Originally intended to be the second part of Popdose’s look at VHS videotape subculture (which you can read here), Troma Entertainment’s co-founder Lloyd Kaufman had other plans. That’s not to say he isn’t still passionate about moviemaking and getting his company’s genre entertainment to the public. That’s like saying ghost peppers are just a little spicy. But there are big issues on the horizon, not only for Troma’s ability to distribute its product, but for any independent company without the deep pockets to pay-to-play.
The game is net neutrality, and it’s one Kaufman is adamant about not losing…otherwise life will be very difficult for independent entrepreneurs and creators, and definitely a lot more boring.
On the role of VHS and home video: Home video is just another technological advance. Every time there’s a technological advance, if (Troma) likes it, we usually move into it two or three years before the evil conglomerates move in. When videocassettes moved in, Jack Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) tried to destroy it because the independents were making money, they were doing well.
What the mainstream does is whenever there’s a technological advancement, whenever there is something to help liberate the American public to get honest news and improvement such as cures for cancer, or Kickstarter, or Netflix, or things that are better than the crappy life they usually have, the major powers throw a monkey wrench in…like (threats to) net neutrality on the Internet, which is the last democratic medium and is helping thousands of people get around the corrupt, elite cartels in every industry.
So Valenti and the MPAA tried to kill VHS with the argument that, “Oh, the VHS people copy movies and that will destroy copyright law.” They did a brainwashing campaign with that. And also they said, “Oh, with VHS cassettes there will be porn, we’ll be swimming in porn,” which for me is a great thing, but most of the American puritans don’t like that.
The political climate and what it could do to independent creators: Currently, the giant, devil-worshiping national media conglomerates are using the exact same arguments to destroy net neutrality, saying that net neutrality – the free, open and democratic Internet, which allows the public to learn about real news, and allows the public to finance their own movies through Kickstarter and such, and because Amazon and Netflix have created competition for the oligopolies that used to be, like CBS, NBC, and ABC television networks — now they’re trying to destroy it.
(Donald) Trump has put a guy in the FCC, Ajit Pai, as chairman. He wants to get rid of net neutrality. So he’s a “shit pai.”
That’s basically how it works. So, we were doing quite well before the Consent Decree of 1948 was done away with by Ronald Reagan. The Consent Degree prohibited the giant media conglomerates from buying and owning movie theaters. Thanks to the good people of the Reagan Administration, that rule went away. So now the Chinese either own or control all the movie theaters in America, and the major studios consort with the genocidal Chinese government to make sure that Doctor Strange is on every single screen. The visionary studios like Troma are forced to suck hind tit, so to speak.
It has nothing to do with home video. It has everything to do with the fact that giant conglomerates have lobbied in Washington – lobbying being legalized bribery – they spend hundreds of millions of dollars in Washington to get the rules changed so they can avoid competition and control the market. Every time there’s a new breakthrough and every time Troma has a window of opportunity, the big boys come in with millions of dollars (worth) of sleazy lawyers (funded by) the mainstream media. Think of Time Warner, which owns CNN. Everything that goes through CNN is vetted by Time Warner. And when you get to Fox, you know what they’re all about…Rupert Murdoch, 82-year old white guy, and a 90-year old white guy Sumner Redstone who owns Viacom, control forty percent of the entire medium…basically the world medium. So that’s where we sit. We sit in a situation that’s very difficult.
So it has nothing to do with home video, rather than the independents can move quicker and get into, and take advantage of technology until the elites, the cartel, the oligopoly, the devil – however you want to put it – throws a monkey wrench into the works as they’re doing now with net neutrality, the free, open and diverse Internet, and they are screwing it up.
They do that just until they’re able to use the hundreds of millions of dollars of lobbying to get rid of whatever that innovation is or to take it over. That’s what they did with home video, remember? There used to be thousands of American “mom & pop” video stores, the American entrepreneur. But then, Viacom bought Blockbuster and Blockbuster put all the independent video stores out of business. And Blockbuster only had a fraction of movies that they’d rent or sell; they’d only have a small select number out there. Some of the franchisees did take on more variety, but not much more.
Eventually Blockbuster went out of business. People grew tired of seeing the same endless selection of baby food they served up. You can live on baby food, but it is very, very boring.
Troma’s guerilla filmmaking, characters, and longevity: The reason why Troma is still around is because we make movies that are very, very entertaining, they’re didactic and we have a huge following, a huge fanbase. We’re a classic cult movie studio, 43-years old.
So if there’s any reason for Troma to continue, that reason is our fans. Our power is that we’re fan-fueled. Our movies could be put out on toilet paper…our movies could be put out on used toilet paper! Our fans would make sure these movies still get some support. It doesn’t matter what the medium is. If the entertainment is good, and if the thoughts behind the entertainment have some interesting facets, the studio and those creators will keep going.
The pity, the tragedy of it is that small independents are where the future filmmakers are born. When I broke into movies in the late-‘60s – actually this is my sixtieth year of making feature-length movies – when I started, there may have been thirty Tromas, all doing very nicely, making movies only for the theatrical market. There was no ancillary market. The kind of movies we and the other independents made might never get on TV, not because of the monopoly but because of the standards and practices rules which was a function of the monopoly. They were much tougher, obviously, on movies like ours.
When our movies played on television – which they did in the 1970s – they got chopped up and we had to have cover shots. Unfairly so – double-standards have always existed. It’s always been an uphill battle. It’s a pity there aren’t more Tromas because there would be more James Gunns (Slither, Guardians of the Galaxy) and more Trey Parkers and Matt Stones (Cannibal The Musical, South Park). There would be more Samuel Jacksons. We made an all-black movie long before the studios finally decided there was an audience for it. Independents lead the way.
We’ve had more women directors and women in board and leadership positions than, say, Rupert Murdoch has had. Well, Fox has put women in positions…but…It’s funny. Often, we who are ridiculed, dismissed or unfairly criticized by people who have never seen our movies have a spotless record, which is more than you can say about any of the studios or any of the major media. Troma’s like Shakespeare’s wife: beyond reproach.
Producer Michael Herz and I love cinema. That’s what keeps us going. That’s it. We love our fans, so that’s basically where we are today.
When it comes to our characters, more often than not I’ll get a particular theme stuck in my craw. Take McDonald’s for example. They moved in next door to the Troma building in New York, and they were very bad neighbors. That’s when I started getting interested in fast food and realized it was a horrible thing, a horrible phenomenon. Fast food makes people obese, supports factory farms which torture animals and treats them horribly…treats their employees horribly, barely paying them minimum wage. There’s absolutely nothing good about fast food.
So they moved in next to the Troma building. They had rats the size of raccoons, they damaged our building. You couldn’t imagine worse neighbors. That’s where Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead was inspired.
In the most recent film, Return to Nuke’em High, and the second half of that, Return to Return to Nuke’em High AKA Volume II, that all came out of the fact that bullying in the American high schools has reached a peak. There’s still hate crime in America, especially against people who are not heterosexual. There’s disgusting food that’s served to children, worse than ever, and contributing to the obesity epidemic. The schools are a disgrace. Return to Nuke’em High, and the second half of that, Return to Return to Nuke’em High AKA Volume II came out of the themes of the day.
All of our movies have one foot in the current events of the day, even Squeeze Play, which was our first movie. That was about the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s liberation, even though it was a raunchy, goofy, Animal House-type of movie. But it came out before Porky’s and before those types of movies really took off and became popular.
Getting back to what people can do to make their voices heard: I would suggest the following. I would go to Troma Movies on YouTube. It’s free. To thank our fans of forty years, we’ve put up about 300 of our movies, plus another 500 short films, plus my Make Your Own Damn Movies series with my lessons on how we raise money or how we crush a head. We have videos that go along with my six published books. So go to Troma Movies on YouTube, subscribe. We put new stuff up almost every day so you’ll get the alerts, the emails that will tell you something new is up.
If there are those out there who, by chance, want to support independent films, we have a subscription service called Troma Now! which has a couple new world-premiere movies every month plus I curate about 15 films and shorts. The first month is free. You can go to watch.troma.com – you can pretty much see everything there since the first month is free.
I’d also suggest Troma fans should go to their local movie theater and tell them they want to see Return to Return to Nuke’em High AKA Volume II. If you get enough customers asking for a movie, the theater will play it. Theaters listen to paying customers where they won’t listen to us directly. We’ll open in New York and Los Angeles, but not the theaters in between. When the fans ask for the films in the theaters, in some cases, we make an event of it. I can show up and we can have a Q&A…and you can hear my happy, jolly thoughts, just like in this interview!
I also write some political essays for Huffington Post. In fact, I have a big essay about net neutrality. If you don’t get that the Chinese are the next Hitler, you can go to that essay and see how the Chinese Government got the Olympics, how they poisoned American babies, killed an American child by knowingly sending crap batteries, poisoned pets with chemicals in products, how they’ve exterminated the Uighurs and the Tibetans.
People should also contact their elected officials in Washington and tell them to preserve net neutrality on the Internet, and make it clear that if net neutrality goes away, these elected officials will not be voted in again. They’ll go away. You won’t have the breakthroughs, the cures for cancer, Kickstarter campaigns which have permitted so many people to create and innovate, including Troma!
We need to preserve freedom of speech, and we’re going to lose it — we’ll lose net neutrality — if this Commissioner Shit Pai gets his way. Without net neutrality, it’s going to be a Disney/Rupert Murdoch/Viacom pretty boring world.
Special thanks to Lloyd Kaufman and John Brennan for taking the time and facilitating this interview with Popdose.com.