After a half century as a producer, director and motion picture distributor, Roger Corman finally got the ultimate reward –– an honorary Oscar, given to him by theAcademy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences at the 2009 Governors Awards Ceremony.
A segment of his acceptance was shown at the 82nd Academy Awards presentation. The golden trophy was given in recognition of his life achievement in the entertainment industry, and it’s the crown jewel of his well-deserved awards. “First, it is recognition of the various things I’ve done,” says Corman. “But second, what is really most important, and even nicer, is that at the Governors’ Ball [where the presentation was made] were so many of the guys and women who had started with me that it was almost like a private party. I enjoyed that we were all together again, just laughing and joking and talking about things that we had all done together. That to me was better than getting the award.”
Corman is proud of all the films he has made. “There are those of some significance, but I can’t single out one particular picture, just the body of work, which represents a lifetime of supporting independent filmmaking,” he says. “It’s really the pleasure you get in creating something with a group of talented people. Of course, it’s nice to get the Oscar; I’m not going to knock that.”
Over the years, Corman has made more than 300 films of every genre, from comedy and classics, such as The Little Shop of Horrors and House of Usher, to drama, mystery and horror, as well as combinations of them all. Among his most recent projects, Corman has been developing and producing films for the Syfy Channel. His super-gator thriller Dinocroc got big ratings, so Dinoshark (shot in Mexico) had to follow, with Octoshark up next. His big-screen releases last year included the action-packed Death Race, filmed at one of Canada’s leading film studios, Cité du Cinéma in Montreal.
Corman's films have a unique stamp that is well-known to audiences and the industry, so it was fitting that the International Press Academy bestowed to him the 2009 Auteur Award at its 14th Annual Satellite Awards. The honor was in recognition of his impact on filmmaking and the impact he has had on young filmmakers. He is known among friends and colleagues as the “Godfather” of cinema today, because he has given so many top directors their big break.
Early in his career, Corman had a long line of box-office hits distributed by American International Pictures, which made the company a major force. During those days, he looked for an escape from major studio supervision –– he was appalled by the executive interference and the intrinsic waste and constrictions of studios overheads. In 1970, he founded New World Pictures as a production/distribution company. In its first year, all 11 films distributed showed substantial profits, and the company rapidly grew into the largest independent motion-picture distribution unit in the U.S. New World produced horror, action, cult and other film genres, as well as high-quality foreign films that included features from Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and many other notable filmmakers.
In 1983, Corman sold New World and formed New Horizons Pictures Corp., which allows him to produce films without the distraction of managing the distribution business. He now makes a film on a larger budget and utilizes the funds from its sales to finance future projects. With his low-budget horror and sci-fi features, Corman is very aware of the market's escalating figures. “It would be very doubtful that I would go into a movie where a star wants $20 million,” he explains. “I would only go into something like that if it were pre-sold; the gamble is so tremendous on those films.
Corman deplores that the big-budget films from major studios have driven the smaller ones out of theaters. He says that when he first started, all his films had full theatrical releases in the U.S., but that has now dropped to less than 25 percent. "It’s difficult to have a giant hit without the box office,” he adds.
Corman is a producer who’s concerned about budgets and runaway production, so he feels that the introduction of tax incentives for American productions is positive, especially if it helps film companies stay in the U.S. “Frankly, I don’t think they are aware of the immense importance of Hollywood economics in Washington,” he notes. “After the aircraft industry, motion pictures and television are the number-one export-dollar earners for the U.S. And the aircraft industry is essentially subsidized by the government, so we are really number one.”
Corman says the industry has changed drastically because of the new technologies that are available, and digital versus film is having a big impact on production budgets. “We’re starting to shoot in digital now, and I believe that eventually digital will take over,” he notes. “We’re in the middle of that transition. I would say we make about half our films on film ─ I guess I shouldn’t call them ‘films’ anymore ─ and the rest of our ‘pictures’ are on digital. I think the proportion each year will go to digital as it gets better. Equipment gets better and less expensive, and as we move into digital, location shooting will become easier. For me, the cheapest place to shoot is right here in Los Angeles. There’s no transportation cost, no room or board costs.”
Corman sees the current state of the film industry as a very difficult situation. He says that big-budget films are making more money than they’ve ever made before. But he adds that the budgets are so high that even with record-breaking grosses it doesn’t always pay off. “The profits aren’t that big,” Corman warns. “However, I think they’re starting to break through, like the picture The Hurt Locker, which didn’t cost that much money and will definitely be a contender. I think this is a time when sort of auteur-driven films may find their niche.”
Over the years Corman has mentored dozens of talented young wannabes who later evolved into Hollywood icons, such as Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and James Cameron. During the recent media blitz for his mega-budget film Avatar, Cameron reminded everyone that he got his start and learned his craft from Corman while shooting a low-budget Star Wars-type film.
No matter what kind of projects he produces, Corman insists his biggest pride is his family, noting that his wife Julie chaired the Graduate Film Department at NYU and has been his producing partner for a number of years, as well as producing on her own. And his son, Roger Martin Corman, is following in his father's footsteps. “Our son Roger Martin is starting to produce on his own too.”
Corman continues his legacy of mentoring new filmmakers who are ready to join the esteemed group of directors, producers and stars that got their start with him.