Hell Comes to Frogtown

In 1978, a pair of young, wannabe filmmakers made a 12-minute, 35mm short called Xenogenesis. One of those wannabes was a visionary artist by the name of James Cameron. The other—who Cameron calls “the best kept secret in Hollywood”—was a precocious storyteller by the name of Randall Frakes. 

Over the following four decades, the two have collaborated on several projects. But one project that did not collaborate on—though they came close to doing so—was a subversive, sci-fi B-movie called Hell Comes to Frogtown. That one was written solely by Randall Frakes, though the final film stayed significantly from his initial vision. To figure out what happened, I spoke with Randall Frakes about cyborgs-turned-assassins, wrestlers-turned-actors and the underappreciated unity of opposites. 

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solarbabies oral history

In 1970, an L.A.-born artist who went by the name “Metrov” moved to New York City. He began the decade working as a designer for the famed Push Pin Studios and then eventually made a name for himself as a fine arts painter, working out of a loft studio across the street from Andy Warhol’s Factory. 

In 1979, inspired by a friend and guerilla filmmaker, Metrov came up with an idea for a low-budget, high-concept movie he wanted to direct: Solarbabies. This is a story about what happened next—how it was sold to Mel Brooks, how it was directed by a choreographer—and why, by the time Solarbabies was finally shot, its creator was no longer involved in his creation. 

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can't stop the music

There’s something odd about the trailer for Can’t Stop The Music. Actually, scratch that, there’s a lot that’s odd. But, as a writer, I noticed something odd about how the narrator introduced the film. After proclaiming this to be “the musical extravaganza that launches the 80s,” he then introduces the movie by saying, “It’s Allan Carr’s Can’t Stop The Music.” Typically, that apostrophe-S, possessive descriptor is reserved for the film’s director (especially so when the director also writes the script). 

But in this case, Carr was neither the director nor the writer, which got me wondering: what made this his film? What did the producer of Can’t Stop The Music get billing like that? Like I said: something odd. But after a little investigation into the making of one of Hollywood’s biggest flops, it makes complete sense. Here’s why…

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sheldon_TheOrder

Shortly after running our last piece, How Did This Get Made: A Conversation with Frank Dux, the Real-Life Inspiration for Bloodsport, I was put in touch with Sheldon Lettich. This was significant not only because he wrote the screenplay for Bloodsport, but also because Dux had said some unflattering things about the writer.

So when I finally connected with Lettich, I worried that there might be some not-so-flattering words headed my way. But to my pleasant surprise, Lettich was a complete gentleman. And when I told about him the purpose of this How Did This Get Made series—to investigate how movies got made, and the careers of those involved—he was happy to clear up any misconceptions and provide additional insights into the making of Bloodsport, his two decades of collaboration with Jean-Claude Van Damme and what it takes to write a badass, blow-em-up action film.

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Bloodsport

Unlike so many of the testosterone-fueled films of the ’80s, Bloodsport holds the rare distinction of being based on a true story. It’s the amazing tale of Frank Dux, a Caucasian martial artist who fought in (and won) a ruthless secret tournament that’s held only once every five years. It’s a tale so amazing that two months after the film’s release, it was dismissed by the L.A. Times as nothing but a fabricated “macho fantasy.” And that piece, filled with accusations and allegations, continues even to this day cast doubt upon the reputation of Frank Dux.

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Gabriel Hardman interview

In 1993, at only 19 years old, an aspiring comic book artist named Gabriel Hardman got what appeared to be a big break: the chance to pencil Marvel’s War Machine. But not long after completing the assignment, Hardman chose to ditch comics, move to Hollywood and try to make it as a storyboard artist.

By any measure of success, there’s no doubt that Hardman “made it.” Over the next two decades, he worked on a variety of beloved and/or critically acclaimed projects; ranging from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) to Interstellar (2014). But at the same time, while on that upward trajectory, he storyboarded a handful famous flops. Including three films which have been the focus of How Did This Get Made? episodes: Wild Wild West, Spider-Man 3 and Green Lantern.

Interestingly enough, it took a frustrating experience on one of those three films to lead Hardman back to the career he had previously left. And, since then, he has regularly toggled between working in comics (such as Invisible Republic and Heathentown) and working on films (such as Inception and The Dark Knight Rises). To learn more about this unexpected journey, we spoke with Gabriel Hardman about some of the ups and downs in his career.

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How Did This Get Made: Teen Witch [An Oral History]

Teen Witch

Teen Wolf – Wolf + Witch = How Did This Get Made?

Although dueling accounts exist with regards to the origin of Teen Witch, both versions credit their inspiration from the formula above (Teen Wolf – Wolf + Witch). Given its origin, one might expect that Teen Witch would feel dastardly derivative. But no matter how you feel about the movie—some absolutely, overwhelmingly adore it; while others view it as the quintessential ’80s bad movie—nobody can deny that Teen Witch feels unique unto itself. It has sincerity, it has heart. And it also has—unlike the original draft of the script—lots of music and dancing. How, exactly, did these ingredients enter the equation? And, one can’t help but wonder, does that explanation provide us with clues as to why this movie has aged the way it has?

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How Did This Get Made: The Apple (An Oral History)

The Apple oral history

In 1977, an Israeli rock star and his musically talented wife decided to collaborate, for the first time, and write a musical for the stage: The Apple. But before the show was ever performed, a notoriously eccentric filmmaker persuaded them that their masterpiece should instead debut on the big screen with him as director.

A little over one year later, when The Apple premiered at the Montreal Film Festival, the Israeli couple was noticeably absent, and the eccentric director came within seconds of committing suicide. This is the sad, strange story of how that came to pass.

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streets of fire oral history

In 1982, an action comedy called 48 Hrs. took the world by storm. Not only did it finish seventh at the box office that year, but it also launched the film career of Eddie Murphy and spawned a slew of buddy cop imitations. Although a true sequel to 48 Hrs. wouldn’t come until 1990, a follow-up of sorts came out two years later: Streets of Fire.

To understand how Streets of Fire came to be (and its relationship to 48 Hrs.), I sat down with cowriter Larry Gross to discuss the film’s origins—and his as well.

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How Did This Get Made: Kazaam (An Oral History)

kazaam

(Aladdin + Live Action) x Shaq = How Did This Get Made?

From a distance, it might be easy to conclude that Kazaam must have been written, produced and directed without vision or heart. That is was nothing more than a cash-grab for all of those involved. In reality, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, an overabundance of vision and heart is what doomed Kazaam. But amazingly (as well as strangely and beautifully), that overabundance helped save the soul of a talented director who once upon a time was best known to the world as a no non-sense cop named “Starsky.”

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