Interview with John Carpenter

AOL Chat Transcript

Big Trouble in Little China-related stuff is in BOLD.

OnlineHost: Copyright 1996 America Online, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

OnlineHost: Your emcee tonight is Judi (AOLiveMC11).

OnlineHost: John Carpenter’s “Escape From L.A.” marks filmmaker John Carpenter’s 18th feature as a director. He has also composed the scores for fifteen of his film productions. To learn more about his current projects, please welcome John Carpenter to AOL Live!

AOLiveMC11: Welcome to AOL Live, John Carpenter!

JCarpentr: I’m very pleased to be here.

AOLiveMC11: Ready for some questions from our audience? We’ve got lots of them!

JCarpentr: I am totally ready.

AOLiveMC11: Our first question comes from Cmndr:

Question: Hi John! Is Nick Castle an actual person or is he a pseudonym?

JCarpentr: Nick Castle is an actual person. He and I went to film school together 
at USC from 1968-1972. He is now a director in his own right with features like
“Dennis the Menace,” “Last Starfighter,” and “Tap.”

AOLiveMC11: From AWilli424:

Question: Hey John! We’re Dan and Adam, and we’re huge fans! Did you ever 
imagine that “Halloween” would be so immensely popular almost 20 years after its original release, and have you ever considered re-releasing it to theaters in 1998 for its 20th anniversary?

JCarpentr: Thanks for the kind words. I never realized when we were making “Halloween” that it was going to be what it turned out to be. Unfortunately, the sequels are pretty grim, so there are no plans to re-release it.

AOLiveMC11: From JediPirate:

Question: John, first of all, you are one of the coolest moviemakers of all time! Second, you’ve made different types of movies, from horror to action to science fiction. Which type of movie is the most fun to work on?

JCarpentr: Oh, I suppose my favorite kind of movie to work on is western, but since I’ve never done one, I would have to say sci-fi is my first love.

AOLiveMC11: From MarkExact:

Question: What was one of the most satisfying moments for you creatively as a filmmaker?

JCarpentr: Oh boy, that’s a very hard question to answer. I think the most satisfying part, creatively or otherwise, of making movies is finishing them and sending them out into the theaters.

AOLiveMC11: Also from MarkExact:

Question: How many of your own films did you help score, and did you become interested in music before, after, or along with filmmaking?

JCarpentr: Then I get to take a long vacation.

AOLiveMC11: Go ahead with question already shown.

JCarpentr: I have scored 15 of my own films, either alone or with someone else. I have been in love with music since I was very young, and, at one time, played in a small rock-and-roll band back in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

AOLiveMC11: From JediPirate:

Question: Do you have any ideas for any future movies?

JCarpentr: My next project is going to be “The Mutant Chronicles,” a sci-fi adventure set in the distant future.

AOLiveMC11: From JMRCMR:

Question: What was cut from “Halloween II,” and will there ever be a laserdisc, widescreen edition? I’ve seen extra footage.

JCarpentr: It’s been so long now, I can’t remember. But if there’s enough demand, there will be a widescreen version.

AOLiveMC11: From MAlt64057:

Question: Mr. Carpenter, out of all movies you produced, did you ever have a bad day on the set? And if so, what happened?

JCarpentr: I have had many bad days on the set, but since I don’t produce movies (I direct them}, most of my days are filled with joy and happiness.

AOLiveMC11: From NCescape2:

Question: Have you seen the “Halloween” Homepage on the Internet? If so, what did you think of it?

JCarpentr: I have not seen that. However, I will have a website about to open in September on the WWW, and “Escape From L.A.” has a website at It has a great L.A. maze game, stills from the movie, and a trailer to download, if you want.

AOLiveMC11: From AWilli424:

Question: Dan and Adam: Is there any reason as to why you choose to direct so many of the same actors in your pictures?

JCarpentr: I really love working with good actors, people who are friends, and upon whom I can depend for great performances.

AOLiveMC11: From RAven0875:

Question: John, now that you and Kurt have resurrected Snake, is there any chance of Jack Burton and The Pork Chop Express making another run through Chinatown?

JCarpentr: Kurt and I both love “Big Trouble in Little China” and would be more than interested in exploring the idea.

AOLiveMC11: From UninTY:

Question: Since the ending of your 1983 film “Christine” was left “open” for a sequel, I was wonder if at any time there were plans to construct one?

JCarpentr: No plans for a sequel to “Christine.”

AOLiveMC11: From OTTO WY:

Question: I am impressed with you composing your own music with your movies. I find that just as fun as directing films. How do you go about finding your melodies?

JCarpentr: Oh boy, that’s a good question. Primarily, I find my melodies like I find any other kind of artistic inspiration: from within. As a musician, I am the cheapest and the fastest I know.

AOLiveMC11: From EBerns697:

Question: Mr. Carpenter, why do you work with Kurt Russell so much?

JCarpentr: I work with Kurt because I love him very much, he’s a great actor, and he secretly gives me all his money. Just kidding.

AOLiveMC11: From NCescape2:

Question: Is “Bronco Billy” available on video? You’re the best director ever.

JCarpentr: Thank you very much for the compliment. “Bronco Billy” is not available on video, but you can rent a 16mm version from USC.

AOLiveMC11: From UninTY:

Question: I was wondering. Have we seen the last of Michael Myers or will there be another “Halloween” someday?

JCarpentr: Well, that’s a question I really can’t answer. You just never know.

AOLiveMC11: From EBerns697:

Question: What is your favorite movie that you have directed?

JCarpentr: I love each one of my movies as you might love a child. I make them, they grow up to be 18, I kick them out of the house and into the theaters, and tell them to get a job. I do have, however, a few particular favorites, including “The Thing” and “They Live.”

AOLiveMC11: From MarkExact:

Question: What, if anything, would you say is absent from films today in comparison to the 1970’s?

JCarpentr: Films of the ’90s, more than often, are programmed entertainment with happy endings that have been market-researched into Muzak. I applaud the new, young, independent filmmakers for making risky films because that’s the future of the movie business.

AOLiveMC11: From StoliBabe:

Question: What are the chances of “Escape From Earth” becoming a reality?

JCarpentr: If the audience wants to see “Escape from Earth,” we have a story, and it’s a hot one.

AOLiveMC11: From Dido:

Question: Hi, John, I love your films and music. It’s exciting to me that a director and writer can produce and compose his own scores. Your results are holistic and sincere, transcendental/self-reliant. How are you able to locate the confidence to create and make public what is so personal to you? Are you ever worried that your projects will fail?

JCarpentr: Every director who’s ever made a movie worries that they will fail, but you can’t let fear stop you.

AOLiveMC11: From MarkExact:

Question: What types of things did you have to get used to when you went from independent films to big-budget “Hollywood” films?

JCarpentr: When you make a big-budget film, there’s a lot more concern that the movie is a commercial success. Therefore, you have a lot more people trying to tell you how to make the movie. This sometimes can be annoying.


Question: I loved “Escape From L.A.” and I wondered if you enjoyed working with Bruce Campbell? He was great as the Surgeon General.

JCarpentr: I love working with Bruce Campbell and don’t tell anybody, but those are his real teeth.

AOLiveMC11: From NCescape:

Comment: Mr. Carpenter, just a comment. I idolize you. I long to be a filmmaker and wonder what your advice for a young filmmaker would be.

JCarpentr: My advice is, write screenplays that the studios want to make and then insist that you direct them.

AOLiveMC11: From LSTMOM:

Question: Why did it take you so many years to do a sequel to “Escape From New York?”

JCarpentr: Kurt and I had talked about a sequel for many years, but I guess we needed the Northridge earthquake to really get us going.

AOLiveMC11: From MAlt64057:

Question: Mr. Carpenter, out of all the movies you produced, what movie cost the most?

JCarpentr: Again, I don’t produce movies; I direct movies. And the most expensive movie I have directed is “Escape From L.A.”

AOLiveMC11: From MarkExact:

Question: Where do you see films and entertainment 10-20 years from now, considering the current trends in computer and digital technology, virtual reality, etc.?

JCarpentr: All those hi-tech trends are simply tools to aid the filmmaker in telling his story. We are story-driven and dependent on imagination and creativity.

AOLiveMC11: From Kaji54124:

Question: For JC, hi! Saw the film today. Thought it was great fun! Kudos to all of you! I’m especially pleased you worked with Shirley Walker (also responsible for the great music from “Space: Above and Beyond”). Why not do it yourself this time?

JCarpentr: I felt Shirley was the perfect choice to help me, since I had very little time to do it all myself, and she is such a fantastic composer.

AOLiveMC11: From KBarb2406:

Question: Regarding “Eyes of Laura Mars,” what is the most outstanding thing you can tell us about Faye Dunaway? I have always thought she was a great actress and a mysteriously appealing woman. What is she like to direct?

JCarpentr: Since I didn’t direct the “Eyes of Laura Mars,” I have no idea. I was only the dumb screenwriter.

AOLiveMC11: From JWilsonB2:

Question: In an age of “composing for video,” I respect that you still film in the scope format. Is there any special reason aside from it looking 200 times better?

JCarpentr: Widescreen is cinema, as far as I’m concerned. You go to the movies to watch that big screen, not an image like your TV set.

AOLiveMC11: From VillageGr:

Question: How did you hook up with Dave Davies of the Kinks and did he contribute music to “Escape From L.A.?”

JCarpentr: I met Dave in 1989 and we became friends. No, he didn’t contribute to the music to “Escape From L.A.”

AOLiveMC11: From MarkExact:

Question: Do you use a computer on a regular basis? How do you like online interviews such as this?

JCarpentr: I love online interviews like this. But I don’t use a computer personally. I have a very beautiful human being typing all this in for me.

AOLiveMC11: From Hesproull:

Question: How old are you?

JCarpentr: I am 48 years old.

AOLiveMC11: From GTSamf:

Question: Will there be any romance in “Escape From L.A.?”

JCarpentr: There’s plenty of romance in “Escape From L.A.” I suggest you run right out now and see it!

AOLiveMC11: From KJSouza:

Question: Mr. Carpenter, I saw “Escape From L.A.” today and enjoyed the film, but I felt it was more of a remake than a sequel to “Escape From New York.” Was this intentional?

JCarpentr: I sure hope so.

AOLiveMC11: From EBerns697:

Question: What led you to put Jamie Lee Curtis in “Halloween?”

JCarpentr: This was a casting idea of Debra Hill. I think it was because she was Janet Leigh’s daughter, and Janet Leigh starred in the ultimate slasher movie, “Psycho.”

AOLiveMC11: From JMRCMR:

Question: Did you write “Prince of Darkness?”

JCarpentr: As I recall, someone named Martin Quatermass wrote the movie, but when I get up in the morning and see Martin in the mirror, I wonder if it wasn’t me after all.

AOLiveMC11: From LSTMOM:

Question: Did you actually cast a part for Fresno Bob in the first one?

JCarpentr: No, Fresno Bob was an offscreen legend and must remain that way.

AOLiveMC11: From Phibes 3:

Question: What became of the original SHAPE mask?

JCarpentr: I have no idea. My guess is, the SHAPE is still wearing it.

AOLiveMC11: From Kaji54124:

Question: Why the decision to “alter” Pam Grier’s usual character?

JCarpentr: If you’re talking about Pam’s voice, we did lower it one and a half octaves to make her sound more like a man. That’s because she is playing a man who has undergone an amazing sex-change operation.

AOLiveMC11: From KnyghtRdr:

Comment: “Halloween” will never be viewed the same because of John Carpenter!

JCarpentr: God bless you.

AOLiveMC11: From CCIntern:

Question: Hello, Mr. Carpenter, I have been a huge fan of your movies for a long time. I loved “Escape From New York” and I’m really looking forward to “Escape From L.A.” I think it’s really great that you took the time to talk with your fans. Do you think that Kurt Russell would come on, too, to talk to his fans?

JCarpentr: I’m sure Kurt would come on if he were in town, but the lucky bum is on vacation.

AOLiveMC11: From OTIS16:

Question: Congratulations on “Escape From L.A.” Out of curiosity, in “Big Trouble in Little China,” when the Lightning God is bonked with the statue, what is the meaning of the symbol formed by the lightning as he falls down the hole?

JCarpentr: These are Chinese letters that spell out “John Carpenter.”

AOLiveMC11: From Heyna:

Question: I feel “The Thing” was a great atmospheric masterwork, which holds up to many viewings. Why was this film savaged so in 1980? Was it ahead of its time?

JCarpentr: I think you’re right. Also, remember that that was the summer of “E.T.” America wanted a good, up, cry.

AOLiveMC11: From Othello55:

Question: At what age did any creative spark glow within you that brightened your path as a filmmaker?

JCarpentr: I was smitten by the movies at age 4. At age 8, I began directing movies with my father’s 8mm home movie camera.

AOLiveMC11: From KJSouza:

Question: John, who owns the rights to “Someone’s Watching Me” and how can we get it on video/laserdisc?

JCarpentr: Warner Brothers owns the rights. I don’t think that it has been released on video or laserdisc. I suggest you write to them and ask.

AOLiveMC11: From SVGFFG:

Question: Do you think anyone will ever be able to make a movie for under a million that will become a hit, like you did?

JCarpentr: I definitely think it’s possible. The most important thing about a movie is its creative drive, and if someone has the courage to try it and the luck to be in the right place at the right time, it could happen.

AOLiveMC11: From HuckHound:

Question: Hi, John. I had an impression of Nada from “They Live” as being a somewhat Christ-like figure. I also get the same impression from Travis Bickle. Nothing concrete to back this up, but I was wondering if this is completely insane or not.

JCarpentr: John Nada was meant to be an everyman/working class character. I’m not so sure about the Christ-like stuff.

AOLiveMC11: From Phibes 3:

Question: Right now, if you could do any film, no restrictions, what would it be? A western?

JCarpentr: That’s a very good question. I think if I had any choice in the world, I would make the most erotic, pornographic movie ever made.

AOLiveMC11: From OTIS16:

Question: When you collaborated with Kurt Russell and Ms. Hill in writing “Escape from L.A.,” were you shooting for a more sardonic and “light” tone than in the first film?

JCarpentr: We were shooting for more fun, more action, more excitement. Plus, we had a bigger budget.

AOLiveMC11: From Rabspierr:

Comment: I am a 13 year old kid from New Jersey. I just saw “In the Mouth of Madness” for the first time. I loved it. I thought it was an excellent movie.

JCarpentr: You’re a wonderful human being.

AOLiveMC11: From Macleod23:

Question: Mr. Carpenter, what can you tell us of “Escape From Earth” that I heard Kurt Russell speaking of on a CNN interview?

JCarpentr: I can’t give away the plot of the film, but it would be the most exciting science-fiction movie perhaps ever made, and, of course, Snake would return once again.

AOLiveMC11: From PULPMAN66:

Question: What do you think of the critics’ reviews of “Escape From L.A.” so far?

JCarpentr: We have gotten some rave reviews, some fair reviews, and some bad reviews. This is par for the course for a John Carpenter film. Some people don’t get my movies, and probably never will.

AOLiveMC11: From Othello55:

Question: Can you explain the wonder or process that guides your creative vision?

JCarpentr: My process involves not analyzing my process. What I mean is, I try to operate purely on instinct. My job is as a storyteller, and what I try to do is pick the best stories I know how to tell.

AOLiveMC11: From OTTO WY:

Question: I trust you are enjoying the Hollywood experience?

JCarpentr: Since I live in Hollywood, I have always loved the Hollywood experience.

AOLiveMC11: From MoppyJON:

Question: Hey, I was wondering if there was symbolic reason for why the baddies in “Big Trouble in Little China” all wore lamp shades on their head.

JCarpentr: Yes, there is a very deep, very significant, symbolic reason. But I am not at liberty to discuss it with you.

AOLiveMC11: From EBerns697:

Question: Mr. Carpenter, is Kurt Russell the total opposite of Snake Plissken?

JCarpentr: In many ways he is, and in many ways, he IS Snake Plissken. Kurt is a great actor. He played Elvis Presley, Jack Burton, and Snake Plissken, not to mention Macready, four of the coolest characters ever.

AOLiveMC11: From BDuke25:

Question: Despite his surprisingly good performance (for a wrestler), what was the impulse or story behind the casting of Roddy Piper in “They Live?”

JCarpentr: I thought Roddy had a lot of charisma and ability, and I wanted to give him a chance. I think he did a great job.

AOLiveMC11: From BoLorKay:

Question: Mr. Carpenter, was there a point during the filming of your great film “Halloween” that you suspected it was going to be something special?

JCarpentr: I never knew. All I was trying to do was make a movie.

AOLiveMC11: From Rad40:

Question: How much did the movie cost to make?

JCarpentr: “Escape From L.A.” cost $50 million.

AOLiveMC11: From JediPirate:

Question: If you could make a sequel to any of your other films, what movie would you make a sequel to?

JCarpentr: “The Thing”

AOLiveMC11: From JWilsonB2:

Question: What is your secret to good story telling?

JCarpentr: Whew. That’s a tough one. Most of the time I have to rely on my own instinct. Good storytelling is something that compels the audience and moves them emotionally in some way. Also, it can get them to think. Otherwise, I really can’t analyze it any better.

AOLiveMC11: From JWilsonB2:

Comment: Make a western!

JCarpentr: I will take it into serious consideration.

AOLiveMC11: From EBerns697:

Question: Mr. Carpenter, would you be interested in directing a comedy?

JCarpentr: Yes.

AOLiveMC11: From NCescape2:

Question: How did you feel about working with Debra Hill again after so many years?

JCarpentr: The last movie Debra and I made together was “Escape From New York.” It was fun to work with her again after all those years.

AOLiveMC11: From BJC66x102:

Question: Was the hang glider bit a tongue-in-cheek reference to “Wizard of Oz?”

JCarpentr: No, but, on the other hand, it’s a good idea, so I’ll say yes.

AOLiveMC11: From KnyghtRdr:

Question: Is there sheet music available for your score to “Halloween?”

JCarpentr: There might be; I’m not sure. Since I don’t read or write music, it would have to come from someone else.

AOLiveMC11: From GDoig3867:

Question: Can we get any of your original scores on CD?

JCarpentr: Yes, many of my scores are available. Check with your record store.

AOLiveMC11: From Infinit22:

Question: Is it true that you use street names from and around Bowling Green, Kentucky?

JCarpentr: I sometimes do. I sometimes use friends’ names for characters.

AOLiveMC11: From BDuke25:

Question: How did you begin the collaborative history with Alan Howarth?

JCarpentr: We met on “Escape From New York” and worked together for several years. I really enjoyed working with Alan.

AOLiveMC11: From Heyna:

Question: I hear you love to fly helicopters. Did you do “cameo work” in “Escape from L.A.” as a pilot?

JCarpentr: Unfortunately, there are no real helicopters in “Escape From L.A.”

AOLiveMC11: From Corklab:

Question: With the new technology for special effects, how different was it to make “Escape From L.A.” versus “Escape From New York?”

JCarpentr: The new technology is a helpful tool, but it is still just a tool. The size and scope of “Escape From L.A.” was bigger than “New York” because we had a bigger budget.

AOLiveMC11: We have time for one more question. From Othello55:

Question: Did you attend film school?

JCarpentr: Yes, I went to the USC Department of Cinema. It was a great learning experience.

AOLiveMC11: Thanks for answering our audience questions tonight, John Carpenter!

JCarpentr: I really enjoyed being here. Thank you for asking the questions, everybody, and I’ll see you at the movies! Best wishes, JC.

AOLiveMC11: Goodnight, everyone!

JCarpentr: Goodnight.

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