Curating Corman's Cult Classics With Shout! Factory's Cliff MacMillan

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After watching the Lethal Ladies Collection DVD recently, I got curious about the line of 70's and 80's exploitation fare from publisher Shout! Factory and what has gone into developing this line. Why these titles? How were they going about tracking down materials to bring these movies to disc (some of them for the first time)?

Well, I got on the phone with Shout! Factory's VP of Acquisitions and Production, Cliff MacMillan for a brief chat about just what drove the creation of this line, and the obsessive search for elements to bring these movies to disc.

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Twitch: How did the "Corman Cult Classics" line come about?

Cliff MacMillan Well, I'd known that this library had become available, and I'd been chasing it for a while. And it went to Disney for a time, and even during that time, I was chasing it down, seeing if I could license titles away from Disney. Eventually, the titles went back to the Cormans and at that time I'd joined Shout! Factory, so I made a run for it.

And really, what appealed to them was that unlike in the situation of the Disney thing that they'd just gone through, not only was a business person but I was a fan. So, I knew the library, knew the films, and I think that really helped us score the line, shall we say.

But then it was a matter of going through the library and seeing what we wanted to release. We had to get the perennials: the Death Race 2000's, the Piranha's and so forth. But for me it was a lot of the older titles that I wanted to put out, titles that hadn't been out on DVD before and their VHS was way back in the 80's when Nelson Entertainment was still around.

Every film in the library had old transfers from back in the day from the 80's, from their VHS releases and so forth. Taking over the library was more than just taking the titles and putting them out, it was basically having to re-transfer most of the library because what we had were the full-frame transfers from the VHS days or laser days in some cases.

Twitch: What was the decision making process behind the films that got special features, interviews, etc.?

MacMillan: It really comes down to who you can find and who is still with us. In a lot of cases, a lot of people have passed away--left this movie world--so you try to find the ones you can find. Some of them have been hard to track down, a lot of them not in the business anymore. So I use various producers who I let loose to try and find as many people as they can.

It's so funny, in this day and age, going on Facebook and going on the Internet has made it very easy to find these people. If you tried this 15, 20 years ago, it'd be a lot harder to find these people.

But as far as what goes on disc, it's what makes the most interesting package to the consumer. We started out doing a lot of single releases and we moved on to double features, and then triple and then quadruple features. And I think fans appreciate in this day and age when you're watching what you're spending, to get as much content as you can for the right price is what people are looking for. That's sort of why we've changed our release plan as time has gone by.

Twitch: Have you had a favorite "get" so far in terms of some resource you were able to track down or getting filmmaker or actor to talk about a movie?

MacMillan: Well, the big deal for me was MGM had had the rights to some of these films for international territories and so forth. So when we were trying to find elements for Humanoids Of The Deep, MGM said, "Yeah, we have elements on it. We have the international cut." And we thought, great, maybe there's some extra footage on there and of course, there wasn't. But then, when they were pulling the film elements, they said "I've got this reel here that's said something like 'additional nudity.' Do you want this reel?" And I said, "Please, send it over!" [laughs]

And so yeah, we'd unearthed footage that had never been seen before, had never been used for any other film version before and we used that as extra footage on Humanoids Of The Deep for the bonus features. To find footage that had not been seen before--and in the case of one clip, there was actually no audio and that was kind of a bummer--to find something like that was just awesome.

I wish we'd been able to find more of the films, but unfortunately, over the years stuff has just ended up disappearing. And that's the case with a lot of the titles. It's been hard to find film elements on a lot of the films because it's been so long.

Twitch: I love the way you describe your job because it sounds a lot like it involves being a detective.

MacMillan: Yes, it very much is. It's sort of fun, but at the same time I know that I have a lot more gray hair this year than I did last year. [laughs]

Trying to find things and trying to find thing that were in bad shape and finding sound for things and elements that nobody has a machine for anymore because it's so archaic. And you read reviews and it goes, "Oh, the sound on this is terrible!" And it's like, if you only knew what it took to get it to the place where it is now.

I mean, Roger was an independent. He wasn't a major studio, he didn't have everything meticulously cataloged and stored in the best possible situation, you know? Roger wasn't about that. So it's made it very difficult to find film elements and things that are useable to do a new transfer. But I'm not going to go back into the vault and pull out some 1980 full frame transfer if I don't have to. But in some cases we've had to because that was the only thing available to us.

Twitch: How has social networking and the internet helped in finding some of these elements?

MacMillan: Yeah, people have turned me on to folks that are collectors, so I've been able to unearth some stuff that I probably wouldn't have been able to find if it wasn't for the fans.

And I've had a lot of fans that have reached out to me through forums and sent me private messages that say, "Hey, I've got lobby cards for this, I've got a trailer for that." So the fans have been a great help in releasing these titles because they had things or saved things or were just such fans that they wanted to collect everything on that particular movie.

Twitch: What are some of the upcoming Corman releases you can share with us?

MacMillan: Well, next year you'll see the nurse films, the student-teacher films, some of the biker movies--again, going back to real old New World Pictures, back to the 70's. A lot of 70's titles, actually.

You can find more of the Corman Cult Classic releases on the Shout! Factory site.
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