Thursday, June 4, 2015

Roger Corman and Barbara Steele on "Caged Heat"

How did you meet Jonathan Demme?

ROGER CORMAN: Jonathan was working out of England, writing publicity for United Artists. I did a film in Ireland for United Artists, and he came over on behalf of UA. It was clear he was a very intelligent young man. He said he was writing publicity but was interested in writing screenplays.

I told him a couple ideas I had and I said, 'If you're ever write anything on this, let me know.' He and his partner, Joe Viola, wrote a script and Jonathan produced and directed. They did one more for me, and then they did
Caged Heat, on which Jonathan made his debut as a director.

How did you know he'd be a good director?

ROGER CORMAN: He had been doing some second unit directing when Joe was the director. I've always liked the idea of a new director shooting some second unit. He gets a feel for what's going on, and I get a chance to judge what he can do.

You're legendary for taking new directors to lunch and sort of giving them a quick, one-hour course in filmmaking. What's are the key messages you impart?

ROGER CORMAN: The most important thing that I point out over and over is preparation. On a ten-day shoot, or a 20-day shoot, you don't have time to create from scratch on the set. As a matter of fact, I don't think you should do that anyway.

My number one rule is to work with your actors in advance, so you and the actors are agreed on at least the broad outline of the performance. Then to have sketched out, if not all of your shots, most of your shots, so you have a shot plan in advance.

So your planning for both working with the camera and working with the actors is worked out in advance, knowing that you will never shoot exactly according to the plan. Sometimes the plan doesn't work and you have to change it, and sometimes you get a better idea. There will always be shading and nuance with the actors, which will occur in rehearsal on the set before shooting, but you at least have the broad strokes worked out, so you're working on detail work on the set and you can come in and shoot, rather than come in and discuss what you're going to shoot.

Be flexible. Even though you've done all your preparation, don't stick absolutely to the preparation if it doesn't seem to be working. Know that you've got the preparation, but situations change, so be prepared to change with the situations.

How did you meet Jonathan Demme?

BARBARA STEELE: That was just an amazing, bizarre moment in time. I was walking down Sunset Boulevard. It was around Christmas time. Nobody walks in LA anyway, so it was kind of a feat to be walking anywhere.

This vast blue car with fins from another era pulled up and out jumps this guy with this really radiant smile and says, ''Barbara Steele! Barbara Steele.!'

And I say, 'Hello? Yes?' And he says, 'I'm about to make a movie, I've been looking for you everywhere, would you consider doing it? We start shooting in three days! Please say yes, please say yes!' And that was
Caged Heat.

Is there a difference between low-budget filmmaking in Europe and low-budget filmmaking in the U.S.?

BARBARA STEELE: It was slightly different doing low-budget movies in Italy as opposed to doing them here, because in Italy there is an attendant melodrama to everything. So the crew and everybody actually adores low-budget movies, on one level -- not in terms of their salaries but in terms of the drama of it all.

The downside is that you're having close-ups after 18 hours of work, and the lighting suffers because the lighting cameraman is doing a huge amount of set-ups in a very short amount of time.

Do you like working that way?

BARBARA STEELE: I actually like the condensed, slightly frantic energy that goes into a low-budget film, rather than something that is more elongated and slower.

Everybody is in it together, in a
Dog Day Afternoon kind of way. And I like that. You feel like a family in this rush, and you’ve got to get it done, and it's like you're all pushing at it together. You don't have time to worry about your make-up, you're just in there, and I like that. I think it's really great; I must sound demented, but I actually like it.

But, of course, it depends on the material. If you're making a film where the subject matter is extremely intimate and private, you need much more time. But the low-budget films that I have done were basically melodramas.

What was it like working with Demme?

BARBARA STEELE: I think that he was very smart and very hip and very attuned to that moment in time. He always wore these fantastic, fabulous shirts.

Demme was a very unthreatening, very charming, very upbeat person. I'm sure all actors have loved working with him.

I think the most important thing is that the actors feel really safe and comfortable. You can only be as good as you dare to be bad. And if the actor is spooked or apprehensive, they'll just freeze.

So the whole thing is for the actor to feel loved, really, and appreciated. Because it's a very vulnerable thing, to get into inside of somebody's face when it's blown up to the size of a vast fireplace or something.

You're pretty evil in the film. Do you enjoy playing evil characters?

BARBARA STEELE: I'm always invariably cast to play these villainesses. Unfortunately, I never got to play the great iconic villains, like Lady Macbeth or Medea. I would have loved to get my teeth into something really grand and deep.

I think certain actors have marquee value in certain films. With me, I got stuck in the whole horror genre, and so everyone needed to see me in that light, until I did these other little off-beat movies, which of course nobody ever sees. Like
Young Torless, a Volker Schlöndorff film, where I was not a villainess, and is actually one of my preferred movies.

I don't know, I appear to be an archetypal villainess.

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