Interview: Lloyd Kaufman at TromaDance New Mexico 2005 (10/21/05)

[Ryan]: Was there a particular film that made you think “I want to make movies”?

[Lloyd Kaufman]: Yes. If you read “Everything I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger,” published by Penguin-Putnam, one of those conglomerates that we hate, you’ll see that the movie from which I decided to make my own damn movies was a film by Ernst Lubitsch called To Be or Not to Be. I was at the Yale Film Society, we were showing that movie, and there were about three people in the theater. To Be Or Not To Be stars Carol Lombard and Jack Benny and Mel Brooks re-made it years later. It was during that movie that I decided that I wanted to make movies, and it was as easy as getting up from the lazy-boy and going and getting a beer. I just decided to do it. If you want to blame somebody for Troma, it’s all Ernest Lubich’s fault. And as he’s dead, he can’t do anything about it.

[Ryan]: Who would you say is your favorite director working today?

[LK]: I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite director, but certainly Takashi Miike right now. We just shot Poultrygeist, which I would say to some extent is a fromage to Takashi Miike. We’ve got some random singing and dancing in Poultrygeist. I’m big on Trey Parker & Matt Stone, and Oliver Stone, the Rolling Stones… certainly Gaspar Noé is pretty cool, and Scorsese, Woody Allen, Herzog, there’s a shit-load of good people. And all sorts of new young people, Chan-wook Park , and the guy in Thailand who did Tears of the Black Tiger (aka Fah talai jone), there’s just countless amazing people. I like de la Iglesia in Spain and Santiago Segura, I could just go on and on and on. Many of them were Troma fans, Miike was a Troma fan, and now I’m inspired by him.

[Ryan]: What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?

[LK]: My favorite part of the filmmaking process is probably after the film is shot. You have time in the editing room and the stress element is not so strong. But I like it all; I’m a film nut, I like all of it. I like working for another director, carrying coffee, for John Ford. He’s dead, but I would have done that. Or be Charlie Chaplin ’s bitch, or fluffer for Howard Hawks. I’ll do anything, I’m just a film nut.

[Ryan]: What advice would you give to people trying to get their foot in the door?

[LK]: I would say: to thy own self be true. That is phrase coined by William Shakespeare who wrote that great best-selling book “101 Moneymaking Screenplay Ideas” otherwise known as Hamlet. I would say that’s the best way. You shouldn’t make movies to make money; it’s an art for and you should do what you believe in, that’s the best advice. I think the people who get the most satisfaction out of their filmmaking careers are the ones who do what they believe in; who do things that are meaningful to them and make “reel” art.

[Ryan]: What was your most recent project?

[LK]: I’m working on a few projects. We’ve just finished shooting Poultrygeist; it’s a movie that deals with the fast food industry and the fast food establishment is built on an ancient Indian graveyard. The ghosts from the Indians go into the chickens, and the exterminated chickens and the exterminated Indians combine and create these zombies. It’s, to some extent, inspired by Fast Food Nation, the wonderful book. I’m also finishing up a documentary about Reverend William Sloan Coffin. It has George Bush in it and it was filmed during the Yale class of 1968 reunion. I’m working on a lot of projects. Schlock and Schlockibility: the Revenge of Jane Austen, staring to develop that , hoping to get that going. Then I’m hoping to do a movie with Chris Seaver, a Rochester filmmaker. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get a part in Kurly Tlapoyawa’s new film, he said there’s a part for a gay man in the film. So I’m going to do everything I can to get a part in the new Burning Paradise / Kurly Tlapoyawa’s new gay film. Very interested in having a part in that. Maybe you can put in a word for me, because he’s pretty tough. I’ve fellated him a couple of times and he still won’t give me a part.

[Ryan]: What was the first film you worked on, and what was it that you did on that film?

[LK]: The first professional film that wasn’t my own that I worked on was Joe. That was a movie directed by John G. Avildsen, who went on to do Rocky and went on to do Cry Uncle!, which is a movie Troma distributes. Peter Boyle started in Joe, and Susan Sarandon, and Norman Wexler who wrote Saturday Night Fever wrote Joe. I was a production assistant on that, and I attached my self to John Avildsen, and learned a lot from him. If you get the Make Your Own Damn Movie DVD box set, there’s a big interview with John G. Avildsen. I was a partner on Cry Uncle! which Avildsen did after Joe, which also is a marvelous film, a wonderful film. It’s terrific; it stars Alan Garfield and Madelin LaRue, I’m in it, and it’s a very funny movie. A hilarious film.

[Ryan]: What’s the earliest Lloyd Kaufman film the public can get a hold of?

[LK]: The Battle of Love’s Return. Oliver Stone is in that film. The Battle of Love’s Return with Lynn Lowry was made in 1971, 1970 maybe. Before we did Sugar Cookies. The only way you can get it is in the Make Your Own Damn Movie DVD box set, there’s a de-construction. It did play in movie theaters, but it’s a make your own damn movie kind of movie, so I put it in the box set. We de-constructed it, scene by scene, on how we did everything for no money. It’s a movie that actually played in movie theaters, New York Times reviewed rather favorably about The Battle of Love’s Return. It played in probably 60, 70 theaters around the country. It’s unwatchable, but somehow it got a good review in the New York Times.

[Ryan]: Do you try to use the same cast and crew repeatedly, or do you prefer to try to get new people in?

[LK]: Well, the thing about Troma is that a lot of famous people start with Troma, they need a place to begin. Like James Gunn , I doubt that he’s going to be writing any scripts for us in the near future. He wrote Tromeo and Juliet, and helped on my first book. Some of them stick around. I spent some time with Warhol when I was in college, and he had all his superstars. Well, I use Ron Jeremy, Joe Fleishaker, Debbie Rochon, Toxie, Kabukiman, Dolphinman; we’ve got our own stable of stars. I’ve been using the same director of photography, Brendan Flynt, on Tromeo and Juliet, Terror Firmer, Citizen Toxie, and Poultrygeist, some music videos – Purple Pam’s “Kick in the Head.” I think considering I can’t pay people very much I have a pretty loyal ensemble. People are willing to work for Troma for a lot less than they would on a real big time movie, because they get an opportunity to take risks and make some real art and do things they believe in. Even though Brendan Flynt maybe makes ten or twenty thousand a week as a regular DP – I don’t know what he makes – but he’s willing to work on rates we can afford because he enjoys doing it. He doesn’t have to, that’s for sure.

[Ryan]: My favorite film of your is Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD,and I was wondering, where did that concept come from?

[LK]: Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD, like pretty much all of the films I’m involved in, the themes came out of the newspapers. For The Toxic Avenger, it was newsletters back in the early ‘80’s talking about toxic waste dumps ticking away like time bombs. Class of Nuke ‘Em High came out of a nuclear power plant that was being built within a few feet of New York City, and being built with crappy materials. Sgt Kabukiman grew out of the fact that in the ‘80’s the Japanese economy was doing very well and they were buying up a lot of American companies. They bought Rockefeller Center and there was a big backlash against it. There was an American congressman who called it “the new Pearl Harbor.” Meanwhile the Japanese were paying much too much, they got totally ripped off, the bought Universal Pictures – got totally ripped off, they bought Rockefeller Center- got totally ripped off. They overpaid for everything. At any rate, this seemed to be a good theme, the idea of the East and West. We’re friends with Japan, but we were also competing at that time for the supremacy, economically and culturally, of the free world. So Kabukiman represents the American cop who likes hotdogs, and he has the kabuki spirit. The idea was Eastern and Western cultures, if you know how to use the two powers, you can save the world.

[Ryan]: Out of the films you’ve made over the years, is there any one that stands out as your favorite?

[LK]: I think Poultrygeist is going to be quite something. You never know until it’s all put together, but it’s got everything, and not to mention that there’s some singing and dancing. I don’t think Kurly from Burning Paradise Video (who’s responsible for this whole TromaDance New Mexico event) knows this but, Poultrygeist is a shot-by-shot re-creation, an exact shot-by-shot re-make of Steven Spielberg’s black-men-in-a-boat epic film Amistad. Except that, instead of black men we’ve got chicken-Indian zombies, and instead of Anthony Hopkins we put in Ron Jeremy, and instead of a boat, we’ve got a fast food restaurant, and instead of the ocean, there’s some singing and dancing. I don’t think anybody really knows the secret behind Poultrygeist, but it’s all thanks to Steven Spielberg. I think it’s going to be my best film. I think my swan song is going to be chickens.

[Ryan]: What would you say are the pros and cons of working in the low budget world?

[LK]: I can only speak from my own career, but the low budget has meant that I’m able to have total control over the projects, so that we can take risks and we don’t put the entire company on one movie, and the fewer people involved in the creative area, the more it becomes the “auteur” filmmaking. I’ve been lucky enough to be an auteur filmmaker – if Cinematech François says it so I guess I can suggest I am – for over 30 years. That’s the good part. The bad part of having to make a Troma movie is you’ve got to sleep on the floor, and eat cheese sandwiches three times a day, and learn how to defecate in a paper bag. That’s not always fun. We have to put up with a lot of young people who in many cases make big mistakes, and sometimes we don’t have the best equipment – in fact, I know we probably have the worst equipment when we’re filming. A lot of the food sucks, and no one appreciates us, Troma gets absolutely no attention from the mainstream media, and that gets very discouraging. I would say that for me, it’s very satisfying to be able to keep making movies. The battlefield is littered with the bodies of dead film director’s careers, and I’ve been able to keep making movies that come from the heart for over 30 years, so that’s pretty cool.

[Ryan]: Film companies come and go – what has kept Troma around for so long?

[LK]: I think Troma would have gone out of business long ago if it weren’t for the fact that Burning Paradise Video carries out movies. Otherwise we’d definitely be out of business. I think the fact that we make movies that we believe in, and that the people who work on a Troma movie are there only because they love art. They have no other reason to be there; most of them don’t even get paid. On Poultrygeist we had 80 people living in an empty church, sleeping on the floor, working around the clock. Some of them came from Germany, France, Japan, Scandinavia, England, they all paid their own way there, and they came from all over the world. And all parts of the United States. Paid their own way there, worked for free, just so they could be involved in some art that they believed in. I think that’s why we’re still around. The other reason we’re still around – which is probably more important – is that our fans take care of us. Our fans have been supporting us. We’re a real cult movies studio. If a film is playing in the theater, we don’t have money to advertise. We couldn’t advertise when Citizen Toxie was playing at the Viograph Cinema in Chicago, but we put it on our website and out fans filled the theater for at least a week. Our fans will find our movies. Not in Blockbuster, but our fans take care of us and make sure we survive. That’s the other reason we’re still around, we’ve created a micro-brand sort of. And then The Toxic Avenger. We got really lucky with The Toxic Avenger; we actually had something that for some magical reason did penetrate the hymen of the establishment. Of course, we’re the ones who got fucked, but other than that, Toxie’s been very good to us. We’ve been fortunate.

[Ryan]: TromaDance started in Park City; how many satellite festivals are there now, and where?

[LK]: TromaDance began seven or eight years ago in Park City, inspired by Trey Parker and his Cannibal! one-movie-film-festival, to try to combat the hypocrisy of what we perceived Sundance was. There’s the TromaDance here in New Mexico, there’s one in Alberta, TromaDance in Florida that’s staring now, and Tromapalooza. There’s been three years now of Tromapalooza, which is a fundraiser concert for the TromaDance film festival. We have to rely on sponsors or Troma’s money because everything’s free at TromaDance; the whole idea not to have an entry fee and let people see the movies for nothing. No VIP policy, and try to create something that’s more loving, that poorer artists can be a part of.

[Ryan]: Do you have anything else to add?

[LK]: I think it’s very inspiring that Kurly has been able to have the second year of this TromaDance film festival and that he’s on a crusade to try to liberate art here in New Mexico from the iron fist of a film office that seems to be overly servicing the giant devil-worshipping international conglomerates at the risk of the native New Mexican artists. Kurly is a very brave voice in the wilderness. Plato writes about how we’re all in the cave and we can’t see anything and then there’s the one man who is able to lead us out of the cave and into the light of day; Kurly is Plato’s man here in New Mexico’s world of art. It’s a brave thing – it’s not easy going against the main stream. It’s very inspiring to me, and I think that’s much better than having an academy award.

Lloyd Kaufman’s websites:


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