B-movie director Roger Corman talks about dealing with viewer's unconscious mind, new facilities for cinematography and resistance in human nature
Roger Corman is known as the king of B-movies - low-budget commercial motion pictures some of which took less than a week to produce. Out of over 50 films he shot, the most popular ones are adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe, particularly The Pit and the Pendulum, Tales of Terror and The Raven. He won an Academy Awards for his significant contribution in cinematography as a producer of about 400 films, including works of now iconic directors. Moreover, he is a perfectionist, in his own words, suffering from impossibility to turn imagination into reality.
UW: What is the secret of your high productivity?
– There are no secrets, but the only thing in which I believe strongly is pre-production planning. You don't have time to waste on a set, so I've always tried to prepare as much as it possible. Because most of the pictures I directed and produced are shot on fairly short budgets and short shooting schedules. I can't waste any second. I always come totally prepared. So I don't spend time during the shooting trying to figure out something that I could have figured out before. I previously adjust the sequence of actions with those who are involved in the process.
When I just started I couldn't pay them, but I promised, "Each of you will get a percent from income." And everyone got it when the film became successful. You should know in advance how much money you have. Yes, be idealist, use all opportunities you have, but at the same time be frank with yourself and people you work. It reduces the risk.
UW: Are you still experimenting? Or do you prefer upgrading good old familiar techniques?
– I have become more reasonable. Even in my age I rely on my experience, but you can't go so far with this only, because there's always something new. When you create film you should unleash your own instincts and fantasy, taking into accounts the trends. I still believe in my old tested techniques, but I'm always trying to use the newest ones available.
To produce a film today is easier than ever before. There can be difficulties with its distribution. Huge film studios are the ones that have access to main theatres all over the country in the USA. And I think everywhere is like this. You can probably show your picture on television or make a DVD. But it becomes more obvious that the internet will be the leading source of distribution in the nearest future. By the way, I'm also there. I have my own channel on YouTube called Corman's Drive-In - the virtual coming back to old concept of open air cinema.
UW: Can you name a modern writer who deserves attention of screenwriters who work in your genres?
– I think one of them is Clive Barker. He has many stories I find interesting. And, certainly, Steven King. I've thought several times of adapting his novels. He uses artificial environment to show the real human nature very skilfully.
UW: What inspires you to make horror movies? Do you like to scare people?
– I believe that horror is something that exists in the unconscious mind. When a child is not aware of the world he thinks there may be a monster under the bed, lightning and thunder may scare him. Many things scare children. As he grows older, the consious mind tells him, "There's no monster under the bed. You don't need to worry about lightning and thunder." But the fear still exists in the unconscious mind. The task of the filmmaker working with horror is to brake through the fences of the conscious mind and strike the fear of unconscious mind.
Man had to be violent to survive, to force against wild animals which could kill him, and his own kind. The problem today is that we don't need that violence anymore, but this violence is still within us. Thus, we have wars, tyranny. We need resistance, so let it be viewers’ emotional resistance to evil in the film.
UW: Many things have changed since you directed one film after another in the 1950-60s. Has it become more challenging to make the audience scream and shiver?
– The basic principles remain intact. Ways to achieve them have changed. Today, you have more tools that we didn't have - you can use special effects, computer graphics. But the basic principles of unconscious mind are the same, as in the time of Greek philosophers who lived hundreds of years B.C., as they were when man was created. The basic elements don't change, but the way those elements are expressed have changed according to the level of civilization. We're dealing with basic desires: the need to simply exist, to get shelter, to get food, to have sex, to procreate... All of these things were at the beginning and are today.
– Colour is very important, it creates an atmosphere, helps to put accents. You should rely on your feelings. For instance, when I was doing films based on Edgar Allan Poe, there were a lot of red candles. I used them every single time without knowing I was doing this until somebody told me.
UW: In your last film Frankenstein Unbound, the main character traveled through different dimensions – this was a popular trend in the early 1990s. What kind of a trip would fascinate the audience today?
– To me it would still be a trip to the future. The past we know, the future we don't know. Different members of society are united by the desire to know what is going to happen next. To surprise viewers I would try to show elements in the future that we can't conceive today.
UW: The list of people you have worked with features great names, such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron. They are often called representatives of the Corman Film School. Who is your favorite student then?
– I've been asked that question and I never answer. If I pick one, somebody will say, "You should have picked me!" So, therefore, I'm proud of all of them.
When I decide whether to work with someone or not, I pay attention to three things. First is intelligence. I don't know any successful screenwriter, director or producer without it. Second is being ready to work hard. And finally, the third and the most essential is creativity - this person must be a Creator.
UW: "No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls," said Ingmar Bergman. What is your definition of a film?
– For me, a film is a chance to collaborate with my unconscious mind, because part of what I'm creating comes from it and I don't know the reason.
UW: They say, art needs sacrifices. What is yours?
– My sacrifice is that my ideas are always greater than my ability to execute them.
Roger William Corman is an Academy Award-winning (2009) American film producer, director and actor, mostly recognized for his talent to shoot fast and chip B-movies. The well-known examples of them are, in particular, the adaptations of eight stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Corman made not less than nine pictures a year in the beginning of his career. In 1970 he founded New World Pictures – a small independent film studio for production and distribution, which in ten years gained more Oscars for The Best Foreign Language Film than other similar film studious all together. Cooperation with Corman was the starting point for many Hollywood stars, like Jack Nicklson and Robert De Niro, he also helped many up and coming directors, therefore some of them thanked him with cameo roles in their films, such as The Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather-2, Appolo-13.
The most famous movies:
Little Shop of Horrors (1960). The story of a plant feeding on human flesh was shot in three days and was released with the slogan, "The funniest picture this year!"
The Terror (1963). The story focuses on the lost soldier who meets a mysterious lady. This film was shot straight after The Raven, even decorations and cast were left almost unchanged.
The Trip (1967) stirred mania for films with psychedelic motives: the trip begins when you have used enough of LSD.