Frogtowns and Fiascos: An interview with Randall Frakes by Kent Hill

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Hell comes to Frogtown was like nothing I had seen up to that point. It was near midnight when my cousin Rick and I were watching it. He insisted we had to wait till all the grown-ups in the house were asleep.

This was a common occurrence of the times. Although I remember the day we were watching Robocop and my mum came past the room right as the guy robbing the convenience store was firing at the tech-resurrected Murphy screaming: FUCK ME! FUCK ME! FUCK ME! My mother said she was concerned about the language, but Rick always had a way of smoothing it over: “We’re not listening to the swear words Aunty Jen, we’re just digging the robot.”

Though the night we were checking out the adventures of Sam Hell, Rick insisted it had to be a stealth mission. “It’s got sexual references and boobs in it, as well as a mutant frog with three dicks” he said. I admit I failed to see understand his fear. After all there were boobs aplenty and these mysterious sexual references in most of the sword and sorcery videos I’d watched already. (Though I confess I had yet to witness and mutant frog with three dicks, I didn’t see it as something taboo, after all we’re talking about something completely implausible.)

“What did your Mum have to say about that?” asked Rick.

“I just followed your lead,” I said, “and told her I was only interested in the cool creatures and the sword fighting.”

He smiled and slapped me on the back.

Thus the movie began, and what a movie – truly unique and splendid.

For the uninitiated, Hell comes to Frogtown is a story set in a post-apocalyptic future where mutant frogs are considered a general nuisance and men are infertile. Enter Sam Hell; (Rowdy Roddy Piper pre They Live and Immortal Combat) he is conscripted by the powers that be to make love to complete strangers in a hostile, mutant environment. That on top of hooking up with the sexy Sandahl Bergman (All That Jazz) and Cec Verrell (Runaway plus a lot of TV) to go on a mission to the fabled Frogtown to rescue a bunch of kidnapped chicks from the nefarious Commander Toty and his three snakes. When Sam isn’t having his wedding tackle fried by Spangle (Bergman) and tellin’ the froggies to eat lead, he has to contend with Count Sodom/Captain Devlin (that’s right kids its Conan’s Dad), William Smith.

But the hero saves the day, gets the girls, stomps the frogs and goes off to impregnate the masses; a soldier’s work is never done. It is a romp with everything on offer: comedy, action, nudity, the dance of the three snakes and much more.

When I was putting together Conquest of the Planet of the Tapes I reached out to Frogtown scribe Randall Frakes, a thirty year veteran of the film business. He was cool and quickly agreed to write a piece for the book (which you may sample below.) Randall has had many adventures in the screen trade; from making an earlier short with future Oscar winner James Cameron (his friend and frequent collaborator), to working in the effects department on Corman movies, to his collaborations with the late, great Zen-Filmmaker Donald G. Jackson and most recently playing a part in the fiasco which was Empires of the Deep. He remains constant as well as persistent and was very kind to take the time to have a word with me for PTS:

KH: Was working in the movie business always your dream and what film did you see which got you hooked?

RF: Yes, from about the age of seven, after I saw Robert Aldrich’s 1956 adult war movie “Attack!” starring Jack Palance and Eddie Albert. It is brutal, honest and intense.

KH: Can you tell us how you got into the business, or broke in?

RF: James Cameron and I made a short film that was one scene from the first script we wrote together, called XENOGENESIS.

KH: Like a lot of aspiring filmmakers of the period you went to the Corman School of movie-making?

RF: I did, only in the sense of working in Corman’s special effects department as a cameraman, doing shots for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and GALAXY OF TERROR. I tried to get a project going with him, but Roger has little sense of humour or satirical irony where his movies are concerned and I was at a stage where I really could not take the movie business all that seriously, so nothing ever came of it.

KH: You are good friends and have collaborated in one form or another with Jim Cameron during the course of his career?

RF: Yes, he calls me “his hip pocket guy,” and “Hollywood’s best kept secret.” I have been an official and unofficial story consultant on most of his projects, including the AVATAR sequel.  I also co-wrote the screen story for “TRUE LIES.”

KH: You were very gracious in writing a piece for my book about the glorious thing that is Hell Comes to Frogtown. You worked a number of times with Donald G. Jackson?

RF: Oh yes, on “ROLLER BLADE”, its sequel and ghost writing a few other titles. He loved avante garde films with little or no plots.  He called it Zen Filmmaking, and he was good at it.  But I am more traditional, influenced not so much by underground comics or the beat generation, but more so by Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Delmer Daves.  We did not jell well on most of the projects, because we were always instinctively fighting each other’s styles, but we synchronized fairly well with Frogtown.

KH: You have spoken about what happened on Frogtown probably more than you care to, but, are there any revelations that have not surfaced that you can share?

RF: None, really. I am amazed I could remember the things I do.  That was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away!

(You can read Randall’s contribution to Conquest of the Planet of the Tapes: Straight to Video 3 here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/08/14/excerpt-from-conquest-of-the-planet-of-the-tapes-straight-to-video-iii-when-hell-came-to-frogtown-by-randall-frakes/)

KH: You have worked steadily through the 90’s and into the new millennium with credits like Blowback, Devil’s Prey, Instinct to Kill, Groupie. How has it been working as a screenwriter over the years and how if at all has the landscape changed as far as selling scripts?

RF: The spec market has totally tanked. It is all assignment writing.  And to make a living at that, you need to form alliances with a mafia of producers, a group who regularly make movies based on novels, plays or songs or old TV shows (pre-branded, in other words) and who like your work and are always handing you off to another producer friend after finishing the last assignment.  Today it is really rough for an original and vital new voice to get traction in this town.  Not impossible, but VERY difficult.

KH: I read a great article recently about Empires of the Deep. I love grand tales of hubris. Can you share your side or your experience on the production?

RF: The short version is I gambled and lost. I could not convince the Chinese producer that he was wrong and I was right.  He used very little of what I wrote, and what he did use, he realized it poorly.  And I believe it was not a translation or cultural clash problem.  They guy was just a dolt.

(If you would like to read more about Empires of the Deep, this is a good in-depth piece: https://magazine.atavist.com/sunk)

KH: Do you have any great tales from set on any of the films you have worked on?

RF: Generally, I write ‘em and then move on as fast as I can to the next one. No one really wants a writer around on the set, and it’s mostly boring and frustrating to be there unless you are directing, so I have little contact with the actual picture-making process.  I tell stories.  That excites me.  Watching my characters and dialogue butchered by well-meaning but superficial changes is not so much fun.

KH: I have been trying to get a toe in the Hollywood pond for years. As a veteran of the business, what advice would you give to those still climbing the mountain?

RF: Make a short or a feature on your own dime, that is startlingly different and yet somehow familiar. Something with a strong “hook,” like clever lyrics to a hit song.  Then post it somewhere online and hope it gets noticed and wins some awards.  Then get an agent and write the best damn screenplay ever written and attach yourself as director.  Hey, it worked for Cameron, but that was a long time ago, when people who still cared about quality story-telling were producing movies. Not like now, where many of the people making movies are from the point-and-shoot video game generation, and know little about real people, real situations and real human psychology.

KH: Do you have any projects of your own that have gone unmade which you have long wished to see come to the screen?

RF: Only about fifty. Kidding, more like five.  One way or the other, I will get them made.  The key word to surviving in this town is PERSISTENCE.  You have to have a ton of it.

KH: I remember back a ways we were chatting and you mentioned you were in talks with some folks who wanted to remake Hell comes to Frogtown with Dwayne Johnson – can you comment on the status of the project. That Rock, he wants to remake everything?

RF: He doesn’t, it’s his agents who want him in branded projects that they believe have a chance to be successful. The remake is stymied for the moment due to lack of clarity about the legal remake rights . . . who has them and are they willing to make the sequel? That is being investigated as we speak.

KH: Well thank you sir. From this great admirer of your work and for contributing to my book I proffer you my humble thanks?

RF: My pleasure.

 

That was Randall Frakes everybody. If you haven’t heard the name you may have at least seen the films he has written; the novelizations and or listened to his great commentary with Donald G. Jackson on the Frogtown DVD.

If you haven’t . . . now’s the time.

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