This year’s Traverse City Film Festival will include a very special moment.
Legendary producer, director, actor, and screenwriter Roger Corman will receive the Michigan Filmmaker Award.
The man known as the “king of B movies” is not only one of the most prolific producers in film history, he also knows how to turn a buck. Only a small number of his more than 400 films have failed to turn a profit.
Corman was born and raised in Detroit before moving to Beverly Hills, California, where he followed in his father’s footsteps and earned a degree in industrial engineering at Stanford University.
He lasted four days on the job.
“I started on Monday, and on Thursday I went into the personnel office and said, ‘this is a terrible mistake,’” Corman says.
He originally thought he wanted to be an engineer like his father, but things changed when he became the film critic for the Stanford Daily.
Corman, the self-proclaimed “failure of the Stanford engineering class that year,” broke into the film business by taking a job with Fox, riding his bike around the studio lot delivering mail.
He explains that at the time Fox studios worked six days a week, while the offices worked five.
“I offered to volunteer to work the sixth day for nothing if I could work on a set,” he tells us.
That opportunity gave him the chance to see firsthand a bit about how films are made, and his enthusiasm earned him a promotion from mail boy to reader for the story department, reading scripts and giving comments on them.
From there, he tells us he studied literature at Oxford University before coming back to the States to write and sell his first screenplay, called The House in the Sea.
Again, Corman says he offered to work for free on the production of the film as the producer’s assistant in exchange for a credit as Associate Producer.
“Credits are very important in Hollywood,” he tells us. “I was able to say officially I was a writer/producer.”
He took the money from the sale of his script, borrowed some cash from a few friends, and set up shop for what has turned out to be a long and successful career in the film industry.
Corman tells us he finances his films with his own funds, so he’s always been “forced to make low-budget and occasionally medium-budget films.”
While a limited budget could have been crippling, it actually gave Corman something of a leg up on the competition, allowing him to adapt to the cultural environment and make whatever film he wanted.
“In the '60s, we were making low-budget, independent films about subjects that the audiences wanted,” he says. “The major studios were tied to a certain type of film, and they were ignoring the fact that the audience was young.”
Corman’s influence on Hollywood history goes beyond the 56 director credits and whopping 409 producer credits listed under his name on the Internet Movie Database. It’s been said that it would be easier to list the directors, actors and writers in Hollywood who didn’t get their start with Corman than those who did.
The likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Sandra Bullock, Ron Howard, Robert DeNiro, James Cameron, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, William Shatner, and many, many more got their start in the business working for Corman.
“I simply felt that they were talented,” Corman says. “Not everybody, of course, I signed did well, but a surprising number of them did.”
Corman has two films currently approaching release, and his movie CobraGator was released earlier this month.
“The king of the cult film,” Roger Corman will be receiving the Michigan Filmmaker Award at this year’s Traverse City Film Festival.
More information about the festival can be found on their website.
- Ryan Grimes, Stateside Staff