ROGER CORMAN : Master of His Cult

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roger Corman is truly one of America's most innovative and successful independent filmmakers. And one who certainly knows how to stretch a dollar. Corman brings his unique vision to Showtime this week with "Roger Corman Presents," a 13-week series of sci-fi and horror flicks. Corman is executive producer of the series.

Corman, 69, made a reputation for making movies quickly, efficiently and cheaply. In 1957 alone, he directed nine films. Some of those he made in just a couple of days. In a career spanning more than 40 years, Corman has produced 250-plus low-budget films and directed 50 others, including the cult classics "A Bucket of Blood," "Wasp Woman," "The Little Shop of Horrors," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Raven," "The Wild Angels" and "The Trip."

Jack Nicholson, Charles Bronson, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Joe Dante and Jonathan Demme are among the numerous actors and filmmakers who got their start with Corman.

After being the primary director at American International Pictures, Corman founded his own production and distribution company, New World Pictures, in 1970. It soon grew into the largest independent motion-picture distribution company in the United States. New World also released award-wining foreign films by Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and Werner Herzog.

Corman sold New World Pictures in 1983 and formed the successful Concorde-New Horizons Corp., which has its studio in Venice. Among Concorde's recent releases are "White Wolves," "Carnosaur" and "Dillinger and Capone." In 1990, Corman penned (with Jim Jerome), his autobiography "How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime."

Times Staff Writer Susan King talked with Corman about the Showtime movie series over the phone from his office in Brentwood.

Can you talk about the genesis of "Roger Corman Presents"? Did Showtime approach you?

They approached me last fall with the idea of doing a series of feature films in the style of some of the things I have done before--particularly science fiction and horror. We worked out the arrangements and started shooting in January. We finished shooting on 13 pictures in mid-June, which is something of a record.

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You must have been shooting the movies simultaneously.

Yes. We were roughly the equivalent to the old British Empire [saying]: "The sun never sets on the British Empire." I don't think a day went by that we weren't shooting. We were shooting on weekends, we were shooting at our studio here. We were shooting at local locations, and we shot one film in Moscow and one film in Manila. So we were all over the world with this thing.

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How did you get ideas and scripts ready so quickly?

Showtime wanted us to remake several of our previous pictures, specifically "Not of This Earth" and "Wasp Woman." We had two scripts in preparation, "Hellfire" and "Bram Stoker's 'Burial of the Rats'," which was shot in Moscow to take advantage of some spectacular sets which had been built for a Russian feature. Though these pictures are all budgeted at about $2 million, that particular one looks like a multimillion-dollar picture because of the sets. We did buy a couple of scripts. Everything else was created by us.

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Were you more involved in the films that were remakes of your classics?

When I'm supervising 13, there's so much I can do. I got a little bit more involved on those because there were certain ideas and thoughts I had in the originals, low-budget that they may be, that I did want to try to continue with some modification. Neither "Not of This Earth" nor "Wasp Woman," particularly "Wasp Woman," is exactly the original script. We tried to bring them up to date. "Wasp Woman," which always had a slightly feminist viewpoint, we have made her even more so. The original, I think, was shot in eight days and we had a 20-day schedule on this. The script, of course, has been brought up to date. The weakest part of the original "Wasp Woman" was the shortness of the schedule, which means I couldn't get much coverage and I was somewhat limited.

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After these movies air on Showtime will they be released on video?

Yes, they will be on Showtime first and then they will go on video.

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Do most of Concorde-New Horizon features go straight to video or are they released theatrically?

Traditionally, every film went in the theaters before it went into video, but starting about five, maybe six, years ago we started sending some films to video without a theatrical release because frankly theatrical releases for low-budget films were becoming more difficult and more expensive because you needed more advertising.

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How many movies does your studio produce in a regular year?

What happened last year was unusual because we had been averaging around 20 pictures a year for the last three or four years. At the beginning of last year I called everybody together and said, "We are doing too many pictures for a little company. I think we are spreading ourselves too thin. I want to do fewer films and I want to concentrate more on them. I only want to do 17 or 18 films this year." In the early fall, because I then knew our production schedule for the rest of the year, I realized we were making 21 films, so I called everybody together and said, "Fellows, this time I mean it."

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You haven't directed a movie since 1989's "Frankenstein Unbound." Do you miss directing?

I miss it a great deal. Every now and then the thought comes to me, "I'm going back out there and show these guys I can still do it." But I sort of think about it a second time. I may yet go back to direct another film, but the way the company is organized now, I would actually lose money if I would direct because I would be taken away from my major job, which is to produce or executive produce these string of films. But I would like to direct again.

"Roger Corman Presents" begins Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. with "Suspect Device" on Showtime.

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