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Escape From New York
• John Carpenter wrote the first
draft in 1974
(his first professional screenplay)
right out of film school (USC), as a reaction to the
Watergate scandal and to the increasing crime and urban decay going on in New York in the 70s,
something he had witnessed from a
drew inspiration from the movies
Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish (1974) as well as
a novel called Planet of the Damned
by Harry Harrison.
Snake Plissken was based on a
teenager a friend of his from film school knew
of from his high school
(in Cleveland according to some sources) named
Larry "Snake" Plissken. He literally
wanted to be called "Snake".
He also based Plissken on a collage friend who went to
and came back completely changed. Plissken is an
alter ego of Carpenter as well.
Carpenter tried to pitch the project to several studios, but no one wanted to
make it because it was deemed to be too dark and too violent.
They also felt it made too much fun of the President.
Richard Nixon had just left in disgrace and they felt it was too mocking.
The movie got made due to a two-picture deal with the independent studio Avco Embassy
Pictures (1942-1986). The Fog
(1980) was the first movie in this contract and the second one was suppose to be
The Philadelphia Experiment. However, John Carpenter could not come up
with a third act while writing the script for this movie
so he junked it and pitched his old Escape From New York script instead and the studio green lighted it.
It was a little weird for him at the moment because he had lost interest in it
having worked on it years before unsuccessfully. The budget was set to
$7 million dollars and
it was years since Avco Embassy had invested
this much money in a movie, but Carpenter convinced them that it was necessary. It was
the largest budget Carpenter had ever gotten at the time, but the medium budget
was a bargain according to himself since it could have cost
million if they went all the way with
it. In retrospect, Carpenter himself says the budget was more around $5.5 - 6.0
million. 5.9 to be more specific.
It forced him to cut some corners in certain
areas and apply to his low-budget techniques.
also wanted the script to be a little more hipper and funnier, so Carpenter rewrote the script with
his former USC film school friend Nick
Castle to add a little more humor in it, something New Yorkers would expect to
see. They also excised the script's most
controversial material such as cannibalism. Carpenter
did not want the movie to become too horror-esque. Castle came up with the
Broadway element in the movie with the prisoners singing and dancing in the
added Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) and chose the song Bandstand Boogie to be the
song Cabbie plays in his cab and undoes The
President at the end.
Bandstand Boogie was also used and
sung by Barry Manilow in the Bandstand TV series (1952-1989) as the opening
and closing theme during 1977-1989.
Carpenter to use it. Brain
(Harry Dean Stanton) was
also fleshed out and more lines were added.
had also originally wanted Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to kill The Duke (Isaac
Hayes), but he felt it
would be more effective if The President (Donald Pleasence)
did it instead.
He also originally considered the idea of having Hauk tell Plissken
after he rescued The President that the charges in his neck were a fake and that
it was all a hoax, but Carpenter decided not to
use it (until Escape From L.A. came along).
John Carpenter had to fight for Kurt Russell to play Snake
wanted Charles Bronson
Tommy Lee Jones to
play the part. The studio was unsure about Russell and associated him too much
with Disney comedies
and Elvis, a TV movie from 1979 where Russell plays Elvis
Presley which also Carpenter directed. Carpenter refused to cast Bronson
interested in the role) on the grounds that he was too old.
Bronson's asking price which had
gone up dramatically after the Death Wish films was also too high for
Avco Embassy. Carpenter originally wanted
Clint Eastwood (the role was written for him), but could not afford him and when Jones passed the deal
to play Snake, the role went to Russell. However, the studio was still reluctant
if they wanted to make the movie or not due to the main character's
unlikeability but Russell convinced them that he should play the part because of
his innately likeability. According to IMDb's
Escape From New York trivia page
Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges were
also approached to play the character, but were uninterested. Kris
Kristofferson was supposedly also considered as a possible candidate for the lead, but was
not approached due to the failure of Heaven's Gate (1980).
When Russell was promoting Elvis
in Australia he met director
George Miller who showed him a rough cut version of Mad Max (1979).
Russell later called Carpenter and told him that he knew
what kind of movie they should make next. Carpenter remembers getting a phone
call from him where he said that he wanted to do a movie and he did not want to play a
nice guy. Russell's brother-in-law at the time
Larry J. Franco (Larry Franco) (Producer/First
Assistant Director) had also told him about this
futuristic movie Carpenter had been talking about and that he wanted Russell to play a guy
Russell wanted to read the script right
away, but Carpenter wanted to re-write it first. The script was finished in the
spring of 1980 and he finally got to read it
and it was something he really wanted to do since he wanted to move on in a new
direction in his career.
Kurt Russell was part of the
Plissken's outfit and appearance. He purchased the leather shirt from a guy he walked by in Paris
just months before the filming begun for instance (Note: Kurt Russell's former
wife Season Hubley does not remember this.) He knew immediately that it
was the look
Plissken's clothes would have.
However, the shoulder zippers were lowered a bit for the movie.
He also suggested the eye patch and
the long hair etcetera. Avco Embassy Pictures did not like the eye patch idea that much at
first because they did not liked the idea of covering half the leading man's face
up. John Carpenter was
onboard immediately. When he asked him why, Russell suggested that Plissken had
an injury that was not quite fixed that he will physically visually carry with
him. He also suggested that it might have abilities we do not know about since
it was a futuristic movie. Two
different patches were made. One slightly transparent for scenes involving
running and jumping and one you could not see through in close-ups and such
(the same method was also used in Escape From L.A.).
Carpenter believes Russell got the idea of the eye patch from
the movie The Vikings (1958),
where Kirk Douglas wears one. In pre-production publicity photos of
was suppose to have the cobra tattoo on his left bicep instead of his stomach.
Russell on the tattoo: "If you're going to have a tattoo of a cobra, that's
where it should be." He was also going to have a rifle as opposed to a silenced Ingram MAC-10
machine pistol. His fatigue pants was also green, but
due to Plissken's history in the Leningrad war in Siberia they decided to go
with something similar to black and white fatigues, which also suited the
movie's city surroundings much better. They also thought Plissken looked too much like a soldier
and that it did not fit with the character's persona.
The same goes for the combat boots which were
switched to modified motorcycle boots with golf cleats added by Russell. However, these early publicity photos have been
used widely for different Escape From New York merchandise such as posters and DVD's etcetera.
Russell also came up with the performance. When he
knew that Lee Van Cleef (Bob Hauk) was going to star against him, he chose to do his own take
on Clint Eastwood's character in Sergio Leone's western movies. Carpenter on Russell's performance: "He
made Snake his own, which is what I wanted him to do. He gave him more depth and
dimension, and makes you care a lot more for him than I thought would be
also got ready to play Plissken by working out in a gym for 4 months.
He also did most
stunts himself and cut himself up a lot.
Sometimes when Russell came home from shooting he was so tired that he did not
change his wardrobe and some mornings he found himself taking care of and
feeding his few months old son Boston with his
difficulties during the shoot the movie came in under schedule and under budget.
The movie was filmed from
August 04, 1980 to October 09, 1980.
John Carpenter also had to
fight the studio to get Lee Van Cleef
as Bob Hauk. Avco Embassy
Pictures wanted Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster or William Holden. Lee was
reluctant at first, but accepted the role when Carpenter wanted him to play the role with his earring on.
Lee also had a
hard time walking during the shoot. His knee was hurt from a fall of a horse
and it had not been fixed, so his wife was also on the set to look after him.
Hauk and Plissken walking down the corridor at the beginning of the film was the
hardest for him to do because it required him to walk and talk at the same time.
He also altered some speech patterns to make them sound more natural for him.
Carpenter was also forced to use out of focus close-ups of Lee since he had
already left town and could not afford to get him back. Bob Hauk was named after
a math teacher in High School who also was a tough guy.
• Ernest Borgnine
(Cabbie) originally wanted to play the role of Bob Hauk since he found
the Cabbie role to be too easy for him, but Lee Van Cleef had
already been cast.
Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) recalls that he spent every moment that he was not on
screen memorizing a one man show he was going to go on the road with after this
movie. Isaac Hayes (The Duke) remembers him fondly telling acting anecdotes and stories
at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge (69th Street Bridge). Cabbie was also written with him in mind.
British actor Donald
Pleasence was reluctant to play The President because he did not
think someone not from America could play the part and with an English accent.
The United States constitution requires that the president must be a native born
citizen of the United States.
John Carpenter had to
convince him to do the part by writing him a
long letter where he explained the comedic elements and why he needed him. Carpenter
also made up a story for him how he became the president suggesting that he was a love
child between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
wanted Pleasence because of his role and performance in Roman Polanski's Cul De Sac
(1966). Someone abused and scorned who completely loses his dignity. Pleasence also made up a story how he got
to be president, including an
explanation for how the character was born in the United States and
could have an English accent.
According to Carpenter it had something to do with Thatcher taking over the
world and making the United States a colony again, but he never used it since
the audience would not care. Pleasence also drew on his own
wartime experiences as a prisoner of war for his performance as the imprisoned
He was a World War II pilot in the Royal Air Force who was shot down and
then held and tortured in a German prisoner of war camp where he spent the
remainder of the war.
On a funnier note, several cast members including
Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) and Isaac Hayes (The Duke) had a hard time holding a
straight face in scenes with Pleasance. "He's one of the funniest men I've ever
worked with", recalls Barbeau.
• Isaac Hayes (The Duke) suggested the eye
twitch to John Carpenter as a kind of signal for The Duke's emotional
excitement. He had been given 3 scars by the make-up department and suggested
the twitch to Carpenter with the possibility of a severed nerve due to the slashes. Carpenter wanted the character to have a gimmick of some
sort and make him into an eccentric figure and agreed.
Hayes also worked out too hard in
St. Louis and was so sore that he could hardly walk.
Kurt Russell used to call him up in the mornings and work out together. Russell
recalls that Hayes answered in the deepest baritone you would ever hear. He was also handpicked by Carpenter for the
role since they wanted someone colorful, flashy and unusual.
• John Carpenter and Debra
Hill (Producer) originally wanted Warren Oates to play Brain. The role was rewritten to fit
him, but the actors strike forced him into a bind with another contract.
However, Harry Dean Stanton turned out be a great replacement, rehearsing
constantly between takes, searching for different values and emphasis in his
lines. When he was offered the role on the phone by Carpenter he requested to be
able to change his lines if he did not
like them and Carpenter agreed as long as he did not mess with his plot.
• Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) had to
learn how to use a .357 Magnum for the role. In fact, it was the first time she
had fired a gun. She ended up with the worst
backache she had ever had, from the tension involved in learning to shoot it on
the first day at the firing range. On the second day she hit 2 bull's eyes in
a row. The gun made her very uncomfortable and she have not used it since.
Maggie was also written with her in mind.
• Tom Atkins (Rheme) recalls that he "smoked
his ass off" due to his character's constant smoking in his scenes which was
John Carpenter's idea.
His character name "Rehme" is
a reference to the President of Avco Embassy Pictures at the time, Robert Rehme.
• Frank Doubleday (Romero) made the role his
own and got his hair to stick up the air etcetera. It was all his
• Dean Cundey (Director
took full advantage of the Ultra Speed Panatars
lenses from Panavision which were new at the time. They permits filming at
incredible low light levels with the resulting footage exceptionally sharp. Escape From New York was
one of the first movies to test the system.
Another first is the use of a computerized
light modulator invented and built by Cundey and his friend, electronics engineer Joy Brown which allowed
Cundey to mimic the light patterns of fire instead of relying on actual fire
The HMI lighting had also become practical. It
is a very high outpost light that produces light the color of daylight. It was
used a bit for night exteriors and lighting large areas.
Cundey was always looking for ways to make Manhattan otherworldly
and also give it a primitive look. Using strange colors for the street lights
which they imagined were run by a small amount of electricity in the movie and
occasionally using fires as the only light source contributed to that.
• Joe Alves (Production Designer)
wanted to prove that they could make a
very medium budgeted movie and make it look more expensive in
a time of financial excess and money just being flaunted indiscriminately. He
did this from re-doing existing things, building only what you need, and tie
into them to confuse the audience as to what is real and what is not.
Aside from the sets, he also
designed the Presidential escape pod and the radar tracer bracelet etcetera.
He also had a hand in the creation of the small
"security guard" robot in the Bank
of the United States Colorado Federal Reserve
from the deleted
Bank Robbery Opening Sequence.
To prepare for this project he, John Carpenter and Larry Franco (Producer/First
Assistant Director) storyboarded the effects in a room for two weeks.
Steven Loomis (Costume Designer)
Plissken's jacket at a vintage clothing store.
It is a 1930's "California Sportswear" brand motorcycle jacket in horsehide.
did some of his costume shopping at city
The biggest challenge for him was to design the
stars outfits, which had to be special yet at the same time blend in and be
plausible. The inspiration came from photos and books of ancient cultures.
Ken Chase (Makeup
Artist Supervisor) was responsible for Snake Plissken's cobra tattoo. Chase
the tattoo: "I had ordered a
tattoo for Plissken's chest and a schedule change required me to paint the
tattoo by hand as the tattoo was ready in time.
story indicated it was a snake. The usual routine was to have a pattern stamped
on a special transfer paper. As I explained it fell on me to draw the snake by
hand with a marking pen. It was really hard keeping it from smearing."
• The special effects
(involving matte paintings, glass paintings, models
and time-lapse photography etc) were provided by Roger Corman's "New World
Cinema". Future director James Cameron who worked here is credited as a
director of photography of special visual effects
and matte artwork.
He worked on the Manhattan skyline at Central Park matte painting. John Carpenter on Cameron: "At one point, Cameron was
finishing up just minutes before the scene was shot, so the paint was still wet."
He also worked on the Air Force One exterior scene
and built the cloudscape which was made out
of polyester fiberfill
and held up by screening wires.
Carpenter first approached
John Dykstra and Universal/Hartland to provide the effects, but their price tag
and celebrity attitude was outrageous according to himself. However, a number of specialists, including Dykstra were consulted, and their ideas were
incorporated into extensive instructions for the New World technicians. He also approached
Jim Danforth, but he was involved in another project.
Roger Corman had just done his most
expensive film he had ever done, Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and as a result of
that movie a visual effects facility had been built. After the movie was
finished they were out of a job and at a party Cameron met Joe Alves (Production
Designer) who said they were looking
for a special effects facility for their 25 shots that they needed to be done.
Cameron said they had one not in use which could be ready in a week and
guaranteed they would underbid everybody. Corman had no idea that Cameron was selling out his place. Luckily he could keep the facility alive
using other people's money until he needed it again which was for Galaxy of
Terror (1981) just after Escape From New York was finished.
• The 1979 actors strike resulted in
many closed down major studio soundstages and back lots. Therefore Escape From
New York was mostly shot on location.
• An average day started at the office, at 2:00 PM. Dailies were screened
between 4:00 and 5:30. The lightning and prop crews would go to work with John
at 6:00. The actors would start arriving for make-up and costumes. Dinner and
sunset watching followed until 8:30. Filming began a half hour later and
stopped around 5:30 in the morning. They wrapped Saturday midnight and Sundays was a day off. Everybody
was so exhausted, they would go to bed and get up at noon Sunday, and disrupt
their usual sleeping pattern.
The crew had to find ways to stay awake
all nights on weekends, but bars closed at 1:00 AM in St. Louis. Luckily for
them they could drive across the river to Illinois, where a strip joint named P.T.'s
stayed open till 5:00. P.T.'s is mentioned in the credits of the movie.
• Nearly 95 percent of Escape From New York was filmed at night.
It proved to be physically exhausting for John
Carpenter who took every vitamin known to man through his then wife Adrienne
Barbeau (Maggie) who had brought a large apothecary jar with her. For about 2 1/2 months
he never saw daylight.
• The camera dolly broke down during the filming of the first scene for the
movie in Atlanta, Georgia so John Carpenter had to use a sound cart for the
They originally wanted to film parts of
the deleted opening bank robbery sequence at BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in San Francisco but
they were not too crazy about the plans they had in mind.
• The only scene shot in New
York was the dolly shot of The Statue of Liberty introducing
and following Rehme into a sentry post with a helicopter in the background. The morning shot of Manhattan where
a helicopter is seen was also filmed here. These were the last scenes to
be filmed for the movie.
New York officials not only
approved the script, they also helped them to shoot on Liberty Island.
In fact, it was the first movie in history to be
shoot underneath the Statue of Liberty at night. However, there were many
New Yorkers that were defensive and hostile about seeing New York as a prison. On the contrary, a lot of New Yorkers did not
think it was science fiction at all. They had
the whole island for themselves for an all-night shoot. They were extremely careful and
cleaned up their messes afterwards. It was not easy to get permission though.
Only 3 months earlier they had bombings by
Croatian Freedom Fighters and they were worried about trouble.
• The majority of the movie
filmed in St. Louis,
Missouri which had 4
city blocks burned out on April 2, 1976 during a massive urban fire.
The area was more or less abandoned due to
economic trouble at the time.
had a run down look that they wanted.
The city's architecture was also
similar to that of a major east coast city
and it also had a big and accessible, yet
within close proximity
Chain Of Rocks Bridge.) as well as an old abandoned
train station (St. Louis Union Station).
decided early on that New York was not going to work because the look there
would be much harder to control and make it look like a devastated city.
Budgetary restraints and lack of necessary permission also prevent them to shoot
the movie there.
Carpenter suggested going on a movie back lot and trash it, but Joe Alves
(Production Designer) convinced him to use real streets for a more authentic
It was Barry Bernardi (Associate Producer/Location
Manager) who found this city on a paid vacation with a goal to find the worst city in the
Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) recalls being
warned several times that it was not a good area of town to go walking.
This led Donald Pleasence (The President) to order a cab to a Chinese restaurant
the hotel had recommended
to him. The cab driver drove him around the
block to the back entrance of the hotel where the restaurant was located across
the street. Kurt Russell recalls running down a
street in character around a corner without a crew visible and facing rugged
residents in St. Louis who quickly backed off. He later told Carpenter
this character is probably going to work.
The city of St. Louis was very cooperative and
They allowed the production to shut down
all the electricity in this part of the town and do whatever was needed.
It was the first major film in 15
years the city hosted, so they did not even have a film commission.
• The movie was shot in the
summer of 1980 in St. Louis during a searing heat wave.
The temperature was around 95-110 degrees at
The entire crew was
also plagued by
Especially at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge (69th Street Bridge.)
• Many in the first attempt to
rescue the President sequence in St. Louis were actually from St. Louis National
started out with 30 men pouring out of the choppers and into the streets, but
ended with only 15 tired Guardsmen left due to heat exhaustions,
hard to see through
helmets, a broken ankle
and a dislocated shoulder etcetera.
• 3 dump trucks were used to transport
junk from local garbage landfill sites and every night bulldozers piled up
mountains of garbage and old cars to prepare for the night shooting. During the
day all the debris, garbage and ruined cars had to be stored in a local junkyard
due to morning-rush traffic. Carpenter deliberately chose to populate his future with classic
cars because he wanted to include a little bit of reality and a little bit of
the past to give the movie resonance.
• The President's downed plane was an old DC-8 bought from a guy in St. Louis.
Joe Alves (Production Designer) and his assistant art director Chris Horner were
first at an airplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona scouting for parts when
the guy there told them about this plane for sale for
in St. Louis. The plane was carved up into 3 separate pieces and had to be
trucked to the film's location in the dead of night as they did not have the
requisite paperwork and
a guard had to be brought in for 8 hours to prevent curious
visitors to get away with pieces of the plane.
The next day the St. Louis news paper had a picture of the
sight along with eye witnesses telling them having seen it crash which was false
• The Grand Central Station scenes were
filmed at the Union Station in St. Louis which was as mentioned abandoned at the
time. It was once the busiest and largest passenger rail terminal in the world.
It's operation ceased in 1978 and in the early 1980s, the Station underwent a
$150 million restoration. It was reopened 1985 as the largest adaptive re-use
project in the U.S. housing a 539 room Hyatt Regency Hotel (St. Louis Union
Station Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton), a
10-screen movie theater, luxury offices, a lake, 4 active train tracks and a plaza for festivals, concerts
and other special events.
• The production team
purchased the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
(69th Street Bridge) in St Louis for
$1 from the government
more specific the US Army of Corps of Engineers)
then returned it to them for the same amount after filming was completed
so that they would not have any liability.
The wall at the bridge took 1 month to construct
with a crew over 60 working at the east
end of the bridge at most
and the scenes at the bridge took 4 days to
The buildings on the side of the 69th
Street Bridge entrance were also built by the film crew.
The car chases were the single most
difficult part of the production. John Carpenter had never directed such scenes
before, and was delayed by the intricate lighting set-ups. The actors and their
stunt doubles remained available for 6 weeks, making the sequence expensive and tedious.
They worked on 4 different versions of the
taxi on the bridge.
• Roy Arbogast
had liquid smoke
shipped to St. Louis
from Los Angeles which was brought into a plane unchecked as a flammable
material. The bottle broke and it started to smoke while
landing. The pilot thought the plane was on fire and a runway
for emergency landing was prepared. FBI later came to the production office in a
St. Louis hotel and questioned the production coordinator. They also later came to
the Old Chain of Rocks bridge (69th Street Bridge) to get the liquid smoke. Later there was a claim that they had to
settle for years afterwards. The production company ended up having to pay
During a day off in St. Louis a bunch of the crew consisting mostly of
camera men went to Hannibal, Missouri to see where Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
lived. Mark Walthour (Gaffer) was a big Mark Twain fan and he organized it.
There was still a big mess on the
streets when shooting was over and the studio was billed a pretty penny to have
it cleaned up.
• John Carpenter read the script for
The Thing while shooting the movie in St. Louis.
• A crew of 65 helped Joe Alves (Production Designer) to turn
the Sepulveda Dam Control Resin
in Los Angeles
Liberty Island Security Control
wall they built was a 33-feet-high, 200-feet-long monolith which took over a
month to build.
• The skeletal weapons being carried by the police in the beginning of the movie
are M16A1 rifles with the ventilated hand-guards and gas tubes removed. In
reality, though the rifles can fire without the hand guards, they are unable to
fire with the gas tube removed. Cocking manually, the M16 can fire single shots
even with the gas tube removed, but not in semi-automatic, full automatic or
three-shot burst modes. M16A1
rifles were used in Vietnam and John Carpenter originally wanted to 'class up'
weapons used in Vietnam as well as some of the present-day automatic weapons and
make them very deadly, but not to the extent of being lasers or ray guns.
Snake's gun is an Ingram MAC-10 machine pistol and was also used in Vietnam.
• The model of Manhattan
measured 10 foot by 10 foot and
was built by 4-5 guys including
of Photography: Special Visual Effects/Matte
Artwork), Dennis Skotak
of Photography: Special Visual Effects/Matte
Steve Caldwell (Camera
Visual Effects) and Tom Campbell
Special Visual Effects/Uncredited Model Builder)
and they had around 10 days to build it. To make an accurate Manhattan they photographed a map of it and
projected the negative in a slide projector on a wall and made the foundation
out of plywood. Due to the modest budget they had to use cardboard and Xeroxes
for the buildings and hand colored them with color pencils since they did not
have the option for color photographs. A pamphlet of Manhattan was used to match
the scale of the buildings.
• Secret Service #2 (the blond
guy with glasses banging on the cabin door) in Air Force One is played by
Steven Ford, former President Gerald Ford's son.
• Kurt Russell came up with an idea about a
They did try to make it work but
due to budget it never really materialized. It
also burned his fingers.
• John Carpenter paid tribute to director George A. Romero and David Cronenberg by naming two characters in the movie: Romero and Cronenberg.
• The Hartford, CT Summit mentioned in the film had two visiting Communist
nations (People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics)
- the USSR/Soviet Union ceased to exist in late 1991.
• Bill Bartell was the pilot in the glider when it took off and landed.
He sold the glider to the production company and then flew it. The glider used
had the designation N2927B and was a Romanian-made IS28-B2. During the World Trade Center
roof top landing scene it bumped and smashed against the edge, so it took 2 years to
get it sold by Debra Hill (Producer).
In the meanwhile she leased it to a school that teached gliding. Bartell nailed the landing in one take though.
Hill first hired a helicopter to scout for a
suitable roof top in San Fernando Valley to land on, but it was deemed too
dangerous because of the lack of light required for the scene.
3 miniature gliders in different scales were also made by
Eugene P. Rizzardi (Gene Rizzardi)
for the movie.
The graphic displays in the movie were not computer graphics.
Computers capable of 3D wire-frame imaging were large and expensive machines
located at large corporations and universities at the time. The effects required
for the movie were also too complicated to achieve on a computer. Instead, three model
sets were built by John Wash
(Graphic Displays/Uncredited Model
and Mark Stetson
(Uncredited Model Builder).
John C. Wash on the models: "One
was a 4' by 8' model of the island of Manhattan.
The buildings were made of white plexiglass that
was cut to size and painted black. The edges was then routed to reveal a white
line on each edge.
The other set of models involved larger scale
buildings, about 24 to 36 inches high
so that they could fly a motion-control camera (Elicon Camera Control System) with a snorkel lens between rows
of these graphic skyscrapers. These larger
models were made of wood and cardboard, with high-contrast lithographic line art glued onto
them. The models were shot at the original Dream Quest facility, which at that
time was in the garage of a ’50s ranch-style house just south of Santa Monica.
Once we had shot
all of the models on high-contrast film, the footage was then colored and
combined with graphic overlays at Modern Film, an optical effects house in
Wash also did the
opening prologue animation for the movie as well as the other animation.
The large wireframe city model sets
also used in early pre-production in the model shop for Blade Runner (1982).
Mark Stetson (Chief Model Maker) worked on this movie as well and used it to experiment with the
of the city and
then repainted and reused some for the movie.
When Kurt Russell was to work on the wiring to
open the elevator on the roof of the World Trade Center the elevator control box
exploded from the wall and burned his hands a little bit. It scared him more
than it hurt. Afterward he told them to use the take for its element of surprise.
Debra Hill (Producer) wore a sexy outfit and sweet talked the building
manager to use the Century Plaza Tower buildings for the World Trade Center
• Everyone's Coming To New York, the song sung by the men in drag at
the stage show scene where
Plissken first meets Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) was recorded in post-production
and was based on the song There's No Business Like Show Business. Steven
Sondheim's song Everything's Coming Up Roses was
their original choice and the one that was used for filming, but somehow they
could not get the rights from Sondheim to use it afterwards.
• Nick Castle (Co-Writer)
wrote the new lyrics and the show was also choreographed
by him. His parents were famous dancers and choreographers.
• The lyrics are as follows: Shoot a cop, With a gun, The Big Apple is plenty of
fun, Stab a priest, With a fork, And you'll spend your vacation in New York, Rob
a bank, Take a truck, You can get here by stealing a buck, This is bliss, It's a
lark, Honey, everyone's coming to New York! No more Yankees Strike the word from
your ears, Play the roulette, There's no more opera at the Met, This is hell,
This is fate, But now this is your home and it's great, So rejoice Pop a cork
Honey, everyone's coming to New York!
• The band consisted of
Nick Castle (Co-Writer) on piano,
John Carpenter on guitar and kazoo, Dean Cundey (Director of Photography) on sax,
Barry Bernardi (Associate Producer/Location Manager) on violin and Clyde Bryan
(First Assistant Cameraman) on trumpet. Carpenter also made a cameo
as the United States Police Force guy sitting in
during the Central Park scene.
• The actress playing the rape victim in the basement of the theater tried to
talk John Carpenter out of doing this scene.
This scene was cut out of the movie when it was aired for the first time on TV.
This theater (Wiltern Theatre) was in a
bad shape during the shooting of this movie. Carpenter recalls that
people actually came in here to live.
The scene where Plissken decides to sit on a chair
in front of the escape pod was improvised on the set.
The woman in the diner is played by
who was, at the time, Kurt Russell's wife. She had just given birth to their son
Boston Russell prior to doing this film. It was her first role after Boston's birth.
Season Hubley's character, the Girl
in Chock full o'Nuts, was originally named "Maureen." Said name was revealed
only in the Movie-Tie In Novel, never in the movie.
• Maureen was originally described by Kurt Russell to be a "crime groupie" since it would be
more fitting in a penal colony. She was originally going to wear a t-shirt covered
with crossed off names of criminals except for just one: Snake Plissken.
another article she was described to be a female gang leader.
• The running gag used in the film
about everybody thinking Plissken was dead was also used in the John Wayne
Big Jake (1971).
John Carpenter used his influence as a former USC student to shoot
the interior library scenes
facilities. The campus facility
proudly allowed their famous graduate to erect a full-size oil rig in the middle
of the floor for an entire day's shooting.
Isaac Hayes's (The Duke) '77 Cadillac Fleetwood
sedan with the fender-mounted chandeliers has been used as an influence for the
modern-day art car - a vehicle decorated or customized as works of art. Two
other vehicles used in the film (a late 1970s Ford LTD Country Squire station
wagon fitted with rebar around the windshield and windows, along with Cabbie's
(Ernest Borgnine) Checker Cab with wire mesh cages) were the ancestors of the mutant vehicles seen
at Burning Man (a public art festival outside Reno, Nevada) or during the annual
Houston Art Car Parade.
• The day scene was added during production since people felt the movie was
going to be too night oriented and that the audience would want a moment of
brightness at some point.
• The movie was suppose to have a food drop sequence but when they realized that
the packages would fall behind the Manhattan skyline at Central Park which was a
matte painting on a piece of glass the camera would film through they dropped
• Many sources mentions Madison Square Garden as being The Duke's lair. The
correct building is in fact Grand Central Station. It is mentioned in the script
as well as the
Movie-Tie In Novel
and Debra Hill (Producer) clarifies this in the commentary track she did for the
US Special Edition DVD.
Professional wrestler Ox Baker
(Slag) struck Kurt Russell very heavily with some of his blows during the
gladiator ring fight scene. He also threw a trash can in Russell's face about 5
times. Baker had problems remembering the moves and began to swing very wildly.
Russell finally had enough and asked him to take it easy, tapping him in the
groin to let him know he was serious. Baker then calmed down. It was the hardest
scene in the movie to do since it took a whole day to shoot and was very
physical and somewhat dangerous according to Russell who also wore an eye patch.
Real bats with real nails were also used in
Russell got his payback when he was going to kill Slag with one. A nervous Baker had
to lie still while Russell aimed his bat for a nail that was sticking out of a
block taped on Baker's head. Luckily for him, Russell succeeded on his first try.
Baker also cut his leg while he was entering the ring
to shoot the scene. John Carpenter asked him if it hurt. Baker responded: "Does what
500 extras were
used in this scene.
The idea of being put a wig on while
being in captivity was improvised by Donald Pleasence (The President) on the set.
• CalArts (World Trade Center Lobby) would not allow Joe Alves (Production Designer) to graffiti their walls, so he had
to use hundreds of yards of butcher paper instead. Students also helped out
making the graffiti.
Harry Dean Stanton (Brain)
ran up and down the stairs to make him look exhausted before the take where they
run down to the lobby.
• The 69th Street Bridge was invented by John Carpenter since they could not stop
the ten-lane, double-decker traffic of the George Washington Bridge and could not
afford to rebuild it somewhere else. The 69th Street Bridge was built somewhere
between 1980 and 1997 and Debra Hill (Producer) suggested calling it the Richard N. Nixon
Memorial, or even the John B. Anderson Memorial, but that was before the
In a later interview Carpenter claimed naming it the 69th Street Bridge was
a cheap adolescent joke. In a
more recent interview he claims he did not know New York that well
and that it was meant to be the The
59th St. (Ed Koch Queensboro)
Plissken was originally written to throw his cigarette at the president's chest and
let it bounce it off his body at the end of the movie,
but Kurt Russell was not comfortable
with that, so a compromise was done to throw it in his direction instead.
• Inserts and close-ups of
Plissken's life-clock on his wrist and interior helicopter shots had to be filmed
additionally for the movie.
Inserts of Plissken's
hands on the joystick inside the glider, him
crawling up the
wall and The President's hand on the rope lever were shot at
Roger Corman's New World
Pictures/Venice effects facility where they built a portion of the wall on the
Once filming was completed, John Carpenter realized audiences wanted to see what
happened to Maggie after The Duke hit her with his car. Therefore Carpenter and then-wife Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) decided to arrange and
shoot the scene
in their garage. Apparently this scene was added
after a then teen-aged J.J. Abrams suggested it to Carpenter. Abrams saw
an early cut because his father worked for the studio that produced the film,
and pointed out to Carpenter that Maggie's death was never fully established.
• The movie had a crew of 180 people
since it was a union-made movie.
It was the first fully union-made movie John Carpenter and Debra Hill (Producer) had ever done
order to get some of the crew they had worked with earlier on Escape
and into the union,
Hill had to find a way around a catch-22 situation. You could not work on an
union film unless you were in the union and you could not get in the union
unless you had worked 30 days on an union film. Hill solved this by signing
contracts with the ones they wanted on Escape before signing the union
contracts. That way they had to honor the previous contracts.
• Every time something went wrong during production John Carpenter, Larry Franco
(Producer/First Assistant Director) and Jeffrey Chernov (Second Assistant
would cover their nose and grab their balls. This pose is described as: "We're
going down!" Several other crew members did this as well.
Approximately 25% of the movie was shot using a Panaglide
to draw the audience voyeuristically into the situations. The Panaglide
is a variation of the famed and award winning Steadicam and allows the operator
to achieve extremely steady hand-held shots, even in smaller areas.
• US Army Corps of Engineers was very supportive and provided the production
team with helicopters etcetera.
• The wrap party was held at the Roller Boogie Palace and Still Photographer Kim
Gottlieb-Walker (Kim Gottlieb) who wore skates for the first time of her life
got hit by a very large guy, fell and broke all three bones in her
Hill (Producer) brought her to a hospital and stayed with her all night. This
was on a Saturday night and since they had one more day left to shoot on Monday
which was going to be the 30th day required to get into the union, Walker had to
return with her arm in cast and take pain pills.
The Elicon Camera Control System was
used to capture roughly 12 to 14 special effects segments. The exceedingly
precise "computer-controlled camera movement repetition device," which earned
its developers, Peter Regla and Dan Slater, an Academy Award in Technical
Achievement, allowed for the creation of in-camera mattes. In Escape From New
York, the device was predominantly used to recreate the film's New York City
backdrop. This eased and expedited the matting process by eliminating the need
for more complex blue screen matting techniques. As a result, the sequences
captured using the Elicon Camera Control System were completed nearly a month
ahead of schedule.
According to IMDb's Escape From New York Trivia Page:
"The opening narration is not, as
some reported, provided by an uncredited Jamie Lee Curtis. The computer voice in
the opening and in the first prison scene is producer Debra Hill." It is none of
has confirmed this. That means that it was
Blanchard who did the voice. She also did the narration in Escape From L.A.
Also, the prologue narration for Escape From New York, introducing the audience to the movie was added at
the beginning instead of later on in the movie. The early version Carpenter
screened for a test audience confused them.
Claude Debussy's composition Engulfed Cathedral
is used during the glider flight into New York.
It was not intended to be in the movie. Todd C. Ramsay (Todd Ramsay) (Editor) used it on the
tempo track and John Carpenter felt that it worked well with the scene so they
incorporated it. For some reason a few disgruntled folk claimed that Carpenter
stole it without attribution, but it is clearly credited in the end titles. It
would be a crime against nature according to himself.
• John Carpenter and Debra Hill (Producer) approached Marvel to make a comic book of Snake Plissken, but Marvel passed on the deal, claiming they did not have enough lead
time to be on sale during the film's release. The Bally Pinball Machine Company
was also interested in producing an Escape game.
The film previewed to an enthusiastic audience as an unannounced feature
at Filmex, the former-annual Los Angeles film festival. It had also been set to
screen at the USA Film Festival in Dallas, but was pulled from the schedule
because they did not have the equipment to screen the film's "double system
Kurt Russell could not get his family in the
theater for free when watching it on the first with an audience in New York on
42nd Street. He could not convince them that he was in the movie.
(Note: Kurt Russell's former wife Season
Hubley does not remember this.)
• Debra Hill (Producer) and Isaac Hayes (The Duke) were sent to
Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington and New York on a
The Duke's '77 Cadillac Fleetwood.
Hayes recalls that cops yelled: "What's that?" He answered:
"Don't write me up!" They went to
several drive-in theaters with Hayes as The Duke and signed autographs and
such etc. Hayes was also interested in buying the Cadillac,
but a crew member beat him to it.
• It was during this movie John Carpenter got exposed to helicopters for the
first time and later he decided to become
a pilot for many years.
He started taking lessons in 1981.
In the Korean dub of the film, Snake Plissken was
called "Cobra" while in the Italian version he was called "Hyena".
When released in Italy the subtitles
mistranslated nuclear fission as nuclear fixation.
John Carpenter about
the Statue of Liberty's fallen off head in the poster:
the thing – before the poster ever existed, we shot the Statue of Liberty,
because it's part of the police base out there. So it was in the movie. That was
put in the poster by the artist that did it, and I didn't have anything to do
with it. Someone thought it would be an interesting idea – I don't know why –
that something waaaay out over the water would be in the middle of the street.
It didn't make any fucking sense, but it sold the film.
So I wasn't thinking of that necessarily as much as I was thinking 'Boy,
whatever knocked that head…' We were out there at night shooting the statue of
liberty, and the sun came up on us – the crew – so we kind of trudged back
across the water. It is forever to the city (laughs)! Forever!
So I don't know about that, it's like throwing something from Heathrow over to
London Bridge. So you go 'Wait a minute now…'. But I accepted it." - The
Den of Geek interview: John Carpenter
• The original German one-sheet poster prominently misspells Snake's last
name as "Plessken".
The movie grossed $25.2 million in
American theaters in the summer of 1981, with around the same amount grossed in foreign
markets. It was a modest box-office hit.
In US the film opened to just over $4.1 million in box-office grosses on
579 screens, screening best in New York City, where it pulled in $922,367 from
An Avco Embassy Vice-President (Robert Rehme) identified the film's
10-day opening of just over $9 million as the biggest in the company's history.
Around 80,000 copies of the soundtrack
on vinyl was sold in the 80's and it was the
most expensive and eclectic score John Carpenter had created to date. It
was the biggest selling soundtrack on Varèse Sarabande at the time and it helped
them to establish their label. However, the images of Kurt Russell, Adrienne
Barbeau and Donald Pleasence on the cover had to be covered by a yellow
with the composer's names on
due to rights issues of the images.
It was Alan Howarth's (Co-Composer/Special
decision to release it as a soundtrack album after
Varèse Sarabande had reached out to Debra Hill
(Producer) about the idea. Carpenter did not think anyone
would listen to the music outside of the movie. During the scoring session he
brought in a Police record to
the studio which had influenced him. He also
started to overdub the music to bring in more rock influences to it besides the synth work. Howarth
decided to watch the movie on tape while playing the music
to synchronize the movie with the music which was new to Carpenter at the time. Escape From New York was
Carpenter's and Howarth's first project together. Howarth got acquainted with
Carpenter by pure coincidence. When he worked on Star Trek: The Motion
Picture (1979) as a sound designer, he slipped some cassettes over to the
editor Todd Ramsay (who knew he was a musician) when he found out that his next
assignment was Escape From New York and that Carpenter needed someone to
work on the soundtrack with. Suddenly Carpenter comes over to his
house in Glendale. Howarth then
played him a few things in his dining room studio and it was a go. The score was created at Howarth's home
studio with the entire latest technology. The Main Title is one of
only two themes that Carpenter can think of that he had ahead of time instead of
improvising it on the spot. It took some time for it to come out though. Kurt Russell regards the score as
one of his favorite scores ever.
Kurt Russell has stated that
Escape From New York is one of his favorite of all his films and that
Snake Plissken is his favorite character of all
the ones he has played. Snake's costume is the only one he has ever kept from
a movie. Although, he gave away the boots and a shirt to his kids friends who
were Escape From New York fans. Russell also got many fan letters from women after the movie.
Many of them found the cobra tattoo very appealing.
John Carpenter and Russell also got many fan
letters about how Plissken lost his eye, but they have decided to keep it to themselves with many
possibilities. One example being that he just decided to put an eye patch on
one day and another one being due to gas earlier in Siberia or something as
suggested by a letter someone wrote who most likely must have read the Movie-Tie
In Novel. Carpenter and Russell have also decided to keep stuff about Snake's
personality and statistics for themselves.
• Kurt Russell's favorite
line in the movie is: "The President of what?"
John Carpenter has said in retrospect that he would
have liked to have had a superimposed countdown clock during the 69th Street Bridge
• Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie) kept Cabbie's hat in his home through his life.
Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie) still owns and
occasionally wears Maggie's boots.
• Robert Rodriguez has said that after seeing Escape From New York at age 12,
1981 in a theater, he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker.
• The glam metal band Motley Crue was
influenced by the Escape From New York
look to stick out from the pack.
The movie was not shown on TV for around a year after
9/11 in the US.
Escape From L.A.
Kurt Russell approached John Carpenter on doing a
sequel in 1985 on a plane back from New York when doing press for Big Trouble In
Little China. There were some plans on doing another Snake Plissken movie earlier and
both Lee Van Cleef (Bob Hauk) and Russell wanted to do it if Carpenter was involved.
However, the ending of Escape From New York pretty much summed it all up
in terms of the character and left Carpenter
clueless what to do after that. He also could not come up with something with a
resonance. He decided to commission
screenwriter Coleman Luck to write a draft of Escape From L.A. based on an
outline by him and Russell which would serve as a prequel to Escape From New
York. It was Russell's idea from the beginning to have L.A. (which was
always their choice) being broken off
from a giant earthquake. Carpenter on Luck's script: "It was interesting
and had some really fine scenes in it, but as a whole movie it wasn't what we
wanted and was a bit too jokey." he also described it as: "Too
light, too campy." Russell on Luck's script: "It just wasn't the
original. It was like looking at a painting that was kind of a copy." Both Carpenter and Russell though it was ok, but it did not
quite work. In Luck's version L.A. (set in 1995) has turned into a lunatic asylum
as a result of a mutated harmless genetically engineered virus used to combat a
plague of fruit-destroying med flies creating violent insanity to the people.
Bob Hauk then captures Snake and wants him to evade a new, top secret military
weapon. Snake Plissken from
Escape From New York also turned out to be a clone etcetera. It also had an
explanation how Plissken lost his eye.
The project was being set up at DeLaurentis
Studios, but unfortunately, it never came to be because Dino De Laurentis company
went under so the project died. However,
Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) pursued the rights to Escape while it passed to one bankrupt
company's hands to other.
The project remained dormant following that
time until L.A. started to become a more dangerous place to be in with more
riots, drive-by shootings, mudslides and earthquakes going on. And 5 months after the 1994 Northbridge earthquake when
Kurt Russell described L.A. as
Pompeii, a city waiting for
the volcano to blow and denying it they
finally had a story and decided it was time to do the long awaited sequel.
Russell also wanted to do it
because age wise he was still able to pull off these kinds of movies.
Carpenter, Russell and Debra Hill got together
in July (after the January 1994 earthquake) and talked about how the earthquake had
effected them for 5 hours in the kitchen in Hill's home.
Carpenter did not want to do a sequel at first since he did not know what they
would be able to do that would be different. However, the recently released
Collector's Edition LaserDisc
of Escape From New York contributed to his interest in
making a sequel as well as
the fact that Francis Ford Coppola originally refused requests to make a
Godfather (1972) sequel.
He insists that it was Russell's persistence and big stardom that allowed the film to be
made since Snake Plissken was a character he loved and the only one he wanted to
play again. Russell had also been doing some informal market research when promoting
in Europe where he asked people if they would be interested in an Escape sequel with
much positive responses. Fans in the US also wanted to see another Escape.
Carpenter also saw his chance on doing a big-budget movie and was encouraged by
Russell's and Hill's enthusiasm to write the script. The idea was that
Carpenter would write a spec script to avoid development hell and then get it out to the market place, but
while writing it, many, many story conferences were held where also Russell and Hill
got involved with
the screenplay. Carpenter suggested to them that they should write the scenes and
ideas they came up with, then he would edit it all together.
He was also busy directing and
scoring Village of the Damned during this time.
then continued with the ideas and
premise that he and Russell had penned
over a weekend in Aspen, then he put together
the first draft with help from Hill that ended up being 160 pages.
She wrote the whole Beverly Hills part for instance. Carpenter then continued cutting it down with help from Russell who also helped to make
the dialogue scenes play for actors and got it to 137 pages. Carpenter believes
he worked harder on this script than any other he has written.
The initial idea was to make a brand new
Snake Plissken movie but while writing it with Russell, the more it started to
resemble a remake due to nostalgia for the original movie and the fact that he
everything he wrote was "bullshit". They
decided to reinvent the film for a
new audience as per the studio's request since many younger people had not seen the original, but with
their old fans in mind as well. Carpenter saw
two choices for his second Escape.
Either doing a complete Xerox of the first film
or do something completely different. He later realized that audiences want the
same movie dressed up a different way. The script took 8 months to write and
was sold in May, 1995.
Many studios were interested in making
this sequel including Warner Bros, Rysher Entertainment, Universal and Cinergi.
New Line Cinema even had a poster campaign already worked out, but only
Paramount trusted and understood their vision right from the beginning.
Although, they wanted the picture as soon as August the next year.
One company wanted it to have futuristic gangs instead of ethnic ones etcetera.
Sherry Lansing (former Chief executive officer of Paramount) was also a fan of the
first movie and chased it for a long time. John Carpenter was a bit reluctant to work
for a big studio again after his negative experiences on Big Trouble in
Little China (1986), but it turned out to be the best time he had ever had with a
studio. Contractual agreements allowed him greater control of the finished
product and they never interfered.
At the beginning Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell
originally felt they needed a
million dollar budget, but they
ended up getting a $50 million
dollar budget. $10
million went to Russell who had become a very bankable star during the
However, according to Carpenter they really needed to spend
Although it is the largest budget Carpenter has ever gotten, certain things from
the script had to go due to length and budgetary reasons. It went down to 100
pages and finally back up to 112 pages. The visual effects department also got
their budget cut. There were talks about actually giving
a cause this time since Paramount Pictures wanted a more grown
and some more humanity in
the movie, but after many months, Carpenter just looked at Russell and said: "You know
what Snake would say about this." That inspired them the go on with the ending
in the movie which also Russell wrote. Carpenter had a similar ending, but
Russell made it clear what was going on. They also
speed up the pace by using more quick-cuts
since audiences had become
used to getting their input fast from watching MTV and other movies made in the
90s. Carpenter was a little nervous before
starting to shoot the movie wondering if he could go back to the style of the
first movie which was written and made with a vision of a young man's ideas, but after 10 minutes
after he started shooting it all came back to him. Russell felt like they had
just finished shooting the first movie on Friday and being back after a long
weekend. It was a blast to make, according to Carpenter despite the grueling
schedule and many cold nights
It also came in
million under budget so they used the extra cash to enhance the film visually
and musically and add another 81 special FX shots.
Russell did many of his own stunts as
usual. He also had to use hair extensions since his hair was not long enough for
He also originally wanted to team up with many of the original crew from
Escape From New York for this movie.
movie was filmed from December 11, 1995
to March 20, 1996.
• Another early script was written
by English screenwriter Peter Briggs, of Aliens vs Predator fame. The Briggs version was written "on spec", meaning he did it on his own, without
getting paid for it, in the hope of selling it to the rights owners. However,
they, (Debra Hill, John Carpenter & Kurt Russell etc) never got to read it, as it
was not distributed or promoted at all.
The movie was shot for 70
nights straight. It left Debra Hill
(Producer/Co-Writer) working during the daytime hours and even make
some creative and producing choices for John Carpenter so that he could shoot at
night as problem-free as possible.
Carpenter and Lawrence G. Paull (Production Designer) were location scouting around L.A.
they only found a couple of useful untouched sites in
Northbridge from the 94 earthquake. Everything else they had to create because
it looked too beautiful everywhere else, even in the worse areas.
Angeles Department of Water and Power had to turn off the lights in
entire sections of downtown Los Angeles.
Location Managers were then responsible
for trashing the city at night including removing mail boxes, street signs and
news racks and then putting everything back to order the next morning when
everything went back to normal.
However, coordinating all the
buildings and floors to shut down was not an easy task. They had to work with
all the building owners and all of their maintenance people in order to shut
down dozens and dozens of buildings and floors consisting of different
businesses. It required getting all of the approvals of the city and getting the
signatures from everyone involved so that everybody knew about it. However, a
lot of the stuff they did was in between Christmas and New Years Eve, so a lot
of city agencies and city offices were undermanned or not manned at all. The
city's idea of an emergency was to put it on a schedule and get to it when they
could which did not work well for the production team. The crew that sometimes
numbered almost a thousand was supported by 30 fully loaded trucks and semis,
working on the already congested city streets.
The logistics for the film were a
• In early drafts the Forum and the
Getty Museum were also going
be in the movie. The Forum was the original choice for the basketball scene. Rodeo
Drive scenes were also cancelled due to budget.
• Isaac Hayes (The Duke of New York) was eager to come back and called many times, but
(Producer/Co-Writer) had to declare that The Duke was dead. Hayes then said that he could
be The Duke's twin brother or an earl. He even took Hill out to dinner
and tried to talk her into it. He also lobbied to play the role of Hershe, but John
Carpenter and Kurt Russell wanted to have a little fun with the role and casted
Pam Grier instead. There was a rumor that
the bald, black guard wearing
sunglasses holding a gun Snake
has a brief eye contact with
after the basketball scene
was Isaac Hayes in an uncredited cameo.
This is not true. Carpenter himself has confirmed it. Hershe's voice was however originally going to be done by Hayes.
• Gary B. Kibbe (Director of
Photography) was required by John Carpenter to utilize the same lenses used by
on the first movie which are low-level light lenses called Panatars.
Carpenter loves the lens flare it causes when shooting fires burning in the
streets. However, they chose to avoid the almost all-blue lighting scheme
of the original since Carpenter thought it had became too much of an
cliché. Instead a color combination were used together with warmer colors such
as amber and orange since the movie takes place in the West Coast.
• Lawrence G. Paull (Production
Designer) was inspired by his own travels in far east like Beijing, Cairo and
Singapore experiencing the poverty of third world nations when designing the street life in Escape From L.A. He was also
inspired by the 1994
earthquake in L.A. (which also caused sustained cosmetic damage to his home) where he saw huge piles of rubble that sat on the sides of
the road, and almost became mountains.
He also did
research on earthquake aftermath scenarios. He studied the historic tremors that
rocked L.A. and San Francisco in the first half of the century as well as
The Great Hanshin earthquake, or
that occurred in Japan in 1995 etcetera.
50 to 60 piles were constructed and put
on wood rollers for the movie.
He used 29,000 lbs. of rubble to create Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica
Freeway and strategically blocked the L.A. skyline with it.
A mile-long strip of scrap-metal shacks and crumpled buildings was created for
the Sunset Boulevard scenes and
200 trashed vehicles
were brought in from an auto demolition yard and dumped in a jumbled maze for
The Santa Monica scenes.
While shooting in a finished dressed Los Angeles area another film company
came and scouted a location and avoided to shoot there believing it all was
• Carol Kiefer (Art Department
Coordinator), Lawrence G. Paull (Production Designer) and Bruce Crone (Art
Director) studied Escape From New York and its graphics as well as
screened other John Carpenter films to prepare for this project. Keifer recalls
that there was a lot of tension about the budget and that it was a struggle to
stay within numbers.
• Robin Michel Bush (Costume Designer)
pulled a lot of their material from clothes found in junk yards, hardware stores
and down town alley ways. Each group from the various areas of the
island was given a completely different look. Each gang was also distinctively
dressed. A lot of the groups that was similarly dressed even started to hang out
together and got really into their characters. They also wanted to put
Utopia (A.J. Langer) in a fur coat to symbolize a Patty Hearst character, a good
girl gone bad due to circumstances, but Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) was not fond of fur
politically. Instead they gave her a black velvet jacket with Cuervo Jones
(George Corraface) likeness painted on neon colors on the back. Over a thousand
costumes were made and transported in 3 compartmentalized
40-foot trailers for the big scenes. The United States Police force
designs was carried over from Steven Loomis (Costume Designer of Escape From
New York) who was the head of the made-to-order work room on Escape From
• Karin Costa (Assistant to Director) worked
for John Carpenter from 1987-2000 and got the job from her best friend Sandy
King (Carpenter's wife) growing up.
Costa on Carpenter's requirements: "Coffee.
Lots of coffee and breakfast for whatever time the meal was." She also ads: "John
is a great guy and has an amazing sense of humor. I adore him."
The only returnees from the original film except
John Carpenter, Kurt Russell and Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) were sound crew members Joe Brennan
(Boom Operator) and Tommy Causey
Steve Buscemi (Map to the Stars
Eddie) took the part in this film to help fund his directorial debut, Trees
• Peter Fonda (Pipeline) had to tell
gossip about Easy Rider (1969) and Dennis Hopper during the reading with
John Carpenter, Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer)
and Kurt Russell
instead of talking about the movie or
• The President
(Cliff Robertson) is based on televangelist Pat
Robertson as well as a Canadian Prime Minister who predicted something that came
true and was regarded as a hero.
It was Kurt Russell's idea to incorporate this idea to the movie.
• Taslima (Valeria Golino) means
"greetings" and is an Arabic name. Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) describes her
as the heart in the movie.
• Stacy Keach (Malloy)
himself brought in a cactus to put on
his desk in the movie. John Carpenter recalls him saying that: "That's the only
thing that grows around here."
Pam Grier (Hershe Las Palmas) would put a sock in her pants
during shooting and behaving like a guy on the set, slapping other male crew members on the
back and get slapped on the back and such to get into the character as a
transvestite. She ended up with big bruises as a
result of the movie and her manly behavior.
She saw many action movies and observed its stars mannerisms to prepare for
the role. She also saw boxing matches, wrestling matches and observed them as
It was Russell's suggestion to make the
transsexual and make Snake kind of like that
Her voice was lowered by an octave and a half in the edit.
• Bruce Campbell's (The
Surgeon General of Beverly Hills) make-up was close to 4 and a half hours
long and was based on Michael Jackson and Sigfried and Roy. The make-up was all based on real plastic surgery technique, only done
more crudely. Rick Baker (Special Makeup Effects) was inspired by his old
plastic surgery books studies.
The collapse of L.A.'s
Four Level Interchange
at the beginning of the movie was
constructed by Stirber Visual Network, Inc
and was a two-story, 1/4 scale miniature that weighted 11 ton and was shot outside
in one take. It is one of the largest miniatures ever built.
The entire set was about 40' tall, so
had to work with lighter materials such as fiberglass to hold something that big
up. Breakaway concrete and rebar were also putted inside the pillars. Then they
of the pillars that was holding up the four-level freeway section on sliders that
lifted up and down forward and backward to make it crack. The columns
were individually rigged so they could run separately or together and vary the
motion to create the motion of a real earthquake. It also had radio
controlled miniature cars. The action was then slowed down to create the illusion of an
At the beginning of the film,
Kurt Russell wears his costume from the
original film, which still fit after 15 years. John Carpenter and Russell
discussed having Plissken wear the same outfit again throughout the movie, but
decided not since they did not want him to turn him into a cartoon character.
The orphan in the cap that
makes eye contact with while being escorted down the hallway at Firebase 7 in
the beginning of the movie was played by Kurt Russell's son Wyatt Russell.
He also wanted Kate Hudson (His stepdaughter) to play Utopia in the
movie and despite a successful audition and being perfect for the role she
turned it down because she did not wanted her first significant role to be
associated with her stepdad.
During the hijacking, Utopia (A.J.
wearing a big pin on her suit that says: "True Love Waits", according to the
virginity pledge of the TLW program. During this scene cult director Paul Bartel
can also be seen.
The fabric of the so-called Stealth Suit
Plissken wears was invented and custom made
for the movie. It was a combination of silk
screenings and some bonding of different fabrics. They wanted Plissken to be
undetectable like the stealth bomber and needed it to reflect in sunlight and go black in other light. No fabric on the market could be found that allowed
• Those two guards guarding
he enters the submarine are Los Angeles morning DJs Mark Thompson and Brian
Phelps (KLOS-FM). They have had minor roles in about 40 movies and TV shows.
They are uncredited in the movie. Kurt Russell put them in.
• There was some talks about actually
building and using miniature models for the underwater San Fernando Valley sequence, but
Michael Lessa (Visual Effects Supervisor: Buena Vista Visual Effects) chose to do it in CG due to the scope of the movie. It would have
required a football-field-sized model according to himself. They first opted to
use digital matte painted backgrounds based on photographs of the actual route,
with the CG animated sub in the foreground. However, John Carpenter wanted something
more dynamic in the sequence and since matte paintings limits perspective
changes they went for an entirely 3-D environment so they could have more fun
with the virtual camera. The
original digital matte paintings were then utilized as guidelines for building
the sunken structures in 3-D. It took over 150 computer-generated
effects to create one underwater sequence.
Hotel that was destroyed during the beginning
of the movie was also relegated to CG. It would have cost at least a million
dollar to build a quarter scale 35-to 40-foot-tall model of it which was
required according to Lessa. They also had to write additional 3-D
programs to achieve more realistic shots of buildings collapsing.
The building Plissken crashes into is the "black
tower" at Universal. It is where movie executives work. Carpenter: "I've had my
own fights over there and have always wanted to take something through it."
In an homage to the famed studio
tour where Jaws pops out of the water, a shark tries to bite the mini-sub just
as it passes the sign for Universal Studios.
• Kurt Russell came up with the reoccurring line: "I thought you'd be taller."
based on recurrent real life
commentaries from people he has
• Several of John Carpenter's female business associates, such as his publicist,
press agent and his manager's assistant plays prostitutes in the film. They all
asked Carpenter if they could do it. However, his press agent insists that it
was Carpenter who asked her to be one.
• A mudslide scene cut out
of the movie and the Sunset Boulevard chase sequence was the toughest things to do in
the movie for Kurt Russell. The crew was a little worried about him doing the
mudslide scene, but Russell wanted to do
it and got his way. John Carpenter teased us that this scene perhaps would might end up on the LaserDisc
release of the movie. The Sunset Boulevard sequence took 4 nights to shoot and he had to put out every time when
leaping over car to car so he would not fall and get run over which was close
at times. According to
himself he did this probably 50 or 60 times every night.
Kurt Russell practiced
playing basketball between scenes at a hoop which had been set up for him as he wanted to make all of his shots
legitimately in the basketball scene later on. He made all of those shots
purely on his own talent, even the
full-court one. He ran 10 miles that night and got very tired. The eye patch
did not help much. In the
meantime the crew betted money on him. He also did all of
these shots with a bad back. The first thing he did during this mist
full night shoot was to slip on the wet floor and hurt his back. In fact, he
slipped up and felt a lot. The heat was rising up through the floor which was
made out of plastic and it was as a cold night.
Carpenter did not think the Wilshire Canyon
surfing scene would be approved by Paramount Pictures, but they liked it and
wanted to keep it.
Carpenter wrote it because he always wanted to
see a scene like that if only for once in a movie.
Parts of this scene were shot
Schlitterbahn Water Park Resort, New Braunfels, Texas on a FlowRider called
Boogie Bahn which is an
artificial sheet wave surfing environment.
and professional surfers Tony
Hawk and Chris Miller had to stand-in for Peter Fonda
and Kurt Russell
on this FlowRider since it
required sustained surfing and only 5 people came in mind that could do it. They
rode it in the chill of the night during a grueling three-day greenscreen shoot.
Close-ups of Russell and Fonda were shot
in a separate greenscreen session in a warehouse in Los Angeles.
The idea of putting the
actor's faces onto their surfing doubles were discarded. Buena Vista Visual
Effects had no idea how to shoot this scene at first but solved it by a
combination of CG buildings and pavement, digital matte-painted backgrounds,
CG water built up by some
practical shots of high-speed water filmed at the Texas park or at the Santa
Monica shore and
as mentioned above
separate greenscreen shots of the actors on surfboards.
A miniature car driven
by a 1/5 scale Map to the stars Eddie (Steve Buscemi) puppet was also used and a
lot of surfing footage were studied. Another obstacle was to match the effects
footage with Gary B. Kibbe's (Director of Photography) principal photography.
(Visual Effects Supervisor: Buena Vista
spent a lot of time with him to later mimic his lighting in the computer. The
background elements also had to be color timed to match the production footage.
The Walt Disney Co. refused to
allow John Carpenter to taint the name of Disneyland so they decided to call it The
Happy Kingdom instead, which Carpenter explains is a bankrupt amusement park
that, due to the earthquake, is now by the ocean.
It was production designer Lawrence G. Paull's
suggestion to use Universal Studios Courthouse Square for The Happy Kingdom
scenes since he also was the production designer for Back to the Future
(1985) and saw the possibilities of turning the buildings into a main street of
an amusement park.
Neighbors started complaining about the noise while filming The Happy Kingdom
scenes on the Universal Studios lot. To compromise, John
Carpenter agreed not to fire any guns or shoot any noisy scenes after midnight, instead
they had to optically add the fires later. The
entire shooting schedule was disrupted and it became a chaotic shoot and
everyone became very tired. Carpenter also got the flu. Christian P. Della Penna
(First Assistant Director) tried to cheer him up by placing attractive female
extras next to him with instructions to smile at him when he collapsed after
every shot but it was fruitless. He did not even notice them.
During the final escape, when Cuervo
Jones fires the rocket at the helicopter, just after it is hit, you can see it
narrowly avoid crashing into the
mountain in Paramount Pictures logo or
Matterhorn at Disneyland if you will.
Paramount produced the film.
• The futuristic helicopter was a
full-sized 42' mock-of flown on a crane. Miniature and CG helicopter shots were
also used. A full-sized silhouette of the helicopter was
also built for the crash landing. The cutout was shot locked-off, in the hope
that the explosion would wrap around the helicopter shape like a life-sized matte, creating a more realistic
effect when Buena Vista Visual Effects tracked the explosion to their miniature helicopter later on.
Nothing was left after the explosion which was much bigger than anticipated.
• The Plutoxin 7 virus hoax was
originally going to be part of the first movie, but was never used.
Snake's line to Malloy (Stacy
Keach) near the end
of the movie, "got a smoke?" is the same line that Napoleon Wilson says
repeatedly in John Carpenter's other film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).
• The pack of smokes Plissken picks up at
the end of the movie is American
Spirit and is a real brand of cigarettes. John Carpenter uses it to show that
Plissken represents the true nature of the American spirit.
• The line "Welcome to the human race"
that ends the movie was originally used by
Plissken earlier in the movie in the
scene where Plissken is told that he will be killed if he tries to come out of L.A.
John Carpenter felt it did not work there so he cut it out, then
Edward A. Warschilka (Editor) added
it at the end of the movie after Plissken breaks the fourth wall.
chose to break the fourth wall to annoy
at least one person that would point out that you should never do that. Kurt
Russell suggested this idea to Carpenter with Plissken smiling because he had
never seen a character doing that before.
• 500 extras
were almost used.
The movie boasts nearly 200 effects shots.
Due to time restraints, John Carpenter could not do
all the music himself, so he brought in and collaborated with Shirley Walker who
also did the score for his Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) to give it a
certain amount of orchestral bang which the movie required. The idea was to
start the movie in the electronic musical style of Carpenter and make the
orchestra more noticeable halfway through the movie. Carpenter's involvement was
mostly sending Walker tapes of his material which was transcribed by an
orchestrator and then tailored by Walker to work with the scenes. Walker's
approach to the score was to do the music different every time Snake Plissken
turns around and make his new environment into a different universe and make the
music play his thought process to figure out what the ground rules are so he can
get to from Point A to Point B and survive.
• White Zombie contributed the track The One written specifically for the
soundtrack to Escape From L.A. White Zombie's front man Rob Zombie later went
on to direct a remake of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978).
• This was the last movie Buena Vista Visual Effects did before it was
dissolved. It was replaced by Dream Quest Images.
• John Carpenter only had 9 total weeks of post-production and 1 day to
look at his rough cut before it had to be sent to Paramount for release.
In an interview with Robert Rodriguez, Carpenter said he wished he could have had
15 weeks of post-production time.
The movie was a notorious failure on
release, making around $25 million (just half its budget) at the US box office.
It was criticized for being too violent, campy and for being too similar
to the original film. Although,
it has gotten a growing cult following over the years which also Kurt Russell
predicted if the movie was not an immediate hit.
Russell has also explained that
decisions were made during the writing and making of it about which would be the
best movie to watch 50 years later. He also
believes that it came out in a very politically
incorrect time. The movie came out following the Olympics which was held in
Atlanta and there was a lot of patriotism going on. Medals were won and
adversities were overcome. It did not benefited the movie which was a little more