13th September 2006

“Questions for Lloyd Kaufman”

posted in Interviews |

1) Did you originally set out to be an independent filmmaker? How did it come about?
This is partly detailed in my first book, “Everything I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger”. It all started when I attended Trinity High School, in New York. At the time, it was an all boys school, and my only access to girls was through film. Soon, with the magic of love by association, I began to like the movies themselves. When I went to Yale, I was paired with a roommate who loved films even more than I did, and whose father was a filmmaker, Eric Sherman. He taught me about filmmaking, and I listened, because to me, this was the same as learning how to woo a girl. He got me hooked, and tried to get my foot in the door. Once I realized that I hated corporations and big business, I decided to do it independently. This is the peak of my downhill life.

2) What was the first camera you ever owned?
I got what is called a Bolex. Bolex is not a sexually transmitted disease; it is a 16 millimeter camera. It was quite expensive, as most cameras were back then. Nowadays, you can save a lot of money, because they keep making those digital cameras even smaller, and you can easily fit under your coat and walk out Coles-Meyer safe and sound.

3) How did you think of the title ‘Troma’?
Troma is actually a latin word. Michael Herz and I were both serious latin students at Yale, where we read Vergil’s “Aeneid”. The word “Troma” is used in book II of “Aeneid” and means “excellence on celluloid”. This, coupled with the fact that many of Troma’s movies are inspired by, and in fact, direct allusions to Vergil and his work, compelled us to pay homage to the man.

4) How many people are employed in total at Troma?
On record, we have about twenty people working in acquisitions, editing, inventory, shipping, media relations, and sales. Oh! And we have our interns at the office, whom we can see at the “Troma Intern Video Blog” on youtube at http://youtube.com/profile?user=ChipButty, or on my myspace profile at http://www.myspace.com/chickenzombie. There are five harrowing tales in all, and it details the responsibilities they maintain, except for the interview with the Mexican drug dealer; that was the made-for Channel 9 special.

5) What is your favourite non-Troma film and why?
Easy. Tally up all the scores for acting, dialogue, directing (of course), filming, and editing, and Princess Yang Kwei-fei comes out on top, diirected by Kenji Mizoguchi. Watching that movie is a type of nirvana, the epitome of sublime. A close second is Steven Spielberg’s “Strap-On Sally Part XIII”. That movie is also a religious experience, because it makes worshipping the bishop very interactive.

6) Why is ‘Class of Nuke ‘em High’ your personal favourite out of the Troma films?
Well, it never was, though I like it very much. “Toxic Avenger” was once my favourite, because it is the only movie in which a young boy’s head is run over by a car wheel, only to be made into an environmentally correct Saturday morning cartoon show for kids. “Troma’s War” was also very good. I like “Class Of Nuke’ Em High” because it related to my high school experience as an underrated pothead with bowel problems. But now, my favourite Troma movie is the new “Poultrygeist! Night Of The Chicken Dead”, which you can find at www.poultrygeist.com, to be released 3042, right in the midst of the presidential elections of that year. That one is really closest to my heart, because in my role, I got to vent my anger on all the things I hate about society, birds and Injuns. I mean Indians, of course, but I say Injuns so you know that I do not mean those out in Asia, but rather those who tried to steal the land away from our great white ancestors. You know, you Aussies might consider “Poultrygeist” a great kick in the aborigi-knees. I apologize; I hope that answer was not too kanga-rude.

7) What is the most memorable moment (good or bad) that you have experienced on set?
In the course of shooting near one hundred movies, there are some things I will never forget. There was some underwater photography for “Toxic Avenger III: The Last Temptation Of Toxie”. In filming underwater, a stingray shot a harpoon through my testicles. I actually have flashbacks of the pain whenever I whack off. There was also a moment in “When Nature Calls” by my brother, Charles Kaufman, when Warner Herzog ran onto set and ripped me limb from limb and ate me. They had to cut him open, but all they found was my hand, with wristwatch attached. I am using that hand right now to answer these excellent questions.

8) Were your experiences positive or negative from working on Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and The Final Countdown?
Well, I learned a great deal at the knees of directors John G Avildsen and John Badham. I was basically attending film school, even though I did not have to pay 50,000 US dollars a year. Though I learned a lot on set, I had no fun on “Rocky”. Sylvester Stallone would not let me get anywhere near his gonads. “Saturday Night Fever” had its moments, because I fantasized that John Travolta was gay, but still, the atmosphere of both sets was so stifling. And “Final Countdown” is actually the movie pushed me over the edge and made me swear off major motion picture companies. However, I was very inspired by the “Final Countdown”’s star, the legendary Kirk Douglas, who is a courageous fighter for independent art, and the craft of filmmaking overall. The union atmosphere and money-grubbing by members of the cast and crew was awful on “Final Countdown”. I suppose these experiences have to be my most memorable moments, because in making independent films, these early movies will always stick with me. I have to remember them, in order to remember what I am trying to not do.

9) Do you write the scripts for Troma films? Or just direct them? Where do the ideas for the scripts come from?
The Cinematheque Francais, the world’s most prestigious film museum, the American Film Institute, and other such organizations have suggested that I am one of the few American auteur filmmakers. This is because for the past forty years, I have been involved in and have controlled every aspect of my film, from the script, to the type of toilet paper used. Usually I come up with the theme, and a brief synopsis, and I then find people with whom I can collaborate, sort of like what the French did with the Nazis. So in addition to directing, I also write the scripts with a young talented team. Troma supervising editor, Gabe Friedman wrote for several movies, (and rather well, at that), including “Poultrygeist” (for which we also worked with Daniel Bova), Citizen Toxie, and “All The Love You Cannes”. Though “Poultrygeist” had three writers, we will sometimes have many more than that. On “Citizen Toxie”, we had seven, including myself. Some other script-team members include or have included Trent Haaga (“Citizen Toxie”), Adam Jahnke (“Citizen Toxie”, “Tales From The Crapper”), and James Gunn, who, after writing “Tromeo & Juliet”, which promotes incest, and went on to write the delightful children’s classic “Scooby Doo”. He even wrote another children’s classic, “Dawn Of The Dead”, a memoir of his two years spent as my personal assistant at Troma. Trent and Adam also collaborated write my book, “Make Your Own Damn Movie”.

10) What is the most difficult thing you can think of that has challenged you on set that you have had to work around?
Just putting together a good and loyal production team, cast and crew, is so hard for us in itself. Most people are paid nothing. They usually come from all over the world, usually at their own expense, so they can sleep on the floor, eat cheese sandwiches three times a day, and learn how to defecate in a paper bag, which is more difficult than it sounds. To see all the problems we face in making a movie, you can watch “Farts Of Darkness: Making Of Tales From The Crapper” and “Apocalypse Soon: Making Of Citizen Toxie”. The “Make Your Own Damn Movie” 5 disc dvd boxset will have both these movies, as well as lots more information about how to make independent movies the Troma way. As for the actual filming, one serious issue we had was in the filming of “Citizen Toxie, and you will find a description of this in my wonderful book, “Make Your Own Damn Movie!”, we had to deal with the townsfolk of Poughkeepsie, who were given an edited script, which neglected the scene featuring a black man tied to the back of a car by white supremacists and dragged over the rocks until he was ripped limb from limb. Honest mistake, but they were really getting angry, so we had to shoot it quickly and get out. The fact that we erected a midnight Ku Klux Klan cross burning on the Poughkeepsie town square also did not endear us to the city fathers, especially since we “forgot” to inform them in advance. So around one in the morning, the good townsfolk awoke to see something they believed to be real and frightening, and they were pissed.

11) I can imagine that you would get stressed during productions. What are some of your stress release techniques?
Well, they revolve around my principles of shooting. Our movies are pretty “far out”. So, to keep one foot in reality, we always shoot on location, which ends up being fairly isolated and lonely. So, masturbation will help. Also, I never eat on set. When they serve lunch, everyone gets a break, but I go around making sure that everything is in order for the next few shots, clear my head, and rewrite dialogue. I do this for the working day, and as you can imagine, it could conceivably add to my stress load, but by eating afterward, it removes even more than just the stress caused by hunger. If something is really bugging me, I will remind myself that it is the price I pay for independence, and that is a comforting thought.

12) On average, how long does it take to shoot a Troma film?
Well, we usually have to deal with three months of pre-production first. We have to prepare everything and rehearse every scene over and over again. The actual shooting takes anywhere between 24 and 35 eighteen-hour days, but with all the pre-production and postproduction hassles, it could take over two years for a movie to hit the screens once the script has been brownlighted. Shooting the movie is not so bad; even with all the rewrites of the scripts, which we do constantly, we pull through because everyone works so hard thanks to his/her/its conviction. We try to work as efficiently as possible to move things along and, of course, keep things cheap. The 35 millimeter film “Poultrygeist” had a total budget of no more than 500,000 US dollars, one half of one percent of a Hollywood movie’s cost. Once we get back home, all the employees start slacking off and hating life again, and there is no telling when they will come back from rehab to finish editing.

13) How many films would be made in a year at Troma on average?

We own and control over 600 movies, most of which we have acquired for distribution form third parties, we have personally produced, executive produced, or financed, about one hundred movies. We have made or backed as little as one and as many as four, and it averages to about three a year with one hundred Troma-produced movies in thirty five years. The big productions, like “Terror Firmer” and “Tromeo & Juliet” (and “Poultrygeist”), will be made about once every two years. Acquisitions will come and go, though we have several hundred, what with our Roan titles and all. You will recall that Roan is our classic films section, with movies like “Tarzan and the Bela Lugosi films, at www.roangroup.com.

14) How many people crew per film? Are they the same people each time?
We have been very lucky to have, basically, the same technical crew for the past few films. Because we are kind of famous and offer a fair amount of creative freedom to the director of photography and crew, they enjoy working on our movies and continue to do so. Even though they currently make ten times more money on Hollywood movies and TV commercials, they have always come back. However, most of the famous actors who started their careers in Troma movies, such as Trey Parker and Samuel L Jackson etc, though they may like to, cannot return to Troma, because they eventually join the actor’s union, which, due to our modest budgets, we cannot utilize. We do not get a lot of the non-tech crew to return, because the low budget fails to provide for anyone medium-maintenance. We will also have to cycle through some crew, as people do get fired. On “Poultrygeist” we had so many people in one vacant church we had rented, that we were looking for people to fire. It was overbooked. Overall, I would say it was about 130, perhaps fewer, who worked on that movie in total, though only about eighty at any given time. We will often start with about eighty people. On “Citizen Toxie” though, fifteen people quit in one day because of their diva tolerance, if that gives you an idea.

15) Do you oversee everything? I.e. pre-production, production, post-production? Or do you hand over the films to the editors once the shooting is complete?
I control all. I am like an enlightened dictator. I handle how the shot is going to look and which scenes will be shot and all that, though others will deal with catering, props, and extras. I still eyeball and approve everything. With pre-production, I will assign some tasks to others, like location managing, and we will make the decisions together, but I always have the last word. Editing will be like this, too. Gabe, for example, in editing “Poultrygeist”, has much leeway, but that last word is still mine. If there is some disagreement, we will ask opinions of people we trust at least a little and listen to their points. There is a lot of subtlety with editing, in regards to timing, and continuity, and effect. But we try.

16) Where do you shoot the Troma films? America? Australia? If internationally, where is the most interesting place you have done filming?
Real locations are important to us. The Troma aesthetic helps to create reality when so much of the plot is unreal. We distribute from all over the world, with movies like “Bloodspit”, “Offensive Behaviour”, and “Virgin Beasts”, all from Australia. Most of our work is done in the US. We try to keep things cheap, remember, and it is expensive to send our camera crew abroad, when they are based locally. We will often use nice, quiet towns like Poughkeepsie or Buffalo, which was used for nearly the entirety of “Poultrygeist”. We will reuse some footage, too, so that, technically, every movie with the Kabukiman Carflip was partly shot in Hoboken, New Jersey. Although, again technically, every movie ever made by Troma was shot in Tromaville.

17) You have said in a previous interview that “everybody is a director… anyone who’s got a joke, anyone who’s got an idea; until the film actually goes in front of the lens, until it’s exposed, anything goes.” Do you think that this freedom of letting everyone being able to contribute to the film is an important aspect of why the Troma films are so unique? In that, even though your title is the ‘director’, you allow everyone to have an opinion that you will listen to?
Absolutely. If we were to list each person who contributed a pun to our movies as a writer, we would employ more people than we have sex scenes. By letting the script change with others, and not keeping it locked, you actually give yourself more power. People like to see that they have input, that they are being recognized. Of course, we will only use something suggested if it is good, but anyone can come up with something good. Everyone has some great anecdote; some simply do not have a whole movie. But when the movie is there in front of you, I could use that joke. They do not allow this kind of community anywhere else, and this is one of the things that sicken me about Hollywood. Some kid on the set will think, “Hey, wouldn’t it be better this way?” And they tell him it is not the time or the place. Not the time or place!? You guys are on a movie set! What is the time and place? I will tell you. Now, at Tromaville.

18) How do you feel that the scene in “Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger Pt. IV” where the black man is being dragged by a truck of white supremacists had a lot of controversy surrounding it, even though it was based on an actual event and when a similar scene occurred on the television show “Oz”, it had no backlash?
I wanted to memorialize a horrible moment in American history. I knew our fans would be turned off, and the flow of the film’s comedy would come to an abrupt halt, but I felt that the political statement was more important. These obscenities still exist. Some of the controversy was a result of the edited script we mentioned earlier. I suppose some may not have known that that particular event was based on truth. Even without this, though, people can handle an outrageous idea if it comes from someone they know to be reasonably sane. You may notice that in politics, republicans can only handle a liberal idea if it is proposed by a conservative (of course, this goes both ways). This circumstance has a limit, but HBO has good, serious writing, and without the gratuitousness of Troma, so viewers will get a peak of excitement, rather dismissing it as another outrageous portrayal of abuse. If a scene like that comes from me, many people will be unable to see the seriousness in it. How do I feel? Certainly not surprised, but disappointed, maybe, that it could not be another way. The disembodied head, it is important to remember, ultimately becomes a hero.

19) “Tales from the Crapper”, is reported to have been unsuccessful due to the crew’s drinking and partying. Was it hard to stay focused and positive about your work when your crew was not helping you complete your project? In that, was this a hard time watching your work being treated with little respect by your crew?
As hard as it was, “Tales From The Crapper” was still commercially successful, so we succeeded to some degree. Jorge Garcia went right away to star in the hit show “Lost” and shared an Emmy. “Thick Brown Line”, a cautionary documentary about the reshoot of “Tales From The Crapper”, shows that even a big shot like me can fuck up big time. Everyone can. It details how I fucked up, and in this sense it is a great learning tool, learning from others’ mistakes, rather than your own. It was hard, but after everything, the movie is still a hilarious party film. I urge you to get the “Tales From The Crapper” dvd, and to watch the “Thick Brown Line”, which is a feature length bonus on that dvd. You can buy it at www.troma.com or www.amazon.com.

20) Do you get nervous about the Troma reputation when a new first time director is making a movie under the Troma name?
No. The only requirement for a Troma director is that he believes in what he/she/it does. “To thine own self be true” is always his/her/its maxim. I have confidence in this. We also distribute movies by other directors. This is when aspiring filmmakers will send a complete movie to the Troma office and we decide whether we want to back it. When financing, or producing a movie, I do operate as a strong producer, and I do impose myself concerning content and budget. Sometimes, other people will direct the background of our movies, but these people and I will always have a previously established relationship. We also provide completion money for promising films, which have been shot and need post-production funds.

21) You have created films in the genres of comedy, horror, science fiction and war. However what is your favourite genre to make?
First of all, all my films are satires, usually political. Through this, I mix in the other genres. “Poultrygeist” has horror, sex, singing, and dancing, but all our films contain comedy. For instance, our horror is not only horror, but cartoon style horror. Tom and Jerry horror. “Saving Private Ryan” has horror, but it is real, whereas ours is exaggerated and cartoonish, and it is therefore fun to laugh at it. I like to laugh. I like making people laugh. One of the things I use to make people laugh, and make myself laugh is horror. I like seeing a little boy get his head squashed by a tire. It is clearly not real footage, and that is funny! Like that T-shirt, “It is all fun and games until someone gets hurt… Then it’s hilarious.” Pain and mutilation, I see no reason why we cannot laugh at these things. So I guess that to me, horror is comedy. Or at least a very powerful part of it, because we do have witty dialogue and commentary to boot. They call this the “Tromatic Touch”, which has been a big influence on many of today’s mainstream directors, like Peter Jackson (“Braindead”,”Lord Of The Rings”) and James Gunn (“Slither”, “Scooby Doo”). Troma has become its own genre. Comedy is also how I started, before “Toxic Avenger” and all that. Back then, it was sex-comedy. Now, I use all three kinds; horror-comedy, sex-comedy, and clever-comedy. As for science fiction and war, these areas are great, but not in and of themselves, but rather the opportunities they offer for outrageous things. Political Satire, Comedy, and Slapstick. All the way.

22) Would you ever be interested being on other side of camera as an actor?
I am interested. You can find me on www.imdb.com. I have been in many movies. Many former employees, as well as fans, ask me to act in their films. Usually, I am cast as a sad drunk (“Rocky” & “Slither”), or a doctor (“Orgasmo and “Nowhere Man”). I am often asked by new filmmakers because I am a big independent influence on them. I often act for free, but if the producers can afford it, I prefer to be paid. If you mean leaving directing behind completely, then no, I could never do that, not for acting. But yes, I certainly enjoy it. On “Poultrygeist” I went through singing and dancing rehearsals for my part, “future Arbie”, which I found educational, in kind of fulfilling my lifetime ambition to be involved in a Broadway musical comedy.

23) If you had to leave the film industry, what career would you pursue?
I would try to accomplish what I try to do now through other means. My job has always been about helping people. Remember that all my films are satires. I suppose I would be a teacher or social worker. Make the world a better place. Teach people with hooks for hands how to finger-paint. Or be a fluffer for Russel Crowe and Lance Bass. Things like that.

24) What film are you working on at the moment?
“Poultrygeist! Night Of The Chicken Dead”. It is in post-production, and should be out by October. Maybe November. We are also working on “Schlock & Schlockability: Revenge Of Jane Austen” and are looking for investors and financing. Let us know if you are interested.

25) I’ve noticed you have written a couple of books. What was the motive behind that? To share your knowledge or was it for another reason? (Perhaps to stop pesky interviews!!)
Too many young people feel that the only way to make movies is to work for the giant international devil worshipping media conglomerates. There are so few independent movie studios that have been, or have managed to be, around for a long time. Troma is one of the very few, and it has become a kind of art movement. We are on a crusade to encourage independent art. That is why we founded the Tromadance film festival, eight years ago. It’s the only totally free film festival. It takes place at the same place and the same time as the snotty Sundance film festival. There is no entry fee to submit your movie. Check out www.tromadance.com. Regarding why I have written some books, my partner of thirty five years, Michael Herz, and I are committed to encouraging independent art, the Tao of independent filmmaking. So I thought I could help more people, and therefore be more effective, through my first book, Everything I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger. Later, I realized that this title was too long, and I had to write another book, Make Your Own Damn Movie. Both books encourage independent filmmaking, a dying art. Independence in all fields is under assault in this globalized, conglomeratized, big, blue, marble of ours. My first novel, “Toxic Avenger” has just been published, finally making the Bible the second most important book. Additionally, my books poke a good deal at the things destroying independent art, so they are taking an offensive and defensive position for the sake of film.

To end this, I would like to thank the Australian fans for keeping the Troma spirit alive in the Earth’s only continent/country there is. Thanks to you, our Aussie fans, the Troma team and I solemnly vow to continue to make Troma-tic art of the highest “Koala-tie.”

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