Since selling his first script in 1953, Roger Corman has made more than 400 films and distributed countless others, so it’s safe to say he’s been a busy man for the last 60 or so years. • Even at the age of 86, he is still churning away as the head of New Horizons Pictures, a film production and distribution company that produces or acquires between 20 and 40 films every year. • But, as busy as he is, Corman made time this weekend to come to Tucson for the third annual Loft Film Fest. • Perhaps it’s only fitting that his visit to the Old Pueblo coincides with one of the busiest weekends of the year.
Corman only spent a short time in Tucson before, having appeared at the University of Arizona for a lecture, but he’s looking forward to coming back.
“I enjoyed myself thoroughly the last time I was there, it’s really what a modern Western city should be,” Corman said.
And, in advance of his arrival here, he also made time for a phone interview with the Star.
Q: You’re receiving the Lofty Achievement Award this year, and in 2010 you received an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Both of them could be described a lifetime achievement awards, but you’re still working. What are your feelings on these awards when you still have work left to do?
A: “I think lifetime achievement awards are partially given to you for what you’ve achieved, and partially for still being alive.”
Q: You’ve played virtually every part in the filmmaking process. Is there a role that you’ve enjoyed more than others?
A: “I enjoy being a director/producer, a combination of both. If you’re a director/producer, you have full control of what you’re doing.
“By late 1970, I had directed, I think, 58 or 59 pictures in 15 years. I was tired of directing, so I started my picture distribution company, New World, with the intention of getting back into directing in a year or so. And then New World, really took off, so I just stayed with it as a producer. I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed my time in the ’60s serving both roles the most of all.”
Q: You’ve had your own production company almost continuously since 1970, but are there any films that you’ve wanted to get made, but haven’t been able to for some reason?
A: “Actually, this might play into coming to Tucson. There haven’t been any Westerns for a long time. The genre has pretty much faded away, and the first picture I ever directed was a Western (“Five Guns West”). I thought about possibly doing a Western again, which I haven’t done for maybe 20 years.
“And, coming to Tucson, I probably will spend a little time looking at locations. I remember, when I was there, the desert locations around the city are great, and the old Western street at Old Tucson.”
Q: What criteria do you use when deciding whether to make a picture?
A: “Two things: One, whether it’s interesting to me, and two, whether I think it will be interesting to the public.”
Q: You’ve spent most of your career working outside of the traditional Hollywood system. What have been the biggest benefits and drawbacks to being independent?
A: “The biggest benefit is your independence, that you can choose what you want to make and make it the way you want to. The biggest drawback, at least for me, is that I finance my pictures with my own money. And since I don’t have that much money, this limits me to medium-budget and low-budget pictures.
Q: One of the nicknames you’ve been given is “King of the B’s.” What are your feelings on the B-Movie label?
A: “I take it with a little bit of humor now. I was once on a national television program, and the host asked me what I thought of being called that. I said ‘I’ve never made a B picture in my life,’ and there was dead silence for a moment. But the fact of the matter is, I never have made a B picture.
“B pictures were something that originated in the ’30s during the Depression, and the major studios, in order to get people into the theaters, gave them two pictures for the price of one. At the beginning of the year, they’d set up their production schedule with their biggest pictures and their biggest stars, and that would be called the A list.
“Then they’d set up the schedule for the lower-budget films, sometimes with aging stars or young people on their way up, and that would be called the B list.
“Around the time television came around, that system was dropped and just A pictures were made. So, technically, I made all of my pictures after that time.
“However, now people refer to anything low-budget as a B picture, so if they want to call me King of the B’s, then what the hell.”
Q: You’ve helped many young filmmakers get their start in the industry. Do you have a certain piece of advice you give all of them?
A: “It’s tailored to the individual, but primarily, for producers and directors, it’s the value of pre-production planning. I’m a strong believer in pre-production planning, knowing that you will never follow your planning 100 percent. Some things always come up on the set that cause you to change it. But if you have your plan, you’re never in trouble.”
Q: You mentioned Westerns earlier. Do you have a favorite genre?
A: “None in particular, but I always seem to come back to science fiction and horror quite a bit. And I will be doing several more of those in the future.”
Q: Is there any particular film that you’re most proud of?
A: “I can pick a few. I can’t pick just one, because it will change from day to day. But for today, I might pick ‘The Intruder,’ a picture I made with Bill Shatner (Shatner’s first feature film, made in 1962) about racial integration in the American South, and then maybe one of the Edgar Allen Poe pictures like ‘Masque of the Red Death.'”
Q: Do you know what you’re making next?
A: “Yes, I have an untitled martial arts picture that I will start in China at the beginning of January. And I’m doing an action picture in the Philippines called ‘Operation Rogue,’ which will start at the end of January.”
Q: Do you have any plans to retire down the road?
A: “No, not at all, not until natural causes prevent me from working.”