LLOYD KAUFMAN INTERVIEW
Since 1999, the TromaDance Film Festival has annually showcased truly independent cinema. Founded by Troma Entertainment, the festival was originally held in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, showing counter-programming at the same time as the Sundance Film Festival. In 2010, TromaDance relocated to Asbury Park, NJ. HorrorTalk's ZigZag got a chance to sit down with Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Entertainment, who is entering the 12th year of the TromaDance Film Festival.
HorrorTalk: Lloyd I want to thank you for sitting down with me for a minute.
Lloyd Kaufman: It's a pleasure. Thank you for taking me to the transvestite glamor show at the fabulous Empress Hotel. It was almost as good as the TromaDance after-party last night. Almost.
But it was a good transvestite party and thank you for letting me accompany you.
HT: Sure. Wouldn't miss it. How has TromaDance changed over the years?
LK: Well, I think the most important part of the metamorphosis is that we started TromaDance when Trey (Parker) and Matt (Stone) brought me to Sundance and we were so disgusted by the haughty and smug and elitism and nastiness, and we created TromaDance to sort of be a poke in the eye to Sundance. It was more developed to be a festival, but in large part to screw around with Sundance.
But over the years, Sundance kind of cleaned up their act I believe, and they seem to actually be showing some independent movies these days and I think they heard our message. Now that we've moved to Asbury Park, we're really a nice little idealistic festival.
What hasn't changed, of course, is that you don't need to pay money to submit your film to the festival, you can see your movies for free and there's no VIP policy... although if you're an attractive young transvestite and if [ZigZag] wants you to get into the TromaDance Film Festival and HorrorTalk is a part of it, then we let them in. We give them precedence.
HT: Now that you are on the East coast, do you have any beef with Tribeca or do they run a tight ship?
LK: I think Tribeca is a bit schizophrenic and I don't quite understand it. I think they're too mainstream, they ought to be more...real. I don't think they're a real festival. I think they're more American Express... I think it was more star-fucking for the first few years, but I think recently they're showing some genuinely interesting independent movies.
They had the Olson Twins and Alec Baldwin and, while those are great people, I just don't think a festival needs to promote celebrities. A festival should be promoting John Goras (Chirpy) or maybe Bill Plympton (The Tune)... or Troma. With all due respect, we've been in New York for almost 40 years. If I were Tribeca I might look into perhaps showing some of the 40 years of Troma movies. Trey and Matt are in town with The Book of Mormon, they could show Cannibal the Musical. Maybe you show a movie by Eric Rohmer (My Night at Maud's) or a film by Takashi Miike (13 Assassins), because most of the public I don't think know those guys, but I just don't think we need to be showing movies that are opening at 3,000 cinemas the next day.
HT: You are always making appearances at conventions, festivals etc. Where do you find the energy?
LK: Troma has no money and we are economically blacklisted, so we have no money to advertise. Poultrygeist is a very good movie, but the major media totally ignored it. Troma had its 35th year in New York City and not one word of ink was spilled even though we own a building. We have had a payroll all these years of New Yorkers who clearly would have been on welfare if it wasn't for us.
The only advertising we can do is getting out there and if there's a retrospective, I have to go...or if I'm invited to give a “Make Your Own Damn Movie Masterclass”, I go...and I enjoy it. I get a chance to meet the fans and hear what they like and what they don't like.
HT: Where is your biggest international audience?
LK: The only revenue we get is from the United States. We have a huge fan base in other countries, but we have no distribution. I'm sort of the Jerry Lewis of the Underground in France, but we have no distribution. England and Japan we have no distribution other than piracy. File sharing keeps us alive in the archival world, the museum world and the festival world. So, Troma's got a big footprint around the world, I don't think we have much going in Africa, but on all the other continents there's a big Troma following and we have a big influence on the more mainstream young directors who are coming along.
HT: How is Troma doing?
LK: Troma has never been more famous, but we've never had less revenue. We are economically blacklisted. The media has become vertically integrated so that Rupert Murdoch and three or four other media conglomerates control everything. Cannibal the Musical has never played on American television, not even on Comedy Central or Skin-emax. Citizen Toxie sold about 300,000 - 400,000 DVDs and cassettes. It's never been on American TV. The only reason we're still around is because our fans keep us alive and that's it. We have a small number of very aggressive, hardworking and loyal fans who keep Troma alive by spreading the word on Twitter or Facebook.
HT: You've always been an early adopter of new technology. You guys were some of the first ones to offer titles on DVD, Blu ray, Video On Demand and now your library is available on X-Box.
LK: We got into DVD actually before the machines were even in people's homes which was pretty stupid, but we got a head start and we made a few bucks. Because we are a small company, we can move fast. In 1993, we started our website long before anybody else. There was something called CompuServe [an early form of AOL], and Roger Ebert said that Troma is the only studio that had a website [that early on]. Thanks to that site, Troma has a huge following online.
Usually when new technology develops, the major conglomerates take it over and preempt it and they're trying to take over the internet now. They're spending hundreds of millions of dollars 24/7 in Washington; the MPAA and Rupert Murdoch and Disney and Sony and all those guys, they're all down in Washington, trying to get rid of net neutrality on the internet, so that we and you and HorrorTalk cannot have equal access to the internet.
Right now, the internet is the only level playing field, it's the last level playing field in the world of media and the big guys want to stop that because they don't like having to get up in the morning and compete. They want to be able to put out crappy Adam Sandler movies and brainwash the public and open them in 4,000 theatres and make their money and go home. They don't want to have to actually come up with something original or interesting and the internet makes them have to do that.
The more originality on the internet the more the giant media have to compete. So, they're trying to screw up the internet and they want to get permission to have a super highway for themselves and slow down everybody else's service on the internet so that the internet becomes kind of like the television of today where you have everybody playing Law & Order 24/7. Just click your dial — Saved by the Bell, Full House...that's the way the internet's going unless we fight it.
As Chairman of the Independent Film and Television Alliance(IFTA), I am down in Washington lobbying. We don't have the kind of money the MPAA has, but we are doing a pretty good little guerrilla campaign and we threw a monkey wrench into the Comcast/NBC/Universal/GE merger and we got that held up, and we got an agreement between that giant conglomerate and the independent filmmaking/television world where Comcast has got to answer the phone when we call...so that's nice.
HT: When you were on the Make Your Own Damn Movie book tour in 2003, you were concerned about the conglomerates destroying the little guy. Now, almost 10 years later, how do you encourage new filmmakers?
LK: The good news is now anybody can make a movie, the making of cinema is democratized. You can make a movie for no money and TromaDance proves it with movies like The Taint, which I had not seen [before last night] and it's quite a revolutionary film. The Taint was great. It's in my head. It may be an influence on me.
There are millions of people who are able to make films thanks to the digital revolution. They can make very wonderful movies for very little money, or no money. You don't have to make your living from making the movie, you can be a school teacher or work in the Holocaust Museum or be a big shot at HorrorTalk. You don't have to have $100,000 or 200 million dollars or pounds or euros to make a movie, and that's a good thing. Unfortunately at Troma, we have a payroll and we have to pay people so it would be nice to have a little bit of revenue.
The bad news is that because the industry is so consolidated, if you want to live off your art you probably have got to work with of the giant evil people. Technology has not gotten to the point where we (Troma) or you can pay you enough money so that you can have a roof over your head or send your children to school and all that kind of crap. You'll have to make The Toxic Avenger and then you can send your kids to school.
HT: And four sequels...
LK: Exactly. I'm making Toxic Avenger Part 5 now and I still have kids going to graduate school. So the point is, yes, you can be an artist and the good news is you don't have to go to Hollywood and drive the Disney parking lot van or do Xeroxing for William Morris or suck dick for Miramax. You can do your own thing and be a teacher; you can have a useful life. You can be a nurse, save people's lives and contribute to society and then you can still make movies.
I don't think it's as hopeless as it was, but on the same point it's ugly that the public is kept in ignorance of so many amazing movies, that the gate keepers are so elitist and domineering. The New York Times and the big festivals are not doing their jobs. They are not unearthing the brilliant new talent that is all over the world. It's everywhere...in every nook and crevice. TromaDance is proof.
These movies that are playing TromaDance, most of them are better than what's being shown at the New York Film Festival, they're definitely better than what's being shown at Tribeca — without a doubt. Without a doubt they're better. They're more original, their themes are more interesting and for the most part they are all unknowns.
When I tell people "I just saw this great movie called All About Evil" they ask "Who's in it?" It doesn't matter who's in it. If anything matters it's who directed it (Joshua Grannell), and even that doesn't matter...the point is that it's a good movie. All About Evil is a movie that should be seen, it's interesting, it's got a great point-of-view and not enough people are seeing it.
HT: Does an overflow of shoddy material hurt the independent spirit?
LK: I think everybody should make a movie. I think it's a good idea, but the biggest problem is so many people making movies don't read books and they don't read the newspapers and they've got nothing to say. They're not educated and they haven't traveled, they haven't done anything, or they haven't killed anybody or they haven't read Moby Dick. You need to read. You need to travel and have inner resources and have something to say, something to express...it isn't all about zombies. Although, maybe 80% is about zombies.
HT: Going out on a light note, who would win in a fight? You or Mel Brooks?
LK: Mel Brooks would beat the crap out of me for sure.
HT: But you have a more ravenous fan base that would come and kick his ass after.
LK: I'm not so sure. My fan base is very peaceful, they're lovers. But it would never happen. I'm a pussy. I run fast and I would run away. I've got a big mouth, and I've said some provocative things to various people...I saw Kirk Douglas once cock his elbow and I thought he was going to punch me...but he did not. That was about as close as I ever came to getting punched.
Once I was at a gas station and I called a guy a cocksucker, and he came after me and I ran away. I ran around the car and it was like the Three Stooges. I kept running around the car and he couldn't catch me, so he eventually gave up.
HT: Very cool. Thank you Lloyd.
LK: Thank you to HorrorTalk for continuing the good fight for independent cinema and world peace through celluloid.
You can follow Lloyd Kaufman on Twitter.