Happy 95th birthday to legendary filmmaker Roger Corman, born on April 5, 1926. Known as “The Pope of Pop Cinema”, Corman began his career in the 1950’s as a writer, director and producer of low-budget genre films, including westerns, horror and sci-fi cult classics such as Highway Dragnet (1954), The Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957) and House of Usher (1960). He became the leading filmmaker for American International Pictures, the producer-distributor of 1950’s and 60’s low-budget, independent films which were popular as drive-in double features. At AIP, Corman’s technique was to work very fast and very cheap, often shooting multiple films back-to-back on the same location. AIP made the most of Corman’s production skills, frequently beginning a film’s development by creating a poster and then showing it to movie fans to gauge interest. Corman created a factory for micro-budget filmmaking which gave break-in opportunities to young directors and actors at the start of their careers. Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron, Joe Dante and Jonathan Demme all learned their filmmaking techniques by working on projects with Corman. Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, Sandra Bullock, Diane Ladd, William Shattner and Robert De Niro gained visibility as young actors in Corman’s low-budget productions.
In 1960, Corman directed for AIP the horror film House of Usher, starring Vincent Price, based on an 1839 short story by Edgar Allan Poe. Based on its critical and box office success, Corman and AIP went on to make seven more hit thrillers based on Poe stories, all starring Price. Corman later left AIP to make his own way in Hollywood and achieved great success as an independent producer-director. In May 1970, he founded New World Pictures, which became a leading independent production-distribution studio, not only of genre films but also of art films from prominent foreign directors including Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut and Federico Fellini. Corman sold NWP in January 1983 for $16.9M.
In 2009, the Motion Picture Academy recognized Corman’s contribution by granting him an Honorary Award “for his unparalleled ability to nurture aspiring filmmakers by providing an environment that no film school could match.” It was presented by Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme and Quentin Tarantino, all admirers of Corman and influenced by his work.