Conversation with Lloyd Kaufman about movies, authentic New York and more April 11 2016
Mariagrazia De Luca
Isn’t it incredible? Troma Entertainment, the oldest film company in the United States, which specialized in horror movies, has been producing and distributing independent movies for over 40 years, and its fans are scattered all around the planet.
This week had a tour of the Troma Building, and we interviewed Lloyd Kaufman, the President and cofounder along with Michael Hertz of Troma. Llyod Kaufman sat down to speak about experiencing the “authentic” New York….
The team of Troma is super friendly. They offer us coffee and show us all around the building, which seems a museum. There are many props from the films such as monster’s masks, tools to make special effects, original posters, shelves full of DVDs, CDs, old films, material used during the production of movies. One that particularly caught my interest, and is also iconic of Troma’s movies, is the one of Toxie, from the movies about The Toxic Avenger.
Next time you are going to plan a trip to New York City, consider going on the Troma Building Tour. Contact them in advance (firstname.lastname@example.org), since the tours are arranged by appointment. The Troma Studios is in Long Island City (36-40 11th Street). Take the Q, N or F train and get off at the first stop of Queens.
First of all, congratulations! For over 40 years Troma Entertainment has been producing and distributing independent movies, without compromising with any “Hollywood”.
Lloyd: We would love to make compromises, but nobody wants to do it with us (laughs). In fact the artistic freedom is the most important thing, and we have been so fortunate to have it for all these years. It’s our fans who really are the engine of our company. We have volunteers from all around the world who help us to make and distribute the movies. In Return to Nuke’ Em High, Volume II some of the post-production money were donated by our fans through Kickstarter. The movie is almost finished: we are almost there! Besides supporting us financially, fans filmed all over the world some scenes with professional cameras: in Australia, France, Spain, Japan, Africa, China, etc. All these scenes will be in the final movie.
Troma has so many loyal fans all around the world: this is amazing! I am Italian and I have always been your fan.
Lloyd: Thank you! Yes, Troma has many fans in Italy. When I was in Rome giving the Master Class, the fans made it very successful: it was sold out. Every time we go to Rome to Troma’s Retrospective the fans are always there. Unfortunately, we don’t get money, but it is a “ego” trip. We also know that there are a lot of bootleg DVDs in Italy and we are proud of our fans who take the trouble to make the bootleg. Anyway, it is a pity that we don’t have a real distribution and can make a little bit of money. It’s a political issue…
Is it about politics?
When you have Berlusconi running the country… what can you expect? It is almost bad as Hilary Clinton… (laughs) not as bad as Hilary Clinton, but almost with his make-up, he looks better. I would prefer Berlusconi as President of the United States. Actually, I would prefer Berlusconi as a woman to be President of the United States rather than Hilary. We don’t like her.
Fortunately, Italy is not just politics.
Yes, and I studied four years of Latin and I am quite knowledgeable about the history and the Romans. By the way, who is your favorite Emperor? Mine is Octavian, a visionary. He was great! He was good for the people.
Emperor? Perhaps Caligula, a bad guy, but intriguing. What about Caesar?
Caesar was a sort of Kurt Cobain. It would be interesting seeing where he would be gone. Although Caesar didn’t kill himself like Kurt Cobain. I would love to kill myself too, but unfortunately I don’t have the guts.
Lloyd, would you love to shoot a movie in Italy? Which would be a nice set?
Yes, that would be great. We should first find someone with money in Italy, that’s the problem. Rome is a beautiful set, even though I know it is difficult to make movies there.
What is your favorite director and movie?
Rossellini. Fellini is ok, but not as much as Rossellini. My favorite movie is Open City (1945). It’s the most Troma’s movie. They used wheelchairs, since they didn’t have the equipment. About horror movies, Dario Argento is a genius. Troma distributes his film, The Syndrome of Standhal (1996), starring his daughter Asia Argento. I also interviewed her, she gets raped very well in the movie.
Making independent movies in the 70s and making independent movies today. What did it change?
Lloyd: I studied Chinese history and culture at Yale University and I read a lot about Taism: Yin and Yang, good and bad, the beauty and the ugly, you cannot have one without the other. The positive thing is that the digital revolution caused a democratization of making movies and everybody can make a movie today. The problem today is that we cannot eat or paying our rent making our art. 30 years ago, we needed money to make movies, such The Toxic Avenger or Class of Nuke’Em High, but then we could have distribution all over the world. There were many distribution companies around the world and a lot of competition among them.
To be an “Independent” artist today seems to be more difficult…
Today, it’s impossible for an independent artist to make money, especially since the media is controlled by a few and it’s impossible to “break the hymen” of mainstream. However, some talents who started with Troma, are today doing very well in the mainstream. There are great people who have the control of their art. James Gunn, who wrote Tromeo and Juliet, directed by me, wrote and also directed Guardians of Galaxy, movie which made billion of dollars. He is a great guy. He knows how to get his way with the shitted Hollywood. I don’t know how to do it, unfortunately. Very few people who are very gifted can make it. So many talents are kept outside the “Vitrine”.
Many of your movies have been shot in New York City. In Toxic Avenger we watch a decadent New York City of the 80s, which landscapes have today disappeared. The most iconic, the Twin Towers which are often in the background of the scenes. How much has New York City changed? Is it still a good set for independent directors?
Lloyd: New York has changed as much as our society has changed. Unfortunately, the city is controlled by a bureaucrat elite that has no interested in supporting the arts. Bureaucrats make a lot of money at the expense of those who work hard, destroying what make America great, which is originality, engineering and creativity.
Was there more creativity in the 80s?
Lloyd: There was a more genuine interest and more open-mindedness toward creative people. No one can really afford to live in New York anymore. It is not a matter of the rent being high, it is a matter of bureaucrats raising the real estate taxes, and put the money in their pockets. A real conspiracy! The little people of Tromaville need the Toxie Avenger to save them.
Lloyd you are also an actor. Is it true that you starred also in Rocky?
Lloyd: Yes. I played the Drinking Boom, a game where you drink if you lose, in Rocky and I am pretty good in this game. In fact, since then I had a lot of experience being drunk. If you go to my IMBD, you can see that I am in about 200 underground movies and in many of them I play Drinking Boom or I play the doctor. I am a terrible actor but if I make a movie the Troma’s fans would buy the DVD. Plus, my participation might attract other “celebrities” to participate. I usually don’t get pay, but I learn so much and it is a lot of fun.
Which advice would you give to the readers who are planning a trip in New York City, to really “experience” the authentic New York?
In terms of museums, the Metropolitan, around 5 in the evening in the weekend it is an interesting place to visit. After looking some art, do not feel guilty, you should go to have a drink at the nice bar of the museum, where usually they put Mozart or other classic music and you are surrounded by Chinese potteries. And, in the meantime considering suicide…
If instead you like Shakespeare, musicals and are little gay (as I am), you should go to see Something Rotten, a lot of fun for the entire family. Brooklyn is a lot of fun, yippish, young. In Manhattan everybody is old and looks as Vienna. In Brooklyn, you have a lot of people roaming around the street, lots of clubs, bar with movie theater in the back where you can watch movies undergroundish as Troma, not boring… except for Troma’s maybe…
Walking is the best way to experience the city from downtown to uptown: there are so many buildings, some old and well preserved, other modern. Central Park is nice, but Prospect Park is more dangerous, so it’s more exciting. At night, you can be mugged: it’s a pretty authentic New York experience, isn’t it?
Take the subway! This is also a very New York experience. Fellini’s movies are nothing compared to the experience of taking the subway. Take the M train. Anyway, the top of the authentic New York experience are The Tombs. The Tombs are the prisons, in a Victorian style, where they put you once you get arrested. Is it exciting, isn’t it?
And what about Times Square?
Lloyd: Times Square’s shops such as Mc Donald’s, M&M, the restaurants, are the same one you find in Ohio. The good news is that we become almost a 3th world country: the dollar is still so weak that for Europeans is still convenient to travel to the United States. More than everything… you should come to visit us, The Troma Building. We have lots of tourists visiting Troma. Sometime young girls and boys drags their parents here, without they having any idea of what Troma is. Kids sometime don’t want to see the Empire State Building, but find exciting Troma’s Tour.