Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Industry, Interviews

“I don’t take myself seriously, but I take my movies very seriously” – Lloyd Kaufman Interviewed

The world knows Lloyd Kaufman (or rather, the part of the world that has heard of Lloyd Kaufman knows him) as the face of Troma Films and the director of the notoriously outrageous zero-budget cult-classic The Toxic Avenger and sequels. Fewer people know that he’s directed dozens of films (including the 2006 return to form Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, now also on–yes, it’s true–Blu-ray), produced scores more and made appearances in over a hundred genuinely independently-produced movies (partly out of solidarity with directors working outside the system, partly to promote the Troma brand). And some may even know that he’s the author of numerous books, most recently the guerrilla how-to guide Direct Your Own Damn Movie!, and a producer of documentaries and box sets devoted to practical tips on low-budget filmmaking.

Lloyd kaufman
Lloyd Kaufman

What is less well known is his commitment to independent filmmaking. Not the kind of multi-million dollar films with major stars and studio backing that Hollywood brands as “Independent,” but independently financed and produced films made and seen outside the studio system. He’s the president of The Independent Film and Television Alliance, the trade association for the independent movie industry, and has been actively engaged in the fight to preserve net neutrality. And he created the TromaDance Film Festival, unique in the spectrum of American film festivals in that it does not charge filmmakers a fee to submit their films nor does it charge admission to the shows.

I interviewed Lloyd Kaufman in June 2009, when he was in Seattle for a horror convention. Troma’s tireless publicist arranged an opportunity for me to interview him between appearances and we spent over an hour in his hotel lobby talking about everything from the democratization filmmaking to corporate stranglehold on the distribution and exhibition of movies in the U.S. (from theaters to TV) to the origins of Troma.

As the 11th Annual TromaDance Film Festival prepares to unspool on April 16, 2010, in its new home at Asbury Park, New Jersey, we present this lively interview with the outspoken and passionate Lloyd Kaufman. And be prepared: Kaufman is not shy about letting his passions through in very colorful language. Take it as you will, as warning or enticement.

You have a very interesting set of credits. You worked on Rocky and you were production manager on My Dinner With Andre.

Yes, I was indeed. Those movies, Rocky and Saturday Night Fever, those were my film school.

How did you move from working on those industry productions to creating the outsider studio Troma?

I was making my own movies constantly, I was always making my own damn movies and I was interested in long form, so at the one time we were trying to figure out… I did Sugar Cookies in 1970, I didn’t direct it, I made the mistake of just raising money and writing and producing, and then the distribution didn’t work out too well. And then we made a movie in Israel that’s probably the worst movie in history, called Big Gus, What’s the Fuss (1971), it’s the only movie I’m embarrassed to show and we got screwed on that one, and then Michael Herz and I decided that we had better learn distribution, and that’s when we started Troma in 1974 to both produce and distribute ourselves. Of course in those days there was just theatrical.

But while we were trying to get Troma going, I would take jobs which would help pay the rent and also I’d learn. And I think in the seventies and into the eighties, we still entertained the notion that maybe we could work with one of these companies and they could distribute our films. We made a film called Stuck On You (1983), and we’d send the 35mm print, or I’d actually hand carry it to the West Coast to bring it to Warner Bros. acquisition department, or to Paramount in hopes that maybe Paramount would pick up and distribute it, but usually I’d get to the gate and they wouldn’t have my pass and it would be 180 degrees and I’d be in my little Bar Mitzvah suit and sweating like a pig and I’d have to then run to a phone book, the cars would be backed up behind me because the studio exec forget to leave the pass, and they’d be honking and then I’d get out of line and go to a pay phone and call and then they’d tell me to park in Guam, then I’d have to carry the 35mm print ten miles to people that had absolutely no interest in distributing it. So it didn’t take too long to realize that (laughs) I’d better stick with being an auteur film director and do it ourselves.

So before you made The Toxic Avenger, you were essentially making drive-in movies.

We got there first with the raunchy sex films. Porky’s hadn’t been made. We got there with Squeeze Play (1979), Stuck On You, The First Turn-on!! (1983) and Waitress (1982), and we’re putting out a box set, by the way. Those movies came out ahead of the trend so we did very well with them. By the time we did The First Turn-on!!, the studios were making a lot of those big budget sex comedies, you know, they were using good acting, so we had to figure something else out. And that’s when we came up with the notion that maybe I should turn my attention to some kind of horror thing. But I like comedy so I decided that I would make the slapstick horror comedy satire. And James Gunn and Guillermo Del Toro and a lot of those guys credit me with inventing the slapstick horror film, the slapstick gore film, so The Toxic Avenger (1984) was a little bit ahead of its time. And no theater would play it, actually. When we finished it, we couldn’t get one theater to play it anywhere and then we took it to Cannes and not one deal. Nothing! And then a few months later we got one movie theater in Greenwich Village, New York, and there was a line around the theater. Somehow the public knew this was something to see and there was a line around the block when it opened. It was the Bleeker Street Cinema and it ran there for months and then, slowly from there, we bootstrapped to a couple hundred prints, I don’t know, we had a lot of prints, and I think it had about 2,000 screens, and then the next year at Cannes suddenly everybody wanted it. It was huge the next year at Cannes. And then a cartoon show, of course. And now an Off-Broadway musical. Just off Broadway, 50th Street, it’s like two blocks off Broadway.

You show up in every disc that Troma puts out and you play a kind of huckster when you make those appearances. Is that what you have to do to promote your movies when you don’t have a promotional budget?

I don’t know if that’s what you have to do but that’s what I do. In other words, you have to whore for your art, as I say in my books. I’ve had forty years of making movies with nobody telling me what to do. The downside is I’ve had very small budgets. Poultrygeist is a half-million dollar movie. If a major made it.. How much was Drag Me To Hell? I’m sure it was thirty, forty, fifty million. We’re making movies for less than one percent of that. So in order to get the money to do that I have to humiliate myself and because I don’t want to break the law or rip people off or tell people to invest who can’t afford to lose their money, I have to be a clown to some extent. And then to sell my movies. I just came back from the Cannes Film Festival, I was on every French television station and radio and newspaper, I spent the whole time doing French interviews. I’m the Jerry Lewis of the French underground. You remember even Venice did a Troma day. But meanwhile, no distribution anywhere. Literally. Economic blacklisting, that’s what it’s called. At least Troma has a fan base. “The Toxic Avenger” musical opened in March in New York and it’s doing great, just won the Outer Critics Circle for Best Off-Broadway Show, so we’re still around, but it’s never been more difficult. We go to Cannes and we do street theater. We’re spending no money and Warner Bros. has a party that costs more than Poultrygeist.

I’ve said this before and it’s still true: The documentaries about the making your movies on the Troma DVD supplements are among the very best making-of documentaries ever made.

Well, sing it to the world, Mr. Axmaker, because people don’t know it. You’re the only person who gets it. Nobody ever reviews them, nobody ever talks about them, and these could come out by themselves. And yet no critics, no media pays any attention. Except for you. Can you do it again?

I first discovered them on one of the Toxic Avenger DVDs. I don’t know what you tell the directors of your making-of documentaries, but I assume to tell them to show everything because they do.

The truth will set you free.

And that’s exactly what makes them so informative: you don’t have an ego to preserve from the public. You meltdown on the set, you yell at your people when things get screwed up, and you allow it all to be seen.

Honestly, my partner, Michael Herz and I, are sincerely trying to promote the cause of independent cinema and really trying to open up the way we’ve made movies to young people. Troma is in its 35th year this year, but for the last twenty years we’ve really been trying to share our viewpoints with young people and the only way to do it is to show the truth. I’m going to be doing a master class Sunday at 11am and, the point of that master class, because it’s only about an hour and a half, is I’m going to try to emphasize how difficult it is. I’ve got some short pieces I’m going to show. We have a man here in Portland who handles my bookings and speeches and whatever I do here in the Northwest, and we did a three-day swing last year and I filmed it. I called it a Diary-a and it shows how hard it was to get from one place to another, we had this beaten up van, we were staying in flophouses, we were getting lost. It’s just like Willy Loman. It’s about a seven-minute piece but it really shows you how, if you’re going to be an independent filmmaker and you don’t want to compromise your art, you’re going to have to make some major compromises to get your money and major compromises to sell your movie. You’re going to have to humiliate yourself and stay in crappy hotels and run from one place to another. We showed up as a local television station to be interviewed, it was like 6am, and it was a new show in Salem, Oregon, and they forgot. Their big story was a bake sale so here I am, forty years of moviemaking, and we filmed it all. You see me getting humiliated.

Like in Spinal Tap at the theme park: “Puppet Show plus Spinal Tap.”

Yeah, except I’m real.

Between your DVDs All the Love You Cannes, Make Your Own Damn Movie and the warts-and-all making-of documentaries on your movies, you show how it is possible to make these films and what you have to do to get them made and get them sold. It’s the most practical film school out there.

Well thank you. If you can mention it, the new book, Direct Your Own Damn Movie, talks about the digital no-budget movies. I’m producing a movie now that a guy in Syracuse is making. The whole budget of the film is $5,000 and it’s going to be great! Chris Seaver is his name and he’s been making movies for ten years. He’s made, I don’t know, like fifty feature-length movies and I helped him make his very first one when he was, I don’t know, ten or something. Because I acted in it and he was able to sell it at conventions. But the main point is that the new book talks a lot about the ups and downs and the pros and cons of the no-budget digital film and how, using some of my technique of producing, can add production value and also what I personally have to do in terms of promotion, what people have to think about if they want to have freedom to … If you don’t want to compromise your art, you may have to compromise on the selling side, which I do. When I talk to the film industry, when I talk to most of these executives in the film business, I have to lower myself intellectually. I literally have to almost speak like James Cagney in one of those gangster movies, they’re all so stupid. They don’t read papers, they don’t watch movies, they live under rocks, and you have to dumb yourself down, not for the viewing audience but for the buyers, for the gatekeepers. You have to act stupid, you have to cover up the fact you speak fluent Chinese and fluent French and you went to Yale University, you have to talk stupid. You have to say, “I like it good,” you have to use improper grammar or they don’t get it. It’s an interesting conundrum.

Along with all your own Troma films, there’s a terrific interview that you gave for the The Final Countdown DVD.

Oh, wow, thank you. That’s a great DVD from Blue Underground. Bill Lustig, he’s a film lover. He’s one of those guys. I interviewed him for Direct Your Own Damn Movie, he’s in that book. James Gunn, Eli Roth, Penelope Spheeris is interviewed for that book. I mean, it’s mainly my own theories but I’ve interviewed these other directors, and there’s a DVD box set, the Direct Your Own Damn Movie box set. If you like Make Your Own Damn Movie, check this one out because I think this one is better. There’s a feature-length movie within the Direct Your Own Damn Movie box set which is call Direct Your Own Damn Movie and it’s great. You’re right, it’s like film school, I really do believe it.

People talk about all the talent that came out of Roger Corman, but you also nurtured talent. James Gunn’s first work was for Troma.

Eli Roth was in our movies a lot, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kevin Costner’s first movie, Samuel L. Jackson. We financed Def by Temptation, we put up the money for that. It was an all-black production long before Boyz n the Hood. We’ve been too early a number of times.

James Gunn’s first script was for Troma.

He sure did, Tromeo and Juliet. And he’s a great guy. And he’s in Lollilove, which Jenna Fischer directed. I have a new book out, Direct Your Own Damn Movie from Focal Press, and Jenna’s in it. She’s interviewed and what’s interesting about her interview is that she says she never wants to direct another movie after Lollilove.

I thought it was great that Poultrygeist got a theatrical release.

Only because we fought like crazy and still it has not played in Seattle anywhere, for some reason no theater will take it [ed. note: Central Cinema subsequently played the film and brought director Lloyd Kaufman back to Seattle for a personal appearance in the Fall of 2009] even though it does well. It’s played about 300 cinemas, went a couple of weeks at The Mission in Portland. In fact it came back to Portland, it did so well.

Poultrygeist: Playing with his food
Poultrygeist: Playing with his food

How is Poultrygeist doing financially?

They sold about 25,000 DVDs, which for us is sensational. The theatrical [side], it’s still playing movie theaters but we don’t make money off the theaters because they yank us. No matter how well they do, they yank us after a week or two. If there’s six screens, the movie theater is pressured to keep High School Musical Part 2: Step Up the Streets or whatever the hell it’s called, even though no one is in the theater, and they kick out Poultrygeist. And the booking services that book the theaters represent five or six of the studios so they’re basically a monopoly within Minneapolis, say, and I know that in Minneapolis and Salt Lake City, they put tremendous pressure on the theaters to kick us out even though we’re doing all right. Poultrygeist is my best movie, it’s my best reviewed. Stephen King had it on his homepage. Everyone from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly gave it good reviews and people love it, but meanwhile it’s never played on TV and it will never play on television. Not HBO, not Showtime, nowhere. Citizen Toxie must have sold 200,000 videos but it’s never played on TV. The First Toxic Avenger played a million times, the second one, the third one, but by the time of Citizen Toxie, which is the best one and was hugely successful on home video, has never played on television. And Cannibal the Musical from the “South Park” guys, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, never on TV. I got letters from Comedy Central: “Dear Mr. Kaufman, Thank you for submitting and resubmitting your movie, Cannibal the Musical, to Comedy Central, but it’s just not up to our standards.” Right? You’ve seen it.

Yes, I’ve seen it.

It’s terrific. And there’s no nudity in it, it’s got a little Monty Python violence. I sent that letter to Trey Parker and he told me he framed it and put it on his office wall. They didn’t even look at it, they just knew it was from Troma. “Oh, it’s from Troma, put it in the garbage and let’s send them a nasty letter.”

Poultrygeist is a lot of fun. And I love Citizen Toxie. I think it’s hysterical.

We’re just starting to write the fifth Toxic Avenger movie.

Is that also going to be shot in New Jersey?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. If we have to shoot in the winter months we might go to a milder neighborhood. My wife is New York Film Commissioner and she will kill me if I don’t shoot in New York State. I don’t even have a beginning, middle and end to the script, I just know that Toxic Avenger: Part 5 will concern the twins that he had at the end of Citizen Toxie. Toxie gets older in each movie so I have to figure out where we’re going with it. My partner wants to shoot this summer [ed. note: the interview was conduced in June, 2009] but I can’t imagine I’m going to be ready to shoot so if it turns out we have to shoot in January or February, we may have to move it to a warm climate somewhere.

* * * * *

I’m also president of The Independent Film and Television Alliance, which is the trade association for the independent movie industry. Roger Corman’s company is a member, the guys who made Crash, the guys who made Monster, the guys who financed Lord of the Rings, Million Dollar Baby, most of the serious independent filmmakers are part of this organization and I ran as chairman, I don’t get paid but there’s a staff of about thirty, and I ran on a platform of fighting industry consolidation and protecting net neutrality on the Internet, because the worst thing that has been going on in my forty years of filmmaking is the rules that used to protect the public against monopolies have been done away with. The consent decree of 1948, which prohibited the studios from owning theaters, was done away with under Reagan, so that’s why Sony owns Loews, and we independents have difficulty getting into a movie theater, which made it very difficult for Poultrygeist. We did get about 300 cinemas, but one by one by one by one, and when you play in one movie theater in New York and you can only spend $50,000 and Speed Racer is opening against you and they’re spending $2 million in New York and opening on hundreds of screens in New York alone, and in spite of that Poultrygeist had the highest per-screen average in the country on May 9, 2008, and yet two weeks later we get thrown out of our cinema because Indiana Jones Skullfucker needs every screen in the world. So that’s the problem we have, so that’s why I ran for chairman of this organization.

The other part of this platform is, they’ve gotten rid of the financial syndication rule which used to prevent the networks from owning content and required that they license 35% of their content from independent sources, and that was done away with under Clinton. So as Michael Moore said, Clinton was the greatest Republican president that we ever had, he did more for big business than Reagan. When the financial syndication rule was done away with, it meant that we independents couldn’t get our TV shows or movies on television, even HBO or Showtime. They used to account for half of our typical budgets. Now, if they take an independent movie, you get about 5% of your budget. But they still pay a shitload of money to their friends at Paramount, which is owned by Viacom, or Universal, owned by General Electric, or Sony. So I ran for the chairmanship of this trade association to try to get some of our treasury devoted to lobbying in Washington against industry consolidation. The phone companies and the MPAA, which is the trade association for the big guys, are in Washington 24/7 trying to get rid of net neutrality on the Internet, they don’t want a free, open and diverse Internet. Even the Directors Guild of America, a union which I resigned from a while back, even they, composed of people like Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen and the left-wing limousine liberals, even they haven’t figured out yet whether net neutrality is a good thing. They’re not so sure they want a free and open, democratic and diverse Internet. The MPAA is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to try to get rid of net neutrality and keep this oligopoly that they have and we have a very small treasuring but we’re trying to use it to at least alert Congress and the Federal Communications Commission and the White House that independent cinema accounts for a huge number of jobs and is also the engine of ingenuity. Most of the Oscars over the last generation have come from the independent community. And Obama has said that he’s for net neutrality but he got a lot of money from those conglomerates for the election.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that a lot of what Michael Herz and I are trying to do with Troma, in addition to making our own damn movies, is to get this message out, because if you look around the countryside, do you see any movie companies that are more than ten minutes old? No, there aren’t any, and that’s a shame. There’s Troma. Roger Corman’s had the good luck to have sold his companies two or three times and his current company is pretty old, but other than that there’s nothing. Lionsgate is around and they seem to be doing well but they haven’t been around that long. They’ve come out of the bankruptcies of numerous companies, like a phoenix that keeps rising, but they’re only about five years old.

The studios were buying up independent outfits like crazy a few years ago, and then started shutting them all down, absorbing them.

Exactly. New Line is gone.

New Line was one of the great indie upstarts of the seventies. Didn’t they have their first big success with John Waters’ early films?

They made a little money in the sixties with Reefer Madness, they did that, and then they had a Rolling Stones documentary, and then Pink Flamingoes.

And then they hit it big with A Nightmare on Elm Street. There was a time when horror films were cheap. I just saw Land of the Lost and wrote in my review that I remember a time back in the seventies when this kind of film got the respect it deserved: no budget and a cheap advertising campaign. No one would spend $100 million on something this stupid.

The dumbest of them is Grindhouse. They spent $60 million making a movie that looks like it cost $60,000. I got a lot of attention when that movie opened. The New York Times called me. The mainstream media totally ignores me because we don’t advertise so why bother? Let’s talk about Harold and Kumar and see if A.O Scott and the New York Times can twist themselves into pretzels top say how socially significant the farting is in Harold and Kumar, but they ignore me. Then because of this Grindhouse thing, I got a lot of calls from mainstream media and every time they called I got really pissed off. I said, “Why are you using me to promote a $60 million movie? Get lost!” It’s like these guys are dressing up for Halloween, putting on a costume. It really pissed me off and I thought those movies were pretty weak, although the driving thing was pretty cool with the woman on the car. But to deliberately scratch the movie up? My brother made a movie called When Nature Calls, you ever see that? He also made Mother’s Day, which Eli Roth has seen 200 times and is being remade by Brett Ratner, which is big secrete. No wait, I don’t think it is a secret, I can talk about it. (laughs) But When Nature Calls has all those trailers in it, like Grindhouse, and my brother did it in 1985. No one cares, but at least we could get a little attention from the media in those days. When The Toxic Avenger opened, Vincent Canby made it the lead movie review that Friday in The New York Times. He thought it was fun to feature it. Poultrygeist, The New York Times reviewed in the shit column. Basically what is says to the audience is, “Harold and Kumar, that’s the big film this week, High School Musical Part 62,” big pictures and front placement, trying to suggest that those are important, and, “oh yeah, also there are a couple shitty movies opening folks.”

I’ve written five books. Has The New York Times ever said one peep about them? No. How about our thirty-fifth year of making movie in New York City? Not one word. Thirty five years. How many independent movie studios have existed, in the history of cinema, how many have existed for thirty five years? None. In the United States certainly no independent movie studio has stayed around for thirty five years. No independent movie studio that brought you Kevin Costner, Vincent D’Onofrio, the South Park guys, James Gunn, Eli Roth and The Toxic Avenger. It goes on and on and on and yet not one word in the major media. We are living in Russia, we are living in Brezhnev/Kosygin Russia and you are one of the few people that seem to be making the effort to find independent art.

At the Washington Post they just have one guy now [reviewing films], I think they just got rid of the main critic at the Post. In fact, the guy who reviewed Poultrygeist, he obviously didn’t see the movie. He said Trey Parker and Matt Stone are in the movie and they’re not in the movie, and he also said the best line in the movie is… I can’t remember what it is [ed. note: “Humans… the other white meat”  – read the review here], but it’s not in the movie, it’s on the poster. So I wrote him a letter and I told people on MySpace, I’ve got about 15,000 on MySpace, and I put a thing on MySpace telling them to write to the Post saying they were full of shit and they did (read his post here). And some editors from the Post called me and they wanted me to tell them what specifically was wrong and I sent it to them. Of course they didn’t print anything, but that is pretty bad stuff. The attitude is: “You little independent film people, you’re not worth my time. I’m Kenny Turan at the Los Angeles Times and I don’t have time for you.” Terror Firmer, did you see that movie?

Terror Firmer: "I think that's my most personal film.
Terror Firmer: "my most personal film.

I have not seen that one.

Again, it takes me three years to make a movie and I take it very seriously. I don’t take myself seriously but I take making movies very, very seriously and Terror Firmer is my most personal film. And he walked out of the critic’s screening because he didn’t like the look of the press materials. I don’t know, the form of the press kit wasn’t right or something, but come on, it’s the movie. So he walks out of the movie after twenty minutes, he’s in some kind of a twit, but he wouldn’t do that twit for Paramount’s South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. I’m sure he wouldn’t walk out of Drag Me to Hell if it had the Disney/Miramax name on it, but he walks out of our film and he still reviews it. And obviously the review is not to my liking, but give me a break. And it’s like prejudice, it’s racial profiling.

It’s economic profiling.

Yes, that’s what it is.

There is this sense that, and I talked about this with the makers of Zombies of Mass Destruction, is that on the one hand they’re making a zombie film so you can get away with a whole lot of stuff, but on the other hand no one will take them seriously because they have a movie called Zombies of Mass Destruction. And when I say no one will take them seriously, that means a lot of critics won’t take them seriously.

They’ll take it seriously if suddenly Walt Disney puts one out and they have to go out and review it, then suddenly they’ll figure out all sorts of insights: Schopenhauer, they’ll see glints of Nietzsche and John Ford…

There’s not many critics who do that any more.

They don’t know who Nietzsche is.

I don’t think they know who John Ford is. There’s this attitude, and I’ve been told this directly by newspaper folk, that it’s easier to take someone who can write and teach them about movies than it is to take someone who knows about movies and teach them to write. They think anyone can write a film review. But they wouldn’t just grab a guy off the street and ask them to do a ballet review. They understand that you need to know something about dance to write about dance, or theater, or classical music, but anyone can review a film.

Well, everybody can make a film, too.

Everyone can pick up a camera, that’s for sure.

But that’s kind of cool. The democratization of cinema I think is great, the idea that you don’t have to worry about the money any more, you can make your own damn movie. We have a guy for whom we are distributing who used to work in a liquor store, which is why I personally like him, but he made Zombiegeddon, a movie that was $15,000, he made it Kansas when he was schoolteacher and it’s got a lot of names in it, but underground names like Debbie Rochon, Brinke Steven, Ron Jeremy, I’m in it. But it was $15,000 and it’s okay. We’ve got a guy named Giuseppe Andrews…

I’ve seen a couple of his shorts and I’ve seen him as an actor in other movies.

His day job is acting but he makes these feature-length movies for $1,000. I produced one that he did for $2,000 and we’re supposed to be bringing it out in a box set for him. We don’t make money on these but they’re masterpieces: Trailer Town (2003), Touch Me in the Morning (1999). They’re great, they’re terrific, and I’m certain there are thousands of Giuseppe Andrews around the country who are making spectacular films, we just don’t know about them yet. But it’s okay, the word will get out. Eli Roth has discovered Giuseppe Andrews, Adam Rifkin has discovered him, you should check out his movies. The point I’m trying to make is that maybe out of 1,000 no budget movies, 900 will be kids who are basically having a fraternity party, they don’t get it that you have to write a good script, but 10% of those movies you may have a Giuseppe Andrews. That guy is a genius and those films are great. He lives in a trailer camp and there’s all these old drunken bums who live in there and he uses them like his studio, the same way that I have this kind of Warholian universe that I draw from.

Another director whose movies we just acquired to distribute is Yakov Levi. He’s Ukrainian, he lives in Toronto, but I saw his movies for the first time in Slovenia. Believe it or not. Slovenia, about five years ago, did a retrospective of my movies and I think Poultrygeist had its world premiere at the film festival in Slovenia. I think that was the world premiere, it would have been 2007. But I got to see movies by Yakov Levi. They’re crazy but they’re great, they’re brilliant, so Troma acquired them and at some point will distribute them. They’re digital so I don’t think we can do much in the theaters but they’re pretty out there so I don’t think any theater would even play them. But they’re terrific and he’s a brilliant, brilliant guy. There are a lot of those guys out there doing no-budget movies. Maybe most of them are… It’s the democratization of making movies.

I made The Battle of Love’s Return in 1970, which was I think the first time Oliver Stone was involved in a movie [ed. note: he has a brief role in the film]. It was a feature-length film with Lynn Lowry, 16mm, color and black-and-white, and it got into movie theaters. And it cost $8,000 in 1970 and it was like a big deal. “You made a feature-length film for $8,000? That’s fantastic!” If you translated the $8,000 from 1970 to 2009, with inflation, it would be over $100,000, right? It has to be. Probably $200,000 to make a movie like The Battle of Love’s Return. It was a shitload of money so you had to be rich, you had to have money to make a movie. You don’t now. It’s fantastic. You can do it for nothing. It’s democratizing. That’s the hope. There’ll be all these great movies coming out and then maybe this cartel that is vertically integrated, that owns the news and owns everything, has broken every rule of the democratic, free and open communication society, may the apple cart will be upset and maybe the talent will be able to surface a little more, thanks to the Internet. If they keep net neutrality. They have to keep net neutrality. We haven’t figured out how to make money off the Internet yet, but if and when it does happen, we’ve got to make sure that the Internet stays…

… on a level playing field.

Exactly! So that if there is a Holy Grail, we all get to profit from it. Right now Troma’s website might get half a million people every month, but if they get rid of net neutrality, which they’re sure trying to do, they’ll make this superhighway for the big guys, they’ll control the pipes going into your house. Everyone else will be sort of on public access and you’ll have to go down thirty two screens to get to your newspaper’s website. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen. They’re already colonizing the Internet. Murdoch bought MySpace and they sure changed that around. People are leaving MySpace. This Hulu, which Disney just joined. It’s a monopoly and I think it’s now the most widely trafficked entertainment site. You’ve Disney, Paramount, Time-Warner… basically they’re all trying to do it together, it’s colonization and colonization never works. You can ask the French about that.

So we’ve got our hands full fighting this and Troma is very much in the vanguard because it’s either fight or die, in my opinion. There are a lot of independent filmmakers who don’t necessarily agree because they’re still looking for Miramax to pick their movie up and it ain’t gonna happen. Unless they do My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a nice, happy, don’t change the world movie, or Juno, a movie about middle-class white girls and how cute they are when they get pregnant, unless they do something like that that keeps the status quo, their movie is not going to get encouraged by the cartel. So we’ve got to keep a free and open Internet so that, if you make a good movie, people will find it. They will find it, they do find it. They found Combat Shock. Have you seen that one? Combat Shock never made money until this year. From 1986, it finally broke into profit because of word of mouth. It helps us. Word of mouth helps Troma, and if there’s some area where there’s a level playing field, we’ll be able to stick around and I think a lot of other independent movie companies can come back.