You never can tell what might trigger a blog idea. For example, as I admired the beautiful Easter lilies on Sunday, I was reminded of the giant people-eating plant in one of my favorite schlock horror films, Little Shop of Horrors (1960). And then I remembered that April 5th was also the 89th birthday of legendary B-movie director and producer Roger Corman.
Unless you’re a bad-movie aficionado, you may not recognize his name, but I’ll bet you’ve seen his work. He’s the man who not only brought us Little Shop of Horrors, but was also responsible for Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Wasp Woman (1960), and Sharktopus (2010), among hundreds of other films that he produced or directed… none of which, however, would ever be mentioned in the same sentence as “Oscar Bait.”
That’s because Corman’s specialty is low-budget B-movies – the kind you see on late-night TV, on the SyFy Channel, or in the clearance bin at Wal-Mart. Always entertaining, but with little to admire in the way of writing, acting, or cinematography, not to mention painfully bad not-so-special effects. The kind of movies that now mostly go direct-to-video. But back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, drive-ins and local theaters needed a steady stream of cheaply made movies to fill out double-bills aimed at teenagers and young adults… a market with an insatiable appetite for cinematic “junk food.”
Corman knew he wasn’t making art. But he knew what would sell, and he made a career out of providing it. And this is how Roger Corman embodies the Profiting From Your Passions Formula:
He pursued his passion – He only lasted four days at his first “professional” job (he had a degree in Industrial Engineering) before he realized his real passion was film. So he took a “Good Enough Job” in the mail room at 20th Century Fox to get his foot in the door. By the mid-50s, he was making his own movies, and since then he’s produced or directed over 400 films.
He saw a niche and stepped up to fill it – Drive-ins and movie theaters needed action-packed low-budget films as fodder for teenage moviegoers. Corman saw this trend, and he made a fortune from it.
He made the most out of his assets – Corman always looked for ways to get the maximum value for his investment. On one occasion, he finished a film three days earlier than expected, so he improvised and used the same actors and sets (which he had already paid for) to squeeze out an entire second film in the remaining three days.
He knew how to get support – Corman made it a point to hire and provide opportunities for aspiring young directors and actors, and many went on to become film legends in their own right: Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Jack Nicholson, to name just a few. As he once said to Ron Howard (who owes his big break to Corman, going from has-been child star to Academy Award-winning director), “If you do a good job on this film, you’ll never have to work for me again.”
So next time you’re watching a SyFy channel epic like MegaShark Vs. Giant Octopus, think about Roger Corman and how he made hundreds of movies, founded film studios, and jumpstarted the careers of dozens of Hollywood legends… All because he was willing to leave his engineering degree behind and follow his own path.