7th April 2011

Culture Brats interview Lloyd Kaufman!

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(click here for original source article)

People think they know what indie film is all about but do they really? Today we’re speaking with Lloyd Kaufman, head and co-founder of Troma Entertainment, home of the famous Toxic Avenger movies and one of the only independent film studios left standing; they’ve been in the business for almost 40 years. He is the brain child behind the TromaDance Film Festival, which is celebrating its 12th year this April. He is also a producer, director, author, and actor. Whew, this man has done it all! Besides wearing all those hats fighting the good fight, he is charming, facetious, and passionate as well

So you have the TromaDance Film Festival coming up April 22nd and 23rd. Would you like to talk about that a bit?

Sure. TromaDance is in its 12th year. It came out of a trip that Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the boys who made Cannibal! The Musical for Troma and who went on to do some kind of a cartoon show called South Park. I don’t know if South Park ever went anywhere, but Cannibal! The Musical is a brilliant, brilliant movie. Trey and Matt went to Sundance and insisted that we go there about 15 years ago with Cannibal! The Musical and it didn’t get into Sundance but they went. They wanted to go anyway.

And they kind of convinced me to go with them. I went to go skiing, but we all were horrified at how unpleasant Sundance was and how they seemed to hate the independent filmmakers, and the staff seemed to be extremely rude and elitist. And it just was very apparent that Sundance was the tool of the vassals of the major conglomerates like Sony Classics, or Fox Searchlight, or Harvey Weinstein/Disney Miramax.

So we decided to set up a festival where you don’t have to pay to submit your movies, and you can see the movies for free because at Sundance so many of the seats are taken up by these disgusting lawyers with their ponytails and pot bellies and turtleneck sweaters or these oh-so-cool agent types with their shirts hanging out. Very few artists get to actually see the movies.

So at TromaDance, you can see the movies for free; you can submit your movie to the TromaDance Film Festival without having to pay an entry fee, and there’s no VIP policy. And we set up TromaDance at the same time as Sundance in the same place as Sundance, and of course the Sundance folks were not too happy about this. And our staff is all volunteer, and the first couple of years they had a tough time. Two of them were arrested and put in jail overnight for handing out leaflets on the streets of Park City, things like that.

Oh, my goodness. That’s awful!
We used the Toxic Avenger and KabukiMan and the Tromettes to draw attention to TromaDance since the young filmmakers who go there. They want people to come and see their movies, and they’re hoping that maybe some media will discover them or something will happen, and the Toxic Avenger is very famous. The police in Park City confiscated the Toxic Avenger’s mop, because they said it was a dangerous weapon.

And then one of the volunteers had an accordion that he was playing. This is on Main Street during a film festival, and the police told him to stop playing because it was dangerous or something. Meanwhile a half a block away, there was a band with loud music, really shitty, house music – not house, what do they call it – cover band playing out in the street, but it was a Sundance band, so therefore, making a hundred times more noise.

So that’s the problem. But after about 10 years we moved TromaDance. About three years ago, I perceived that Sundance seemed to be hearing our message and people referred to TromaDance as the conscience of Sundance because it was all free. Everything is free, and it’s totally idealistic, and it sort of is the real grass roots independent movie festival – kind of what Sundance started out as. So people were calling TromaDance the conscience of Sundance.

That’s fantastic.
And there were some very interesting newspaper articles in the Salt Lake City Tribune and some TV programs that talked about TromaDance and raised the issues that we had raised – that Sundance truly was not an independent festival, and that they were living off the backs of poor filmmakers. The fact that independent filmmakers are poor and then they have to pay an entry fee, meanwhile these bureaucrats from Sundance are going to the Cannes Film Festival on fancy airplanes and having nice dinners and staying at hotels and things of that ilk, on the backs of these poor filmmakers. I thought that was fairly obscene, especially since Sundance has sponsors like Harry Winston Diamonds and Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz and stuff like that.

Anyway, about three years ago, I think Sundance got the message and they I think changed their modus operandi a bit. At least their staff appeared to be a lot politer to young people in the street, and also, I think they made more of an attempt to attract, to select truly independent movies for Sundance.

So that was good. And then we outgrew Sundance. TromaDance got a little too big, and we moved to Asbury Park, New Jersey. Since Sundance seems to be a lot more open and a lot more democratic than it used to be, we decided we would move to New Jersey where we’re actually wanted and we are welcomed.

And also, Asbury Park is a lot less expensive for TromaDance. Park City, we would have to pay $20,000 for one day at a Main Street venue. We’d rent a bar or a store front and it would be $20,000 for a day because the sponsors, these non-movie sponsors, would be renting the stores, and there only were a small number of store fronts available.

We had a movie theater in Salt Lake City, and we had another movie theater at the Salt Lake City Library, but the main venue was on Main Street. And then we had to fly everybody out to Salt Lake City, and we had to get condos and food and all that kind of stuff.

So with New Jersey, it’s a lot closer to home, and it’s the home of the Toxic Avenger. Of course, all the movies I’ve written and directed take place in Tromaville, New Jersey, so to move the TromaDance Festival to New Jersey, which took place two years ago, was like coming home.

That’s wonderful. Now, as you said that it’s more welcoming in New Jersey, have you seen the numbers of your own festival grow over the years?
Well, it’s a small festival. It’s very intimate, it’s very idealistic. The theater that we’re in, The Showroom in Asbury Park, is very small. The Asbury Lanes is where we have the social events; it’s a famous nightclub. We have bands, but it also has bowling in the nightclubs, and it’s a landmark. It’s just different. The TromaDance in Park City was in the middle of this giant Sundance, so there were thousands of people. TromaDance in Asbury Park, there’s nobody else other than the TromaDance people, but it’s a very small festival.

But you have quite a few films that you’re presenting this year. According to TromaDance.com you’ll be showing 3 feature length films and 35 shorts. Any standouts?
I know we have some terrific animated films by an artist who I admire named John Goras. They’re short films, and they’re pretty out there, and some people might find them a bit raunchy. But we also have a world premiere, thanks to IFC, called Kidnapped and then there’s a movie called The Taint and the fans on my Twitter are really excited about this movie called The Taint. It’s got tremendous word of mouth.

Last year, TromaDance premiered a movie called Human Centipede, which was a movie that IFC provided, and this year they’re providing Kidnapped,which I have not seen but I’m told it’s great. We have a selection committee and a program director, and I’m not part of the selection committee, so I don’t really get to see the movies ahead of time. I just become one of the fans who sit and watch the movies.

There’s another movie called All About Evil which is a kind of a gory transvestite comedy with some music and it’s got gore, and it’s like a slasher movie but gay, and it’s really transvestite-ish and gay-ish. And I have seen that one and it’s terrific. It’s really great.

That’s the type of thing I’d want to watch.
The filmmaker is named Peaches Christ.

Oh, that’s great!
So then if you go to the website, we have movies from all over the world. It’s really interesting.

And you do a wide range of genres I believe, as well.
Yes, there’s family movies; there’s movies that – like last year Human Centipede was about as intense a film as you can get. People even walked out. And then of course we have a special guest this year, Bill Plimpton, the famous Academy Award nominated animator, and the New York State film commissioner will be there, the editor of Fangoria Magazine, Michael Gingold, will be there. Debbie Rochon, who is the queen of independent cinema – she’s an actress who’s been in hundreds of independent movies – she will be on the panel.

So it should be a very interesting discussion about how to distribute your movies in an age of the conglomerates because the making of cinema has been democratized. You don’t need money to make a movie anymore. You can make a really, really good movie for very little money, but because the rules have changed, and the rules that used to protect us all from monopoly have been done away with, as a result, all of the distribution channels from television to newspapers to Broadway theater to books – everything is owned by a small number of giant, devil-worshipping, international conglomerates. So it’s very, very difficult for the independent artist to get his or her work seen. So this will be the subject of our expert panel, and I’ll moderate the panel, and we’ll talk about how do you sell your movies.

The hard part – you don’t have to raise money so much anymore, you don’t have to be rich the way you had to be when I started. Even Battle of Love’s Return back in 1970, which Oliver Stone worked on, I think it was his first movie – that cost $8,000. It was 16 millimeter, but it cost $8,000. Well, in 1970, $8,000 – today that $8,000 would probably be with inflation maybe two and half billion dollars. So the point is you needed money.

And you don’t need money now, but you can’t get your movie sold; it’s impossible. So how do you do it, what do you do? So that’s what our discussion, our theme of TromaDance this year and the panel discussion of experts will be about that. By the way, my book I just finished is called Sell Your Own Damn Movie, and I talk about how Troma’s been doing it all these years.

Oh, that would be a great book.
I also interview about 10 distributors and people who work in the film sales, from the people who distribute Twilight, down to the guy who’s made a no-budget movie in his basement and is selling it on his own website.

How is the Internet helping independent filmmakers?
The Internet is very important, and the issue there is that there are forces of evil that are down in Washington, D.C., 24/7 trying to get rid of the free, open, diverse, and democratic Internet. They don’t like the fact that the Internet is the last democratic medium. The big movie conglomerates and the phone companies and the Motion Picture Association of America do not like competition, and the Internet is the only place where they get competition. The Internet is the only place left where Troma or Culture Brats all have equal opportunity on the Internet. If we put something that’s entertaining or of interest, people will go to our websites or to our YouTube posting or to our Facebook or to our Twitter. And my Twitter, my Facebook, there’s a Lloyd Kaufman Fan Site that the fans do that’s very popular, and I think the Troma site gets over half a million people every month. We have the same opportunity that Disney has. If Disney puts up something boring, nobody will go there. They have to compete.

If Troma puts up something exciting, people go there to look at it. The big companies are down in Washington lobbying, spending millions and millions of dollars to lobby Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to get rid of net neutrality.

The bad guys want to have a special highway on the Internet for themselves, a superhighway, a fast superhighway for themselves and then everybody else gets thrown into a dirt road, some kind of public access thing or crappy slow speed and all that kind of stuff. They want to make the Internet like ABC, CBS, and NBC, where there’s no choice and where they rule and they own everything, so we need to fight to preserve net neutrality on the Internet.

My new book talks quite a bit about that and also the fact that copyright law is totally outdated, and copyright law has been perverted. Thomas Jefferson, in no way wanted copyright law to evolve into the plaything of Rupert Murdoch and Walt Disney.

Absolutely. Now you’ve had some really big name actors in your films when they’re starting their careers. Do you still get the same kind of support from those actors now?
Well, James Gunn worked for us, and he wrote the Tromeo And Juliet movie that promotes incest, and then his next career move was to get a gig writing Scooby Doo, the most successful children’s film in history. And he had a movie that opened last night called Super with Ellen Page and Rainn Wilson and a bunch of other people, and he gave me a little part in the movie because my movies are a big influence on him, and he invited my wife and me to the opening.

And Trey Parker and Matt Stone did Cannibal! The Musical. And then they did South Park right after that, and they love Troma. Trey wrote the introduction to one of my books, and most of those people, if it’s something important, they’ll let me find them.

That’s great.
But they don’t need to be in touch with me; they’re busy.

Right. We all are.
Eli Roth, who did Hostel, he offered me a part in one of his movies. I was unfortunately busy. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who made Crank, they’re huge Troma fans and they put me in a couple of their movies. They put me in Gamer and Crank 2. So yeah, I think a lot of famous people have come out of Troma, and some of them keep in touch and some of them do not.

Samuel Jackson’s first movie was made possible by the fact that we financed it, and I can’t say he’s been terribly interested in Troma. But some of them are; some of them aren’t. Oliver Stone and I grew up together, and he got interested in movies because I was making movies, and he worked on my first couple of movies. And then he became a big success, and he has dropped me. But again, he’s busy and what the hell.

I know, but that’s just a shame.
Some of them are very much influenced by me, and then they keep in touch, and then some of them who I didn’t even work with are very much in touch. People like Guillermo del Torro is a Troma fan. Takashi Miike never worked for us, but he’s a big Troma [fan], he’s been very much influenced by us.

Gaspar Noé in France, the movies that I’ve written and directed have been a big influence. People like Quentin Tarantino and Peter Jackson, they all are very fond of Troma. Even Kevin Smith. They either have been influenced by Troma or they just happen to like the fact that we’re still there. We’re like the herpes of the movie industry; we refuse to go away. We won’t go away.

I enjoyed The Toxic Avenger and there’s actually a couple of films that I missed in the theaters that I’m going to go back and track them down and watch them.
Well, if you have a minute, Terror Firmer is very interesting, and that movie is based on my first book, which was my memoir All I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger, which by the way James Gunn wrote and I co-wrote. The theme of Terror Firmer is the independent movie maker trying to keep his act going in the face of this overpowering conglomerate mainstream environment and how the goofy artificial violence of his low-budget movies intersects with the realistic violence of a sexually confused serial killer. Terror Firmer is a really interesting movie, but it got lost in the shuffle. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are involved in it, Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead is in it, Ron Jeremy – there are all sorts of interesting people in it.

And it’s a good movie; it’s my most personal movie. Tromeo And Juliet and Toxic Avenger and the Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, and Troma’s War, those movies had a much wider release. And Citizen Toxie, of course, the most recent Toxic Avenger [movie], had 300 or 400 theaters. But Terror Firmer just didn’t, for some reason, it’s so… in its day it was so crazy, 1999. The movie just was too far out, but if you look at it now, it’s really a very good movie.

Well, that was one of the ones that was actually on my list, and I do want to go back and watch Poultrygeist.
Yeah, Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead. It’s got some singing and dancing, anti-fast food movie. It’s got some interesting social statements. Trey Parker and Matt Stone – if you look at their South Park – they used to – in fact I interviewed them after Cannibal! The Musical, and they said they used to have Toxic Avenger parties when they were in college. They’re very much influenced by Troma.

So what are you working on? Do you have any films in production now?
Right now, we have a film that Travis Campbell and Justin Martell made, two young Troma boys, and it’s called Mr. Bricks. Michael Hurst and I helped them, and it’s going to be released in theaters by Troma. And Mr. Bricks is a heavy metal murder musical. It has some singing and dancing, but it’s a very serious, dark musical. And then we’re editing Father’s Day, which is a lovely film that some young guys directed for us in Canada, and I play both God and the devil in that movie. And let’s see what else?

Then of course, Brett Ratner’s company has re-made Mother’s Day, my brother’s movie. That’s one you ought to see. The original Mother’s Day is sensational. You’d have fun with that; it’s really great social satire, and Eli Roth has seen it over 250 times – Eli Roth who has been in Troma movies and then went on to make Hostel and Cabin Fever and blah, blah, blah. He loves Troma.

Oh, The Toxic Avenger has been signed up for a remake by Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar winner. He won the Oscar for writing A Beautiful Mind, and he’s hired Steven Pink to write and direct the remake of Toxic Avenger. Steven did directing and writing for Hot Tub Time Machine and High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank, all of which are brilliant films.

Yeah, I love all three films. I have a hard time thinking – when you say those movies and I think Toxic Avenger, I just wonder how that will turn out as a remake.
It all depends on if they get a good director. If they get Michael Bay, it will suck. If they get the woman who did The Kids Are All Right, it will suck. But Steven Pink, I think he’s going to make something really good.

Yeah, that’ll be interesting.
Yeah, I think it’ll be terrific, and they’re going to spend $100 million if they actually get it together. I mean, they still have to get it greenlit, but they paid us some money, and they’re good guys, and I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be kind of cool.

I think it might be cool, too. If it gets out there, I’ll definitely go see it.
Me too.

So now it’s time for The CB3. These are the three questions we always ask our interviewees.
Sure, of course.

Thriller or Purple Rain?
What? What? Penis is how big? That’s a terrible question! What are you talking about?

(Laughing) I’m sorry. I mumbled.
Is it erect, or flaccid?

Which do you prefer? Thriller or Purple Rain?
Oh, oh, that question. Oh, I’m sorry.

Though I do prefer erect, personally.
(Laughing) I would suggest Purple Rain.

Okay. And Debbie Gibson or Tiffany?
Well, with those two, I would think it’s which one makes me puke faster, and I would say Tiffany.

You know, I have to point out, she’s got a great rack now that she’s older. I’m really impressed by that for some reason.
Who’s that, Tiffany?

Yeah, but the leading gynos in my movies, they’re usually lithe and small-breasted, the leads. And I prefer the sort of thin, modestly busted.

Then you like Debbie Gibson.
I mean we do have Tromettes, who have small clothing and very big… brains. Brains.

Okay, and our last question is Pretty In Pink or Sixteen Candles?
I preferred Sixteen Candles, and that’s a curious question because they’re both John Hughes movies, so it’s kind of weird because they’re – why John Hughes? Why not say, do you prefer The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or Tobacco Road, both John Ford movies, or – it’s kind of a random – it’s an interesting question. I’m kind of curious why your editor chooses two John Hughes movies.

Well, I asked him that.
Or why not two teenage angst movies by two different directors?

Well, it’s funny because I went back and I did ask him that question, and we do a segment on Culture Brats called Criss Cross Counter Punch, where we’ll debate the better of two movies or two videos and what not, and he said he literally picked three of our Criss Cross Counter Punches for these questions.

We did one on the better John Hughes movie, and he thought that’d be an interesting question to ask on interviews.
Oh, okay. That’s interesting. Are there any bad John Hughes movies?

I’m not sure there are.
What happened to him? Is he still active because he was great. His scripts were very well done.

He really was, and I’m not sure what the last movie he did was. I mean I know that he basically set the standard for teenage movies.
Well, he sure – certainly for his era, he did. No question about it, he raised the bar and made some wonderful films. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but strange because it seems that – I just heard that the guy who did Sex, Lies, And Videotape that he said he’s going to stop making movies because he’s too old or something.

He’s not old – I mean if he’s old, I’m dead. It’s weird; it’s interesting how some people stop. I mean it is very, very hard to direct independent movies just because you’re always fighting against your budget and time and the clock and – that’s interesting. You wonder why somebody like John Hughes – you just don’t hear about them suddenly. And he was so good; he was so popular, so successful.

Absolutely. And I hate to hear that people are stopping because of their age because I personally feel like I’m just starting my career.
Well, Soderbergh’s not that old. I mean I’m 65, and I can still – I mean I think I can.

Well, I’m 40, and I’m thinking I’m just taking off now, so…

Yeah, Allan Dwan made movies into his 80s. This guy Oliveira in Portugal is 99 years old. He’s still directing movies.

It’s weird, but I read this somewhere online, so maybe Soderbergh – it could just be bologna, who knows? I mean artists are artists. They go through stages. Some of them change medium. They might be a painter, and then they might go into collages, and then they might go into making mobiles or whatever.

Very true, very true.
Luckily, I’m a foot fetishist, so I stick to my trade; I stay in my lane.

Well, thank you so much for talking with us. It was a pleasure.
Great, best wishes.

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