Gavin Schmitt Interviews Producer Stone Douglass
“Corman’s World” (affiliate link) is the documentary on Roger Corman the world has been waiting for. If you are a fan of horror, science fiction, action, exploitation or any of those “second-class” genres, you know Roger Corman and his work. He made some of the greats, and more importantly he trained some of the greats. He taught James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and others how to direct. He talk Jack Nicholson and Pam Grier how to act. And he had taught a whole generation of movie-makers how to cut budgets.
I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with producer Stone Douglass, and if we had more time we probably could have talked all day about Corman’s classics…
GS: Hello, Stone.
SD: Hey Gavin. Thank you so much for talking with me about the film, and for watching it.
GS: You don’t have to thank me. It was amazing. I should be thanking you.
SD: I’m so glad you liked it. It took us almost four years to complete the final cut, and everybody spilled a lot of blood. Happily, that is. We’re all so proud of it and the subject matter could not have been more interesting.
GS: I love my low budget horror films, so Roger Corman ranks up there on the top of my icon list.
SD: You love low budget films and Italian films, right? That’s like the perfect combination of Roger Corman’s stuff. He brought some great Italian films to America, and he’s the king of low budget.
GS: You know me. So, you’re credited as producer, but you actually did so much more, right?
SD: I think I wore many, many hats. We created this film very much in Corman’s style — with not a lot of money and bringing ourselves up by our bootstraps. I was supporting the director [Alex Stapleton] and her vision to the fullest extent that I can with the money we had available. I worked with her to decide if there were enhancements that we really needed, that were worth the money. For example, there was an opportunity for her to go to Mexico. We were able to get the cost done to about $14,000. But we didn’t have $14,000. But, you know what? We had to do it. So I went out, talked to some people, and raised the money for it. At one time, over a year into editing, we had to scrap pretty much the entire film. I give Alex a lot of credit for having the courage to scrap it, but we knew at that point that the movie we were putting together was not the right one. Roger deserves to have the best possible film made.
Besides budgeting, I was “point man” for securing interviews and set up logistics for doing the shoots. I had to get us into film festivals, and through another guy I was able to get the French band Air to do the music for us, which was very cool. I played psychiatrist for Alex when she was going through tough times… and she played psychiatrist for me. It was a long road. But producing is basically about supporting the director’s vision.
GS: The film is just packed with great interviews. Other than Roger himself, was there a certain person you knew you just had to have on film?
SD: There were about five that we felt we needed to pull the film off. One of them, of course, is Roger’s wife Julie. She is hugely important to the history of his career, and they truly are partners. Not just for the marquee value, but to show where they are now, we wanted Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard. And we got them. The one we never thought we would get — the pie in the sky dream — was Jack Nicholson. But we got him. We were planning for a film without him. People we really wanted but weren’t able to get for various reasons were Francis Ford Coppola and James Cameron. We also wanted the lesser-known guys who started with him, like Dick Miller. Dick’s the kind of guy who can tell all sorts of crazy stories.
GS: I’m a little biased, but I think Dick Miller should have his own documentary.
SD: Oh, absolutely! I’m looking at a one-sheet of “Piranha” right now, and I see Dick Miller’s name right there. He’s a fascinating guy. We wanted to get Bob Burns, one of the all-time great monster makers. Getting his brother Gene was key. Getting Bill Shatner was great, and he’s a good friend of Roger’s. We felt going in that “The Intruder” was going to be an important part of the process.
GS: And I am really glad you made that film a focus, because despite being a Corman fan I have to say I knew very little about it.
SD: I honestly had not even heard of it until we started doing analysis. Then we knew that it was going to be important, it was a key part of Roger’s career. And it’s actually a great film.
GS: Including “Intruder” is one of the reasons your documentary is so important. I already knew about Roger Corman, so I expected to have 90 minutes of clips from films I’ve seen. And you threw the curve ball, which I think makes it an even stronger film — presenting the Roger we don’t know.
SD: Exactly. And “The Intruder” was not just a great film, a bold film, but it ended up explaining why Roger had the career that he had. He’s a man who believes in morals and principles, and he wanted to show that in this film so much that he mortgaged his home to make the picture. And then it turned out to be the one movie he lost money on. He says it in the movie, you can’t shove it down the audiences throat. It’s much better to present your message in subtext, and trick the audience through entertainment. Believe it or not, you could even argue that “Piranha” had an environmental message.
GS: Looking back now, do you see the interview with David Carradine differently? You were probably one of the last people to interview him.
SD: I think we actually were the last interview before he died, unless he did some press in Thailand. And he was one we really wanted to get. And we didn’t put him in the film more than we would have otherwise, had he not died. We just felt he was a great subject and he’s funny. He says some great things, and has some really good lines. Tons of footage didn’t make it into the film ,as he just had so many anecdotes. And he was in some of Roger’s more important films — “Boxcar Bertha”, Scorsese’s first film, and obviously “Death Race”. He was a very important figure in Corman’s world. And Quentin Tarantino is so influenced by Corman, he put Carraien in “Kill Bill” and Pam Grier in “Jackie Brown”.
GS: Where do you think Corman’s legacy lies: in the films he made or in the careers that he helped launch?
SD: That’s a good question. I’m not going to speak personally, but I think the general public will remember Roger not for either of those things but for the sheer number of films that he made and distributed. “Chopping Mall” and films in the “Roger Corman Presents” series. But that might be generational — the older generation may know him more for the films he directed — the Poe films and the biker films. I don’t think there’s enough awareness of how many people who nurtured, and that Hollywood would not exist as it does today without the School of Roger Corman. I think it was in the 1970s, the year that “Godfather” won, every major Oscar that year was won by someone who graduated from the Corman School of Filming.
GS: Very cool! I think we could talk about Corman all day, but we should wrap this up…
SD: It’s been fun. I’m always ready to talk about Corman, any time.