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In his many decades of directing and producing B-movies of
every kind, Roger Corman has amassed millions of fans, but only one has put her
love of his rich cinematic history on screen in feature-length documentary
form. CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL, opening in New York and
Los Angeles this Friday, December 16 from Anchor Bay Films, sports copious film
clips and a remarkable collection of on-camera interviews; it was a five-year
passion project for director Alex Stapleton, who discusses its creation with
The past collaborators who recall their crazy days in
Corman’s stable include Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Joe
Dante, Jonathan Demme, Gale Anne Hurd, Ron Howard, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Dick
Miller, William Shatner, David Carradine, Bruce Dern and many others. But as
Stapleton (pictured below) reveals, it all began with an independent horror
filmmaker who never worked with Corman…
FANGORIA: How did you first discover Roger Corman and his
ALEX STAPLETON: I definitely grew up being a fan of Roger’s,
though I didn’t know that it was him behind a lot of things I liked. I grew up
with the Poe movies running on television late at night or on weekends; I loved
those and Pam Grier movies, and I knew some of the other films, like GRAND
THEFT AUTO. Then, when I was 18 or 19 years old, a director I really admire,
Frank Henenlotter, was kind of like a film school for me. The guy knows
everything about every movie ever made. Frank knew a couple of people who
weren’t lucky enough to go to film school that he kind of adopted, and we would
go to his house and it was like wall-to-wall movies. He’s kind of a Nutty
Professor type. I think he saw me as a snot-nosed kid who thought I knew
everything: “Oh, I have peculiar taste, I know what’s up with ‘weird cinema…’ ”
And he was like, “No you don’t.” [Laughs]
So I owe a lot of this to Frank. He was like, “I think you
need to read this book,” which was Roger Corman’s autobiography. When I read
it, I was like, “Oh my God! This guy’s behind this? And this? And this?” and
all these things I really loved. And, “Oh my God, he discovered all these
actors?” It was an awakening. I was like, “I’m in love with this guy. This is
amazing, there’s a story here.”
FANG: You got an incredible array of people into CORMAN’S
WORLD, including a number who not only have never really spoken about Corman,
but don’t tend to do interviews in general. Jack Nicholson is probably the most
impressive of all.
STAPLETON: I don’t know, I think that was a little
intervention from the film gods. The Lakers won, so I think he was in a good
mood [laughs]. It happened in New York City, actually; the interview was at the
Carlisle Hotel. It was probably a two-year effort to get him to say yes, and
then it took months before we actually got to sit down and interview him.
FANG: You’ve said that you got five hours of footage with
Nicholson, not to mention however many hours with everybody else. How did you
pare all that down to 90 minutes?
STAPLETON: It was a challenge. I was in post for three years
because of that. I have over 1,000 hours of interviews, because there were
probably 80 subjects all together. Plus I was in Mexico for a month with Roger,
filming him while he was making DINOSHARK. So I kind of had five different
movies going on. And of course, when you’re sitting down with people like Jack
Nicholson, there are all these little tangent stories, like Nicholson and Monte
Hellman making the Westerns like THE SHOOTING and RIDE THE WHIRLWIND. Those are
Corman movies, but they’re a whole other story—kind of a tangent to the
90-minute tale I was trying to tell. So the first cut was six hours.
FANG: Any chance we’ll ever see that incredibly long cut on
Blu-ray or DVD?
STAPLETON: [Laughs] I don’t know! We’ll have to see. The DVD
extras will be really great, because we have lots of terrific stuff. I
interviewed David Crosby, because his dad Floyd Crosby was Roger’s DP for
probably 80 percent of his movies in the ’50s and ’60s. Floyd Crosby was
blacklisted, and that’s why he was available and worked for Roger. And David
was very emotional in his interview, because he was like, “Without Roger, I
wouldn’t have had food on the table when I was a little boy growing up.” There
were all these beautiful stories dealing with hundreds of movies, and I had to
just cut it down and cut it down and cut it down.
FANG: How about the movies themselves; was it difficult
narrowing down which ones to focus on?
STAPLETON: Yeah, that was a mega-challenge. I have my own
personal favorites, obviously, and if you watch CORMAN’S WORLD, you can see
movies like HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD and DEATH RACE 2000 are the ones that keep getting referenced. I tried to share the wealth with
the clips, and get my favorites in there as well as the classics of each
FANG: Was there anyone you wanted to interview who you
STAPLETON: Yeah, two people actually. One was Francis Ford
Coppola; our schedules couldn’t link up, and I ran out of money, quite frankly,
in post. I had to stop interviewing people at a certain point, so I didn’t get
to talk to him. And James Cameron. He said yes to the interview, but it was a
pure scheduling thing. He was so busy with AVATAR, and it was in post forever
and ever, and then he was tied up with awards season and publicity for the
movie. It just didn’t work out.
FANG: Parts of the movie are bittersweet, since you talked
to a few people who have since passed away—David Carradine, George
STAPLETON: And Polly Platt, and Irvin Kershner. I think I
had the last interview with Irv. I did have the last interview with David; that
happened right before he passed away, about a few weeks. George Hickenlooper’s
death was very sudden; that interview obviously took place recently, about a
year-plus ago. All of [those deaths were] very difficult, because they all
wanted to help the film. Every person I interviewed, like George, would say,
“OK, I’m gonna help you with more interviews. I’m gonna help you get Monte, I’m
gonna help you get…” These guys would sign on and basically become
FANG: Polly Platt has an executive-producer credit on the
STAPLETON: Yeah, Polly is probably a huge reason why I got
Jack Nicholson, because of her relationship with him, and with the community.
She wrote to Jack personally, expressing that he needed to do this movie.
Without Polly, who knows what the film would have been like? She was great, and
she was also personally a mentor, as another woman in the business. She was an
extraordinary human being, and I’m really sad that she’s not with us anymore.
FANG: It is unusual—though it has become less so
recently—for a woman to do a film like this. How do you feel about that
STAPLETON: I think it’s funny. I giggle a little bit when
people say, “I’m waiting for Alex Stapleton,” and I show up and they’re like,
“Waiting for the director…” and I’m like, “That’s me!” I’ve noticed some
articles that have been written about the film where I’m referred to as a “he.”
I’m thinking, “Wow, if you just Google me, you’ll totally see that I’m not a
FANG: What was the biggest thing you learned about Corman
over the many years it took to put this film together?
STAPLETON: I feel like I now have that relationship that a
lot of the Cormanites have with him. We have a very special bond—it’s probably
a little bit different than that between other documentarians and their
subjects. I’m walking away from this movie with even more respect for the guy.
He is probably the most honest person, ever. If he’s only gonna pay you $2, you
know that he’s gonna pay you $2 up front. I think that’s why all the people
who’ve worked for him aren’t mad that they made pennies or ate McDonald’s, or
whatever. And the same goes for me, in a different way.
There was a point early on, when I started the movie, that a
very big, Oscar-winning director came up with the same idea, and I had already
gotten permission from Roger to do this film. I was emptying my savings
account, shooting away, trying—little me, from Brooklyn—to make this movie
happen and put it together. Then I got a call that this huge director had the
backing of this huge Hollywood agency, and they were gonna do this huge
documentary on Roger, and I should just stop; I should just put my little
popsicle sticks down and go home. I called Roger, we had a big conversation
about it, and he said, “Oh, I think you can just work together now…” and I was
like, “No, Roger, it doesn’t work that way! I don’t think this guy’s gonna want
to work with me! To co-direct this documentary, it’s not gonna happen…”
I just started crying—“I put everything, everything into
this, and I swear to God, I’m gonna live, breathe and eat this film, and I’m
gonna do a good job. I just need a chance. I know I’m not this guy, I know I
don’t have an Oscar, but I can do it! I can do it!” And he was like, “OK, stop
crying, I don’t want to hear it. I told you that I would allow you to do the
film first, and I will honor that.” So from that moment on, I just wanted to
work hard. And I heard that in the interviews with people like Jonathan Demme
or Ron Howard or Jack Nicholson. You want to work really hard for the guy,
because he’s an open book. That was a straight-and-narrow answer, and I was
Pick up Fango #309, currently on sale, for more on CORMAN’S
WORLD, and see the movie’s official website here.
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