Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Catherine Cyran: Force of Nature

This year had barely started when I was shocked by an item that appeared in several Hollywood trade publications. The headlines read “Catherine Cyran, Emmy-Nominated Director, Dies at 59.” It turns out there were several errors in these stories (for one thing, Cyran made it to her sixtieth birthday), but the basic facts were all too true. The vibrant young woman with whom I had worked closely at Roger Corman’s Concorde-New Horizons had been carried off by cancer, after two years of valiant struggle.

From my perspective, at least, it all began in the 1990s, when Catherine moved into an office next door to mine. She had been recommended to Roger by a fellow Harvard graduate. Roger, always impressed by Ivy League credentials, doubtless also liked hearing that she’d spent some time in the business school of his own alma mater, Stanford. Nonetheless, she started off in a modest job as assistant to the two women in charge of distribution. Catherine being Catherine, she didn’t stay behind that desk for long..

It helped that Roger appreciated strong women, and enjoyed promoting them into positions of power. (Producer Gale Anne Hurd, who would go on to launch her own big-league career with The Terminator, is only one of the Corman alumnae who insist that Roger preferred hiring women because they were smarter, worked cheaper, and were more loyal.) As Catherine’s role at Concorde grew, she and I spent some time trying to work out the plot for a martial arts movie, to feature our in-house kickboxing star, Don “The Dragon” Wilson. When I discovered that back at her New York high school Catherine had been a top--rank violinist (who knew?), we came up with the notion that our hero would be torn between his budding kickboxing career and his love for the violin. Yes, in retrospect it sounds like a bad mash-up of old John Garfield movies, but plotting it out was fun.

Later, when Roger’s wife Julie Corman bought the rights to a Middle Grade adventure classic called Hatchet, the three of us talked at length about exactly how to adapt it for the screen. Once all the details were ironed out, I noted that someone would have to do the actual writing of the script. Catherine quickly volunteered, and A Cry in the Wild became a notable success. (The title was changed from Hatchet, because anything connected with the Corman name would probably be mistaken for a horror flick.) Once Catherine earned that first screen credit, her ambitions grew. She wrote a second wilderness adventure that took advantage of her own outdoor skills, and then directed it herself. White Wolves nabbed her an Emmy nomination for outstanding direction in a children’s special, and she was well on her way.

Since those long-ago days, Catherine’s résumé has grown to include 15 films as a writer, 18 as a director, and 8 as a producer. Along with family films like The Prince & Me II: The Royal Wedding, she’s made erotic thrillers and delved into the horror genre. Notably, she wrote Werewolf: The Beast Among Us (2012), to be directed by her longtime life partner, Louis Morneau. Last September, while battling Stage 4 cancer, she rallied to direct Our Italian Christmas Memories, which aired in November on the Hallmark Channel.  Louis told me, “It's a very nice final film which deals with Alzheimer's. She was very proud of it, her mother having died from the disease. We are hoping Beau Bridges receives an Emmy nomination.” 

 As Roger Corman knew, a strong woman can do just about anything.


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