In this era of blockbusters, Lloyd Kaufman and his offbeat brand of low-budget B-movies are the film industry's little engine that could.
It's been more than four decades since he founded Troma Entertainment and over 30 years since the production company released its signature cult hit Toxic Avenger. The story goes, a 98-pound bullied New Jersey janitor who, after falling into a drum of toxic waste, became a deformed yet good-hearted, mop-wielding, crime-fighting creature with superhuman strength.
And while Hollywood has trended toward CGI-heavy stories with nine-figure budgets that can bring a billion dollars in revenue, Kaufman remains dedicated to telling low-budget cinematic stories.
He has more than 50 directing credits and 100 producer credits. Sometimes, his movies are over-the-top gory, sometimes they're lowbrow, sometimes they're exploitative, but they're always entertaining to his fans.
Kaufman is the featured guest at the Tampa Bay Screams horror convention, happening Friday through Sunday. In advance of his appearance, he fielded some Tampa Bay Times questions.
Why did you decide to come to the Tampa Bay Screams?
This is an independent and small convention. That is why I am supporting Tampa Bay Screams. We support the small people. San Diego Comic Con was unknown when I started to support them. It was like Tampa Bay Screams. The people who started it were like Troma — pop-culture nerds. We went there when it was just in a hotel. This guy running Tampa Bay Screams is a good guy. He loves films and he loves Troma.
There are talks of a Hollywood version of Toxic Avenger. How will it differ from the originals?
I don't know. I am only the creator of Toxic Avenger. Legendary, who made Godzilla vs. Kong and the Pikachu movie, will make it. They made some big movies that have been successful. I imagine this is a giant budget, too. They take over and in return they give Uncle Lloydy a check. This guy Macon Blair who is supposed to make it will make it even better than my version. This guy is genuinely talented. He doesn't live with the Hollywood swamp. He loves Troma. If Legendary lets him direct, it will be great. So far, they have only optioned it so I have not gotten a gargantuan check. If they do start making it, Uncle Lloydy will get a nice big check and Uncle Lloydy might be able to make Toxic Avenger Part 5.
So while Hollywood makes its version of the Toxic Avenger you'll make a new one, too?
I hope so. We have written it. We would have made it last summer but we didn't have enough money.
What advice would you give to a young filmmaker who wants to follow in your footsteps and start their own studio?
It is hopeless. This is a horrible industry and the people who control it are pigs. It is controlled by a very small number of white men. That is the problem. If somebody today wants to start a movie studio, all the laws that used to protect the public against monopolies have been done away with. My advice to a young person starting today is, don't even try to start your own movie studio.
So, what can a young filmmaker do?
The good news is you don't need any money. You can make a film on a phone that will look as good as the average mainstream movie. You can have a useful life and make your own damn movies. You can be a teacher or social worker or whatever and start a little Kickstarter, shake your friends down, and then make a movie and if you have any talent it will be good.
James Gunn got his start with Troma and now he is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. He has gotten into trouble lately for old tweets that resurfaced. It seems to have blown over, but what is your take on it?
The lesson you take away from James Gunn is the idea of love and truth. If you have love and truth you are going to win. It might just take a little longer. It's not instant coffee. But you will win. James Gunn is a loving and truthful person and he did nothing wrong but the atmosphere right now is akin to the days of Joe McCarthy and the blacklisting days.
Do you have any interest in going Hollywood?
If suddenly $200 million landed here, I would take $2 million and make three or four movies for half a million each and then give the rest away to filmmakers and give each half a million to make movies. I feel it is obscene for our society to be valuing Tom Cruise at $40 million for 90 minutes of entertainment. It is obscene. Children are begging their teachers for food. Schools are unfunded. Teachers are getting dog catcher salaries, probably not even. That is the world we live in. We value the Kardashian family more than we value a family producing scientists and teachers.
Contact Paul Guzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.
Tampa Bay Screams
Now in its fourth year, Tampa Bay Screams includes a film festival for the horror genre plus a vendors' room where items for sale include DVDs, posters and all horror-related items. Guests scheduled to appear at the horror fest include Troma Entertainment's Lloyd Kaufman, Rhonda Shear of USA's Up All Night fame and Catherine Parks, who starred in Friday the 13th Part III. $15-$40. 5-10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Ramada Hotel and Suites, 1200 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa. gatorbladefilms.com/tampa-bay-screams.
Another creepy convention is right around the corner. Spooky Empire, a pop-culture gathering focused on horror and science fiction, runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3. Previously held in Orlando, the event has included such guests as David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson from The X-Files and Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour from Stranger Things. This year's roster so far includes Mia Farrow, Clive Barker, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Tony Todd. $20-$250. Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St. (954) 258-7852. spookyempire.com.