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Roger Corman, Filmmaker
Born: 5 April 1926
Best Known As: "The King of B-Movies"
First Major Screen Credit: The Fast and the Furious (1954)
Roger Corman has been making low-budget movies since the 1950s. A screenwriter, producer, director and distributor (and sometime actor), Corman is considered the godfather of independent moviemaking, known for tiny budgets, assembly-line production (some of his movies were shot in two or three days) and his reputation for making a profit. He made movies with a little sex and a little violence and some sort of gimmick: from gangsters, bikers and hippies to women in prison, monsters from outer space and creatures from beyond the grave. His filmography includes cult classics such as The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Caged Heat (1974), Death Race 2000 (1975, with David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone), and Android (1982). Among the many who started out with Corman included actors Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda and directors Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.
A former engineering student, Corman entered the picture business as a messenger and ended up a producer/director after a stint as a story analyst and a brief detour to Oxford University. After returning to Hollywood, he saw an opportunity to make money and gain experience by making low-budget films to feed the drive-in and neighborhood theater circuits, which had been abandoned in large part by the major studios. Working from budgets of as little as $50,000, he quickly learned the art of creating bargain-basement entertainment and making money at it, producing and directing pictures for American International Pictures and Allied Artists. Five Guns West, Apache Woman, The Day the World Ended, It Conquered the World, Not of This Earth, The Undead, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Teenage Doll, Machine Gun Kelly, The Wasp Woman, and Sorority Girl were only a few of the titles, and they were indicative of their subjects. These films were short (some as little as 62 minutes) and threadbare in production values. But his films were also extremely entertaining and endeared Corman to at least two generations of young filmgoers.
During the early '60s, Corman became more ambitious and made the serious school desegregation drama The Intruder. Adapted for the screen by his brother Gene Corman from Charles Beaumont's novel, it was the only one of his movies to lose money -- because few theaters would book it -- although it was one of the finest B-movies ever made. Corman also began working in color, most notably on a series of adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories starring Vincent Price that won the respect of younger critics and aspiring filmmakers alike. Corman also employed many young film students and writers during this period, including Francis Ford Coppola, Curtis Harrington, and author Robert Towne. His output decreased as his budgets went up, and Corman moved away from directing and into producing. In the 1970s, '80s and '90s, Corman was still producing exploitation films (such as Humanoids From the Deep), but his New World Pictures also distributed several important foreign movies, including Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers and the groundbreaking Jamaican crime drama The Harder They Come.