I met Jonathan Demme when he was living in London. Through UA he became my unit publicist for a month or so during Von Richthofen. He came with a background in publicity, commercial production, and some film writing. After offering him the job I asked if he liked motorcycle movies. He did. "Well, in that case," I told him, "let me tell you what else is going on with me. I'm starting up a company in the States. I need to have eight films in production by the end of the year. I'm stuck in Ireland with just a few scripts. Maybe you could write a motorcycle movie for me."
"Love to give it a try," he said.
He and his close friend Joe Viola, a commercial director, knocked out a script in eight weeks that Jonathan described as a motorcycle Rashomon. When I next got to London we met in the bar of the Hilton International. They gave me the script and turned to walk out. "Where are you going? I'll read it here. Just wait a minute and have a drink." I looked at it quickly.
"Okay," I said. "Joe, you've directed commercials. Jonathan, you've produced them."
"Right," they nodded. They couldn't believe it. We were there less than an hour.
"I want you guys to come out to L.A. in two months. I'll give you my script notes for the changes. Joe, you'll direct; Jonathan will produce."
They ended up calling it Angels Hard as They Come. Then they teamed up immediately afterward on The Hot Box, which they wrote from Joe's treatment. I had a production deal in the Philipines with a young producer there named Cirio Santiago. He was coming to town and I told Joe I needed a story outline the next day to show Cirio. He did it in an afternoon.
In the Philipines Joe had Jonathan shoot battle scenes and convoys as second unit director, just as Coppola, Bogdanovich, Hopper, Teague, and others had started. Soon after they wrapped, Demme asked if he could direct a feature. I liked both movies and they both made money. "Sure," I said, "come up with a women-in-prison picture."
Demme spent a year working on the script, getting a lot of guidance from Frances Doel. I decided not to finance the project because the cycle had peaked. But I liked Jonathan's work. He got his own financing - $180,000 - and I agreed to distribute the film, which came out as Caged Heat in 1974.
For more Corman on Demme, see the Caged Heat and Crazy Mama DVDs.