As part of the Austin Film Festival, producer Barry Josephson sat down with the legendary Roger Corman, the director/producer responsible for hundreds of low-budget pictures since the 1950s. (The 92-year-old is listed as producer on such recent movies as 2015's "Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf" and is the executive producer of the upcoming "CobraGator.")
Here are 10 things we learned from this chat.
1. Corman was an engineering major at Stanford, took the degree and lasted a week as a civil engineer before entertainment called to him. “I found out that the film critics to Stanford Daily got passes to all the films,” Corman said. He got the degree in 1947 (after a stint in the Navy) then headed off to the 20th Century Fox mailroom, where he became a script reader. He bounced after getting no credit for his work on a script called “The Big Gun,” which became “The Gunfighter” with Gregory Peck.
2. He learned how to roll money from one picture into another very quickly. He took $3,000 from a script he sold, raised another $9,000 and started work on “It Stalked the Ocean Floor,” later changed to “Monster from the Ocean Floor” (1954). “I chose science fiction because you didn’t need (big) names" as stars, Corman said.
That film did well, so he then took the money from it and produced the racing movie “The Fast and the Furious" (1955), which started his long relationship with American International Pictures.
Corman got to wet his beak twice on that one. “I sold the title to Universal, and they have done very well,” Corman said.
3. Why genre movies? “There will always be an audience for horror,” Corman said, “simply because of the makeup of the human mind. Same for science fiction. We all imagine, we all dream of things.”
4. Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dementia 13” was originally called “Dementia.” Corman and Coppola and the tiny crew were tooling around in a microbus fitted with shelves for all the equipment while they shot “The Young Racers.” Corman had some money left over ($22,000) and encouraged Coppola to stay in Ireland to write and direct a quickie horror picture. Coppola started making a picture called “Dementia.” As they were wrapping up, it was discovered the name was taken. Corman decided to loop a bit of dialogue in that discussed a trauma a character had experienced at 13, hence the name.
5. Corman believes in profit. “I love the process of making films,” Corman said. “The first reason is creativity and the desire to do good work. Two, you want to make some money. It’s the combination of the two.”
6. Producing is easier than directing. “Producing isn’t that easy,” Corman said, but “directors get up in the morning and shoot nine or 10 hours a day. It is physical and mental hard work, and then at night you do your homework planning the next day’s shots.” At one point, Corman said he was shooting one film, casting another at lunch and then cutting a third at night.
7. He is quite proud of “The Intruder,” his 1962 film about the integration of schools in the South starring William Shatner (in his first movie role). “It got good reviews, but it was the first film I ever made that lost money,” Corman said. “Maybe I was too serious, too much lecturing. Even if you have something serious, there needs to be entertainment in it.”
8. He is a big believer in lots of pre-production and planning, then letting the director run the shoot as they see fit. “Most of my work with a director is in the pre-production phase,” Corman said. “If I have done my job correctly, I leave the director alone.”
9. Corman knew the market was changing when he saw “Jaws.” “That movie took a concept that has been made as low-budget type of film and turned it into a major film," he said. He thought, "We are in trouble. The major studios have figured out what we do.” Then he saw “Star Wars”: “Well, if we weren’t in trouble before, we certainly are now.”
10. He is good with compromise. Corman’s 1990 book “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime” is one of the all-time great movie tomes. During its production, he said to the publisher regarding the proposed title, “You know, I made more than 100 films and some lost money.”
Publishers: “Did the advertising for your films always say what was in the movie?”
Corman: “Call it anything you like.”