Five Favorite Films with Roger Corman
The veteran independent filmmaker and undisputed king of the B-movie drops in for a chat about his career and the new documentary Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.
As one of the most successful independent producers outside of Hollywood, what's your opinion of the industry at present? Is it a good time to make independent films?
No. These are not good times for independent films. When I first started, and up until around the mid-'90s, every theatrical film I made got a full theatrical release. Starting in the mid-'90s and up through the last 15 years or so, the trend has been growing in which these big-budget tent-pole films, and the normal major studio films, dominate the market to the point where it's very difficult for medium-budget or low-budget independent films to get a full theatrical release. Every now and then one does break through, but as a generality they do not -- and that has taken away part of the pleasure and the satisfaction of making films; but also simply the commercial potential.
Without the theatrical distribution we have to depend on DVD, VOD, cable, foreign sales and so forth, and one of the key components there is DVD -- and that is slipping. It isn't slipping as much as some people think, but it is definitely dropping a little bit.
Over the past few decades we've seen "cult" film sensibilities gradually assimilated into mainstream product. What was it like watching that happen, as someone whose stock in trade was genre and exploitation movies?
I think it started with Jaws. When Jaws came out Vincent Canby, the lead critic at The New York Times, said, "What is Jaws but a big-budget Roger Corman film?" He was half-right: it was to a certain extent a big-budget Roger Corman film, but it was also better. The fact that this bigger and better film had come out, striking right into the heart of the type of film that I and my compatriots were making, started the beginning of the just-slight slippage for us, and difficulty for us at the box-office. When Star Wars came out, I felt the same thing. I felt these two pictures are changing the course of Hollywood, and the ones that are going to be hurt are my compatriots and me.
Were there not more low-budget genre opportunities as a result, or did they make it harder?
They made it harder, right from the beginning. Particularly in science fiction films: we had very little money to do special effects and the giant special effects -- to a certain extent in Jaws but then to a great extent in Star Wars -- those special effects were so spectacular that there was no way that we could compete. It wasn't just that Star Wars had great special effects -- it was well written, well directed, well acted; it was just a good all-round picture -- but the special effects were so phenomenal. We tried to compete. I raised my budgets a little bit to try and get special effects, which I did, and it enabled us to maintain our presence theatrically for a certain length of time; but we had been damaged.
There's still a healthy legacy from what you achieved, in the films of people like Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino -- to pick just a couple of random examples.
Yes. I know Eli and Quentin and we've talked about it, and if there is any second or third generation they are the leaders of it -- because they're taking some of the themes and ideas we had, and they've got more money to spend so they're making them bigger. Not bigger to the extent of Avatar or Star Wars or something like that, but big enough so that they can get a very good film -- and they're both extremely talented filmmakers.
Finally, you received an honorary Oscar not too long ago. How did that feel, to be venerated by the Hollywood establishment?
I don't know if I would use the word "venerated" [laughs], but anyway -- I would say "recognized" -- I knew I was up for it , because the Lifetime Achievement Awards are not voted on and announced to peoples' surprise on the show, they're voted in advance by the board of governors of the Academy. They tell you that you're going to get it. I knew I was being considered, and I said, "I have no chance. I make low-budget pictures -- they're not going to give an Academy Award to someone who makes low-budget pictures." And I was truly surprised -- I was gratified. I was pleased.
It was thoroughly well-deserved.
Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel opens in select theaters this week.