Fantastic Fest 2010: Interview with Roger & Julie Corman

James Marsh, Asian Editor

It may well be two long months since the orgy of awesome that was Fantastic Fest 2010, but just this morning I stumbled across a long-thought-lost piece of audio from that momentous week in Austin, Texas. Namely, the conversation I had with iconic genre filmmakers Roger & Julie Corman on the very day they were to be presented with the festival's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. That evening's festivities would include a screening of Mark Hartley's exploitation documentary MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED, in which Roger Corman features prominently, as well as the world premiere of the Cormans' latest opus - SHARKTOPUS. Our few precious moments together are hereby transcribed below:

 

Twitch - Congratulations on receiving Fantastic Fest's Lifetime Achievement Award. As I'm sure you'd agree, without your body of work Fantastic Fest simply wouldn't exist. I think both the people here as fans and those here as filmmakers have been hugely influenced by your films.

Roger & Julie Corman - Thank you.

Twitch - Being such influential figures to so many others, how do you remain influential? Where do you draw influence from at this stage of your careers?

Roger - We still try to see as many films as we can. Being in Hollywood, knowing people, socializing with other filmmakers there's often an age gap between us and the younger filmmakers that leads to a great cross-pollination of ideas.

Twitch - Do you find it easier to make films now than it was back at the start of your career?

Roger - It's easier because of digital cameras. They are lighter, more portable, easier to work with and also less expensive because you don't have all the film stock, lab work, processing. So you are seeing a whole new generation of young filmmakers who can make their films for very little money, leading to more and more independent films being made.

Twitch - So it's easier to get projects off the ground now? To find scripts you want to develop? Directors you want to work with?

Julie - It's more and more difficult for independent filmmakers to get financing these days. It used to be that we could pretty much get theatrical distribution for almost any film we made, but now it's pretty much impossible. There's now cable, DVD, we're hoping the Internet is going to take up the slack here, but it hasn't happened yet. But in terms of where we get our ideas from and how projects are generated, finding the writer is still the most important element in the beginning, unless you find a writer-director. Both Roger and I are great readers and Roger often finds writers, for instance, after reading a short story that someone may have recommended. Right now I'm interested in something that was a short story about ant colonies. It's a great parable for what happens in the world and what happens to human beings.

Twitch - So it's not about giant ants attacking humans?

Julie - No, it's more about their society. Socio-biology.

Twitch - How do the two of you divide the workload between you?

Julie - We worked together on SHARKTOPUS but we don't often work together. It worked out extremely well because Roger likes to do everything, while I really enjoy the nuts and bolts of production. He really developed the script while I worked a lot on putting the crew together. The location was somewhere we'd used before and Robbie Roessel, who runs the film festival in Puerto Vallarta and we've known for a long time, was instrumental in helping with the locations and so on. But the part I don't feel qualified to deal with is the CGI, so I said, "Roger, you have to create this monster. I'm not getting involved." So then it falls to a bunch of CGI guys sitting around discussing whether the shark head should be bigger, whether the tentacles should be longer, and what you'll see at the premiere tonight is the result.

Twitch - I'm very much looking forward to it. So, Roger, you were very hands on in the design element of the monster and how it should look?

Roger - Yes, it was a combination of my thoughts and Julie is being too modest, she was working with us and Declan O'Brien who was the director and Karen O'Hara from the SyFy Channel and TJ Sakigawa who did the actual computer graphics.         

Twitch - And I understand you have a small cameo in the film too?

Roger - Yes, I play a beach bum, with the emphasis on the word bum.

Julie - If you go on YouTube you can see a clip from it right now. And listen, Sharktopus has his own Facebook page, his own Twitter page...

Twitch - Yes, we follow each other on Twitter.

Julie - Oh excellent! So then you know that he's not happy with SyFy because he says they miss-led him into believing SHARKTOPUS was going to be a documentary about the plight of sea creatures.

Twitch - He has every right to feel disgruntled. The film tonight is showing as part of a double-bill with MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED, Mark Hartley's documentary in which you figure very prominently.

Roger - I haven't seen the film, but they interviewed me and we sold them some stock footage. But we were part of a group of people who were making films in the Philippines in the 1970s and early 80s.

Twitch - So how did that movement come about? Why the Philippines of all places?

Julie - I can tell you that Roger asked me to marry him in 1970 and I said yes, to which he said, "I've got to go to the Philippines, but I'll be back!"  

Twitch - Oh I see, so it was Roger's bachelor party.

Julie - Exactly!

Roger - A friend of mine, John Ashley, told me that in the Philippines you could get really wonderful locations, and frankly, the wage scale was very low so you could get a bigger look for less money. So that was basically it - a bigger, more exotic-looking movie for a relatively small amount of money.

Twitch - I think a major theme in the film is the contradiction between the kinds of films that were being made and the political regime in the Philippines at the time, which was very strict.

Roger - There was a deliberate rebellious quality to the films, but I don't think Marcos really cared. We were bringing money into the country.

Twitch - The other film of yours that is being shown at Fantastic Fest is X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES. Talk me through the importance of that film in your body of work.

Roger - I started with the idea that it would be interesting to make a science fiction film about a man who could see through things. Very often I would write the original treatment myself and I remember the first treatment I wrote was about a jazz musician taking drugs, and he could see through things. I got about three quarters of the way through the treatment and I thought, this story isn't working at all. So I threw it out and went back to the original idea I had, which I thought was too ordinary, but it was the one that made the most sense, which was simply about a doctor who was doing research on vision, which took him into this field.

Twitch - And I heard that this is still one of your favourites?

Roger - Yes, I've always liked that film.

Twitch - Will we ever see another film directed by Roger Corman?

Roger - Probably not. The years have caught up with me and it's easier to get up and go to the set at 9 or 10 in the morning than it is to get up and be there at 7am.

Twitch - Of course, you're as famous for giving a number of the biggest names in Hollywood their break, like James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese etc. Who are you most proud of having given that first opportunity to?

Roger - I've been asked that question before and I've never really answered it. I'm proud of them all.

Twitch - Is there anybody that you did the same thing for, but who never quite got the recognition that they deserved?

Roger - Alan Arkush is a director who I think is very, very good. He settled in as a TV director and makes a great deal of money. He was explaining it to me one time. He directs TV pilots primarily and under the Director's Guild rules, the director of the pilot gets a royalty from every episode made in the series. So he's one of that rarified group that they approach to make pilots, because they know he's really good, then somebody else goes on to make the rest of the series. So I would say he has recognition within Hollywood, but outside of Hollywood people don't know who he is.

Twitch - Is there anybody that you are working with now who we should be keeping an eye on in the future?

Roger - I think Declan O'Brien, who directed SHARKTOPUS, did a really good job.

Twitch - I also wanted to talk to you about the gorgeous DVD and Blu-ray releases of some of your very best films that are being put out by Shout Factory. Many of these films have their fans already, but it's also an opportunity to bring these films to a whole new audience in the best possible quality. How involved are you in this re-birth of some of your greatest hits? 

Roger - I have recorded commentaries for most of them and we have brought in actors and different members of the crew to also get involved. We have a very good relationship with Shout Factory and I think they are doing an excellent job.

Twitch - Have you had a chance to see Alexandre Aja's new version of PIRANHA?

Roger - No, neither of us have seen it. I did plan to see it, but we were just so busy finishing up SHARKTOPUS, and we were traveling when it came out. The picture has been moderately successful, and people have been saying it's pretty good. But there is no way for me to make any real judgment.

Twitch - You have been involved in a few remakes in the past - the DEATH RACE remake, you've also re-made PIRANHA before. What is your take on the concept of remaking films?

Roger - I think you can remake a film if you have a new interpretation of it. The film is there and stands for itself, so you shouldn't touch it unless you've got something new to say.  

Twitch - Certainly during the early part of your career, a lot of your work treads a fine line between being mainstream fare and something more racy. Were you ever tempted to move into pornography rather than pursue a career as a more traditional filmmaker?

Roger - No, that's a totally different field. The most we ever did was get into some R-rated films, but that's a field that I simply have no interest in working in. It's completely different and has no connection with mainstream filmmaking and as a matter of fact I hear rumours of gangster control within the industry. I don't know whether that's true or not - as I said, it's a different world.

Twitch - What about your new relationship with the SyFy Channel. Is that shaping up to be a long-term collaboration?

Julie - Well, they invited us to lunch tomorrow!

Twitch - Do you have a deal that includes any future projects with them post-SHARKTOPUS?

Julie - We're discussing a few things. We enjoy working with SyFy very much. They are very supportive, they're not intrusive. They know what their audience is all about, and it's good to know that when you're making a film. But we'll see what happens tomorrow.

Twitch - It sounds like a perfect partnership. I wish you both the very best of luck.

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