Important Lessons I Learned from Roger Corman

Watching Roger — and me — on screen in Alex Stapleton’s wonderful “Corman’s World” reminded me how he changed the course of film history


As I walked towards the LACMA for a special screening last week of “Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel,” which Anchor Bay Films will release in theaters on Dec. 16, a mixture of thoughts/memories went through my head. 

It was over 30 years ago at this very same theater that I saw Jimmy Stewart do a Q&A after “Rope” and Beaulah Bondi get a standing ovation after “Make Way for Tomorrow.” Of course I never thought that I would ever appear on the screen of that theater, but that’s the way things worked out for the Corman class of the '70s.

I worked for Roger from 1974-1979 along with Joe Dante, Jon Davison, Jonathan Kaplan, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Paul Bartel, Gale Ann Hurd, John Sayles, and so many, many more. As that line in “Hotel California” says, “You can check out but you can never leave.”

We are all bonded together forever, by our devotion to film (hence the many nights at LACMA), our youthful ambition (Joe Dante and I were paid $85 apiece for co-directing “Hollywood Blvd”) and most of all by our association with Roger. He was the first real movie director that I ever met.

He was also my producer, CEO, production executive, editorial supervisor and head of publicity/advertising. He also gave me notes on my directing; “Allan, I want you to study the films of David Lean. Specifically the way he uses compositional depth in his shots.” This was for a three-day reshoot on a Blaxploitation movie called “Blast.”

A year later I was assigned the task of trying to save a real turkey called “Deathsport.” While I was blowing up futuristic motorcycles and staging samurai sword fights between David Carradine and flaming mutants, Roger asked me if I was familiar with Eisenstein’s “Ivan the Terrible.” He thought that the father of dialectical montage’s use of foreground torches and stone gargoyles might be a good visual motif for my climactic motorcycle chase.

Really!!! That’s what it was like. When I wasn’t directing second unit, I was working on trailers for “Summer School Teachers,” “Truffaut’s Small Change,” “Crazy Mama,” “Fellini’s Amarcord” and “Eat My Dust”!! You get the picture.

Roger was in charge of everything, and had the final say on everything, yet above all else he was a filmmaker. THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN – and that very fact is the thesis for Alex Stapleton’s wonderful “Corman’s World.” She captures all the contradictions that make Roger so unique and properly gives you an overview of his place in movie history. 

She also highlights how Roger influenced the '60s with films such as “Wild Angels” and “The Trip.” For me, movies like that made me feel like I was a part of the counter culture. We were all sharing something cool.

And most importantly, Alex cinematically makes you feel like you are a part of this cabal of movie geeks. Those five years at New World Pictures changed my life. On the LACMA screen, I saw the movies I directed, the trailers that I cut and many wonderful clips of my best friends. But most of all I saw the Roger Corman that I know, the best film teacher that I have ever had.

Whether I am on the set or in the editing room there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t use what Roger taught me, and in the last 35 years it’s been thousands of days.

Sitting in the audience watching “Corman’s World” that familiar feeling of being a member of a bigger movement overcame me. Alex Stapleton’s movie shows how Roger changed the course of film history. I feel like a very lucky man to have been a part of it.