Roger Corman is alive and well and responds to his old tricks.
At 93, the stunningly prolific director, producer, and mini-major have worked in the business long enough to receive many awards for achievements in life – he will receive another one this week in Houston thanks to the Houston Society of Film Critics – and strengthen his equal status as equal parts the legends and elevations of Grice.
He has accounted for more than 400 films, including extrabudgetary B-films (“Attack of the Crab Monsters”, “Creature from the Haunted Sea”), darkly funny cult favorites (“Horror Shop”). “Bucket of Blood”) and the stylish Gothic devices of Edgar Allen Poe (“Asher’s House”, “Pit and the Pendulum”), which he made in the 1950s and 60s, and dozens of films that he produced for the American International and his own companies, New World and Concorde Pictures, which provided career growth for newcomers such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Gail Ann Heard and so on and so forth,
In 2009, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts voted to grant Corman an honorary Oscar “for his unprecedented ability to educate aspiring directors, creating an environment in which no film school can compare.”
But Corman is not ready to rest on his laurels as a creator and mentor. In fact, he is too busy to rest at all. Over the past year, he worked as executive producer of the Sino-Vietnamese abduction co-production Abduction, a science fiction action movie starring Scott Adkins and Andy On, and also participated with his wife, producer Julie Corman, in Cult Test: Stories from Trenches with Roger and Julie Corman, an extremely interesting and overtly revealing documentary series for Shout! TV factory. Most recently, he began preliminarily preparing for The Underworld, a thriller that Corman joyfully describes as returning to his roots in the B-movie, and will include footage of the devastation caused this year by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. (What is all this about? It’s hard to say – he is still working on how to make the best use of these magnificent shots.)
Speaking of the Bahamas: A few weeks ago, Corman attended the Bahamas International Film Festival to conduct mentoring sessions for aspiring screenwriters and to present a special screening of The Abduction. It was here that I was able to talk with him about his past, present and future in the word indie filmmaking.
Would you advise every entrepreneurial young director to look for natural disasters, natural or otherwise, to take advantage of?
It depends on the director and what he wants to do. If he is interested in making such a film, by all means. And it does not have to be a natural disaster or something like that. It could be anything in the headlines. I remember when the first satellite appeared, I heard about it that night. At nine o’clock the next morning, I was in Steve Brody’s office at the Allied Artists. And I said: “Steve, if you can give me $ 80,000, I will have an image of satellites ready to go to the cinema in 90 days.” And then he said: “What kind of story?” And I said: “I have no idea, but I will have a finished picture.” And he said, “Done.” And he gave me money. And so we left and staged a “Satellite War.”
Well, as you often pointed out, the term “exploitation picture” was originally used to describe films that “exploited” current events, current problems. Like Journey and Wild Angels, two very successful films that you shot in the 1960s. But actually there aren’t so many films “torn out of the headlines”, right?
It’s true. They were more common when medium and low budget paintings had full theatrical releases. Therefore, if you were associated with a distribution company, you knew that you would be in theaters on a specific day, and that would still be timely. Today, so much time is spent on pre-production discussions, discussions with lawyers, one and the other, and this slows down the work. And if you don’t go to theaters, it’s on television and it’s a little loser. Or streaming, whatever. For me, this loses a little of the impact that you had while being in movie theaters with a lot of advertising on Friday.
Much has been written about your approach to making indie films. Your ability to process scenery, shots, and even musical scores from film to film is truly a legend. What do you think, how much the childhood of depression shaped not only your life, but also your career?
I think it shaped me and everyone else who grew up at that time. With the exception of, say, the upper percentages, or something like that, it affected everyone. So, my father had a job throughout the depression, so we were not stuck with food or anything like that. But, nevertheless, my brother and I dimly understood that he could have risen more if not for the Depression. And we knew about the people around us. So this did not have an immediate effect on us, but we knew about everything that was happening around us at that time. And I think that influenced our whole outlook on life.
Therefore, when you started making films, the idea of ”do not waste, do not want, no” clearly stuck with you. I mean, there were jokes about this – even you joked about this – but in fact there were times when you just said: “Well, if you are going to arrange a set for a few more days, why not make another film? “
(Laughs) Yes, exactly. One way or another, it might be in my character, but it was exacerbated by the Depression.
You were one of the first producers to fully recognize the potential profits of the home video market – not only for theater releases, but also for video files. Most recently, you have released films for television and films that come out simultaneously in the form of a streaming and theatrical film. If young Roger Corman was just starting out today, what platform do you think you would concentrate on?
Firstly, I would say that today is much more complicated. When I started, any picture that had at least some reasonable virtues received a full theatrical release. Today, for mid-budget and low-budget shots, the shot is a complete theatrical release. All in all, the only ones who can take this leap are what I could call films run by the author. But for most direct-acting films of one kind or another, it is very difficult to get a theatrical release. And the home video market has declined. This market still exists to a certain extent, so you should not discount it. But you can’t count on great returns on this. Which leaves pretty much streaming. Netflix and others, they are looking for home photos. They make a casual picture with a smaller budget. But it’s hard to find the right slot for this. So the end of the business has become much more complicated.
At the same time, do you not agree that due to technological advances it is much easier to make films cheaper than it was in the early 1950s?
Today, taking a picture is easier than ever. We had large, heavy, bulky equipment. Big Mitchell cameras, big lights. I remember that there was one light source that was called “Coarse”. It was so big that two men could move this light. Today you have lightweight digital cameras. The sound is very light. Lights, especially with an LED and everything, you can move faster, more efficiently and cheaper. You don’t have to pay for the lab to develop your film and see the answer printout, trial printout and all that. It is made digitally. So yes, making a movie today is easier and more effective than ever. But distribution, in my opinion, is more complicated than ever. Because, as I say, with rare exceptions, you probably won’t get a theatrical release.
It seems to me that of all the films made by you, “Death Race 2000” best of all claims to be a gift that they continue to give. You made the original film back in 1975 for New World Pictures, and then worked as the executive producer of the 2008 remake of Death Race. And then you were involved in three by-products for the video, which were prequels or sequels to the remake.
Right. Universal had the right to make a remake and subsequent films. And two years ago they wanted to make the final version. And I talked with them, and I said: “You know, I think that you missed some things that I thought were good in the original that you did not have.” They said, “Well, why don’t you make the fifth? “So, I made the fifth -” Death Race 2050. ” The budget was just under $ 2 million, and from the very beginning it was clear what would happen: it would be released on the Universal DVD, and was pre-sold by Netflix. But here’s the thing: I was on one of those little posters that they usually put you on. There was a very sweet young woman from the Universal Advertising Department. And some interviewer somewhere asked me: “What is the distribution plan for this?” And I said: “Well, for me this is a big budget picture, but for Universal it’s a low budget picture. So it doesn’t go out theatrically, it goes on DVD. And then after that he will be on Netflix. ” And then the publicist took me aside and said: “Roger, he goes to Netflix the same day that he goes to DVD.” And I thought that this clearly reduces DVD sales. Why does Universal do this? And the answer is: the power of Netflix. Because in a rational world, you would at least give a DVD a month or something like that before you go streaming. But it is clear that streaming was the goal. The DVD was just a bit frozen on the cake because some people still like to have a hard copy of the movies.
When you worked in New World and Concord, you made a lot of daring films about strippers, nurses, and women in prison. At the same time, however, you gave women the opportunity to make films more often than majors.
Oh yeah. We had a lot of women directors, producers and so on. The point is not that I preferred women, but that I found the best person for this job. And I didn’t care whether they were men or women. Therefore, assuming – what I think is right – the qualities are about the same for both sexes, forget about the morality of this. In a more efficient world, women should occupy roughly the same level of jobs in different areas than men. (Laughs.) Of course, at the time you are talking about, women were not hired so often. Thus, the number of qualified women was more than it would be if the hiring were fair.
What can you tell us about Crime City, the film that you will be shooting here in the Bahamas?
I am going to use a video of the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian. I found the operator who controlled the drone over the areas that suffered the most. I looked at his footage and thought: “I have never seen anything like it.” I mean, the devastation goes on and on and on. So I licensed the footage he shot from the drone, and then hired him to come back and shoot me from the ground. Thus, I received cover-up from the air, from moving air strikes and from shots from the ground. And I found out a schedule when the Bahamian government is about to destroy the devastation. So we can start in March.
Do you have a finished script?
Not. My problem is that I started with the footage and wrote the plan in the afternoon. But you know what? It looks like fun again. I know that I have a deadline. I know that all of this is there. But to be honest, I started it consciously, because I have a couple of projects that will take some time – these are big-budget paintings that need to be put together. None of what I’m doing is now in place. And I thought about it and thought: “That’s how I started. It would be interesting to come back and see if I can do at my age what I did when I was twenty-odd years old. ” Therefore, I partially do Crime City in order to make a picture that will look very large in relation to the budget, but also just see if I can recreate the fun that we are used to having. And, in fact, the people with whom I talk, who will work with me – for them they all perceive it the same way.
You are now 93 years old, but you have few signs of slowdown. Do you have a secret formula to stay active?
Not really. This is a combination of watching what you eat and exercise. In addition, it has been shown that if your brain works, solves problems and the like, it actually allows your brain to continue to function more than if you were sitting at home and watching TV all day. John Davison, who used to be my assistant, continued to shoot Robocop, Airplane, and other films. We had lunch recently in California, and he said: “I decided to resign.” And I said, “John, I always saw you as a child in the office. Now are you telling me that you are retiring? If you are retiring, perhaps I should retire. ” And he said, “Roger, you are too old to retire.” Maybe he’s right.