Lloyd Kaufman is the epitome of the American Dream.
Most people, Mr. Kaufman included, would scoff at such an assertion, but I have sound reason to say this is so. Here is a man who has spend 40 years doing what he loves, exactly the way he wants, and against all odds. He’s not rich, nor a super-star, but he has provided for his family and is known the world over. That is why Lloyd Kaufman is one of my heroes.
I can only hope to be as successful one day.
Recently I was lucky enough to run into him at a Troma double feature at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park in Houston, TX. He was on tour promoting Father’s Day and Mr. Bricks: A Heavy Metal Murder Musical, two new Troma releases.
LH: Can you talk a little bit about these two films, Father’s Day & Mr. Bricks? What roles do you play?
LK: Well, I don’t think I played a roll. I played more of a bagel.
Father’s Day was directed by Astron-6. Astron-6 has the syllable “ass” at the beginning of their name, and therefore I am very attracted to them. Michael Herz and I produced it. I was involved in writing the script, but all the suggestions I made were ignored by the filmmakers. They are very smart. They are the Troma of the future.
Mr. Bricks, Michael Herz and I executive produced it. It is directed by Travis Campbell, who works for Troma. He’s edited a lot of Troma content. Mr. Bricks is a very dark musical. I’m very partial to musicals. Being a gay married man, I’ve wept through many a Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand musical. Mr Bricks is a bit aberrant in that it is romantic, very dark, very serious, and rather arty. Whereas Father’s Day is more in the true Troma tradition mixing the genres with humor, gore, political statement, [bleep]-disturbing social commentary and more of what the Troma fans will expect. Mr. Bricks, in my opinion, is a beautiful, beautiful film, a bit different from the usual Troma aroma. It is not funny. It is a serious work of art.
[Troma Trivia. Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, has singing and dancing in it along with the chicken Indian zombies.]
LH: What got you interested in making films?
LK: I made the mistake of going to a little college called Yale. In the 60’s I was going to be a social worker or a teacher. I was going to change the world, make the world a better place; I was going to teach people with hooks for hands how to finger paint, teach bums how to paint happy faces on beads and string the beads together.
My freshman year at Yale, God totally [bleep]ed my life by putting me in a room with a movie nut. It was a very small bedroom. Our beds were head to toe. At night I would inhale his stinkin’ feet and the aroma du Troma was born.
My roommate was the head of the Yale film society. I started drifting into movies he would present. Slowly but surely I caught the virus. The movie virus. I decided to make movies. Boy was that stupid. Why couldn’t I have been George Bush? He was in my class. I could have been president. George Bush could have been making crappy movies.
LH: About making movies, on IMDb you have many different job titles. Which job, or jobs, do you enjoy the most?
LK: Well, filmmaking is what I like doing. I like the whole process of filmmaking. The fact that it involves music and pictures and writing and teamwork and promoting and [bleep]-disturbing. I like all of that stuff. I think the whole process of filmmaking. If I had the opportunity to work for a great film director today I’d carry coffee for her. I’m a film nut. I love everything about films. It doesn’t have to be film anymore, it can be digital.
Even though I don’t know how to do anything digitally. Digital has become very beautiful. The technique of making film digitally has come up so much that I’m going to direct a movie this summer I will use a digital camera for the first time.
Father’s Day and Mr. Bricks are shot on digital. I was only involved in the producing side.
LH: As a distributor, how do you acquire films? Do you actively solicit films? Do filmmakers come to you?
LK: Father’s Day came to us. I was on the set of the remake of Mother’s Day, my brother and I have a small cameo in the movie, and we met these crazy young guys, Astron-6. They had made some short films; We fell in love with them. They are brilliant. And they love Troma. They convinced us they had an idea for a movie called Father’s Day. I thought, “What the hell. Let’s go for it.” They wrote a first draft. I gave them notes. They wrote a second draft… In total they wrote about eight different drafts. We pretty much turned them loose. It’s totally their movie. All Michael Herz and I did was serve as their producers. Now we’re distributing.
Mr. Bricks, the guy works for us. Travis Campbell is an editor at Troma. This was all his movie. We played a small part in it. We gave him a little money and that’s it. This is really the Troma of the future.
[Troma Trivia. Mother’s Day has been remade by Bret Ratner, who brought you Tower Heights. He’s a big, big, big Hollywood guy. His company remade Mother’s Day which is a Troma movie directed by Lloyd’s brother Charles Kaufman. Also, it’s Eli Roth’s favorite horror film.]
LH: If you do accept films that are not finished, how much of a role do you play in getting them to completion?
LK: When we produce a movie I am a proponent of the auteur theory of film, which is the director’s event. The director should have total freedom. The director should have total control. Astron-6 had total control over their movie. I did not interfere. Even though I tried, when push came to shove, I agreed with them. There were a couple of serious disputes but I always deferred to the artist.
Mr. Bricks was totally Travis Campbell’s baby. All we did was give him some money. That’s it.
LH: Speaking of unfinished films, how is The Toxic Avenger 5: The Toxic Twins coming along?
LK: I’m getting there. This summer I will direct something. It will either be The Toxic Avenger Part 5: The Toxic Twins or it will be a remake, and this is hot news, you have this ahead of Variety or Hollywood Reporter or whatever that piece-of-[bleep] deadline.com site is, we’re very close to signing a deal where I will direct a remake of Class of Nuke ‘Em High. A very low budget remake.
There’s a company called Starz that seems to be very interested. We seem to be very close to signing a contract. They will give me complete freedom. It will be one of those two this summer.
[That’s right! Lost Highway’s first exclusive, straight from Mr. Kaufman’s mouth. An interview with my hero and and exclusive! I almost fainted.]
LH: Did you write the script for Toxic Avenger 5?
LK: I’ve worked with about eight different writers. I haven’t been able to find the magic yet. I haven’t been able to find the James Gunn who saved my ass on Tromeo and Juliet. But we’re getting there. I still haven’t quite figured out the trajectory of the Toxic Twins yet.
Since nobody goes to our movies and we’re economically blacklisted what’s the purpose of making a movie if I’m not in love with it? It’s not worth it. Until I have something I really, really, really love I prefer to produce other people’s movies. I prefer to wait until we’ve developed a script that I can really get behind. Make something I really believe in. Like Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. That took three years to write. It’s my best film, yet it’s a total economic failure. Not because it’s a bad movie, it’s a great film. We’re economically blacklisted.
LK: Cannibal the Musical, by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, sold hundreds of thousands of video cassettes and DVD’s but has never been on American TV. These are the South Park guys. These are the The Book of Mormon guys. Because it’s a Troma movie, it’s blacklisted. Citizen Toxie has sold more DVD’s than Cannibal the Musical and yet has never been on any form of American television.
That’s the problem. We can’t make any kind of money. So, going back to your question about the script, there’s no reason for me to direct a movie, going through the pain of sleeping on the floors and eating cheese sandwiches three times a day and learning how to defecate in a paper bag. It’s not worth going through all of that if I’m not going to love what I’m doing.
LH: I saw that there is a Toxic Avenger musical opening soon at the Alley Theatre in Houston, TX. Is this a simply a musical version of the first movie, or do we learn something new about Toxie? How did that come about? Did you write any of the music for it?
LK: It opened last night. I was there. Standing ovation. Eight hundred people in the Alley Theatre. Packed house. Standing ovation. People loved it. It had nothing to do with me, of course. I just created the Toxic Avenger.
David Brian, one of the founders of Bon Jovi, the keyboard player, wrote all the music. Joe DiPietro wrote the play. Very much based on my Toxic Avenger.
The audience was half Troma fans, with tattoos and piercings, and half little old ladies. They all loved it. It was great. It played off Broadway for a year. It won every award.
It’s very political. It’s got an environmental message. It’s about the underdog. It’s the spirit of Troma, but mainstream. Wonderful voices; Wonderful talent. Constantine Maroulis, who is an American Idol contestant, is the star. Mara Davi, who plays Sarah, has a set of pipes you wouldn’t believe. It’s a very ingenious show. It ran two years off Broadway. Now they’re putting a lot of money into it. Originally it didn’t have an intermission. Now they’ve added some songs, it’s got two acts, and they’re gonna bring it to Broadway.
You know, Trey and Matt, who made Cannibal the Musical for Troma, they have the biggest hit on Broadway, The Book of Mormon. I think Toxie is going to be the next one.
It’s pretty amazing; Troma, an underground movie company, that’s totally underground and totally blacklisted, is responsible for remakes, Broadway shows, everything but giving me any money. God damn it!
LH: Remakes are all the rage in Hollywood these days. You mentioned Mother’s Day was remade and a possible Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Are there other Troma films being remade?
LK: We’ve already had two offers to remake Poultrygeist. It’s a movie that made no money, yet two big companies in LA that want to remake it. They haven’t offered us any decent money.
They’re remaking Toxie for 100 million bucks. We signed a deal with Akiva Goldsman, Academy award winning writer and producer of A Beautiful Mind. He is writing some big checks to us. Stephen Pink, who directed Hot Tub Time Machine, is writing and directing the remake of Toxie. It’s gonna be a big major, major, major movie.
Twenty-five years from now they’ll remake Father’s Day. I’ll be dead. Yay! I can’t wait.
LH: As a filmmaker and a proponent of truly independent cinema, what is the most important maxim that you follow? Has this changed over the years? How so?
LK: I think the most important maxim is “To thine own self be true.” A phrase coined by William Shakespeare, who wrote the best selling book, 101 Money Making Screen Play Ideas, otherwise known as Hamlet. I think that that is the best advice for anybody pursuing an art form.
LH: What’s has been your proudest accomplishment in your film career? Your biggest disappointment?
LK: My only regret is when I compromised. I compromised on Toxie 2 and Toxie 3 and Sgt. Kabuki Man. It didn’t make the movies any better, nor did it make them any more commercial.
My proudest accomplishment is that I’ve had the same business partner, Michael Herz, for forty years. Almost forty years. I’ve had the same wife for almost forty years. Not the same wife as Michael Herz, but I’ve had the same wife. He’s had—his own—same wife for over forty years. That’s what I’m proud of. We have kept our noses clean, we’ve made movies that have very good word-of-mouth that people 25, 35, 40 years later still enjoy and we have been honest, decent people. That’s what life is all about.
LH: What is Lloyd Kaufman’s pie-in-the-sky dream?
LK: To throw off these mortal coils and end it all; to get the [bleep] out of this world. I’ve had enough. That would be one of the dreams.
I guess, in terms of a project, I would love to make the musical, Pal Joey, very dark, based on a John O’Hara short story, it’s got wonderful music by Rodgers and Hart. There’s never any way I would get to direct it. It would be very expensive. You would have to have stars.
Well, I don’t know. You might not need stars, but I’m sure the estate of Rodgers and Hart are not going to give Lloyd Kaufman rights to remake that movie. There was a movie of Pal Joey with Frank Sinatra, directed by George Marshall, maybe, one of them crappy musical directors back in the 50’s. It was not very good. That would be my pie-in-the-sky dream.