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American International Pictures was a film production company formed in April 1956 from American Releasing Corporation (ARC) by James H. Nicholson, former Sales Manager of Realart Pictures, and Samuel Z. Arkoff, an entertainment lawyer. It was dedicated to releasing independently produced, low-budget films, primarily of interest to the teenagers of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Nicholson and Arkoff and formed ARC in 1955, with their first release being The Fast and the Furious.

AIP personnel

Nicholson and Arkoff served as executive producers while Roger Corman and Alex Gordon were the principal film producers and, sometimes, directors. Writer Charles B. Griffith wrote many of the early films, along with Arkoff's brother-in-law, Lou Rusoff. Later writers included Ray Russell, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Floyd Crosby, A.S.C. famous for his camera work on a number of exotic documentaries and the Oscar winner, High Noon, was chief cinematographer. His innovative use of surreal color and odd lenses and angles gave AIP films a signature look. The early rubber monster suits and miniatures of Paul Blaisdell were used in AIP's science fiction films. The company also hired Les Baxter and Ronald Stein to compose many of its film scores.

Emphasis on teenagers

When many of ARC/AIP's first releases failed to earn a profit, Arkoff quizzed film exhibitors who told him of the value of the teenage market as adults were watching television. AIP stopped making Westerns with Arkoff explaining: "To compete with television westerns you have to have color, big stars and $2,000,000".

AIP was the first company to use focus groups , polling American teenagers about what they would like to see and using their responses to determine titles, stars, and story content. AIP would question their exhibitors (who often provided 20% of AIP's financing) what they thought of the success of a title, then would have a writer write a script for it. A sequence of tasks in a typical production involved coming up with a great title, getting an artist such as Albert Kallis who supervised all AIP artwork from 1955-1973 to create a dynamic, eye-catching poster, then raising the cash, and finally actually writing and casting the film.

The ARKOFF formula

Samuel Z. Arkoff related his tried-and-true "ARKOFF formula" for producing a successful low-budget movie years later, during a 1980s talk show appearance. His ideals for a movie included:

  • Action (exciting, entertaining drama)
  • Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)
  • Killing (a modicum of violence)
  • Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)
  • Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)
  • Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)


Later the AIP publicity department devised a strategy called "The Peter Pan Syndrome":

a) a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;

b) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;

c) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch

d) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;

therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male.

The films of the 1950s

Having recognized that other filmmakers were ignoring the lucrative teenage drive-in market, AIP focused on producing scores of low-budget, youth-oriented films. They exploited the emerging juvenile delinquent genre with movies like Daddy-O, High School Hellcats, Female Jungle, Reform School Girl, Runaway Daughters, and Girls in Prison.

Many of AIP's "wild youth" features also catered to the teenage obsession with cars and drag racing in films such as Hot Rod Gang, Hot-Rod Girl, Road Racers, Drag Strip Girl, and the 1959 horror-hybrid The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow - the sequel to 1958's Hot Rod Gang.

Movies centered around rock 'n roll music such as Shake, Rattle and Rock and Rock All Night was another untapped area mined by AIP. But one of their most unique innovations was the creation of teen-themed horror films with eye-catching titles like: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (starring Michael Landon), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, and Roger Corman's science fiction film Teenage Cave Man with Robert Vaughn

Science fiction and horror films, many directed by Roger Corman, were a staple at AIP with titles like It Conquered the World, The She-Creature, and War of the Colossal Beast.

AIP's 1960s output

Beginning with 1963's Beach Party, AIP created a new genre of beach party films featuring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. The highly successful and often imitated series ended in 1966 with the 7th film, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Many actors from the beach films also appeared in AIP's spy-spoofs such as Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) and car racing sagas like Fireball 500 (1966) and Thunder Alley. During this time AIP also produced or distributed most of Roger Corman's famous horror B movies, including such films as X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes, The Raven, and The Terror.

In 1966, the studio released The Wild Angels starring Peter Fonda, based loosely on the real-life exploits of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. This film kicked off a subgenre of motorcycle gang films that lasted almost ten years and included Devil's Angels, The Glory Stompers with Dennis Hopper and The Born Losers—the film that introduced the Billy Jack character. The psychedelic and hippie scenes of the late '60s were also exploited with films like The Trip, also with Peter Fonda, Riot on Sunset Strip, Wild in the Streets, Maryjane, Gas-s-s-s, and Psych-Out with Jack Nicholson.

American International International

On a trip to Italy, Arkoff met Fulvio Lucisano an Italian screenwriter and producer who eventually headed Italian Internaional Productions, which co-produced 25 films in Italy for AIP.Importing completed productions was cheaper than producing their own films in America. AIP released many giallo, sword and sandal, Eurospy and war films featuring many American stars and Italian stars such as the comedy team of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. However, AIP released no spaghetti westerns, perhaps recalling their failure of Westerns in the 1950s. Many of these films were edited, rewritten with different English dialogue, and sometimes rescored by Les Baxter.

AIP is well known for being the major U.S. distributor for Kadokawa Pictures and Toho Studio's Godzilla and Gamera (kaiju) movies of the '60s and '70s. AIP also distributed other Japanese sci-fi movies like Frankenstein Conquers the World, Monster From a Prehistoric Planet, and the South Koreanmarker production Yonggary, Monster from the Deep as well as the Japanese animated film Alakazam the Great.

The studio also released a few Russian science fiction films that were rewritten for the American market.

The Corman Poe cycle

In the early 1960s, AIP gained some kudos by combining Roger Corman, Vincent Price and the stories of Edgar Allan Poe into a series of visually impressive horror films. This series of movies made AIP an Americanmarker counterpart to the Britishmarker studio Hammer Films and its famous Hammer Horror line featuring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

The original idea, usually credited to Corman, was to take Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher", which had both a high name-recognition value and the merit of being in the public domain, and thus royalty-free, and expand it into a feature film. Corman convinced the studio to give him a larger budget than the typical AIP film so he could film in color and create lavish sets.The success of The House of Usher led AIP to finance further films also based on Poe's stories. The sets and special effects were often reused in subsequent movies (for example, the burning roof of the Usher mansion reappears in most of the other films) making the series quite cost-effective. All the films in the series were directed by Roger Corman, and they all starred Price except The Premature Burial, which featured Ray Milland in the lead. It was originally produced for another studio, but AIP acquired the rights to it.

As the series progressed, Corman made attempts to change the formula. Later films added more humor to the stories, especially The Raven, which takes Poe's poem as an inspiration and develops it into an all-out farce starring Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre; Karloff had starred in the 1935 version. Corman also adapted H. P. Lovecraft's story "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" in an attempt to get away from Poe, but AIP changed the title to that of an obscure Poe poem, The Haunted Palace, and marketed it as yet another movie in the series. The penultimate film in the series, The Masque of the Red Death, was filmed in England with an unusually long schedule for Corman and AIP. The film, inspired by Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, looks much more opulent than the rest of the series.

Although Corman is generally credited with coming up with the idea for the Poe series, in an interview on the Anchor Bay DVD of Mario Bava's Black Sabbath, Mark Damon claims that he first suggested the idea to Corman. Damon also says that Corman let him direct The Pit and the Pendulum uncredited. Corman's commentary for Pit mentions nothing of this.

List of the Corman Poe films

  1. House of Usher (1960)
  2. The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
  3. The Premature Burial (1962)
  4. Tales of Terror (1962)
  5. The Raven (1963)
  6. The Haunted Palace (1963)
  7. The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
  8. The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)


AIP-TV

In 1964, AIP became one of the last film studios to start its own television production company, American International Productions Television (a.k.a. American International Television or AIP-TV). AIP-TV at first released many of their 1950s films to American television stations, then filmed unsuccessful television pilots for Beach Party and Sergeant Deadhead, made several colour horror/science fiction television movies by Larry Buchanan that were remakes of black-and-white AIP films, and sold packages of many dubbed European, Japanese, and Mexican films produced by K. Gordon Murray and foreign-made live-action and animated TV series.

In order to allay the fears of cinema owners who feared current releases would soon end up being shown on television, AIP issued a statement retroactive to 1963 that the company would not release any of their films to television until five years after cinema release unless the film had not made back its original negative costs. AIP-TV also filmed specials of promotion of AIP films such as The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot (1965) and An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972), both with Vincent Price.

AIP Records

AIP started their own record label in the late 1950s to release tunes used in their movies. There were a number of soundtrack albums as well.

AIP Records was once distributed by MGM Records, the record label owned by AIP's successor-in-interest MGM.

Later years

In the 1970s, AIP produced some of that decade's blaxploitation films like Blacula, and Foxy Brown. In a throwback to the old "studio days", the company is credited with making Pam Grier a household name, as the majority of her early '70s films were made under contract to American International.

In the mid to late 1970s, AIP began to produce more mainstream films such as Bunny O'Hare, Cooley High, The Amityville Horror, Love at First Bite, Meteor, Force 10 from Navarone, Shout at the Devil, The Island of Dr. Moreau, C.H.O.M.P.S. and released an Australian film Mad Max dubbed into American English. The increased spending on these projects, though they did make some money, contributed to the company's downfall.

In 1979, with the retirement of Arkoff, AIP was sold to Filmways, Inc. and became a subsidiary production unit thereof renamed Filmways Pictures in 1980. Filmways was later bought by Orion Pictures Corporation and Filmways was disbanded except for the distribution arm. This allowed Orion to establish its own distribution after utilizing Warner Bros. for distribution which still has distribution rights to Orion films Warner distributed. Today, a majority of the AIP library is owned by Orion's successor company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Notes

  1. Johnson, John Cheap Tricks and Class Acts, 1996, McFarland, p.265
  2. Samuel Z Arkoff Biography - Fancast
  3. Doherty, Thomas Teenagers and Teenpics Unwin-Hyman 1988, p.126
  4. Doherty, Thomas Teenagers and Teenpics, Unwin-Hyman 1988, p.35
  5. Doherty, Thomas Teenagers and Teenpics, Unwin-Hyman, 1988, p.156
  6. Albert Kallis - bio
  7. Bean, Robin and Austen, David U.S.A. Confidential p.215 Films and Filming November 1968 quoted in p.157 Doherty, Thomas Teenagers and Teenpics Unwin-Hyman 1988
  8. p.96 + p.214 Arkoff, Sam & Trubo, Richard Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants 1990 Carol Publishing
  9. Corman, Roger How I Made 100 Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime 1998 DaCapo Press
  10. Corman, Roger & Jerome, Jim How I Made Over a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime 1998 DaCapo Press
  11. American-International Television (AIP-TV) [us]
  12. Heffernan, Kevin Ghouls Gimmicks and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 2004, Duke University Press, p.167


References

  • Mark Thomas McGee, Fast and Furious: The Story of American International Pictures (McFarland & Company, 1995) ISBN 0-786-401370.


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