Oh, the Horror! recently conducted an exclusive interview with independent film legend and president of Troma Entertainment, Lloyd Kaufman. Having founded Troma in 1974 with partner Michael Herz, Lloyd has since directed such classic b-hits as The Toxic Avenger, Terror Firmer and Tromeo & Juliet. His most recent, most off-the-wall film to date, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, was released theatrically to rave reviews. In addition to exceptional film credits, Lloyd is also an author and the president of the Independent Film & Television Alliance. Always outspoken, always hilarious and always genuine; ladies and gentlemen, greetings from Tromaville!
Interview by: Brett H.
Oh, The Horror!: Due for release this month is your much anticipated new book, Direct Your Own Damn Movie. Could you give us any insight as to how this book will be different from your others?
Lloyd Kaufman: Well, my other books were not about directing. This book is about directing your own damn movie. The first book, which was called All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from The Toxic Avenger was very much a memoir. And was totally of no use to anybody. The second book on the other hand, called Make Your Own Damn Movie was published by St. Martin's Press and was kind of an overview, a general synopsis of how Troma has made those amazing movies for so many years. And, this book, Direct Your Own Damn Movie is actually kind of useful because it tells you how I, Lloyd Kaufman, a gay married man, has been able to direct his own damn movies for 40 years and not only be successful, but also be able to do what I believe in and this book will be a perfect book for young people who are idealistic and see film as an art form. So, of course it will be all about how everybody is interested in directing his or her own damn movie. And, that's what this is all about.
OTH: In addition to the book, Troma's newest and best film Poultrygeist has become a big hit amongst genre fans, myself included. What are some of your fondest memories of production?
LK: Well, thank you for the kind words about Poultrygeist. I think the most important thing about Poultrygeist is the incredible dedication of the cast and crew. Marvelous people. About 80 people came from all over the world; from France, Japan, Germany, England, Canada, Australia, they came to Buffalo, NY, slept on the floor and ate cheese sandwiches three times a day, and learned how to defecate in a paper bag and worked for free, just to make a wonderful movie. And in my 40 years of making movies, I would say this was the greatest, most dedicated cast and crew that we've ever had. It was an incredible group. And, two people got engaged on the set. We filmed it of course, and two other people have since got married that met on the crew of Poultrygeist. It was a really cohesive, idealistic and dedicated group. To me, that was the best part of making that movie.
OTH: On the Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead DVD, we get a very candid view of your er... eggs, in an outtake. How did you wife feel about having her husband hanging out for all the world to see?
LK: She doesn't know, because in the movie you don't see it. She cut it out of the movie. She's the executive producer and we used our retirement money to make Poultrygeist, Troma didn't have the money, we used our own money. And, I told her she was investing in - what the hell's that - Bride Wars Part II... what's that movie where those toys come in different shapes... put it in one way it's a car...
OTH: Michael Bay's "legendary" Transformers?
LK: Yes! I said to my wife that she was investing in Transformers Part 6. Don't let it out that her retirement money has gone down the drain. So, when she made me cut out my balls out of the movie, she also made us cut out the big fat guy [Joe Fleishaker]'s shit coming out of his ass. That's why those censored marks are there, my wife insisted on it.
OTH: When you were on set with Joe Fleishaker, health and professional issues were a factor in his performance and you said you'd never use him again. Was this just spur of the moment frustration or can we expect to see Troma's biggest star in action again?
LK: No, I didn't mean it. It was just in the fit of passion...And this is good for your interview, my literary agent, Jerry Rudes, is at the door and he's coming here to discuss the next book we're writing, Produce Your Own Damn Movie... [at this point, Mr. Kaufman informs me that Mr. Rudis is head of a French film festival I can't pronounce] ...he's brought wine that will make us have an amazing, inspirational book discussion!
OTH: I was nervous and had to have a shot of rum before I got on the phone with you.
LK: Oh, nice! Very good! What kind, was it Captain Morgan's spiced rum?
OTH: It was just white rum, but that stuff's great in eggnog.
LK: It sure is!
OTH: Troma fans love their Toxie, and you announced awhile back the plans for a new Avenger film, The Toxic Twins. Has production moved along any from the last time you spoke of it?
LK: No, it hasn't. I'm still trying to figure out the beginning, middle and end. We're slowly moving there, also we don't have any money, but other than that, everything's great! It's called the 'Troma juggernaut'
OTH: In addition to the great Troma produced films, your company also distributes movies made by other people. My first Troma DVD was actually Girls School Screamers. Do you have any thoughts on this movie?
LK: No, none whatsoever. Other than the fact that it's a movie that had nothing in it and we shot about a third of it, the only action and horror in it was stuff that we shot and we cut it into a film that was basically G-rated.
OTH: So, you guys shot the opening scene where the ghost was walking down the stairs?
LK: We shot the violence…
[At this point Lloyd becomes a bit pre-occupied with what's going on in the background as the wine is now being opened 'very skillfully' and somewhere along the way, he admits that his life-long dream is to visit my home province of Saskatchewan, Canada.]
LK: I just got back from Yemen, by the way. I'm still on Yemen time. That's why I may not be at my usual distinguished style, I'm a little bit jet lagged. We spent about ten days in Yemen and we came back yesterday.
OTH: Did you convert any Yemenis to Troma?
LK: There's a huge following for Troma in Yemen, you can't imagine. Those burqa wearing women; what you don't see is all Troma. They don't just have the burqas, they got the cheeseburqas, too, and they love Troma. It's actually a very interesting country and the people are absolutely lovely, as long as you're not a jew. They've got a little blind spot towards Judaism, but other than that they are just delightful. There's no crime in Yemen. There's some terrorism. Very, very little. It's probably more dangerous to be on the streets of Saskatchewan, if there are streets there.
OTH: Yeah, it's pretty dangerous.
LK: Killer raccoons? You should see our movie, called Coons: Night Bandits of the Night. It's a really good movie and it has some singing and dancing in it. It's hilarious, very, very funny.
OTH: I just started getting into Troma recently and many DVDs are now very hard to find. With some films like Redneck Zombies getting re-releases, do you foresee all the other Troma films to ever re-appear on home video in the near future?
LK: Well, you can always get the Troma DVDs at Troma.com, Netflix or Amazon, so they're not difficult to find. Unless you're retarded, they're not too hard to find, but the problem is we've been economically blacklisted by the mainstream. We've never had a movie in Blockbuster, the main chains totally blacklist us.
OTH: So films like The First Turn-On! and Squeeze Play! are not out of print? Because, that's what people are saying.
LK: Go to the Troma website, I think they're available. Well, sometimes we're out of stock because we don't have the money to make new ones. We've got about 1000 films, but we've got no money, that's the problem. So, if somebody wants one copy of Squeeze Play! that means we have to make 1000 DVDs, which is about $2000 and we just can't afford it. The reason is the big conglomerates have gotten the rules changed so they control the marketplace and it's very, very difficult for little, independent movie companies to survive. This is Troma's 35th year, which is for an independent movie studio, the all-time record.
OTH: On the DVD of Tales from the Crapper...
LK: Oh, that's a terrible movie.
OTH: I thought the dubbing was pretty funny. Some of the artists working on the film made less than flattering, personal comments towards you and distastefully insulted Wes Craven after he donated money from his pocket...
LK (angry): I know! They're assholes, they were major assholes! I agree, they were fucking assholes and I should have fired them. I said it in the documentary, I said it, my mistake. They had a chance to be heroes, they wanted to make their own damn movie. I gave these young kids an opportunity and money to save that movie and instead they decided to get drunk and take drugs and make it a frat party. They even filmed themselves doing it. So I figured okay, let's make this a cautionary tale. We'll make a documentary out of it and show what a jerk Lloyd Kaufman is and should have fired them and at least maybe other filmmakers will learn from it.
OTH: When they knocked down the TROMA letters from the LA building, I think it was, and filmed it...
LK (still angry): Yeah, I was kind of sad. A lot of people were really sad about that. A lot of fans were really shocked that people would behave that way. You know, no respect. Here are people given the opportunity to make a movie and they just totally abused the situation. I think it's a disgrace and I think that they'll have to live with that. It's an obscenity. I figured, let's put it in the movie, right? Make a documentary, 24 frames per second.
OTH: Who’s idea was it to make Troma's feature length documentaries, because as far as I'm concerned, Apocalypse Soon: The Making of Citizen Toxie is the greatest DVD supplement that I've ever seen.
LK: Have you seen Poultry in Motion?
OTH: Yeah, that was a great one.
LK: Yeah, I figured I'd carry a camera with me at all times. And, Andy Warhol... I used to hang out his factory in college, and he'd always have a little camera with him, always. And, he'd snap pictures of whatever was going on. And, I bought one of those mini DV cameras and I keep it in my napsack, and anytime anything interesting comes up, I film. And, All the Love You Cannes is a feature length documentary about Troma's marketing style. So, it turns out I got a lot of interesting footage because the Troma Team is relaxed when I'm filming. It's not like it's CNN. They don't even see the camera. And then for Poultrygeist, we had students also who were filming and they got, obviously, some footage of me in action.
OTH: Do you find that horror audiences today are as shocked with what's being shown on the screen as they reacted to 20, 25 years ago?
LK: Well, they sure act like they've seen nothing like Poultrygeist and the movie is a big hit theatrically. The audiences act like this is something they've never seen before. I would say they're more shocked with Poultrygeist today than they were with whatever horror film was around 20 years ago, sure. But, I think that most horror films are just boring. Most of these movies are just imitation. There are very few really talented people in the genre.
OTH: Especially with the remake trend.
LK: That's awful.
OTH: Your brother, Charles Kaufman made a slasher film called Mother's Day, which is getting remade. Is this for real or just a rumor?
LK: No, they're doing it, but who knows. We'll find out.
OTH: When all is said and done, what do you hope film industry people, aspiring filmmakers and fans alike remember you for most?
LK: For being a decent person, for being loyal to my friends and supportive of my family and supportive of independent art. The second half of my career has in large part been devoted as much to supporting and trying to preserve independent art and give independent art back to the people as it has been to making movies that have come from the heart.
OTH: Do you foresee yourself retiring anytime soon, and if so, what will happen to Troma Entertainment?
LK: I don't see retirement. The best thing that could happen to Troma Entertainment would be for me to retire. And, it might be prosperous. Clearly, I'm holding it back because I make these crazy movies that get blackballed and blacklisted. Maybe if I got hit by a bus, some big company would come along. At any rate, I'm still around, I have no intention of retiring. I keep making movies and writing books. The Toxic Avenger has been made into a musical with music by Bon Jovi that's coming to New York April 16. Somehow, we keep going, we're like the bumblebee. Scientifically the bumblebee is not supposed to be able to fly. It's too fat, the wings don't beat fast enough and it's aerodynamically impossible for the bumblebee to fly, but it does. And, Troma is the bumblebee of movies. Somehow, we keep going. I don't know how we do it. Basically, our fans. Our fans keep us alive.
OTH: I have a friend named Tyler who has seen Big Gus, What's the Fuss?, which you consider your worst movie ever...
LK: The worst movie ever made.
OTH: He actually liked it. What was your biggest regret or biggest horror with Big Gus for you?
LK: The regret is I listened to people. It was my money, my friend's money and I should have taken over and not been hoodwinked by people who claimed to be more experienced and older and for the large part was full of shit. And, that was the last time. Well, it wasn't the last time, but pretty much nothing that awful has happened since.
OTH: This is kind of a comical question, it fits in with the wine. In a lot of Troma skits, there are jokes involving the Troma Team getting boozed up. When you and Sgt. Kabukiman go out chasing women and get shitfaced, what is Lloyd Kaufman typically sipping on until he passes out naked in the arms of another man?
LK: Well, in Yemen, I was chewing a lot of qat, it's a leaf that is kind of the national drug in Yemen, but it's a narcotic and outlawed in every country in the world other than Yemen. You chew on it.
OTH: Does it do anything?
LK: Ah, it gives you a little something. It's kind of a stimulant, but here in the states, I guess vodka is the booze of choice.
[Nearing the end of the conversation, it's a lot more casual conversation that goes into the numerous appearances Lloyd has made in independent films.]
LK: I usually get cast as drunken, homeless bums. Or, I get cast as doctors. But, Debbie Rochon is in a movie in Rhode Island, something to do with a nun. And, they're going to have me playing the Pope. So, that should be interesting.
OTH: On behalf of Oh, the Horror! and film fans everywhere, thank you for this interview and we wish Troma nothing but the best in the future.
LK: Nice to talk to you and keep in touch. Best wishes and Happy New Year! Thanks so much.
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