Roger Corman, memorably dubbed “the Orson Welles of the B-Movie” and “the Pope of Pop Cinema,” never expected the words “Academy Award recipient” would accompany his name.
The man, whose 350 movie credits include such low-budget fare as “The Masque of the Red Death” and “X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes,” is receiving an honorary Oscar for a lifetime of achievement that includes mentoring such filmmakers as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and Ron Howard.
Corman, 83, said he was aware the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was considering him for the honour. He felt certain he would not make the cut, though.
“I predicted that I would not win because I make low-budget films, and I felt the academy would not give an award to someone who made low-budget films. I was truly surprised when I got the call,” Corman said in an interview at the offices of his production and distribution outfit, New Horizons Pictures.
Corman does not just make low-budget movies. He’s a maestro at it, creating plenty of schlock with titles such as “Night Call Nurses” and “Galaxy of Terror” but also cult hits with staying power. Among his productions are “Death Race 2000” and “The Little Shop of Horrors,” shot in just over two days for $30,000, featuring a young Jack Nicholson and a creepy, campy story line that later spawned a stage show and Hollywood musical remake.
Along with Nicholson, those who got acting breaks from Corman include Robert De Niro (1970’s “Bloody Mama”), Charles Bronson (1958’s “Machine-Gun Kelly”) and Sylvester Stallone (1975’s “Capone” and “Death Race 2000”).
Corman is receiving his award at a ceremony on Saturday, along with fellow Honorary Oscar recipients Lauren Bacall and Cinematographer, Gordon Willis.
Keeping budgets tiny and shooting quickly, Corman has made a profitable career defying the Hollywood maxim that you never put your own money into a movie. He still finances his own films so he can make them his way, without interference from studio backers.
His memoir is titled “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime” though the book’s title is wrong on both counts, Corman said. He’s made far more movies, and he acknowledges a few have lost money.
Sex and violence sells many of Corman’s movies, but he also has peddled social commentary racism with 1962’s “The Intruder” starring William Shatner, and mental illness with 1977’s “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.”
From his initial success in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Corman set out to nurture young talent.
“I’d made a little bit of money, and I felt I should invest this money, and I don’t really know anything about real estate or the stock market,” Corman said. “But as a young filmmaker around town, I socialized with and knew other young filmmakers, and I thought, I think I know the ones who are the most-talented and who haven’t had their chance yet.” he added.
So he invested his profits in people. Corman gave early directing shots to Coppola (1963’s “Dementia 13”) Scorsese (1972’s “Boxcar Bertha”) Howard (1977’s “Grand Theft Auto”) Jonathan Demme (1974’s “Caged Heat”) and Joe Dante (1978’s “Piranha”).
Cameron did effects work on early 1980s Corman productions such as “Battle Beyond the Stars,” while others who got a start in Corman’s stable include John Sayles and Peter Bogdanovich.
Corman said he’s never envied his proteges for the acclaim and box-office success they achieved later.
“I’ve admired them and actually, I take pride in what they have done,” Corman said. “I know that they all would have achieved the same level if they had never met me, but I think what I was able to do was to give them a start and help them a little bit in their careers, and I take great pride in that.” he added.
Corman himself has a distinctive awards history. His office is wall filled with Oscar nominations for foreign-language classics he distributed in the United States. Corman’s former company, New World Pictures, was a U.S. home for films by Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Francois Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa.
Though he has had films at prestigious festivals such as Cannes and Venice, Corman jokes about the acclaim he’s earned from lesser events.
“I’m the great winner of awards at minor film festivals,” Corman said. “I’ve got a shelf at home filled with awards from festivals you never heard of.” he added.
Where will he put his Oscar?
“It’ll go in front,” Corman said.