If there’s one thing Roger Corman is known for, it’s probably Little Shop of Horrors, but if there’s one other thing, it’s giving a lot of famous filmmakers their first big break. Such illustrious names as James Cameron, John Landis, Dennis Hopper and Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese are among the alumni of the “Roger Corman Film School” and to this day, Roger is still taking chances on promising young directors.
One such director is G.J. Echternkamp, who’s helming the latest Roger Corman production, Virtually Heroes. Echternkamp had cut his teeth on documentaries and short films, but this was his first full-length narrative feature.
Virtually Heroes is the story of a video game character that grows tired of running the same missions over and over again, and begins to wonder if there’s more to life than being a tough-guy soldier in a simulation of the iu I caught up with the young director and asked him about Virtually Heroes, working with Roger, and how a Roger Corman production differs from any other.
Where did you get the idea for Virtually Heroes?
Roger wanted to make a Vietnam film and the tricky part was how to make it relevant today. So the writer, Matt Yamashida, and I brainstormed a whole lot of ideas on how to make Vietnam relevant to today.
Make it about the Ultimate Fighting Championships, and hire a couple of UFC guys to star in it. Another was to make Osama Bin Laden, and how he actually got started in the Vietnam
Osama: the early years?
Yeah, and you didn’t know he was in Vietnam, but he was there. Our other idea was to make it about a video game. We actually thought that one might be too modern for Roger, but it was the one he liked. So then Matt and I sat down and tried to figure out exactly how to make it about a Vietnam videogame.
How did you first encounter Roger Corman?
Through my mom, actually, she got a job working for him years ago. She’d been working at a school, and she was looking for something in the entertainment industry. She was bored at her old job. She didn’t know Roger Corman. So she tells me she’s working for this Corman guy and I was like: “Holy s***! You’re working for Roger Corman?”
What are the major differences between shooting a documentary and shooting a narrative film?
The shooting process is completely different. At the end of the day you still have to tell a story but with a documentary you just film and film and don’t know what you’re going to end up with. Shooting from a script is different. It’s definitely more stressful. You know what you’re going to end up with, but you gotta get everything on the page onto the screen. To do that you have to work fast, and sometimes make compromises.
What kind of compromises?
Well, you run out of time and you run out of money. There were lots of times I would have wanted explosions, rocket launchers, things blowing up, but there’s only a number of times that we could do that. Of course it was great that we could do that at all. Sometimes we’d have to cut a shot, or a line of dialogue. Of course everyone has to do that, even big movies have to do it.
What was it like working on a Corman production?
Fun and stressful, really kind of a “fly by the seat of your pants” experience. There were a lot of problems to solve, and you have a limited number of resources, and you’re constantly solving a crisis every five minutes. Luckily we had a great group of people to help work through the crises.
And how is a Roger Corman production different from any other?
I’ve directed shorts and music videos and been on sets, and it’s very different. When you have a lot of money you can take your time. I was actually in the movie Almost Famous. I was in a short classroom scene. It was a short scene, but we probably shot about a hundred takes, from all different angles and in all sorts of different ways. Of course, when you’re on a tight schedule you can’t do that. You have to trust your actors, and you don’t have a lot of leeway. You have to get people that you trust to get it right in just two or maybe three times. I’ve also worked in commercials, and there you have a whole day just to shoot thirty seconds. We had to shoot about ten minutes in a day, or more.
So now that you’ve shot, where are you in the process of finishing Virtually Heroes?
I’m editing right now. Once it’s edited, we’re gonna do color correction and visual effects and a final audio mix. We still have a long way to go, but editing is a big part of that. And I’m editing it myself, actually.
And when can we expect to see Virtually Heroes?
Hopefully it should be done around March.
Any closing remarks?
I’m excited. I think it’ll be really be neat, one of the most original Roger Corman productions to come out in a really long time.