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Roger Corman on Making Movies and Hollywood Economics (Q&A)

Roger Corman
Roger Corman

At 87, the legendary producer's "burning vision" is to keep on working.

At 87, Roger Corman is still working. The holder of an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement, his latest productions include low-budget thrillers Fist of the Dragon, due out in December, and Dance With a Vampyre, currently filming.

Once dubbed "The King of the Bs" for his prolific output of low-budget movies, Corman is credited with helping to launch the careers of young directors who would collectively become known as the New Hollywood -- including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and Peter Bogdanovich -- and actors that include Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Robert De Niro and William Shatner.

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The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Corman -- who puts his filmography at 350 movies -- in Odessa, Ukraine, where Alex Stapleton’s biographic documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel was screening at the city’s annual film festival and Corman was giving a master class on the "direction and production of independent films."

THR: What advice do you have for young filmmakers today, a time when technology and equipment of filmmaking has never been so affordable or available.

Roger Corman: You have to be true to your own ideas and your own creative impulse. But at the same time, be aware of the market.

THR: Do you think there were times in your career when you might have played the market better?

Corman: I might have [played the market better myself]. I did at times work with studios, but I did not like the fact that decisions were being made for me by the studios that sometimes I did not always agree with. I felt I would rather go back to being independent, where I could make my own decisions. It is possible that I should have stayed with the major studios. I had offers and could have said, "OK, I shall compromise," and eventually I would reach a point where I would not have to compromise, but I was impatient and did not want to wait.

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THR: In many ways you were before your time, and Hollywood made films based on ideas you had first explored. The Wild Angels, starring Peter Fonda, was followed by Easy Rider. In 1975 you made Death Race 2000 and returned to executive produce the studio remake in 2008 …

Corman: The remaking of Death Race -- that’s a particular sore point for me. … It’s a bigger, better film action-wise, but they made it only as a car racing picture. [The original] was voted by readers of some magazine as the best B picture of all time. But there was a theme behind the picture, and they lost the entire theme of the original picture and concentrated only on the car racing. But that’s what they wanted: the car racing.

THR: Is that the issue with Hollywood today -- so many remakes, not enough original material? Is there room for people from different parts of the world with great original material to get in?

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Corman: There is room. Hollywood is tightly bound but not 100 percent. And also -- this is something I predicted a number of years ago -- we are starting to see a couple of these $200 million films fail and the heads of major studios are going to have to start rethinking a little bit what they are doing. They will still be making them but making fewer of them. That will open the way to independents and even studio films that have lower budgets and, frankly, more creativity to them.

THR: You are credited with knowing how to get "more bang for your buck." Do you think filmmakers need to be more aware of getting value for money?

Corman: There’s a growing movement of filmmakers, primarily young but some not so young, who are working with low budgets and are working according to their own ideas with an eye in the market at the same time. It is difficult, but motion pictures have always been part-art and part-business. It is what makes cinema interesting but also difficult.

THR: Some directors are driven by ideas and great visions. Given an unlimited budget what film would you make?

Corman: I don’t know. But it would be a film that appealed to me personally and also what the market would bear. If I have a burning vision, it’s to keep on working!