SUNDANCE Q&A: Roger Corman Discusses Being a Rebel and Making the Most Out of a Small Budget
Roger Corman has been an industry to himself for more than five decades. Filmmaker Alex Stapleton has attempted to capture the man and the myth in Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, a Park City at Midnight offering that will have its world premiere Friday night at the Egyptian Theatre. A&E IndieFilms just picked up TV rights to the doc, which features interviews with Jack Nicholson, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese and other filmmakers given their firsts shot in the Corman factory. Corman spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what makes a rebel, how Adam Smith predicted the current studio system and the key to success on a miniscule budget.
The Hollywood Reporter: Does it feel strange having a retrospective made of you or does it feel earned?
Roger Corman: There have been a number of retrospectives. As a matter of fact, if I can go back to my early days, I, at my old age, am still the youngest director ever to have retrospectives at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, the British Film Institute in London and the Museum of Modern Art in N.Y. So the retrospectives started early.
THR: So you are used to it by now -- and you're also still making movies so there's always an update.
Corman: That's true.
THR: The subtitle of this doc describes you as a rebel. What makes you a rebel in your mind?
Corman: I don't know. I've been called a rebel and I've been called many things, both plus and minus. I think the fact that I maintained my independence. I've made, I think, three films for major studios, but primarily out of something like 350 movies I've either produced or directed or executive produced, all the rest have been independent. I've been both a writer/producer/director and I've had my own independent distribution company, New World, starting in 1970, a continuation of which is New Horizons, which I'm still operating today. It's basically that. Also the fact that my films very often have been -- I don't know how to describe it -- I would just say anti-establishment to a large extent. Particularly in the 1960s and '70s.
THR: Do you see any like-minded spirits in the filmmaking world today? Any similar rebels? Is what makes a rebel in today's film world different than in the '60s and '70s?
Corman: It's difficult to have the same position today for this reason-and this is a major comment on the whole independent movement: When I started in the late 1950s, every film I made had a full theatrical release. Today, almost none of my films have a theatrical release in the United States. They still have theatrical releases in many countries overseas. Only the occasional film I have made in the last few years has had a token release in the United States. That is simply capitalism. I'm not complaining about capitalism, but you can go back to Adam Smith, the first theoretician of capitalism. He simply stated, “That is inevitable in Capitalism, that other things being equal” -- and of course they are never quite equal -- “the entity, generally the corporation, with the greatest amount of capital will grow and absorb, take over or drive out of business the companies with the lesser amount of capital.”
What has happened in the motion picture business is a perfect illustration of Adam Smith's theory. The major studios have become bigger. Most of them are even part of bigger corporations themselves. They, themselves, have been victims or beneficiaries, however you want to describe it, of this process. So the major studios have gotten bigger, stronger and have more access to more capital, freezing out the independents and the lower-budget distributors. Up until the mid-'90s -- this started really almost 20 years ago around 1990, give or take a few years -- if you were to open a Friday issue when the big ads are in for the weekend for the L.A. Times, and you were to open one in the '50s, '60s, '70s or '80s, you would have seen a full amount of independent, low- and medium-budget films competing against the majors. Starting around 20 years ago that started to fade. If you look at it now, you'll see almost no independent, medium- or low-budget films.
THR: It sounds like you are saying today just to even try to make a film outside of the studio system is rebellious.
Corman: Yes. It is easy to make the film, but it's much more difficult to get any reasonable distribution. Therefore what I did is, I would say, almost impossible today. I wouldn't say fully impossible, because somebody might be able to do it, but it's very difficult.