Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Story of the Production

By Scott Shaw

FADE IN:

The Zen Film Toad Warrior, which became Max Hell Frog Warrior, was the third film that Donald G. Jackson and I completed as a filmmaking team. The first two were Roller Blade Seven and Return of the Roller Blade Seven. It is important to note that about a year ago a young journalism student contacted me and I did an extensive interview with him on the creation of Max Hell Frog Warrior titled, Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Facts and The Fiction. There is a lot of interesting information and insights into this film’s creation in that article. But, as we have well passed the twenty-year mark of the inception of Max Hell, I though I would take a few minutes and detail a bit more intimate information about this film’s ideology and its production facts as there is a lot of ongoing interest in this film and there remains a lot of questions and incorrect speculation about what actually took place during its creation.

The Roller Blade Seven

To begin with, Don and I had parted ways upon the completion of the Roller Blade Seven under less than ideal circumstances. The money had run out on the production budget before we were finished. Don being Don had squandered much of the budget and Don, as he tended to be, was very self-involved. Thus, any remaining money he kept for himself and to spend on his girlfriends. …He kept the money even though I did much of the work on RB7: casting, producing, acting, editing, soundtracking, plus most of the words spoken in the film(s) either came from or were influenced by two books I had authored: Essence: The Zen of Everything and Zen O’clock: Time to Be. But me, I walked away totally broke. In fact, I had to sell my 1930s D’Angelico New Yorker just to survive. That was a terrible loss that I have never been able to replace. (For the record that was one of the Masterpieces created by John D’Angelico himself and not one of the replicas that are on the market today). Plus, my ’64 Porsche 356 SC had blown its transmission and somebody had crashed into my Harley as I was driving it on La Brea in Hollywood; totaling it and injuring me. Thus, it was not a good time for me.

The fact is, I cannot discus the creation of Max Hell Frog Warrior without referencing Roller Blade Seven as the two have a very close correlation. Roller Blade Seven was a chaotic production. It didn’t have to be. But Don, being Don, made it so.

Have you ever had one of those life-experiences where someone is so based in a negative mindset that they bring out the worst in you? That happened to me, in association with Don, when we made RB7. This was amplified by the negative, petty actions of our Executive Producer. Though we made a great movie, that is still at the forefront of the Cult Film Hierarchy, it left my life a mess. The fact is, during production and post production both Don and I were constantly carrying Xanax with us as there was so much perpetuated anxiety associated with the production of that film. As I have stated in several places, though I have written an extended chapter about the creation of RB7, which is presented in my book Zen Filmmaking, I really want to write an entire book about the film as so much went on during production that understanding the process may truly help other independent filmmakers overcome obstacles and allow everyone to come to a better understanding about human consciousness.

One of the essential things to note is that when Don asked me to come on-board and make RB7 with him, the production was scheduled for one month. One month, I can handle that. So, when I showed up at our production offices at the Hollywood Center Building on Hollywood Boulevard on the first day of pre-production I had no idea the months-upon-months that it would take to complete that movie and its sequel. Now, think about taking months out of your life while making no money. As I am a dedicated, one-pointed person who doesn’t give up, I did not leave the production. But, I did pay a very high price for my involvement with that film.

Moving On

By the end of Roller Blade Seven, I was ready to set out on my own and make my own films. As the video revolution had just hit and realizing I had the skillset to make it happen, I immediately went up on Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell upon the completion of RB7.  Don being Don, got jealous so he went off to work with Mark Williams who was both a part of the cast and the crew of RB7. Then, the Executive Producer of RB7, to play a petty little power trip, had me kicked out of our production offices and banned from the building. This, after she had already made thousands-upon-thousands of dollars on international sales of RB7 and Return of the Roller Blade Seven. Though Don and I occasionally communicated over the next few years, I did not have good feelings about him or the Executive Producer as they were both prospering off of my vision and my labor.

Then, in 1995, out of the blue Don contacted me via the Voice Mail system which was the main method of industry communication of the time. We all carried our pagers. He wanted to make another movie and he invited me to his production office in North Hollywood to talk about it. Though I had serious doubts about going, but as I had nothing else on my plate at the time, we set up a meet and I arrived.

To track backwards a bit… Don felt that Mark Williams, (a good guy), had gotten too dependent on the film financing Don had in place. Don hated people becoming dependent upon him. Though Mark was writing all of Don’s scripts at the time; including: Rollergator, Little Lost Sea Serpent, Baby Ghost, Pocket Ninjas, etc., Don fired Mark in a rage. (Just a note: Don was prone to rages). But, Don was one of those people who couldn’t work alone. So, he paid to have friends. As RB7 was already becoming a Cult Fan Favorite in Europe and as he remembered that we worked well together, he decided we should make make another movie and, thus, he contacted me.

When I arrived at the production office, I was surprised to see how old Don had become in just the couple of years since I had last seen him.  At the time, I didn’t know that he had been diagnosed with leukemia—which was probably one of his main reasons for contacting me, as he knew I got things done and he wanted to cement his filmmaking legacy and needed someone like me to do that. We spoke for a while, hung out over the next few days, and I finally reluctantly agree to make another movie with him. Keep in mind, I had a lot of trepidation about working with him again. But, we set up a weekly pay scale for me that was reasonable and we moved along.

Pre-Production

For the next few weeks we would meet at the office every day about eleven, scout locations, do casting sessions, hang out with other filmmakers, get drunk at lunch, go to private movie screenings, go and see obscure alt country and bluegrass bands in the evening, hit the occasional strip club, (scouting for talent), and do what industry folk do…

In terms of the pending production, we toyed with a few ideas prior to settling on Toad Warrior. The reason we finally decided to make Toad Warrior was that Don’s creative vision had been taken away from him on both Hell Comes to Frogtown and to a lessor degree on Return to Frogtown. He never really liked the finished films—though, at least at the time, Hell Comes to Frogtown was frequency playing on TV and that film had really cemented his career as a known filmmaker.  But, as he was never content with the two previous features, he always wanted to make a more free-flowing version of a film with Frogtown as the backdrop. Thus, Toad Warrior.

Though Don was linked into a company that was financing his films, so money was free-flowing, we decided to keep the production small. And, as we both considered Roller Blade Seven to be a true Zen Film Masterpiece, we hoped to re-invoke the essence of that film in what we were next to create.

Another factor to keep in mind about the inception of Toad Warrior was that by this point in my career I had begun to see myself more as a Producer and Director than an Actor. Don, however, wanted me to star in the film as Roller Blade Seven was already gaining Cult Classic status, plus he wanted to capitalize on my martial art notoriety of the time as I was in a lot of magazine, had a very successful Hapkido Video Tape Series on the market, my books were being published, etc… Thus, he suggested that we Co-Produce and Co-Direct the movie, while I star in the film. I agreed and we moved forward with this as our basis.

As RB7 was already a legacy for us, we wanted to invoke that film’s sensibilities. Thus, my character again wore a black suit, black shirt, and the elbow and knee pads from RB7—minus the skates, of course.

Production Begins

On the first day of actual production, which was a Saturday, we were scheduled to go up at about noon. We had the entire second floor of offices in a building on Lakershim Boulevard in North Hollywood so we decided to dress the offices and use them as sets to establish the initial character interactions. As for our actors, the first to be cast was Joe Estevez. Also cast was a friend of Don’s, (from the days when they both were working for Roger Corman), to play Humphrey Bullfrog, a couple of girls Don had previously worked with in films, (finished or not), a newly arrived couple from New Jersey who we had just met at a casting session via an ad we placed in Dramalogue the day before, and one or two other new faces.

The day of the shoot I got up, put on my black suit, and was preparing to go to my storage unit as that is where I kept all of my lighting equipment which I was going to bring to the set as Don only had a couple of cheap photofloods whereas I had a number of Fresnels, C-Stands, etc. As if a warning sign from the great beyond, the first thing that happened to me was I thought I had my keys in my pocket. I walked out of the door of my apartment, carrying some equipment down to my 356, but when I got to my car I realized it wasn’t my keys at all. Thus, I was locked out. A bit nervous about time, I went to find the manager of my building who was always in the office but she was not there. With a bit of freak-out running through my veins, I went on a quest to find her and finally located her in her apartment. She got the pass key, let me in, I got my keys, loaded my stuff, and was on my way. I get to my storage unit but the moment I opened the door I realized somebody had broken in. Someone had rented the storage unit next to mine and had cut a hole through the wall. They stole all of my lighting equipment, all of my costuming, my first guitar, my power tools, and a lot of guitar and amp parts and accessories I kept in the unit. I was upset to say the least…

With the police report made, I sped to the set. Living in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, I was quite a distance from North Hollywood. As I was driving towards the freeway onramp, I see the train gates up ahead going down.  Damn!  It seemed like the very long train took forever to pass. Again, a sign?

In the interim of waiting for the train, I called Don on my large flip phone and used some of the very expensive cellular minutes of the day to leave him a message on his Voice Mail and tell him of the situation.

As I sat there waiting for the train to pass, me, I really felt like I had failed. Though the theft was obviously not my fault, it made me feel like a liar as I could not bring my lights.  And, as a person who is always very punctual, being late made my adrenalin serge. It was starting all over again, the craziness of Roller Blade Seven…  I thought to just call it quits and walk away… I still, to this day, wonder if that was the life-course I should have taken? But, I drove on…

On the Set

By the time I finally got to the offices, a lot had already been accomplished. Don had brought in a camera guy, Jonathan Quade, that he had previously worked with. Jonathan was actually a gaffer in the big budget industry but he did a great job of set design, lighting, and low budget camera work. (We went onto work with him on a number of films). He, in association with a Production Assistant, had already created the set where Joe Estevez’s character is revealed with the parachute covering the walls. But, with my lights stolen, all we had to light the set with was Don’s two photofloods.

Most of the cast was wandering around the offices as Jonathan, the PA, and I continued the staging. Don sat in his office, as he liked to do, talking on the phone, joking with the girls, and generally screwing around. Finally, Joe arrives and we get underway.

We took Joe to the set where he was to be seated upon his thrown. Don asks him what he wanted to use as a character name. Joe suggested Mickey O’Malley, as he saw the green, thought of frogs, and wanted to reference his Irish roots. Don immediately hated the name. But, Don being Don, he didn’t say anything. Me, I also saw the problem… We had hoped Joe to be a very fierce and domineering character. But, with a name like that…

Taking a Turn for the Worst

There is a point in every film where if you are an observant filmmaker you can take note of where the film all falls into place or where it all goes awry. This was that moment in Toad Warrior… Joe deciding on his name and Don or I not wanting to force a change. Thus, the production took a wrong turn that it never recovered from. This, before the first scene was ever shot.

…That’s the problem when you are working with someone you really like and who is a really good guy like Joe—you don’t want to come off as harsh or condescending. You want to keep them happy.

In any case, the first scene(s) to be shot were Joe interacting with the character Cricket AKA Sandra Purpuro, (the newly arrived actress from New Jersey). We immediately realized that she was a very good actress. In fact, immediately after Toad Warrior she moved onto having a very successful acting career.

We also added a couple of adult film starlets to the scene to give it some depth.

The Hierarchy

I was a bit in question about how Don was going to react to my co-directing the scenes as this was the first time we worked together in that manner. Though I obviously had a lot to say during the filming of RB7, I never felt like I was the director and I never crossed Don’s boundaries. But, he was totally cool. The thing to note about Don, as a director, is that he never really directed the talent. He just let them do whatever they wanted to do and say whatever they wanted to say—the way they wanted to say it. Me, on the other hand, I think natural inspiration is great but you need to give guidance to the actors, at certain points, so the storyline will stay on track. That’s what I did…

We shot the scenes with Cricket and Joe. We then brought in his two minions: the boyfriend from New Jersey (Kent Dalian) and a Japanese actor, Tom Tom Typhoon. Don wanted the Japanese guy to communicate in English but as I speak Japanese I directed him to speak in his native language as he spoke very poor English. When you see him totally going off at Joe, that was totally his idea. He really got the essence of Zen Filmmaking and took it to the next, necessary level. Joe’s reactions to him are great. Those are probably some of the best scenes in the film.

We then went and did the Humphrey Bullfrog stuff which I just do not like. That character and those scenes were developed by Don and his friend. They are just stupid and they don’t play well. Again, within the first few hours of filming, Toad Warrior was set on a wayward course.

As evening was coming on, we decided to go to this nearby park that is linked to an overpass above the 170 freeway. There, we filmed the park fight scenes and the various characters crossing the bridge. While we were filming, we left the Production Assistant to create additional sets in the offices.

Returning, we then filmed the scene where the two girls are in jail: Agent Banner (Camille Solari) and Dr. Trixi T. (Elizabeth Mehr). This set was actually just an enclosed deck outside of one of the office windows. I thought they did a great job constructing that whole dialogue driven scene. And, they did it with no guidance. They were both talented actresses.

After that, we filmed my character’s interaction with Joe. We then brought in Selina Jayne, (the Spirit Guide from RB7), who I had remained friends with, to do a Fortune Teller thing with Joe. Though I love Selina and Joe, that scene just did not work. Then, Joe goes into the scene where he does the hokey-pokey with the one actress portraying Dr. Trixie T. Terrible! Terrible! Terrible! So bad, I could not even watch it being filmed. Though, for the record, it was totally improved.

We then filmed the scene with the girl singing in the club where my character gets a drink thrown in his face. That club scene was set up in the waiting room of our offices.

We finished that evening by doing the inner-office fight scenes where my character and the actress playing Agent Banner fights a couple of frogs.

Calculating the Consequences

If you look at the amount of scenes filmed in just one afternoon and evening, and if you know the film, you will understand that a good portion of Toad Warrior was actually created in that one day. Though we captured a lot of footage, the essence of what I hoped the film would become, was lost. It had become nothing more than a poorly acted, un-comedic (though it was trying hard to be a comedy), stupid storylined, production that was destine to just remain a mess. Yet, we continued…

Over the next couple of weeks, we filmed additional scenes. Next up was Conrad Brooks. I had never met Conrad prior to the day we first filmed him but I did, of course, know of his previous work with Ed Wood. I immediately realized he was a really nice guy. I liked him a lot. And, I loved his style of acting.

We took Conrad to a location by the L.A. River where he and I interact with a couple of frogs. We then went back to the office and shot the scene in his tent. A tent that was constructed from the same parachute used to line the walls of Joe’s lair.

For some reason, Don wanted to bring Conrad back as the character Swamp Farmer from another of Don’s films, Rollergator and have the talking Baby Gator in the scene with him, as well. I like Conrad’s performance but Baby Gator just added additional, unnecessary, stupidity to the film. That is the thing when you are working as a team member with someone, you may not always like their choices but you have to allow them their creativity.

A day or so later we went to do an evening shoot at an old bridge that Don had titled, “The Bridge of Broken Dreams.” There, we took an actress we had just cast that afternoon. As she was new to L.A. I warned her about doing what she did; i.e. getting in a car at night with men she did not know and was not even aware of where she was being taken. In any case, she is the character that my character continually tells to, “Shuuu,” every time she tries to speak. We also did the scene where my character kills a frog at night with the bridge in the background.

Referencing the anxiety that took place during the filming of RB7 and how this same style of emotion engulfs other people… Don had this Production Assistant who had been working with him for a year or so. He did the voice of Baby Gator during the filming of Conrad and myself in the tent. He was also the one wearing the frog mask that my character kills in the aforementioned scene on the bridge.

Don had begun to get increasingly annoyed by this man. I thought he was fine but, again, Don found him becoming too dependent on his money. I suppose this change of heart had a lot to do with my now being part of the team as I was a fully functioning filmmaker and there was a lot of things that I could do that this man could not. As he had begun to annoy Don, Don had become more and more short with him. At one point that evening he yelled at the guy to get something out of the car. Instead of taking the frog mask off, he ran all the way to the car and back with it on. Thus, equaling a massive anxiety attack. It was the next day that Don, in a rage, fired him. The man called me up that night wondering what had happened and if I could ask Don to let him come back to work. I told Don the story but Don was the source of the money for this project so there was nothing that I could do as Don did not want him back.

The Lies Actors Tell

Don and I continued forward hanging out everyday and occasionally filming over the next few weeks. One of the interesting stories, that I have told elsewhere, happened when we cast this girl because she told us she was an avid motocross rider and owned her own dirt bike. We though this would be a great addition to add to the film. We called her character, Road Toad. We meet her up on the dirt section of Mulholland Highway, where she promptly fell off of her bike and broke her clutch handle. Every time she got on, she fell off. Finally, to save any hope of making the entire situation equal anything, my character asks her if I can borrow her motorcycle. From this, we film me riding it for a bit. Keep in mind, I was shifting with no clutch. After that, the girl rode off. (I hope she made it home safely). But, we never heard from her again.

Though we periodically shot a scene here or there, we only did serious filming maybe three or four additional days to create Toad Warrior. …Compared to the days-upon-days-upon-days of full-on production we had previously done on RB7, Toad Warrior had very few actual days of production.

Expanding the Cast

I had brought on Roger Ellis who had played the roll of Stealth in RB7 and I had used in much bigger roles in Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell and Samurai Johnny Frankenstein. He became Overload War Toad. Roger was a great actor and really added some good stuff to a very faltering film. We did all of Roger’s interior scenes at the garage/stage of Jonathan Quade, the aforementioned cameraman, who worked with us throughout the entire production. This is where the infamous spank scene(s) take place, which was the idea of yours truly.

The girl in those scenes was a great up-and-comer named Robin Kimberly. She made her living as an exotic dancer. I remember her telling me she hailed from Alaska and I really liked her as a person and an actress. But, she was one of those people that we never heard from again after her days on the set. She played the roll of Agent Spangle. And yes, the female agents in the film were intentionally named: Agent Star, Agent Spangle, and Agent Banner.  That was on Don. …A sign of his abstract patriotisms.

Next up was Adrianne Moore AKA Jill Kelly, a girl who did her first onscreen performance in RB7 before becoming a major force in the Adult Industry. In the opening scene we find her character being chased by frogs out at the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed. The work we did with her character really adds positive aspects to the overall film.

El Mirage is one of the places where the, “Magic,” that I often speak of in association Zen Filmmaking, took place. We went there with only a basic idea about what we would film. But, when we got there we noticed a couple with their pair of ultra light aircraft. Don asked if we could use them. They said, “Yes.” With this, we added the entire opening scene to the film, providing a lot of production value.

…We had no idea this would take place but we allowed the spontaneity of Zen to be our guide and, thus, True Cinematic Magic occurred.

Something to Scream About

Elizabeth, the girl who played Dr. Trixie T., was soon to be moving and she invited us over to her large house to film. Here, we created the lab set. Overall, she is a great girl and a good actress; I really liked her but many of her scene were too comedic and just added, in my opinion, to the overall failure of this film. This is the case with the lab scene that we filmed at her home. Her and another girl, (one of her friends that we never met before or after that moment in time), go into this whole fake British accent thing, talking about the development of the frog plague. Again, both very nice people, but the scene just did not work!

One of the now-funny occurrences that took place that night was Don had left the set as he had something else to do. We had been there for awhile and I asked if anybody wanted something to eat. Some did, so we sent out. One girl who I had cast earlier that week, a new arrival from Japan, initially said she wasn’t hungry but then, all of a sudden, after we had recommenced filming, she completely started freaking about the fact that she was hungry and she wanted something to eat. I told her we were busy and reminded her that she said she didn’t want anything but this did not stop her. I told her I would give her some money if she wanted to walk over to a local fast food place but she would have none of it. She really was causing a scene. Finally, I took her outside and firmly explained to her in Japanese how unprofessional she was behaving. She calmed down, told me she was sorry, and she kind-of shut up. This is just a reminded to you filmmakers out there, sometime the people you cast can become a real problem to your production.

Going Nuclear

We also shot exteriors at this one location in the West San Fernando Valley that used to house nuclear silos. That is where you see Sargent Shiva and my character do the Kurosawa influenced, long lens, sword fighting scene(s). I know a lot of people have discussed this scene in their reviews, incorrectly claiming there was only one take that was reused. But, if you actually take the time to study the film you will see there were several takes. We also shot some of the other additional exterior scenes out there that day.

Though there were a few more days of filming small things, here or there, that’s what it took to create Toad Warrior.

It is essential to note that the moment Don and I began working together again, we did not wholly focus on Toad Warrior. We, almost immediately began to formulate, come up with other projects, and begin filming them, as well. Most notable filmed around this same period of time were the films that became Shotgun Blvd. AKA Armageddon Blvd. and Ghost Taxi AKA Ride with the Devil. Though none of these first, “Next Generation Zen Films,” rose to the cult status of Max Hell Frog Warrior, at least in my opinion, they were all better films than Toad Warrior.

Post Production

Post Production on Toad Warrior did not happen right away. As stated, we began working on other films. Finally, as the 1996 American Film Market (AFM) was approaching, we set about editing the movies we had in the can. I did Shotgun Blvd. and Ghost Taxi and one of Don’s friends began to work on Toad Warrior. But, he was using some weird system that did not output in a high enough quality format so Don went into one of his rages and fired the guy. He then gave the footage to one of his long time friends, Chris—a true film editor and a man who had edited some of Don’s previous features.  Don and he sat down and they did what they did.

I don’t know if it was the lack of technology at the time, laziness, or just the fact that the editor was more locked into a sense of Traditional Filmmaking than Zen Filmmaking but he and Don really missed the mark on the original edit of Toad Warrior. The fact is, though they probably grabbed the best of the footage there was, so much more great footage was left unused. More than simply not liking the the finished product, the fact is, the film really bothered me. It bothered me that so much footage was left on the preverbal cutting room floor. Plus, the story construction was shoddy. And, Chris knew it. He didn’t like the edit either. He asked me if I wanted to redo it. But, there wasn’t time. To me, the edited film kind of felt like they were just filling in the required eighty-two minutes that it takes to make a movie viable for international sales.

AFM

As AFM was coming up fast, Don and I gave the edited Toad Warrior to a sound design company to finish up the soundscape. We both watched the final product and didn’t like it. But, as the hotel rooms that they turn into AFM selling suits on the Santa Monica coastline are expensive, we had to have product. Thus, posters were created, a selling staff was hired, and Don and I hung out at AFM, did some interviews, and watched a lot of movies.

One of the funny experiences we had at the 1996 AFM is when Jill Kelly came by one evening. We walked around the expansive hotel, full of buyers from all over the world, and all eyes were on us. Well… They were actually on Jill. She was a beautiful sight with her long blonde hair, her big platform shoes, and the white, virtually see though clothing she was wearing.

Though we didn’t like Toad Warrior, three countries did buy the limited theatrical rights we were offering to be shown only in theaters in their country. Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines being the buyers. After AFM, Don being Don absconded with all of the money from the sales. Lesson: people never really change.

Post, Post Productions

Post the 1996 AFM Don and I buried the film. We planned to reedit it but we were busy and we never got around to it.

By the early 2000s, Don was in his late fifties, getting very sick, and wasn’t really able to do too much. Me, I did take the original film and created a Zen Speed Flick Version of Toad Warrior titled, Max Hell in Frogtown.

For those of you who don’t know, a Zen Speed Flick is a film cut down to its most essential elements. This re-edit really gave the film a new vision. Gone was all the bad implied humor, leaving only the best of the best. Don loved it and I liked it a lot better than the original version.

Max Hell Frog Warrior

In 2001, as computer editing had become a realistic possibility, I pulled the original edit of Toad Warrior into my MAC G4. I begin the process of a re-cut in an attempt to make it a better movie. I removed some of the scenes that really bothered me, tuned-up some of the others, and added a bit of unused footage. I did not, however, go into a full blown reedit. What emerged was Max Hell Frog Warrior.  Better than Toad Warrior? I think so. As good as this movie can be? No.

The Next, Better Version

I have personally sat down, looked through the footage, and started to do a completely new, better edit of the film four times over the past fifteen years or so.  I do this, because as stated, there is a lot of great, unused, never before seen footage that could reveal an entirely different and better movie. Each time I have sat down to do this, however, I get maybe a half hour or so into the storyline development and something stops me. …I don’t finish. Then, I dump the edit. Though I know I really should complete the process something has always stopped me from doing so. What, I don’t know?

Perhaps at some point, I will compete this process as I know there is a better film hidden within the footage.

Though I suppose there is a million subtle stories I could tell about the creation of this film, in this piece I have provided you with an overview of the All and the Everything of Toad Warrior AKA Max Hell in Frogtown AKA Max Hell Frog Warrior. I hope this provides you with some factual insight into the actual goings-on.  Any specific questions, you can always ask…

Be positive and smile.

FADE OUT.

THE ZEN

Copyright © 2017 — All Rights Reserved

No part of this may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.

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Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Facts and the Fiction

TW S & Jill Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Facts and the Fiction

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.

Finally.

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.

That’s deep.

Not really.  It’s just common sense.

Let’s get to the inception of the movie.

Let’s go.

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 for 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.

Why?

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?

Nope.

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.

Let’s go.

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 chorography 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.

Why?

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.

That’s crazy.

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.

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.

Okay.

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.

Sure.

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.

No problem.

Let me ask you one more question.

Sure.

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.

Copyright © 2016 — All Rights Reserved

For more information about Max Hell Frog Warrior read, Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Story of the Production.

Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Evolution

Scott Shaw Max Hell Frog Warrior

The film, Max Hell Frog Warrior has an interesting set of circumstance that set its creations into motion.  Certainly, its evolution goes back to the cult film classic, Hell Come to Frogtown.

In brief, Frogtown is a geographic region of Los Angeles, California that skirts the Los Angeles River. It first gained this name when it was overrun with frogs in the 1930s. A friend of Donald G. Jackson’s, Sam Mann, lived in this area. As the story goes, one day the two men were driving around discussing movie ideas and Mann came up with the title, Hell Comes to Frogtown. As he had already starred in Jackson’s films, Roller Blade and Roller Blade Warriors, he was the obvious choice to perform the roll of Sam Hell, the lead character of the film.

Jackson initially planned to finance the movie with his credit cards as he had done with his film, Roller Blade. In the interim, however, he had become involved with New World Pictures. They liked the concept and they offered to finance it for him. The only problem was, he had to add a completely different cast than was his intention. His actor/friends were to be replaced by, “Name Actors.” Sam Mann, the actual inspiration for Sam Hell, was to be replaced by the then very famous wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper. Don asked Sam for his approval, which he gave.

Until his dying day, Donald G. Jackson regretted this decision. He was not only sorry that Mann had been replaced but the movie was eventually taken away from his creative control and it lost much of the visual landscaped he had hoped to create with it.

Approximately five years after Hell Comes to Frogtown was released; Don had formed a filmmaking alliance with Tanya York. She had a financier in place that was wiling to bankroll her first feature films as an executive producer. As she had a longstanding relationship with Don, the two moved forward and created Frogtown II. For Jackson, the only problem was, again, much of the creative control was taken away from him. Ultimately, he again, was left with a film that he did not like.

During this same period, just after the completion of Frogtown II, York wanted to finance another Jackson film. He offered up his Roller Blade series. The 1991/1992 outcome was the first and second Zen Films, The Roller Blade Seven and Return of the Roller Blade Seven, created by Donald G. Jackson and Scott Shaw.

After the completion of those two films, Shaw took the foundations for the Zen Filmmaking concept he had originated and went off on his own and immediately created, Samurai Vampire Bikers From Hell and several other films.  Jackson also moved forward to create several script based feature films.

In 1995, Shaw was in Thailand. Jackson contacted him to reconnect and make another feature film. When Shaw returned, the two set about creating the next Jackson/Shaw Zen Film.

Initially, the team toyed with the idea of creating a humorous filmed based on Jackson and Mann’s, Hell Comes to Frogtown theme, titled, Road Toad. This film was to star Scott Shaw and co-star Julie Strain.  The team eventually discarded this concept and then set about on the idea of, Hell Comes to Hog Town. This film was to be based on the intent of the film, Zachariah, the First Electric Western, which starred a young Don Johnson. This film would have Shaw ridding in, (with an electric guitar strapped over his shoulder), on his 1966, bright yellow, Harley Davidson, Electra-Glide. He would then battle the forces of evil that were controlled by an evil warlord known as, The Hog. Eventually, this storyline was also put to rest.

What emerged from this period of creative interaction was Jackson’s desire to do the story he had hoped to present with the original, Hell Comes to Frogtown — the story of a frog plague unleashed on the earth by an evil overseer who would eventually be destroyed by the antihero. Enter, Toad Warrior.

Toad Warrior went up in the winter of 1996. In association with Jackson as the Producer/Director, Shaw was to perform the lead role as well as Co-Produce and Co-Direct the film. The team of Jackson and Shaw brought on their friend and frequent collaborator, Joe Estevez, to play the bad guy. They also brought on Jill Kelly, who had initially appeared in the Roller Blade Seven and had since gone on to become a major force in the adult film industry. In addition, the team brought into the production: Selina Jayne and Roger Ellis — both of whom had appeared in the Roller Blade Seven and had gone on to star in Shaw’s, Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell and Samurai Johnny Frankenstein.

Jackson and Shaw filmed, Toad Warrior in the high desert of California and various other locations throughout Hollywood, Los Angeles, and at their production offices in North Hollywood. Quickly, the production began to express and represent all the aspects of the bizarre Zen Filmmaking minds of the Jackson/Shaw team.

When production was complete on Toad Warrior, the team quickly moved forward onto other filmmaking projects. The next on the production schedule was Shotgun Blvd., AKA, Armageddon Blvd., immediately followed by Ghost Taxi, AKA, Ride with Devil.

As the 1997 American Film Market was quickly approaching, the production team of Jackson/Shaw knew that they had to compete several projects. Shaw took on the role of editor for Armageddon Blvd. and Ride with the Devil, while they turned Toad Warrior over to a long time friend of Jackson — the editor of a number of his films, Christopher Blade.

The 1997 American Film Market premiered several Jackson/Shaw films. They included the one’s named above and a thirty minute, long-form trailer, of a film they had not yet completed, Guns of El Chupacabra.

Though the Jackson/Shaw team was happy to have Toad Warrior edited and available, it was never the film that they had hoped to make. Though the needed footage and scenes were all there, they were not constructed in a manner the filmmakers had hoped.

At the 1997 American Film Market buyers from Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines purchased the rights to release Toad Warrior theatrically and show it in movie theaters. Shaw attended the Tokyo premiere of the film. Jackson and Shaw held back on U.S. sales, however, as they wanted to reedit the movie.

The following few years proved to be a very busy time for the filmmaking team of Jackson/Shaw. Though they had hoped to get back to the film Toad Warrior and re-edited it, this never came to pass. Shaw did, however, condense the originally edited footage of the film into what the team called, a Zen Speed Film, and released it with the title, Max Hell in Frogtown.

By the early part of the twenty-first century, Jackson had become very ill from his battle with leukemia. He passed away in 2003.  Soon after this, a distribution company somehow came upon a beta master of the film, Toad Warrior, and released it in a compilation DVD. Let alone the fact that Jackson/Shaw never wanted this version of the film released in the West, many of the titles and screen credits of this version were incorrect.

Due to copyright infringements, this DVD was eventually removed from the market. By this point in time, Shaw had already revamped the film and had released it as, Max Hell Frog Warrior.

As the unauthorized bootlegged version of the film had already been released, Shaw decided it was best to release an authorized version of Toad Warrior in order to help in countermanding any further unlawful distribution of the film’s unauthorized version. He did this in 2007.

As he and Jackson had long planned, Shaw still intends to go back into the original footage of the film, reedit it, and create the film that Jackson and he had initially hoped for.

In recent years, there has been an ongoing interest in the film. Similar to the Jackson/Shaw creation of, the Roller Blade Seven, Max Hell Frog Warrior has continued to draw interest from critics and cult movie aficionados. So much so, that the writers of the HBO television series, Newsroom, mentioned Max Hell in an episode of their show broadcast in August of 2012.

Growing from the minds of Sam Mann, Donald G. Jackson, and Scott Shaw, the Frogtown series shows no signs of being forgotten in the near future.

For further information about this film visit the Max Hell Frog Warrior page at Scott Shaw.com or read the interview article(s) Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Fact and the Fiction and Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Story of the Production.

Max Hell Frog Warrior
Max Hell Frog Warrior (Photo credit: Wikipedia)