After five decades of being one of the biggest crusaders, innovators, and purveyors of independent genre filmmaking, the legendary Lloyd Kaufman shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Daily Dead recently had the pleasure of speaking with “Uncle Lloyd” about TromaDance 18, which kicks off this weekend in Manhattan, and he also discussed Return to Return to Nuke ’Em High, which is officially set to premiere later this year, and how the new Troma Now streaming service is giving fans access to an amazing array of indie horror films. Suffice to say, when it comes to fighting the good fight for indie cinema, Kaufman is still happy to be in the frontlines alongside Michael Herz and his Troma family more than 40 years now.
Congrats on another year of TromaDance. Can you talk about what the mission was when you guys first started this festival nearly two decades ago, and it has evolved over the last 18 years?
Lloyd Kaufman: That's a great question. It started as a stick in the eye to Robert Redford because Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and I went to Sundance Film Festival. Trey and Matt wanted to go. They were obsessed with it. They had submitted Cannibal! the Musical to Sundance and they paid the fees, even. I'm too cheap to pay the film festivals. I don't like that idea of the film festivals charging money to submit your movie. They should be watching the movies out of the joy of watching movies. But they paid whatever the money was, and they never even got a “get lost” letter. They never even got a rejection. They got nothing.
Since they didn't get any letter telling them not to go to Sundance, they said, "Well, they didn't tell us not to go. Let's go." When we got there, the people there were so rude. The staff was so rude to independent filmmakers that we decided to set up our own festival with no submission fee. You can submit your movie for free. You can watch the movies for free. No VIP policy. We have an end of the festival closing party, and whoever gets there gets in. If it's full, you have to wait, no matter who you are.
We did this festival in two venues. One in Park City itself, where Sundance is, right in the middle of Sundance. Then we had another theater, a real theater in Salt Lake City. We rented a bar on main street, set up the projection and chairs. Then we had a real theater called Ruby's, which is a very nice theater where you can eat pizza, chicken legs, and whatever.
We had guys handing out flyers around Park City, and they claimed that that's solicitation. So they put two of our guys in jail for that overnight. After that incident, we decided we're going to keep doing this. The next year we brought first amendment slips of paper with the first amendment on it. We sent the word out that on the last Friday we would have a big group of people handing out the first amendment on main street in Park City during Sundance. Of course nobody touched us. We produced TromaDance in Sundance for about 10 years. Then it started to get taken seriously. It's a very good festival because it plays movies that the other festivals are afraid to play. So when it got bigger, we moved it to New Jersey for a few years. This year it's in Manhattan at The PIT, which is the People's Improvisational Theater.
It's all free, and we've been able to keep it going. We get a few sponsors. Troma pays for most of it. These are wonderful movies, but most of the festivals are very frightened of anything original, or anything that might change the world a little bit, so they play it safe. We don’t.
So, there’s the fact that you personally have now been in this filmmaking world for 50 years, and it’s clear from the different discussions we've had, and the things that I know Troma has had to go through to just put their own movies out, and then being supportive of other truly independent films, too; you’ve worked so hard for so long. What is it that keeps you moving forward in this world? Some folks would be like, "You know what? I am ready for retirement," but you're still here, and you're still doing great things. And to me, that's amazing.
Lloyd Kaufman: Well, thank you, Heather. Michael Herz and I, we really love movies. The Tempest is the next one I'm doing. The movie we just made, Return to Return To Nuke 'Em High, AKA Volume 2 is something I've been working on for several years now, too. There's no way we're going to make money, but it's a great film. It's terrific. The Museum of Modern Art premiered Volume 1 and it played about 200 theaters in the states, and then Volume 2 was just premiered by the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Somebody likes our movies, but the problem is, it's a closed shop. It’s very hard to get our movies to the public.
As you know, it's very hard because truly independent movies are shunned. Tribeca didn't play Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead because they were scared, but then two years later, they played Zombeavers, which is a movie that has absolutely no political value or sociological comment whatsoever. It's entertaining, I suppose, but I think Poultrygeist is so much more of a profound and serious movie, and it's a musical, too. It had a lot of great directors, including Mark Neveldine, who made Crank and Gamer, and a lot of folks said that it should have been a huge hit.
But because it's economic blacklist, it's very hard for the true independents to get any kind of interaction with the public. The paths to the public are very much controlled by a small number of these conglomerates, or now, Netflix and Amazon. And Amazon has now been kicking movies off the internet because of their so-called moral turpitude, and that's what they do when fascism comes in. They immediately go after the artists. CAAN did it, Sundance did it, now Amazon's doing it. YouTube is doing it, too.
That’s why Troma set up its own streaming service called Troma Now. It's $4.99 a month. There’s no censorship. They are all our world premiere movies and curated movies, too. That's how we're countering this baby food media.
And then Return to Return to Nuke 'Em High is opening in New York in November. It'll play around 200 or 300 theaters, like the first movie did. It's like a week in and a week out, or over a weekend. I go to the theaters sometimes and bring the Toxic Avenger and Sgt. Kabukiman with me, too, because the fans always love it.
That's great. I'm really looking forward to Return to Return to, just because I really had a lot of fun with the first one, so I'm excited to see what you guys bring to the table for the second part.
Lloyd Kaufman: Thank you. It's very insane. I think you would enjoy some of the movies on Troma Now, too. We discovered so many famous directors like Eli Roth and James Gunn. The directors of the future are on Troma Now. Most of those movies are from first-time directors, and there are some really interesting movies there for fans to discover.