Used to be that pinchpenny producer Roger Corman's films were launching pads for aspiring stars; these days, they're safety nets. Corman's production company, Concorde-New Horizons, now turns out direct-to-video features starring the likes of Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham (Baby Face Nelson), Martin Sheen (Dillinger and Capone), and Scott Glenn and Theresa Russell (The Spy Within). But some things haven't changed: Corman's new role had less to do with art than with his dedication to the bottom line. As the video market's glut diminished profits, ''we saw the grosses of our lower-budget films were falling away, while slightly bigger-budget films maintained their level,'' explains the former King of the Drive-Ins. ''So we decided to upgrade our budget with bigger-name actors and more production value, particularly on the quality of the scripts.''
It's a startling shift for a man who, for more than three decades, ran the perfect combination of film school and boot camp. Directors Peter Bogdanovich (Targets, 1968), Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha, 1972), and Jonathan Demme (Caged Heat, 1974) were all Corman grads, as were Jack Nicholson (The Cry Baby Killer, 1958) and Sylvester Stallone (Death Race 2000, 1975). But as Corman himself pointed out to his talent one hit would ensure they'd never have to work for him again.
Even so, for one filmmaker, the erotic thriller One Night Stand marks a return to the Corman fold: first-time director Talia Shire, who appeared in 1968's The Wild Racers. Having seen her brother Francis Ford Coppola begin his career with Corman's Dementia 13, Shire was ready. ''Roger tells you what the film is and what it costs,'' says Shire. ''After that, you're totally free within that space.''
In the wake of The Spy Within's strong sales, Corman intends to stick with his new prime-the-pump strategy. In fact, he welcomes this chance to distance himself from the days when his actors doubled as stunt people and caterers. Says Corman, ''We're not the big jump from major studios that the actors once anticipated they come here and see that they're really treated well, with good dressing rooms and impressive sets. F. Murray Abraham told me that he wished he'd met me 20 years ago.'' Although one has to wonder which role Abraham would have played in Candy Stripe Nurses.