“Of all films I ever directed, the one that survived the longest as a genuine ‘cult classic’ is the one I did the fastest and the cheapest. It only took two days on a leftover soundstage to shoot the principle photography for The Little Shop of Horrors.”
After Francis Ford Coppola earned his Master’s in film at UCLA, but before he won his first of five Oscars for writing the screenplay for Patton, he worked for Roger Corman. Corman is known as The King of B-Movies for his exploitation films in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but also had his share of more respected films in the 70s and 80s through his company New World Cinema. (This included releases by Bergman, Fellini, Truffaut and Kurosawa.)
While he directed 50 films himself, he had a hand in producing or distributing close to 400 films. The majority, Corman will point out, made money. He also had an early hand in developing some fine film filmmakers and actors, giving many of them their first shot at directing. A list that includes Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, and king of the box office James Cameron.
In his book, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood, And Never Lost a Dime (written Jim Jerome) Corman recalls working with Coppola;
“I needed a non-union director. So I went to my ace assistant, a young man I had hired months earlier just out of the UCLA film school. His name was Francis Coppola. France’s background was largely in theater production at UCLA but he had also won the $2,500 Samuel Goldwyn prize for screenwriting.
His first assignment involved a Russian science fiction space picture I had acquired rather inexpensively. I asked him to edit, write, and loop the English dialogue so it made sense to an American audience and then shoot post production inserts with special effects. That movie came out as Battle Beyond the Sun.”
Let’s see a show of hands of people who have seen that film. Anyone? Anyone?
But Corman says he made money on that picture as he usually does on his films. That lead to Corman backing Coppola’s first feature Dementia 13. Coppola says of his experience working with Corman;
“Roger, having heard about my theater experience and good work with actors, which was rare for cinema type, took me on as an assistant for $90 a week. He was very proud that the winner of the Goldwyn prize was in his employ. He also made sure to tell me he once worked for $45 a week. Of course I’d have worked for him for nothing, except that I needed a meal once in a while.”
Who knows what the equivalent of that $90 a month week is today? But it isn’t much. But it was enough to turn into what Coppola called “a fabulous opportunity.” Keep that in mind when odd opportunites come your way.