Interview with Roger Corman
Filmmakers Academy Guest of Honor Award
Mr Corman, you were the youngest director to ever receive the honour of a retrospective at the Cinémathèque française. And at the same time you are known for having discovered an almost infinite amount of talents. Was it difficult to alternate between being a director and a producer?
There are some difficulties combining the two roles because of the clashes between the jobs of producer and director. When you are the director, you have to focus all of your energy into the actual work of directing. The producer’s responsibilities are quite different, making it difficult to perform both jobs simultaneously. However, these challenges are offset by the fact that as a producer/director I can function more clearly as an auteur. Ultimately, I can make the decisions myself and shape the final product, and I enjoy that freedom.
Your career spans over seven decades. What have been the biggest changes in filmmaking, and what has remained the same?
The first big change is that producing films is easier today than it’s ever been because of the advancements in technology. Lightweight equipment and not having to shoot on film have opened up filmmaking in a major way. The second change is that theatrical distribution is much harder for low-budget films. When I started my career, any film that was decent would get a theatrical release, but now it’s harder to get low-budget films in front of audiences. While the business has changed in many ways, the importance of creativity and storytelling always remains the same.
Your wife, Julie, is an acclaimed producer. Who runs the show at home? And did you ever discuss with her about the role of women in Cinema, before and after the camera?
Our children run the show at home. My wife and I have discussed the role of women in cinema, and Julie is very active in promoting women in film. I, myself, have helped start the careers of a number of women as producers, writers, directors, actresses and in technical areas such as camera, editing and sound. On the other hand, Julie still blames me for the treatment of women in 19th century Egypt!
One of the most successful enterprises of your career have been the numerous adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe, and here in Locarno we will screen The Masque of the Red Death (1964) which is a perfect example of your work as a director. What drawn you to Poe, and did you expect that canon to be so relevant fifty years later?
I was drawn to Poe through my interest in the unconscious mind. I’ve long been interested in Freud and psychology. Poe explored these ideas long before Freud, writing about repression, desire, and other aspects of the human psyche. As far as these films being relevant today, I think that’s proof of the power of Poe’s intense psychological themes. Horror is a product of the unconscious mind, and that’s as true now as it was 50 years ago.
The award Locarno will give you is related to the Locarno Filmmakers Academy. What advice would you give today to a first-time filmmaker?
If possible, go to film school. When I started in this business, there were very few film schools, but then a generation of filmmakers who went to film school began to revolutionize the industry. If you can go, that’s still the best option. If you can’t go to film school, try to get a job working on an independent film and use the job as a film school – look around and see what everybody is doing, ask questions, and learn as much as you can. If neither of those options is possible for you, simply watch films. Watch the same film several times to see how it was made. Orson Welles claimed to have watched Stagecoach over 40 times before making Citizen Kane. Read literature on films. And then just start shooting to get an inexpensive film. It’s easier than ever before to get hands-on experience because of the changes in technology. Films can be shot on iPhones these days.