Corman kinder, gentler

Like his big studio brothers, indie producer/director Roger Corman is beginning to cash in on American audiences’ thirst for family fare.

After the success of “White Wolves,” a live-action family film that premiered this past June on the Disney channel, had a limited theatricalrelease and went on to sell 60,000 vidcassettes, Corman has now decided that up to one-third of his approximately 20 annual film projects will have PG ratings.

“For years Roger tried to get MGM to accept family films, but they only wanted him to do the kind of movies he was known for,” said Jonathan Fernandez, president of Corman’s video company, New Horizons. “But once he was free of that relationship, he did ‘White Wolves’ and it did very well.”

Among the family films that Corman will produce is “The Revenge of the Red Baron,” a PG horror comedy starring Mickey Rooney as the ghost of the WWI flying ace, who comes back to haunt the family of the man who shot him down. The film will also star Laraine Newman.

He’s also prepping “No Dessert Dad, Till You Mow the Lawn,” a comedy starring Robert Hays about children who brainwash their parents into believing they are the children.

On Jan. 21, Corman will release “The Fantastic Four,” a co-production with Bernd Eichinger and Constantin Films, based on the Marvel comic book, a project that will get Corman’s largest theatrical push to date.

As a small-budget indie producer — his budgets range from $ 3 million-$ 5 million — Corman’s strategy has been to open his films with a limited theatrical release, anywhere from 20 to 100 theaters. His main targets are those cities in the Midwest and the South where small advertising budgets offer a bigger video return for the buck.

“It’s become too expensive to compete against the majors in the bigger cities , but we no longer have to rely on theatrical box office for the film’s big revenue,” Fernandez said. “We’re happy when a theatrical release covers our advertising costs. And basically we now look at our theatrical releases as advertising for the film’s video life.”

In the case of “Carnosaur,” a$ 5 million movie starring Diane Ladd, the title sold 85,000 vidcassettes (becoming New Horizons’ top grosser to date) and recouped $ 4.1 million in video sales alone.

“Video and foreign sales make up a healthy chunk of returns, and Roger understands that shift,” Fernandez said.

Accordingly, Corman has decided to enter the sell-through video business, releasing two vids a month from the more than 250 titles in his library. Among the films going up for sale will be “Little Shop of Horrors,””Death Race 2000” and “Amarcord.”

In addition, Corman’s New Horizons has decided not to put films out on pay-per-view until the vidcassettes have been in video stores for 90 days.

His video company was started in 1991 after Corman sued MGM-Pathe and won back his library of films. Now he is intent on continuing to fill that library with new product, fleshing out his annual slate with the martial arts films and erotic thrillers that are his trademark.

This winter, Corman will release “Caroline at Midnight” and “Human Target.” He’s also finishing “Cheyenne Warrior,” directed by Mark Griffiths; the Western uses footage shot during the recent Southland fires.

He is also giving Talia Shire her directorial debut with “One Night Stand.”

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