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SUNDANCE Q&A: Roger Corman Discusses Being a Rebel and Making the Most Out of a Small Budget

THR: Is there anybody you see that is prepared to carry on the Corman mission if -- God forbid -- you are no longer making films?

Corman: I don't know exactly. There are a number of independent production and distribution companies, but nobody had been originally a writer/director/producer and then had his own distribution company. I don't think anybody is doing that today.

THR: We reported a story recently about Guillermo del Toro starting what he's describing as sort of a writer's workshop to breed ideas and cross-platform stuff. But I guess he's not really independent the way you have been.

Corman: It's my understanding that they intend to take those scripts to the majors.

THR: Was there anyone in particular who participated in the doc that you thought was interesting?

Corman: Jack Nicholson. He was somebody who gave a longer interview than expected. I do remember one story. Ron Howard was directing his first picture for me. He was acting in it, and he had written it with his father. It was Grand Theft Auto. He wanted more extras for one sequence than was called for in the budget. I said to him, “Ron, I can't give you more extras because I don't have the money. But if you do a good job on this picture you will never work for me again.”

THR: I guess that turned out to be true.

Corman: Yes. Actually, I worked for him; I played a senator in Apollo 13.

THR: Back in the '70s you worked with so many directors and gave them their first early opportunity, and many of them went on to successful careers in Hollywood. But back then were there any of them that you gave a shot to that you had doubts about? Where you weren't sure they had a big career in front of them?

Corman: No, everybody I gave a first opportunity to I believed had the talent to be successful. Otherwise, I wouldn't have given them the opportunity. I had no way of knowing how successful they would be. Some of them became incredible stars as either writer/directors or actors. I believed in all of them, but I didn't realize so many of them would go as far as they did.

THR: In your view what makes a Roger Corman movie a Roger Corman movie?

Corman: It is the understanding that I'm working with a limited budget but the determination to make the best picture I could possibly make for that budget. I can remember back in the early days when I was just one of a number of independent directors making low-budget films. Friends of mine would take assignment on a script that wasn't that good and say, “I know this isn't going to be any good, but I need the money. I'm just going to grab the money and run and wait for the big opportunity.” Every person that has said that no longer works in the motion picture business. On the other hand, the ones who said, “I can take this, I can work with it and I will do the best job I can,” those are the ones that succeeded. As a matter of fact, there is Jonathan Demme, an Academy Award-winning director. The first picture he directed for me was a woman-in-prison picture, which was a genre we were working with. He knew what it was and he said to me, “I'm going to make the best woman-in-prison picture anybody has ever made.” He knew the limitations on the subject matter, the requirements of the subject matter and he knew the limitations of the budget, but he determined not only to do his best, but the best that was ever made, and he went on to win an Academy Award. Every one of the people that started with me and went on to success had that attitude.