7th December 2006

“More Than Just Sex and Violence”

posted in Interviews |

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a steady decline in the amount of new and innovative movies coming out of Hollywood. Between the useless remakes, the pointless sequels and the blatant rip-offs, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the mainstream film industry has simply run out of ideas. Week after week, month after month, year after year, I’ve watched Hollywood feed itself it’s own shit in order to keep itself running, in order to keep you, the audience, throwing your precious money at them. You see, the bigwigs of Hollywood have simply become too lazy to actually come up with innovative and exciting new movies. So, they resort to other people’s ideas in order to keep their wallets nice and full. They believe that we, the audience, are too stupid to realize that we’ve been handing them our hard earned money in return for bland, redundant, boring films. But, what do they care? It seems as if most of the public is perfectly happy with forking their money over to these money-hungry studios in exchange for poorly recycled bullshit. However, there is one man in the film industry that I can safely say actually works his ass of for the sole purpose of producing new, innovative and entertaining films. His name is Lloyd Kaufman, the Co-Founder and President of Troma Entertainment, and he is here to save us all.

You may have never heard of either Lloyd Kaufman or Troma, however, their influences have spread far and wide. Acclaimed filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson, Eli Roth, James Gunn and Oliver Stone have all either worked on Troma films or have stated Troma as a chief influence in their work and still remain die-hard fans of the company to this day. Troma films have featured many famous celebrities like Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Costner, Beverly D’Angelo, Marisa Tomei, Carmen Electra Vincent D’Onofrio, Fergie and cult icons like Ron Jeremy and Corey Feldman. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the famed creators of South Park, actually received their big break from Lloyd Kaufman when he agreed to produce their film Cannibal!: The Musical. Trey Parker has even stated that Lloyd Kaufman changed his life! They still remain friends to this day. So, why has most of the common public never heard of Troma films? We’ll get to that subject a bit later on, but for now, let’s focus upon the man behind the company, Lloyd Kaufman.

As a producer, director, screenwriter, actor, author, teacher and essayist, Lloyd Kaufman has made quite a name for himself in the film industry as the epitome of a renegade filmmaker. A native of New Jersey, Lloyd Kaufman graduated from Yale University. Along with college buddy Michael Herz, he created Troma Entertainment almost thirty five years ago, and Troma has remained an independent film company ever since. Regarded by his colleagues and close friends as a genius, Lloyd Kaufman’s filmmaking style has become legendary to both filmmakers and fans alike. While stating that his preferred genre of film is satire, he has tackled such controversial issues as abortion, pollution, religion, the mentally and physically handicapped, fast food, censorship, poverty, drugs, sexual, racial and religious discrimination, underage sex, police brutality, governmental abuse of power, and, most importantly, the exploitation of the general public by corporate America.

Lloyd Kaufman uses the fictional town of Tromaville, New Jersey as the location for many of his films. The people of Tromaville are normally the personification of the general American public. As Kaufman puts it “In most of my movies, the people of Tromaville just go about living their day to day lives. But there is a conspiracy against them. They’re in danger of being exploited culturally, religiously and financially by the leaders of their community. The politics, the big conglomerate corporations. So, they fight back through people like the Toxic Avenger, or Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, or in the case of Troma’s War they must fight the powers themselves.” There are many different messages in Kaufman’s films. There are mounds of both political and sociological commentary, but all can be summed up in Kaufman’s own words. “What the people of Tromaville don’t realize is that they don’t need to be led.”

In my interview with Kaufman, he compares the average Hollywood film to fast food. It’s pumped out with no heart, no soul, and no intention other than money. Exploiting the public at the expense of their health. On the other hand he states, “Troma films aren’t necessarily gourmet food, but they’re kind of like falafel. They’re real… And good for you!” He goes on to say “If you want baby food, go see Gigli or Ocean’s 12. Sure, you can live on baby food. You can survive on it. But it’s boring.”

Now, Troma films are not everybody. They are normally shot on incredibly small budgets and it normally shows in the film’s overall quality. Most Troma films are filled with crude and controversial humor, graphic violence and gore and full frontal nudity (of both male and females). One film depicts a school shooting in a school for the mentally challenged (see The Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie). Another depicts a man being stabbed to death through the eye by his own penis (see Tales from the Crapper). There is one film about nuclear waste that makes its way into a Southern town’s batch of moonshine (see Redneck Zombies). Another is about an alcoholic policeman that turns into a Japanese superhero (see Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD). The British Troma film, The Evolved, involves an overweight medicated police officer, his partner a gritty abusive police officer, an animated ventriloquist dummy that is also a freelance American reporter and a talking heroin-addicting fetus. And those are the good guys! Troma is notorious for churning out these types of movies. While, to many, the sheer budget that most Troma films are made on so low that it handicaps the overall film itself, many believe Troma films thrive on low budgets. According to Lloyd Kaufman, “A lot of people will only tell you about the constraints under which they are placed by a low budget. I, on the other hand, have always found it liberating. The more money people put into a film, the more concerned they become over what happens to it.” And it is Kaufman’s creative freedom within his films that have both spawned a whole new generation of Troma filmmakers and gained Troma their incredibly loyal and widespread fan base. As Kaufman puts it, “[When you see a Troma movie] you may love it or hate it. But, you will never forget it.”

So, why haven’t most people ever heard of Troma films or Lloyd Kaufman? It is because Troma, much like any other independent film studio, is crippled beneath an economic blacklist. Say it with me now. ECONOMIC BLACKLIST. This is why you will never see an advertisement for a Troma film in a newspaper, on a television, in a movie theatre or anything else other than the Internet. You see, about ninety nine percent of the media are owned by just a handful of corporations. Conglomerates, like Viacom and General Electric, own film studios, newspapers, television stations, music companies, news stations, radio stations and even video stores. Now, the basic label of a film studio being an independent pretty much means that it is not affiliated with any other company, namely ones that fall under the select few parent companies such as the reigning conglomerations that were just mentioned. Since, Troma Entertainment is a completely independent company and does not pay tribute to any higher corporations, it is simply shunned from any type of media exposure that falls within the conglomerates’ reach. This is why you’ll never see Tromeo & Juliet on HBO. It’s why you’ll never see the Toxic Avenger anywhere in the New York Times. And it’s why you will never find a Troma movie at Blockbuster.

Kaufman has said, “It becomes more and more discouraging each and every day. I just recently came out with a novel version of the film The Toxic Avenger. We’ve put two years of hard work into it, but since we can’t get any publicity for it I’m fearing that it may never be seen by the general public.” The film industry is incredibly strenuous for independent filmmakers, namely for Troma. Just about all independent film studios go bankrupt very quickly, while all the others are forced to sell their studio in order to keep from going broke within just a couple years. Troma, on the other hand, has remained independent for over thirty years and is arguably the only independent film studio left standing today. They devote their success mainly to the fact that their movies never cost too much money to make. This way, they have the bare minimum of money required to make a film, while they still have enough money to continue running the company regardless of their films financial success. However, the constant discouragement has yet to faze Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma team in their quest for producing truly independent cinema. Most Troma filmmakers make more money at minimum wage jobs than they do on a film set. Lloyd Kaufman is nowhere near the financial status of other production studio president’s such as the Weinstein Brothers or filmmakers like Steven Spielberg. But, they all keep making films simply for their loving of doing so.

I asked Lloyd Kaufman, what he would do if suddenly hundreds of millions of dollars fell into his studio’s collective lap. His answer? “If I had somehow acquired three hundred million dollars, I would make two movies, myself, and then finance two hundred and ninety eight other filmmakers’ movies. You could make hundreds, hell thousands, of films from the budget of a single film, like Ocean’s Twelve.”

“To thine own self be true.” This is something that echoed in my ear, long after Lloyd Kaufman’s voice said it during our phone interview. For those of you that don’t know, William Shakespeare first spoke this quote, but it has essentially become Lloyd Kaufman’s, and Troma’s, most significant motto. In today’s world, mainstream film cartels/production studios pay tens of millions of dollars for advertisement for a single movie. “Fifty million dollars can brainwash a lot of people,” Kaufman states. They pay this huge amount of money in order to ensure that people like you will go to see their movie regardless of whether or not it is actually good. Then the studio makes enough of their money back to think it would be a good idea to make a sequel. This is why movies like Big Mama’s House 2 are made. Normally, if people see a two page spread of a film advertisement in the New York Times, they automatically think, “Hey, this has to be a good movie!” But Kaufman urges us to not buy into this conventional way of thinking. Because normally, its bullshit. Take the film Cast Away for example. It starred Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg directed it. Millions of dollars went into its advertising (but then again, the names Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are all the advertising you need). It made hundreds of millions of dollars at the box-office. It was nominated for several Oscars. Meanwhile, it was a film about Tom Hanks playing with a volleyball for two and a half fucking hours. That is not entertainment. That is a big, incredibly expensive, practical joke. And hundreds of millions of people fell for it.

We go to see films to be entertained and maybe, every once in a while, be enlightened. I can’t quite remember the last film I saw in a movie theater that really entertained me, or enlightened me for that matter. They all seem to promise something in their advertisements that they rarely follow up on. Drab dialogue, recycled plotlines, hours of pointless footage that slowly melts your brain away. Troma films, while some may not always enlighten you, pretty much guarantee you that you will be entertained. And if you’re not enlightened, then maybe you should watch it again. On this, Kaufman says, “If nothing else, [films] should be entertaining. I believe that they should go further than just entertaining, but maybe that’s just me.”

While it may look like a grim future for independent film, the recent technology boom has made digital camcorders both more technologically superior to what they used to be and much more affordable for the average person. Kaufman believes that the future of independent film resides in future filmmakers making their films for less and less money, which could soon be very possible with prices for professional quality digital camcorders falling rapidly. That will create a huge influx of independent films in the market, and hopefully produce a larger interest for independent films (and other independent art forms, for that matter), which could potentially bring conglomerate media corporations like Viacom crashing down.

While the future of independent film resides mostly in the hands of the next generation of filmmakers, it rests just as heavily upon the shoulders of the general public, as well. We must be true to ourselves, and not buy into everything that we are told to believe. While corporations are shoving their bullshit down our throats everywhere we turn, from billboards on the streets to the televisions in our own homes, we have to be loyal to our own personal independent spirits. We must think for ourselves and not be tempted by whatever the mainstream media tells us to believe. We must recognize and respect our own judgment in determining what we need, what we want and what we should think. For most of our lives we try our hardest to fit into society, when in reality we should be attempting to stand out. The best tool we as humans have is our own mind, yet, we are constantly letting these rich men dressed in five thousand dollar suits that reside in mansions far, far away from us, tell us what to think, how to think and when to think. Meanwhile, they are spending five thousand dollars on fucking suits.

Lloyd Kaufman is possibly one of the last truly independent people, let alone filmmakers, alive. He doesn’t want your money. He doesn’t seek your or anyone else’s approval. He only wants you to hear what he is saying and question the way you see the world and the way you live your life. While most of the world urges us to buy their shit, Lloyd Kaufman only hopes to open the world’s eyes to what’s really going on around us. These people making our films and television shows, giving us our news, telling us what’s cool and what’s not, only want your money. They don’t care about your well-being. They want you to buy into their bullshit. Don’t listen to them. Listen to yourself. Think for yourself. Speak for yourself. And if nothing else, “To thine own self be true.”

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