"The idea came from me being a fan for a big portion of my childhood and teenage years. I didn't know that Roger Corman was behind a lot of the movies that I loved," Stapleton says, of the film's genesis. "When I was about 18 or 19 years-old, a mentor of mine, a filmmaker named Frank Henenlotter [director of 'Basket Case,' 'Frankenhooker' and 'Brain Damage'], gave me a copy of Roger's book, 'How I Made 100 Movies and Never Lost a Dime.' He also gave me a copy of a movie called 'The Intruder.'"
"I watched that movie I was totally floored that this man put so much on the line to make this movie that was so raw about how horrible the country was," Stapleton says of 'The Intruder. "He did it before it was even in fashion to have that liberal voice, before Martin Luther King was a household name, before the Civil Rights movement exploded. So that was it – I felt like I had to tell some story about this guy, because it was just so amazing."
"I chose in the middle of post-production to go from this kind of zany exploitation kind of a movie to this more human story how this man has severely impacted people's lives not just in careers but in giving them confidence," Stapleton explained. "I thought that the arc of the story lay in that and the movies were secondary to all of that. The movies became the icing on the cake."
The list of interviewees in the movie is long and impressive, but it look a lot of time to get everyone to commit. "I probably have 80 interviews and I had a year's worth of letter-writing to hundreds and hundreds of people all over the world," Stapleton said. "Not only the Cormanites but people who I knew were really big fans and heavily influenced by his body of work as filmmakers. And I interviewed pretty much everyone who said yes. The interview process took three years from beginning to end." One of those non-Cormanite fans turned out to be Eli Roth, who offers surprisingly intelligent explanations for Corman's lasting appeal.
But, to net the big fish of the documentary, one Jack Nicholson, took even more time.
"Getting his interview took two years of letter writing," Stapleton said. "I was really fortunate to hook up with a wonderful human being named Polly Platt who ended up being one of my producers (and who Roger introduced me to) and she wrote to Jack personally. We just tried and tried and tried." Not that her dogged hard work was the only factor in getting Jack to say yes. "The Lakers won, so that was a good thing. Right after the Lakers won the championship, we immediately got the yes."
Once Air was approached, they seemed really jazzed. "I sent them a four-hour cut of the movie and they ate it up and loved it. The French love Roger. They were really, really thrilled." Sadly, Stapleton doesn't know if the score will find its way to iTunes. We're crossing our fingers.
Since 'Corman's World' ate up five years of Stapleton's life, she was quick to follow up with something that wouldn't be such a commitment; she made a documentary short in the few months in between the film's premiere at Sundance and its screening at Cannes. "I wanted to make a movie in five months so I made a movie called 'Outside In' about street art, and it's about the history of street art and graffiti. It's a 30-minute film and we're looking to expand that into a bigger story." She also has a movie that the master himself wouldn't have a problem distributing. "And I have a narrative I'm going to shoot next year; an intergalactic love story set on Hollywood Boulevard." She paused. Then added: "It's very Roger Corman."
'Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel' opens this Friday in select cities.