The Producer discusses making the film, youth in rebellion pictures, the digital revolution and his upcoming Cyclops movie!
When Roger Corman talks you would be wise to listen. Whether you want to produce movies or you are simply working in a movie theater, this man is a living, breathing legend in the world of cinema. With over 350 produced titles to his credit, Corman is known for making films that not only have turned many profits, but have also been the first directorial forays by people with the last names of Scorsese, Coppola, Cameron, Demme and many more. Armed with an eye for talent and an ability to make films quickly and cheaply, Corman’s films cross all genres. From movies soaked in blood, to artistic statements involving motorcycle gangs, to action films and on to prescient teen rebellion movies, the mandate for a Corman movie always seems clear: bring it in on time, bring it in on budget and always entertain the audience.
MovieWeb recently had the opportunity to sit down with Roger Corman to discuss the upcoming Special Edition rerelease of Allan Arkush’s rock ‘n’ rebellion opus, Rock ‘N’ Roll High School. This timeless tale of youth in revolt against their oppressive high school bureaucracy, seems like it will forever speak to audiences because of it’s universal themes, subject matter and hip soundtrack.
How did you come to produce Rock ‘N’ Roll High School?
Roger Corman: Well, it started out in a strange way. In the beginning of the Rock ‘N’ Roll period, I had done one of the first pictures called Rock All Night about Rock ‘N’ Roll and it was very successful. And it was the height of the Disco craze, and I had done some High School films so I put it all together and came up with the title, “Disco High”. And Allan Arkush, the director, had been working for me as an editor and a second unit director, and he was very funny and I thought he was the right age and had the humor to do the picture. And we worked out a storyline which at the end the kids blow up the high school, and Allan then said to me, “Roger, you can’t blow up a high school to disco music! You have to change the title from “Disco High” to Rock ‘N’ Roll High School.” And I said, “You’re right, Allan.” And we changed the title and went from there.
When you made films like Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, Rock All Night or even Suburbia, did you know you were tapping into a youth market that hadn’t really been shown on screen before? Or, were you just trying to make an entertaining film?
Roger Corman: Both. I knew particularly with Rock All Night, which was made around 1959 or something like that, somewhere around then it was one of my first films, I knew I was tapping into the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. I also knew that there was a youth market. Later on, with Suburbia and with Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, the market had been established so that was quite clear. We were looking at different aspects of it. Suburbia, definitely a more serious film, but still dealing with rock ‘n’ roll and with more alienated children. Whereas Rock ‘N’ Roll High School was rock ‘n’ roll and that was pure rock.
What is your criteria for making a movie?
Roger Corman: I don’t know exactly myself. I think anybody who’s working in, I don’t want to be pretentious, anybody who’s working in a creative medium is working partially with their conscious mind and partially with their unconscious. So I’m aware of a little bit of it. In general, I’ll decide something that interests me, I feel I’m not that much different than the audience, although the years have separated me somewhat from the youth audience, but something that will interest me, then something that I think will interest the audience, and that will have a little bit of background so that I’ll say, “Okay, a picture about pop music, this type of film has been successful in the past. I’m working with a genre that has a record of success in the past, but I know that I must treat it with some degree of originality. I can’t just repeat what has gone before, you must bring something new to every film.”
What was it about directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola or James Cameron that let you know that they could handle making films for you? Did you have any idea that they would go on to do what they’ve done in cinema?
Roger Corman: With them and with most of the directors, I’d say with all of the directors and actors who’ve gone on, I was totally convinced of their talent and positive that they would have successful careers. I had no way however to predict how successful, and to what great heights they would rise.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the film business since you started making them?
Roger Corman: Probably the greatest change has taken place a little while ago. It probably started in the late 1980s early 1990s, and that was the gradual erosion of theatrical distribution for independent films. Up until the late Eighties, either ‘88 or ‘89, every film I made had a full theatrical release. And then gradually, between then and say from the late Eighties to the late Nineties, we saw most of the market taken away. There’s still a little bit of market, we and other independents do still get a share of the theatrical market, but it’s diminished and that’s one of the biggest changes. The other change is going on right now. And that’s the move to digital. Particularly digital production and eventually digital exhibition; particularly High Def. I think this and a slight upturn at the moment, may bring independent films back to theaters more than previously. I see even this year, a slight uptick in independent films in theaters, and with digital, which means you can make a film for less money, but also being more creative and more interesting. The camera’s are lighter, more flexible, special FX, computer graphics are now down to a price you can afford. I think we’re going to see a resurgence.
What do you think about the way DVDs and home video in general have revolutionized the film business?
Roger Corman: I think the revolution is just starting. So, I would put it in the present tense and in the future. One, they brought more attention to older films. Films such as my new arrangement with Disney. For instance, the first four films, three of them are what we call our classics from our library. Big Bad Mama, Death Race 2000 and Rock ‘N’ Roll High School. The fourth is a new picture DinoCroc. We played on the Sci-Fi Channel last year, got the biggest rating of the year for their Saturday night show, and we’ll now go on to DVD. I think it’s giving more exposure to new films, but also bringing the classics back where people wouldn’t see them.
For the future, I see a bigger part for DVD and allied forms will be on the internet. There’ll be Video On Demand, both for the classics and for new films, and I think that will be a big part of the resurgence of independent films.
What for you is your proudest accomplishment as a producer?
Roger Corman: I wouldn’t pick any one film. I would say it is the body of work. The films themselves combined with the people who contributed to the making of them. The writers, the directors, the actors, the cameramen, the editors and so forth. So many key people. I’m known to a certain extent for directors and actors, but also a lot of writers, a number of Academy winning cameramen and editors have started with us as well.
What advice might you give to someone thinking about becoming a producer?
Roger Corman: I would say you have to recognize something in advance. This is what makes producing so difficult, yet, so fascinating. You are not a pure artist and you are not a pure businessman. You are functioning partially as an artist in a creative way, and partially as a businessman in an economic way. And it is very difficult to reconcile those two goals.
Did you ever think you were making “B Films”? I’ve read about Roger Corman, “The King of the B’s”? Did you ever think of the kind of films you were making like that?
Roger Corman: I never really thought of them as B Films. B films were invented by major studios in the Depression of the 1930s, when theatergoing had dropped to provide two pictures for the price of one. They had their A list with their major stars, and their B list with the younger actors they were starting (and directors, producers and writers and so forth), that they were trying to bring up. And with some of the older stars who were starting to fade. Now that was really a product of the Depression, after the war and with the advent of television, the original concept of the B Picture faded, but the B Picture since then has just been used to refer to a low budget film.
I thought, really, I was making low budget independent films, but they were never designed to be the second half of a double bill. They either, at the beginning, shared a credit. For instance, I would make two gangster films to go together as a combination. Or, two horror films, or something like that. Later on, they were designed to stand on their own even though they were low budget or medium budget films.
Roger Corman Interview
What do you have coming up in the future?
Roger Corman: I’m having a meeting with the Sci-Fi Channel tomorrow because of the success of DinoCroc. I’ll be doing DinoCroc 2 which is already presold overseas. Also, the next film will actually be Cyclops from the old, Greek, one-eyed monster. That’s my biggest film coming up. Cyclops will be a little bit bigger in budget.
Rock ‘N’ Roll High School jams on to DVD shelves December 13th, 2005 from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Dont't forget to also check out: Rock 'N' Roll High School [Rock on Edition]