Lloyd Kaufman | ESSEX SPACEBIN, TROMA

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With David Hollinshead and Philip Thompson’s fantastic British sci-fi comedy Essex Spacebin released through Troma Entertainment later this month, we caught up with Troma’s iconic figurehead Lloyd Kaufman to discuss what makes Essex Spacebin the most exciting Troma picture since The Toxic Avenger, how Troma has managed to survive for an impressive 43 years, the struggles that come with being constantly frowned upon by some in the mainstream, and so many other topics that even Toxie’s famed mop bucket would struggle to contain them all.

STARBURST: How did yourself and Troma end up involved with Essex Spacebin? Did David and Philip approach yourself directly?

Lloyd Kaufman: Yeah, they were fans. It’s our 43rd year now, and Troma has become legendary by taking on projects that are one-of-a-kind projects that the mainstream are too stupid to appreciate. Projects like Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Cannibal: The Musical. That was unfinished when it came to us, and no mainstream people wanted to touch it. Trey and Matt came to us first, but we couldn’t afford a big advance so they went everywhere else but none of the idiots in the mainstream got it. Then they came back to us; we were the first and last stops on the train. And I assume that to be true with Essex Spacebin. In fact, that would be my advice to any independent filmmaker: go to the companies that have a lot of money and get advance payments. If that doesn’t happen, if you don’t get an advanced payment, then I think Troma is the best show in town because we’re honest and we’ve been around for 43 years, and we work hard and appreciate the one-of-a-kind movie that comes from the heart. And this is certainly a movie that David Hollinshead and Philip Thompson produced not just from their heart but from every other organ in their body. Plus it’s in 35mm, which shows you their dedication to the wonderful world of cinema. They didn’t just vomit it out on a RED or Blackmagic and then use shitty sound, which so many people do.


Essex Spacebin 

We saw a quote from yourself where you said you’ve not been as excited by a movie as much as Essex Spacebin since the first Toxic Avenger film. For those who haven’t seen the film, what makes you say that and why does it have you so excited?

Well I like the fact that it’s sci-fi, comedy, and it’s not about some young non-male in a bikini. It takes risks! Remember Surf Nazis Must Die, the central character was a fat old black woman, Momma. Unfortunately the actress is dead, but we didn’t have anything to do with that. But this is a similar situation, an old woman who’s basically mentally ill. A lot of people in that position see things but it turns out they’re not mentally ill. So there’s a very interesting ying and yang there. I think it’s Chris Morris meets The Mighty Boosh, if that makes sense.

With Essex Spacebin, the humour on show is very much British humour in its references and simply in its dialogue. How did you find that, and how do you think that humour will translate to US and other international audiences?

We don’t know, but we know we like it. Michael Herz [Troma co-founder] and I love the film. The theatrical distribution, such as it will be, is having the premiere at The Prince Charles in the UK. I’ve not seen the film with an audience so I’m very excited to see the reactions at The Prince Charles. I’m coming over there because if I’m there it’ll fill the house and get a real audience. And Tromeo & Juliet is also showing as part of the 400th year of Shakespeare [laughs].

It’s a strong indicator in the faith you have in David and Philip, that you’re placing such trust in them that the film will connect with international audiences…

The projects that we’re involved in, even the ones we write and direct, we have to really believe in them. Then if they fall flat, so what. Nobody would play The Toxic Avenger when we made it, and now Toxie is a much bigger star than most of the idiots who are telling us what to do at the Golden Globes. Nobody would play the film, then it eventually ended up with 2,000 screens in the United States. It’s really an art form, and maybe it won’t work in the United States. It’ll work in China where they bootleg everything and don’t give the artists a penny. It’ll work in fascist Russia where they bootleg everything. And it’ll work in South America where they bootleg everything. In the small part of the world that actually respects copyright, I don’t know. We’ll have to see. But we love it, and we’ve had many movies… Combat Shock, which was very successful in your country. It took us 15 years to break even on that one, but eventually word of mouth gets out there and these movies find an audience. So there’s no reason that Essex Spacebin shouldn’t be a hit, at least the way we see it. But you’re right, it’s very British. When I was a kid, my father subscribed to Punch Magazine and we’d see [Michael] Flanders and [Donald] Swann on Broadway in The Mouse That Roared. I was raised on British humour, so we get it. It may well be that not everybody gets it, but it’s an important film. In a fair world it should be playing at Sundance and all the great festivals. Unfortunately, Harvey Weinstein hasn’t taken it under his big fat wing. It’s just as good as the movie he’s got out now, Arrival or Nocturnal Animals. I’ve seen them both, and this movie is much better than Arrival or Nocturnal Animals. But unfortunately, filmmakers who are unable to get the elite to pay attention, because the elite gatekeepers are usually stupid and unimaginative… And we’re the last ones, we’re the last stop on the train. I don’t think there are any independent movie companies that have any longevity or any credibility or that are honest except for us.


Iain Stuart Robertson, Caryl Griffith and Lorraine Malby in Essex Spacebin 

And it’s commendable how Troma are willing to take a chance on young aspiring filmmakers. Anybody that wants to try their hand, you’re willing to give them a go if at all possible. With the submissions that you’ve received over the years, be it directly to yourself or under the Troma banner, has there ever been anything that was submitted where you’ve just though it was too much even for you to tackle?

No, I think what we find offensive is when people are writing treatments or scripts where they’re clearly trying to imitate us but they don’t get it. All they have is zombies and non-males in bikinis running around the woods, chopping and fucking and dismembering. And there’s no theme, no point to it. Shakespeare Wrote The Tempest, that’s our next project. This could be an exclusive for you, Shakespeare’s Tempest Presents Troma’s Shitstorm. It wasn’t just about the dreams and drugs and monsters, it was all about the loss of power. There’s so much going on in that play, and even though it did appeal to the masses who may have only liked it because of certain lascivious and trippy kind of things, there’s a lot going on there. The same with the Troma movies, but we get so many scripts where people don’t get what we’re doing. Actually, about 99.99% of the world don’t get what we’re doing. But I can’t say we’ve ever gotten a script or project that we thought crossed the red line, Obama’s red line. There are certain things that I wouldn’t touch. If somebody wanted Michael Herz and me to produce the favourable Hilary Clinton biopic, we certainly wouldn’t do that.

From a personal viewpoint, there’d been The Toxic Crusaders cartoon when I was younger, but my first real Troma experience was catching Terror Firmer on late night TV in, I think, 2000….

That’s great! That’s an amazing movie, and it becomes more and more relevant. The New York Times, this Sunday, because there’s movies out in the mainstream now that deal with rape, it means rape’s acceptable. The New York Times is twisting itself into a pretzel to write a feature in the Sunday entertainment section about these wonderful TV shows and movies that are coming out that deal with rape. But with Terror Firmer, we had the life-affirming rape! That was the major theme of the movie. Of course, the social warrior justice, when we made that movie, when it came out in 1999, there was a lot of bad talk about Terror Firmer because people couldn’t get over the idea that there was a rape in the movie. But it was a self-affirming rape, right? Now thanks to national public radio, the concept of the life-affirming rape came up. So the point is, if you’re a visionary like Essex Spacebin, you’re going to have to fight for your seat at the table. The mainstream is more and more controlled by a small number of conglomerates just as much in your country as in my country, and there are all sorts of bad things happening in my country, where they want to get rid of net neutrality on the Internet, which, of course, we all need to fight for if we want to have innovation and we want to continue innovation like Kickstarter or like Netflix or like Troma Now, our subscription system. We have to preserve net neutrality. There’s all sorts of innovation and wonderful things, and they’re going to go away if the European Commission, with whom the British are working, if they had the US lobbyists get rid of net neutrality and permit a super highway which only the rich and powerful can get on, then the Essex Spacebins of the world, and I think Troma, would likely disappear, and maybe your magazine, who knows?!

I’m giving a keynote speech on February 7th [this interview took place at the end of January] in Silicon Valley to a big group of lawyers, opinion makers, and all that. I’m not sure what they want me to talk about, but all I’m going to talk about is net neutrality, to make sure people think carefully and contact their elected officials. Without it, we’re going to be subject to CNN’s fake news, The New York Times’ fake news, we’re going to have all of these stupid celebrities who have been made famous for crap television, and all the progress that’s been made, the wonderful golden age of television that exists now, that’s all because Netflix and Amazon and the free and open and democratic Internet have allowed it to bubble up. So there’s now competition, and even the crappy stations here in the States, like FX and even NBC, are making good shows. And that’s all thanks to competition, that’s only due to net neutrality. If we want more original art, if we want more innovation, if we want more visionary filmmakers like the Chelmsford Film Society, we must preserve the open Internet, net neutrality.


Will Keenan in Terror Firmer 

You’re clearly a highly intelligent guy who doesn’t get carried away with the whole bubble of Hollywood, celebrity, and all that comes with that, and you’re very level-headed and grounded. You mentioned how Troma has been going for a phenomenal 43 years now, but there are some people out there who look down their noses at what Troma puts out because it’s not a glossy Hollywood feature. It seems that stuff like this is water off a duck’s back for you, but was there ever a time in your younger days when you’d get frustrated that people would look down on the products that you were putting out?

Yeah, people are constantly shunning us because they don’t love film. The people who love film love us. I mean Trey Parker and Matt Stone, James Gunn just heard about The Tempest and he tweeted a big thing about it which must’ve got me a whole shitload of new followers. So the people who love movies, they get Troma - they actually watch the movies! It’s the idiots like The Washington Post, a guy who reviewed Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, he reviewed it and the review appeared in the newspaper. He didn’t even look at the movie! He panned the movie and said “If you want an example of the dialogue…” and he quoted the tagline from the poster, which is not even in the movie. He was the lead critic for The Washington Post and then they got rid of him, probably for other reasons, but we certainly brought it to their attention.

We absolutely loved Poultrygeist!

Terrific! The New York Times gave it a very good review, and for the most the theatrical release was quite a big success. Again, we’re a small company and it’s very hard to penetrate the hymen of the mainstream without getting fucked. But back to Poultrygeist, in a fair world it would’ve been a huge, huge hit. If you look at Deadpool, the guys who made Deadpool, I’ve never met them but people who know them have said they’re huge Troma fans, and that film’s been nominated for lots of awards. And they love Troma, you can see it in Deadpool. But unfortunately we made Poultrygeist in 2006. Maybe if we’d made it today, when it’s no longer visionary... because it takes 20 years for people to come up with what we were doing 20 years ago. That’s the problem. Van Gogh had the same problem, by the way. So did the guy who put the urinal up on the wall, the French guy, Marcel Duchamp. He put a urinal up on the wall and signed it, and fist fights broke out in Paris in 1913 at the French-American Exhibition. But then he also put a rake up on the wall and signed that. Those things are now worth half a million bucks at least. The gatekeepers are always the stupidest. The public is pretty smart. You let the public decide. If the public see Essex Spacebin, they’ll love it! It’s a beautiful 35 mm movie, and I’m coming over to support it as I think it’s a historical movie. That will be at The Prince Charles. Prince Charles, he’s still around? But I will not be showing off my Prince Albert.

At Troma, you guys are always ‘the little engine that could’, always fighting up hill. How do you think the company itself and your career would’ve played out if The Toxic Avenger hadn’t clicked with audiences in the way that it did?

That was an enormous success, it was huge! It led to a cartoon show, merchandise based on Toxie, there are three sequels, and Hollywood’s doing a kabillion dollar remake. It was a huge success, it just took time. Initially nobody would touch it. We brought it to the Cannes Film Festival and didn’t make one deal; everybody didn’t get it. Then suddenly one little theater in Greenwich Village, New York played it. She was French and she owned the theater, and they had a line around the block the day it opened. The next year at Cannes, we had a feeding frenzy. In fact, that was when we had the sequel.

What you should speculate on is what would’ve happened in a fair world where’s there’s competition – what would’ve happened to Poultrygeist or to Return to Nuke ‘Em High or Terror Firmer. Those things would’ve been huge, huge hits in a fair world. The Toxic Avenger got in under the wire. There still was competition, there still were many different distributors around the world. The media cartel, the media oligopoly, had not conspired yet with the various governments to close the industry off to only the elite. So I think that would be a more interesting speculation. When I began, there were at least thirty small studios in the early-‘70s prospering in the United States. The point is, we were doing fine until the legalized bribery called lobbying changed the countryside. There’s some good news, though. The good news is that the creation of digital formats have democratized the making of movies, so anyone can make a movie – you don’t need money anymore to make a movie. You don’t need money, you can make a movie for almost nothing. You need talent. And you don’t even need that and you can still make a movie! But you can’t live off your art. No matter how good your $5,000 movie is, out of a thousand maybe one of them might get into the hands of the gatekeepers. So the good thing is the making of cinema has been democratized, the bad news is Troma could’ve gone with the wind. We could come out with Downton Abbey, we could come out with The Crown, whatever. The point is, we’re sucking hind tit. We could have Gone With the Wind and no one would pay attention. So that’s the problem. By the way, a little known fact, when Poultrygeist had its first theatrical booking in New York City, the theater that we were in was the highest grossing venue in the United States. The highest grossing screen in the United States was Poultrygeist but two weeks later they kicked us out because the Raiders of the Lost Ark skull fuckers [also known as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull] needed every possible screen in the world. Even though we were doing okay, they still didn’t hold us over. Even though we advertised, even though we played by all the rules, got good reviews, they still threw us out.


Lloyd in Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead 

With stuff like that, it must get annoying at times. You’re in a venue and doing well, then the film gets pulled because Harrison Ford has a new Indiana Jones movie out…

I agree, I’m a totally bitter, sad, old drunken low-budget legendary filmmaker. I wanna blow my fucking brains out 24/7. But hey, I don’t live in Aleppo so aren’t I lucky, right? I’ve been making movies on my own with no one telling me what to do for 50 years. Next year’s my 50th year of making movies. Trey Parker wrote the introduction to one of my books – Make Your Own Damn Movie – and he says, “Nobody knows how to make great movies that make no money like Lloyd Kaufman.” I’ve just been lucky that fans have kind of kept us going and we’ve been able to stagger along on the memory of fumes – we don’t even live on fumes!

Regardless of the mainstream knocking you back at times, it must be so rewarding for you when you see the fanbase that you do have? The fanbase that you have is certainly a passionate one, and those people don’t just like Troma, they love Troma. That must be hugely rewarding?

Well I think the thing Michael Herz and I keep telling ourselves is, “Hey, the Oscars have nothing to do with merit, it has to do with who has the biggest advertising penis.” They’re politicking, it’s nothing to do with what’s the best movie. Our movies, people like ‘em because they like ‘em. We don’t even have money to advertise! So how nice is that? Intellectually that’s a very nice thing. I may be a narcissist but I’m the Troma fans’ narcissist, I’m your narcissist. Of course I’m insulted by the fact that we don’t get respect. We reached 40 years in New York City, making movies in New York, but not one New York newspaper or TV station or anything said one word about us, nothing. The New York Times had a huge article last Sunday where, because there’s some movies now that deal with rape, suddenly rape’s acceptable, nothing’s wrong, they twist themselves in… did I just talk about this? Terror Firmer was almost 20 years ago. We usually get good reviews from the serious critics, they give us good reviews, but we can’t penetrate the hymen of the market without getting fucked, as I said earlier.

Were there any particular Troma pictures that standout as surprising you with how popular they became, and similarly were they any ones that you thought would be special but didn’t quite get there?

Honestly, every movie I’ve been involved in and we’ve made, I’m 100% certain that this’ll be it, this one will see the magic happen, God will shine her magic on us and she will make Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High, aka Volume 2, she will make that somehow miraculously the next Rocky Horror Picture Show, the thing with Susan Sarandon that they keep running at midnight with lines around the block. But I keep thinking “This’ll be it”Return to Return to Nuke’ Em High. We’re just finishing it, the last bit of colour correction, tweaks on the sound, mixing. In fact, Michael Herz has said it on camera that this is the best film Troma have ever made. And he does not indulge in hyperbole, so he meant it – he thinks it’s our best movie. Maybe the magic will happen, maybe God will shine her grace on this particular movie.


Return to Nuke 'Em High 

You’ve revisited Class of Nuke ‘Em High, The Toxic Avenger has spawned three sequels, the Sgt. Kabukiman character has appeared in several features, but are there any other characters or movies that you’d have loved to have returned to over the years?

My wife Pat has just retired from 20 years as the New York State film commissioner. She was appointed by both Democratic and Republican state governors, which is unusual in the society that we have these days, but she did such a good job. She says that Toxie is basically my subtle way of chronicling my own life, she sees Toxie as me. And we did in fact write the fifth Toxic Avenger, which I would like to make but it’s gonna cost about £700,000 and we can’t possibly get that money.

Is the plan for that to still feature toxic twins?

Yes! It starts off in Chernobyl, but it is the toxic twins, yes. But unfortunately we can’t raise the money. So the Shakespeare one is what we’re making, I can get some friends to put up some money for that one – I think that will be about £300,000. I can put up some of it, our friends will put the rest. Unfortunately, I cannot tell anybody that if they put up half a million dollars for a Troma movie they can even break even – which we used to be able to say. Now we have to say that if you want to invest in a Troma movie then you have to be a patron of the arts. It’s called economic blacklisting. Unless you are in the asshole of one of the giant conglomerates, you are sucking on hind tit. By the way, my good buddy, one of my best friends in the UK, is Terry Jones from Monty Python, and one of his latest projects is a movie about economics that’s wonderful. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a documentary and it’s all about an economist who basically predicted this – it’s called Boom Bust Boom. His son [Bill Jones] and Ben Timlett produced it, and it’s very funny but it’s also extremely intelligent and entertaining and educational. A very, very interesting theory about economics. He [Terry Jones] came with me to see the Toxic Avenger musical.

And how surreal was it for you to see Toxie up on the stage as part of a musical production?

Well it was my idea originally because some students who were fans came to us years ago because they wanted to do a musical, and I love musicals. You know, Poultrygeist is my attempt to involve the musical genre. It was around the time of Poultrygeist and they wanted to do a musical, but they didn’t have any money to buy the rights so I let them do it for free. And they did a good job, it was in Portland, Oregon. I went to see it, it was very enjoyable, and then by coincidence another guy in Omaha, Nebraska wanted to do a musical. I did the same thing, they didn’t have money so I let them do it for free. That went about 2 months and got very good reviews, enough to attract the attention of the team that produced the musical based on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. So those producers discovered the Omaha musical, and they did have money so they bought the rights from us. Then they hired Bon Jovi’s David Bryant to write the music with Joe DiPietro. In the programme for London he [Bryant] writes that when he was 12 he saw The Toxic Avenger movie and vowed to make a musical out of it, just by chance. They produced it in New York and it won every off-Broadway award, it ran about a year, and it was great! Then it went to London and to Toronto. My wife and I, they brought us to Hawaii, they brought us to London because David Bryant can’t go on the publicity tour so they dust me off. But I can take no credit for the show. In the case of London, I think the show was even better than the New York show. It was great, it was really terrific, and I made a little speech to the audience, then they had a Q&A, and Terry [Jones] was there and everyone gave him a big standing ovation because he’s got some things happening, you know, so it was really touching.


Lloyd with two of his most famous creations, Toxie and Sgt. Kabukiman 

With yourself, it must be pretty rewarding to see the legacy that you’ve left. You’ve got people turning one of your movies into a musical, you have people like Quentin Tarantino, James Gunn, Eli Roth, Trey Parker and Matt Stone citing you as an influence in their filmmaking careers. It must make you extremely proud?

Absolutely, sure, it’s terrific. Return to Nuke ‘Em High is an event film. Tarantino is the one originally years ago who told me to do an event film, to do something bigger. Obviously we don’t have the money to do something bigger, but we have the money to make a two-part movie. When I saw that he did Volume 1 and Volume 2 with Kill Bill, that reminded me and I thought to do that with Return to Nuke ‘Em High, which we did. The first part came out, and we’re just doing the second half of it.

Is there a rough idea of when we can expect to see Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High yet?

When somebody in the UK reads your fine article [laughs]. But Essex Spacebin is finished, and it’s a wonderful British film. I’m hoping we’ll be able to attract the attention of UK filmmakers or at least it’ll do well enough to get these guys acceptance so they can make another movie. Cannibal: The Musical, because we put that on in some movie theaters in the States and made a VHS box for them, that gave them some credibility so that when they went to get subsequent projects going, people knew Troma and at least they could say “Hey, Troma’s a stepping stone, here it is, and now let’s go on to South Park or whatever.” So hopefully this will be a stepping stone for David Hollinshead and Philip Thompson. People did not expect a Monty Python or The Mouse That Roared to be successful in the States, but they were huge hits. If something is good and there’s a reasonable fairness in the marketplace – which there is not – then a fair world says Essex Spacebin will be successful. Unfortunately it’s not a fair world, and three quarters of the world is a land of fascist bootleggers. China, Russia, South America, and Africa are corrupt and there’s no such thing as copyright law except for the few. China permits about 50 movies a year that don’t get bootlegged, but everything else gets bootlegged because the bureaucratic elite and the military elite own the factories in China that make the DVDs and they also own the streaming companies. So they’re all getting fat off our intellectual property. For show, they’ll let Star Wars and those movies be protected. In fact, for 3 years I’ve been invited to be on a very important Chinese-American panel in California. Each time I go on it, I slam the Chinese government for their awful behaviour - then I keep getting invited back to do it! It’s the Chinese-American Film Festival, which is owned and controlled by the Chinese government yet they still keep inviting me back. I think the lower level bureaucrats want the higher level bureaucrats to hear my message. If you’re interested, we posted it on YouTube – “Lloyd Kaufman Slams China” – but it’s the third year I’ve been on this thing, so I think there’s a certain bureaucratic class that gets it, that realises that if China wants to do movies that are really popular around the world then they can’t have this attitude with exterminating people and beating up the relatives of authors who write books that are not acceptable to the Chinese government. But it’s not going to happen. We also sit on the panel, the United States don’t have clean hands either because our media is controlled by a handful of these people. You can’t imagine how many people don’t know who the Toxic Avenger is, how many people in our media industry have never heard of The Toxic Avenger because it’s all about Star Wars or the Sundance-approved so-called independent movies that are not independent at all. These movies that Sundance shows cost $12 million, $20 million, are produced by the sons of Tom Hanks and people like that. They’re not independent! But they call them that, they’ve stolen the word independent. We’re fucked, we’re fucked.

One thing we have to ask about is the rumblings over the years of a Toxic Avenger remake. The second half of last year saw something more concrete developing on that, and there’s talk of other Troma movies getting remade, and obviously there’s already been a Mother’s Day remake…

Brett Ratner’s company remade Mother’s Day. I haven’t seen it but we got a big fat cheque. I’ve heard it’s pretty good. It’s my brother’s movie, Charles Kaufman, he got a big fat cheque and Troma got a bit of money, too. But Brett Ratner who made all those Jackie Chan Rush Hour movies, he produced it, his company produced it. They got some stars in it, and nobody complained about it so I guess that’s okay. But the Toxic Avenger one, they’re spending $100 million on it, we’ve been getting some payments, and they hired Conrad Vernon, the guy who directed Sausage Party, to direct it. So it’s still bubbling around. Again, we’re not experts in the mainstream, but I think the Sausage Party guy is a big Troma fan. I saw Sausage Party and I think he’s the right director to take us into the mainstream.

And is there anything happening with a Nuke ‘Em High remake, as that was something that’s been talked about?

Actually, the remake or the reimagining or the rebooting that we did, that wasn’t my idea. Because we’ve been around so long, there’s certain people at these bigger companies who love Troma and have an affection for the ‘80s. A guy at Starz Media had the idea to remake Class of Nuke ‘Em High and suggested that maybe I would like to direct it. I said “Okay”, and he said “All you have to do is raise the money for it and make the movie, then we’ll pick it up and pay you a small profit.” So they did that, and the only request I had was no censorship, and they did that. Now the second half of the movie, we’re on our own. Starz is now owned by Lionsgate, so the guy who was our champion, I don’t know where he is. They probably took him and shot him. But that was lucky, we made a few bucks and we own all the rights outside the English-speaking countries. We hope that the distributors who distributed the first volume will be interested in the second half of the movie in the UK. The second one’s a lot better, too. Michael Herz has said – and he never compliments our movies, he never gets involved in that, he’s the business guy - he was filmed saying this was the best movie in Troma’s 40 years of shit disturbance.


Lloyd with Troma's poster boy, Toxie, aka The Toxic Avenger 

43 years now Troma’s been going against the wind…

Hanging around like a drunken man in the dark! Troma’s the herpes of the movie industry – we will never go away.

In that time, obviously there’s been huge, vast, regular changes in filmmaking. It’s so easy now for anybody to make a film, but how have those changes affected Troma? Is it a case of pros and cons?

I majored in Chinese Studies at Yale University, and the big take away for me was Taoism, which suggests that the universe is dualistic, namely that there’s a ying and yang, that beauty and ugliness cannot be separated, evil and goodness are bound up in each other. The oyster gets a piece of sand stuck in its anus – very painful – but it produces the most beautiful spherical thing called a pearl. And I see the industry as that. The industry is ying and yang. The fact that we don’t need money to make a good movie anymore. You can make a movie for nothing thanks to the digital revolution. The bad news is, you can’t live off your art. You’ve got to be in with some asshole, some Mr. Big, in order to make a living. So that’s basically where we stand. Aesthetically, I believe that digital is now more beautiful than 35mm, and I’ve moved over to the Alexa camera, and I suspect I’ll stick with that until the next better thing comes along. I know 35mm is cherished and I respect the fact that Essex Spacebin is on 35mm, but I personally, even though one of my books from 20 years ago – Make Your Own Damn Movie – Trent Haaga, one of my protégés, and I have a big argument in the book where I embrace 35mm. In those days it was better than digital, but I do believe now that digital far exceeds 35mm.

You mention “Mr. Big” there, but were there any times over the years where Troma came close to getting the huge financial backing of the mainstream?

We penetrated the hymen of the mainstream twice, and we got fucked. We were the ones who got fucked both times. We spent probably the first 10 years of our company trying to work with the mainstream but then it became very clear. I think what really pushed me over the edge was, to support Troma, I would take production managing jobs and line producing, work on bigger movies like Rocky and Saturday Night Fever. They were both mainstream movies but they both were brilliant. So then we got involved with a movie called The Final Countdown starring Kirk Douglas. We were one of the producers, we had a small piece of it. And that experience was just horrible because it could’ve been a really, really, really good movie. It’s not a bad movie but they had a horrible director, there was nobody on it apart from Kirk Douglas and his son and me who really cared about the movie. If you get the Blu-ray of The Final Countdown, they interviewed me for the Blu-ray and I really speak my mind there. After that experience, and Michael Herz agreed, that was the end of it. In fact, we owned 2% of the gross on that movie but we’ve never even seen a statement! Again, we love money, we’re definitely dirty Jews and money means a lot to us, but the fact that I put so much effort into that movie, as did Kirk Douglas, as did Peter Douglas, his son whose project it was, there was no team. With the Troma Team, we had about 80 people on Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High, and they lived in a vacant funeral home, sleeping on air mattresses on the floor, one shower for 80 people. That’s how devoted they were to the project. With The Final Countdown, nobody gave a shit apart from Kirk Douglas, Peter Douglas and me. It’s not a bad movie, but boy it could’ve been just the best. After that, if they wanna approach us we’re here. They approached us on Mother’s Day, they gave us a big cheque. They approached us on Toxic Avenger, and for that I think they’ve got a great team. Conrad, I’ve met him a couple of times, and I know he’s a huge fan of Terror Firmer who grew up with Troma. And he’s got the guts to do what he believes in. Then there’s the lead producer, a guy named Akiva Goldsman, he won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind. They all love Troma and they love movies, so I think whatever they come up with will come from their heart and soul. I’m looking forward to it.

How they told you anything about what they’ve got in mind for The Toxic Avenger remake, such as will Toxie be all practical effects?

No, they haven’t, not yet, but I do know that Conrad Vernon is a big fan. Honestly, I haven’t seen a script, I haven’t seen anything. I did see a script a while back but I didn’t read it. Unless they specifically ask me, I really don’t think I should get involved. I’m happy to, but I learnt from the musical, when I went to that table reading and I’d prepared these notes, they knew what they were doing and they didn’t really need me. The good news, though, about The Toxic Avenger is it’s going to be an R-rated movie, so at least it’s not going to be dumbed down, sanitized. I think the director and whoever’s writing it, I got the sense that this is a group who loves cinema, because why else would they do a movie… we had fighting foetuses in the fourth movie, we had fighting foetuses inside a woman’s stomach! And the fact that they loved Terror Firmer, as I mentioned, that’s got a self-affirming rape scene. That whole theme, now it’s very popular with The New York Times, but it was not in 1999. If you get the uncensored Terror Firmer, it’s amazing – that’s a half a million bucks back in 1999 – when I look at that movie, I’m like “Woah, I can’t believe this movie even got made, it’s totally insane!” But it did, and it’s a great movie, it’s terrific, a great statement about art, about believing in art. Even though the director is blind and may or may not be talented, he’s at least 100% into what he’s doing. By the way, Woody Allen made a movie [Hollywood Ending] about a blind director about a year after Terror Firmer came out, and he shot it in the home next to where I live. He shot literally in the house next door to my house! Isn’t that interesting? There were some production assistants sitting on the step next door to my home, and I gave them a couple of copies of Terror Firmer to give to Woody.


Lloyd in James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy 

You’ve had so many appearances in films, so many cameos – even appearing in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy

I tell you, I got more validation for those seconds in a movie released by Walt Disney than I’d gotten in 50 years of working on my own films!

What’s been your favourite cameo, your favourite on-screen performance?

That’s a very good question. I think the one that’s the best one is when they let me do a little improvisation. The one that comes to mind is Trey Parker’s movie, Orgazmo. I play the doctor at the end of the movie, and I improvised. Also, Trey said that my scene was there to set up the sequel.

A sequel which sadly never happened!

No, of course not! I said, “How will there be a sequel to Orgazmo?!” But how cool that he said that at the time, and that was before they became huge. Also Rocky in 1976, I have a cameo in that. That’s probably my most famous cameo and the cameo that is the most cinema verité because I was totally shit-faced. I got drunk to try to be a better actor, which was a mistake – you shouldn’t do that [laughs]. That’s my most famous.

Essex Spacebin is available on Amazon Prime now, with a DVD/Blu-ray release to follow at a TBC date later this year, and is also being shown as part of a double-header with Tromeo & Juliet, including a Q&A with Lloyd Kaufman, at The Prince Charles Cinema, London on February 18th. In the meantime, be sure to check out our review of the film here.

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