and Dennis Skotak
(Directors of Photography: Special Visual Effects/Matte Artwork) and James Cameron etc?

Working with Bob and Denny Skotak was always pleasant and interesting. Jim was challenging, but I felt he was the most creative of the bunch, and had the best eye in terms of shot design. By the way, the facility was the old Hammond lumber yard on Main Street in Venice, CA; south of Rose Ave, and north of Abbot Kinney Blvd; there's no trace of it left anymore.

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

One of my favorite memories was when I went to a screening room in the Van Nuys area where Carpenter screened his dailies. I was there to show some completed shots and some tests to Carpenter and company. One of the shots was a POV (Point of View) shot moving over New York harbor heading towards Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. The first time the assembled looked at it, they loved it. "How did you do the water?" they all wanted to know. I wouldn't tell them. But they kept after me. Dean Cundey, the DP (Director of Photography), kept suggesting all these different methods: front projection of water, matted water from a held take. I kept saying I didn't want to tell them. Finally Carpenter demanded to know. So I told him, "We painted the water area glossy black and when the paint was tacky, we rolled a roller brush over it all to stipple the finish. As the camera moved over the area, the stippled surface would reflect the back and side lights differently, creating the illusion of moving water." This was a Skotak idea, that they brilliantly executed. Carpenter then insisted on running the shot again. Now he was unhappy. He could see how the trick was done. But, he honored his original response, and did not say that we had to do the shot again. He "bought" the shot, and we moved on. But that experience fixed my mind to never tell the director how something was really and truly accomplished. Always make up something more involved and more complicated.

What do you think of the movie personally?

I was unhappy with the finished movie. First, I was flabbergasted that they dropped the whole opening scene of the robbery. Yes it was too long, but it could have easily been trimmed, and maybe incorporated into the opening titles. Overall I found the pace of the film to be way too slow. It doesn't bother me so much now. But I do remember at the time, that I was disappointed with the slow pace.

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

Nowadays I'm working as a sound editor, mostly as an ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) editor. I was admitted to the sound branch of the Motion Picture Academy in 2008.

Thank you for your time, R.J.

Crew List

Visual Effects Schedule (Early Draft)

Visual Effects Award Information Sheet

Visual Effects Award Work Sheet

Report on the Special Visual Effects in Escape From New York

Documents & Reference Photos: Copyright 2016 R.J. Kizer