Lloyd Kaufman is synonymous with the best kind of independent cinema.
Co-founder of Troma, the low-budget film production and distribution company behind gems like Tromeo and Juliet, Class of Nukem High and The Toxic Avenger, Kaufman’s B-movie horror stylings only tell half the story.
Touching on elements of classic farce, his work alongside co-founder Michael Herz has produced some of the most inventive films to ever come out of the US, delivering shocks, laughs and biting social commentary.
Troma has also proven to be the breeding ground for many a talented actor and director from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Marisa Tomei to filmmakers like Matt Parker, Trey Stone and James Gunn, the writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Following the release of Essex Spacebin, a British-made Troma movie that tells the story of a middle-aged obese lady who believes she’s found a lost portal to another world, Kaufman spoke to loaded about all things Troma and Hollywood’s habit of “making sausages.”
loaded: Troma Entertainment has been making low budget independent movies for over 40 years – what is the secret to your success?
Kaufman: Well, firstly people need to realise the independent pathway is the pathway to oblivion. If you want to make any money you are going to need to become a partner with one of the giant devil-worshipping media companies.
These giant conglomerates that have taken over the world of entertainment and information. If you want to be independent like Troma, you are going to be hard pressed to make any money but then you have more freedom of course.
Young filmmakers have to make a decision about what it is they really want. If they want the money and the women and the mansion and the Cannes film festival and all that bullshit, then they have to become partners with one of the members of ‘the cartel’.
When Troma came out we had to spend £100,0000 to make a 35mm movie 30 years ago, but in the last 10 years unless you are in with ‘the cartel’ you won’t be rich but you might be free.
The industry has become an oligopoly of people like Rupert Murdoch and unless you partner up with his kind it’s hopeless. Well, you don’t need money any more. There are movies out there made for under £5,000 that are spectacular. So you can be a real person and have a decent position in society.
If you want to be part of that you’ve got to join a gang. All those people are sucking off the teat of Rupert Murdoch and all those people. It didn’t used to be that way. There used to be competition.
If you had something like the Toxic Avenger, you could get it to the public and make money and all that stuff. Now, you could have Gone With The Wind but you would not make money unless you have one of these big backers.
There are still many excellent independent movies being made. Troma alone shows a world premiere every two months on our Troma Now channel.
loaded: Troma has become a horror breeding ground for big name directors – why is that?
Kaufman: People used to pick horror because it was considered a safe bet. If you made a horror film, you were almost always guaranteed to make money. It’s harder today – you have to go back to that Cartel…
Sorry, but most people in mainstream cinema are scum. There are some good films but most of them are sausages. They are not films, they are making sausages.
Not everyone of course. James Gunn made a great movie with Guardians of the Galaxy but most of them are horrible. Dr Strange? That was just like 100 other $200m movie. Like sausages. No originality, no emotion.
Just safe, familiar baby food and as long as they brainwash the public enough people will go. That isn’t art.
loaded: James Gunn started out working alongside you. Do you see elements of Troma in Guardians of Galaxy?
Kaufman: James Gunn worked with Troma for a couple of years and wrote Tromeo and Juliet. I was a lot closer to him that I was Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I went to James’ wedding and I was in his first movie. We have a lot of history.
I have a cameo in Guardians of Galaxy as uncredited prisoner no.2. When I came on set James made a speech saying I was his first boss and that he channels me and thinks not just about the subtleties but also the responsibilities of being a director and doing something that comes from the soul. Guardians of the Galaxy was that – it’s almost a new sub-genre in terms of superhero movies.
loaded: Do you think Troma’s influence extends elsewhere in Hollywood?
Kaufman: Definitely. The guys that made Deadpool are clearly fans and inspired by films like The Toxic Avenger and you can see that in these new R-rated superhero movies. People notice it too.
It’s like how the Deadpool guys like it. The way that character breaks the fourth wall – that’s something we’ve been doing for decades. When we first did it the critics hated it. But now it’s very stylish. Troma has a huge footprint on the movie world.
loaded: Has the internet been a positive influence on the work of Troma?
Kaufman: The internet is the last democratic medium and last level playing field. That’s why Troma gets so many visitors online. It’s an opportunity to communicate with fans. But we have to preserve net neutrality and the open internet, which is something many people want to get rid of.
Look at Kickstarter – even celebrities are making movies on Kickstarter. It’s down to the fans fuelling this stuff. It’s created a lot of innovation and allowed Troma to continue with a subscription service for fans.
The internet also means that if you have something interesting to offer, the people will find it. Think about all these amazing YouTube stars with millions of followers. The worry is this kind of innovation in entertainment will go away if people mess with the internet and make it somewhere where money talks.
loaded: Mother’s Day got a remake a few years back and Toxic Avenger is in the process of being remade – do you see remakes as a positive for Troma?
Kaufman: There’s nothing wrong with remakes – some of the greatest movies in history are remakes. I don’t think you go to movie jail for making a good remake.
I’ve not seen the Mother’s Day remake, which is based on a Troma film my brother wrote and directed, but no one has complained about it. I do think they would have had more success with him onboard. From what I heard it’s adequate but only adequate.
The Toxic Avenger is being remade. They tell me the Sausage Party director, Conrad Vernon, is directing it. He understands Troma and loves it. If and when the big budget Toxic Avenger gets made it will be very good because Akiva Goldsman is producing it and he’s got a great track record.
Arnold Schwarzenegger signed up for Toxic Avenger a couple of years back at Cannes but then changed his mind. He went off to do shit [he departed to work on Terminator Genisys]
loaded: There’s also a Toxic Avenger musical – could that work as a film?
Kaufman: The musical was playing in the UK in Southwark and got great reviews. It’s got the Troma sense of humour and appeals to Troma fans and the legitimate theatre crowd.
It was all down to David Bryan from Bon Jovi and Joe Di Pietro and they took our ideas mainstream. It was terrific. They want to turn it into a film but they would need a bigger budget than Troma could provide.
I think the plan first is to bring it to Broadway. It’s very good. There was a $200m Spiderman musical on Broadway but it’s nowhere near as good as the Toxic Avenger. It’s not as good. It’s inventive and funny and has great songs.
loaded: You just wrapped on Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High AKA Volume 2 and dedicated it to Lemmy and late Troma legend Joe Fleishaker – how did you first meet Lemmy?
Kaufman: I met Lemmy a year before Tromeo and Juliet. at the international film market.It turns out he was a massive fan of ours and was curious about how we “didn’t give a fuck” about anything. He liked that idea which kind of true of our sensibilities.
That was Lemmy’s take and he agreed to be in Tromeo and Juliet and pretty much every movie I have done since. Our movies are intelligent and most people who are artists and true to themselves and don’t compromise like Troma and see what we are doing.
loaded: Where do you see Troma 10 years from now?
Kaufman: I’ll probably be dead in 10 years but then again we’re all dying. Troma has a life of its own. We’ve had offers for our library whichmay be better off in the hands of a company with more money behind it.
Films like Poultrygeist, which got great reviews, has good songs and a strong message could do really well. But because we couldn’t get it to the public we couldn’t make any money.
If someone got their hands on our library then Troma could live on for a long time. It’s an oil well without the drill. Our work is under-watched and underappreciated.
A lot of people have never heard of Toxic Avenger. These days it’s all about Kim Kardashian, Leonardo DiCaprio and Merill Lynch. Give Casey Affleck and Oscar and let him settle out of court. It’s a fucked up system.
loaded: Are there any Troma filmmakers who could follow in the footsteps of James Gunn?
Kaufman: Kansas Bowling. I met her when she is 15. She’s talented and fearless. She shot BC Butcher on 16mm and it’s a great first movie. It’s on Troma Now. She just turned 20 but I think she has what it takes to follow in James Gunn’s footsteps.
Kansas Bowling will be a very important filmmaker. It’s not your typical horror film and so much better than my first feature film. She wrote it when she was 15 and finished it when she was 17. Now she’s the go-to music video director on the alternative scene.
Troma presents ESSEX SPACEBIN available now on Amazon: http://amzn.eu/0BGME2D