The zany world of Troma’s founder: An Interview with Lloyd Kaufman
Gregarious, good-natured, and with his characteristic bawdy sense of humor, Lloyd Kaufman behaves precisely as you’d expect him to, if you have seen any of his work. Troma Entertainment, the film production/distribution company that he founded in the 1970s with business partner Michael Herz, has been producing and distributing low budget, transgressive cinema for 35 years. Troma is responsible for The Toxic Avenger (1984), Class of Nuke ’Em High (1986), Tromeo and Juliet (1996) and, more recently, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006).
“I went to Yale University in the ’60s and I was going to be a teacher, or a social worker, and make the world a better place. Teach people with hooks for hands how to finger-paint. Teach bums how to paint happy faces on beads and string the beads together. But God placed me in a room with the guy who ran the Yale film society during my freshman year. It fucked my life. I kept drifting into screenings, and getting my mind blown by John Ford, Howard Hawks, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Stan Brakhage (the greatest visual artist of my lifetime).”
It was at a screening of Ernst Lubitch’s To Be or Not to Be that Kaufman decided to make movies: “I would give what I had to give to the movie going world.”
Kaufman worked on a few major productions in the 1970s, before becoming disenchanted by mainstream cinema. He founded Troma with Michael Herz in 1974. “All of the major studios started to rip us off, so we had to switch to a different tack,” Kaufman says. “We read one day in Variety that horror films were dead: they were no longer viable economically. So Michael Herz and I said, ’Aha!” Kaufman decided to fuse his love of comedy and satire with gore. While the work he went on to produce was unquestionably influenced by the horror genre, Kaufman insists that simply calling his films horror movies is “100% incorrect.”
“My movies, at least the movies I write and direct, are satires. They are quizinart genres. They combine sex, horror, science fiction, Shakespeare, musical, and if you’ve seen Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, nobody is horrified by that movie. Disgusted perhaps…but they are not terrified.”
He says that Troma is a “genre bender,” citing The Toxic Avenger as the prime example of what Troma strives to create. It has become so much a part of the American lexicon that it has been turned into an Off-Broadway musical, which opens in New York this April.
Kaufman went on to speak about the conception of the The Toxic Avenger. “I was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982, and I had one of those sort of ‘Eureka!’ moments, when I realized, ’Aha! We’ll make the monster the hero!’ So we had the first hideously deformed creature of super–human strength from New Jersey (New Jersey, because I’m always in favor of the underdog).”
The fact that Troma is still in existence is something Kaufman attributes largely to the loyalty of their fan base. “I have felt that every movie that Michael Herz and I have directed has been a seminal piece,” Kaufman said. “The problem is that we are an independent, small company and the major media ignores us because the media is controlled by five or six devil-worshipping international media conglomerates, and we don’t exist.”
In addition to working in the film industry, Kaufman has also published a number of books, including Make Your Own Damn Movie! and All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from “The Toxic Avenger” (with Troma alumnus James Gunn), as well as his most recent: Direct Your Own Damn Movie!
Kaufman was also recently elected chairman of the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA). “The IFTA is a trade association for the independent film community…about 200 companies are members…we are fighting for net neutrality. As long as the internet remains a level playing field, I think we all have hope.” Kaufman recently posted what he calls a “public service announcement about media consolidation.” Kaufman says, “People have as much access to that as they do to Hannah Montana,” and this, Kaufman asserts, is what he is fighting for.
“The bad guys want a situation where the internet becomes ABC, CBS and NBC… and you can see the internet being colonized as we speak. You’ve got Hulu [Hulu.com], which is a conspiracy of Fox and NBC and Sony. They’re trying to get Congress and the FCC to give them the right to create a superhighway that only they, the elite, can traverse.”
“The big guys…[should recognize]…that colonization has never worked. Just ask the French.”