22nd April 2011

Cinespect Q&A with Lloyd Kaufman

posted in News |

(click here for original source article)

Some may know and love him best as the co-founder of Troma, Tromadance and the creator of The Toxic Avenger. Others may recognize him as the purveyor of breakthrough talent like the creators of “South Park,” Trey Parker and Matt Stone. He’s also known for authoring books that address that ins and outs of filmmaking such as “Make Your Own Damn Movie: Secrets of a Renegade Director.” However best you know him there’s no denying the influence Lloyd Kaufman has had on filmmakers and audiences for more than 40 years – and who better to let you know it than Lloyd Kaufman himself.

Cinespect talked with Lloyd Kaufman just before the commencement of his film festival, Tromadance, which begins today, April 22 and runs until tomorrow, April 23, to talk Tromadance, Troma, filmmaking, conglomerates, and more.

For those readers that are not familiar with Tromadance could you sum up how it began, why you started it and why it left Park City? And how did the move from Park City to New Jersey treat Tromadance last year?

Well, we started Tromadance about 12 years ago but the seed was planted maybe 15 years ago when we brought “Cannibal! The Musical.” Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the “South Park” boys, made a Troma release called “Cannibal! The Musical.” Trey and Matt paid the entry fee for Sundance and they never even received a fuck you letter. We went out to Sundance and Trey and Matt showed “Cannibal! The Musical” in a one movie film festival: the “Cannibal! The Musical” Film Festival, basically. And it was a big hit! It was at the same place and the same time as Sundance. So, then I got the idea: why should Sundance, a film festival that—based on Trey and Matt and my experience at Sundance—seems to hate independent filmmakers. They like Harvey Weinstein, they like creepy lawyers with pigtails and bald heads and black turtleneck sweaters. but they don’t seem to like independent filmmakers very much. Unless they’re named Woody Allen or whatever. Or Fox Searchlight. Fox Searchlight is a vassal of the conglomerate. It’s not independent.

So we set up Tromadance to be a festival with no entry fee. You can enter your movie for free. You just send them in and the committee decides if they get into the festival but you don’t have to pay. Quite frankly it is my opinion that Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, they’re all pretty well…I hate to used the word ‘fixed’ but I think that most of the movies that they spotlight are either by famous directors or championed by big-time companies like Sony Classics, Fox Searchlight, etc. I don’t think that these festivals are really doing the job of spotlighting new, emerging, truly independent art. So we decided no entry fee. You can go to Tromadance and see the movies for free. And we have a ‘No V.I.P.’ policy because the big festivals seem to revel in keeping people out. That seems to be what motivates the bureaucrats and the elitists that run most of these festivals.

I just spoke to somebody that said that the only way he could get into South by Southwest was by paying a $500 ticket, some kind of all-inclusive ticket, otherwise he couldn’t even enter. I don’t know if that’s true but I know that at some point I tried to go to Sundance and they wanted $2,500.

So for 10 years we were in Park City, Utah. The same town as Sundance and we were there at the same time as Sundance and we got quite a bit of attention. I believe that as a result of our publicity, which included the front pages of the entertainment sections of some newspapers such as Salt Lake City Tribune, our message, criticizing Sundance, was read by the people at Sundance and perhaps some of the other media that was interested in Tromadance; and it may have influenced Sundance a bit.

It seems that fairly recently they made a genuine attempt to reach out to the independent film community and have actually selected some genuinely independent films that are not brought to them by the big producers’ reps. Also, the staff of Sundance seems to have taken some sensitivity courses because they seem to be much nicer to the independent filmmakers that want to try and get in to see movies and stuff like that. When there are a couple of seats they actually let the filmmakers in.

At the same time Tromadance outgrew Park City. We had three venues there but two of them were very inconvenient and the one that was on Main St. was too small. So we were invited to Asbury Park, New Jersey, and we moved there last year. New Jersey is of course the home of the Toxic Avenger and Tromaville, which is where our movies take place. And it went off quite nicely. It’s also a lot easier that it’s not in a place that requires boots, winter coats and Asbury Park seems to like Tromadance. I think it’s a little different from the way it was at Sundance. The first year or second year of Tromadance a couple of our volunteers were thrown in jail by the Park City police because they were handing out leaflets. It’s not allowed to hand out leaflets in Park City, apparently. They say that’s solicitation. They use the anti-prostitution law or something. Whatever it is two of our guys got put in jail. I think they had to stay overnight. And Toxie’s mop was confiscated once because it was considered a weapon.

Also, we had a volunteer 2 or 3 years ago with an accordion and he was told he could not play an accordion on the street. But half a block away was a really shitty heavy metal band that was playing for Sundance and was making a hell of a lot more noise than the accordion player. At any rate we’re very happy in Asbury Park and the people there are extremely eager and appreciate and blah, blah, blah.

You can go to www.tromadance.com and the schedule, the program, the movies, the mission statement, everything about the festival is there in a much more concise and entertaining manner.

To the best of my knowledge it’s pretty unique for a festival to not charge the filmmakers for submissions or to not charge their audiences money to see the films…

Yes, I think we’re the only one. I don’t think there’s any other festival like that. And we’re in our 12th year, that’s what’s so crazy but it’s not a great business model (laughs). We have no revenue. I have a daughter who just got out of Harvard Business School. I don’t think they taught her this particular business model.

Yea (laughs). I was just curious how you manage to sustain a film festival for 12 years without charging audiences or filmmakers…

If there’s a deficit then Troma pays. In the early years Troma paid all of it. We had money in those days. Now we have some sponsors. This year we’ve got Focal Press; they’re actually my publisher, they publish my books and they’re part of Elsevier. Brooklyn Beer, which is sponsoring the opening night party. G4, Troma, obviously. All of our staff are volunteers. I don’t select the movies because if I did obviously everything would be sex and violence, exclusively. But Jonathan Lees, who’s been our curator all this time, has a committee that goes through thousands of movies and comes up with a really great roster of wonderful selections. Bill Plympton is the special guest this year; then we’ve got the New York State Film Commissioner; Mike Gingold, who is the managing editor of Fangoria. They’ll all be on the panel, which I’m moderating. There are certain expenses we can’t get around obviously like posters, programs, renting the venue, transportation…I think the budget is $30,000. But all the labor is free. And again, if there’s a deficit then Troma has to pick it up. Somehow we’ve been able to stagger along with keeping it all free.

Also, our fans help us! We have a PayPal button. I’ve got about 8,000 fans on Twitter. I probably have a universe of about 15,000 fans who are on my Facebook and Twitter and on the Lloyd Kaufman fan sites. So they’ve sent in some money through PayPal. You know, $5 here, $20 there, nothing huge.

Now, when you mentioned Troma studios before you said that “…back when it was making money…;” what kind of shape is Troma in in terms of finding talent, scripts, audiences?

We… have never been more famous. I can travel everyday for free and get paid to appear at certain places like festivals; I do “Make Your Own Damn Movie” master classes – I could be doing that 365 days. But the business sucks. We are economically blacklisted. The business has never been worse even though our movies are the best they’ve ever been and we’re more famous than ever even though you can’t find our movies anywhere. The perfect example is “Citizen Toxie.” which got pretty decent reviews in the New York Times and other places where it played in movie theaters. I think it sold 200,00 or 300,000 DVDs with no advertising. But yet it’s never been on any kind of broadcast TV, not even Skinemax.

I’ll tell you a better example! “Cannibal! The Musical.” It sold almost as many DVDs as “Citizen Toxie” and yet it’s never been on TV, not even Comedy Central and “Cannibal! The Musical” has no nudity. There’s no reason to reject it other than it’s from Troma, other than it’s truly independent. So business sucks. We’ve never had a movie, ever, not even the original “Toxic Avenger,” in Blockbuster and now they’re broke. And the other big chains have gone bankrupt so the DVD market is pretty slim. And because the media industry has consolidated the rules that used to prevent monopoly have been done away with, you know that, right? Ronald Reagan did away with the consent decree of 1948, which made it against the law for the movie theaters to be owned by the major conglomerates because they wanted to have competition. But Reagan’s administration got rid of that and that’s why basically you have every movie theater owned and controlled by the major conglomerates.

The other problem that occurred was when Clinton was president. The rule that prevented vertical integration of television was done away with, the financial syndication rule, which stated that the networks were required to show a certain amount of independent content. When that rule was done away with that was the death of many independent movie companies and if you go around the battlefield it is littered with the dead bodies of movie companies who haven’t been able to survive; not because of bad movies but because of economic blacklisting. Troma survives because—we’re almost in our 40th year—it survives because of our brand. We have a loyal fan base. And the movies we make have something that Adam Sandler will never have and that’s good word of mouth.

Take “Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.” That played in about 300 movie theaters. Not all at once. It opened in L.A. and New York: two theaters in L.A., one in New York. It got very good reviews in the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, etc. And then one by one we got theaters across the country. In fact we’re still getting theatrical bookings for “Poultrygeist” even though the DVD has been out for two years. “Combat Shock,” a movie we executive produced in the ‘80s didn’t break even for 15 years but word of mouth made it a pretty good seller. So we have the word of mouth thing that helps us but, unfortunately, no TV.

This is what’s interesting: we’re blacklisted. No Blockbuster, nothing on TV since Bill Clinton. Yet these guys are remaking “Mother’s Day.” It has been remade by Brett Ratner and now “Toxic Avenger” has been signed to be remade for about 100 million bucks and they’re going to make it PG-13 and it’s going to be directed by Steven Pink, who directed and wrote “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “High Fidelity.” Now another big company wants to remake “Class of Nuke ‘Em High.” But yet nobody wants to play our films. They want to kill us because we’re independent.

Is it true that you’re executive producing “The Toxic Avenger?” Are you going to be hands on with the remake?

No. Executive producing is correct. But there was a musical of “Toxic Avenger” that played in New York for a year written by the same guys that just got the Tony for “Memphis.” In fact Bon Jovi’s keyboard guy wrote the music. The “Toxic Avenger” musical played here for a year and won best Off-Broadway musical and is touring and playing in some other countries but I had nothing to do with it other than helping them out with publicity. The movie itself I will have very little to do with it, I imagine. Obviously I’m available if they want me.

Do you feel that it’s pointless to hope that maybe these remakes will bring in people that wouldn’t otherwise see your films because the remakes are targeting more mainstream audiences?

I can tell you that when people see our movies they are more often than not pleasantly surprised. The problem is that they don’t know about us because the media ignores us. Troma had its 35th year here in New York. There wasn’t one word in any New York newspaper or on any New York radio station or television station. We’ve got a payroll in New York for people that would clearly be on welfare if we didn’t pay them. We’ve got 800 movies, we made “The Toxic Avenger,” we made Kevin Costner’s first movie, Samuel Jackson was in a Troma movie. James Gunn, who wrote “Tromeo and Juliet,” he just opened “Super” with Ellen Page and everybody who’s reviewed it says it’s a Troma movie. Clearly, we have a huge footprint and yet we are blacklisted. We are trivialized. We are ignored. I mean Judah Friedlander from “30 Rock” has discovered our movies. He wears our fucking t-shirts on “30 Rock.” He just discovered us, he loves us.

Yet we’re on the outside looking in and we don’t exist. It’s like Russia. They take away your passport, you’re not a citizen. They don’t kill you anymore. Stalin killed everybody. Nowadays they don’t kill you. They just make you a non-person.

So would you say it has less to do with audiences not being open minded so much as it is a handful of people who’ve got the money and influence getting to say who sees what?

We live in an age of cartel. We live in an age where Rupert Murdoch has colonized the world of art. We live in an age where a small number of devil worshipping, international media conglomerates control everything we read in the newspapers, everything we see in museums, everything we watch in the movie theaters, everything we see on television, radio, everything is owned by two or three giant groups and they’ve colonized the internet! And colonizing has not worked ever. And just ask the French. We’ve got Libya going on right now because of colonization.

Rupert Murdoch is going to be running the world. We’re all going to be living in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” “1984” but nobody listens to me, that’s the problem. The New York Times is a running dog of these media conglomerates. They run the needle of the advertisers. Even Variety is basically bankrupt. They’re lucky they’re owned by a giant conglomerate that’s trying to sell them but nobody wants to buy Variety. If you get Variety they have no ads. For 25 years it was the house organ of Viacom, Rupert Murdoch, and Sony and they’ve killed off the people that used to advertise like Troma. We used to advertise in Variety but there’s no purpose in advertising in it because nobody reads it. And now you just have the big companies every once in a while that wave their cocks up in the air to show the other big elephants who has the bigger cock: Rupert Murdoch or Sumner Redstone?

Now am I bitter? I’m not bitter, no, no, no, I’m just a happy guy!

Is there anyone in this business that you can look up to, that you can trust, that’s OK by you, basically?

Yes, there are a number of mainstream directors with whom I’ve worked that are good like James Gunn, he’s a good guy. Eli Roth is very talented, he’s been in some of our movies, he’s a big Troma fan and he’s a good guy and incredibly successful. John Avildsen was sort of a mentor of mine back in the old days. We distributed “Cry Uncle,” which Avildsen directed. I was a partner on that movie. Great guy, clearly talented. Yea, there are plenty of artists who have been able to negotiate the mainstream who I respect, absolutely. Oliver Stone, I don’t necessarily respect him but I think he’s extremely talented. He started with me. He wouldn’t have gone into movies if not for me. We grew up together. But he’s certainly honorable, talented, gets what he wants and is able to negotiate the corridors of power. Roger Corman, he’s a great guy, he’s totally independent. He’s much more mainstream than I am but he’s a really top quality guy. I respect him a lot.

Now on your Wikipedia page it mentions that you were in the same class with George W. Bush along with Oliver Stone. I know you can’t fully trust those things so I have to ask first of all if that’s true? This is me trying to fish for an anecdote.

Bush used to go around campus during freshman year constantly looking for weapons of mass destruction. Figure that one out.

Actually, I bought a bolex when I was at Yale—a bolex is not an STD—a bolex is a wind-up camera. We made a feature-length movie called “The Girl Who Returned” and Oliver would hang out on the set and he got into film because I did. He was trying to be James Joyce and failing miserably but it turned out he was extremely talented as a filmmaker. He’s one of America’s premier movie directors. He’s got so many Oscars he’s had to have his mantelpiece reinforced probably.

Now am I quoting you correctly when you said you didn’t really respect him or…

No, I don’t like him, he’s not a nice person. I respect his talent and uh…99 percent of the people in the movie industry are scum. He’s not a crook, he’s not scummy, he’s got 100 percent integrity but that doesn’t mean he’s a good guy.

Fair enough. Have you ever gotten into a serious argument with a detractor of your films? Do you have many detractors?

No, actually. The mainstream critical world has given us pretty good reviews. There have been major retrospectives at the American Film Institute; Jonas Mekas did a 20 film retrospective at Anthology Film Archives; the Cinémathèque Française, British Film Institute, Moscow, all of the premier archival organizations and films museums have done retrospectives. The Dutch Film Museum did one about six months even though we have no European distribution anywhere. The retrospective was packed, they had to bring in folding chairs. So clearly people like our movies. The problem is they can’t find our movies.

I don’t get too much criticism. I wouldn’t even mind that. What I object to is the fact that we’re marginalized. We’re dismissed. Not one person in the media cared that Troma had 35 years. Where would Samuel Jackson be if we hadn’t invested in the movie he debuted in? What would have happened to “South Park?” Well, I think they would have made it anyway, they’re so talented. Hayao Miyazaki, we introduced him to American audiences but nobody gives us any credit. In fact The New Yorker did a big piece on Miyazaki and credited Harvey Weinstein with bringing him to America. After we lost money on “My Neighbor Tortoro,” which was the first movie of his that came to the attention of the American public, then Disney bought up his library. We proved that these people liked Miyazaki but they didn’t even mention us. According to them Harvey Weinstein discovered Hayao Miyazaki. We didn’t exist.

Would you say you’ve gotten your due in a way that matches what you dreamed of when you first got into the business?

I’m extremely lucky, there’s no question. Michael Herz and I are very appreciative of our fans. We wouldn’t be here without our fans. We make movies that are better than 99 percent of the movies worldwide. Our movies are better, we know it. But we’d be among the dead bodies of movie directors that litter the battlefield of art were it not for our fans. We are fortunate that we have very active, aggressive and hardworking fans. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll see. They retweet everything. Right now we’ve got fans out in New Jersey handing out leaflets, putting posters in store windows just because they love Troma and Tromadance. For example whenever “Poultrygeist” would play in a movie theater outside of the major cities the fans were out there promoting it. We didn’t have to advertise. We don’t have the money to advertise. In New York and L.A. we did advertise quite a bit but nothing compared to “Raiders of the Lost Ark: Skullfucker (a.k.a. Part 4).”

Last question: are there are any films, filmmakers, etc. that will or have gotten you out of the house lately?

I just saw “Win Win.” I go to a lot of movies. I’m trying to think of one I saw recently that was very good…well, “The Social Network” was great. That was a wonderful film. You couldn’t ask for a better movie in my opinion. That was a perfect movie and it was mainstream and no denying it. “Black Swan” was pretty good, nothing wrong with that. Saw “The King’s Speech” in the theater, which was trite bullshit. That one should have been on Masterpiece Theater. Public TV, that’s all that was. “Enter the Void” was great, that’s a masterpiece. What’s wrong with that? It was in one theater but it’s terrific. I went to see “Super” on opening night but I’m in that movie, got to see it for free. My wife is New York State Film Commissioner so she gets invited to a lot of screenings so…New York state has incentives, they pay you back part of the budget if you shoot in New York state. So we go to see a lot of those movies that are made in New York state. There’s something out there now, “Uncle Boonmee,” that I’d like to see. There’s always good stuff, it’s just at times very hard to see but it’s out there.

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