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Texas Frightmare Weekend - Roger Corman Exclusive Interview

In the afternoon of Day Two at Texas Frightmare Weekend – long before the rainy weather tried to sour the day – Roger Corman, wearing a black Sharktopus running jacket, sat down with Frank’s Reel Reviews and other members of the press to discuss his inspirational legacy of low budget film glories and what changes the internet has brought to how his films are distributed.


Q: You know you are one of those guys where it’s like where do we begin, but I’m going to begin with the documentary on you that premiered at Sundance.  There are so many directors that have gone through the Roger Corman school of filmmaking and now you are on this next round of films with Sharktopus and Dinoshark and those kind of sci-fi films.  Are you ushering in a whole new wave of filmmakers?

A:  We have a couple of new young directors – Declan O'Brien and Kevin O'Neill– and their films, Sharktopus and Dinoshark, have been successful behind what we anticipated.  I think of Sharktopus as going too far with the title, though!  I have a feeling that you can get up to a certain level of insanity with these titles and everybody is with you.  You go over the level of insanity and people say, “alright, cut it out” and they turn against you.  When we came up with Sharktopus I thought it was too much.  We had gone too far.  The film turned out to be the highest ratings the Syfy Channel had in I don’t know how many years, so we’re working on another equally incredible-titled film called Piranhaconda.


Q:  One of the things that struck me when I saw the documentary was that people like Johnathan Demme, Ron Howard, and Dick Miller would talk about their experiences with you.  They are clearly indebted to you.  There’s a scene in which Jack Nicholson breaks down in tears because he wants you to know just how appreciative he is for what you’ve done for him.  What was it like to watch that?

A:  This was a documentary on me that was shown at Sundance and I was surprised.  Jack and I have always been good friends.  We’ve known each other ever since the beginning and he became very emotional and did start to cry as he talked about our relationship and the fact that we’ve worked together for a long time.  I was moved by it myself.


Q:  Do you look at as though you’ve come full circle?

A:  It is going back a little to the style of the first films we ever made.  Part of this is in response to the fact that we don’t have full theatrical distribution anymore for medium budget and low budget films.  Sharktopus played on Syfy a couple of months ago and is in its first month of DVD release, so we have to go even wilder it appears with these titles.  We are going back to the original wildness that we started with.


Q:  More than any other filmmaker, you have balanced pure entertainment value with making money on your films.  When you see things like VOD and streaming media, how do you look at it from your perspective?

A:  I welcome VOD and streaming and various ways of internet distribution.  When I first started in the late 1950’s, every film we made got a full theatrical distribution.  Over the last few years, theatrical distribution is primarily for the major studios and the occasional Saw or Paranormal Activity or something like that.  So, having been pushed out of theatrical releases, we are dependent upon cable and DVD and now streaming and other uses of the internet that are bound to come.  I welcome them.  It’s a whole new area where people can see our films.


Q:  Talk about Death Race 2000.  Do you have any favorite memories from that shoot?

A:  On Death Race 2000, we had some stunt drivers doing the driving for David Carradine and, our new discovery, Sylvester Stallone, playing opposite of David.  There was one stunt that they considered very dangerous.  Stuntmen get what is called a bump for dangerous work.  They get their normal salary for the normal stunts they do plus a little extra and on really dangerous stunts they get what is called a double bump.  One of the drivers said, “this is really dangerous” and he “needed” a double bump in order to complete it.  I told him to give me the helmet and I’ll race the car myself!


Q:  What happened with your version of The Fantastic Four?

A:  That’s a long story.  It’s a fascinating one, too.  I will try to make it as short and as interesting as I can.  Bernd Eichinger, a German producer and good friend of mine, owned the rights to the comic book property.  He came to me and said he had a budget of $30,000,000 to make The Fantastic Four.  Only he hadn’t raised the money for the film and if he didn’t start shooting by December 31st, he would lose his option on the film.  He only had one million dollars.  He wanted to know if I could make the film for that amount before the end of the year.  I met with the guys at the studio and we agreed that we would have to make a couple of adjustments here and there and we can make it for that price.  He asked when I wanted to shoot it.  I said December 30th and he said, “no, that will be too obvious”.  Either way it’s obvious!  We started shooting on December 28th and, actually, it was a pretty good little film.  And his deal with me was – as I was saying earlier at a time when theatrical distributions for these little films was starting to be torn down – that we would put a million up for the film and another million for the advertising.  He also wanted the right to buy the picture back for 90 days after I finished the film to see if he could sell it to a major movie studio.  He offered me a rather high bonus to buy it back, so I knew I would make a great deal of money.  I really wanted to distribute the film, though.  I agreed.  He sold the film on the 88th day of our agreed upon contract to Twentieth Century Fox and they made the $60,000,000 version of The Fantastic Four and they put my $1,000,000 film into the budget.  Fox wouldn’t let him have the original film back – because he wanted to release it as the prequel – so he never got the chance.


Q:  You haven’t directed a film since Frankenstein Unbound.  Will you ever direct another feature?

A:  I might.  The years have caught up with me, though.  I would only direct again if I found something I only wanted – specifically and personally – to make.  Otherwise, it’s easier to let the director get up at 6:30 in the morning and go to work and I drift by at 9 or 9:30 and ask, “what did get that shot for?” (laughs) It’s an easier life.


Q:  It’s been an honor.  Thank you for your time, Mr. Corman.

A:  Thank you.