Lloyd Kaufman is a pioneer of independent cinema. For more than 45 years, his B-movie studio Troma Entertainment has been disrupting media with its ever-expanding library of wacky and wonderful films, produced for a fraction of a Hollywood budget. But at every turn, Kaufman has had to constantly carve out a place for Troma in this world, and fight for a slice of recognition in a country that favors only the biggest movie studios.
I was incredibly nervous to talk to Uncle Lloyd, since he’s the most seasoned filmmaker I’ve ever spoken to. But he turned out to be a massive sweetheart, and it didn’t take much to coax an opinion out of him.
“I know enough about Shakespeare [to know] that he would love this, without a doubt.”
Chris Aitkens for Nightmare On Film Street: It’s a shame Fantasia had to go virtual because I would have loved to see the movie in a packed room. Also, you have been very welcome in Montreal, because I know you speak French very well.
LK: Yeah, I love Montreal, too. And Fantasia is fabulous. Mitch Davis, the curator, is, in my opinion, the best of the genre festivals. I’ve been there for five different movies. It’s a pity we can’t do it in that giant auditorium. In fact, the guys from Turbo Kid—whose movies I discovered a long time ago, from Montreal—they presented Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. 1, and the place was full. It was packed! I think it was the only movie to sell out actually, every seat was taken. It was a midnight show too, so it was exciting. Yesterday, I had about eight interviews, five of them were in French. I hadn’t spoken French in a while, I was definitely having trouble remembering certain phrases.
NOFS: I loved #ShakespeareShitstorm. As a Shakespeare fan, as someone who studied Shakespeare extensively in college, I absolutely loved it. Were you always into Shakespeare?
LK: I was into the Tempest from the time my mother took me to a play when I was around nine years old. When I was in eighth grade, we studied it, and we had to memorize the Revel speech. And then at Yale, I had a film with Winter’s Tale. That’s my favorite play actually. I’m definitely in awe of Shakespeare’s plays. I haven’t seen them all, obviously. Even the crazy ones like Winter’s Tale and Titus Andronicus, even those are magnificent. Of course, who could forget the great Tromeo and Juliet from about 20 years ago?
I wanted to wait until I was Prospero’s age so I could really feel what he was going through before we wrote the script. I didn’t want to do it until now. I can really relate to Prospero. I think every old person would, especially if they’re in my position, where Troma Entertainment was on its way to becoming a really successful movie studio and then the movie industry changed all the laws against monopoly, and that knocked out all the independent studios, with the consolidation in the media. Prospero was the governor of a province or something. I didn’t have to go to Tromaville or the island the way that he did, but I’ve been pushed deeper and deeper into the void of the underground.
“…the movie industry changed all the laws against monopoly, and that knocked out all the independent studios, with the consolidation in the media […] There’s a reason why Troma is the only one left.”
People don’t even know we’re still around. I mean, we do have a big fan base, but it would be a lot bigger if the laws hadn’t changed. It’s in our country, not in your country. In your country, the government helps the independent filmmakers. Have you seen Slaxx? That’s a Canadian movie, and they’re gonna get 30 theaters apparently, and I imagine they got most of their money from the government. We don’t have that in the United States. In the United States, it’s the elite who get the benefits. The big conglomerates, which are now owned by telephone companies—AT&T owns Warner Brothers, Sony owns Columbia—they win. But we’re still around and we’re the only ones left of the independent studios. It’s kind of sad.
But I was chairman of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, which produces, among other things, the American film market. I was elected for two terms. Instead of cocktail parties, we used the treasury to go to Washington and try to lobby the Comcast merger, with Universal and NBC and all that. We were able to stick a monkey wrench in the works, and we got them to sign a contract that they would talk to independent television producers. Clinton had basically closed the doors on many independent films going to TV, unless they go into the strainer of the big boys. It’s just another level of taking more money and giving us less. Comcast were supposed to set up a $4 million production fund for independent television pilots and stuff. They gave it to two or three of them and then disappeared, they didn’t abide by the contract. And it gets worse and worse. There’s a reason why Troma is the only one left.
ENJOYING THIS POST?
Nightmare on Film Street is an independent outlet. All of our articles are FREE to read and enjoy, without limits. If you’re enjoying this article, consider joining our fiend club for only a couple-a bucks a month!
NOFS: A lot of people seem to think of Shakespeare as super sophisticated. But many of them don’t know that Shakespeare had a real dirty mind, and would sneak a lot of dirty jokes in his work using double entendres. Like back in Elizabethan times, “nothing” was a euphemism for “vagina,” so Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing” was really “Much Ado About Vagina.” With that in mind, if you were haunted by the ghost of Shakespeare, how do you think he would like the film?
LK: I know enough about Shakespeare that he would love this, without a doubt. Almost all these guys—Shakespeare, Voltaire— got blacklisted or censored. We’re living in an age in the United States where we have free speech as long as we don’t say anything. The move has been stronger and stronger towards the oligopoly in the world of media: Youtube, Amazon and the phone companies who control the media now are in a nice little club, and they’re slowly doing what the Chinese guy is doing in his country. Getting rid of independent thought. Thank the good Lord for the Fantasia Film Festival.
By the way, we recently got our Youtube channel with 300 free movies and about 800,000 subscribers, it just got deleted. And we got a message that we’re not allowed to set up any more channels on Youtube. The channel had been there for as long as Youtube existed. They don’t really tell you what it is that’s so awful. I assume the algorithm has changed to go after independent competition.
“It’s our fans who keep us alive. The fans spread the word. Every time we open something at a theatre, they fill the house, even though we only get one or two nights.”
I’ve been honored in every country of the world, from China to Russia to Scandinavia to Egypt to South America and Brazil to New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Montreal, Toronto. I got awards from most of these places, or tributes. Except for Antarctica, the penguins may be too conservative. They mate for life, so they might be shocked that Tromeo and Juliet promoted incest, I don’t know. You can dial in any kind of perversion on Youtube and there’s plenty of stuff there. And they’ve been very helpful to Netflix, with their pedophile campaign with five-year-old children in stripper outfits, that movie Cuties. I’m sure the film is OK, but pandering to pedophilia does not quite seem in tune with the community standards.
We do have a streaming service, Troma Now. It’s very good, there’s like a thousand movies, shorts, documentaries, comic books, music videos on there. And people are getting dates there, it’s a community, people are meeting each other. They love it. There’s not been one bad comment, you’d think there’d be something nasty, but nothing. We’re hoping the app will go up in the next two weeks, with Troma Plus. We got a fan to make the app. It’s our fans who keep us alive. The fans spread the word. Every time we open something at a theatre, they fill the house, even though we only get one or two nights. Even Mutant Blast just played in California, the two weeks before the lockdown. It was doing great. It’s a Portuguese director [Fernando Alle] who’s one of my prodigies, and he worked on Return to Nuke ‘Em High. It’s very good. It’s on Troma Now, you can rent it or buy it. Once this COVID thing is over, it will go back to the theaters.
NOFS: Is there much a Troma fan base in Albania, where you filmed some of the movie?
LK: We certainly don’t have any distribution there. Yet, through our good friends, piracy and bootlegging, we had a crew over there who [were] Troma fanatics. They worshipped Troma. There was one older guy who didn’t know us. His nephew brought him on, he was a special effects makeup guy. He looked like Dustin Hoffman, and he didn’t really speak any English. He was the only one who didn’t know Troma. And in Russia, I’ve been invited there three times. I did a master class at the Saint Petersburg Film Academy. And it’s all bootlegged there. And at the Shanghai Film Festival, they did a retrospective of my movies twenty years ago, and then, unbeknownst to me, they bicycled them to movie theaters, because I heard about it and went to one of them. And again, people were swinging from the chandeliers, the place was packed.
Obviously they were making some money. We never got a penny from China. There’s no place where there haven’t been a retrospective or honors or a lifetime achievement awards. Just the other day, we had 800,000 subscribers on our free channel. Now it’s gone, and it’s a loss to our subscribers. Our fans are poor. But Troma Now is free the first month, and only $4.95 after that. It’s very cheap for what you get. I go on occasionally, if someone wants to talk to me, I get notified. It’s a community.
“Just the other day, we had 800,000 subscribers on our free [YouTube] channel. Now it’s gone, and it’s a loss to our subscribers.”
NOFS: If you found a suitcase on the street, and it had enough money in it to finance your next film, what Shakespeare play would you want to Tromatize next?
LK: That’s a great idea. I haven’t really thought about it. I think Winter’s Tale might be kind of cool. But I don’t think I’ll go back to Shakespeare unless #ShakespearesShitstorm turns out to be a massive success. I really don’t know what I’m doing next. I’m producing a few films. Two women, one of them is Mercedes The Muse, who has a couple of her movies on Troma Now, she’s making Divide and Conquer, which is going to be a dynamite film. But we had to stop shooting because of this awful Troma horror film we’re all living in. I don’t [want] to restart filming until it’s 100% safe, until COVID is 100% gone away. Safety to humans is our first rule of production. We always put up our three rules of production, we make nice posters, we brainwash all the actors and crews, so people play it safe.
Knock on wood, we’ve never had a serious accident. As opposed to other big-time Hollywood movies, with all their money, they still manage to kill people. And who knows about those Chinese movies, I bet you with those stunts, they probably kill lots of people. I majored in Chinese studies, I’ve been there before, but now I hate their fascist genocidal dictatorship. I’ll never go back. My daughter, and my son-in-law too, they speak and read Chinese. But I doubt she’ll go back, she got horribly harassed there at one point. She studied there, but went back as a tourist, and the cops went after her for no reason. She was taking photos of Tiananmen Square, and they stopped her, made her sign some bullshit.
But Lisbeth [Kaufman] created something very democratic. It’s called KitSplit.com, it’s a platform where you can put up your camera, if you’re not using it, I might rent it from you. Most of the equipment we used for #ShakespeareShitstorm came off KitSplit. It’s like an Airbnb for equipment. It’s very useful and that’s something that has really taken off.
NOFS: You’ve been on social media for quite a while. What has your experience been navigating this world that is so detached from reality?
ADS ARE SCARY
Nightmare on Film Street is available FREE to read, listen to, and enjoy; without intrusive ads, blocks or limits. We are independently owned and operated. We rely on your donations to cover our operating expenses and to directly compensate our Contributors!
If you enjoy Nightmare on Film Street, consider joining our fiend club for only a couple-a bucks a month!
LK: Going back to my Chinese studies, there’s a Yin and a Yang. It’s a dualistic universe where you don’t have evil without good, or beautiful without ugly. An oyster for example gets a piece of sand caught in its asshole, but she can produce this magnificent pearl. The yin part is that social media has been wonderful for us, because we can keep in touch with our fans, and they can keep in touch with us. It’s a good way to advertise for free. It’s terrific, but we’ve also had some Twitter hate. Totally unfounded. And luckily, our fans take care of it. A lot of scumbags, and its anonymous a lot of the time too. And then you have Trump, of course, who’s not so good. I don’t subscribe to Trump, but when the news shows his tweets, some of them are just hilarious. He’s hilarious, he’s fun to watch as a stand-up comedian. He should join Second City or something, or Saturday Night Live.
NOFS: Well, I did enjoy his cameo in #ShakespearesShitstorm.
LK: Yeah, it was hard to get him! It was very hard to get him to do it, but we told him we would give him a month of free cheeseburgers. He complied, I can’t believe it.
“I think it’s my best movie […and] it’s all thanks to our fans, we’re eternally grateful to all of our fans, especially those at Fantasia.”
NOFS: Uncle Lloyd, it’s been an honor speaking to you. Is there anything else you want the people to know about #ShakespearesShitstorm?
LK: I think it’s my best movie. My wife, Pat Kaufman—who just retired from being the New York state film commissioner, appointed by both republicans and democrats—she’s one of the producers. And Justin Martell, who works for Troma and produced Return to Nuke ‘Em High and Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High. And John Brennan, who’s the other producer, he worked for Troma for a long time and he created Kabukiman’s Cocktail Corner. And they all think it’s by far my most profound film. And so far, the people I spoke to the last couple of days through Fantasia, they all seem to really love it. My children are a little worried that it goes a little too far. It didn’t have to be so out there. I think in a fair world, it will be treated a lot better. But the independent movie studio appears to be in dire straits. It’s all thanks to our fans, we’re eternally grateful to all of our fans, especially those at Fantasia.
Lloyd Kaufman’s #ShakespearesShitstorm celebrates its World Premiere at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Click HERE to read our review of the film and to follow all of our festival coverage. And be sure to let us know what you’re favorite Troma movie is over on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!