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The mass-production man

Times Staff Writer

MAVERICK filmmaker Roger Corman has amassed a staggering 377 producing credits over the past half-century, the Internet Movie Database says.

“That would be roughly right,” affirms Corman, the subject of an 80th birthday tribute this weekend at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood. “Probably it would be a little more than that because sometimes I do co-productions, or I work with younger people in the office. I give them the credit because I don’t need one more credit which could help a younger person.”

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 27, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 22, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Roger Corman film: The caption under a photograph of actress Beverly Garland in Sunday Calendar’s Cine File column incorrectly said it was from Roger Corman’s “Not of This Earth.” It was from Corman’s “It Conquered the World.”
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 27, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Roger Corman film: The caption under a photo of actress Beverly Garland in last Sunday’s Cine File column incorrectly said it was from Roger Corman’s “Not of This Earth.” It was from Corman’s “It Conquered the World.”

Corman’s Concord New Horizons is shooting a picture in Bulgaria called “Dream City” and preparing another, “Cyclops,” for the Sci-Fi Channel.

These days, 60% of his productions are shot abroad. “These foreign countries are offering subsidies that are so great that not only I but many independent producers are moving overseas.”

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Described as “The King of the B’s,” Corman built a reputation for making films quickly and cheaply -- as a director, he’d complete films in only 10 days. In the case 1960’s “The Little Shop of Horrors,” which opens the festival Friday, he shot it in two.

“Those days have faded,” says Corman, who will make an appearance at the Cinematheque on Friday.

“Our minimum is four weeks. It’s simply the demands of the marketplace. When I was making pictures in just a couple of weeks, we were competing and competing reasonably well theatrically with bigger-budget major studios. But today, the major studio pictures are so big we have had to up our budgets a little bit. Clearly we are not going to be competing with a $100-million ‘Superman,’ but some of our films have special effects in them and we need a longer time.”

The Cinematheque retrospective at the Egyptian Theater features nine films from his early days as a filmmaker, including “Highway Dragnet,” “The Intruder,” “The Wasp Woman,” “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “Bucket of Blood.”

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Corman was in his element in the 1950s. “I was considerably younger then, and I just liked making motion pictures,” he says. “It was great fun. It was stimulating. It was creative. It was a great way to live.”

“The one thing I think that’s interesting about him is that he went out and did it on his own when that was very hard to do in the 1950s,” says Cinematheque programmer Chris D.

Corman had his own small company, Filmgroup, for a short time during that period. He also aligned himself with like-minded young companies including Allied Artists and the American Releasing Corp. (which would become American International Pictures). “He was an independent filmmaker, a genre filmmaker working in several different genres,” says Chris D. “The movies, even the ones he didn’t direct, most of them have a lot of energy to them, a kind of freshness to them.”

Though he’s a fan of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations Corman made with Vincent Price -- films such as “The Pit and the Pendulum” -- Chris D has a special fondness for Corman’s early black-and-white features.

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“They are very vivid and have a sense of humor,” he says. “But the humor is balanced just right because he is playing the movies straight.”

Corman says he got his ideas for his movies from what he enjoyed and what young audiences at the time were interested in seeing.

“I had always liked science fiction and horror as a child,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I remember reading ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ when I was in grammar school. I liked it so much, I asked my parents to get me the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe for Christmas. Then as a teenager, I read a lot of science fiction.”

He came up for the concept for 1954’s “Highway Dragnet,” which he wrote and co-produced, from a visit to the Salton Sea.

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“I noticed a number of houses that were sitting deserted in the Salton Sea were flooded,” says Corman, who received an engineering degree from Stanford. “I thought this would make a great suspense sequence if somebody was stalking somebody on the shores of the Salton Sea and they ended up in a half-flooded house.”

But the film wasn’t even shot at that location. “The house was on a sound stage, and the water was up to people’s ankles because that is the only amount of flooding they could afford without building huge tanks. It was a pretty good little picture.”

“The Intruder,” from 1962, which screens Friday night, was a change of pace for Corman -- a stark racial drama starring William Shatner.

“It was the first picture I ever made that lost money,” Corman says. “The public didn’t want to see the picture. It got great reviews. It won a number of, I have to admit, secondary film festivals. It was invited into competition at the Venice Film Festival. When we finally released it on DVD, we finally made enough money that if you didn’t count the lost interest, it actually finally broke into profit.”

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Though he came out of directing retirement in 1990 to helm “Frankenstein Unbound,” Corman had officially stopped directing in 1971. “I was just tired,” he admits. “I had directed 55 or 60 films in 13 or 14 years.”

Originally, he was just going to take a yearlong sabbatical. “But I got bored after a couple of months, so I started New World Pictures as a production and distribution company.”

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A helping hand

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CORMAN’S keen eye for talent helped launch many notable careers, including those of producers Jon Davison and Gale Anne Hurd, writer-directors Robert Towne and John Sayles, and directors Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard.

“I had started making a fair amount of money as a director,” he says. “But I didn’t know how to invest it. I did know as a younger man going to parties and hanging around Hollywood, I thought a lot of people were talented. I thought I was better off backing them in low-budget films....”

In 1983, he sold New World and founded Concorde New Horizons.

“I would say maybe 10% of our films get a limited theatrical release in the United States,” Corman says. “The rest go straight to DVD or cable TV.”

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Corman says he thinks the major studios today are playing it a “bit too safe,” relying too much on remakes and special effects. “I can understand the temptation to lean on the special effects, but I think the special effects must serve the story. What encourages me is that we are seeing smaller kind of niche pictures, which are almost the American equivalent of European art films coming up.”

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Roger Corman festival

Where: American Cinematheque, Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

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When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Price: $6-$9

Contact: (323) 466-FILM or go to www.americancinematheque.com

Schedule

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Friday: “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Intruder,” “Highway Dragnet”

Saturday: “The Wasp Woman,” “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” “Creature From the Haunted Sea”

Sunday: “Bucket of Blood,” “Not of This Earth,” “War of the Satellites”


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