By far, this interview with TROMA founder Lloyd Kaufman is one of my favorite pieces from the old site. We caught up with him right after the release of Citizen Toxie on DVD circa 2004, and his rants that day would turn out to be legendary. So here it is, our conversation with the craziest man in Hollywood, Lloyd Kaufman.
It has nothing to do with making a movie. It's all about ass licking and incompetence. It has nothing to do with filmmaking.
Troma seems to be very visible lately, I was just wondering how you guys are doing?
Well we're going into our 30th anniversary, but it's still very very hard to get our wonderful movies to the public, because a lot of the big...Well, Blockbuster for some reason has a lot of crap in there but they don't have Troma.
(laughs) Hey I wanted to let you know that I was in a Hollywood Video yesterday and I saw "Citizen Toxie."
It was rated 'R' though
Well at least it's there you know.
How is the 'R' cut? Is it butchered?
You know it's not bad, it's not bad. I guarantee it's better than 99% of the Hollywood crap.
With "Terror Firmer" and now "Citizen Toxie" you guys seem to be gaining more and more fans, would you agree with that?
Well I don't know, I think it's basically thanks to our fans... it's all word of mouth. If that's true, it's our fans spreading the good word, they're the ones who are interactive with us and tell us what to do. For instance our fans told us to start a website, and we were the first studio to do that. Our fans told us about DVD and we were one of the first studios to do DVD's.
In fact, our fans are the ones that told us to do another "Toxic Avenger" movie. They were the ones who suggest I make my book Make Your Own Damn Movie too, cause they felt that my first book was great but they wanted to know more about the nuts and bolts of how Troma makes movies. They book our movies into theaters also, our fans are the ones who do that. Our fans are the one's who told Barns and Noble to make sure my book is there. So I think our fans are very proactive and they know that, we are perhaps the "last man standing", that we are the last independent movie studio that has had any kind of longevity.
I also think that "Citizen Toxie" is probably the best movie you guys have ever made, would you agree with that?
I think it's definitely the best movie that I've made, ya.
How come it took so long for Citizen Toxie to come out on DVD? You finished it in 1999 right?
Well we shot it in '99 and we finished editing in 2000. It's been playing at 300 theatres so we wanted to let it play out. You know, for us 300 theatres is like "Lord of the Rings." It's important to let our fans see it on the big screen. Also, "Citizen Toxie" is two discs and you don't just make two discs...and we have a feature length documentary... so it's not like instant coffee. It took us a year just to do that documentary.
When did you first get the idea for these feature length documentaries?
Well you know we did one on "Terror Firmer" called "Farts of Darkness," and we could probably release those separately but we want our fans to have a good deal. We're not like the major studios who rip off the fans, or sue their fans, for Napster or something like that. We're not like that.
I've seen both of them and I must say that they're fascinating. They really are looks at how a 'real' movie is made, there's no bullshit in them.
Well thank you, spread the word. We think that people should see the truth. You know I do believe that "Apocalypse Soon" the making of "Citizen Toxie"...I don't think there's a better documentary about making movies, I really don't. I don't think that there's anything better that shows the nuts and bolts, and emotion, and the dysfunctional family, and chaos... as well as the joy and idealism and the teamwork that goes into making an independent low-budget movie. I don't think you will see anything better. "Project Greenlight" which HBO did was absolute crap. They should call it "Project Brown-noser". That kid had his nose so far up the butts of Harvey Weinstein and that...creepy...what's that kid's name...the uh...movie star...whatever his name is...
Ya I read you bashing that show in your book, I enjoyed those parts, they were pretty funny...
Who is that guy? What's his...Matt Damon?
(laughs) Matt Damon, ya.
The other one isn't quite as unpleasant, the other one that was with him in the big movie.
You mean Ben Affleck?
Ya, oh no Ben Affleck's the one...oh no...which one's in Greenlight?
(I'm laughing my ass off at this point, there's no more holding it in) I think both of them star in it actually.
Well they both should be ashamed of themselves.
It has nothing to do with making a movie. It's all about ass licking and incompetence. It has nothing to do with filmmaking. There's not one ounce of joy in that movie concerning filmmaking. Whereas you see "Apocalypse Soon" or you see "Farts of Darkness"...that is filmmaking. That's real filmmaking.
Is that part of the inspiration that went into wanting to write another book?
Well no, the fans wanted it. The fans had enjoyed my first book All I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger , published by Penguin Putnam, one of those giant conglomerates that I hate. The fans kept telling me they wanted to know more about how to raise money, how to do casting, how to find a location. You know there are tons of "how-to" books out there, but most of them are written by people who haven't made movies. Or they're written by people who make big-time Hollywood movies which have nothing to do with reality. I mean some kid coming out of film school is not going to be directing "Fight Club."
Troma is economically blacklisted all over the world. So if the only way we can get to the public is through pirating, than no problem, go and pirate.
I think the best part of the book is that even though it's informative, it's incredibly funny too. I think my favorite story is about the porta potty that was overflowing with crap.
Yeeeah (in a reflective voice)...that was a true story. It's a valuable lesson. Not just necessarily that but people have to be reminded that movie making is not a goof. We don't take ourselves very seriously but boy we take our movies seriously. I've got interns here at Troma who take our movies very seriously. A lot of these summer interns though, they come in from film school and they really think "gee, Troma... all those naked women, goofy slapstick, I'm gonna come in there it's gonna be like a frathouse."
Well it's not and I have to tell them hey, this is not a frathouse, we're talking about art here. You don't fuck around with art, you gotta be serious. It doesn't matter what kind of art you make, if it's something that comes from the heart... there's a lot of bathroom cleaning that backs up. In order to make a Troma movie you've gotta sleep on the floor, you've gotta eat cheese sandwiches three times a day, and learn how to defecate in a paper bag. That's part of the deal.
I thought one of the most interesting aspects of the book is that you tell horror story after horror story about making films, but in the end as the reader you really want to make a film yourself despite that.
Well I've been getting a lot of good email, and a lot of very good book reviews. Alot of the major publications like Publisher's Weekly, and Entertainment weekly... a lot of the major publications have been saying just what you're saying. And a lot of the Troma fans have been writing in to me saying that they are greatly appreciative of the inspiration that I created in their souls. What more could I want?
You guys just got back from Cannes right? I'm interested to know how you guys are recieved there.
Well we made a movie called "All the Love You Cannes" which is coming out on DVD next month (June). It's a full length documentary about Troma at the Cannes Film Festival. Our movies are distributed over there all the time. The Cinemateque France, which is the most prestigious archival film museum in the world has presented me as one of the few autuer American directors. The also did a big evening with Terror Firmer and Farts of Darkness last year. And many of the french film stars helped promote it. Troma has a very good reputation there, we are beloved in France. That doesn't mean we have a lot of mainstream distribution, but we have the support of the French public and the intellectuals of France. They've done a lot to support us.
Your views on pirating movies and music are well known, and I agree with you, but I was wondering if your views would change if people were downloading Troma movies in mass quantities.
Well I would suggest you read my essay on the site, pirating is good. I wrote an essay on the site called "Pirating May Be Good". Troma is economically blacklisted all over the world. So if the only way we can get to the public is through pirating, than no problem, go and pirate. We wouldn't be distributed in Russia if it weren't for pirating. It's thanks to pirating that Troma now has legitimate distribution in Russia. Russia was closed to us because the big international conglomerates and the mafia control all of the Russian media. BUT, fans were pirating our movies. And it got to the point where there was such huge awareness of Troma that we actually have distribution. We're making money there, and I'm convinced that it's all thanks to pirating.
And as far as I'm concerned, how dare these studios charge... they're doing shitty DVD's. They're movies should be pirated, they deserve to go down the drain. They suck and they're killing off all of the independent art in the world. The news corporations, Sony, Viacom, they are infesting the world with mediocrity and baby food, and they're killing off all competition. Why should people be paying ten dollars for a shitty CD of "The Backside Boys", why?
You can make a profit charging two dollars, it's a disgrace. And you're telling me that Metallica doesn't make enough money? They have to go sue their fans because a few fans are downloading their music. Furthermore, the Wallstreet Journal said very clearly, and they're hardly a "commie-pinko" newspaper, they said that people downloading from Napster, that 60% of them went on to buy shit. So fuck it... this is not about protecting the artists. This is about protecting the cartel, the monopoly against competition. That's what it's all about. It's nothing to do with protecting anybody but the elites of society.
That's a very good point you make. I was also wondering... (at this point Lloyd interrupts me. It's okay though, I love Lloyd, but he was obviously not done ranting about corporate conglomerates).
I mean, I believe in the copyright law, no question about it. And you know I don't believe that a company should copy "Tromeo and Juliet" and go and start distributing it to the public. That would be a terrible thing. But if some kid wants to make a dupe copy for his friend, or his mother, what the hell's wrong with that?
I was also wondering... (Lloyd interrupts me at this point, there's no stopping him now...)
If a kid wants to sell it to his mother go ahead. I just don't think you want people selling it wide scale. But I'll tell you something else. 25 years is more than enough, Mickey Mouse should be in the public domain. Disney shouldn't own him anymore. The copyright law is being abused. The law was not set up to put art in the hands of a small, elite, group of billionaires forever.
That was not what the founding fathers intended of copyright law. The original copyright law set up by the founding fathers of the United States of America was for 14 years. It was to give the artist some profit and some encouragement during his generation so that he or she or "it" could be encouraged to keep creating. Then it was extended to 25 and then 75 years, and now it's forever, and that is NOT what copyright law is about.
(at this point I'm zoning out, trying to picture what exactly Troma would do if they could use Mickey Mouse... it's funny trust me)
The public supports the artists. The public has been paying billions of dollars to Disney to see Mickey Mouse. Now it's time for Disney to pay back the public. The public should have the right to Mickey Mouse...it should be public domain. Disney can still make billions of dollars with Mickey Mouse, and there will be lots of people like you and me, who can take Mickey Mouse make it into something better than what Disney is doing.
This copyright law that we have right now that Clinton put into affect, because he's a pimp for the media cartel. If the copyright law were around in Shakespeare's day, he wouldn't have written Romeo and Juliet because he would have been sued or put in jail.
If I've done something stupid let me hear about it because I think that one of the reasons that Kevin Costner is such a failure is that he has lost total touch with his fans.
(Lloyd went on for about another 5 minutes with this rant. But it was mostly about Mickey Mouse)
I was wondering if you have any guilty pleasures, any Hollywood films that you secretly love?
All the one's I like I've been very vocal about actually. I thought "Fight Club" was very brilliant. I thought "Chicago" was amazingly good. They were good ones. I can't stand the Tolkien shit, I can't read it and I can't watch it. I think Peter Jackson did a brilliant job with it, but it's just not my cup of tea. I can tell you though that Steven Spielberg stuff for the most part sucks. In the fullness of time, it will be revealed that "Catch Me If You Can" is a piece of shit. The values are all fucked up now. It's a piece of diarrhea.
But you know, I'm a loser and he's a winner so.
You're not a loser.
Well you know what I mean, the point is there's some very good big time Hollywood movies. Sam Raimi's stuff is great. These guys are doing a pretty good job navigating the corridors of billionaire, baby food, mediocrity. They're doing a very good job and you've got to hand it to them. In one way I wouldn't want to be in their shoes, but in another way I would like to be in them. I envy them in certain ways. You know, Scorcese does great movies, Woody Allen does great stuff. Oliver Stone's movies are great...there are people out there in the mainstream who know how to do it.
What kinds of movies inspired you to make your own films?
Well the people that inspired me when I started making my own movies in the 60's were, John Ford, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, John Renior, Fritz Lange, Sam Fuller, Roger Corman, Warhol. A lot of movies from the classic Hollywood era, the 30's, 40's, and 50's. Pretty much I'm an auteur in terms of my belief in film. My theory of filmmaking is that it's all about the soul of the artist. And I've attempted to, within the limits of the budgets and my own fucked up personality, I've tried to be very true to my soul in my own movies.
It's funny you say that, because beyond the films themselves, I think it's that sense of passion and love for filmmaking that you have that really made me become a huge Troma fan.
Well thank you for having that sense of values, I hope you can spread the word. I think what's important is that we've inspired a lot of people in terms of thinking about doing their own movies. And I think a lot of people like Quentin Tarrantino and Trey Parker, and Peter Jackson, I think they have sort of grown up on Troma movies and they've gone through some of the doors we've opened. It's just that they have been able to appeal to a more mainstream audience. Good for them.
I think that's great. It's like an art movement. We've got a film festival called "Tromadance", we've got all these people who have gone through our company who have gone on to success in their fields. James Gunn, with whom I wrote "Tromeo and Juliet," he wrote "Scooby Doo" and he's getting big money out in Hollywood. And I guarantee that if there's anything good about "Scooby Doo," he's the reason.
Now, Troma is known for their over the top "gross-out" humor. I was curious to know if there was ever anything in a Troma script that you just thought went too far, or that offended you.
I don't think there's anything that's ever been in a script, or at least the one's I've directed that I thought went too far. I think it's usually been people in the company who think so. You know the editors in "Citizen Toxie" they wanted to cut out the black guy being dragged behind the pick up truck.
Ya that scene does come to mind.
The focus groups too. We show our films to focus groups, and we showed the movie to different groups around the country while it was being edited, and that scene would just destroy the audience. I mean the audience was really into the film, and they would be laughing and laughing...
I remember we showed the film in New York, one of the first cuts of the movie, and there was one guy in the audience that was just hysterically laughing at everything. And then that scene came up and that was the end, he didn't laugh again during the movie. So obviously that scene should have been cut out, but I didn't want to. I wanted it to stay in because I felt that it was important. That's what being an artist is about. Maybe we lost money on it, maybe people walked out of the theatre, maybe we didn't sell enough DVD's because of it, I don't really know. But, maybe the reason Troma is successful is because we do what we believe in.
Another fascinating part of the feature length documentaries you've been making is that they really do capture EVERYTHING. There is a lot of Lloyd-bashing going on. It seems that you take it all in good spirit, but I was wondering, did you ever have to fire anyone over it?
Not for that. Hey, they badmouth me on the commentary tracks too. I'm not happy with that. But it seems to me, that if we can offer the public the truth... I mean... the only truth that I don't want to deal with is to the extent that I might be talented as a writer and director. I don't want to deal with that particular reality. But anything other than that... fuck it! Let the truth be known, because why not? If I've done something stupid let me hear about it because I think that one of the reasons that Kevin Costner is such a failure is that he has lost total touch with his fans.
He refused to be in the DVD of "Sizzle Beach USA" (Costner's first film). Why didn't he do it? He would have picked up so many fans by doing that. Everyone would have said, "gee, isn't he a good guy". Trey Parker is in "Tales From The Crapper," do you think that's a good career move? Do you think it was a good career move for him and Matt Stone to play a hermaphrodite couple in "Terror Firme"r after they had been on the cover of Newsweek magazine? I don't think that exactly helped them to get endorsements from Pepsi-Cola. But that's why they're going to be around for a long time.
(How did he go from talking about his employees badmouthing him to him badmouthing Kevin Costner? God I love this guy) (laughs) Ya, that makes sense.
I've been friends with Stan Lee, the Spiderman creator, since I got out of Yale. He goes to conventions, he's right down there in the pits. He's in with his fans, I do that too. And I listen to the fans, I think it's very important to do that. I think you don't want to lose touch with the fans, and with the people that work for you. And hey, I think the public should see where my mistakes are. In other words, I think that's a way people can learn. It's too late for me, but I think that's what makes "Farts of Darkness," and "Apocalypse Soon" so compelling.
I would definitely agree with that.
You know, you see this old guy like me trying desperately to make some art and at the same time all this shit's going on, and a lot of it's his own doing! If you stand back and look at it, there's a certain amount of pathos to it. You also see that I'm an asshole, and I should be aware of that too. I've been trying to stop that part of my personality... I think it's all good.
Here's my last question, does Lloyd Kaufman have any regrets?
The only regret I have is the times when I compromised. I think "Toxic Avenger Part II" and "Sgt Kabukiman NYPD"... I think they're fine movies but we compromised, and I think they would have been a lot better if we would have just kept to the Troma, 'extreme' plan.
In what way did you compromise on Kabukiman?
Well we had co-producers who wanted a more mainstream movie. You know I talk about it in my first book, how I convinced them to let the worm eating to be in it, which fucked them up. But then they convinced me to cut out certain gruesome things... like killing the kids. We were gonna kill those babies in the beginning, and we should've done it!
You know it did seem a little less intense that most Troma movies.
You know it really ruined the film because it was neither fish nor foul and I think that was the problem.
It wasn't bad though, I liked it.
No I think it was a great film, it was a very good film and so was "The Last Temptation of Toxie," but we copped out a bit and I think that was a big, big, big mistake. I also regret that I let some of these other people direct some of these Troma projects. I shouldn't have let it happen. I had an opportunity to be on national television and be out in front of the public and things like that and he wanted me to be out there a little more, so I did and I handed over some movies to other people and I regret that because I think I would have done a better job. But so be it, at least we gave them a chance.
Well hey you guys are still around.
Yup, thanks to you!
Hey I just want to say that it's been a real honor having you answer my questions
Thank you! I hope to see you in New York one of these days! Long live Tromaville!