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Low Budget Legends

13Bit Interview with Lloyd Kaufman Part 2

Part two of 13Bit’s Low Budget Legends Interview series. Here, we speak with Lloyd Kaufman, the head of Troma Films and the Director of such low budget legends as “Toxic Avenger,” “Class of Nuk’em High” and “Poultrygeist.” ” Lloyd has been making classic films for over forty years, and is heavily involved in promoting and protecting the rights of independent filmmakers.

We went out to Troma HQ in Queens last fall and are proud to kick off our series with Lloyd. Here is the second of our three-part chat with him.

13BIT:

How do you distribute?

LLOYD KAUFMAN:

Oh, oh, well, the pro– the– the biggest problem with distribution, and we all face it, and Troma faces it as bad as anybody, is this cartel, that it is not a level playing field.  And, you know, what’s sad is that so many independent filmmakers, including me, are making great movies.  And we get beaten up by the media and we get beaten up by the atmosphere because we can’t penetrate the hymen of the mainstream.

We can’t get in.  We can’t get through the hymen that is of the– of this vertically integrated media.  We can’t get publicity.  And we can’t get into the movie theaters.  And we can’t get on T.V. because everything is owned by Rupert Murdoch or one of his buddies.  Rupert or Viacom or G.E. or one of the four or five conglomerates.  And by the way, when we do finally penetrate the hymen of the mainstream, we’re the ones who get fucked.  So that’s why there are very few independent movie studios that have been able to survive.

And the media would have you believe, “Well, they don’t make good movies.”  Or, you know, “They make movies with guns.”  Or, “They make, you know, cheap, tacky movies.”  90 percent of them do, probably.  But there are pantloads of excellent movies being made by independent filmmakers all over the world that nobody gets to see because there’s economic blacklisting.  And that’s the biggest problem.  And Poultrygeist:  Night of the Chicken Dead was number one on May 9, 2008, number one screen in the country.

And what happened?  What happened?  Two weeks later Poultrygeist was thrown out of the cinema village but because Indiana Jones Skullfucker wanted every screen in the world.  They couldn’t give us one little screen?  No.  So we had to go find another movie theater.  But, whenever you change movie theaters, you always lose most of the momentum.  And we still staggered along — for two or three months in New York.  But, you know, as much as our fans spread the word, it’s, you know, we couldn’t survive, especially at a theater that had less than 100 seats.

13BIT:

So, what’s the deal with Hollywood?

LLOYD KAUFMAN:

Well, the good news is that even though the marketplace has become a closed shop, basically– sorry, this chair is squeaking.  Even though, you know, we are excluded from the banquet that this small number of overpaid executives have, we have new technology.

You can make movies for nothing.  For the first time in history– and I’m– what I’m saying is obvious, you can– the art of cinema has become democratized.  It’s like automobiles.  When cars first were invented, you had to be really rich to own a car.  You had to have the equivalent of half a million bucks to buy a car, to own a car, which was a huge amount of money.  And then Henry Ford comes along.  And suddenly everybody can have a car.  And by the ’50s, everyone did have a car.

So now, thanks to the digital technology, everyone can make a movie.  You don’t need any money.  You don’t need the $2,000 I had when I made The Girl Who Returned or the $8,000 I had when I made the 16 millimeter sync sound Battle of Love’s Return which was color and black and white and it was Oliver Stone’s first film event and played successfully in New York and actually got reviewed in The New York Times and got infinitely more publicity in 1970.

An unwatchable eight mill– an unwatchable $8,000 movie that I made called Battle of Love’s Return got reviewed infinitely more than Poultrygeist:  Night of the Chicken Dead, which was a professionally-made 35 millimeter movie made in– literally 40 years later.  And, you know, it was basically ignored by the major media.  The New York Times, when The Toxic Avenger came out in 1982, Vincent Canby reviewed it as his lead– he was the lead critic for the New York Times.  He’s dead, now.  He reviewed Toxic Avenger as the lead movie that Friday when it came out.

He knew that Troma was meaningful, that we were making independent movies and we had something to say.  And he also thought’d be fun.  “Let’s do Toxic Avenger.”  We don’t have to review the– whatever the majors have that weekend.  You know, let someone else do it.  With Poultrygeist, you know, after 40 years of filming, they put Poultrygeist in the shit column.  The– they have a column in The New York Times called “Films in Review”.  And basically, what it tells the public is, “Oh, yes, High School Musical, that’s the big movie this weekend, folks.  It’s great bec– it’s terrific.”  And they twist themselves into pretzels.

Scott– A.O. Scott will twist himself into a pretzel the talk about how great the farting in Harold and Kumar Go to Guantanamo, how socially significant the defecation and toilet humor is in Harold and Kumar Go to Guantanamo.  But meanwhile, Poultrygeist, which is socially significant and which has singing and dancing and huge amounts of explosive diarrhea, they put that in the shit column.  They put that in the column that says, “Yeah, public, you know, there are these other movies.  But they’re trivial.  Don’t– you know, don’t bother with them.  But we had to put them in because, you know, there’s, you know, they’re coming out and– but we only give them two paragraphs.”

So, that’s the problem.  The media, the Times is on the needle of advertising.  They– they’re beholden to the giant $200 million ad campaigns.  They can’t survive without it.  And all the other media are– FOX is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who owns FOX Television, 20th Century FOX Studios.  So it’s a very difficult situation.

And it’s only because Troma has built up a brand name and because we have a very, very loyal fan base, who support us no matter what we do, no matter how bad– no matter how bad a movie is in that I’m acting.  I act in a lot of movies to help young filmmakers.  And no matter how bad they are, the Troma fans will buy them at conventions just because I’m in them or because Troma’s involved.  And so we have this loyal, loyal fan base.  So if you make a movie for $2,000 or $3,000, chances are you can sell it at comic con– at the conventions.  And you won’t get killed.  And you can have a job in the real world and be a real person.

LLOYD KAUFMAN:

It’s unbelievable.  And poor Stephen Holden, because Stephen Holden is, you know, from the days of Vincent Canby and Janet Maslin.  And, you know, this poor guy’s probably trying to write decent reviews.  He’s off at nightclubs, now, reviewing Tierney Sutton and, you know, cabaret singers.  He’s probably throwing up because the Times is so homogenized and distilled and corrupt.

LLOYD KAUFMAN:

But I’m not bitter.  I’m not bitter.  I love my life.  I don’t want to be in that Air France jet.  I don’t– glad I didn’t go into the ocean.  Oh, no, I want to– I want the keep going forever because life is wonderful.  Yes.

13BIT:

What is the thing that you would never skimp on?  What is the thing that you would never pay for?

LLOYD KAUFMAN:

Well, I’m working on a movie.  Nobody’s done this before.  It’s about a guy named Lumia.  And it’s so– I’m so original and so it’s going to be fantastic.  And I know that nobody’s ever done anything about Lumia.  So, you know, this is going to be great.  I can’t talk about it too much because, you know, you never know who’s listening.  But, it’s such a brilliant idea.  It’s such a brilliant– that guy was so interesting.

And– but the most important thing to me and something I would not skimp about, and we only– we don’t take ourselves seriously at Troma.  But we take our movie-making very, very seriously.  And we have three rules of production.  You can read about it in– you can read those rules.  They’re heavily mentioned in Make Your Own Damn Movie, a book published by St. Martin’s Press, one of those conglomerates that we hate and another book called Direct Your Own Damn Movie, Direct Your Own Damn Movie, published by Focal Press (PH), which is owned by an evil conglomerate that owns the evil Variety and other things.

And we don’t hate them as much because they seem to be a little more textbook oriented.  But we do hate Variety.  They suck.  Variety is absolutely the organ– it’s the school newspaper for the big conglomerates.  At any rate, don’t– don’t play around.  Don’t try to skimp on safety.  We have three rules of production at Troma, safety to humans, safety to people’s property, and then in much smaller print, make a good movie.

And on all the movies we make, we have those signs put up all over the set.  They’re everywhere.  They’re in the bathrooms.  They’re next to the coffee tables.  They’re everywhere, on the trucks.  And we make the art people, the art department– they don’t just scribble them out by hand.  These are big posters.  And they have to make very nice prints so that the people reading those signs understand that this is serious stuff.  You know?  And we’ve not– knock on wood, we’ve never had an accident.  And movie-making is very dangerous, especially with 35 equipment and the stuff we use, these old 50-year-old lamps that can fall on people’s heads and cameras that are ready the collapse on God knows what.

So, we’re– that’s the place not to skimp.  Don’t skimp on stunts.  If you’re going to do a dangerous stunt, you have to have a professional with a resume that– that has done it before.  And you have to get references and make sure that you don’t kill somebody.  Because it’s only a movie, not worth it.  And if you’re filming in somebody’s place, you don’t damage it.  You make sure that their property is not damaged.  And to me, that’s more important than anything.

So that is something I don’t skimp on.  Everything else, to hell with it, you know?  There’s no other– no reason to spend money on anything, as far as I’m concerned.  So, let me see, now.  What was I– I was getting into some other thing about the– oh, if you see Terror Firmer, made a movie called Terror Firmer, which is my most personal movie.  And it is based on my memoir, All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger.  And that book led to my making Terror Firmer which is about the making of a Troma movie.  And it’s about an independent filmmaker who believes in what he’s doing.  And maybe what he’s doing isn’t great.  Maybe it is great.  But he believes in it.

And everywhere you’ll see on the set, those signs, “Safety to humans, safety to people’s property, make a good movie,” they’re everywhere.  And Terror Firmer is a wonderful film that will give you an idea of what it’s like the make a Troma movie.  And along with that movie– that movie’s 30– that movie was 35 millimeter and cost about $350,000.  But the documentary that went with it, Farts of Darkness:  The Making of Terror Firmer, cost nothing.  Just shot on digital.  And it’s very good.  It’s extremely entertaining.  It’s been in lots of festivals.

And it’s actually made a little money for us because I think we’ve put it out occasion– some of those movies we’ve made for nothing have gone out on DVD.  And if they make, you know, a few thousand bucks, you’ve made a profit.  So the nice thing is that young people today can be school teachers.  They can be social workers.  They can do what I originally intended on doing.  They can teach people with hooks for hands how to finger paint.  They can teach bums how to paint happy faces on beads and string the beads together.

And then they can make their own damn movies.  And we got a guy who works in a liquor store, Chris Watson.  Yeah, he made Zombiegeddon.  And made Splatter– Slaughter Party, Slaughter Party.  And they– you know, the budgets are somewhere between $5,000 and fif– $15,000.  And I think he– and he’s probably made about ten movies.  We distribute two of them.  I know we’ve returned him money because they’ve gotten onto certain pay-per-view systems and DVDs.  And so he makes a little bit from each one at conventions.  And he’s still got his job at the liquor store or whatever.  That’s why I like him, of course.

But I– whatever it is, he doesn’t have to go out to Hollywood and drive a Disneymobile around their parking lot or dress up as Pinocchio.  He doesn’t have to– you know, he can be a real person and still pursue his art.  And of course, Giuseppe Andrews, who– is an actor, you’ll see him in Detroit Rock City.  He was a child actor in Independence Day.  He makes these masterpieces for, like, $1,000.  And we distrib– fact, I produced one of them.  $2,000, I think it was for an entire feature.

And, again, we lose– we don’t make money on these.  We lose money, probably.  But they’re terrific.  They are genuine masterpieces.  He shoots them on– he does everything himself, shoots on mini DVD.  And Trailer Town, Touch Me in the Morning, there’s– we’re working on a box set of his new films, including the one I financed.  And that I’m in.  I think I am a suicidal person in that one.  And it’s– they’re real art.

And again, he can– he has a day job.  He’s an actor.  And I don’t think he likes auditioning.  But he– that permits him to make his own damn movies with– and he shoots them.  He edits them.  He does the music.  He does everything.  He even acts in them.  So Giuseppe Andrews, he’s a genuine– he’s the real item.  And their stuff is great.  And people are starting to catch on.  I was in Australia for a Troma retrospective.  I look in the video store.  There’s one of Giuseppe Andrews’ movies right in the– a Troma DVD somehow got to Australia.

And Eli Roth is a big fan of his.  In fact, Eli put him in Cabin Fever.  Giuseppe plays the sheriff, the party– the partying sheriff in Cabin Fever.  And who’s the other guy who did– there’s another bigshot director who did The Dark Backward and The Detroit Rock City.  And he’s in one of my books.  I interviewed him.  I can’t remember his name.  He’s a great guy, though.  He loves Giuseppe Andrews.  And I did an in– I did a very in-depth interview with Giuseppe.  And I think that you’ll see that on the Produce Your Own Damn Movie DVD box set.

13BIT:

Do you buy into the idea that people under 30 don’t want to pay for any media?

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