Meet Keynoter, Legendary Filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman

  Day Two keynoter Lloyd Kaufman has been making independent films for four decades. He started his company Troma Entertainment in 1974 and soon learned how difficult it was getting theatrical distribution for his unique, off-the-wall movies that nevertheless found struck a chord wherever they were screened with audiences looking for something other than big-budget Hollywood output. "When home video first came in, we saw the potential for the magic – being movie nuts ourselves," remembers Kaufman, Troma's co-founder and president.  "When home video first came in, we saw the potential for the magic – being movie nuts ourselves," remembers Kaufman, Troma's co-founder and president.

"We immediately loved it and embraced it." Not surprisingly, Troma jumped on the home video revolution in the early 1980s. By that point, the company had been in business for nearly 10 years and it had accumulated a robust catalog ripe for a renting public.

"Luckily we had just made The Toxic Avenger, which had turned out to be a sleeper hit at independent movie theaters," notes Kaufman, the author of six books, including Make Your Own Damn Movie! "The Toxic Avenger was the first horror-type film, although it's not really a horror film, to get VHS treatment. Vestron released it, and it was a huge success. As a result of The Toxic Avenger, the Troma brand suddenly became very well known," says Kaufman, who graduated in 1969 from Yale University, where he later taught film production. "The Toxic Avenger led to a lot of people taking us to lunch because we had a library of similar unique movies. We understood that home video was a way to embrace our fans and for the fans to embrace us, and we got in ahead of the majors."

In 2010, The Toxic Avenger inspired an award-winning Off Broadway musical that ran for a year, and the show has just been optioned for a future Broadway run.

Not surprisingly, Troma also jumped on DVD early. "The digital picture was so beautiful. Most movies did not look good on VHS. Being movie nuts, we liked that we could do commentary tracks and put a humorous, interactive tour of the Troma film studios as a bonus extra to go along with the movie. We also went back and interviewed actors for featurettes. Authoring was like a mysterious science in those days. Unfortunately, we spent a fair amount on DVD before people actually had machines in their homes. It was pretty stupid, but at least we were there."

Kaufman points out that Troma DVDs are all-region with no territory restrictions. "We want as many people to see our movies as possible, which will eventually pay off financially for us."

The Troma catalog now numbers about 300 titles, of which about a hundred the company produced itself, and includes such curios as the Dustin Hoffman-starring, Madigan's Millions, released the year after The Graduate. Troma fans include directors Judd Apatow and Eli Roth, as well as South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who made in 1993 when they were college students the Troma-distributed Cannibal The Musical. Troma movies include early performances of such stars as Kevin Costner, Billy Bob Thornton, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Dennis Hopper, Dustin Hoffman, and Fergie (Black Eyed Peas). Oliver Stone worked on an early Kaufman movie.

Troma titles never were available in Blockbuster-owned stores, Kaufman notes, but they were in many of the chain's franchisee outlets, which were able to determine their own stock. The franchisees were a small percentage of the overall chain, he laments. Troma also has been generally shut out from cable TV, which he believes favors the multi-conglomerates. Nevertheless, Troma titles are also available via Netflix, iTunes, Sony PSP, and Xbox, and there's a dedicated Troma YouTube channel, which features daily updates.

Adapting to the digital age, Troma now streams its movies. In the same way that the MPAA opposed home video, the Hollywood movie studios' association came out against Net Neutrality, a principle that advocates no restrictions by Internet service providers or governments on consumers' access to networks that participate in the Internet. Of course, the libertarian Kaufman is 100% on the other side of the issue. "We believe the business models are going to have to change. The big studios trying to squeeze every nickel out of the fans are making a mistake. We're on the side of sharing our art."

Troma's latest movie, Father's Day, will open in Las Vegas the evening of April 20.

Article written by Larry Jaffee - Conference Director Packaged Media & Beyond 2012



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