Billy Corben was born in Florida and graduated with honors from the University of Miami where he majored in political science, screenwriting, and theater. As a young actor, Corben worked with Ron Howard, Roger Corman, Steve Martin, Hilary Swank, Cloris Leachman, Judd Hirsch, Corey Feldman, Alan Thicke, Joe Pantoliano and Christopher Meloni. He retired from acting at age 15 and began work on the other side of the camera. His feature documentary directorial debut, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001, making him one of the youngest directors in Sundance history. Examining the alleged rape of an exotic dancer at a fraternity house at the University of Florida, the film utilized extensive clips from videotape footage of the alleged assault. Considered by critics to be “one of the most controversial films of the modern day” and “one of the most compelling pieces of non-fiction ever produced,” (Film Threat Magazine), Raw Deal has been seen all over the world.
Following that success, Corben and producing partner Alfred Spellman founded rakontur, a Miami Beach-based content creation company, and took on another Florida true-crime story, this one closer to home. The New York Times called Cocaine Cowboys, “a hyperventilating account of the blood-drenched Miami drug culture in the 1970s and 1980s.” The film tells the story of how the drug trade built Corben's native city of Miami through firsthand accounts of some of the most successful smugglers of the era and the deadliest hitman of the cocaine wars.
After a limited theatrical release in 2006, Cocaine Cowboys became a worldwide success on DVD and the highest-rated documentary ever on the Showtime cable network. The sequel, Cocaine Cowboys 2: Hustling with the Godmother, was released in 2008.
The U, a Peabody Award-winning feature documentary about the championship history of the University of Miami football program, produced by rakontur for ESPN's 30 for 30 series, became the highest-rated documentary in the network's 30 year history, when it debuted on December 12th, 2009, following the Heisman Trophy presentation.
In 10 years, rakontur has become one of the influential non-fiction production companies in the world. In 2007 and again in 2010, rakontur was selected for the RealScreen Global 100, “an annual list of the most exciting and influential production companies working in non-fiction film and television." Also in 2007, Corben and Spellman were listed among of "The 50 Most Influential People in Miami."
"They've created a whole new audience: an alternative, youth-leaning, nonfiction-seeking core," Tom Quinn, senior vice-president of Magnolia Pictures, told BusinessWeek in a 2008 profile on rakontur.
Since its humble beginnings, rakontur has evolved into a bona fide movie studio, with four non-fiction features scheduled for release in 2011:
In March, Square Grouper, examining the free-wheeling pot smuggling era of South Florida in the 1970s, premieres at the South By Southwest Film Festival; in April, Limelight, about the rise and fall of Peter Gatien, New York City's biggest nightclub owner; this Summer rakontur debuts, Cocaine Cowboys Remix, a wholesale re-edit of the original cult classic; and in the Fall, Dawg Fight, a brutal exposé on underground backyard MMA fighting in one of Miami's toughest neighborhoods, will debut.
2012 will see the release of another new installment of their hit documentary series, Cocaine Cowboys: Los Muchachos, about the sensational Miami-based federal trials of Sal Magluta and Willy Falcone, the most successful Cuban drug traffickers in history, and new feature documentary projects for ESPN and Bloomberg Television.
rakontur's development slate includes a Cocaine Cowboys dramatic series for HBO with executive producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay and the animated comedy series Miami Cowboys with executive producer Pharrell Williams.
Corben oversees the soundtracks for all of rakontur's productions, assembling the ideal artists for each project and working hands-on throughout the music production process. For Cocaine Cowboys, legendary Grammy-winner Jan Hammer (Miami Vice) composed and performed the original score; hip-hop icon Luther Campbell performed the opening titles song for The U; Miami music fixture DJ Le Spam wrote his first ever film score for Square Grouper; on Limelight, Corben consulted with Grammy-winning electronic music pioneer Moby, while the original score was written by Fast of the Fun Lovin' Criminals, a band that was actually formed among Limelight nightclub employees in the 1990s and signed by an A&R man from EMI who discovered them performing at the club. In addition, Corben has contributed his own original songs to the soundtracks of Raw Deal: A Question of Consent, The U and Square Grouper.
Corben also serves as film critic on the Paul and Young Ron Show, South Florida's highest-rated English-language radio morning show, doing live segments every Friday. Corben and rakontur are regular supporters of Miami-based Hope For Vision, a not-for-profit organization that donates virtually 100% of the money it raises to fund scientific research to develop cures for blindness, the Borscht Film Festival, a group that supports and showcases Miami's independent filmmakers, and The 200 Club, an organization that gives financial support to the families of law enforcement officers and fire fighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty.