Work Is Her Escape (Nanaimo Daily News/Aug 25/1981/US) By Gregg Kilday



Debra Hill sat in her Burbank office, surrounded by pumpkins, movie posters, business vouchers and board games, pondering her own escape.

During the past few weeks, she explained, she has been supervising postproduction of Halloween
II, a sequel to the 1978 runaway horror hit, Halloween, the seasonal shocker that earned her her stripes as a producer.

She has also been jetting around the country, promoting her new motion picture, Escape From New York, a two-fisted action-adventure set in a future vision of the Big Apple gone sour. And with one eye toward the future, she has been developing a new project, Clue, a murder mystery about five suspects in five rooms with five weapons, based on the famous Parker Brothers game.

"It's quite tiring," she said of the life that she'd led lately. "It leaves me hardly any free time, and pretty soon you get weary. Even if you may get eight hours a night, you get weary. It's a drain on the thought processes that create ideas. It's the fastest way to burn out. Before we go into Clue, I want to take some time off - a great deal of time to just relax and think about I want to do in the future."

With a tangle of dark blonde hair brushed over her right shoulder, Hill, at 31, didn't look like she was in any imminent danger of self destruction, however.

"You do have a good time in this business," she conceded. I think that's why you end up working such long hours. When you're standing out there on the streets in the middle of the night, the things that go on, the experience that go on can only be shared with the people you're working with. It drives you into working more. You just can't cut it off at 5 o'clock at night."

Producing has never been a 9-to-5 proposition, of course. A native of Philadelphia, educated at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, Hill entered the motion picture business through documentary filmmaking -

"In documentaries," she observed, "you do a little bit of everything" - and then segued into low-budget moviemaking, working on such relatively obscure titles as High Riders, Satan's Cheerleader and Goodbye, Franklin High. Determined to make it as a producer, she met director John Carpenter in 1976 while working as a script supervisor and assistant editor on his cops-in-battle movie, Assault on Precinct 13.

Despite her limited experience as an editor - "I sure messed up some of his trims at times," she laughed - Hill and Carpenter struck up a collaboration and began writing scripts together. Eventually, Hill and Carpenter met independent producer Irwin Yablans, who told them his idea for a movie called, The Babysitter Murderers, and out of that evolved Halloween a psychotic's-eye view of babysitters-in-jeopardy, menaced by a knife-wielding spook who won't say die.

While triggering a whole cycle of teen-age bloodbath movies, Halloween launched Hill and Carpenter as a successful producer-director team, and they immediately graduated to
$1 million, The Fog, a modern-day ghost story, and now the $7 million, Escape From new York.

A punk fantasy, Escape could have proved a producer's nightmare since in its paranoid projection into the future, New York has become a rotting hell and Manhattan itself is a walled-off maximum security prison full of roving street gangs. Because - even in its present state - New York is still too glittery and glamorous, the filmmakers were forced to improvise.

Actually, the company only filmed three days in New York. Some futuristic settings were found in Atlanta, a crucial bridge sequence was filmed in St. Louis and the rest of the movie was shot around Los Angeles.

"The only area where we went over budget was in the production design," Hill noted, "and that's because Joe Alves brought such a wonderful style and look to the picture that when the strike came, we had to provide the extra contingencies that were needed."

Conceding that Escape From New York will probably find its most enthusiastic audience among younger, urban males, Hill said that she doesn't find it incongruous to be a woman working in such a tough genre.

"I don't feel that a woman should be stereotyped into making only love films or light comedies," she said. "I want to do war films and adventures and westerns. I want to make films for the public. If that's what they want to see, make it. I think what I've done can help pave they way for other women to come in and make other kinds of films."

Explaining that Carpenter's first draft screenplay for Escape was "a little more horrific, more of a nightmarish view" she noted that when he rewrote the script with Nick Castle a lot more humor was added. I think that really rounded out the film," she said. "I think we ended up getting an adventure comedy with lots of suspense. I really love these characters."