AMC Salutes American International Pictures With “It conquered Hollywood! The Story of American International Pictures”

Peter Bogdanovich hosts special about the shoe-string budget studio that “saved Hollywood” by inventing “the teen movie”

Roger Corman, Bruce Dern, Roger Ebert, Joe Dante,
Beverly Garland and others featured

JERICHO, N.Y., March 26, 2001 – How did low-budget teen fare like THE SHE CREATURE and REFORM SCHOOL GIRL help save Hollywood? Who created and perfected the “genre movie” – everything from hot rod, rock-n-roll, gladiator, biker and beach blanket movies to Poe, hippie-protest, kung fu and blaxspoitation pics? Where did dozens of cinema auteurs like Scorsese, Coppola, Corman and Woody Allen and acting legends like DeNiro, Hopper and Nicholson get their start in the era before film schools ruled? How did the same folks who thrived on drive-in “B”-films grow to create pricey blockbusters like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and distribute tony foreign entries like Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA? The answers are all found in the history of Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson’s AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES. The premiere of the special will launch a four-night, “Midnight Madness” film festival, May 1 to May 4, featuring an A.I.P cult classic every night.

On May 1 at 10:00 PM (ET), AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS will tell the story of the studio that’s called the “original independent” with IT CONQUERED HOLLYWOOD! THE STORY OF AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES. The one-hour special is narrated by director Peter Bogdanovich, one of the many film luminaries who got their start in AIP’s low-budget/high kitsch features. The recounting of this freewheeling studio’s wild days features anecdote-filled interviews with AIP’s cigar-chomping founder Sam Arkoff and a list of his cinema co-conspirators including: Roger Corman (director of over two dozen AIP features), actor Bruce Dern (THE CYCLE SAVAGES) and critics Roger Ebert and Thomas McGee, author of Fast and Furious: The Story of American International Pictures.

“AIP’s campy classics and bold promotional bravado continue to inspire filmmakers and delight viewers,” adds Marc Juris, Executive Vice President and General Manager of AMC. “They’re a great example of what can be accomplished when you have limited means and the unlimited imagination of great talent.”

IT CONQUERED HOLLYWOOD! THE STORY OF AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES begins in 1955, when Sam Arkoff, a lawyer from Iowa, and Jim Nicholson, a theater chain manager from Nebraska, came together to make movies. They had $3,000 in capital, no scripts and no stars, and had never made a film before. It was also a time when the movie industry was seriously threatened by two developments: the Supreme Court’s dictate that studios sell their movie chains and a new phenomenon called television.

Arkoff and Nicholson looked at the industry and decided that if they could acquire a film to distribute, they could create a movie company. The team cut the deals, kept the books, and made sure projects came in on or under their incredibly stingy budgets. They also had an incredible knack for conjuring up salacious titles and promotional campaigns, and the talent to create the concepts. The men lucked out when they met the young filmmaker Roger Corman who had just completed his second film, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. Nicholson and Arkoff managed to get Corman to agree to lend them his film for 90 days and American International Pictures was formed.

“My first impression of Jim and Sam was that they were two very bright and ambitious men,” said Corman. “They were just a little bit older than I was, and I thought it would be worthwhile to gamble with them.” Corman was promised a three-picture deal with a budget of $40,000 each. He agreed despite that, at that time, the average budget for a studio film was $4,000,000.

Nicholson and Arkoff then set off to meet movie exhibitors and convince them to invest in AIP’s proposal to create low-cost films. Theater owners could rent these films at considerably lower costs than the major studios were charging. The average AIP film took less than ten days to complete as compared to major studios’ usual year-plus process. In the first year alone, Nicholson and Arkoff completed two-dozen movies with their credo: “make ’em fast and make ’em cheap.”

Arkoff and Nicholson found success in niche filmmaking, looking for audiences who weren’t being served by the major studio systems. First, they made films targeted at teenagers. With early creations like HOT ROD GIRL, RUNAWAY DAUGHTERS and SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROLL, AIP created rebellious, sexy films that put off critics, upset parents and attracted young people in droves. The burgeoning studio made its biggest hits with low-cost horror films. The scarier the movie, the better the opportunity to bring girlfriend and boyfriend together at the drive-in! By the end of 1958, AIP had produced and distributed over 50 films.

Arkoff and Nicholson discovered that by creating an exciting title, trailer and advertising campaign, they would attract an audience of willing viewers. In fact, they began selling films to distributors on the basis of a catchy title and promotional campaign alone – never shooting a foot of film until the theaters had committed on the basis of the movie poster alone! Ironically, the lurid promises made in posters were often not even in the movie; but they would encourage young people to buy tickets and fuel the rebellion that divided kids and their parents.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, AIP continued to carry out niches not being attended to by the Hollywood majors. These included beach movies like Avalon/Funicello vehicles BEACH BLANKET BINGO and MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, Italian-made “Sword & Sandal” epics like HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL and Roger Corman’s mega-successful series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations like THE RAVEN. AIP also pioneered biker movies with Corman’s THE WILD ANGELS and HELL’S ANGELS ON WHEELS, counter-culture hippie flicks with PSYCH-OUT and THE TRIP. AIP was also behind for the rise of blaxploitation with campy classics like FOXY BROWN, BLACULA and BLACK CAESAR.

By the mid-1970s, AIP began to delve into deeper budgets and scored with blockbusters like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, LOVE AT FIRST BITE and DRESSED TO KILL. The renegade provocateurs gained the respect of the critics by distributing acclaimed foreign films, from Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA to George Miller’s futuristic MAD MAX.

Along the way, AIP was instrumental in launching the careers of dozens of Hollywood’s most productive and respected directors and actors. Directors Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Richard Donner, Brian DePalma, Peter Bogdanovich, Ivan Reitman and David Cronenberg shot their first films for AIP.

The list of actors who achieved their first leading roles with AIP is virtually endless,
including Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Mel Gibson, Dennis Hopper, Don Johnson, Pam Grier, Melanie Griffith, Bruce Dern, Cher and Nick Nolte.

The partnership of Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson ended in 1969. Soon after, Jim Nicholson died of brain cancer. In 1982, Sam Arkoff would ultimately sell his holdings in AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES to Filmways. His retirement was brief. He founded another AIP -Arkoff International Pictures – and returned to the movies. Arkoff is still alive and making films.

The premiere of IT CONQUERED HOLLYWOOD! THE STORY OF AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES will launch a four-night, midnight film festival featuring some of the biggest films that A.I.P ever churned out. AMC will air BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965), starring the teen sensation couple Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, on Tuesday, May 1. On Wednesday, May 2, AMC will present MACHINE GUN KELLY (1958) followed by IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956) on Thursday, May 3. The festival concludes on Friday, May 4, with AIP’s first box-office hit, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), starring a young Michael Landon.

This original program is a Hollywood Lives and Legends Special Presentation. Every weekday at 7:00 PM (ET), AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS presents Hollywood Lives and Legends, a documentary series featuring great movies and the stories behind them.

IT CONQUERED HOLLYWOOD! THE STORY OF AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES was produced by Planet Grande Pictures in association with AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS. The special is produced by Hope Kaplan Biller, John Watkin and Eamon Harrington. The latter two also served as directors and writers. Marc Juris and Jessica Falcon are Executive Producers for AMC. Nancy McKenna served as the Executive in Charge of Production for AMC.

AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS is the nation’s premier classic movie network, bringing timeless favorites to a broad audience by placing them in a fresh and contemporary context. Award-winning original documentaries, series and specials are infused with the energy and excitement of Hollywood past and present. Launched in 1984, AMC is currently available in 77 million homes.


Sal Cataldi

Jaime Saberito/Dina White

Fenot Tekle/Lynn Weiss