Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for UCLA, Springboard for Future Cormanites

I’ve told the story often: how I came to work for Roger Corman at New World Pictures. I was finishing my doctorate on The Self-Conscious Artist in Contemporary American Literature when a professor-friend called with some surprising news. As chapter president of Phi Beta Kappa, he’d just received a phone call from a moviemaker named Roger Corman (who?), who was looking for a bright young assistant. Since, while working on my dissertation, I was also writing regular movie reviews for the UCLA Daily Bruin, I seemed an appropriate choice. But it was my scholarly accomplishments that appealed to Roger, I think. He loved showing off underlings who had earned fancy degrees and titles.

I was hardly the first UCLA alum whom Roger had hired. From the film school he’d plucked Monte Hellman, then Francis Ford Coppola, and still later such behind-the-scenes wizards as Clark Henderson and Steve Barnett. Other assistants before me had also come from the Westwood campus, which was located not far from Roger’s own headquarters. In 1964, he interviewed a smart and attractive brunette named Julie Halloran who held a bachelor’s degree in English from UCLA. She didn’t get the job being offered, because another candidate was Stephanie Rothman, who had earned a master’s degree from the USC Film School and an award from the Directors Guild of America for directing a student film. But Roger asked Julie for a date, and six years later they were married.

 As Roger’s own star rose, he looked further afield for assistants. When hiring technical personnel (like editors and department heads) to staff the Corman studio, he could have his pick of eager film school grads from USC, UCLA, and NYU. But in the Corman offices, he seemed to value young people with more intellectual backgrounds. For a while it pleased him to look to his own alma mater, Stanford University, for assistants like Gale Anne Hurd, Virginia Nugent, and Rob Kerchner, who could evolve into future producers, even though they didn’t arrive with much in the way of hands-on filmmaking experience. In my own Concorde-New Horizons years, many of my colleagues hailed from the Ivy League, like Anna Roth (Columbia), Mike Elliott (Cornell), Rodman Flender (Harvard), and Sally Mattison (Yale),

Beginning in 1974, a UCLA law school graduate named Barbara Boyle worked closely with Roger, first as his staff attorney and later as his head of business affairs. After a successful producing career, Barbara accepted the chairmanship of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film
and Television, a post she still holds. In 2004, an article in the trades trumpeted Roger’s pledge to award production funding -- to the tune of $100,000 -- to one or more UCLA film students. The plan was that Roger would choose the feature-length projects to be funded, then would donate one-third of each film’s profits to the school. As with similar much-ballyhooed agreements made by Roger with other academic institutions, this one never got off the ground.

I suspect something of the same will hold true for a project I just learned about, involving a San Francisco college’s advanced film students remaking Corman’s Munchies on the cheap. (In the ad I saw, participants are being asked to work without salary, receiving only screen credit “and the added resume builder of working with Roger.”)  Yes, Roger believes in college students, but never quite enough to fork over actual money.  


  1. What a scorecard! It's nice to have all the names and the schools grouped up into one convenient post here! I am saddened to learn, that had I come to Los Angeles to apply with Mr. Corman in 1990 - that my BA in Cinema and Photography from Southern Illinois University - Carbondale would not have cut much soap to land me the job.

    And remake Munchies on the cheap!?! You couldn't have bought an evening's movie snacks with the original movie's budget! Ah, but the name Roger Corman is still inspiring the young to work for cheap/free to get their toe in the door!

  2. Roger could definitely be a school and degree snob, one of many fascinating aspects of the man. (I love your comment about Munchies, Mr. C. I was amused to see that in the original email solicitation for student filmmakers and puppeteers, the project was called The Munchies. Hmmm.)