TromaDance turns 10
January 23, 2009
most measures, Lloyd Kaufman is a prolific filmmaker. The co-founder of TromaDance, a genre-bending independent film festival that runs concurrently with the Sundance Film Festival, Kaufman says he has had a hand in writing, producing and directing more than 100 feature-length films.
But Kaufman, by his own admission, isn’t a mainstream filmmaker. Just look at his resume. Acting credits include "Bikini Bloodbath Christmas," "Psycho Sleepover," "Bachelors in the Bungalows of the Dead" and "Punk Rock Holocaust 2." His most recent directorial effort, "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead" is a raunchy horror/comedy crossover about a fried-chicken chain that builds a restaurant on an ancient Indian burial ground.
Kaufman graduated from Yale University’s class of 1968 after serving in the Peace Corps. He worked on a handful of big studio films, such as "Rocky," before he started his own production company, Troma Entertainment, with partner Michael Herz. The company has been in business 35 years.
About a decade ago, Kaufman spawned the TromaDance Film Festival, which screens free films and hosts panels at The Sidecar.
In the 1970s, Troma released cinematic romps that melded sex and comedy well before films like "Porky’s," about high school guys feuding with a strip club owner, brought gross-out humor to large audiences. "To some extent, we’ve been successful by breaking the rules," Kaufman said Thursday. "Early on, we made some raunchy comedies at a time when you weren’t supposed to combine sex and comedy. Sex was supposed to be somber and serious, never funny."
At best, the films aren’t just funny, Kaufman insists. They’re satire. "Squeeze Play" tells the story of a women’s softball team that takes on the men. "Stuck on You" chronicles a married couple battling in court.
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Kaufman’s early projects were made for under $10,000 and attracted little-known actors. He remembered turning down a young blonde actress from Detroit for the lead in a summer camp coming-of-age story called "First Turn-On."
The ambitious starlet went by the name Madonna.
"She owes us her career," Kaufman said. "If we had cast her, the world could have turned out totally different." Determined to land the role, Madonna designed her own costume for the audition, but she wasn’t what Kaufman wanted. "We were looking for a Jewish-princess type. My partner said that she looked more like a Detroit grandmother."
When Kaufman talks movies, he proudly rattles off lists of top Hollywood talent who he claims slummed it, at one time or another, with Troma. He named Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro and Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of "South Park," among the moviemakers who appeared in his studio’s early films.
Most of his populous projects, though, were full of upstarts, which didn’t stop the films from turning a profit. They even garnered the attention of industry magnates. By the 1990s, large film conglomerates had caught onto the idea of sex and satire. "The big conglomerates started making the kinds of movies we were making, only with good actors and good scripts," Kaufman laughed.
While the market overflowed with bawdy comedies, Kaufman decided to turn his attention to horror films or, as he puts it, movies with "sex, gore and satire." Kaufman wrote and directed the cult classic "The Toxic Avenger," about an eco-friendly superhero.
According to film lore, Kaufman, 64, got the idea to start TromaDance after a conversation with Parker about insider elitism in the entertainment industry. "Even though my films are low budget, they have a big reach," he said. "People know when they see a Troma movie, they’re going to have an adventure in the cinema. My work is successful because we don’t make straight horror or straight comedy or Straight romance."
Lloyd Kaufman is the author of "Make Your Own Damn Movie," a guide to helping young filmmakers.