By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Getting to talk to Lloyd Kaufman, the cheerleader for Troma Entertainment, is a treat for this journalist. He’s very knowledgeable about the industry and he has more than 40 years of experience in knowing how to entertain the masses. One of his long-standing philosophies in life is to share what he knows and not play with the evil conglomerates. His work in the independent B-movie scene is well-respected, and perhaps the best way to summarize his thoughts is in what he said, “We’re all friends of the underground and it’s very important to help develop each other’s well-being.”
That not only in reference to lifestyle changes needed to emotionally succeed but also in how he conducts business at Tromaville, or rather, Troma central. When considering all that he’s experienced in his road to recognition and the fact the Toxic Avenger franchise put Troma Entertainment on the map, people are asking what’s next? The big question is in what’s happening about the big screen treatment that’s been limping along in development. Sadly, Kaufman is not in the loop with every detail. He notes that Steve Pink is a fervent supporter of Troma products and that a script exists. Kaufman knows that the product is in very capable hands and when it does go into production, he will have a cameo in it much like how he appeared in Guardians of Galaxy, directed by James Gunn (also a supporter since Troma was where he got his start).
Kaufman is very happy that a handful of films his company produced do have moguls in Hollywood interested. Just when it will arrive will depend on the ultimate thing that even plagues this business: where’s the money? Until that comes, Troma Movies has a YouTube Channel offering 250 of their films for free and lessons in how to get into the film industry.
“We’re doing this to thank our fans who’ve supported us over the 43 years we’ve been operating,” said Kaufman.
Both he and Michael Herz founded this studio and together, they will conquer the world. They are the dynamic duo of the B-movie world. His wife, Patricia Swinney, has also helped. As Kaufman likes to note, she’s a retired New York Film Commissioner. Together, they make for an interesting dynamic of how both sides of a film industry can work together
I had a chance to really chat with Kaufmanator to get his take in what’s going on in the industry today.
This group really understands what we do. They celebrate Troma and they get the sophisticated themes that are buried within what some people might say [is simply about] sex and violence. They get the political statement’s being made and that’s really satisfying for me to know.
The fans who attended also gave great ideas generally on what’s going on in the world of underground film so there was a really intelligent fan base here. It was really great, it was terrific.
ES: And now that you’ll be appearing at Island Fantasy Convention this Halloween in Victoria, BC, what can fans expect from your presence there?
We’re going to have the Canadian premiere of Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV and quite possibly the debut of Extreme Jukebox. I’ll be bringing the original mask too. Of course, I’ll have my special selection of stuff to sell. I’m going to have at least 20 different video titles along with T-shirts, mugs, beers, etc. We’ll have Toxic Avenger cups and we might bring shot glasses too. And I will sign any TROMAbilia for free.
You’d be surprised where people have asked me to put my signature on. I’ve seen many people with Toxic Avenger tattoos and my face … but they usually put my face on their ass. My wife is not so fond of that.
ES: Are there any other films or presentations?
We could also show volume one of Return to Nuke ‘Em High, which hasn’t had any screenings in BC that I know of. And we can have the focus group for the rough cut of Volume Two. I did one at University of Southern California and we handed out questionnaires. We had 150 people giving us very good feedback in how to improve the film.
I will be presenting a two-hour version of How to Make Your Own Damn Movie master class. I got examples of how we raise money, how we do special effects, how we squash a head, open a movie. I’ve taught this course worldwide.
ES: Prior to dedicating yourself as a filmmaker at post-secondary, did any of your course work in college influence your filmmaking style? That is, as most readers know, you majored in Chinese Studies.
When I was in high school, I thought it heavily emphasized western culture. I studied Latin and French [for example]. When it was time for Yale, I decided to devote my time to studying Asia and Africa. In fact, I stayed a year in Chad — central Africa — in the bush, no electricity, no phones, no running water … it was difficult.
But afterwards, since coming home, I’ve led my life according to Daoism (the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi) and I believe in the Yin and Yang. They certainly govern the universe. You can’t have the good without the evil, comedy without the tragedy … they’re all together. I believe going with the flow of nature than against it. I’d say [what I learned about] Chinese philosophy has become very much a part of my life, and as part of my Asian Studies, what I learned certainly had an influence when filming Toxic Avenger part 2 in Tokyo and it was also prominent in the creation of Sgt Kabukiman N.Y.P.D..
When you look at Tromeo and Juliet, you will see Daoist signs. Where I put it is subtle, but it’s everywhere.
ES: And as I’ve heard, that’s also influenced how you run your business.
In our Troma building in New York, yes. We have one big room just like in Japan when I visited in 1967. Here, all the people can talk to each other openly. They don’t have private offices. Maybe the executives do, but it seemed to me that most of the people in the corporations have a huge room to talk in. I liked that idea and that’s how we run Troma all these years.
When we were making Return to Nuke ‘Em High, we lived in a vacant funeral home. Most of the people slept on the floor, they had air mattresses, and only the two stars had their own room. We had about 80 people living together in that space for three weeks!
ES: Wasn’t that really creepy?
Yes. It was haunted too. Some of the cast and crew said that they saw ghosts. According to the New York Times, the Mafia owned the place and they did kill people downstairs in the basement. They were brought down to the basement, killed and incinerated … Now how cool is that? I mean, you can work for [Steven] Spielberg and yet, you will not get to see the real thing You can work for Ching Siu-tung (A Chinese Ghost Story) and might be making movies about spirits but won’t see them. If you go on our YouTube channel, you can see some documentaries that we have made about the places we’ve been. It’s mostly about the movies we made, but there, you can see what we’ve done.
ES: I imagine that these reels are more about showing the community spirit that’s developed in the crew instead of the ghost stories, eh?
Yes, you can see what we’ve done. Some of them become very close friends. A few even married. Of course, there will be some fights. In our film, Poultrygeist, Poultry in Motion: Truth Is Stranger Than Chicken, you can really see what goes on behind the scenes. It’s about 90 minutes long.
ES: What’s the one thing you’ve noticed from all the people that’s become part of the Troma Cooperative?
You’ll see that people will make lifelong friendships while working here. In fact, Asta Paredes and Clay Von Carlowitz (Return to Nuke ‘Em High) are getting married. Even Robert Prichard and Jennifer Babtist (Slug and Wanda in Toxic Avenger) got married, had children and divorced. Oh, the cycle!
ES: Which is pretty much what yin and yang is about.
That’s just the nature of the game. It’s very intense. For the most part, it happens. I can tell you James Gunn made a lifelong friend when we were making Tromeo and Juliet.
I say the Tromic experience is pretty interesting. We’re here for making art. It’s not about making money or getting the glamour. We’re not Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian. We want to make a film that people will really be impressed with. Plenty of famous people got their start with us like Samuel L. Jackson, Eli Roth, Kevin Costner and Oliver Stone.
When you go to California, I think almost every film company there will have had someone who got their start with Troma.
Even Mark Torgl is doing well. I think he specializes in editing trailers now. He’s working on putting the finishing touches to a mockumentary called Toxic Tutu, which is an homage about him and his life after playing Melvin. You may be able to find clips online.
ES: When did you discover him?
He appeared in The First Turn On, originally as part of the crew as a scriptwriter, and this was the movie we made before Toxic Avenger. It’s a very funny raunch comedy and it’s Vincent D’Onofrio’s first movie. He’s a big star these days and appears in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
I immediately knew Torgl was funny and I had him appear in the dinner scene. What he did cracked me up! From there, I asked and he agreed to play Melvin; the rest is history.
ES: With such a huge fan base of your products, where do you see the growth happening? That is, there is Tromadance (for other indie films).
We are still a very small company and our emphasis is in making movies, which is what we are more about. People come along and they can easily license t-shirts from us, toys, and etc. In fact, I believe there are Toxic Avenger energy drinks and beer.
It’s possible that if somebody wanted to do a proper convention they can talk to us and get the rights to do it. But I think for us, we have too many things in our plate. Like we’re still working on Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 2. It’s taking us 3 to 4 years now, since we started to try to finish it up.
ES: When do you hope to have Volume 2 out?
It should be completed by the end of the year, Volume 2, but we are victims of the international conglomerates control all the theatres. We have to find a venue to show this product.
[Before releasing it,] I want to make it really, really good so fans will be happy. We don’t have the big money, so we can’t go fast. We have a small staff in the office and lot of the work is stuff we have to do ourselves. We can’t bring in specialists to create the effects and do colour correcting of the negative. There’s also the sound work and that takes a long time.
ES: What can you reveal about the story?
Volume 1 left off on a cliffhanger and Volume 2 continues the story where you will see the evil Herskoff, owner of the Troma Organic Foodstuffs business, developing his nefarious plan and you’ll see how the beautiful romantic lesbian lovers will have to fight him. But I don’t want to be a spoiler.
ES: What do you know about Toxic Avenger, the Musical?
The New York Broadway production played for one year, and I loved it. I heard it cost six million dollars to produce. They invited me to go to Hawaii for a show, and we even went to Toronto where I was brought in to host. It’s played in 15 cities now. I think they are booking it as a road show or something. I’m happy to hear it’s coming to Vancouver. I know that MTI agency just licenses the rights to local groups, universities and the like so they can put on the production. I wish them, the Vancouver group [Last Chance Productions] the best.
ES: Will there be more Toxic Avenger from you?
Yes, we’ve written the fifth Toxic Avenger, but unfortunately we don’t have any money to produce it. Other than that everything’s great. But other than that full steam ahead. I’m being ironic. So we’ve got to somehow find someone who’ll give us enough.
ES: Well you can always and move base to Canada where you can get more support.
Maybe, maybe but I have to finish Volume 2 of Return to Nuke ‘Em High. Once I finish that, I can turn my attention to trying to find some money and to get the Toxic Avenger Part Five organized. We want to make it in Chernobyl. That’s the setting we’re going to use.
We actually had a billionaire from Ukraine who was going to give us about half the money but then the civil war in the Ukraine broke out and the Russians came in … The daughter is a big fan of our works and she wanted to break into the movie industry. She got her father to agree to pay for half of the movie but unfortunately they’ve disappeared now. So we’re up a river without a paddle.
ES: What’s in the future for Uncle Lloyd?
LK: Fernando Alle, the special effects person for Return to Nuke ‘Em High Volume 1 and Volume 2 wrote a script called Mutant Blast that we are financing. He will direct it and he asked me to play a small part so we’ll go to Portugal in December to hang out a bit and I’ll make a cameo.
He also made a made a 45min movie called Banana Motherf*** that we’re also going to distribute. You gotta look for it!
ES: How does it feel for you to see your crew move on make their own independent work or make ways into the Hollywood system, or elsewhere in the entertainment industry?
It’s a great honour, its wonderful! They remember me and keep Troma alive at the same time.
I feel that it’s very difficult for us to be a 100% independent movie studio. We have no help from the mainstream so we really depend on you, James Gunn, Eli Roth and those folks to keep us going.
ES: Do you have anything to say in closing?
Thank you to all our Troma fans that have supported us for over 40 years. To those who want to make movies, I believe Shakespeare said it best: to thine own self be true. Do what you believe in. Express your soul.