An Interview with Lloyd Kaufman – By Brian Morton

In the world of independent film there’s one man who stands head and shoulders above everyone, and that’s Lloyd Kaufman. Lloyd and Troma Entertainment have been supporting and making independent films for over thirty years. If you look at Troma’s alumni, it’s a who’s who of Hollywood, names like Kevin Costner, Samuel L. Jackson, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Oliver Stone and so many more that to mention them all would be to take up so much room that our server would crash! If you’ve ever had the chance to see Lloyd speak or talk with him, you already know that Lloyd is one of the most honest and entertaining guys in the business, and if you’ve never seen Lloyd in person, then you need to make plans to do so at the first opportunity! I recently got the chance to have a chat with Lloyd about Troma, the industry in general and his new movie, Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead.

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 BM – Mr. Kaufman, how are you?

LK – I’m great, it’s a beautiful day in New York.

BM – I heard that you were going to be filming a scene for Poultrygeist today.

LK – We were but the interview with Rogue Cinema was much too important so we put that off to do this interview.

BM – So, what is Poultrygeist about?

LK – Well, it’s a satire about the nefarious fast food industry.

BM – Is this a response to McDonald’s moving in next door to Troma Headquarters?

LK – It sure as fuck is! In fact, I don’t know if you’ve read my second book, Make Your Own Damn Movie, but I talk about McDonald’s moving in next to us in the preface to that book.

BM – Between books, movies, teaching master classes and doing interviews with weirdoes like me, you must be one of the busiest men in the business.

LK – Well, I’m certainly one of the poorest. I’m very busy and very poor because I’m an independent artist and that’s very hard.

BM – Do you still have problems raising money?

LK – We have more trouble trying to penetrate the hymen of the marketplace because the major conglomerates, the five or six conglomerates that control the entire media, all of the entertainment industry plus all of the newspapers, radio and all those sources of knowledge, they’re all owned by the same five or six giant international conglomerates. And they are the reason that there are no independent movie studios with any longevity left. Troma really is the only one, there’s something called Lionsgate but they’re only five years old and let’s see what happens, you don’t know how long they’re going to last, but right now Lionsgate has a hot hand, they’re bringing us some great movies and I hope they continue to exist, I wish them luck.

BM – But wouldn’t these conglomerates see that they could make money buying and showing Troma movies?

LK – They want to put us out of business. They want to use their theatres to show their own movies, it’s a club. It’s true too of HBO, which is owned by Time Warner. And Comedy Central, does Comedy Central have any hit shows? One! South Park, and yet they’ve never shown Cannibal The Musical by Matt Stone and Trey Parker and Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, another one of those conglomerates. Unless you’re one of those big companies, you’re what they call economically blacklisted. Troma is in business because we have a loyal fan base, a very strong, loyal fan base and we make movies that those fans search out.

BM – But it seems that since you have this fan base, which they would consider a built in audience, they would want to do business with you.

LK – No. They’d love to get rid of us and then they can steal the Toxic Avenger and steal our library, we own seven hundred movies and they’d love to kill us so they can get their hands on those things.

BM – It seems that with all the people that Troma has given a start too, Kevin Costner, Oliver Stone, Matt and Trey, James Gunn, just to name a few, why wouldn’t any of those people champion Troma?

LK – What can they do? Matt and Trey can’t even get Cannibal The Musical on Comedy Central and I know that they’ve tried.

BM – I find that really stunning because there’s money to be made.

LK – It’s not about money, it’s about who has the biggest dick! They’d love to get rid of us because we tell the truth and we are exposing the emperor’s new clothes. Plus, we’re making movies for one half of one percent of a typical Hollywood movie and if, God forbid, the public suddenly understood the truth, that you don’t need fifty million dollars to make an entertaining movie all these jerks would lose their jobs. There are four or five hundred guys wearing suits that make a million dollars a year at Time Warner and they’re idiots! And they’d lose their jobs, they should lose their jobs anyway!

BM – You know, this is one of the things that, I think, endears you to people. You’re not afraid to speak your mind and just tell it like it is.

LK – (laughs) And that’s probably one of the reasons that we are economically blacklisted.

BM – It may be, but I think people can identify with you. Troma is the underdog and yet, you really don’t compromise your integrity.

LK – Well, movies are an art form and if you’re going to be true to your art you’re not supposed to compromise. Now, I certainly make plenty of compromises when it comes to trying to raise money. And I’ll certainly give out plenty of blowjobs to anyone who wants to distribute our films. You know, at the Cannes Film Festival we have to sell our movies to international film buyers and I’m perfectly willing to commit fellatio, but where we don’t compromise is on the actual movies, on the art!

BM – Well, since we spoke about it, you have given a start to so many people, is there some quality that you look for when you’re choosing someone?

LK – Originality and a sense of the maxim, To Thine Own Self Be True.

BM – Anyone that you’ve worked with recently that you think has that kind of potential?

LK – I think that the cast of Poultrygeist is the best. It’s, by far, the best acting we’ve ever had and I think that all the leads in the movie really has talent and there’s no reason why each of them shouldn’t go on to major success in the acting profession.

BM – When is Poultrygeist going to be released?

LK – Well, we’re still working on it. We’re going to film a little more in Los Angeles, we had a contest and we’re going to film a scene with the winner of the contest and, as I always do, I leave a little money in the budget to see where we might have made a mistake or where we might need to reshoot something, so we’re doing some reshoots and by the end of October or early November we should have some 35mm prints.

BM – I heard you on Fangoria Radio saying that you were going to film a scene with Dee Snider and Debbie Rochon for Poultrygeist.

LK – Well, we may or may not do that due to the various schedules involved so right now, we’re still not sure if we’ll have them in the film.

 BM – And just glancing at IMDB, the cast you’ve got is pretty cool. Matt and Trey are in it, Ron Jeremy is in it and David Lee Roth is supposed to be in it.

LK – Well, David says he’s going to be in it, I was on his radio show and he said he was going to come over and do something but so far we haven’t been able to pin him down, but we’d sure like to use him. You remember, by the way, all these people who you mentioned, when they are in our films, they do it for free. We can’t afford to pay them, and they’re very nice to us. Lemmy from Motorhead has been in a bunch of our movies and he’s never charged us a penny and he’s given us free music too!

BM – That’s the kind of loyalty that you seem to inspire. When I got the chance to see you last March at Chicago’s Weekend Of Horrors, I was going to get you to sign something for me, but the line to where you were was so long that I just had to give up, as a fat guy, my stamina isn’t that great!

LK – (laughing) Well, aren’t you kind, thank you. And that’s what’s interesting about cult movies, the fans search you out. Our movies aren’t gourmet food, they’re food that you may want to give a try once, it’s like homosexuality, you want to try it once to see if you like it! I’ve tried it about fourteen times and I’m still not sure if I like it, in fact, I’m going to try it again tonight. (Laughing)

BM – But I thought that was just to raise money.

LK – (laughs) But the point is that the big boys have tried to buy their way into the cult movie world with this Snakes On A Plane. That’s interesting because they got a lot of buzz on the internet because they had a goofy title and they had a big star, and everybody started buzzing about it on the internet but, then, they didn’t make a movie that anybody wanted to see and it was a big flop. They couldn’t manufacture a cult film and that’s the difference between us and them, people call us exploitation filmmakers, but what is Michael Bay or whoever made Independence Day? There’s a movie that had the World Trade Center collapsing and audiences burst into applause when it happened, but nobody remembers it, then Oliver Stone comes and everyone weeps when the World Trade Center collapses. Those are both mainstream movies and they are sold to the audience with fifty million ad campaigns and the fact that the studios own the television stations and those ‘info-tainment’ shows. Basically the Today Show and Good Morning America are big advertising campaigns for Hollywood and the audience is brainwashed into going to see these movies. So there’s cult movies where the audience seeks out the movies and there’s big budget brainwashing movie where the audience is basically brainwashed into seeing fast food movies and that’s what those things are, fast food movies. They taste good going down but then they give you indigestion and you feel like shit after you’ve eaten it and it comes out as diarrhea or something. So, that’s interesting, all these movies are exploitation, whether they exploit Tom Cruise or United Airlines Flight 93. United Flight 93 may be the biggest exploitation movie of them all because it even exploited the survivors because they had to go out and promote the movie because the studio gave them ten percent of the first weeks take, so they had to go around, these poor people, and try to get people to buy tickets and their movie still flopped.

BM – But wouldn’t you consider those kinds of movie nearly propaganda movies to keep the U.S. behind the war?

LK – No, exploitation, pure and simple, they’re exploiting the dead people, that’s all that is.

BM – I saw them as nearly propaganda films, especially World Trade Center.

LK – See, now we’re getting into political situations that we’re not competent to comment on. But the situation here is that a lot of these big movies are forgotten, Independence Day no one remembers anything about it except that audiences applauded when the World Trade Center got zapped by aliens and now Oliver Stone comes along and does the same thing except this time audiences are weeping when the World Trade Center is zapped by illegal aliens!

BM – I don’t know if this is true but I read that you were in the same class at Yale as George W. Bush.

LK – Yes, he was in my class. We were both in the class of 1968, as was Mr. Stone.

BM – So, you and George don’t still get together?

LK – Well, in freshman year, I remember he was running around New Haven looking for weapons of mass destruction, it took us years to figure out that one!

BM – At Yale you majored in Chinese studies, now how do you go from Chinese studies to film making?

LK – Because I believe in education and I believe that education is there as a broadening experience. It’s there are a foundation on which you build a career and I think the fact that I’m a well educated and I know a little bit more about the world than most of the creeps around is why I’ve been able to keep making movies for over forty years. I’ve studied quite a bit about things other than Katie Couric, I actually know a few things about the history of China, I spent a year in Africa and I just got back from China, I continue the interest to this day. But I believe that education is something that shouldn’t necessarily be about money making, it should be broadening, it should be like travel, you don’t travel to make money, you travel to learn and then down the road you can dip into that knowledge to make Chinese jokes! (laughs) It takes bad taste to insult five billion people!

BM – (laughing) Yes, but you’ve done the homework so you know how to effectively insult them all. Not to change gears, but will there ever be a Toxic Avenger part 5?

LK – I never say never, but I’m not interested in doing it but if somebody came along and said here’s the budget and we want you to make it, I suppose I’d do it.

BM – What about a script, would the script need to be great too?

LK – Well, I’d control that, so I’d do it. But right now, I’m interested in some other things. You know, it took us ten years between Toxic 3 and 4 so I’m not too interested right now. But again, if anybody out there reading this wants to put up the budget, we’ll make a damn good movie!

BM – What’s on your agenda after you finish up Poultrygeist?

LK – Well, we’ve got a project that is a Jane Austin satire called Schlock And Schlokability: The Revenge Of Jane Austin and we’re hoping to get some money for that and we’d love to shoot it in Europe somewhere, maybe England.

BM – Maybe when you go to these festivals, you should put out a tip cup.

LK – (laughs) Yeah, but our fans are very poor. I don’t even charge for my autograph, that’s why at Fangoria in March I was down in the basement. While all the rich guys and big shots are charging for their autograph, I don’t charge.

 BM – And the big shots were drawing a third of the crowd that you were drawing!

LK – Well, that’s cause I’m free. (laughs) But we do sell stuff at those conventions, so if you buy something I’ll sign it. But it still costs less to buy a Troma DVD than to get the autograph than most of the celebrities charge just for their autograph. After all, our fans are loyal, but they aren’t rich. We need one fan that’s very rich.

BM – Well, I have to admit to buying Lollilove and I have an I (heart) Tromaville High School bumper sticker on the top of my laptop and I get asked all the time where that high school is and I send them to Troma.com for you.

LK – Well, thank you. I’ve got one of those stickers on my car and people keep honking at me and I keep forgetting that it’s on there so I keep wondering what the hell are they honking at?

BM – I see by the credits that you’re in the new movie, The Black Dahlia?

LK – Yes, but it’s not the Brian DePalma Black Dahlia, it’s the Ramzi bed Black Dahlia. He started his before DePalma started his, but he’s a Troma fan and a Troma protégé, he did another movie called The Tunnel in which Mark Borchardt from American Movie and I acted, he brought us down to Texas to be in it.

BM – Now, I know you’re familiar with Justin Channell, he’s someone we’ve spoken with here at Rogue Cine
a, his movie Raising The Stakes is really terrific and we’re looking forward to his next movie, Die And Let Live.

LK – Yeah, Justin, the young kid from Pittsburgh! Yeah, he’s very dedicated and talented, he runs the official Troma fan site. It’s the only fan site that constantly bad mouthing the subject that it’s a fan of! Every time I read it, it has things like we suck and Lloyd’s an idiot, it just never says anything nice. (laughs) And that’s the official Troma fan site, imagine what the unofficial sites are like! But, that’s right, his first movie was very good. You know, we here at Troma, see ourselves as on a kind of crusade to encourage and keep alive independent art and to try to tell people about it. That’s why I wrote those books, to try to give people some hope that you don’t have to wear a Mickey Mouse costume or drive the bus at Universal Pictures or work a Xerox machine at William Morris. That you can have a day job and be a moviemaker at the same time. With digital cinema you can be an independent filmmaker, you don’t have to be part of the system.

BM – And we here at Rogue Cinema support that spirit 100%, we love seeing these low and micro budget movies as much as people like making them. Thanks for your time, Mr. Kaufman, I really appreciate it.

LK – No problem, I’m happy to speak with you and I hope to speak with you again.

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So, there you have it, Lloyd Kaufman is not only one of the most gifted independent directors out there, but he’s also one of the nicest and one of the funniest. Lloyd will be at the It Came From Lake Michigan Film Festival in October and I hope to get the chance to finally shake his hand in person. And, Lloyd asked me to pass along to all our readers that The Toxic Avenger: The Novel is out there and no one seems to know about it, so you can run over to Troma.com and get a copy for yourself and you can get any of Troma’s products there as well, including keeping an eye open for Poultrygeist which Lloyd tells me is a shot for shot remake of Amistad, except they used chickens instead of black guys and a fast food restaurant instead of a boat, other than that it’s a remake of Amistad, which I think might make that movie more entertaining, at least more funny.