Roger Corman, the Master Mentor of Cinema’s Finest, Still in the Spotlight After a Lifetime of Making Movies

Roger Corman.

After more than half a century as a producer, director, and motion picture distributor, Roger Corman finally got the ultimate reward — a documentary that puts the spotlight on him and his contributions to cinema. Corman’s World, directed by Alex Stapleton now at selected theaters, doesn’t shy away from Roger’s reputation for being the King of the B-movies, in fact it gives those low budget films their due, as the training ground for filmmaking’s finest.

Corman, now 85, has mentored dozens of talented young wannabes who evolved into Hollywood icons, such as Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Gale Anne Hurd, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, John Sayles, Jonathan Demme, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, James Cameron, ad infinitum. During the media blitz for his mega-budget film Avatar, Cameron reminded everyone that he got his start and learned his craft with Corman, shooting a low budget Star Wars-type film.

Talking about his greatest professional accomplishment, Corman insists, “I’m proud of the films I have made. There are those of some significance, but I can’t single out one particular picture — just the body of work that represents a lifetime of supporting independent filmmaking.”

Over the years, Corman has made films in every genre, from comedy to classics, such as The Little Shop of Horrors and House of Usher. From drama, mystery, and horror, as well as combinations of them all, Monster from the Ocean Floor, Caged Heat, and Bloody Mama are also among his credits. His recent projects have included the action-packed Death Race, and he has produced films for the Syfy Channel. The super-gator thriller Dinocroc got big ratings, so did Dinoshark, and Dinocroc vs. Supergator.

Corman has been credited with producing more than 300 films, “but that number could be much higher. You see what it is, we make films now, and I could take a producer’s credit, but it does me no good to have ‘the 319th film of my career. But the young people in the office, if they can get credit as a producer, and it’s their first film, now that’s very important. So I say OK to them, ‘You’re doing most of the work anyway, you might as well be the producer.’” That’s the mentoring side of him.

Corman’s career includes producing most of his pictures and directing more than 50 of them. His film company has distributed motion pictures of every genre to countries around the world. He founded New World Pictures in 1970 as a production-distribution company, and in the first year all 11 pictures distributed showed substantial profits. That company rapidly grew into the largest independent motion picture distribution unit in the U.S., with horror, action, cult films, and others, including high quality foreign films. Some of those included Academy Award features from Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, and many other notables.

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 Corman looked for an escape from major studio supervision, admitting he was appalled by the intrinsic waste and constrictions of studios overheads and executive interference.

Well-known to the industry and audiences is the unique stamp Corman puts on his films, so it was fitting that the International Press Academy bestowed their Auteur Award on him at their 2009 Satellite Awards. The honor was in recognition of his impact on filmmaking, as well as the impact that he has had on young filmmakers, giving many of the industry’s top directors their big break. That is why his friends and colleagues on hand were calling him “the godfather of cinema today.”

The crown jewel among his well-deserved awards was the honorary Oscar he received a couple of years ago. Corman told me it means a lot to him. “First, it is recognition of the various things I’ve done. 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 notes, “When all is done, it’s the work itself. 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.”

And now his life’s achievements in the entertainment industry is getting recognition in the new year with the documentary Corman’s World, cementing his cinematic legacy on film.