Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What's Up, Doc?: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

(Rodman Flender with Conan O'Brien)

There’s something about working for Roger Corman that sends Corman alumni out to make documentary films. Even Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) has recently shot a slew of docs, on subjects as diverse as rocker Neil Young, former President Jimmy Carter, and Haitian human rights activist Jean Dominique. Demme of course has industry cred that allows him to move between documentaries and star-driven dramas. But Corman graduates who are much lower on the Hollywood totem pole also seem to find docs attractive. For one thing, it’s a way for talented but little-known filmmakers to make a name for themselves. By finding and tackling a worthwhile real-life subject, they can sidestep a life of churning out schlock sitcoms and thrillers of no particular distinction.

The late George Hickenlooper was a case in point. After a brief stay with Corman, he first made his mark with Hearts of Darkness, an eye-opening study of the filming of Apocalypse Now. Even while starting to be recognized for his feature film work, Hickenlooper continued to shoot documentaries, including 2003’s Mayor of the Sunset Strip (on pop music impresario Rodney Bingenheimer) and 2009’s ‘Hick’ Town, whose central figure was the energetic then-mayor of Denver. That mayor, John Hickenlooper, was George’s cousin: the obvious moral is that when you’re making documentaries it’s always smart to mine your own connections.

Adam Simon and Odette Springer are among the Concorde-New Horizons vets who’ve capitalized on their Corman links. Simon, who wrote and directed such blood-curdling Corman fare as Brain Dead and Carnosaur, interviewed his old mentor for a charming but little- seen segment of the Italian documentary Directors on Directing, before moving into an exploration of horror films, American Nightmare. Springer, a Concorde music supervisor in the 1990s, filmed Corman extensively for her probe of the women-in-jeopardy genre, Some Nudity Required. (Alas for Odette, the film she considered mainly an investigation of her own psyche came to be regarded by Roger—and by many Cormanites—as an unfair generalization about Concorde’s entire product line.)

My old buddy Rodman Flender served as Concorde head of production before going on to a modest career directing horror films (Idle Hands) and episodic television. Fortunately for him, his old buddy (dating back to their college days) is Conan O’Brien. When a post-Tonight Show O’Brien took his act on the road via his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On TV” tour, Rodman was there to record what happened. The result is a new documentary, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, that has wowed the crowds at Austin’s trendy South by Southwest Festival. Which goes to prove that there’s life after Corman—and life after being named Jay Leno’s heir apparent.


  1. I got to work with Rodman on some of that episodic television he directed, specifically a scary episode of Dawson's Creek in its first season where I was the basecamp PA running first team. I quizzed him mercilessly about his time working for Mr. Corman - and he was very kind to keep answering me for all seven shooting days. I hope this documentary brings him much success!

  2. If I run into Rodman, I'll pass along your good wishes. He's a nice guy (with a talented and equally nice wife, the award-winning TV writer Amy Lippman), and I'd love to see him move on to bigger and better things.