Tuesday, 21 January 2014

James Cameron: The Hero’s Journey

The Terminator (Directed by James Cameron)
Action is character; what a person does, not what he says, is what he is. Joseph Campbell declares, ‘A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself,’ like Oedipus and Hamlet. And ‘if a machine can learn the value of a human life,’ Sarah Connor (in ‘The Terminator 2’) states in the last line of the movie, ‘maybe we can, too.’ 

That line reverberated in my mind for days after I heard it. It’s a thoughtful, provocative way to end the film. If you think about it, it is the Terminator ‘character’ who embodies the classic values of Aristotelian tragedy and undertakes the hero’s journey. Was this intentional? I asked myself. Can this robot, this cyborg, played by an Austrian actor, be the prototype of the new American hero? 
                                                                                                                       – Syd Field

The well-known screenwriting teacher Syd Field interviewed writer-director James Cameron in 1992 shortly after the release of Terminator 2: Judgement Day the sequel to 1984’s The Terminator. The idea of being emotionally moved by the sacrifice of a machine or cyborg left a deep impression on Field. Approaching his response from a willingness to suspend his disbelief and ‘accept this robot as a real, living character’ whose ‘action transforms the future’ Field came to see the Terminator character (as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) as an embodiment of the classic hero as described by Aristotle in his discussion of tragedy.

Impressed by Cameron’s innovative skills as a filmmaker and his mastery of suspense, Syd Field sought out Cameron for a book he was preparing on the art of the American screenplay. He praised Cameron, in particular, for his ability to create spectacular action sequences along with believable characters. The subsequent interview with James Cameron was reprinted in James Cameron: Interviews (edited by Brent Dunham) from which the following is an extract:


Jim Cameron grew up in Kapuskasing, a little town just outside Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada. When he was fifteen, he saw Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. ‘As soon as I saw that,’ he recalls, ‘I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. It hit me on a lot of different levels. I just couldn’t figure out how he did all that stuff, and I just had to learn.’

‘So I borrowed my dad’s Super-8 camera and would try to shoot things with different frame rates just to see how it looked.’ This, of course, is much different from picking up a Super-8 in a high school in a large city like L.A. or New York. ‘If you pick up a Super-8 camera there, it’s because you’re going to film school,’ he said. ‘For me, it was completely innocent. I had a fascination with it, but I couldn’t see myself as a future film director. In fact, there was a definite feeling on my part that those people were somehow born into it, almost like a caste system. Little kids from a small town in Canada didn’t get to direct movies.’

When he was in his teens his family moved to Orange County in Southern California, and ‘from a pragmatic standpoint, I could have been in Montana. There is no film industry in Orange County, and since I didn’t have a driver’s license, it made Hollywood as far away as another state.

‘I liked science,’ he continued, ‘and thought I might want to be a marine biologist, or physicist. But I also liked to write, so I was pulled in a lot of different directions. I liked the idea of an ocean even though I’d never seen or been in one. But I had been certified as a scuba diver when I was sixteen in a swimming pool in Buffalo, and I dived in the local rivers and lakes.


‘I loved the idea of being in another world, and anything that could transport me to another world is what I was interested in. To me, scuba diving was a quick ticket to another land.’

He continued talking about his fascination with other worlds, and as he was speaking I could see the evolution of his films: The two TerminatorsAliensThe Abyss, all deal with other worlds.

‘I enrolled in junior college and studied physics,’ he continued, ‘along with all the math, calculus, chemistry, physics, astronomy, which I loved. And while I made good grades, I knew that’s not what I wanted to do with my life, so I switched to being an English major and studied literature for a while. Even so, I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to do, so I simply dropped out. I worked in a machine shop for a while, then as a truck driver, a school bus driver, and painted pictures and wrote stories at night.’

Gradually he began to see that the medium of film could accommodate his interests in both science and art, and with the help of a little book called Screenplay he ‘figured out how to write a screenplay, just like all the big guys, so a friend and I sat down and wrote a little ten-minute script. We raised the money to make it and shot it in 35mm; it was all effects and models and matte shots, all this wild kind of stuff.’

‘It was a bit like a doctor doing his first appendectomy after having only read about it. We spent the first half day of the shoot just trying to figure out how to get the camera running. We rented all this equipment – the lenses, the camera, the film stocks, everything – then took all the gear back to this little studio we had rented in Orange County.


‘Now, I knew in theory how the threading path worked, but we couldn’t get the camera to run to save our lives. There were three of us, and one of the guys was an engineer, so we simply took the camera apart, figured out how it worked, traced the circuitry, and then realized there was something in the camera that shut the camera off in case the film buckled. Later, when we returned the equipment, we were talking to the rental guys and they said something about ‘a buckle trip,’ and I said, yeah, yeah, I know about that, not telling them that we had disassembled their camera and spread it out on the table and figured it all out. It was like the Japanese doing reverse engineering.’

I asked him about his background in special effects and he told me he ‘was completely self-taught in special effects. I’d go down to the USC library and pull any theses that graduate students had written about optical printing, or front screen projection, or dye transfers, anything that related to film technology. That way I could sit down and read it, and if they’d let me photocopy it, I would. If not, I’d make notes. I literally put myself into a graduate course on film technology – for free. I didn’t have to enroll in school, it was all there in the library. I’d set it up to go in like I was on a tactical mission, find out what I needed to know, take it all back. I just had files and files stacked on my desk of how all this stuff was done.’

It is this kind of analytical approach to film projects that separates Jim Cameron from other filmmakers. ‘I’ve always felt that people seek out the information and knowledge they need,’ he said. ‘They seek it out and find it. It’s like a divining rod to water; nobody will give you the pathway. It’s something you have to find yourself.’

It’s so true. In seminar after seminar, workshop after workshop, people all over the world tell me that success in Hollywood is based on ‘who you know,’ not what you do. I tell them that’s not true at all.


‘People ask me how do you get to be a film director,’ Cameron continued, ‘and I tell them that no two people will ever do it the same way, and there is nothing I can say that will help you. Whatever your talents are, whatever your strengths and weaknesses, you have to find the path that’s going to work for you. The film industry is about saying ‘no’ to people, and inherently you cannot take ‘no’ for an answer.

‘If you have to ask somebody how to be a film director, you’ll probably never do it. I say, probably. If that pisses you off, and then you go out and say, ‘I’m going to show that Jim Cameron; I am going to be a director,’ that gives you the kind of true grit you need to have in order to go through with it. And if you do become a film director, then you should send me a bottle of champagne and thank me.’

There is no ‘one’ way to find your true path in Hollywood. Whether you’re a screenwriter, director, actor, producer, whatever, each person has to find his or her way. Success in Hollywood is not measured on talent alone. Persistence and determination are the keys to success; then comes talent.

Cameron got a job working for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, building miniatures. He was the art director and special effects cameraman on Battle Beyond the Stars, and was production designer and second-unit director on Galaxy of Terror (1981).


Corman’s ‘frantic, frenzied,’ high-energy school of filmmaking was ‘like being air-dropped into a battle zone,’ Cameron recalls. ‘It was the best, fastest, strongest injection into filmmaking I could have gotten.’

He became special effects supervisor on John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981), then directed Piranha II: The Spawning, filmed in 1981, though not released until 1983.

After that he wrote and directed The Terminator. When I asked how it came into being, Cameron paused for a moment, looked at the pinball machine against the far wall, and smiled slightly. ‘If you want to know the truth, the evolution of The Terminator is somewhat dishonest. I had just directed my first movie, Piranha II, but the truth is that I’d actually gotten fired from the shoot after a couple of weeks. Officially my friends knew I was a film director, but that really wasn’t true within the industry because I couldn’t get my phone calls returned, even from the people at Warner Bros., and they were the ones who put up the negative costs of Piranha II. I couldn’t get a call back from anybody. I was absolutely dead in the water. I knew that if I was ever going to direct a movie again, I was going to have to create something for myself. So writing a screenplay became a means to an end, a way of visualizing what the movie would be.


‘I had to contour whatever I wanted to do into how I could sell myself,’ he continued. ‘I have a strong background in special effects. So my natural inclination would be to go toward science fiction. But realistically, I knew the most money I could probably raise to make a picture would be $3 million or $4 million. So I knew it would have to be contemporary, had to have a contemporary location, and I would have to shoot it non-union. So I started putting things together. I’ve got effects, I want it to be science fiction, but I want it to be a contemporary story. So how do I inject the fantastic element into a contemporary story? I didn’t want to ‘make a fantasy, like a magic mirror communicating with another dimension. I wanted it to be gritty realistic, kind of hardware-based, true science fiction, as opposed to fantasy science fiction.

‘I’d always liked robots, so essentially I came up with the idea of time travel and catching glimpses of the future. From a budget standpoint that would be controllable. But if I thrust myself entirely into that world, then I was suddenly talking about a $15 million, $20 million, or $30 million picture. If I kept it limited in terms of what I saw through flashbacks or dream sequences or whatever, and I injected one element from that world into our own, I felt it was controllable.

‘Then I hit on the idea of the future being determined by something that’s happening now, someone who’s unaware of the results of their actions finds out they have to answer for those actions – in the future. So what’s the most extreme example of that I can think of? If the world has been devastated by nuclear war, if global events are predicated on one person, who is the least likely person you can imagine? A nineteen-year-old waitress who works at Bob’s Big Boy (a fast-food restaurant in Southern California).


‘That was the premise, and it started to unfold from that. The easiest way to undo what she had done would just be to kill her, just erase her existence, which is not the most subtle approach to the story. It’s true that the future could come back and tell her what was going to happen, but being they were machines, they were thinking in a very binary mode.

‘So I started creating some juxtapositions that seemed interesting to me. This incredible nightmare would be glimpsed through little windows of contemporary reality.

‘The story evolved from that.’


What about The Terminator? I asked.


He paused a moment, reflecting. ‘I first started thinking about the film in two stages,’ he continued. ‘In the first stage the future sends back a mechanical guy, essentially what The Terminator became, and the good guys send back their warrior. In the end, the mechanical guy is destroyed; but up in the future, they say, well; wait a minute, that didn’t work, what do we have left? And the answer is something terrible, something even they’re afraid of. Something they’ve created that they keep locked up, hidden away in a box, something they’re terrified to unleash because even they don’t know what the consequences will be – they being the machines, or computers, whoever’s in charge.

‘And that thing in the box becomes a total wild card; it could go anywhere, do anything, a polymorphic metal robot that is nothing more than a kind of blob. I saw it as this mercury blob that could form into anything. Its powers were almost unlimited, and they couldn’t control it.

‘That scared me. Just sitting there writing the story scared me.


‘That’s what The Terminator was going to be about. But already I could see that it was starting to slop over the boundaries I had set for myself. And I thought, no, I’ll get killed. If I try this now it’ll be too ambitious; I’ll get creamed. I’ve got to scale back, got to go for something tighter, simpler. So I took out the liquid metal robot.

‘Besides, there was no way I could accomplish something like that. In all my effects experience, nobody had really come up with a way of doing it. Maybe in a future film context you could advance that technology and get it looking better, but at that time, in 1983, the answer was a definite no. So I decided against it.’

That was the first major creative choice Cameron had to make before he could move forward with his idea. The next key decision he had to confront was that ‘I didn’t want the robot to look like a man in a suit. If this robot was something that was supposed to fit inside a human form, we could not accomplish that visual by putting it outside a human form, then trying to imagine that it was also inside. It just wouldn’t work. Nobody had ever created a robot that wasn’t a suit. Star Wars [George Lucas] had been done a few years earlier, and since then there had been a whole history of film robots that were basically guy-in-suit robots. So for me, the special effects challenge was getting something believable that could have existed inside a human form. That was the real challenge.’

The Terminator was filmed and released and became ‘a sleeper hit.’ It literally made Arnold Schwarzenegger a superstar and paved the way for the sequel, which took seven years to come to the screen.

It was a hero’s journey.

– Syd Field: The Hero’s Journey. Originally published in Four Screenplays (New York: Dell Publishing, 1994), 79–89.

   

Friday, 10 January 2014

Fear and Horror: Interview with Roger Corman

The Fall of the House of Usher (Directed by Roger Corman)
In 2009, the legendary film producer and director Roger Corman received an honorary Oscar for his ‘rich engendering of films and filmmakers’. The Oscar citation summed up his career as follows:

‘Through ingenuity, boundless energy and a deep love of movies, Roger Corman has made more of them than just about anyone. His legendary ability to stretch a dollar allowed him to swiftly conceive and create period films and sci-fi epics on budgets that wouldn’t cover the food costs on a modern studio shoot. When he had more to work with, however, Corman made the most of it: The string of Edgar Allan Poe-inspired horror films he produced at American International Pictures (AIP) in the early 1960s featuring Vincent Price have been hailed as artistic gems.

‘A true collaborator by nature with a keen eye for talent, Corman mentored many of the film industry’s best-known talents. Among the graduates of what James Cameron (Battle beyond the Stars) called The Roger Corman Film School are Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha), Francis Ford Coppola (Dementia 13), Ron Howard (Grand Theft Auto), Jack Nicholson (Little Shop of Horrors among others), Robert De Niro (Bloody Mama) and Jonathan Demme (Fighting Mad).

‘Born in Detroit with no ties to the film industry, Corman had to make his own way in Hollywood. Beginning as a messenger at 20th Century-Fox, he became a story analyst and later a screenwriter. He received a story credit for Highway Dragnet (1954), which he also co-produced, and got his first producer credit on The Fast and the Furious (1955). Over the next five decades, virtually every type of genre film arrived in theaters and drive-ins with the name Roger Corman attached as producer—and often director as well. His colorful titles, often set before a script was written, promised much to youthful audiences seeking chills, thrills and spills, and the films themselves delivered without pretention.

‘After many commercial successes, Corman was able to expand his operations as an independent distributor and his New World Pictures released significant films by Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and others. Corman continued producing, however, and among the cult classics fondly remembered from this period are Death Race 2000 (1975), Piranha (1978) and Rock ’n’ Roll High School (1979). Filmmakers who received early opportunities on New World productions include, director Joe Dante (Piranha), composer James Horner (The Lady in Red), film editor Mark Goldblatt (Humanoids from the Deep), producers Jon Davison (Hollywood Boulevard) and Gale Anne Hurd (Smokey Bites the Dust), and writer John Sayles (The Lady in Red).

‘The Academy’s Board of Governors voted Corman the Honorary Oscar for his unparalleled ability to nurture aspiring filmmakers by providing an environment that no film school could match’. (Source: www.oscars.org)

The Fall of the House of Usher (Directed by Roger Corman)
In 1973, Roger Corman gave a rare interview to Patrick Schupp of Séquences Magazine who seized the opportunity of Corman’s visit to Montreal to preside over the Canadian Film Awards to ask a few questions of one of the masters of fantasy cinema.

PS: Mr. Corman, can you tell me how you started your series on Edgar Poe?


RC: I was working at the time for a studio that had us make groups of two films with a small budget – about $100,000 or $200,000 – in black and white. We sold them as a group.

PS: ‘Attack of the Crab Monsters’ and ‘Not of This Earth’?


RC: Exactly. But I was more inclined toward science fiction, and I didn’t want to mix genres. All the films, however, had a common theme: horror. And then, one day, I was fed up with working like that, with a small budget and in black and white. I had been asked for two other films to be made in ten days, as usual. So I suggested that I make one instead, in color, and with fifteen days of filming, which was a lot more ambitious. I suggested a story by Poe that I like a lot, The Fall of the House of Usher. My studio, however, American International, a small company that had never done more than fifteen days of filming or put up a $200,000 budget, got scared. Finally, after several discussions, my bosses agreed and I started filming.

The Fall of the House of Usher (Directed by Roger Corman)
PS: ‘Usher’s immediate success encouraged you to keep going, and probably the studio to keep paying. Poe was a goldmine, I believe. Based on his works, you directed ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, ‘Premature Burial’, ‘Tales of Terror’, ‘The Raven’, ‘The Terror’, ‘The Haunted Palace’ (which borrowed as much from Lovecraft as from Poe, if memory serves!), ‘Masque of the Red Death’, and ‘Tomb of Ligeia’. What connection have you drawn between films and books? I imagine that, in order to adequately translate the atmosphere created by Poe’s language in cinematographic terms, you must have run into some difficulties?

RC: Indeed, that’s an excellent question. We ran into some difficulties. First, there’s the brevity of Poe’s stories, which rarely go beyond a few pages. That meant that we had to explore Poe’s psychology and recreate the atmosphere in which he worked as well as his themes. Then we went back to the story in order to check and to clarify. Do you want an example? In The Pit and the Pendulum, Poe describes only the torture chamber itself. So in a sense we invented a prologue, a first and a second act. The characters end up in the chamber, that is, in the third act. What counts is in the chamber and that’s where Poe’s story begins. That, in fact, is one of our techniques: using Poe’s story as the conclusion to a story whose premise we came up with.

The Pit and the Pendulum (Directed by Roger Corman)
The second point is that, in my view, Poe worked quite a bit in terms of the unconscious, in a middle world that Freud tried to explore in Austria in the nineteenth century. Poe in America, Dostoyevsky in Russia, Maupassant in France, even other artists, in literature, music, and painting, have followed the same path – the subjective exploration of the unconscious. You see, I firmly believe that the artistic and scientific fields are tightly interwoven, that numerous, apparently contradictory or opposing facets are in fact joined together, but in a context that is not always self-evident. And yet, since Poe’s works are situated directly in terms of the unconscious, I’ve tried to recreate a completely imaginary world by using technical studio equipment. At that time, however, I tended to work in a more realistic manner, in the outdoors, etc.... I have no trouble saying that Poe brought me back to more intellectualized studio work. There, I had perfect control over the film’s atmosphere with lighting, scenery, accessories, photos, etc.... And when we had to leave the studio for certain reasons...

The Tomb of Ligeia (Directed by Roger Corman)
PS: In the case of ‘Tomb of Ligeia’, I believe?


RC: Yes! Tomb of Ligeia was my last film about Poe, and in it I proved my theory! In fact, at the beginning, I wanted to maintain that imaginary world, except for some ocean shots. On that note, I have to talk to you about the ocean. There is a deep fascination in man with the sea, just like when you look at fire. There’s a sort of hypnotism. So once I shot the ocean, and another time there was a fire in the Hollywood hills. And I reworked my schedule in order to go all the way to the burned area, to film and in that way to preserve a few scenes of a landscape with a supernatural atmosphere.

PS: So those are your outdoor shots. Burned land. Is that what you used in the opening sequences of ‘Haunted Palace’?


RC: No, Usher. But for Haunted Palace, I remade a similar set, inspired by that fire. I admit that that was a few years ago and my memory may cause me to overlook some details. I know that, for Usher, I went to the burned area, and in Haunted Palace, I used the shots of the ground where I remade a similar set. But that had had enough of an impact on me to make me want to reuse that impression of otherworldliness, of absolute desolation that only fire can offer.

The Tomb of Ligeia (Directed by Roger Corman)
PS: That, in effect, is the impression I had gotten. But the resulting atmosphere was remarkably accurate in comparison with Lovecraft’s text, I mean in ‘Haunted Palace’. I am one of his great admirers, and I was wondering how the film would come out when I knew that it was in production with you.

RC: Me, too. I love Lovecraft, but I find Poe more interesting.

PS: Indeed, if only because of his themes...


RC: Lovecraft, however, is probably one of the best occult writers of the twentieth century. I worked only once on a script based on Lovecraft, in Haunted Palace. But my artistic director for the Poe films, Daniel Haller, directed The Dunwich Horror, which I financed.

PS: I really liked that film. Really well done. Especially the wave effect at the end.


RC: You see, there again we were using the idea of the sea!

PS: It was very effective, and magnificently offset the real by hinting at the invisibility of those unspeakable beings.


RC: In fact, we found ourselves in a world that was identical to Poe’s, but contemporary.

The Raven (Directed by Roger Corman)
PS: I wonder if Lovecraft is as popular with film directors as Edgar Poe! He’s somewhat of an international craze. By the way, have you seen Alexandre Astruc’s version of ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’? It was directed by the ORTF [Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française] in 1968, I believe. 

RC: No, but I heard a lot about it.

PS: I think that I preferred yours, probably because of those ‘acts’ that precede Poe’s story that you spoke to us about. Astruc has a totally different vision – more withdrawn, and more clinical.


RC: !!!

PS: I would like you to talk to us now about Vincent Price, who has appeared in almost all of your films, and whom you cast in spectacular fashion into a genre in which he will henceforth reign as an undisputed master. The link that exists between an actor and a director, in general, reached an exceptional level between you two, I believe.

Masque of the Red Death (Directed by Roger Corman)
RC: Indeed, you could say that! I chose Vincent for House of Usher first and foremost because I found him smart and distinguished. It also seems to me that Poe described himself or used certain aspects of his own personality in his characters, at the very least those that had a leading role. He never wrote an autobiographical story as such, but often used the first person. And so he was describing himself, if only to a certain point, of course. That is why I wanted an actor who was as smart as he was cultured. And there aren’t too many, to tell the truth, who exhibit these two traits while at the same time looking the part. So it was totally natural for me to choose Vincent because, in addition to bringing a real dignity to his characters, not to mention a great talent for acting in keeping with a given time period, he conferred on them a raw and unaffected authenticity. Certain actors, as good as they may be, are used to acting ‘modern’, and they have trouble ‘passing off’ a character from the eighteenth or nineteenth century, which Vincent’s flawless theater training overcame.

Furthermore, over the course of several conversations, Vincent and I came to agree that horror comes from the unconscious. In fact, for years we have had this theory, developed little by little over the course of our working together, that horror and fear are two quite distinct things. Horror is in part the reconstruction of childhood fantasies, and in part the anxiety from the world that surrounds us. You always fear someone bigger and stronger than you, who could hurt you, even if it’s in your unconscious. Civilization advances, of course, and that fear is currently transforming into a fear/horror of a superior culture, one that is around us and watching over us, or that comes from a distant past that you can sense and that ordinary people don’t suspect... And each time Vincent admirably knew how to express that ancestral fear that spurs horror...

The Tomb of Ligeia (Directed by Roger Corman)
PS: Let’s turn now to one of your films, ‘Tomb of Ligeia’. The characters of Rowena and Ligeia are played by the same actress, Elizabeth Shepherd. Why?


RC: Well, I think that, in Poe’s mind, these are just two sides of the same personality: one good, one bad. And so the same actress could easily –  and logically – play both roles.

PS: An exciting job for Ms. Shepherd, especially since Rowena’s makeup, starting out very pale, turned white as the film went on and indicated the personality shift and the increasingly profound taking of possession. Your directing and your relationship with Elizabeth Shepherd must have been very interesting in terms of the study and execution of this personality change.

So now we come to ‘Wild Angels’, from 1966, which marks a total turning point in your work.


RC: A necessary decision! While making the Poe films, I didn’t think I was making a series! I made House of Usher. It worked out. I was asked to make others. Fine. And one of the reasons I chose Ligeia is because it gave me the chance to get out of the studio (we had filmed in an old abbey, near Norfolk, in England, which gave me the ‘gothic’ atmosphere I wanted, as well as that sense of infinite space, which is impossible to recreate in the studio) and to drive home my own theories.

Also, after Ligeia, despite the studio’s requests, I refused to keep going because it seemed to me that I had nothing left to say, that I was repeating myself. So I went off on a totally different path with Wild Angels, which had no historical references, period costumes, or spider webs. It was a tough and serious story bearing on an awfully contemporary problem, as a response, I suppose.

The Wild Angels (Directed by Roger Corman)
PS: Indeed. For that matter, ‘The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre’, in 1968, and ‘The Trip’, in ’69, are in the same vein, as is ‘Von Richthofen and Brown’ in 1970. In ‘The Trip’, did you also want to address a problem that was as current and serious as it was sensitive? Or did you want to show the deleterious effects of the drug, LSD, as they were?

RC: No, not in the very least. I myself had taken LSD, as had Jack Nicholson and the screenwriter, and Peter Fonda as well. In fact, everyone who was involved in the production on every level did. You see, we believed in the potential of LSD and, when I made the film, I approved of drug use. But since I’m trying to be honest, I wanted to show the dramatic effects of a ‘bad’ trip, even though my own experience may have been positive and pleasant. I owed it to myself to show both sides – the first part, euphoric, the second, agonizing – for the sake of fairness. In the end, the film was rather tough and seemed to me to go a bit too far. And since I left for Europe for another film as soon as filming for The Trip had ended, I didn’t see the film before flying off. The studio made a few cuts, changed the ending and certain elements in the editing in order to give the impression of an anti-drug film. But that absolutely wasn’t my idea at the start.

PS: I see. Editing determines a film’s impact in the end, and I could give you certain probative examples of tampering.


RC: I won’t make you! It happened again with one of my last films, Gas-s-s-s, not so long ago.

Masque of the Red Death (Directed by Roger Corman)
PS: I’ve seen almost all the films you’ve directed, even the minor works from your early period, over the last fifteen years, let’s say. Of all of them, I think that ‘Masque of the Red Death’, made in 1964, remains one of my favorites. I think that it also marks a turning point, or a significant stage in your understanding of the fantasy world. May I have your thoughts? 

RC: In Hollywood, I was given three weeks to film and a rather small budget. I made Masque in England (it was the first film I made outside the United States) in five weeks, and with a much more substantial budget. But since English crews are a bit slower, let’s say that it took four weeks to film with neither wasted time nor regrets.

The script, on the other hand, was heavily reworked. The first version was by Charles Beaumont. But I got the sense that, for the first time, he hadn’t understood what I wanted with respect to Poe’s works. So I reached out to Bob Campbell, who had never worked with Poe, and the two of us redid the whole script in two weeks. Because I had more money, I was able to build more complex sets, and because I had redone the script, I knew exactly where I was going with it, and I deliberately settled on that baroque vision, that look that is decadent in its opulence. So my perspective changed based on the circumstances, and that’s what gave the film a different feel...


– Extract from ‘Patrick Schupp: Meeting with Roger Corman’. In Séquences 78 (October 1974): 20–24. Translated by Gregory Laufer.