By James Kim
Max Hell Frog Warrior holds a unique place in cult film history. It is both loved and hated, revered and shunned, praised and harshly criticized. There have been reviews, critiques, analysis and evaluations. It has been shown in movie theaters in Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia, it has played at film festival in the U.S., the U.K., Russia, Ukraine, and Australia. There have been countless showings of the movie in screening rooms and at makeshift backyard and bar film events. It has been bootlegged and released via a stolen Beta Master. It has been illegally downloaded thousands of times from offshore websites. There have been articles written about the film. It has been referenced in numerous books and publications. It was even mentioned on the HBO television series The Newsroom. There has been gossip, misnomers and lies told about the film, the filmmakers and the filmmaking process used in the film’s creation. The one thing that no one has done in the twenty years since this film was created is to talk to the last remaining filmmaker of Max Hell Frog Warrior, Scott Shaw about what truly happened during the creation of this movie.
Max Hell Frog Warrior was initially released in its original edit form as Toad Warrior. It was later reedited, retitled and rereleased. The focus of this interview will be to hopefully remove some of the speculation and misconceptions about this film and get to the bottom of what actually took place throughout the entire creation of this movie. I hope to present the truth and remove the fiction from the facts about Max Hell Frog Warrior.
Nice to meet you Dr. Shaw.
Great to meet you and please call me Scott. I’m not a formal sort of guy.
Okay Scott. You know why I’m here. I want to talk to you about Max Hell Frog Warrior.
That’s what I think too. Why has nobody ever interviewed you about this film?
Truthfully I don’t know. Everybody asks me about The Roller Blade Seven, Guns of El Chupacabra, Undercover X, Vampire Blvd., Killer Dead or Alive, Vampire Noir, the Rock n’ Roll Cops and movies like that. I know people talk about this movie a lot but no one ever asks me anything.
I have seen a lot of things written about Max Hell Frog Warrior on the web. Have you seen any of that?
Yeah, I’ve seen some. I’m really not one of those people who wastes my time on the internet seeking out that kind of stuff. I’m really too busy. I’m all about creating new things, not about reading what someone thinks about stuff I’ve created in the past. But some of the stuff has been brought to my attention.
Is it correct?
Mostly what I’ve seen out there are a lot of people’s opinions. As they are people’s opinions, I guess from that point of view they are true. But nobody has asked me. Nobody asked Don. All people do is see the movie, think they know what’s going on and talk about it. From that point of view nobody understands anything about what really took place in the creation of this film and this has been going on for a very long time. I mean we finished Toad Warrior in 1996. That’s twenty years ago. Before it was ever released I sent a screening copy of it to a friend of mine who ran a magazine and he gave it to one of his reviewers. The guy wrote a review and tore the movie apart saying that we were trying to make a copy of Hell Comes to Frogtown. The guy was so stupid that he said we were using cheap imitation Frogtown masks. But those were the same masks actually used in Hell Comes to Frogtown! He tore up the directing making a bunch of insulting comments. The guy didn’t even know that Maximo T. Bird was Donald G. Jackson, the creator of Hell Comes to Frogtown. How stupid is that?
Did that review bother you?
No. It made me laugh. It really pissed Don off though. I mean the guy did compare me to a low budget Kurt Russell. So that made me smile. The thing is I don’t really care about reviews. Love it, hate it, that’s your choice. The thing I don’t like is when someone presents their opinion as fact when their fact is wrong.
Has that happened a lot with this film?
Oh yeah. On the internet people can say anything they want. True or false they don’t even care. The sad thing is people have come to believe that people’s opinions are the truth and just because somebody is saying something it must be true. I think that’s really sad. Before you believe anything, find out the facts.
Yes, I agree with you. Do you think bad reviews have hurt Max Hell Frog Warrior?
I don’t know about that. In some cases, I think people watch a film like Max Hell Frog Warrior because of the bad reviews.
Why do you think some reviewers attack a film like Max Hell Frog Warrior?
Who knows? People do what they do for any number of personal reasons. What I do think is that before anybody becomes a film reviewer they should get out there and actually create their own film, which takes a lot of time and energy. Then they should go through the process to find distribution for it and see how they feel when people tear it apart. Talking about a film is easy, creating one is very hard. If someone has never actually made a movie they have no idea about what is involved so they shouldn’t be saying anything unless they have walked down that road. Moreover, I believe that you have to look at a person’s motivation for reviewing anything at all. You have to ask why are they doing it? In the case of reviewing films on the internet it is usually that they are trying to make a name for themselves without actually doing anything. My opinion is everybody has an opinion but your opinion only matters if it adds to the greater good. Telling people your opinion means nothing unless it makes everything better. Negativity only equals negativity, just as positivity only equals positivity.
Not really. It’s just common sense.
Let’s get to the inception of the movie.
Why did you decide to make this movie?
That was actually kind of a long process. I hadn’t seen Don for a few years after we finished Roller Blade Seven. I got pretty screwed over during the making of that film. In fact, the very first thing Don said to me when he got into my car when I drove him to the hospitable shortly before he died was, I’m really sorry about what happened to you with Roller Blade Seven.
If I can interrupt. What happened?
It was basically a financial thing. Don got paid a lot. I got paid zero for all of my time and involvement with that film and in many ways I did way more than Don.
If I can interrupt again?
Sure. This is your show.
I understand your books gave words to the dialogue and you did the acting, editing and the music.
Yes. All that and a lot more.
What actually happened?
Well, the executive producer totally cheated me, broke our contracts, reedited the film for U.S. release, pulled my screen credits, and the list goes on. But Don continued to work with her and get financed by her after we finished Roller Blade Seven. So it was basically a backstabbing sort of thing. I walked away from that film beyond broke after not getting paid of months. Someday I’m going to write a book about the Roller Blade Seven and I’ll tell the whole story as so many things took place during the filming of that movie both good and bad.
That’s nice he apologized. It must have been on his mind for all those years.
Yeah, I guess. But by then I was so over it. Had he apologized ten years earlier it probably would have mattered more to me but by that point it didn’t really mean anything anymore.
So what brought you two back together?
Don called me out of nowhere. He had continued to make films. I had continued to make films. The thing was I had pretty much given up on acting and I didn’t want to do it anymore. My plan was to get fat and just produce and direct movies.
Get fat. That’s a strange desire.
Yeah, I guess it is. For me it was just a way to put out to the world the new and different space I was living in. I wanted to be seen differently.
What happened when Don called you?
We set up a meet and he immediately threw out to me that he wanted to make another film with me as the star. I gave in.
Why do you think Don called you out of the blue?
I don’t realize it then but I think what it was is that he found out he only had a few more years to live as he was dying from leukemia. He remembered how well we worked together and that I was one of those people who gets things done. I think he wanted to leave a legacy and without someone like me that wasn’t going to happen.
Don was one of those guys who had a million great ideas but he couldn’t get things done. He would start something and never finish it. He had to pay a lot of people big money or all his projects would just fall away. The fact is, that’s why so many more of his films were released after he died than while he was alive. When he was on his death bed he finally gave me all of the footage and I completed the films for him. The truth be told without me all of Don’s films and his legacy would have been lost.
How did you two come up with Max Hell Frog Warrior?
That’s a complicated and long story. It really took us quite a while. Once we decided to work together again we toyed with several ideas. The main focus was we hoped to rekindle what we had achieved with Roller Blade Seven because by that point in time that film was already a big cult hit in Europe. We were getting fan letters and later emails all the time. There were several ideas we played around with but we finally decided upon a film called Hell Comes to Hog Town.
What was the story?
Basically I was going to ride in on my Harley with an electric guitar over my shoulder and do battle with the bad guy who was referred to as The Hog. There was going to be a lot of music, me playing guitar, fighting, etc.
Why did you change your minds?
We realized that it was just going to be too hard to do. Too Big. We wanted motorcycle gangs, bands to be playing in an old western town and stuff like that. All that would cost a lot of money. A lot of money we didn’t have.
It was budget that had you make a smaller film?
Yeah, I guess you can say that.
So what caused you to focus on Frogtown?
Don never liked the previous two Frogtown films he made. His creative control had been taken away from him on both of them. One day it was like an epiphany we just decided to make Frogtown the way we made Roller Blade Seven, no script, just go out and do what we do. Keep the whole process really simply and really pure.
Once you decided on the film you were going to make how did you cast it?
We had our offices in North Hollywood. We put out casting notices and did all that traditional nonsense. We found a few good people. We also knew we wanted to work with Joe Estevez and Jill Kelly. Don brought in a couple of girls he had worked with previously and I brought in Roger Ellis who had been in Roller Blade Seven but I had used him in much bigger roles in Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell and Samurai Johnny Frankenstein. I wanted my friend Ken Kim to be in the film as well. He was also in RB7 and we had made a couple of films together since then but he came in one day right before we started shooting and remembered how much he hated Don and walked out.
Why did he hate Don?
Don rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. He really messed with people. He made a lot of enemies. Basically he was a complete asshole unless he liked you, feared you or wanted something from you. A total power tripper.
Which one of those were you?
I guess a little of all three.
It sounds like you two had a crazy relationship.
To put it mildly.
Did you pay your actors?
Oh sure. Joe and Jill were professionals so they had their established day rates. The rest of the cast varied but the average was about $100.00 per day plus food and gas and that kind of stuff.
Did you get paid this time?
Oh yeah. I had learned by lesson.
When you started filming did you have a script?
Did you have any idea what you were going to do when you started shooting?
Not really. We just knew that we were going to start the shoot and lay the foundations for the film at our offices. We had the whole second floor of a building so we put together some makeshift sets.
How do you work? I have read a lot about Zen Filmmaking but can you tell me about the process?
The main thing to know is to never hold yourself to a preconceived notion. Just let it flow. If you have an idea, great. If you have no idea, great. Just do it. Get it done. Start out, get the cast doing what they are doing and let whatever happens be captured on film.
That is really mindboggling. How you make movies with no idea about what you are going to do?
Is it mindboggling? Think about this, how many bad movies have you seen? I’m not just talking low budget, I’m talking high budget as well. Everyone of those movies had an idea. The filmmakers knew what they wanted, had a script and tried to get what they had in their mind on film. Maybe they tried and tried again. You hear stories of people shooting thousands of feet of footage just to get one scene the way they want it. I remember Dennis Hopper talking about working with Francis Ford Coppola on Apocalypse Now. He said Coppola shot as much footage trying to get the first scene with Hopper as Hopper had used in making the entire film Easy Rider. Apocalypse Now is a great film but do you need to go to that extreme? I don’t think so. Yes, you can make each scene as good as you can make it. But it is only going to be as good as it is going to be. Free yourself and art takes hold and the magic takes over.
What do you mean by magic?
For example, in the opening scene of Max Hell where my character flies in on an ultralight, we had no idea we were going to do that. We just drove out to the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed with our cast and crew planning to film. When we got there we saw this couple with their ultralights and we asked them if we could use them. They said yes and the rest is history. That ultralight scene really added a big beginning to the film and we had no idea that we were going to do that.
That is magic.
Yes it is. That’s Zen Filmmaking.
What was your crew like?
There was Don and me. He shot most of the film, I shot some of it and we had another great cameraman Jonathan Quade. We had a few production assistants and that was pretty much it.
What kind of equipment did you use?
We started out filming with a Canon L1. That’s a Hi8 camera. The DV revolution hit right about the time we were making the movie so we bought a Sony VX1000. Our mic was a Sennheiser ME66. In terms of lighting that’s kind of an interesting story. On the first day of the shoot I went to my storage unit to pick up my lights. When I got there I found that someone had cut a hole through the wall of the storage unit next to mine and had stolen all of my lights, my c-stands, my extension cords and a bunch of my amps and guitar equipment. So we ended up shooting most of the movie with available light. We did have two very low end Smith Victor photofloods that Don owned and a couple of his minicool lights for the outdoor night shots.
That was it?
That was it.
That’s impressive what you captured with that limited amount of equipment.
You gotta know what you’re doing, then the doing is easy.
In terms of actors, with no script how did you do the character development for the movie?
It’s really very simply, we let people be who they are. If they have an idea for a character that will play into the film, we use it. Most newbie actors need more guidance so we give it to them. We had a bunch of wardrobe so if someone needed something, we suited them up.
Was there a reason that you didn’t have the people who played the frogs fully covered in frog costumes? You can see their hands in some of the scenes.
That’s funny you say that. Fred Olin Ray said the exact same thing when he saw the film. It was just one of those things, we did what we did. Suspension of belief that’s what going to the movies is all about, isn’t it? Let the audience slip into the realms of the abstract. In a movie like Max Hell Frog Warrior why do the frogs need to be completely frogged out anyway?
I know everybody asks you this but when you have no script how do your actors know what to say?
As the years have gone on I now only work with people who are great at improv. but back then if someone didn’t know what to say Don or I would feed them their lines. They would say it and we would shoot it a few times until they got it right and we felt the camera captured the scene correctly and that was that.
Did you tell Joe Estevez what to say?
Not really. Joe’s a great talker. He’s a great improvisational actor. You just give him a little direction and he runs with it. Same with Roger Ellis. Another great talker.
With no script did you know where you were going to shoot?
Yeah, of course. We wanted to reference some of the locations we used in Roller Blade Seven plus add a lot of new locations we had discovered. When we were planning to shoot exteriors we always had a destination in mine but sometimes we would find new places en route.
How did you come up with your character Max Hell?
Don and I had talked about it and we really wanted to bring back some of the essence from Roller Blade Seven. I still had the rollerblade elbow and knee pads from RB7. I had a black suit and a sword. My character was born.
If you wanted to reference Roller Blade Seven, why wasn’t Donald G. Jackson in the film?
He didn’t want to be.
How many days did it take you to film the whole movie?
It actually went on for a few months. We would meet at our offices everyday around 11:00 AM and do what needed to be done. We continued to do casting sessions, we had lunch, drank beers with our friends, went to other people’s sets, hung out with other filmmakers, scouted locations, and went out to music clubs at night. We filmed when we felt like filming.
So you were not like a formal movie production team?
Yes and no. The number one rule of Zen Filmmaking is that fun is what it’s all about. So our main focus was fun while make a movie in the process. The thing to understand is the minute Don and I started working together again it wasn’t just about Max Hell Frog Warrior. Though that was the first movie on the schedule we immediately began to make several more films as well. Hand in hand with Max Hell we laid the foundations for and began filming Shotgun Blvd., which later became Armageddon Blvd., Ghost Taxi and several others.
Let’s go scene by scene and talk about the film.
In the opening scene Jill Kelly is running from the frogs. How did that scene come about?
It was just a thought we came up with in the moment. We got out to El Mirage very early in the morning. We did the ultralight scene and then we needed to introduce Jill’s character. There has to be tension in every film so it was an obvious choice that Jill had to be chased by the frogs. We needed to set the storyline in motion so we had them take something from her, the frog serum.
During that scene is where you first introduce martial arts into the movie. Did you choreograph that?
No, not really. That was just a spur of the moment thing. That was the thing with Don as the cinematographer, he would become so obsessed with filming certain scenes over and over again. I document his cinematographic OCD in the Zen Documentary Cinematografia Obsesion. For scenes like fight scenes he just didn’t care. So there was only like two quick takes of each kick. As an editor that kind of stuff really drove me nuts. One of things that did happen when I was kicking a frog with a jumping side kick is that Jill was standing right there to be in the shot and due to the lack of any forethought my sword smacked her right in the teeth. She had just gotten her teeth caped so she was obviously a bit worried but luckily no damage was done. She was way nicer about that than she should have been.
After the frogs gets away you and Jill Kelly get into a truck and ride off. What was the inspiration for that scene?
No real inspiration. Just Zen Filmmaking. One of our people on the set had the truck. It just happened. The guy wasn’t a professional actor, he just had a good look and a cool old truck. I had to feed him every line over and over again. He was so nervous he couldn’t remember anything. I sat in the bed of his truck with the rear window open and told him what to say one sentence at at time. Jill was fine. She’s a pro.
You had a fight scene in the back of that truck. Was that frog a stunt man?
No. He was actually a production assistant. Nice guy. All he cared about was getting paid his $100.00 cash at the end of every day and he would happily do anything. He actually was a frog in several scenes throughout the film.
After those introductory scenes you started to introduce other characters into the film. Tell me about the early Joe Estevez scenes.
We actually shot the stuff with Joe and Humphrey Bullfrog on the first day of production. Joe’s a great actor. We pared him with a girl named Sandra Purpuro who played the character Cricket. Her and her boyfriend had just moved to L.A. from New York and were looking for some roles. We had cast them through Dramalogue. I think we cast them that same day. They were both very talented actors. Sandra went on to have a great career.
How did you set up the scenes on that fist day of shooting?
Totally off the cuff. We started with the Bullfrog character and then built on the storyline with Joe.
How did you come up with the name Mickey O’Malley for Joe’s character?
That was totally Joe. Don actually hated that name but he didn’t want to offend Joe so he just let it ride.
I too thought that was a strange name for the character. Who is the crazy guy in those scenes with Joe Estevez speaking Japanese?
He’s a great guy from Japan named Tom Tom Typhoon. Whatever happened to him I have no idea. Don had met him at a casting sessions a little bit before we had started working together again and he pulled him onto the film.
Did you tell him to be that dynamic?
Oh yeah. You know he spoke some English but he didn’t speak it very well so his character speaking in Japanese was the obvious choice. I communicated with him in Japanese. But he was just one of those great guy who could really take that style of insane character to the limit and really sell it. I kept telling him bigger, bigger. He went bigger.
In the progression of the film, after those initial scenes you start to introduce other characters into the movie. One of the first things I notice is that in Toad Warrior there is a scene in a laboratory with a woman talking about the fog concoction. In Max Hell Frog Warrior that scene is all but gone. Why is that?
To tell you that story I’m going to have to take you away from your scene by scene analysis a little bit. I never edited Toad Warrior. I had gone to Thailand to prepare for a documentary I was going to shoot in Cambodia. The film needed to be done so Don gave the editing to his friend named Chris Roth. Chris is a great guy and a professional editor. The thing is, both Don and I never really like the final cut of the film. It was a little too normal for our tastes. In fact, one of the documentaries I did about Don shortly before he died shows Chris in Don’s office and they are talking about the editing process for the film. Don was saying that I should probably reedit the movie. Chris said if I did that it probably wouldn’t make much sense. Don said that’s probably better. That’s the mindset Don and I came from. Though Chris did a great job of making sense out of the footage when there was no script and he also did a good job of trying to reference some of the editing elements of Roller Blade Seven in the movie but he just approached the editing from a different state of mind than Don and me. He came at it from a mindset of formula and normality. Don and I liked the abstract. To answer your question, I didn’t like that scene so it was gone.
But you did edit Max Hell Frog Warrior?
Yes and no. What I did was to go back into movie take out some scenes, add a few more, and shorten or elongate others. I never actually started from scratch for the edit that became Max Hell Frog Warrior.
I have read that you plan to reedit the entire movie at some point.
Yes. That’s true. The fact is over the past ten or fifteen years I have started to do that three or four times. I get maybe thirty minutes into the film and stop. Then I eventually dump it.
I don’t really have an answer. There is so much great footage that wasn’t used in the original edit that really should be. I need to do it but for some reason something has stopped me. Hopefully someday I’ll do it.
Where did you film that laboratory scene?
That was at the home of one of our actresses. The blonde girl Elizabeth Mayer. Her character’s name was Dr. Trixi T. She’s a great actress and a really nice person. She also a great musician.
Though this is jumping forward a little bit there was a great scene with her and Joe Estevez where they break into a dance and do the hooky pokey.
Yeah, that’s a scene I really don’t like. It’s just humor for humor sake. I hate that kind of stuff.
If you don’t like it how did a scene like that come about?
That’s the problem when you let actors step away and develop their own story ideas. I don’t really let that happen on my sets anymore. I maintain story control. Back then it was different and it was Joe Estevez. We always gave him the benefit of the doubt. Who knew Elizabeth and Joe would come up with that? He was Joe so we let the cameras run and that’s what we came away with.
I think I need to explain something here and this is all part and parcel with the evolution of Zen Filmmaking. Back then we did that. We needed filmed footage as our movies had to be a minimum of 82 minutes to get international distribution. Now I don’t care. I own my own distribution company and I make film art the way I see film art. A full length feature or a short film, it just is what it is. I let it become what it becomes. I just let it be perfect onto itself. Yes, my films are based on improv. But it is guided improv. As long as I like what’s going on I let the actors run with it. If I don’t like it then I stop the scene and readjust the flow and the direction.
Trixie T. also has a fight with another actress over your character when they are in a jail cell.
Yes. That was a scene she did with Camille Solari. Another great actress. See there’s an example of how the two girls went off and created what they created all on their own and it worked great. No direction needed. So as you see, when that style of unguided improv. takes place it can go either direction. It can work or maybe it doesn’t.
One of the other main charters in the film is Overload War Toad.
Yeah, that was Roger Ellis.
That is really a strange name. How did you come up with that character?
It was combination of letting an actor be who they are and then giving them just a bit of direction. We choose the name and Roger ran with it. Roger was a West Point grad who rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, retired, got into the Native American movement, grew his hair long, and came to Hollywood to be an actor.
Yeah it is. But that’s the story I was told.
Did you give him his dialogue?
Some. But like I said before he was one of those guys who was just a great talker.
Speaking of talking. He has a female sidekick in the film who keeps trying to talk but he continues to tell her to be silent. What is that about?
That was just a little inside joke. In acting everybody wants to talk. They think that’s what acting is all about. But real acting is far more than that. This was Don and my way of telling the actors to just shut up and be. I think those scenes play really well.
On the set you called the Bridge of Broken Dreams your character also keeps a girl from talking.
Yeah, same deal. That’s the thing when you make a Zen Film. You can get the scene while having fun and adding a little philosophic commentary to it.
Tell me about your scenes with Conrad Brooks. He was in Plan 9 from Outer Space wasn’t he?
Yeah he was. Conrad is a great guy. Love him. He’s one of those guys that comes out of a different era in acting where the acting was really big. It’s great. I love that style of what some would now call overacting. We tried to reference that style of acting in Roller Blade Seven.
How did you meet him and start working with him?
Conrad’s career had been stagnant for many years after the passing of Ed Wood. I think it was Fred Ray who pulled him back into the game and then his career really took off. I mean he’s done a million movies. I think Don met him through Fred. Conrad used to say that his comeback happened a little too late as his face had gone. Meaning he had gotten old. But at least he had a great comeback as so many people do not. He’s still going strong in his 80s.
In one scene with him you had the same creature character that was in Rollergator.
That’s true. Conrad was one of the stars of that movie. In fact, he played the same character that he was in Rollergator, the Swamp Farmer.
Why did you bring his character back and put it in Max Hell Frog Warrior?
It’s a movie about amphibians isn’t it? The truth is we wanted to do something with Conrad and it was just a natural choice.
You do an outside scene with Conrad Brooks where you encounter two frogs. They latter go off and then they transition between frogs and two pretty girls. How did you come up with that?
Kind of by accident. We wanted the frogs to do some dialogue but when they were inside the masks their dialogue was really muddy. So initially we had them take off their masks and do their dialogue so it would be clear when we mixed the soundtrack. But then all of a sudden we had the realization that we have two beautiful young girls let’s have them transition between frogs and who they really were. I think it worked really well.
That’s Zen Filmmaking?
That’s Zen Filmmaking.
You also have some interactions with a frog on a motorcycle in a couple of scenes. How did that come about?
Actually that’s two different people on two different motorcycles. The first one we shot the same day as we did the outdoor scene with Conrad. We just saw a guy ridding his motorcycle along the path we were on and we went up to him. He completely freaked out when he saw people in frog masks. We were shooting in the area of L.A. known as Frogtown. Right there by the L.A. River. There is a serious gang over there called Frogtown. He thought we were with that crew. When he found out we were just shooting a movie and when we gave him $100.00 to put on a frog mask, ride his bike, and let Max Hell talk to him, he was all good. The second one is kind of a more interesting story. We were casting and this girl came by and told us she was a major motocross rider. She said she had a bike and all of the equipment. We immediately wanted her for the film thinking we could do all kinds of things with that character. We had her meet us up at the dirt road section of Mulholland Hwy. She arrived on her bike wearing all her gear. But the minute we started filming she fell off. We started filming again and she fell off again. This time breaking her clutch lever. We realized she had a bike and all the gear but she didn’t know how to ride and this was way too dangerous for us if she got hurt. As I’m a rider we decided it was better if I asked her to borrow her bike and then we filmed me riding it. We didn’t want to waste the shot or the fact that we had her bike on set.
What happened to her?
After that we never saw her again.
You did have a lot of interesting exterior locations in the movie. How did you find them and did you have to pay to shoot at them?
We would find them just by looking. Pretty much anywhere you live there are interesting locations if you keep your eyes open and seek them out. In terms of payment, no we never paid to shoot at any of them. We just showed up and shot the scenes. It’s not really in the rules of Zen Filmmaking but it probably should be, no filming permits, no location rentals.
Let’s talk about a couple of the recurring scenes throughout the film.
In three different screens you have the same interaction with three different girls where they kiss you and say they’ve been hurt. How did that come about?
Just Zen. We actually did the interior shot of that scene first and I really didn’t like it. I thought we wouldn’t use it. So we did it again later, outdoors with Camille. A bit later in the filming we needed a scene to do with an actress Robin Kimberly and I was really tired. I had been up partying all night the night before and it was getting late in the day. I just grabbed at something to do. So we shot it again. At the time I figured when we put the movie together we would choose between one of the three. It was actually Chris when he was editing Toad Warrior that he put all three of the scenes in the film. I thought that was genius.
There are also several times in the movie where you face off with an opponent and you charge at each other with swords on top of a hilltop at sunset. Why was that scene used multiple times?
First of all, check it out, that is not always the same scene used over and over again. There were several takes of that scene. That’s the thing about Zen Filmmaking there is always tons of subtle elements that you really need to look for if you hope to truly understand the movie. In terms of why we filmed that scene it was a combination of a tribute to Kurosawa and a throwback to Roller Blade Seven where we have that great scene where my character charges towards the ninja and once I cut him he spurts all that blood high into the air. The reason why the scene is used multiple times is that it was a great transitional element between other scenes.
There is the scene where Sergeant Shiva interrogates a frog and then two of your female costars. Where was that scene filmed and what made it come about?
The cameraman I mentioned Jonathan Quade had a studio set up in his garage. That’s where the scenes were filmed. Sergeant Shiva was an actor named Kent Dalian. He was the boyfriend of Sandra Purpuro that I mentions earlier. In terms of dialogue we just gave him a bit of direction and let him run with it. He was another great actor.
Where did the comments about your mother come from when he asks Agent Banner about where she got the information?
When I grew up it was one of those ongoing jokes to insult a person’s mother. It just came out of nowhere. They were just looking for an exchange of dialogue and I gave that to them and they ran with it. That’s a great and very amusing exchange I think.
I notice that the three primary female leads in the film are named Agent Star, Agent Spangle and Agent Banner. How did that come about?
The star spangled banner. That’s pretty obvious.
Does that have a meaning?
The star spangled banner, man. Don’t you love America?
When your character breaks the girls out of their captivity you get into a car. I think it was a Porsche. How does that tie into the storyline? Isn’t this movie set after the apocalypse?
Yeah. That’s my baby, a 1964 Porsche 356 SC. To your question, why do things have to make sense? This is Zen Filmmaking. Things don’t have make sense. A scene just has to be whole and complete onto itself. People really need to stop thinking so hard when they see a Zen Film. Just let it happen. Just let it be what it is.
I have one more question about your scenes. It’s about the spanking scene. In Toad Warrior it’s just a quick flash. In Max Hell Frog Warrior, it’s much longer. Why is that?
That’s a fun scene don’t you think? Robin Kimberly was a great sport, really fun to work with. Great girl. When Chris edited the film I think he wanted to tone down on that kind of stuff. Make it more of a kid’s films. Me, I love presenting something that you don’t see in films everyday. That’s why when I went for the reedit I added most of the footage that we shot for that scene. It’s just for fun.
I would like to talk to you a little about what happened to this film after it was finished.
How was it originally released?
Don had a company that sold films that he created and that he purchased. It was called called Donald G. Jackson and Company. I always thought that was a little bit vain. Anyway, back then the internet was not the primary source for independent film distribution as it is today. You had to go to formal functions like the American Film Market. Back then it was a major event held once a year. People came from all over the world. If you made independent films you’d paid a lot of money to rent a room at the hotel on the beach in Santa Monica where it was held. The buyers would come, see what you had and maybe buy the rights to one of your movies for distribution in their country. As I told you Don and I never really liked the final edit for Toad Warrior so it was for sale but we weren’t really pushing it. We got a lot of offers but we only took the ones for theatrically only release in Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The market came and went. Don took all of the money we made from Toad Warrior and our other films and spent it on himself almost immediately. Again, he screwed me over financially and that was that.
He sounds like a real jerk.
Yeah, he could be.
Then what happened?
We buried the movie and went off and did other things. A few years passed, Don got sicker and sicker. I had reedited the film down to a Zen Speed Flick called Max Hell Comes to Frogtown.
What’s a Zen Speed Flick?
Basically taking a movie down to its most essential elements. Don loved it. He wanted me to get back into the footage and redo the whole film but it never happened before he died. As we talked about it still hasn’t happened. Though I did do the reedit of Toad Warrior into Max Hell Frog Warrior and that was the one I wanted released.
When was Max Hell Frog Warrior released?
In the late 1990s. It first came out on video tape. Remember those? Then the DVD revolution hit and it was released on DVD and later via download.
You never planned to release Toad Warrior?
No. But then somebody somehow got a hold of a Beta Master and released it on a compilation DVD.
Did you have to sue that company?
No. They were very cool about it. After I contacted them and they found out that I had the copyright and that I owned all the rights, title and interest to the film they took it off the market. But the damage had been done. It was out there.
You released Toad Warrior as well?
What else could I do? I don’t like the cut. Don didn’t like the cut. But to kept that unauthorized version from being the only version of Toad Warrior out there I had to release the authorized version.
I know there has been a lot of websites offering Max Hell Frog Warrior for free download? They are not authorized to do so, are they?
Nope. That’s the nature of the world everybody wants to make money off of the creations of other people. Personally, I think it’s really sad. I mean I certainly realize that everybody wants everything for free these days and they make all kinds of excuses and justifications to themselves for why they should get it. But the fact is the big studio make major dollars off of their films, independent filmmakers like myself do not. When people download movies off of these free sites they really are hurting the independent film creators. I know nobody cares but that is the fact.
Can’t you do anything about those companies?
Here’s the thing, I have always been an outspoken advocate about stopping copyright infringement and intellectual property theft. Some people don’t like my opinion but I believe if you are the actual creator of something, that you really care about, then you do understand. You care about your creation. If you are just somebody out there who doesn’t give a shit about other people or what happens to them as long as you get what you want for free then you obviously don’t care. Here’s the fact, if a person makes one cent off of using anything you created then they are in volition of international copyright laws. You can sue them and you will win. But these companies are all offshore. If they were in the U.S. you could go after them but how can you even find them? If they were in the U.S. the FBI would shut them down. The main thing for everybody to remember is that these supposedly free download companies are making money. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. They are just doing it by stealing the creations of others. So what are you going to do? You just have to believe in people and hope that they will make the right choices.
Max Hell Frog Warrior has remained one of the most talked about cult films. Did Max Hell Frog Warrior become all you hoped it would become?
That’s a hard question and you may not like the answer. Did we create what we hoped to create when we set out to make the movie. Yes, kind of. Did it become the movie I hoped it would become when we first began production? No. Do I like the movie? No, not really.
Oh my god that’s scary.
You asked. I answered.
In closing can you tell me any funny stories that occurred during the filming of Max Hell Frog Warrior?
Don and I generally had a lot of fun when we worked together. Could he be a self-centered jerk? As we talked about, yes he could. As I say there was always a price to pay in association with anything Don. But mostly we had a lot of fun. Overall the making of Max Hell was a fun process. I guess one story that comes to mind is that he used to love to set call times really early so we could catch the golden hour light when the sun came up in the morning. On one of those shoot days we met at the office at like 4:00 AM. We went to Camille Solari’s house to pick her up. It was cold and the heater in my Porsche didn’t work, plus it is a really small car. Don’s car wasn’t running well so we decided to take Camille’s car. It was really early, she hadn’t gotten much sleep, and she asked if Don would drive so she could sleep in the backseat. We took off to pick up Jill at her house in Simi Valley. We’re driving along on this windy road and Don falls asleep at the wheel and almost trashes the car. Camille obviously freaked out. Me, I’ve been so close to death so many times I thought it was funny as nothing actually happened. But Camille begged that I drive. Don didn’t want to let go of the wheel but he finally turned over the keys to me. We got to Jill’s house. Don nicely paid Camille her $100.00 and told her to go home and get some sleep. We got into Jill’s car and went out to the desert to film. I’ve never seen Camille again.
I don’t know if that was the kind of funny story I had hoped for but this has been a great interview.
Let me ask you one more question.
I have heard that you are going to film another Max Hell Frog Warrior movie. Is that true?
Yeah. I actually filmed most of it a couple of years ago. Some weird things started to happen in association with Max Hell Frog Warrior and I begin to question if I wanted to do another one as I had really begun to shift my focus to creating non-narrative Zen Films. So it’s basically there. It would just take a couple of more shots to finish it up. If I get the right inspiration I will probably finish it someday. If not, it can just be one of the mystical Zen Film lost in never never land that no one will ever see like Lingerie Kickboxer.
Thanks so much for this interview Scott.
Thanks for doing it. You wanted to know the truth about what took place and the kind of things that took place, I think you actually got it.
Yes, I did. Thank you.
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