Interview with Lloyd Kaufman

| January 13, 2010

Lloyd Kaufman is a Producer, Director, Writer, Author and the President of the oldest Independent Film Studio in America Troma Films. Lloyd is that funny little guy in the tweed jacket and bow tie, harmless to look at but when his creative forces are unleashed he delivers poetic debauchery on film. Films such as “The Toxic Avenger”, “Class of Nuke ‘Em High”, “Sgt Kabukiman NYPD”, Tromeo & Juliet”, “Terror Firmer”, and his most recent film “Poultrygiest: Night of the Chicken Dead” have redefined the terms “exploitation and “B-Movie”. Lloyd was in Chicago Educating Film Students at Columbia College about producing, and talking about his new book “Produce Your Own Damn Movie”. This is my interview with the one and only Lloyd Kaufman.
Gary: Lloyd, before we get started I’d just like to thank you for teaching me how to make projectile vomit using Broma Seltzer and green food coloring.
Lloyd: Oh yes! From the books!
Gary: Yes from your first book, “Everything I Learned About Filmmaking I Learned From the Toxic Avenger!” I read that back in 1999 while I was still in film school after a friend gave it to me.
Lloyd: Great. Well thank you.
Gary: It amazes me that after 35 years there are still people who don’t know what Troma is, can you explain to us what makes your company different and what makes your films unique?
Lloyd: I guess the films that we make come from the heart and from the soul and every person is different. So if people are making movies that are personal films they will all be different. If people are making movies so they can sell action figures at Burger King, then things tend to all look the same. I think Troma is famous because we have made films that are a little bit ahead of the time. We’ve made films with new talent that often become big stars like Vincent D’Onofrio. In the case of films like”The Toxic Avenger “and “Class of Nuke ‘Em High”, the fact that we’ve mixed all the genres together made it difficult for the films to be classified so back when video stores were plentiful something like 2000 stores carried Troma Films and many had a Troma section because you couldn’t put our films in with any other genres. We mixed sex and horror and comedy and slapstick and Shakespeare, everything and now “Poultrygiest: Night of the Chicken Dead” my most recent film adds the musical component and correct me if I’m wrong “Poultrygiest: Night of the Chicken Dead” is the first chicken, Indian, zombie movie with singing and dancing.
Gary: And might I add the musical numbers are really good.
Lloyd: Well it took 3 or 4 years from starting that film to finishing it and we had a great cast. It was quite an experience.
Gary: Lloyd I’ve read all of your books. I find them informative and exceptionally entertaining. In your newest book “Produce Your Own Damn Movie” you focus on producing feature films. The main theme the book centers around is there is no clear cut way to get a film made. So you show us several different methods including the “Troma Way”, and the “Hollywood Way” among others. Can you elaborate a little more on this?
Lloyd: Well “Produce Your Own Damn Movie” about half of it shows how I’ve produced films for the past 35 years but it also has a lot of successful producers commentary on producing films of different budgets. For example we have commentary from the producer of “Blood Bath and the House of Knives”, which was made for like four thousand dollars and we also have the guy who produced “Rambo 4” for 80 million dollars and how he financed it. We’ve got the Oscar winning producer of “Crash”. You know, how did he do it, how did he get that film made? How did these guys get their movies done? The challenge of the book was to get them to talk about it. There’s so many different ways. Basically I’ve been doing it by raising money through limited partnerships. This was all before Clinton came along and got rid of the financial syndication rule. The movies were always on cable so people could make some money. These days it is very rare to make a living making five hundred thousand dollar movies. You either have to make one ultra low budget under 20K or make “Titanic”.
Gary: Is your plan to continue to go with your 500K shoot it on 35mm Troma style production model?
Lloyd: Well I can’t keep spending my wife’s retirement money on films (laughs). So you know “Poultrygiest”, which has been my best reviewed film and has played in over 300 theatres won’t make one cent of its budget back. It might make its distribution expenses back. We’ll lose the entire 500K. Most of which is ours.
Gary: Well with the state of the film industry what are you plans for your next film?
Lloyd: Well with our next film, the technology has actually gotten very good. With the RED Camera you can do a lot. In fact I interviewed Neveldine and Taylor who did “Crank 2” and “The Gamer”, both shot digitally. I filmed the behind the scenes for those films. And I was convinced with the results and I’m considering using it on my next project.
Gary: Anything in the works?
Lloyd: I’m working on two scripts, “The Toxic Avenger Part 5” and another script with Gabe Friedman who did “Poultrygiest” with me.
Gary: You’ve said that Troma is actually losing money compared to it’s heyday during the 80’s video boom, yet I feel like I see Troma more today than ever? You guys have always been cutting edge, “movies of the future,” you’re at conventions, you can purchase most of your library online at your website (www.troma.com), your movies are available on Netflix and such.
Lloyd: That’s great and I’m very happy people are watching but you really don’t make any money that way. We haven’t had a movie on American television in over ten years. Even “Cannibal: The Musical” which has sold over two hundred thousand DVD’s and has never been on TV. “Citizen Toxie” sold even more copies and hasn’t been on American television and that hurts. You can’t make any money off the Internet, I mean you can make a little but it’s not enough. Like I said with “Poultrygiest” which is the best film I’ve ever made, well reviewed, played in 300 theatres and it probably won’t make its money back.
Gary: You’re the chairman of IFTA the Independent Film and Television Alliance. How can that help independent filmmakers?
Lloyd: It’s the trade association of the independent community. The idea is that the trade association can do what the individuals can’t do by themselves. So we’re lobbying in Washington. We have a treasury and a lobbyist and we go to Washington. Last week I met with the new FCC chairman and we talked to him about how important it is that we re-examine the fact that the financial syndication rules that prevented the monopoly have been done away with and we need to at least have a hearing in congress and examine the issues. And the problem is that most of the attention is on the new technology and the fact that Comcast is buying NBC, Universal and all of that and then that gets into Net neutrality and the democratic diverse Internet which is great but there are these other platforms from cable, to theatrical to TV to MOD and all that stuff. All the old traditional platforms are the private domain of a small number of very wealthy executives and that’s not a good thing, so the Independent Film and Television Alliance is fighting to try and keep independent art alive but also looking at ways to fight piracy too. The trade association can do that.
Gary: Couple questions for Troma fans.
Lloyd: Yes!
Gary: What’s the word on the “Toxie Twins”, the fifth Toxic Avenger movie?
Lloyd: We’re working on a script. I’m not sure where it’s exactly going but I know that each Toxie movie he gets older and so in this one his kids are adolescences and his wife Sarah must deal with menopause and stuff. I don’t really have the actual plot yet, that’s the problem. I have pieces.
Gary: Will that be the next film you direct?
Lloyd: Either that or this other script I’m working on about the art of filmmaking.
Gary: You said “Poultrygiest” is your best movie, is that also closest to your heart?
Lloyd: No I think “Terror Firmer” is.
Gary: How so?
Lloyd. Well it’s about a low budget filmmaker that may or may not be good but at least he loves what he’s doing. That’s the most personal but Poultrygiest is the funniest and it’s got a lot going on in there. It exposes the phony limousine liberals; it opens the door to vegetarianism, it focuses on fast food. The whole metaphor of the zombies is about the media brain washing us to go like zombies to buy the action figures. The media puts the Kool-Aid in the water so the public goes to Burger King to get their action figures.
Gary: Any hopes for a Toxic Avenger Video game? A combat style video game where your characters can battle each other?
Lloyd: Nintendo and Sega did make a Toxic Avenger Video game back in the 90’s but now days I would doubt it. I think the video games are working with the big guys or they own their own, it’s very expensive to develop a game. It’s not something we could do on our own.
Gary: What about product placement?
Lloyd: Well nobody wants to be associated with us.
Gary: I like you guys.
Lloyd: Well I mean nobody with any kind of major product.
Gary: You’re friends with one of my biggest influences, Stan Lee.
Lloyd: Yes, a good buddy.
Gary: I saw a clip from the San Diego comic con of Stan Lee on stage roasting you? You’ve said Troma was influenced by the Marvel Universe. I always felt like Troma was the evil bastard doppelganger of the Marvel universe.
Lloyd: The Marvel universe definitely influenced the Troma universe. We have Toxie and Sgt Kabukiman going into each others movies. Tromaville itself, all our movies take place there and Stan has said that the Toxic Avenger did for the movie superhero what Spidey did for the comic superhero. Put a new face on the super hero. Spidey has to deal with worldly problems but also has to take care of his aunt and has to deal with peer pressure and all that stuff. Super hero Toxie has a significant other, but can’t hold a job and doesn’t really have much for super powers, I mean he has a mop and he’s kind of strong. I think what makes Toxie super human is he can solve worldly problems and that’s what Stan Lee said. Although Stan Lee can use the word “Superhero”, where we cannot because Marvel owns it. Stan is in a couple of my books too.
Gary: I don’t know if you realize this but you’ve actually become a film educator. To go along with you line of film production books you have a “Make You Own Damn…Everything” line of tutorial DVD’s.
Lloyd: Yeah, professors should be using my stuff. Most of these books that tell you how to make movies the writers haven’t made any movies. It’s a lot of hot air. At least I’ve made movies. And you won’t find my books in the classrooms. Either professors don’t know about it or they don’t…if I were a kid I would check out these DVD’s. It’s all behind the scenes stuff; check out Poultry In Motion the documentary about making Poultrygiest. You learn more form that than going to some …you know truth is stranger than chicken.
Gary: We know about the rumors that a major studio is in talk about remaking the Toxic Avenger? Please don’t let them do this.
Lloyd: Well what if they offer me 2 million dollars? A lot of remakes are better than the originals. Look at “Evil Dead 2”, they just remade one of our movie’s called “Mother’s Day” I think it comes out next year. It’s from the guy who did “Repo: The Genetic Opera”, maybe it’ll be great. The only reason we would give away the rights is so we could keep making our own damn movies.
Gary: What single piece of advice would you give to the next filmmaker who wants to be Lloyd Kaufman?
Lloyd: Well I’d say to thy own self be true. Do what you believe in and don’t compromise. I regretted compromising in Toxic Avenger 2 and 3. You can be a gun for hire, do what the big guys tell you, maybe make a lot of money, or you can do things on your own and struggle but have total control over it. I don’t really think there’s a middle ground.
Gary: Thank you for your time Lloyd.
Lloyd: My pleasure.
Writer’s Note: Lloyd Kaufman was joined by independent filmmaker Cory Udler who was promoting his low budget indie film “Incest Death Squad” which also stars Lloyd Kaufman. “Incest Death Squad” is playing at festivals around the world. For more info check out www.incestdeathsquad.com .
Gary Schultz is a filmmaker currently living in Chicago, IL.

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