Recently I spent a wonderfully entertaining hour with one of the cleverest and certainly the most prolific filmmakers Hollywood has ever seen. For years its been said that Roger Corman could negotiate the production of a film on a pay phone, shoot the film in the phone box and finance it with the money in the change slot.
Now, after more than 400 movies, Corman, known as King of the Bs, has more time and money at his disposal and at the age of 87 is as prolific as ever. He currently has four movies in production and is due to appear in a film about himself, in which one of his longtime fans, Quentin Tarentino, is to play him.
"It's the story of how I made The Trip in the 1960s about LSD. It starred Jack Nicholson in one of his first roles and I took LSD so I could understand what it was all about. It was very controversial but it was the only American picture invited to the Cannes Film Festival that year," he recalled with a laugh. "I have a cameo role in the new movie, playing the executive who didn't want me to make the film."
Corman's vast resume of films includes such horror and science-fiction classics as The Little Shop of Horrors, Swamp Women, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Night of the Blood Beast and six movies based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe which starred Vincent Price. He launched the careers of some of Hollywood's most successful directors, including Ron Howard, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron and Martin Scorsese and also discovered and gave early roles to then-unknown actors such as Jack Nicholson, Charles Bronson, Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Diane Ladd and Sandra Bullock.
"I picked each one individually because I felt they had great talent," he said. "I had no way of knowing how far they would progress and that they would become Academy Award winners but I was convinced that each one would be successful.
"I think I'm still friends with all of them, although I am not close to some of them. Jack Nicholson was at our house a couple of months ago and last year Francis Coppola invited my wife and I up to his place. So I still stay close to some of them and some of the others not so close. But I would hope we're all still vaguely friends."
Corman is envious of the special effects techniques now available to today's filmmakers, although he feels it can also work to the detriment of some movies. "The special effects today are the best we've ever had and nobody in my life time until now has been able to do work with computer graphics that equals what's being done today," he said. "The problem is that in some pictures the filmmakers get so involved with the special effects that the storyline, the charcterisation and the acting takes a back seat and film suffers. That's why I like Jim Cameron: he does the best special effects in the world but he also does a very good job with the actors and the story as well."
Today's massive movie budgets are something Corman finds difficult to grasp. "If I was given $150 million to make a movie I would make one big picture for $75 million then with the other $75 million I'd make maybe ten or 20 more films with medium budgets."