In my interview with Peter Bogdanovich, he best explains what it's like working for
Roger Corman: "Roger just throws you into the water and if you learn how to swim
great and if you don't well too bad!" This played over and over in my head on my
way down to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to capture Corman on set while he filmed his
latest film, Dinoshark.
I was at the tail end of shooting my first film, a documentary
about Corman's life and career called Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
(which opens in theaters on December 16!).
Saying Corman makes movies on a shoestring is a giant understatement -- to him,
corner cutting is an art form. How else could he have made over 300 independent films
in his lifetime? Films, of course, that usually feature scantily clad women, some sort
of monster, and on a good day a disaster of epic proportions. I interviewed dozens of
writers, actors, producers and directors who started their careers working for Corman.
People like Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, James
Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Catherine Hardwicke, and Martin Scorsese all shared
countless war stories with me about Roger cutting down budgets whenever he could.
Nicholson summed it up best, "If you don't understand money in the motion picture
business, it's like an artist that doesn't understand paint. And Roger told me, 'Well I
understand paint so if I have to, [I] thin her up with turpentine or there's no picture!"
My producer, Stone Douglass, had approved a small budget for my crew and I to travel
down to Mexico and follow Roger around for one week. We met Roger's entire crew on
the first day at a resort in Nuevo Vallarta called Paradise Village that was chosen because
every single location in the script could be shot there.
Everyone had at least four different jobs. One production assistant was handling catering,
casting, transportation, assisting with special effects, recording sound and also served
as a Spanish to English translator. The line producer doubled as the First AD while
simultaneously acting as one of the main characters in the film. You got to hand it to
him, Roger's not afraid to multitask either. He also played a role in Dinoshark
astute scientist who pieces together that the underwater villain is actually a prehistoric
shark. One minute you'd see him in the corner rehearsing his lines with the leading lady
and the next minute he's yelling at her for taking too much time in hair and makeup.
As you might have guessed, only two days had passed before my crew and I were
enlisted -- no, maybe drafted is the appropriate verb here. We were asked to shoot some
visual effects plates, a task I wore like a badge of honor.
I took notes on other ways Corman saved money. For starters, this was an action movie
with no stuntmen. Luckily the actors had enough experience and were willing to pull
off their own stunts. Problem was, I had been in Mexico for a week already and had
no footage of classic Corman elements: no blood, no gore, and most importantly, no
dinoshark. I couldn't leave without getting this stuff, but my budget had run dry. I had
to make a quick decision: I sent my crew home and made a deal with Roger to stay. He
granted me a shared accommodation with one of the production assistants in exchange
for assisting with recording and shooting second unit. While he was at it, he made me
an extra in a few scenes. All this as I was shooting and doing sound for my own film!
This was great in theory but I had never recorded audio and was still a beginner with the
camera. My DP and sound mixer gave me speedy tutorials before they left the country.
I tried to act cool and calm as best as I could but I was totally freaking out inside. I was a 29 year-old
female and being left behind in Mexico ... oh yeah, and this was right when that whole
drug war was just starting up. I couldn't believe that I had agreed to share a room with
someone I barely knew. Sigh. It was time to start swimming.
The visual effects person finally arrived into town with his treasure chest of fake blood,
severed body parts, bloody heads and of course, the dinoshark. My prayers had been
answered but now I had to stay focused and remember how to shoot. Admittedly, the
first few days were rough. Rookie mistakes included forgetting to turn the audio on,
shooting with blown out exposure settings, and forgetting to press record! I even had a
few moments on boats where the waves completed came on board splashing up against
my equipment. The camera crew felt sorry for me and helped me out with a plastic trash
bag contraption that would keep my camera dry from then on. This is actually the first
time I have told anyone about that because we did not have water damage insurance,
couldn't afford it. My producers made me promise never to go in the water ... but I was
on a Corman set ... permission and permits don't apply here.
After a month down in Mexico, I got what I was looking for. For my documentary I
wanted cool behind the scenes moments of what it's like to make a monster film with
Roger. But off-camera I got the biggest lesson of all. I learned how to shoot, record
sound, produce, and in general, look out for my own safety.
I also had wrapped shooting on my first film as a director. I was walking away with
amazing footage but also invaluable lessons about how make a movie through my time
spent watching Corman and living through one of his pictures.
On the plane ride home I realized that I had now graduated from the Roger Corman
School of Filmmaking. I had experienced it for myself and I think it was safe to
categorize myself as an average swimmer.
Back in LA, it was now time to start editing. A few weeks later I got a call from Roger
asking me for those visual effects plates. Somehow it had escaped me to send them over
which I apologized for. We briefly caught up about what was going on with him. He
was terrifically excited because he had just figured out how to squeeze another film out
of his prized Paradise Village location. Title: Sharktopus