For nearly 60 years, Roger Corman has been making indie films with budgets that wouldn’t even cover the catering costs of multiplex fare like Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.
The legendary king of B-movies has produced or directed close to 400 films, including cult classics like 1960’s The Little Shop of Horrors (which he famously shot in just two days), 1975’s Death Race 2000 (co-starring a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone) and the so-bad-it’s-good Carnosaur horror series from the ’90s. In the process, he launched the careers of protégés like James Cameron and Martin Scorcese, and inspired dozens of today’s other top filmmakers with his low-cost, highly entertaining movies.
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, a documentary examining Corman’s legacy, hits select theaters Friday. Alex Stapleton’s directorial debut is a fun, fast-paced look at Corman and his contributions to the world of film.
The R-rated documentary is jam-packed with interviews with famous actors and directors who started off working for Corman, terrific behind-the-scenes clips from his productions, and plenty of interesting conversation with the grindhouse auteur himself. Wired.com spoke with Stapleton for insight into how Corman — who’s still making movies at the age of 85 — changed film forever through his mix of imagination and innovation.
10.) He brought some of the world’s biggest actors to the screen.
Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Dennis Hopper — why did so many of Corman’s stars go on to become Hollywood legends? “Because he had the ability to find actors that gave it their all, no matter what the material was,” Stapleton says. “He hired people whose attitude was, ‘If I’m going to be in a women-in-prison movie, I’m going to make it the best damn women-in-prison movie that has ever seen the light of day.”
9.) He brought credibility to exploitation films.
Before Corman came onto the scene, science fiction, horror and action movies were seen by most mainstream filmgoers as kids’ stuff. “But by the 1970s, Roger had gotten so good at genre films that it became actually really cool for people to go see them,” Stapleton says. “Many film fans decided they liked Corman-style pictures more than they liked the more serious, celebrated, artistic films that were coming out at the time.”
8.) He laid the groundwork for the explosion of “movies your parents don’t want you to see.”
Corman and his colleagues pioneered the idea of making teen movies transgressive, with the explicit purpose of appealing to young people’s rebellious spirit. “Before then, teen pictures were like Rebel Without a Cause, where you could tell that the filmmaker was an adult,” Stapleton says. “In a Corman picture, there’s no adult voice of reason, there’s no ‘I told you so’ quality, whether it’s Teenage Doll in the ’50s or Rock ‘n’ Roll High School in the ’70s. You just can’t imagine a movie that ends with the kids blowing up their high school before Roger Corman came around.”
7.) He gave some of Hollywood’s biggest directors their first shot.
James Cameron, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Curtis Hanson, Ron Howard, John Sayles and Martin Scorsese all got their starts working for Corman. “He’s a very rare Hollywood person in that he’s not competitive,” Stapleton says. “Other people may not have wanted a young Coppola working for them, because they’d feel threatened. But Corman always played a paternal role with these guys.”
6.) He made indie filmmaking cool.
With Corman’s choice to make movies independently came the freedom to indulge the kinds of wild creative choices he often made. “Corman’s films looked different, sounded different, and definitely portrayed things that wouldn’t have been able to show up in a studio production,” Stapleton says. “There was a particular aesthetic that developed out of Corman’s independence, and it inspired lots of other filmmakers who decided that they also wanted to work outside of the system.”