Indie legend's proteges have nabbed many Oscars

The first job I had in the movie business paid $400 for four weeks’ work on location in 1974 in some of the top chicken-fighting spots in Georgia for a movie called “Cockfighter.”

I wouldn’t put myself in their illustrious company, but I have a hunch that filmmakers such as Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Monte Hellman, Jack Nicholson, Gale Anne Hurd, Robert De Niro, Peter Bogdanovich, Curtis Hanson, Sylvester Stallone, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles and Joe Dante all have similarly colorful stories about their early days in the employ of Governors Award honoree Roger Corman.

I really don’t give a damn if it’s urban myth, Hollywood legend or total bull, but you have to love the yarn about Roger enlisting scribes to write him a “Mad Max on the water,” then rejecting their script “Waterworld” because “It would cost five million dollars to produce.” (Yes, that’s the same movie that a studio made for a reported $175 million.)

If you’re detecting a trend here, one having to do with advanced indie economics, go to the head of the Cormanology Class.

If Corman were running the indie film business today, instead of being merely a steadfast corner of same, the sector wouldn’t have blown a billion dollars or two in the last few years making films whose budgets generally exceeded their revenues by multiples of 20 and 40.

The legendarily thrifty American International Pictures director-turned-New World mini-mogul-turned-New Horizons-indie eminence grise never saw a shooting schedule that couldn’t lose a few days — or weeks.

Say what you will about the Corman canon, which includes spoofy horror outings such as “The Raven” and “Tower of London” as well as the genuinely spooky “Masque of the Red Death” (photographed by Nicolas Roeg) and cultural artifacts of the ’60s such as “The Wild Angels” and “The Trip,” as Roger deftly segued from director to producer in the ’60s and ’70s, he took what he learned in the low-budget factory world of AIP and applied it to create a formula that made him rich and — more importantly — gave impetus to the careers of all the filmmakers noted. And more.

As the man who gave the greenlight to those creatives when they’d only recently received their driving permits, Corman not only provided opportunities to incredibly gifted young filmmakers when all young filmmakers when all they were getting from studios was closed doors, he served as a real-world film school for fledgling auteurs where they could also earn a few bucks while learning the ropes.

When the producer/mentor had already proved he could make a successful, spunky and warped humor gem like “Little Shop of Horrors” in a couple of days, the students/newbie helmers tended to listen.

We’ll never really know why Roger turned away almost completely from directing back in the ’70s, but no matter how cineastes judge his early, ample body of directed films, it’s his role as the Tough As Nails Mother Hen of dozens and dozens of important film artists that led him to the current, deserved and frankly overdue honor.

TIP SHEET

What: The Governors Awards

When: Saturday 6:30 reception; 7:30 dinner & presentation

Where: Grand Ballroom, Hollywood & Highland Center

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