Wednesday 3 July 2013

An Interview with LLOYD (Troma) KAUFMAN

Lloyd Kaufman was enrolled at Yale University in the late 1960’s working towards a degree in Chinese Studies. Thankfully for Troma Entertainment Inc’s legion of world-wide fans, Lloyd was sharing a dormitory with two film fanatics whose passion for cinema soon rubbed off on him. Together with fellow Yale student Michael Herz, Lloyd co-founded Troma in 1974, and began producing independent films on tight budgets - as well as acquiring films from outside sources.

From early raunchy comedies like SQUEEZE PLAY!, STUCK ON YOU! and WAITRESS! to their breakthrough hit THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984), and onto offerings such as the CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH trilogy, SGT. KABUKIMAN NYPD,  TROMA’S WAR, TROMEO AND JULIET and POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD; Troma Entertainment, Inc is today still going strong after nearly 40 years and has amassed a catalogue of nearly 1,000 films, cartoons, TV shows etc).

Lloyd Kaufman was recently in London at the Prince Charles Cinema (PCC) for the UK premiere of his latest directorial offering: RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH VOL.1. and on a surprisingly hot Sunday afternoon I caught up with this independent auteur of exploitation in the welcoming surroundings of the PCC’s air-conditioned bar...
First of all Lloyd I’d like to say thank you for taking the time to give me this interview...

LK: Well thank you Fleapits and Picture Palaces!
What made you choose a degree in Chinese studies at Yale?

LK: (A Diet Coke please and I’m happy to pay for it).Well I come from the traditional (do you want me to pay for that?) No, oh thank you. Note that the Prince Charles Cinema has given Bruce Springsteen AKA Lloyd Kaufman a free diet coke!

Duly noted.

LK: Deeply appreciated and what a nice cinema it is. You know I’m old. I learned French as a child at home because French was a useful language – it is no more of course, it’s a totally useless language...

Are you sure you wouldn’t like a seat?

LK: No I’m good, but you sit down.
Thank you
LK: ...and I felt that since my high school years were devoted to Western society, American and European history and culture, I should spend my Yale university years on China and Africa. I discovered there were lots of people and there must be some reason for all those people there, so I studied Chinese! I was recently in a movie - in London - yesterday in fact! I was in a film in London, a small part just because they were fans, and I was playing a Chinese pousse-pousse (pedicab) driver and that guy who they got the pousse-pousse from was Chinese and he could not speak English. Luckily I could speak a little Chinese and translate for the movie director (who was a non-male by the way – which is rare in our business). 
Is this a bad gesture in China? [Raising pinkie finger in the air – my 7 year-old daughter suggested this question].

LK: I don’t know. My daughter speaks fluent Chinese – she would know – and she has just done by the way the first Troma Meltdown in Beijing! Throwing up green fluid at The Great Wall - first time ever! 

Is it true that the first ‘film’ you shot was footage of a pig being slaughtered - which you then screened for your family?
LK: Yes, well it was kind of a short film.
Pork snuff!
LK: Pork snuff for sure. I spent a year in the Republic of Chad, with no electricity, no phones, no nothing. Because I went to all-boys schools for 20 years basically, I was very immature in my attitude toward women so Chad had lots of naked young women running around and they slaughtered animals right in the market place - so sex and violence in my beat all thanks to the Republic of Chad!
(We raise a toast to the Republic of Chad)    
I went to see THE TOXIC AVENGER when it first hit UK shores purely on the basis of a review in a London magazine called Time Out -
LK: Ah, thank you Time Out. You know I became friendly with that critic Nigel somebody or other...
LK: Yes! Nigel Floyd, a lovely guy, how is he? I haven’t seen him in years. He’s a good guy. He didn’t really get our movies – but he wanted to because we were independent - whereas the other guy from The Guardian, er...
Derek Malcolm?
LK: Yes! Derek, he got it immediately, he liked it, and I think he got ‘em. But Nigel was a wonderful guy; do send him my best...
Did you have any inkling whilst making THE TOXIC AVENGER that it would achieve the success it did?
LK: Every time we make a movie I believe it is a great film because I only make movies that I really believe in – which is why I haven’t yet started shooting TOXIC AVENGER PART V because I cannot write a script that I really believe in. It’s been four or five years and I haven’t gotten there yet so I don’t want to make it. I think RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH is fabulous, and in a fair world... And POULTRYGEIST is a great movie -
LK: - And in a fair world it would be a huge hit, it’s just that we’re independent. You know, Billy Friedkin just made an independent movie: KILLER JOE - he can’t get arrested with that – it’s a masterpiece - it’s a masterpiece - and because it’s independent it’s playing shitty movie festivals and not Cannes or you know whatever...
Back to THE TOXIE AVENGER, is it true that grandparents in the US unwittingly bought uncut copies of the film as presents for their grandchildren mistaking it for the far tamer and more wholesome TOXIC CRUSADERS animated TV series?  

LK: That did happen many times; the grandmother would go into a video store and take home the uncut video cassette of TOXIC AVENGER. The cover is a drawing - it’s a painting, so it looks like a cartoon, but it always says: “gross and disgusting scenes” or “this movie contains scenes of an adult nature” or something.  Once, Blockbuster actually put a sticker on THE TOXIC AVENGER movie saying: “Blockbuster family recommendation” – so things like that did happen, yes.   
Is life easier or harder now for independent filmmakers with digital technology, the internet, YouTube, crowd-funding schemes etc? 
LK: I think it’s the democratisation of the making of cinema – you can make a movie with no money, money is not the issue anymore. Everyone can make a movie - and that’s wonderful. But, how do you live off your art, that is almost impossible unless you’re in with one of the cartel, one of the elite, one of the Rupert Murdoch’s vassals otherwise you can’t survive. Which is why I’ve given away 250 of our movies on YouTube for free. I never went into this business to make money, and I think its better that people share our art and our fans will take care of us because I think there will be some kind of a new model, even though maybe the AVATAR’s continue to charge too much money. I think that the smaller films will have to either be shared or the fans will have to decide how much to pay because there’s a consumer rebellion. So, to answer your question, the miracle of the technology has liberated us from the expense of making a movie – you used to need a lot of money to make even a Troma movie. $500,000 is nothing compared to a typical American movie. RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH was $500,000, but that’s less than one half of one percent of a typical US conglomerate made movie. That’s still a shitload of money – you can start a lot of dress shops for that money – but now with digital cinema you just need to be talented. The problem is the distribution system has not kept up with the progress of the making of the movies – that’s the problem. That’s why we are filming OCCUPY CANNES documentary about the Cannes film festival because we want to underscore how Cannes doesn’t really understand that there’s thousands of talented young filmmakers who they’re ignoring because they don’t know about them because the big conglomerates are smothering everybody with their advertising dollars and their McDonalds-ization of art.
And presumably the TromaDance Film Festival was created in response to this?
LK: Yes. Trey Parker, the South Park guy, suggested we put a festival in Sundance because we were so disgusted by Sundance’s unpleasant atmosphere. So he said let’s put a festival in the same town at the same time but don’t charge people to submit their movies; don’t charge people to see the movies and no VIP policy: no snotiness. And we’ve been doing that for 15 years, although we’ve moved it as Tromadance outgrew Park City Utah, so we moved it to New Jersey, home of THE TOXIC AVENGER. And obviously Tromadance has no revenue so our fans help us; crowd-sourcing has helped TromaDance and somehow it keeps going. It’s very warm and idealistic and we’ve shown some marvellous movies.  
Many contemporary film directors have quoted Troma as being an inspiration to them. Take Guillermo del Toro for example. Having seen the trailer for his upcoming PACIFIC RIM; to me it’s basically a re-staging of the classic sequence from Troma’s CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH PART II: SUBHUMANOID MELTDOWN when giant mutant squirrel Tromie trashes Tromaville – albeit this time with a budget of approx. $200 million dollars.

LK: [Ha-ha]
So which directors, contemporary or otherwise, do you admire?

LK: Well I’m inspired by the classics, the auteur. Chaplin, Keaton, Samuel Fuller, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir, Warhol and Stan Brakhage   – they were my film school pretty much. And today, actually I’m influenced by Takashi Miike, he was a big Troma fan but I’m a fan of his and when we made POULTRYGEIST, his film THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS influenced me – the singing and dancing – and gave me the courage to do it because I’ve always wanted to have a musical. Quentin Tarantino is a big Troma fan now he suggested we make RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH into 2 volumes sort of like KILL BILL because there are so many movies today made for the small screen and our movies are made for the big screen. You know we have thousands of people in our films and it’s very hard for us to get any big screens so I said we’ll make an event out of it and I think it’s a good idea. (Except we got no money).
Who’s your favourite actor / actress that you’ve worked with over the years?
LK: I think my favourite cast is THE RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH cast. We’re a starting off part for actors so I don’t get to work with them very often.
But you have worked with some really big names early on in their careers though haven’t you?

LK: Yes, but they don’t stay with us - and rightfully so - we’re their stepping stone.  But the cast of RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH - Asta Paredes, Catherine Corcoran, Clay von Carlowitz, Mark Quinnette – the central cast are brilliant. They’re smart and the two female leads (Asta and Catherine) are terrific, they created a relationship between the two characters and they really took it seriously – and you see it. We’re still editing volume 2 but I’m seeing how – even though we don’t shoot totally in sequence – how they made the relationship between them develop.
Speaking of big names – one name in particular who’s most certainly not still in the early stages of his career – Arnold Schwarzenegger –has been linked to a remake of THE TOXIC AVENGER: is that really going to happen?
LK: I don’t know, but apparently they’ve signed him...
He’s not going to play TOXIE of course.
LK: Oh no, he plays an insect killer (an ex-terminator) [!], but I haven’t read the script. They said they’ve paid him...By the way; the director is very good for this remake, Steven Pink. He directed HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, and wrote the screenplays for GROSSE POINTE BLANK and HIGH FIDELITY. They’re going to spend $150million dollars on it; he’s a big Troma fan. I’ve met him a few times; I think he’s going to do a good job.
Given the genre and subjects Troma tackle, you’ve obviously had run-ins with the MPAA. Is there any particular experience that stands out for you?

LK: Well the problem with the MPAA is that I think they put a lot of independent movie companies out of business because they have a double-standard. They permit Bruce Willis’ DIE HARD to have all sorts of serious violence like exploding knee-caps, but then we come along with TROMA’S WAR and they made us cut out just punches and cartoon violence. TROMA’S WAR was emasculated by the MPAA unfairly. Any other company would’ve been put out of business. They really f*cked us on that one. Also, TERROR FIRMER, we actually put out an ‘R’ rated version based on the MPAA edits, but I would step into the picture for the ‘R’ rated version and I explain to the audience: “...Now here, the reason we have a little kitten here is someone in the movie says the word ‘pussy’ and the MPAA made us cut out the word ‘pussy’. And then each cut I would come and visually or verbally explain what it is. But now the MPAA and the major conglomerates have won because there are no independent studios of any longevity. Lionsgate is doing well and doing a good job and that’s it, there’s no one else, and they haven’t been around that long. We don’t even have our movies rated anymore because there are no theatres. POULTRYGEIST played in 300 theatres you know in the United States, one at a time, and mainly in theatres that don’t care about the ratings.
Adam Green’s HATCHET 2 was initially released in selected theatres unrated but it got pulled almost instantly –

LK: I’m in HATCHET 2! – He’s very talented.
Yes you were, now according to IMDB you’ve had 226 acting roles to date, (50 less than Sir Christopher Lee – but he’s had a considerable head-start on you!) Are you really a frustrated thespian stuck inside a very successful independent filmmaker’s body?

LK: (Ha Ha) No I do it to help young filmmakers because if I’m in a movie (and thank you for watching) our fans will maybe go and buy the DVD or at least support it. My business partner Michael Herz, who never emerges out into the daylight, he and I sincerely want to help independent cinema because it’s really under assault (and it’s also under a pepper). You don’t have to laugh at that. Those kind of jokes are a sign of dementia.
They’re puns. Hitchcock said puns are the highest form of wit.
LK: They’re a sign of dementia - I’ve read articles about it.
Well in that case let me remind you of just a smattering of some of the roles you’ve played to date. You’ve played Hitler, God, Satan, a character called ‘The Homo Killer’, Thomas Edison (in THONG-GIRL 4), Bram Stoker, President Obama, the Pope and a character called ‘Captain Orange-Piss Lawyer’. I actually think you’ve therefore got one up on Sir Christopher Lee!

LK: Well when I started I was only playing doctors and drunken bums. Tomorrow I’m going to be in a little film called...well I’m not supposed to talk about it so don’t say anything.
[It’s a small part in a very big, very cool film].*
Is there a question that you’ve always wished someone had asked you during one of these interviews but hasn’t to date?

LK: No...I don’t think so...Well I think your questions are great.
Oh thank you!

LK: And that question is a good one but honestly I don’t really think in those terms. I’m amazed anybody’s interested quite frankly. I’m always astounded that anybody turns up at 4pm in the afternoon on a Sunday to see a movie made in 1985 – and pays no less! We’re giving away by the way 250 movies on YouTube at this very minute to our fans to thank them – including this one!
And finally, my 7 year old daughter has got a concept for a film which she’s asked me to put to you to see if Troma might be interested in developing it in the future. [At this point I pitched the concept to Mr Kaufman and he’s response was...]
LK: Tell her I will consider stealing her idea, give her no money whatsoever and then suing her for plagiarism.
(My thanks once again to Lloyd Kaufman for taking the time to talk to me. Thanks also to Mr Kaufman’s assistant, Regina, for setting up the interview in the first place, and to the staff at the Prince Charles Cinema for being really cool.)  
For more info on Lloyd Kaufman, visit his website HERE 

For more info on Troma, visit their website HERE 

And for the Prince Charles Cinema's listings, visit their website HERE

P.S. (*the film was: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY)


Interview by Paul Worts

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