- Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible– Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 0:00
Enjoy today's episode with guest host Jason Buff.
Jason Buff 0:04
Thanks for joining us here today. We have a super guest on Today we're talking with one of my heroes, Mr. Roger Corman. Now just between us I was scared as hell to just give Roger Corman a call. I was sitting in my office and I got his very nice secretary told me a time to call in and it's kind of like all of a sudden I was on the phone with one of my heroes Roger Corman really is someone who all indie filmmakers should know about and should definitely understand his contribution to the world of independent film. He's also responsible for giving the first break to a lot of people that my generation considers the filmmakers that really influenced them like Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demi, Joe, Dante and Ron Howard. So what I want to do is listen to some of them talk about how Roger Corman influenced their filmmaking. The first interview I want to go to is with Jonathan Demi, who said this about Roger Corman, in the documentary, Roger Corman, Hollywood's wild angel in 1978. Documentary
Jonathan Demi 3:07
Well, in any film that I've ever worked on with Roger, there are three main elements that he's looking for. One is humor, which he considers tremendously important. Another is action, which he considers very important, and another is sex, which he considers important, but not quite as important as the other two elements, I don't think but it's funny the way these things pop up because for example, in my script for caged he had your script and and what Roger does is sometimes he'll give the notes right on the script and hand it back to you. So you get the script back and you get little little marginal references like breast nudity possible here. Question mark. Which Yes, you realize, yes, it is possible here and you don't want to get too idealistic, because actually don't have negative feelings about nudity anyway. So yes, Roger, indeed it is. And that's the bargain you make with Roger, if you buy his it's never articulated, I don't think but if you buy his concept that pictures that audiences alike contain these three major elements, action, humor, and sex, and you really buy it, and you're kind of commit to getting as much of that stuff as possible in there. And if you also want to make a good picture and tell a good story, then the best of both worlds happens he gets a movie that contains these things and he's confident of releasing it and you get a chance to make a picture very much the way you want to make it
Conan O'Brien 4:15
I know that you've worked with you gave so many people their start so many great talents or start. Francis Ford Coppola worked with you before he really worked with anyone else. Isn't that true?
Roger Corman 4:26
Yes. Right. As a matter of fact, he he was a sound man, the second assistant director and shot second unit all on one picture.
Conan O'Brien 4:35
Really very versatile. Okay. And did you know that this kid's going places
Roger Corman 4:39
Actually, I knew he was good. I had no idea that he was gonna go to the heights he did. Okay.
Conan O'Brien 4:44
Ron Howard. I think also Ron Howard, his first directing jobs.
Roger Corman 4:49
He started with us as an actor, and the picture was called Eat my dust car to a film. It was a big success. And he came into the office and he said, I know you want to do A sequel with a star plays a role in a successful film. He always asked for more money, I will star in the next picture, no more money, and I will do an additional job. And I said, what is that? And he said, I'll direct and I said, Brian, you always look like a director to be.
Conan O'Brien 5:20
You influenced the way film trailers are made. I think many people, especially young people think that film trailers have always been similar. But no, you really changed the way they were made with a certain innovation. What is it? You did?
Roger Corman 5:33
Well, it was Joe Dante who went on to become a very well known successful director who started cutting trailers for us, and he was cutting one trailer, and I looked at and I said, Joe uses a fairly dull trailer. What can you do to jazz it up? He said, Come back this afternoon. I went back this afternoon, and there was in the same dole trailer in the middle was an exploding helicopter. It made the trailer
Conan O'Brien 6:00
Let me ask the question, was there an exploding helicopter in the film?
Roger Corman 6:03
There is no law that says everything in the trailer
Conan O'Brien 6:13
Fantastic. The balls man that was incredible. So I mean, what is in wouldn't this show would be jazzed up by a helicopter crash occasionally. You know, that's the kind of thing that would help a talk show we know they should do it everywhere.
Roger Corman 6:26
We could give you the stock footage.
Conan O'Brien 6:28
Would you charge me for it?
Roger Corman 6:29
Conan O'Brien 6:33
You've got great titles, great titles for your films, one of my favorites attack of crab monsters and and there's the of course the title for it. And so many amazing titles over that do come up with a title first and then decide to shoot the film. How does it work sometimes?
Roger Corman 6:49
Appearances Grand Theft Auto, which was Ron Howard's first film as a as a director, the title came first, but if Oh, the film he did before, Eat my dust, I forgotten the title. We were shooting a car chase, somewhere out in the San Fernando Valley and dusk was flying all over the place. And the director who said we had a call is Victor, Eat my dust. I said we will. And he said I'm joking. I said, I'm not joking. That's a great title. So the title came.
Jason Buff 7:19
Now of course, that was Conan O'Brien. And now here's Ron Howard talking about working with Roger Corman
Ron Howard 7:24
conversations that were really significant during the course of making Grand Theft Auto. The first was, he sat me down and said, Ron, I'll come visit you on the first day of filming. And if you're productive, and you're making around 20 setups a day and you're making your days, you won't see much of me. in all candor. If you're not achieving those, those kinds of results, you're going to see one hell of a lot of me. That was his little warning. I had a great moment on the Paramount lot. I was finishing up the season of that season of Happy Days, walking along. And as soon as hiatus came in March, I was gonna go direct Grand Theft Auto. And Jonathan Dami called me from out the window at the second second storey office. He was getting ready to do citizen band I think. And and, of course, I knew him as a Roger Corman veteran. And he came bounding down the stairs. And he said, I heard you're going to direct a picture for Roger, come upstairs. And I went upstairs and he talked to me for about 20 minutes. He gave me these sheets that he would use to sort of plan out the shortlist and, and the day and gave me great advice. Here's this young guy saying make sure you get plenty of sleep, you know, the hipster guy, and I and I and, you know, and and, and he basically said, you know, Roger will let you creatively do whatever you want to do. That's the fantastic thing about working for Roger. And, but, you know, you just have to make sure that you, you're efficient. And here's how you do it. And remember to think ahead and just lots of good fundamentals, but also encouraging me to explore and be creative. And really, you know, take advantage of this, this opportunity that Roger was was was given me, I finally carried my end of a great tradition. And cast Roger in Apollo 13. He had a very nice scene playing a senator with with Tom Hanks. And it was a really wonderful day to reconnect with Roger, having calm had, you know, it was a big day with green screen and, you know, it was we were doing visual effects shots and, and it was, you know, just a plus Hollywood filmmaking and he just marked and said, Well, we can do this for a hell of a lot less. And you know, he could
Jason Buff 9:54
All right and now my interview with Roger Corman.
Alex Ferrari 9:57
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Jason Buff 10:07
I was watching the documentary Corman's world recently, the thing that I thought was very interesting to see was that you're still going down and being on the set. Do you find the same excitement being on a set these days?
Roger Corman 10:17
It's always exciting to be on the set, I'd probably not as excited as earlier. But the stimulation is still there after you've done it. I've made around 300 films, there's a certain routine. But there's something always a little bit No
Jason Buff 10:32
How have things changed? I mean, now that you are working in the digital world, and video on demand and the Sci Fi Channel, how has your system changed and the way that you go about distribution,
Roger Corman 10:44
It's changed a little bit when you mentioned distribution, it's changed for the better, and production, and it's chain changed, at least for those of us working in medium budget and lower budget films has changed for the worse, and distribution and production, production is easier. The new digital cameras, a sound equipment, the lighting equipment, everything is lighter, more portable, easier to use, so you can shoot more unnatural locations, and you can shoot faster and more efficiently. So production is better today, the conditions of production. The conditions of distribution, however, are not good for the independence. The major studios today with their $100,000,000.02 100 million dollar budgets in their 3040 $50 million marketing campaigns have dominated theatrical to such an extent that very few medium or low budget independent pictures get a theatrical distribution. Primarily, we're on DVD streaming cable, some broadcast television, and only occasionally in theaters today,
Jason Buff 11:59
Is there a certain period of time that you look back on in your career and kind of reminisce about as being the glory days of filmmaking?
Roger Corman 12:07
Probably for me, the 60s and 70s, the 60s was when I was having most fun, and most success as a director, I started directing and around 58 or something like that first couple of years, you sort of learn what you're doing. And then things started to move for me in the 60s. And in the 70s, I started my own production and distribution company that I moved from directing to producing and distributing and that was a whole new world as well. So for that, about a 20 year period, I was probably having the most fun and the most success. Things still work out. I'm still producing, still distributing, but I make fewer films today. And just that I make fewer films, they get a limited distribution. And I'll continue for a few more years.
Jason Buff 13:01
You started out working as a writing notes on screenplays, right? And you eventually did some notes for the gun, the compiler,
Roger Corman 13:09
Yes. Actually, I started up. I graduated from Stanford with a degree in engineering. And I was a failure of the Stanford Engineering class. I got the worst job of anybody. I got a job as a messenger at Fox $32.50 a week. I rode the bike around the studio delivering messages. And then I'm I worked the fairly hard did put did some extra work and became a reader in the story department. And that was where I first got a little bit minor recognition for my work on the gunfighter. I didn't like various things of going on. So I had some college time left on the GI Bill. So I went to Europe, went to Oxford briefly. And then came back and became a literary agent, and sold my own script under an assumed name and took the money from that and started my production company.
Jason Buff 14:12
How did you did you know how it was all going to work? And were you going to sell the film? Or did you just kind of go into it like the leap of faith?
Roger Corman 14:18
It was a total leap of faith. I I think that and I wonder how I had the nerve to do it.
Jason Buff 14:27
Well, I think that you know, your career has shown that you've taken a lot of leaps of faith like that. And now did you when you first started, did you have the idea that you could keep a career going as long as you were making films at a low enough price that you could always sell them?
Roger Corman 14:44
It wasn't quite that easy. I financed my films with my own money. And since I don't have that much money, I can't make giant films. So the budget level was more or less predetermined, and I don't Really think I've ever thought of it as how long can I keep going? I just felt that everything is going well, I'll continue making films. So there was a little bit of a sort of a long term plan. But to a large extent, it was day to day. I'm going to make this film I'm shooting this film. I'm planning the next film, and so forth.
Jason Buff 15:21
What did you learn from making films that people really wanted to see you obviously tapped into something in the marketplace that was selling tickets and got people coming in and got people excited? Are there any sort of things that are specific to your films that really kind of you developed and learned how to sell a film?
Roger Corman 15:39
Well, early on, I appeal to a teenage audience. I was very much aware that the audience was a young audience, and the major studios were casting their great stars, which meant to a large extent, a 50 year old leading man, making love to a 40 year old leading lady and the abrogation. The audience was 18. So I felt, I totally understood why they did it. Their stars were the equivalent of brands. The stars were famous and could sell tickets. But I felt if I work with young people, I could appeal directly to a young audience. And I worked in genres. i Not always, but generally, I was doing action pictures, horror films, science fiction films, sometimes deliberately straight, teenage films, and so forth.
Jason Buff 16:36
Were there any other movies like genre films, they were fairly non mainstream back in those days? I mean, nowadays, it seems like horror movies are very mainstream, and especially science fiction and everything, especially after Star Wars and all those sorts of movies. But back in those days, was it something that was more of like a drive in movie theater or more like be movies?
Roger Corman 16:56
Yes. The drive ins were very important, they weren't quite as important as people think they were. Our main money still came from what we call the hard to see in close theaters. But drive ins were a major source of income. And the driving audience was even younger than the hard top audience. Although drive ins did attract some families, on the basis that young family with children couldn't afford a babysitter, something could just go to the drive and put the children in the backseat, watch the picture. And the children would maybe just go to sleep. So it was an inexpensive night out for them. It still was primarily a young audience,
Jason Buff 17:42
Do you think we've missed something now that we don't have theatres, and we don't like go out and see movies now that everybody's watching movies, on iPads and on TV?
Roger Corman 17:49
Yes, I think there's something to be said, for seeing a picture, particularly a comedy. With an audience. You pick up the vibes, as it were, unconsciously, from the audience, it becomes a communal or a shared experience.
Jason Buff 18:04
I was watching the 1978 documentary called corpsman Hollywood's wild Angel, you can actually it's actually on YouTube. And it was one of probably one of the most, I've learned so much in two hours of just watching this incredible. And there's a great scene where they're talking with Jonathan Demi, and he's talking about the advice that you gave him as a filmmaker. And I thought it was really interesting. And I just wanted to get your thoughts on that. And he said that the three most important elements in a film were humor, action, and sex and sex was last but it was still important. Do you still feel like
Roger Corman 18:40
I think I think that I would put in a negative storyline. I should have said that. I was probably I was probably understood.
Jason Buff 18:50
What are your some of your favorite movies that you have seen lately? You know, more contemporary people?
Roger Corman 18:55
Yes, as a matter of fact, possibly the most interesting film I saw last year, was a film that for three quarters of the way through, I thought was one of the most brilliant films I'd ever seen. And then it started to fall at the end. And it was never recognized in any way, I think for special effects Interstellar, which I thought was really a brilliant film, particularly as I say my degree was an engineering but I had a minor in physics. And maybe it was unique to me. I tried to stay up with physics. And it was really very accurate. From all the concepts of Physics Today, the last quarter or so it started to get a little questionable. didn't totally hold up, but I think for the reason that as I say, it was so brilliant, so far through and then still was I still think of it as possibly the best picture of the year but So nobody else seems to agree with me or few people agree or agree with me.
Alex Ferrari 20:05
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Jason Buff 20:14
One of the things that I had heard that you mentioned was that after the film, the intruder, you had decided that you didn't want to be as, which is a brilliant film, but I actually just saw it for the first time a couple of days ago that you had decided to try and not you know, have a movie that was commercial, but have a movie within that movie that actually had a message and was a good movie within a movie that was sellable.
Roger Corman 20:37
Yes, I felt that I had become too serious with the intruder. It got a lot of critical acclaim when a couple of minor film festivals, but it was commercially not successful. And I felt I was too serious. I was lecturing the audience. And I felt, what I would do would be to make a film and entertainment with as we say, a method acting a text and the subtext of text is the entertainment of the film. And the subtext would be whatever was important to me, or whatever I wanted to say. But it wouldn't be always be secondary, to the textures of film.
Jason Buff 21:19
Now, were you one of the first people to take the camera off the tripod and go out into the streets and kind of shoot off of sets Was that something that you felt was you know, would bring more realism to your film, say in the 60s?
Roger Corman 21:35
Yes, I was one of the first, I wouldn't say I was the first service that I know. A number of people were doing it before me. But I was one of the first to do it. And I liked that concept very much I'd been doing. My Edgar Allan Poe pictures was Vincent Price. And those were deliberately studio bound, I wanted to have total control of everything within a studio leaving nothing to chance. And I wanted to when I felt I had done enough of those films, I wanted to go completely away from that, go into the streets and shoot the world around me, as as I interpreted during the 60s, which of course was a very volatile decade.
Jason Buff 22:19
You mentioned working with Vincent Price and the poems Can you talk a little bit about horror and you're feeling about horror movies?
Roger Corman 22:27
Well, horror is very complex, it's exceedingly complex, you can get hard very easily by cutting off somebody's arm or something like that. I'm not talking about that kind of horror, I'm talking about horror, as a psychological concept. And I think the roots go so deep into a person's individually experience into the whole experience of humanity, that it is a fascinating genre in which to work that
Jason Buff 22:57
You were distributing a lot of films from foreign filmmakers. I was wondering if you had any favorite filmmakers from that, you know, like Kurosawa, or Bergman, what what your favorite films were from that kind of well of people,
Roger Corman 23:13
I would pick a few, some of the filmmakers, Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, a number of others. The first one I had was cries and whispers from Bergman, which was I thought, brilliant film. Can you see our carousel was there's a who's, which is an unusual film for him to which one Academy Award Best Foreign Film Fellini's picture. I forgotten the title of it. But the film from Fellini that also won the Academy we won. I think in a certain number of six or seven years, we've learned more at foreign Academy Awards and everybody else combined.
Jason Buff 24:00
Now, where were you able to meet with those directors? Did you you know, have any relationship with them? And did you learn things from them?
Roger Corman 24:07
Yes, I met I met several of them talk with so much several of them. Fellini said you should get out of distributing and go back to directing. I remember. Why did you ever leave.
Jason Buff 24:20
You've obviously had a great influence on a lot of the people that my generation considers the best filmmakers, you know, the the 70s and the people who really influenced us moving into the 80s. Now when I when I watch a movie by you know Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola, when you watch movies that they make, do you see your influence in what they make, I mean, for example, camera movement, and you know, keeping things going
Roger Corman 24:45
A little bit, but basically, they are their own people. They were good before they even met me they had the talent. I may have taught them a few things, but basically, they're brilliant film. makers, they would have been brilliant filmmakers if they'd never met.
Jason Buff 25:03
What do all these people have in common that the great filmmakers the James Cameron's, and all these guys that you work with? What is there something that you saw in them that just made them? Great?
Roger Corman 25:12
Well, I've been asked that question before, I would say there were three things. One, every one of them was intelligent. I've never met a successful writer, producer or director who's been successful over a long period of time, who wasn't intelligent. The second was the ability to work. Making films on move to a certain extent is glamorous and exciting. But also it is very, very hard work. Those two things, you can kind of figure out. The third is creativity. They are all creative, and that you only learn about a person by working with them.
Jason Buff 25:56
I also watch Death Race 2000. And I was wondering if you when you watch the Hunger Games, reaction to that,
Roger Corman 26:04
I definitely had that reaction both in its follow up picture, deaths, sport deaths, sports, a number of things went wrong, it's not a good picture. But the thoughts and death rays, on the other hand, was pretty good picture. One Sample was the greatest beat picture of all time, I think, without question, some of the thoughts and death races and deaths for it are in The Hunger Games and some other things. On the other hand, as far as I know, death, race and death sport were totally original. But if I say that, there's gonna be somebody who will say you're forgetting the German expression, this film of 1919 had the same concept. So you can never say you were really the first. And it's very possible if I think whoever wrote the Hunger Games had never seen death sport or Death Race. They probably thought they were doing something totally original as well.
Jason Buff 27:05
Well, it also reminded me a lot of Mad Max and actually more like Mad Max, too. You know, did you did you ever see that connection?
Roger Corman 27:13
Yes. Who was the actually the in that case? It's an Australian direct. He told me he had seen it. He had seen death rates. George Miller Yeah. Yes. Joy. Yes. And he said he had seen death rates. And he said he was inspired by him. And but he didn't cartoonish. And he got a general idea of a genre, and did two brilliant original films. The call?
Jason Buff 27:38
Yeah, I mean, well, I mean, the thing that, that you feel when you watch that, it's just the danger. You know, you feel the speed and you feel like I mean, that's one of the things that films I think have lost a lot nowadays is just the actual, you know, you're doing everything in camera, there's not really any visual effects. I mean, there might be there was like a matte painting, I remember. But other than that, I mean, everything is real and not like digital effects. So you can when I watch movies like that, it's a lot realer than watching, you know, some of these movies that are like the superhero movies where you know that they can do it all in a computer?
Roger Corman 28:09
Yes. I think the audience unconsciously knows that they can sense it. To a certain extent, the steps that can be done today are far superior to what we were doing in camera, what you can do with a computer are just lightyears ahead. Yet at the same time, the audience almost senses. They're too good. They know this can't really be now,
Jason Buff 28:35
I wanted to talk for just a second about if you could give a little bit of a lot of people that listen to this are first time filmmakers and people that are trying out they're trying to make you know, their first independent films, can you talk a little bit about what people can do to have success in the film industry and make a film that's like you said, a movie that is good, but also a film that will sell and that can keep them going,
Roger Corman 28:57
Well as William Goldman once said, nobody knows anything. He's partially true. But I would say this. A lot of people have a general idea, you don't know. But you have a general idea. So I could say a few things. And even before I say, I will know that somebody will go up and do something totally opposite from what I say you should do, and have a giant success and do it. So it really depends upon the ability as a filmmaker, but probably not getting into a deep, long discussion. The one thing that I would say is most important is preparation. Particularly if you have a short schedule, or a small budget. You want to do as much of your thinking as you possibly can. Before you ever appear on the set. You want to have your story worked out. You want to have talked with your actors.
Alex Ferrari 29:58
We'll be right back after a word from Our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Roger Corman 30:07
Worked out the basic red line is Stanislavski said if the actor's performance, you want to have your own shots sketched out, knowing however, you will never follow your plan exactly something that will whose happens that causes you to change sometimes as the better sometimes you'll get a better idea. But I put heavy, heavy emphasis on pre production planning.
Jason Buff 30:34
Is that how you were able to do Little Shop of Horrors? In today?
Roger Corman 30:37
Yes, we rehearse three days. So what happened? Studio had these sets, that we just shot on sets that were there. That's the reason I made the fixture. And I knew that as a Screen Actors Guild at that time, I think it's still this way. Hiring an actor for five days for a week is not much more expensive than hiring a matter of fact, it's about as expensive it was to hire an actor for a week, as for three days on a daily rates, so I hired all the actors for a week, we rehearsed three days, and then went and shot for two days, having worked everything out in the first three.
Jason Buff 31:15
I actually I have to ask you this. Now, I know that you you're a fan of Stanley Kubrick, right? Yes. I was wondering how you How did you feel about the Shining when you saw that? And did you talk to Jack Nicholson about that after I did,
Roger Corman 31:27
I thought for sure, I think Kubrick is one of the great, great directors. And I think the shining is one of his best films. And that's his best film, but it's one of his best films. So I have total admiration for Stanley. And for that picture, and Jack was brilliant. I do have one story that Jack told me. When we were working people used to say I printed the first take I sold them did but I print generally the second or third take or something like that. Stanley is famous for shooting and shooting and shooting. He went over 100 takes on one shot with jack and jack is a good guy. He stood there the wet until Stanley printed 112 113 cakes. And when he was finished, he went over to Stanley. Stanley, I'm with you all the way. But you have to know I generally take around the 70 is the radius.
Jason Buff 32:29
Did you ever have the chance to meet Stanley Kubrick
Roger Corman 32:32
I met him was just talked to him briefly early in his career he had done his first film was a crime story built around a racetrack. And it was a medium low budget film. And I remember was after he had done that. And I was just talking to him. And I said this is one of the best if not the best first films I've ever seen. And it was clear from there that he was going to have a brilliant career. Was that the killers?
Jason Buff 33:02
Yes, that's right. That had a brilliant ending to with the the suitcase and the money flying out of it and everything. Yes. I always in my my interviews with two questions. One is, do you have a resource like a book or something that's been very influential to your life or something that you can recommend to filmmakers?
Roger Corman 33:21
Well, I'll give you an answer that doesn't apply exactly the most influential book to me was when I was in college, studying math, and I studied calculus. The whole concept of calculus, which is to a certain extent, could be described as the mathematics of movement. The problems with calculus that we're going to get, won't get in all of that calculus, the problem and the solving of the problem, I thought was so brilliant and such an example of what the creative mind can do that that's probably influenced me more than any other book.
Jason Buff 34:00
If you could go back in time and talk to yourself when you were 20 years old. What advice would you have for yourself,
Roger Corman 34:06
I would probably say at the age of 20, to try to get as broad and varied in education as you possibly can. I think the fact that I majored in engineering cause me to specialize too much in a certain branch of knowledge, where as a liberal education, encompassing literature, our philosophy, economic psychology, all of that is the best preparation for a full life, whether professionally or personally,
Jason Buff 34:43
Did you follow that because you felt like you had to have something to kind of fall back on and to have a career.
Roger Corman 34:49
Well, my father was an engineer, and I simply started off to follow his in his footsteps. And it wasn't until I became the film critic of the Stanford Daly and I started analyzing films that I realized this is what I wanted to do. But I'd spent four years studying engineering.
Jason Buff 35:12
Did you ever use any of that knowledge for filmmaking?
Roger Corman 35:14
Well, as I say, going back to Calculus, I use some of the knowledge. But I also use some of the way in which you think as an engineer, or a physicist or a mathematician, there's a thought process of problem solving, which can be very creative and very satisfying, and very useful at the same time.
Jason Buff 35:35
Well, I really appreciate you taking the time and talking with me.
Roger Corman 35:40
Very good. Thank you.
Jason Buff 35:41
All right. That's gonna do it for today. I want to thank my guests, Mr. Roger Corman for coming on the show. Thanks a lot.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.