What if we told you that the man behind some of the cheapest, crappiest and most ridiculously named movies ever made (like Sharktopus, Dinoshark, Piranhaconda and 395 others) is also directly responsible for classics like The Godfather, Taxi Driver and Terminator 2?
How is that possible, you ask? Because the acclaimed directors behind those pictures all got their start making B movies with Roger Corman, and it changed the course of their careers.
So the next time you and your friends get drunk and settle in to make fun of some direct-to-DVD movie with crappy effects, gratuitous nudity and acting fit for infomercials, remember that if it weren't for Roger Corman, we wouldn't have directors like ...
The Struggling Nobody:
As every poor sap in film school eventually finds out, there's an astronomical difference between "finishing film school" and "actually working in film" -- especially if you're a director. Letting a kid who just graduated direct a real motion picture would be like putting a med student in charge of an entire hospital.
That was more or less the deal for young Martin Scorsese in the late '60s: Aside from a little-seen black-and-white film that took him three years to complete (he started it as a school project), his first job after graduating NYU was as an editor. Scorsese had his eyebrows set on directing, but who the hell would give a chance to a kid with no money, no connections and practically no resume?
A man who directs films like Attack of the Crab Monsters isn't afraid to take risks.
The Sharktopus-Sized Break:
Enter Roger Corman. Scorsese had been a fan of Corman's work and met him to edit some of his films, since, you know, that's what Scorsese did back then. Corman, however, had other ideas: It was Corman who asked young Scorsese if he wanted to direct a sequel to one of his films called Bloody Mama. The only catch was that he had to do it for $600,000 and in 24 days. Also, he had to include some nudity at least every 15 script pages. But other than that, Scorsese would have complete creative freedom.
Scorsese said yes, and the result was Boxcar Bertha, a Bonnie-and-Clyde-style film starring David Carradine and a topless (at Corman's insistence) Barbara Hershey.
*Sigh* We'll just wait here while you pull up GIS. Done? OK ...
The film was, in the words of Scorsese's mentor, John Cassavetes, "a piece of shit," but it put the young director on the map. After Boxcar Bertha, Scorsese asked Corman to produce his next film, but Corman would only do it if all the characters were black people so they could pass it off as a blaxploitation film.
Scorsese declined the offer and made the movie without Corman and on a smaller budget. The film was Mean Streets, the first "real" Scorsese movie, with all the usual elements like Italian people, violence and Italian people getting violent.
The artist hadn't yet entered his "oranges fucking everywhere" period.
Mean Streets paved the way for the rest of Scorsese's career, but none of that could have happened without Corman. See, this is the magic of Corman's "Make it cheap and get that shit out the door" assembly line approach to filmmaking. Why not throw a talented kid at the helm of the project? What did he have to lose? It's a chance Scorcese might not have gotten elsewhere, and that crash course in movie making taught him everything he needed to know about getting movies done fast and under budget. You can bet that came in handy when he was directing Taxi Driver for $1.3 million.
Totally worth it, despite being forced to live off of his own fingernail clippings.
Hell, we'll just let Scorsese say it: He called working with Roger Corman "the best post-graduate training you could have in America at that time." And he's far from the only great director to reap the benefits ...
5Francis Ford Coppola
The Struggling Nobody:
After graduating from UCLA, it didn't take too long for young Francis Ford Coppola to find work as a director ... of shitty soft-core porn films. In 1962, he directed two underground films called Tonight for Sure and The Bellboy and the Playgirls, both of which failed to impress porn cinema patrons.
But at least he was directing his own movies, right? Yeah, if by directing you mean "turning other people's movies into porn." Bellboy, for example, was actually an already existing nonpornographic German film that he was hired to recut and sex up (or "to Coppola," as it's known in the industry). And, for all we know, that could have been his job for the rest of his life -- that's not the kind of work that makes studio big shots take notice.
It takes two things to get noticed in the film industry: beard and scarf.
The Sharktopus-Sized Break:
It was perhaps this complete lack of shame that got Coppola the attention of Roger Corman, who hired him to "Americanize" a Russian sci-fi film he'd acquired the rights to. Part of Coppola's job was to redub the dialogue, even though he had no idea what the Russian actors were saying, which meant he had to come up with an entirely new plot from scratch. Corman also asked him to replace all the names in the credits with American-sounding ones and shoot inexplicable scenes of foam monsters duking it out on the moon. Coppola said yes to all these things.
Look real close at that monster's chest. Yep -- it's a vagina.
Coppola ended up doing various other jobs for Corman's company in the following year, ranging from dialogue director to associate producer to sound man. He also washed Corman's car, literally.
Then, when they were wrapping up a movie in Europe, Corman noticed they still had a little money left in the budget and told Coppola (still working as a sound man at this point) to make another movie with it. Like, right now.
Coppola hammered out a script in two days, and the result was a sexy supernatural horror film called Dementia 13. Ironically, Corman wasn't satisfied with the amount of sex and violence in the movie and hired another director to Coppola Coppola.
"Not bad, but can we draw more boobs on her? Maybe turn the grass into a field of dicks?"
Even though he had disagreements with Corman toward the end and didn't work for him again, Dementia 13 meant that Coppola finally had something other than porn to put on his directing resume. The film made a decent amount of money, and soon Coppola moved on to direct more personal projects, including The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, which are widely considered to be even better than Dementia 13.
Which might explain the boobs on Dracula's head.