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Born in Tremont, Mississippi, Jackson grew up in Adrian, Michigan. As an adult he struggled to become a filmmaker for many years while working at an auto factory. Finally, in the mid-1970s he made his first feature film, a horror film parody, The Demon Lover. This film was soon followed by the wrestling film, I Like to Hurt People. These films financed his move to Hollywood, California, where he remained until his death. Jackson is perhaps most well known for creating and directing the cult film, Hell Comes to Frogtown.
Throughout his career Jackson worked with several filmmakers including Roger Corman and James Cameron but it was not until he began a long collaboration with American filmmaker Scott Shaw that the team created Zen Filmmaking. Zen Filmmaking is a distinct style of filmmaking where no scripts are used in the creation of a film.