The King of the Bs

Roger Corman: the moviemaker with a million stories.

June 11, 2010 21:58
CORMAN AT the Tel Aviv International Student Film

roger corman tel aviv 311. (photo credit: Eli Zuta)

Roger Corman, tall, handsome and still energetic at 84, graciously bids good-bye to one interviewer and greets another in his suite in Tel Aviv. But while he may seem like one of your father’s golfing buddies, he’s actually the rarest of creatures: a legend in his own time.

on bigger budget films in which he would not have had as much control over the finished product.  A historical drama he planned to make about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee fell by the wayside because “United Artists, the studio financing the film, thought I needed a bigger budget. They said I couldn’t make it with the budget I wanted, but I’m convinced I could have.” He chose not to lose control and let the production get bloated. Another proposed epic, about Native American Crazy Horse, suffered a similar fate. “I’d still like to make Crazy Horse,” he says. “But I won’t work with a major studio.”

The director, who often infuses his films with his liberal politics – his 1962 film, The Intruder, about integration and civil rights starred a pre-Star Trek William Shatner –  says he had no reservations about visiting Israel or participating in a cultural event here. “I got no negative reactions from anyone when I told them I was coming,” says Corman, who was here previously in the early ’90s as a guest of the Jerusalem Film Festival. “I’m surprised you’re even asking about it.”

He recently caught up with the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir, which he thought was “wonderful.” Asked whether Israel could potentially become a center for profitable genre filmmaking and not only for art films, he says, “I don’t see any reason why not. Films made here are good technically, and the rest just depends on how good the filmmaker is.”

In his master class, he plans to tell his audience, “Story is the most important element,” and to stress pre-production. “It’s important to prepare, to do another draft of the screenplay. There’s no point putting a lot of work into the movie if the story isn’t right.”

He admits to occasionally being puzzled at which of his films succeeded and which fell by the wayside.

“In 1978, we had two movies coming out, Avalanche, starring Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow, and Piranha, which had no stars. But Piranha was a huge hit and Avalanche didn’t do that well. It was the opposite of what we thought would happen.”

The drive-ins and grind-house theaters that showed most of Corman’s movies are now long gone, but Corman continues to work. Although he directed his last film, Frankenstein Unbound, in 1990, he still produces, although his pace has slowed a bit with age.

“I don’t make 10-12 movies a year anymore,” he admits. “I make four or five.” His latest film is Dino-Shark, and, as with so many Corman films, the title says it all. Corman, who acts occasionally (he appeared as a US senator in Godfather II), has a cameo as a marine biologist. “The budget was $1 million, which is not much to studios these days, but $1 million is $1 million,” he says, sounding just a bit sheepish. “They want a sequel that they want me to call Shark-Topus.”

Dino-Shark was made for a science fiction television network. Most of Corman’s films over the last few years have been for various pay-TV networks.

“A lot of the energy and the themes of the older low-budget filmmaking have gone into television, specifically pay TV [like HBO],” he says. A series such as The Sopranos, he notes, doesn’t have any big effects or big names, “But it’s gripping and fast-paced.”

There’s time for one last question, and I have to ask: Was it really a teakettle in The Beast with a Million Eyes?

Corman smiles and shakes his head. “No, it wasn’t a teakettle, “ he says firmly, but admits: “It was a container of some kind.” And yes, steam  pouring through these holes was the special effect.

Corman says that sometimes he looks at his older films and thinks: “I could have done that better with a little more money.” But he doesn’t brood, in fact, he takes the reverse tack, saying, “I did the best I could with the money I had.”

Related Content

Sarah Silverman
August 26, 2014
Jewish women take home gold at 2014 Emmys