The Self-Made Man: Roger Corman
Anyone who has seen a SyFy Original Movie will understand, and perhaps even appreciate, the work of Roger Corman. Much like SyFy’s film division, Corman cranked out hundreds of B-movies on tight production schedules and limited budgets, and they all made money. Corman is extremely proud of this, to the point of naming his autobiography How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, which is why TSB looks at him as a Self Made Man.
Corman’s first career path was engineering, but he didn’t care for it and left a position at U.S. Electrical Motors to work in 20th Century Fox’s mailroom, eventually getting promoted to story analyst. When the one movie he provided ideas for, The Gunfighter, didn’t credit him at all, Corman left Fox determined to make his own movies. After scraping together some capital and setting himself up as producer, Corman made Monster from the Ocean Floor, followed by The Fast and the Furious (yes, the Vin Diesel one was a remake). Those movies were enough to land him a multi-picture deal with American International Pictures, which became one of the most successful independent studios in cinema history with Corman’s help.
Corman was an opportunistic filmmaker who often made multiple films on the same set, and sometimes with the same actors. Last Woman On Earth, Creature from the Haunted Sea, and Battle of Blood Island were all made back-to-back in Puerto Rico, in the same amount of time that most filmmakers took to make a single movie. And why not? Corman was producing these films with his own money by that point, so he got as much for it as he could. If that meant pounding out a film in five days of shooting and using the leftover time in the production schedule to make more movies, then so be it. No other director in Hollywood can match his mastery of the economy of scale.
Casting was another example of Corman’s thrift. He was fond of saying “I get the ones on the way up, and the ones on the way down,” meaning that the actors in his movies were either young and just starting, or older veteran actors whose careers were cycling down. Either way, this made for inexpensive casting and his actors were grateful for the work and willing to give their all to whatever goofy idea—women in prison, outlaw bikers, rubber sea monsters—Corman cast them in. And some of those young actors went on to become successful; Robert DeNiro, William Shatner, Jack Nicholson, and Dennis Hopper are just a few guys who started their careers in Corman movies.
Corman’s creative choices, despite what you may think, were as calculated for profit as any of his other decisions. Corman’s films were products, capitalizing on whatever cultural cache was popular. They were also designed for drive-in theaters that were, HYPERLINK “http://www.richonfilm.com/sff_2011_cormans_world_exploits_hollywood_rebel”to paraphrase Rich On Film, more about communal social space than any true appreciation of cinema. That may sound creatively stifling, but Corman was aware of who the audience for his films actually was, and catered to the baser elements of their tastes; horror films, trashy romances, crime dramas, and sensational hippie/beatnik/biker counterculture stuff were all on the table.
This all sounds like a crass commercialism within a supposedly artistic medium, and I suppose it is, but Corman is a true entrepreneur who struck out on his own and staked his own money on his ability to make things happen. For that to work, one has to be shrewd as well as adaptable, and since most of his films turned profits (with a few having legitimate artistic merit on top of that), I’d have to say his approach worked.
Here’s an interview with Corman that covers his fiscally responsible filmmaking.
About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.