Interview de Eric Hahn
To start with, could you tell us about yourself and your background? Where and when were you born? What was the chain of events that made you come to live and work in the Philippines?
I was born in 1954 in Washington D.C. I didn't have a very nice childhood after the age of 9. My parents were drunk often and fought a lot. I ran away when I was 10. I kept being caught and sent home. After the third time the authorities decided to send me away. There was no room in the state juvenile facilities so I was placed in a state mental hospital. I was put on drugs and mistreated. I was there until I was finally released at 15. I became a hippie and travelled around the U.S. hitchhiking. When I was 17 I borrowed someone's draft card so I could pretend I was 18. I got caught hitchhiking in Texas and they found the draft card on me. I pleaded guilty of possessing someone else's draft card, I was also found guilty of intending to use it for false representation, and not registering myself. I was sentenced to 6 years in federal prison. The next 4 years of my life were a nightmare and I spent most of my time in solitary confinement. Finally in 1974 I was paroled. And eventually decided to live overseas. I was bitter over my experiences and didn't trust my government. I lived in many countries working my way through. I worked a lot on shrimp boats and freight ships. It was easy then. Just go to the docks and ask for work in exchange for transport. I even spent a year in your country. I was mainly in the south. Grenoble, and St Etienne were my favourite parts of France. I went back to the U.S in 1982 and tried to settle down and work. But soon my negative feelings for the U.S. came back. So I worked enough to go to Hawaii. I stayed and worked for 1 year saving up and finally went to the Philippines in 1983. Within a month I got my first extra part. I don't remember which movie. There were sometimes 20-40 productions a year made in the Philippines, and I worked on close to 100. After a while I got my first line in "American Ninja", and little by little, the parts started getting bigger: I started getting supporting parts, and did some smaller roles on major productions.
The first part you're credited for on the IMDB was "American Ninja" (1985). What memories do you keep of this early experience? How was the atmosphere on the set with director Sam Fistenberg and lead actor Michael Dudikoff? Did the fact you were known by Filipino filmmakers help you to be hired in a Golan Globus prod, as Cannon sometimes subcontracted Filipino companies to shoot the films they distributed?
Actually often Ken Metcalfe did the casting for the Major productions, and he did in this film. Henri Strzalkowski was helping Ken on the set and he encouraged me to do the dialog. I was really scared as the cameras zoomed in on me and Michael Dudikoff. The first take I blew because I was terrified and couldn't speak. I finally got it right. I remember the work was easy and the food was good. I also remember that Dudikoff didn't know a thing about martial arts and Richard Norton (Michael's double) did a lot of the fight scenes. When they had to shoot close-ups of Michael fighting, they had to lead him along kick by kick. Sam Fistenberg was frustrated as the film went over schedule and budget because of Dudikoff's lack of fighting skills. It's not rare to see this in films. David Carradine told me that he didn't know any kung fu when he was shooting the TV series "Kung Fu". That's why they filmed so much of his fighting in slow motion. He did learn kung fu after the series was over and still practices today.
Apparently, you have worked as a stuntman on an undetermined number of films, including "Women of Valor", "Hamburger Hill" and "Delta Force 2". Was the making of stunts in those films as rudimentary as it was on some Cinex Films or Kinavesa productions? Indeed, we guess stuntman may be a dangerous job in low budgeted Filipino movies! Do you have some anecdotes about particularly dangerous stunts you performed?
Actually all of us learned on the job the basic stunts like bullet hits, fighting, getting blown up, falling off of roofs, etc. The local Philippine stuntman associations or the foreign production stuntmen did the most dangerous stunts like burning, stunt driving, etc. During one small production, a local actor/stuntman, Jerry Bailey, invited me to join his stuntman group and I started going to classes at their gym. That helped me get into "Hamburger Hill" as a stuntman.
My last couple of years I did a few more dangerous stunts. I did a few car rollovers and other stunt driving. In "Demonstone" I fell through a sky window and landed 20 feet below onto a 40 feet high mountain of raw sugar and then free rolled down to the cement below. I also did a lot of trampoline explosions. That's where you run up and jump onto a mini concealed trampoline and fly through the air at the same time that a bomb goes off under you. On the local Kinavesa type productions we didn't have air bags. We fell onto piles of cigarette cases that were roped together, the air inside breaking our fall. We didn't often have cables for shotgun blasts. We had to propel ourselves backwards by ourselves. We seldom had those fancy remote controlled bullet squibs. They ran a wire up our shirt and connected a firecracker type explosive and a bag of red dyed pancake syrup. The other end was connected to a piece of wood with nails which was connected to a battery. When the effects guy touched the nail, the squibs popped and we danced. The bombs that were always going off around us were also set off the same way. We did often have candy glass and break away tables for bar fights (my favourite). Most of us got shot and blown up almost every day. It was common to play a role and die 100 times in the background.