Corman Nears Sale of B-Movie Library


Roger Corman, king of the B-movies, is looking to cash out--again.

After selling New World Pictures in 1983, Corman says he’s close to striking a deal for his cult-classic library, which was not part of the original sale. Included in the package are “Death Race 2000,” “Big Bad Mama,” “Stepmonster” (“She’s Mean. She’s Green. She’s Your New Mom!”) and “Carnosaur”--not to be confused with Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur movie.

Corman refuses to name his asking price or the prospective buyers. But industry sources say he began shopping the 250-plus titles around last year for $20 million to $30 million. People close to the company say the deal remains lucrative, despite rumors that the price has been lowered to about $18 million and that Corman has had a tough time finding a taker.

By selling the library now, Corman hopes to capitalize on the surging interest in entertainment programming that began with the Paramount Communications takeover battle. One analyst joked that there are enough films in the library to create a “Roger Corman Cable Network” if all the hype surrounding the 500-channel cable universe becomes reality.


Concorde-New Horizons Corp., the successor to New World, will not be part of the deal. Corman says he intends to continue making 20 or so movies a year.

“I have no plans to retire in any way,” said the producer, who turns 68 in April.

While he operates well outside the mainstream and on small margins, Corman is known as one of Hollywood’s craftiest businessmen. The title of his 1990 autobiography, “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime,” is indicative of his reputation, though Corman confesses that he actually did lose money on a small number of them.

Corman is also known for being strictly private about his financial activities. He’s peddling the library without the aid of an investment banker or any other formal adviser. Asked to asses its worth over lunch at The Grill one day, Corman responded: “Neither we nor the prospective purchasers know what it’s worth. It’ll be our guess against theirs.”

One concern among people who have passed on the library is that there may be some cross-ownership problems, which Corman’s company denies. Others worry that the movies are too short, too violent or too weird for broadcast TV. “You couldn’t base an entire channel around the films, because there aren’t many big stars,” said one buyer. “But it might make sense for someone who already has a big library.”

Corman insists there’s still plenty of room in the marketplace for his brand of movie.

With the death of the drive-in theater partly to blame for B-movie revenue falling 76% from 1989 to 1991, Corman and his management team--which includes video president Jonathan D. Fernandez and sales manager Bill Bromiley--have shifted much of the company’s attention to the video market.


Roughly 70% of Corman’s films go directly to videotape--with the big sellers including its record-setting “Carnosaur” (85,000 copies), “Blood Fist IV” (40,000 copies) and a family movie called “White Wolves” (55,000 copies). The other 30% does most of its theatrical business in small towns. And about 50% of the company’s overall business comes from foreign sales.

Corman has also survived largely by sticking to the low-budget, high-volume formula he developed some 30 years ago.


“The Fantastic Four,” which is now in post-production, ranks as a major undertaking by Corman standards, at $4 million. Most of his movies still cost less than $2 million.

Corman also develops 75% of his ideas in-house, using a stable of beginning writers and directors who work out of a former lumberyard in Venice that Corman calls “The Factory.”

It is a well-known part of the Corman legend that past pupils have included Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Robert DeNiro and Jonathan Demme.

Forget about a lengthy development process or round-table rewrites: “If we want to make a picture, we decide in 30 minutes and start shooting three days later,” Corman says.

People close to Corman say it’s not surprising that he has avoided the temptation to make a big-budget movie over the years, given his conservative style. One associate remembers Corman stepping into a beat-up, unrecognizable car after lunch one day.

Corman explained that it was a prop car that had just been blown up for one of his movies.

Corman agrees that he’s most comfortable operating outside the traditional film community, but he also challenges the way his films are most commonly labeled.


“These are not B or B-plus pictures,” Corman says. “These are A-minus pictures. It’s a subtle differentiation.”


They do it their way: The French, fierce protectors of their own culture and well-known lovers of Jerry Lewis, also have a thing for Paul Anka, it turns out. Anka was recently named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture for his international contributions to music. The performer was in Paris to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his best-known songwriting achievement, “My Way.”