Over on The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy they asked legendary producer Roger Corman, who's been in the biz for five decades plus, why low budget films, aka B-Movies, have all but disappeared from theaters.
Since the 1990s, the B-Movie has largely been absent from screens and for a while, to varying levels of success, saw new life in the home video market; first via VHS rentals and then via the now defunct DVD boom. And in the 1980s through the 1990s, enough low budget films were being produced and distributed that programs like USA's Up All Night and local television affiliates' weekend and late evening slates could be populated with product on the cheap.
Now the climate has changed, not only for theaters, but even for cable networks and tv affiliates who have moved from relying on low to mid-budget fair to fill slots, to mostly screening fair with considerably more sizable budgets, generally more recognizable stars and more broad appeal.
As an aside, I wonder if the television affiliate will even be around in twenty years. But, back to theaters and low budget films.
What really caught my attention in this all too brief interview is this bit of insight about the impact of Jaws had on the low budget film from Corman:
And then “Jaws.” Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times: “What is ‘Jaws’ but a big-budget Roger Corman film?” What he didn’t say was it was not only bigger but better. I’m perfectly willing to admit that. When I saw “jaws,” I thought, I’ve made this picture. First picture I ever made was “Monster From the Ocean Floor.” This is the first time a major had gone into the type of picture that was bread-and-butter for me and the other independents. Shortly thereafter, “Star Wars” did the same thing. They took away a lot of the backbone of the picture we were making.
Although you can find plenty of Horror, Sci-fi and Genre pics prior to the mid-1970s that are considered classics and even garnered some backing from critics, you'd be hard pressed to find many that had sizable budgets or that could compete with the production values of their more mainstream brethren. Much as it was with the 1990s Indie movement, once Hollywood got in the game, it became difficult for the average filmmaker to compete.
As the distribution world continues to reshape itself, the question looms about who the new Corman's will be and will they ever be as prolific as Roger Corman was? More importantly, as a man who was one of the stepping stones in the careers of Jack Nicholson, John Sayles, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Curtis Hanson, Robert Towne, Gale Anne Hurd, Robert De Niro, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Martin Scorsese, will they ever be as influential?