Interview With Donald G. Jackson, Director of Hell Comes To Frogtown
Judge Patrick Naugle
August 24th, 2001
Donald G. Jackson was the director and writer of the sci-fi/horror B-movie Hell Comes To Frogtown, as well as its sequels Frogtown II and Toad Warrior. The following interview with Mr. Jackson was conducted via e-mail by Judge Patrick Naugle.
Patrick Naugle: How did the idea of HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN come about?
Donald G. Jackson: I think I tell the story on the DVD commentary. I was shooting the last scene of ROLLER BLADE for New World Video. Someone had spray painted "FROGTOWN" on a brick wall. It was a sign. Sam Mann was with me and exclaimed that it should be called HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and he wants to play SAM HELL. A few days later I was riding around town with ROLLER BLADE's female lead -- SUZANNE SOLARI and decided on an impulse to visit Little Tokyo. I made a wrong turn an ended up at an abandoned tunnel area that we gave the name Grand Graffiti Bridge. We got out to explore the ruins of a building. Once inside we met a bum who sold us a painting for a dollar. Somehow I got real inspired. Soon as we got back into my 1962 Plymouth I gave my pen and notebook to Suzanne and started dictating the entire FROGTOWN story and describing all the characters. It was the most information and detail I'd ever had on any project I'd made. The magic had struck and we knew the movie would get made. This might sound strange to someone reading this, but I can assure you this is how it happened. I still have the notebook where Suzanne wrote down everything as HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN was revealed.
PN: What was the reason/decision process for casting "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as Sam Hell?
DJ: Tony Randel at New World Video was the Executive in charge of the project when it was going to be a direct to video production. He was responsible for getting New World Video to buy my wrestling film -- I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE. They made a lot of money off that picture, so Tony carried some influence. His first choice was RRP. After the project got bumped upstairs to theatrical, we looked at everyone who got suggested. We even experimented with going again type with an actor like Daniel Stern. When it was all over, Tony Randel got his way with Rowdy Roddy Piper. And when I met RRP, it was obvious he has the most enthusiasm for playing Sam Hell than anyone else we'd talked to. FROGTOWN led to his getting cast by John Carpenter in THEY LIVE. I'll never forget when RRP was on the TONIGHT SHOW promoting THEY LIVE, he claimed that was his first movie. I guess he was told to say that, but it obviously wasn't true.
PN: Was it a tough shooting schedule? Any real problems arise during the production?
We had a big crew -- too big for what I was used to. Even on the TERMINATOR pickup shoot with Jim Cameron, it was only a handful of people. It was difficult for me to get used to going thru a chain of command. If something needed to be done, I'd just start doing it. This got me on bad terms with the Executive in charge of production. Randy Frakes was taken off the project for defending his script and fighting again revisions. You can hear him rant and rave about this on the DVD commentary. Left alone, it was all of them (New World) who just wanted to get the project over with and me who fought to save my baby. It wasn't the movie I envisioned, but it was still HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and they'd spent 1.5 million dollars on it. As President of the production company, I signed every check. Just too many cooks -- a story that was documented in an issue of CINEFANTASTIQUE shortly before the movie was released.
PN: Is there anything you would do different if you had the chance to go back?
If I could turn back the clock, I'd never have agreed to New World Video taking the project away from me as a 150K "made for video" and turning it into a 1.5 million dollar theatrical production. One a smaller budget I'd have kept more control. It would have been a 16mm nonunion feature, but it would have been an action movie. The Hong Kong action pictures were just starting to catch on and I was very inspired. I had it all figured out how to really get all of that 150K on the screen. It would have been a totally different picture. And chances are I'd have shot from an outline w/o a completed script. Of course the script that I hired Randy Frakes to write made the rounds and launched his career as a writer. He's still working today and making big bucks.
PN: How was it working with Roddy Piper and lead actress Sandahl Bergman?
Roddy Piper had an acting coach. He is much better in THEY LIVE where he under played it. Sandahl Bergman understood her character and made it all so effortless
PN: How long did it take to design the frogs?
STEVE WANG designed the frogs on paper in about 1/2 hour. He was totally in charge of that. Even New World thought he was a genius. The sad thing is that when the budget for HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN went from 150K to 1.5 million, Steve Wang's budget to make the frogs stayed the same. He still did a great job and a lot of people discovered him from this picture. He's a much in demand SPFX worker and has directed a few pictures himself including DRIVE.
PN: The Anchor Bay DVD makes a comparison between HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN and PLANET OF THE APES. Do you see any connection?
HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN was pitched to New World as a combination of MAD MAX meets PLANET OF THE APES only they're frogs!
PN: How much input did you receive into the release of the DVD?
Anchor Bay was open for suggestions on packaging art work, and gave me free reign on the commentary. It was a good experience and I hope to work with them again in the future.
PN: Was New World Pictures (the film's original distributor) supportive?
NEW WORLD had originally planned to make 1100 prints of HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN for a theatrical release. They began having financial problems during our shoot. Some of their more classy productions were loosing money. We'd hoped to do a series of FROG movies and joked about the FROGS that saved New World. By the time we went into production, it was too late. But the Video dept. continued to make money after theatrical died out.
PN: Did you enjoy filming the sequels as much as the original?
RETURN TO FROGTOWN was a feeling of real accomplishment for me. I wrote the script in 13 hours and we shot it scene for scene and word for word as written. Tanya York put a goofy line producer in charge of the production and we were often at odds. He wasn't a creative guy and was looking to make himself look good by trying to save money in areas that backfired on him. It was a fight, but I got 75% of what I wanted on the screen. On the first movie, I'd say I got 50% of what I envisioned. Part 3 was shot on DV. TOAD WARRIOR is completely crazy, but I had a lot of fun. We're thinking about putting it out ourselves as a special collector's item.
PN: Why did we never get to actually see the "Dance of the 3 Snakes"?
One of those deals where the production wasn't properly scheduled and we ran out of time to film more of the dance scene. Plus Sandahl Bergman wasn't really into making it as erotic as originally conceived. It probably plays best left to the imagination.
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