The Lord of Troma

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lloyd Kaufman, President and co-founder of Troma entertainment and creator of the Toxic Avenger. I had a lot of nerves going into this – I’ve been a big Troma fan since I was 13 and used to spend every Friday and Saturday night watching horror movies on USA Up All Night.

Things actually started here a bit before my phone interview. I had the privilege of attending Mr.Kaufman’s “Make Your Own Damn Movie” masterclass at Gen Con a few weeks ago, and he was very knowledgeable and willing to answer any questions audience had, but the answers were sometimes surprising. Several people asked what sort of equipment to use, and he would always fire back with some variation on “Depends! How much money do you have? You can get by with consumer-grade equipment.” Then everyone would discuss their shoestring budget success stories and we’d move on. It’s how Troma works. Make your movie the best way you can with what you have. (You can find out way more by buying Lloyd’s book, Make Your Own Damn Movie, Secrets of a Renegade Director!) It was inspiring to see so much enthusiasm and resourcefulness surrounding the making of so called “schlock” movies. I’d find out a little more as to why when I spoke to Lloyd this week.

I started off the interview by asking Lloyd what the word “Troma” meant. He told me a short story about how the word Troma is Latin for “excellence in celluloid”. Having taken 3 years of Latin in high school, and knowing the ancient Romans probably didn’t know what “celluloid” meant, I was inclined to think maybe he was pulling my leg. (I was right. He told the real story when he was doing a guest stint writing for the DVD Talk horror blog.)

One of the very first things I discovered during my audience with the Lord of Troma is that he suffers no fools. I had a few “fluff” questions prepared, stuff like “who is your favorite villain of all time, and why?” Writers like that one. I figured Lloyd would too, being a creative type. I was wrong. He wouldn’t answer that one, and dismissed a few others like it as stupid questions. I also found out another thing right about this time: I gurgle audibly when surprised. Good to know for next time.

Thankfully, I soon started getting into questions that didn’t irritate Lloyd, and we talked for awhile about independent media and Net Neutrality. I was floored by his answer when I asked him why independent filmmaking was so important: “It’s not. It means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. You have kids starving in Third World countries and they don’t give a damn about movies. Cinema is something useless rich people like all of us here do to entertain ourselves.” I suddenly found myself not caring so much about how bad the BSG ending sucked, and being very thankful for the burrito I had just eaten moments prior.

We talked a great deal about Net Neutrality. “Without Net Neutrality, there would be no Troma. There would be no Critical Hits. You’d only have whatever insipid crap the networks decide to give you this week”. Lloyd asked that we link to his Youtube video on the subject, which we’re more than happy to do. The Internets would suck without this.

Probably the single most surprising thing I learned about Lloyd Kaufman is that he doesn’t think his movies are as funny as you probably do. To him, each is “real filmmaking” with a political message. Yes, I thought he was kidding at first, too. His tone convinced me otherwise. That and him calling Inception a piece of crap movie full of plot holes. Them’s fightin’ words, Mr. Kaufman. But who am I to say what a work doesn’t represent? Is art not subjective? Is this less effective than starving some poor attractive vegan celebrity and having them sit naked in a cage for PETA? I’m just a blogger. I’m not equipped for this. (I do, however, ponder the political ramifications of Teenage Catgirls In Heat.)

We wrapped up the interview by talking about some of Troma’s upcoming work. The big news is that the Toxic Avenger is getting remade, big budget style, and he dropped all sorts of names like Tom Cruise and Megan Fox. That was all neat and everything, but I forgot every other detail when he said Justin Bieber was going to play the kid who gets his head smashed under a car. I’m praying he wasn’t kidding. I will weep openly. The film isn’t getting made by Troma, they’re “just accepting a big check”. Despite taking some recent heat over the remake, Lloyd was surprisingly not too concerned with whether they keep the political message of the original intact – his movie would stand on its own for all time.

In the end, I’m honestly still a little befuddled. I can’t decide if he was messing with me or not. Either way, the man marches to the beat of a hideously deformed monster drum with superhuman size and strength, and I very much want to be like him when I grow up.