Lloyd Kaufman is the head of Troma Studios, which has released many successful cult favorites including "The Toxic Avenger," "The Class of Nuke'em High," "Tromeo and Juliet,' "Terror Firmer," "Santa Claws," "Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y. P.D.," and the provocatively titled "Teenage Cat Girls in Heat." He also served as producer, writer, or director on many of his company's best-known works (He did some of his work using pseudonyms such as Stanley L. Kaufman and Samuel L. Weil.)
The studio also distributed some notable foreign films such as Dario Argento's chilling "The Stendhal Syndrome" and Hayao Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro." Miyazaki later went on to direct "Spirited Away," one of the finest animated films, ever.
Everyone always talks about the discovery of great stars by Corman’s New World Cinema, but Troma helped launch the careers of Oliver Stone ("Battle of Love's Return)", “South Park's" Matt Stone and Trey Parker ("Cannibal, the Musical"), and Billy Bob Thorton ("Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town.")
Kaufman is very recognizable, and he has appeared in many Troma features. His most recent notable role was as the crap keeper (probably a parody of the EC comics character, the crypt keeper from "Tales from the Crypt."
It is expected that he will work on the script of "Poultrygeist" which will be released in 2005 or 2006. A blurb states that the horror/comedy/musical/satire will be a like cross between "My Fair Lady" and "Dawn of the Dead." Hopefully, the film will meat (pun intended) expectations.
Kaufman wrote several books about his film making experiences including "All I Need to Know about Film Making, I Learned from the Toxic Avenger" and "Make Your Own Damn Movie!"
I spoke to him on the phone a few days before he was scheduled to speak at the Movieside Film Festival (That same weekend he appeared on Messy Stench's terrific Internet radio show.) Lloyd had a great sense of humor, but sometimes it was hard for me to know when he was joking. He also spoke very fast, and I was not able to get down everything he was said.
How did you get started in filmmaking?
I made the mistake of going to Yale. George Bush was the same class. I wanted to be a social worker or teacher so I could teach people with hooks how to finger-paint. My roommate was a movie bug, and I inhaled Le Aroma du Troma.
How did you start collaborating with Michael Herz?
I met him in prison, and he was my bitch. I spent all my cigarette money on him. He wanted to be a TV moviemaker. I ended up co-directing features with Michael and Troma grew out of that. We're the only film company that has been around for 30 years without ever having a hit.
What or who were your influences?
I was really influenced by the auteur theory, the whole French new wave, and Cashiers du Cinema writers. Through them (Chabrol, Melville, and Truffaut), I learned that the director is the auteur or author of the work, and he or she creates a consistency of theme and personality. This in turned me to Chaplin, Ford, Hitchcock, Lubitsch, Renoir, Fritz Lang, Russ Meyer and all the classic filmmakers. I saw the late Stan Brackhage's work "Art Of Vision," and it was like hearing Beethoven for the first time. The little town Tromaville is like something out of Preston Sturges. Also I loved Igmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring,” as well as "Strap on Sally 22" (laughing), Actually, I don't watch porn
The Toxic Avenger reminds me of the Incredible Hulk. Did comics influence you?
Comics were a big influence on me along with recreational drugs and masturbation. Stan Lee wrote a script with me called "Night of the Witch.” Cannon optioned it, but it was never made. Lee and I have been friends for 30 years. Lee and I also wrote a script for Alain Resnais, "The Man Who Talked to God," but Resnais didn't like what I wrote. Fred Camper was also one of my buddies. He made the film "Welcome to Come."
Why did you decide to focus on horror and exploitation films?
Well, I'm actually known for my mixing of genres. For instance, "Tromeo and Juliet" mixed horror, eroticism, romance and police--into a genre Cuisinart if you will. Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson and Roger Corman are also known for mixing genres. I love him their work because of that.
How did you come up with the initial idea of the Toxic Avenger?
One of the best places to find story ideas is newspapers. Toxic dump stories inspired "The Toxic Avenger." Michael (Herz) suggested that we move away from raunchy comedies like "Stuck on You" and "Waitress." The big studios started doing sex comedies with actual good scripts so we had to try something else. I had worked on "Rocky" and wanted to make a film about the fitness craze, so I made "The Toxic Avenger" which lampooned fitness and also dealt with he toxic dump issue.
Didn't Michael Herz direct that?
Well, we directed it together.
Can you discuss the creation of Sgt. Kabuki Man?
Well we did " Toxic Avenger II" which featured Kabuki Boy. The Packman guy wanted us to create a Kabuki superhero for his games, so we made "Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y. P.D," There was a big anti Japanese sentiment in the country at the time because the Japanese had bought Universal Studios, but they overpaid for it. But because of this a congressman said, "It's Pearl Harbor all Over Again." Of course, Sgt. Kabukiman also was featured in "Citizen Toxie."
Do you think there will be another "Sgt. Kabukiman film?
Probably not. He isn't strong enough to carry another feature.
Which actors or actresses do you especially like to work with?
Well we have our own great stable of stars--people like Debbie Rochan, Ron Jeremy and Joe Fleishaker appear again and again in our films. Did you know we also put out Kevin Costner's first film, "Sizzle Beach USA?" If his career keeps going the way it's been going, he may yet work for us again.
I read that you were against Elia Kazan getting a Lifetime Achievement Oscar because he named names in the Communist witch-hunt. Can you talk about that?
Quite simply, he was a fascist. He turned in his buddies, and then he got an Oscar. He didn't have to do it: he wouldn't have starved. He had a successful career on Broadway. That would've continued even if he got blacklisted in Hollywood. I heard he did the same thing in Turkey too. Because of Kazan, we didn't get to see any more Erich Von Stroheim films.
Would you ever want to work on a big budget film? What if someone gave you a million dollars?
Oh no. I would either make 200 low budget films or give someone else the money to do him or her.
Can you talk about what you'll be doing at the Movieside Festival this weekend?
I'll be introducing a brand new print of "The Toxic Avenger," and I'll be answering questions from the audience. It will take place at the Biograph.
What new projects will be coming out of Troma in the near future?
Well, we're developing a satire of the fast food business, and it also makes fun of phony liberals that use causes to promote themselves like Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson. These phony do goobers just climb up the backside of the poor. The movie will be about a fast food chicken place built on an Indian burial ground. The spirits will rise up and possess the chickens turning them into zombies. It's actually influenced by Takashi Miiki's work because it sometimes breaks into musical numbers. It will be called "Poultrygeist." We're also putting out "Tales from the Crapper “ which played at some festivals and is now out on DVD (There's an amusing Ain't It Cool review of the film at aint-it-cool-news.com). It stars Julie Strain.
What was she like?
She's the best. She is the film. But we had to get rid of most of the cast on the film as we were making it. They didn't work out. The film reunites Troma with Trey Parker, Joe Fleishaker, Debbie Rochan (playing herself), Ted Ramie, and even James Gunn who worked on "Scooby Doo" right after he did "Tromeo and Juliet" for us.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to the fans or readers?
Keep fighting against the devil worshiping conglomerates like Time Warner, and keep supporting independent film.
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