Interview with Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman

The King of schlock and president of Troma, Lloyd Kaufman, was the special guest of the GROSSMANN FILM FESTIVAL in a small Slovenian town Ljutomer. Slovenia is one of the small countries that came about after the breakdown of Yugoslavia, and the GROSSMANN Film and Wine Festival is one of the rare festivals in this region devoted to independent, low budget and genre cinema. In its third year it managed to attract some well-known genre names, like Jorg NEKROMANTIK Buttgereit (who, sadly, had to drop out in the last minute because of a certain shoot he had with Asia Argento!) and Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman.

GROSSMANN FILM FESTIVAL was honored to be the place of the European premiere of his latest offering, POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD. The film turned out to be one of the best that Troma ever made (in your reporter’s humble opinion, it is THE best Troma movie ever): it offers dollops of bad taste, infantile toilet humor, politically incorrect jokes, plus a bunchload of transformations, body parts, make up and gore effects to spice up the proceedings. His numerous fans from the region (coming from Croatia and Serbia as well) had a chance to talk to Mr Kaufman, and here are some points revealed in the discussion after the movie.

Regarding the changes in moviemaking (shooting on video, etc.) he said he preferred the communal experience and intended to release his films theatrically, at least in the USA, with a small number of prints being moved around from town to town, with maybe a total of 300 theaters in the entire USA.

The budget of POULTRYGEIST is around $ 500.000.

Interview with TromaAs for the cameo by “the great Shakespearean actor, Ron Jeremy, known for THE MERCHANT OF PENIS”, he said that he’s just a part of the great pool of talent that worked for Troma, like Dustin Hoffman (MADIGAN’S MILLIONS), Robert de Niro (THE WEDDING PARTY) and Kevin Costner (SIZZLE BEACH USA).

Asked if any chicken were killed during the making of POULTRYGEIST, Kaufman responded: “No, but we killed two dogs and one leopard.”

He also announced his next project, SCHLOCK AND SCHLOCKABILTY: THE REVENGE OF JANE AUSTEN, which has to be filmed in the UK, with Jane Austen as the action hero.

When asked whether he’d be interested to make a Hollywood movie and “sell out”, like John Waters, he responded that he wanted to retain 100% control of his projects and intended to remain independent.

After Q&A he was nice enough to sign autographs, take photos with fans and also to give this interview to BEYONDHOLLYWOOD’s reporter, Dejan Ognjanovic. Here’s the exclusive talk:

Your movie is obviously a profound meditation on post 9-11 America. So, what can you tell us about the symbolism of the chicken and the inspiration for this particular story? How did you concoct it?

How did I con-COCK-t the chicken story? Well, what happened was, McDonalds opened a store right next door from the Troma building, and we had some very bad behavior from McDonalds. They were bad neighbors, they did damage to our building, they put their garbage in front of our building, and we had huge rats, the size of raccoons, in our basement because of them. I had to fight those rats, and while fighting them I started to learn about the evils of the fast-food industry. It’s evil in every regard: it’s bad to eat, it’s bad for the employees, it’s bad for the public, it’s bad for the environment, the stores are ugly, the restaurants are ugly, and I became vegetarian around the same time. Also, in terms of fight against the conglomerates, they brainwash the people, the media turn people into zombies to go to their restaurants, that’s why people go to eat Burger King, or Kentucky Fried Chicken, because they’re zombies. If they weren’t brainwashed, they’d find some inexpensive healthy food that’s good for the environment. So the zombie symbolism is quite meaningful.

Where do you stand politically? It seems that your film is mocking the liberals and environmentalists with their transparents which read “We love cock”?

Interview with TromaWell, the problem is we have “limousine liberals” like Al Gore. He’s made hundreds of millions of dollars in the stock market, and then he talks about cracking down the corporate greed. His big fat wife wanted censorship of music. So that’s the kind of people they are. They want censorship in our country. If Al Gore was really environmentalist, he’d tell people to be vegetarian, to stop eating meat, because there is more global warming coming from the cows that are farting and more food is being eaten by the cows; if it weren’t for all those cows raised for meat, all that grain could go to the hungry people in Africa. He’s afraid, he’s a coward, he’s a phony. Hilary Clinton is another one. She’s a millionaire who never had a job, she never worked. These people are like aristocrats, they think that they are better than the rest of us and that they can boss us around, and tell us how to live our lives. They also want to fuck up the internet. Al Gore and Hilary Clinton, they get millions of millions of dollars from Hollywood conglomerates, they want to make it so that only the rich can get on the internet fast, and only the rich companies can be privileged. I’m fighting for net neutrality, to keep internet open to everybody. That’s why I wanted to poke fun at those phony limousine liberals.

The title of the master class you had here yesterday is MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE. What is the idea behind it, and what was the experience like so far?

I’ve written three books, and their theme is a crusade for the independent art. The intention is to foster the independent spirit that’s being smothered today. The book MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE turned out to be quite a bestseller, it sold somewhere between 30-50.000 copies. It’s been in about eight printings, but I got no money from it. The publisher kept it all. But the point is, lots of kids have read it and have been inspired by it, so I thought I’d film some examples of how Troma does this, how we raise money, how we get script conferences, how we deal with it when things go wrong, so I made this MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE 5-DVD box set. Then some universities invited me to give seminars, and last year they called me to Iceland, Norway, France…

What kind of feedback do you get? What kind of people show up and what does it all look like in practice?

Well, the typical Troma fans are very well educated and sophisticated about the internet and the new technology, they’re very well aware of what’s going on in the world, and many females are involved, since they’ve been an underclass, and Troma has always been about the underdogs — people with alternative life styles, the black people etc. — turning tables. The underdogs are the ones who support Toxie.

Since the title of the masterclass, the book and the DVD set is MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE, does it mean that you believe that ANYONE could be a film director? And even if they could, do you believe that every movie would be watchable, commercial, interesting to an audience outside of their friends, relatives, neighbors?

Interview with TromaThe title came because so many people are whining about being unable to do things, so I said: MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE!

Do you believe in a communist idea that EVERYONE will be an artist?

It’s a historic thing. Thanks to the digital age, it’s like cars: when they were invented, you had to be very rich to own one, then around 1950, at least in the developed countries, we could all own cars, the workers could own cars. Movies have for long been denied to all, you had to be very rich, even 16mm requires thousands of dollars. Now I carry with me a small digital camera and I’ve made several films that cost nothing, like the documentary ALL THE LOVE YOU CANNES, documenting our experiences promoting Troma films at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s been in many film festivals.

Some people who attended your master class told me that the part about promotion was especially interesting and helpful. Troma has always relied heavily on imaginative advertizing.

You have to have a courage to be a sales person. If you wanna be an artist, and also wanna eat, you also have to be a business-man or a -woman or… a -thing. You know, Buster Keaton was bankrupt, he only made one movie, THE GENERAL, on which he had total control, after that -because he was under contract to MGM- the suits took over. On the other hand, Charley Chaplin kept control of all his negatives, kept control of everything he did, he was a good businessman, a good promoter. Picasso was a great promoter, a genius. A great artist of our age, but also a great promoter.

poultrygeist-poster.jpgDid you learn about promotion from your own experience (and mistakes), or from some other source?

I noticed that Picasso was very rich, and Van Gogh — who was maybe even more talented — cut off his ear, and sold only one of his paintings for about 50 dollars in his entire life and blew his brains out. He actually shot himself in the stomach. So, I see Chaplin, although blacklisted and expelled from USA making movies until he was 80, and then Buster Keaten, maybe more talented, and yet his career was ruined. Orson Welles’s career was ruined by the fact that he did not own his negatives, wasn’t a good businessman, and he was a little too proud to go out and sell. He was an aristocrat, born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Paris Hilton is born with a silver dildo in her mouth, but she’s not afraid to go out and promote, she’s not afraid to do business, to be a merchant.

And I have to admit that I don’t like to go out and whore for my art and go to Cannes and make a circus and wear a bow tie and all that, but, you know, Troma is still in business after 30 years. There are many artists and film directors who are snobs about that, they think that being a merchant, that’s what Jews do, you know, the Kaufmans, they are the merchants, and they say: “We’re not gonna do that!”, and then they make one movie, two movies, and they’re finished.

How have things changed since you started your business: the placement, the distribution…? Is it less expensive to make a movie, is it easier to market it? Can you make as much money now as before?

No. I do not make any money. Because you’re denied the market, which is controlled by the big conglomerates: they controll the big video chains, the newspapers, the publicity. They own the TV, they own the movie studios, the cable, everything, they publicize each other’s movies, and we don’t exist, we’re ignored, we’re economically blacklisted. The only thing Troma has is a famous brand, we created a brand, and we have very loyal fans, like the people who showed up tonight (for the screening of POULTRYGEIST). Some other films here had the audience of five or six, and we had almost a hundred.

And it was even raining, there were thunderstorms…

Yeah, they risked their lives to come here. So, that’s all we have, our fans. Otherwise we’d be dead.

What are the odds for showing your film in America theatrically?

We’re doing it ourselves. Troma distributes it, we have around 300 independent movie theatres around the country, which, if I direct a movie, they’re willing to play it.

toxic-avenger-movie.jpgHow does it compare to the 80ies, to TOXIC AVENGER’s release?

TOXIC AVENGER had around 2000 screens — not all at once, but bit by bit. At first no theater wanted to show it, then finally one theater played it, and it lasted for one year in that one theater in New York! The woman in that theater understood that it was a satire, that the violence and gore was grand guignol, it was funny. When THE WAITRESS, our movie from 1980 first came out, just in New York city we had 92 cinemas at one time, and the movie cost 150.000 $ . Our movies today are more expensive, and better, and in NY all I get is 8 theaters, if give a blowjob to the right person. An maybe we’ll get one week, two weeks, even with CITIZEN TOXIE, we played just one week and the shows were sold out, and yet the cinema removed it, because somebody was paying the cinema to move us out.

Still, you seem to be optimistic about making movies on celluloid, although I guess DVD is now a more viable market for your movies.

I’m very optimistic about new technology, because it’s enabling people all over the world, and because of my book tours, and acting in other people’s movies, I’m visiting many foreign cities. I can see that there are sleeping communities, cells of genuine art, all over the world, in small towns, that’s wonderful. Hopefully there’s gonna be a tsunami of really independent masterpieces. I think the world of art will be much better because of those thousands of rising new young filmmakers.

Yeah, you’re not about giving up, you’re about fighting.

We have to pre-empt the Big Internet. The Big Internet is coming. When we are sleeping, Hilary Clinton and Al Gore and those guys are trying to create the elite internet, an autobahn, a special road for 100 million dollar movies, and then everyone else will be below. To find a website for a film of mine it won’t be like to find the website of Cannes, you’ll have to go through 25 screens to find it, we have to start now, we have to fight now, because that’s what they’re planning.

And here is also a brief talk with Mr Kaufman’s charming wife (who also happens to be New York Film Commissioner). He kept jokingly referring to her as “my first wife”:

What is it like living with this tromatic person? There is a clich’ of a nagging wife who wants her artistic husband to make something more commercial, so they can feed their children and the like. So, how supportive were you for Mr Kaufman’s kind of films?

Oh, very supportive. I’ve always been very supportive. I want him to be a happy person and he has to do his art, he has to make his movies.

Are you creatively involved in their making?

I try to help. I make my suggestions.

What kind of suggestions? Like, “More gore”? “Sicker”? Or, “oh, this is too perverse, cut it out”?

(laughter) For me it’s important that a film has a good pace, so when he has a complete cut of the film I’ll go in and try to make it faster faster faster. The film is always better if it moves. Sometimes his early cuts are too sluggish, so that’s where I always say: faster faster faster, cut cut cut.

You’ve been travelling a lot with Mr Kaufman. Can you compare the audiences that you encountered? Are those from the Eastern Europe any different?

Troma fans are the same everywhere we go. Sometimes I’m surprised at what they laugh at, things that I think are very American, and they have to really understand something about American culture, or society, and I’m surprised ’cause everywhere we go, the audience is laughing.

(PS: Thanks to Croatian horror fans for some of the photos used to illustrate this interview! Also, thanks to Simon Savory, Troma promoter and author of some of the best photos here!)