Lloyd Kaufman Talks the Toxic Future of Indie Cinema

Peter G wrote for Bleeding Cool from C2E2:

Lloyd Kaufman is a movie aficionado who, in 1974, founded Troma Entertainment, dedicated to true independent cinema. Kaufman has eschewed the Hollywood Establishment (in fact, he has said it was producing The Final Countdown that made him never want to work with a major studio ever again), and Troma has survived thanks to a very loyal and dedicated fan base.

In 1985, Troma released The Toxic Avenger, which crossed over to mainstream success. It inspired sequels, a kids’ animated series (no, really), comic books, sewing patterns, and more. Now, Toxie has added a new notch to his belt as the subject of a Broadway musical. To help celebrate this, Kaufman came to C2E2 with the Troma crew and graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

G: I do want to ask about The Toxic Avenger and such, but first, I want to ask you about indie cinema, because the field keeps shifting so radically. How does Troma survive all this constant upheaval that is going on?

KAUFMAN: Well, I would say Troma survives because of the Troma fans. Like Miella here (working the booth) and Toxie and Ron Mackey and my beautiful wife. We look like a big corporation, like we have thousands of employees, but we basically have no employees. We have six people. All the fans do all the work. They do everything. They run the booth. Nobody gets paid. It’s all out of love. Yet we’re scorned by the classy mainstream like Sundance Film Festival and Harvey Weinstein.

All the wonderful mainstream people, they look down their nose at us. We don’t have to pay people to work for us. They go out and get Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High (a.k.a. Volume 2) into 200 movie theaters. The theaters don’t return MY calls. I could blow them and they wouldn’t play our movie. But if five or six fans go to the box office and say they want to see Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High, the theaters, usually mercenary pigs, want to sell popcorn and Coke. Our fans eat a lot of Twizzlers… I know I do, I can tell you that. So the fans make us work.

That’s how we survive. Troma’s the only original theatrical independent movie studio, period, that’s more than 10 minutes old. We’re 44 years old. James Gunn, Samuel L. Jackson, the South Park boys Trey Parker and Matt Stone, they liked The Toxic Avenger, and it all came out of Troma. Eli Roth… I could go on and on forever.

G: Has the change in theaters from film stock to digital projection made it easier to get your movies into theaters?

KAUFMAN: No. The theaters have become a cartel. There’s no competition, so whereas we used to get 2,000 screens, we’re lucky to get 200 now. And our movies are better than the mainstream movies. The problem is, the theaters are controlled by the conglomerates.

G: I have the Make Your Own Damn Movie DVD set, so I saw the beginnings of the Toxic Avenger musical. How did it come about? How did you finally make this thing happen?

KAUFMAN: Well, I love musicals. And some fans in Portland, Oregon, wanted to do a musical. So I gave them the rights for free — they had no money, I could have squeezed a few bucks out of them but, why? They need the money. And I figured, okay, let them put the musical on in Portland, Oregon. It’ll help sell more Toxic Avenger DVDs.

They did a good job, it went a couple of months, and I saw it. It was good. But then another guy did his own musical. He put it on in Omaha, and they were more professional. And it went seven or eight weeks and got good reviews in the newspapers. And that attracted the attention of the producers of the Broadway show Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. And then they actually paid us a little money for the rights. And the lesson is, don’t be a pig when it comes to letting people look at your art. Art is made to be seen by people, so you don’t have to squeeze every penny out of every possibility.

Here we have a Broadway musical, written by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro. David Bryan is the keyboard artist for Bon Jovi. Joe DiPietro is a Tony-winning playwright. And David and Joe have written an amazing musical, which got on to the West End in London, played a year in New York, has been in about fifteen different cities, and all because I wasn’t a pig about the rights. Otherwise, it never would have gotten made.

G: Do you see Broadway as the future for creatives? Trey Parker and Matt Stone did The Book of Mormon as a play instead of a movie, it certainly seems like there’s more of an opportunity to get your stories out and get your art out that way. Are you thinking of continuing this with other Troma projects?

KAUFMAN: Well, we’ve had offers for Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD to make a musical out of that. Poutrygiest – Night of the Chicken Dead is already a musical, although not a traditional classical musical. But it’s got six or seven songs and dancing – it’s kind of a musical. It’s a clucked-up musical. There’s some offers, but not any decent money yet. I can’t make a musical, but every movie that I’ve directed has a song in it that’s sung on camera. And I know that Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High, our recent movie, has a song by Rape Door from Minneapolis – they sing on camera, so we like to have songs in our movies.

G: Are you thinking of any other spinoff media, like you used to have with Toxic Crusaders? Is it just not worth the bother?

KAUFMAN: Well, I like movies, Michael Herz likes movies. The other things, we had nothing to do with. We wrote some of the cartoons, yes, but we can’t take credit for the cartoons or the musical or the records or the clothing… it’s all other companies. We make movies. And we make movies that nobody sees, so it’s a miracle that The Toxic Avenger got to be a Broadway musical with David Bryan and Joe DiPietro – who, by the way, went on to write Memphis, which got the Tonys.

And I know Trey Parker and Matt Stone got Tonys. These guys, they got Tonys, and they got a musical out of a movie that has a young boy whose head is squashed by the wheel of an automobile. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as good as they are? Cannibal the Musical (their first film), I think, is funnier than Book of Mormon. I mean, it’s a great show, it’s a wonderful show. They’re both geniuses, and they’re very nice people.

G: I have a first generation DVD release of Cannibal.

KAUFMAN: The first to make a great commentary while getting drunk. Now every douchebag thinks it’s cool to get drunk. They don’t realize you have to be funny! You have to have something to say! Just being drunk is not funny!

G: So, you’ve launched a streaming service. Are you finding it easier to get your stuff out and survive with the streaming service?

KAUFMAN: Troma Now! is a big “fuck you” to Netflix, is basically what that is. Netflix uses us to subsidize their $8 billion dollars. They pay us nothing. Same with Google. Google pays us nothing. Amazon pays us nothing. They’re all fucking shit. So we do our own thing, and fans keep us going. Fans are great! I’m not starving, I’ve got a roof over my head, I don’t need kabillions of dollars, I don’t need Kim Kardashian money. I like making movies and watching movies and eating pizza and getting stoned… that’s about it.

G: Where is the web service available?

KAUFMAN: Go to Troma Now!, at http://watch.troma.com. First month is free. These are all premiere movies, world premieres by the James Gunns and Eli Roths of the future. And then I curate certain movies from our vast collection. And they go up every month. I know you get it on Roku, but it’s not on everything, because we can’t afford to make an app. But if there are any rich people out there who want to help us make an app, we do very very well with Troma Now. It’s really popular, it’s just that, without the app, it’s hard to get a big big following. I think it’s on the VHX platform owned by Vimeo. Or just google Troma Now, and you’ll find it.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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