The Frog-g-g! Prints
But the “Hollywood connection” most central to the success of “Frog-g-g!” may have been cinematographer David Diano, who Jarrett met while standing in for Guy Pearce on the ill-fated 2002 version of “The Time Machine.”
One key part of Jarrett’s vision for “Frog-g-g!” was that it be shot on film. Whoever worked with Jarrett would have to know one thing: “DV” was a four-letter word.
“For this to feel like a 70’s film, it had to be on film…Video has baggage, immediacy and disposability, like the six-o-clock news. Film is a real commitment, and forces you to do better work… (If) you’ve got ten pages to finish and only 1000 feet of film left, you basically have one chance to get it,” Jarrett said. “That brings a sense of urgency that really translates on the screen… It’s worth the risk….”
A veteran camera operator on scores of films ranging from Martin Ritt’s 1985 “Murphy’s Romance,” to “Vegas Vacation” and Tim Burton’s roundly derided 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes,” David Diano was prepared for the challenge, but “challenge” was definitely the operative word.
“There was not enough money, not enough equipment, not enough man-power and not enough time,” Diano admits, but that was, he says, also the good news. “It’s almost like being back in film school. Everyone is there because they love what they do – not for a paycheck. It forces you to get back to the basics….”
And the basics paid off. “Frog-g-g!” benefits from a rich, clever use of color and mimicry of past cinematic conventions — particularly the lens flare and natural highlights so common in seventies thrillers. Strangely enough, “Frog-g-g!” actually looks far better than many of the original Corman films, bringing out the most dramatic and hauntingly picturesque elements of the Kern County locations.
“From a strictly visual point of view, we did do very specific things,” says Jarrett. “We shot in Panavision Super-16 with Kodak 200 speed film, which gives you a rich color palette, but also retains some film grain if you don’t have enough lights, like us. That put us right back in the seventies!”
Jarrett also made sure his director of photography was aware of the exploitation source material, renting him copies of “Piranha,” “Return Of The Creature,” and “Humanoids from the Deep.” ”But he really didn’t need them… He had as clear a vision of how this should look as I did, and he knew how to get it.”
Cinematographer Diano is modest about his achievement, but Jarrett is never shy about delivering praise. “David is a genius!” he enthuses.
An Amphibian Prepares
Whatever else it was, “Frog-g-g!” was still a monster movie. And the monster needed to look right, even if it was just going to be a guy in frog suit.
In this case, the guy in the suit is actor John Ponzio. Ponzio, who can be just barely seen on the new HBO series “Carnivale” (it helps if you own a TIVO or a VCR with a good pause feature) is self-aware enough to know that assaying the part of a “giant h***y toad” won’t earn him the sort of thespian brownie points one gets for playing Stanley Kowalski or Uncle Vanya. Ponzio nevertheless applied himself with Stanislavakian zeal.
“I really trained… I went out on the field around the house, trying to figure out what my frog-walk would be and therefore what my frog-run would be like.“
And Ponzio also had the benefit of experience in the amphibious realm. “I had played a salamander in an off-off-Broadway play that was partially funded by the NEA called ‘War with the Newts”… I was literally slithering around all over the floor.”
And, since he was the guy wearing the suit, Ponzio was also clued in on its creation with Jarrett and the Frog’s designer, Anna Cartwright. “We would… literally go piece by piece and (Anna) would figure out what we’d do.”
Between the silly yet creepy cartoonishness of the suit (and the man inside it), the effect was deemed a success. “Ponzio nailed the creepy sci-fi 50’s thing,” says Jarrett. “It actually scares you when he’s got the suit on and is coming after you.” Anna Cartwright’s suit and Ponzio’s performance apparently had another effect on viewers. “Women actually find the Frog sexy — the tight green latex, the sexy walk, the muscular legs… the Frog probably didn’t have to rape anybody.”
Get the rest of the story in part three of “FROG-G-G!”: CAN A GOOD-NATURED FOAM AND LATEX MONSTER FLICK MAKE IT IN TODAY’S HARSH CGI WORLD?>>>