Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Birthday Roger Corman, Filmmaker

Roger William Corman (born April 5, 1926), sometimes nicknamed "King of the Bs" for his output of B-movies (though he himself rejects this as inaccurate), is an Academy Award-winning American producer and director of low-budget movies, some of which have an established critical reputation: his cycle of films derived from the tales of Edgar Allan Poe for example. Corman is also a sometime actor, taking minor roles in such films as The Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather Part II, Apollo 13 and Philadelphia.

Corman has apprenticed many now-famous directors, stressing the importance of budgeting and resourcefulness; Corman once joked he could make a film about the fall of the Roman Empire with two extras and a sagebrush.[1] One of the most expensive films he produced was Battle Beyond the Stars.

Early life

Corman was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Anne and William Corman, an engineer.[2] His brother Gene Corman has also produced numerous films, sometimes in collaboration with Roger. Roger Corman received an industrial engineering degree from Stanford University, beginning his film career in 1953 as a producer and screenwriter. Corman started directing films in 1955.


In Corman's most active period, he would produce up to seven movies a year. His fastest film was perhaps The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which was reputedly shot in two days and one night. Supposedly, he had made a bet that he could shoot an entire feature film in less than three days. Another version of the story claims that he had a set rented for a month, and finished using it with three days to spare, thus pushing him to use the set to make a new film. (These claims are disputed by others who worked on the film, who have called it part of Corman's own myth-building.) Although highly cost-effective, Corman's parsimonious approach to filmmaking was not without its critics; Charles B. Griffith, who wrote the original screenplay for Little Shop, later remarked that "[Corman] uses half his genius to degrade his own work, and the rest to degrade the artists who work for him."[3]

Corman is probably best known for his filmings of various Edgar Allan Poe stories at American International Pictures, mostly in collaboration with writer/scenarist Richard Matheson, including House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). All but Premature Burial starred Vincent Price. After the film version of The Raven was completed, he reportedly realized he still had some shooting days left before the sets were torn down and so made another film; The Terror (1963) on the spot with the remaining cast, crew and sets.

He also directed one of William Shatner's earliest appearances in a lead role, with The Intruder (1962). Based on a novel by Charles Beaumont, the film, made for approximately USD$80,000, has become famous for its treatment of segregation and civil rights.

In 1970, Corman founded New World Pictures which became a small independently owned production/distribution studio, releasing many cult films such Death Race 2000 (1975), Children of the Corn (1983), and the Joe Dante film Piranha (1978). Corman eventually sold New World to an investment group in 1983, and later formed Concorde Pictures and later New Horizons.[4]

Corman's penultimate film as director was 1971's Von Richthofen and Brown (he had always wanted to make an aviation movie, being a pilot himself). He then returned to directing once more with 1990's Frankenstein Unbound. In total, Roger Corman has produced over 300 movies and directed over 50.

Corman was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 New York City Horror Film Festival. He was the fourth recipient of the award, following George A. Romero, Tom Savini and Tobe Hooper.

In 2009, Corman produced and directed alongside with director Joe Dante the web series "Splatter" for Netflix,[5] the protagonist of the film is potrayed by Corey Feldman;[6] the story talks of the haunting tale of rock-and-roll legend Johnny Splatter.[7]

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Corman with an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar,[8] it was given to him at a special awards ceremony on November 14, 2009.[9]

Corman is currently working on the films films Dinoshark and Sharktopus. Dinoshark is set to appear on March 13th, 2010 on Syfy.[10]


A number of noted film directors worked with Corman, usually early in their careers, including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Armondo Linus Acosta, Jonathan Demme, Donald G. Jackson, Gale Anne Hurd, Carl Colpaert, Joe Dante, James Cameron, John Sayles, Monte Hellman, Paul Bartel, George Armitage, Jonathan Kaplan, George Hickenlooper, Curtis Hanson, Jack Hill and Timur Bekmambetov. Many have said that Corman's influence taught them some of the ins-and-outs of filmmaking[11]. In the extras for the DVD of The Terminator, director James Cameron refers to his work for Corman as, "I trained at the Roger Corman Film School." The British director Nicolas Roeg served as the cinematographer on The Masque of the Red Death.

Actors who obtained their career breaks working for Corman include Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Michael McDonald, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, and Robert De Niro. David Carradine, who received one of his first starring film roles in the Corman-produced Boxcar Bertha (1972) and went on to star in Death Race 2000, later noted: "It’s almost as though you can’t have a career in this business without having passed through Roger’s hands for at least a moment."[3]

Many of Corman's proteges have rewarded him with cameos in their works, notably The Godfather Part II[12], The Silence of the Lambs[13], and Apollo 13[11].

His autobiography, titled How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (ISBN 0-306-80874-9), documents his experiences in the film industry. In 2000, Corman was featured alongside cult filmmakers Harry Novak, Doris Wishman, David F. Friedman and former collaborators Sam Arkoff, Dick Miller and Peter Bogdanovich in the documentary SCHLOCK! The Secret History of American Movies, a film about the rise and fall of American exploitation cinema.


"The Corman Film School" - A number of important and influential filmmakers and actors had their first big break with Roger Corman. The following list is limited to Oscar winners.

Francis Ford Coppola — directed Corman's Dementia 13. Oscar winner for The Godfather Part II (in which Corman cameoed).

Jack Nicholson – acted in four Corman-financed movies The Cry Baby Killer, The Little Shop of Horrors, Ride the Whirlwind and The Shooting. Later he appeared uncredited as a hit man, Gino, in Corman's The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre. Nicholson also had roles in two other Roger Corman films, The Raven and The Terror. Corman allowed Nicholson to direct The Terror on the final two days of filming.

James Cameron — Oscar winner for Titanic, also made Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, True Lies, and The Abyss — most of which, perhaps ironically, had massive budgets. His 2009 film, Avatar is rumored to be the most expensive movie ever produced at over $300 million. Also, Cameron's production studios were at one point across the street from Corman's, in Venice Beach.

Jonathan Demme — wrote and directed Corman's Caged Heat (aka Renegade Girls). Oscar winner for The Silence of the Lambs

Ron Howard — acted in Corman's 1976 film Eat My Dust, directed Corman's Grand Theft Auto. Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind

Martin Scorsese — directed Corman's Boxcar Bertha. Oscar winner for The Departed

Other major directors from the Corman school have included Peter Bogdanovich, Nicolas Roeg, Joe Dante, Jonathan Kaplan, and John Sayles.

Partial filmography (as producer)

Boxcar Bertha (1972)
Rock 'N' Roll Highschool (1978)
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
Barbarian Queen (1985)

Partial filmography (as director)

Five Guns West (1955)
Swamp Women (1955)
It Conquered the World (1956)
Not of This Earth (1957)
Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
The Undead (1957)
The Wasp Woman (1959)
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
House of Usher (1960)
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Last Woman on Earth (1960)
Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Premature Burial (1961)
The Intruder (1962)
Tales of Terror (1962)
X (1963)
The Raven (1963)
The Terror (1963)
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
The Secret Invasion (1964)
The Wild Angels (1966)
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967)
The Trip (1967)
Bloody Mama (1970)
Gas-s-s-s (1971)
Von Richthofen and Brown (1971)
Frankenstein Unbound (1990)
Sharktopus (2010)


1.^ Film as Art: Danél Griffin's Guide to Cinema
2.^ Roger Corman Biography (1926-)
3.^ Gray, Beverly (2005), Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-1-56025-555-0
4.^ Shout If You Want Roger Corman Creatures and Classic Gamera DVDs!
5.^ Roger Corman and Joe Dante SPLATTER Netflix
6.^ Full Info on Feldman, Corman and Dante's 'Splatter'
7.^ See a Gruesome Advance Clip from Splatter
8.^ See Roger Corman Receive His Honorary Oscar
9.^ Allen, Nick (15 November 2009). "Lauren Bacall receives Oscar". Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group Limited). Retrieved 2009-11-15.
10.^ Sharktopus Plot Details and Dinoshark Image Revealed!
11.^ Nashawaty, Chris "Roger Corman: Scorsese, Stallone, Sayles, and other A-listers talk about the B-movie King" Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 19, 2010
12.^ "Roger Corman on The Blair Witch Project and why Mean Streets would have made a great blaxploitation film. Interview by Andrew J. Rausch."
13.^ Roger Corman: Legendary AIP Director Monsterizes AMC

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