PARK CITY, Utah - Roger Corman has been to the Cannes and Venice film festivals. But for some reason, the independent filmmaker who has nearly 400 movies to his credit has missed the Sundance Film Festival - until now.
The video-game tale "Virtually Heroes" is the first Corman production to premiere at the indie-cinema showcase, appropriately playing Sundance's midnight-movie program of way-out horror, comedy and action.
True to Corman's low-budget approach, "Virtually Heroes" was made for less than $500,000 by blending combat footage from the producer's previous Vietnam war movies with a new story about two self-aware video-game characters (Robert Baker and Brent Chase) battling the Vietcong.
"I thought if I could find a way to use the big battle scenes from all of these pictures and put it together in a new picture and shoot just a short period of time to tie them all together, I could get a big-looking picture for very little money," Corman, 86, said in an interview alongside "Virtually Heroes" director G.J. Echternkamp.
Corman's films usually are considered schlock that falls somewhere well below B-movie grade. In fact, he's been called the "Orson Welles of the Z-movie."
But Corman felt director Echternkamp had come up with a clever twist that made "Virtually Heroes" right for Sundance. So he contacted festival officials, who agreed.
The movie's heroes come to question the reason for their existence in a world where they keep fighting the same battles and die over and over. It also features "Star Wars" hero Mark Hamill as an Obi-Wan Kenobi-style mentor dispensing wisdom to one of the soldiers.
While "Virtually Heroes" is his first Sundance premiere, Corman was the subject of the 2011 festival documentary "Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel," examining the nearly 60-year career of the maverick who helped launch the directing careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard and James Cameron.
Corman's films include such cult hits as "The Little Shop of Horrors," "Grand Theft Auto," "Piranha" and "Death Race 2000." In 2009, he received an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in independent film.
Echternkamp got the "Virtually Heroes" directing job with a little help from his mom, who was Corman's assistant. A documentary filmmaker making his narrative feature debut, Echternkamp likes the sound of it when Corman calls him the latest in a line of filmmakers who got their start in the prolific producer's camp.
"I'd love to be the next of those guys. But there's also guys you've hired who haven't become one of those guys," Echternkamp told Corman. "So I hope I'm one of the good ones and not one of the bad ones."