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Exclusive Q&A: Lloyd Kaufman talks Tromadance and “RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH” release

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Unfiltered, honest and completely off the wall, there’s little question as to how Troma reflects the ideals and personality of the company’s fearless leader, Lloyd Kaufman. Aside from being a champion of independent film for over 40 years, Kaufman has also helped redefine the boundaries of genre filmmaking, implementing the splattery aesthetics of horror films and the raunchy humor of ‘80s sex comedies into genuinely satirical material. And it’s that love for counterculture and the brilliance of conveying high-brow social commentary into low-brow midnight movies that fuels this year’s Tromadance Film Festival, which hosts one of the most impressive line-ups in its 16-year legacy in 2015.

With the announcement of a workprint screening of RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH VOLUME 2 and FANGORIA’s addition to their branding panel,Tromadance quickly became the event to watch for among NYC’s horror hounds. With the two-day festival beginning this Friday at Brooklyn’s esteemed Paper Box, FANGORIA caught up with Kaufman for another candid, no-punches-pulled chat about RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH, Tromadance and the state of film today…

FANGORIA: First off, I’d like to congratulate you on the successful RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH finishing funds kickstarter. It must be exciting to see the Troma fanbase so involved in the film’s completion.

LLOYD KAUFMAN: The Tromites are terrific fans, and they did it. Throughout our 40 years of existence, our secret weapon has been a very proactive fanbase: they put our movies into theaters, pick me up at airports, put me up and completely support the company. We have about 10 – 12 full time employees but our fans are like hundreds of employees considering the work they do for us. You can’t imagine what they do for Troma.

FANGORIA: Now that RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH VOLUME 2 is going to show its workprint, is the film still on track to make a festival debut in the fall?

KAUFMAN: Well, the Toronto International Film Festival might be interested, but I don’t know if the final cut will be finished on time. So we don’t know what we’re doing yet. The Museum of Modern Art premiered the VOLUME 1 along with Scorsese, Woody Allen and the Coen Brothers in a series called “The Contenders”, which presented the best movies around the world according to the MoMA. That was where we kicked it off before going down to the Cinema Village and played over 200 theaters around the country, mainly in calendar houses.

So I don’t know if the Museum of Modern Art is going to want VOLUME 2 since they presented VOLUME 1, or it still may be Toronto; we have to see how it times out. I don’t know if the movie will be finished on time for TIFF, but Berlin might be interested too, so I just don’t know yet. This is our 41st year and a lot of places might be interested, so I just don’t know.

FANGORIA: How much of RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH as a whole was shot before the premiere of VOLUME 1? Has the film changed at all from how you envisioned it when you began shooting?

KAUFMAN: About half of RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH was shot in Niagra Falls where we needed the big crowds and the stars and about half was shot here in New York and around this area. And no, the movie is pretty much as we had planned. Actually, it was [Quentin] Tarantino who suggested that we try something more ambitious because there are so many small movies and he thought Troma should do something more monumental. When the opportunity for RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH came along, I remembered KILL BILL was cut into two volumes so I thought, “Let’s do that.”

RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH is going to be our Sistine Chapel, and when the two halves screen together, I think it’s going to be a great, historic movie. And my business partner Michael Herz said on-camera that he thinks RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH is going to be our best movie in our 40-plus year history.

FANGORIA: How is this year’s Tromadance going to stand out among its 16-year history?

KAUFMAN: This year’s Tromadance will, without a doubt, have the best movies, and we received a huge, huge tsunami of films to look at. I’m not involved in the selection process, but it’s a very eclectic group of films and they’re all terrific selections. And in terms of music, the bands we have this year are spectacular. And we have a distinguished panel about branding yourself, which is a big deal now for those of you who are independent-minded; even stars are branding themselves and breaking away from their labels, like Amanda Palmer. These people are becoming pioneers in branding, and so we decided to put together this distinguished panel with people from VICE, SiriusXM Radio and FRIGHTPix so that will be a great panel.

And Tromadance is all free! We started Tromadance because of Trey Parker and Matt Stone and the horrible experience we all had when we went out to Sundance for the first time with CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL, and just how unpleasant the bureaucrats were. So we set up Tromadance as a poke-in-the-eye to Redford and what we perceived to be the elitism and false independence of Sundance. But the festival has evolved over 10 years and now people take Tromadance seriously, so we moved it back East to bigger quarters. So we’re still very small and idealistic, and everything is free; it’s not a good business model, but so far, we haven’t gotten killed yet on the expenses. We usually are able to get some sponsors and Troma pays for whatever we lose.

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FANGORIA: This is Tromadance’s second year in Brooklyn. How has Brooklyn changed Tromadance as a festival since last year?

KAUFMAN: That’s a good question. That’s a very good question and I can’t answer it! I just know that more and more artists are moving to Brooklyn and as long as we can afford to put Tromadance in the Paper Box, we’ll be there. I imagine at some point Brooklyn will become yuppified, and where the Paper Box is in East Williamsburg hasn’t been yuppified yet. But it cost us more to rent the Paper Box this year than last year, I’ll tell you that, but everything cost us more this year than last year. We might have to find another neighborhood if it gets too fancy.

FANGORIA: So what should fans expect from the upcoming workprint screening of RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH, VOLUME 2?

KAUFMAN: It’s our second rough cut; it’s not even a fine cut. So it’s very long and we’ll get a sense of what people like, don’t like and what plot points they don’t understand so we can fix it up.

FANGORIA: Is RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH, VOLUME 2 still on target to release in January 2016 and if so, should fans expect it to hit home video in 2016 as well?

KAUFMAN: I don’t know; it’s too early to tell. The entertainment industry is owned and operated by Rupert Murdoch and about three other people, so we are a small cork on the ocean opposite giant aircraft carriers. So I can’t say what our release schedule is yet since I have to go fellate movie theater owners and our fans have to bang on the doors of independent movie theaters around the country to make sure they’ll play our movies.

I wish we could announce the schedule the way Disney can but we can’t. But what is nice is that because we’re in that position, we can take as long as we want to make sure RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH, VOLUME 2 is the film that we want. We don’t have to bring it out for Christmas; that’s Peter Jackson’s job or James Gunn’s job or Trey Parker’s job. We can bring it out whenever we want because we’re fucked! We’re drowning in an ocean of oligopoly, and you should know since FANGORIA is up against Time Warner and the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. FANGORIA can feel my pain, I’m sure.

FANGORIA: Is it conceivable that Troma fans will have a chance to theatrically see both parts of RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH as a whole in the future?

KAUFMAN: Well, the idea is once we get VOLUME 2 where we want it, we can organize and we can show both volumes as a whole. VOLUME 2 could be out in January, and that’s what we’re hoping, but it could be out in February or March, and in our Kickstarter, we said we’d send out the premiums out in January, but that doesn’t mean the movie will be in movie theaters in January. We’ll have to see, but the idea is to show both halves, so we would really love to get some movie theaters to show VOLUME 1 on one screen at 8 p.m. and VOLUME 2 on another screen at 10 p.m. And if the MoMA wants to premiere VOLUME 2, and I’m hoping they do, then hopefully they’ll have a screening of VOLUME 1 with VOLUME 2 playing as an encore after it so fans can see it together.

But we were hoping we could do some of these screenings around the country, but we are subject to the whims of the theaters and most of the exhibitors around the country. We give these exhibitors maybe 1 movie a year maximum and they have to work it in around the demands of Fox, Disney, and Paramount. They’re not exactly waiting around for us, and so I have to go down to Texas and beg the Drafthouse to show us the same way I beg the chain that Mark Cuban owns because they’re in business and they have bigger fish to fry. We’re just a teeny, weeny independent movie studio that’s 41-years-old, so we can’t create our own future when it comes to movie theaters.

But the one thing I can say is that Troma fans love seeing our movies in the movie theaters, or at least the Lloyd Kaufman ones. They love it in a communal atmosphere, and I travel to a lot of the theaters and communicate and smoke pot with the fans. I do a pretty good stand-up comedian bit when I’m there, so they get more than just a movie when I show up. I don’t go to all movie theaters; if RETURN TO NUKE EM HIGH is booked in 200 theaters, I’ll be in at least 25 of them.

So my own schedule will determine some of the theatrical roll-out, but we are so small that we rely on the fans to reach out to their theaters or tell theater owners who are Troma fans to tell their programmers, “Hey, Troma just finished a movie, let’s bring it in for a week.” But also, Troma has no money for advertising, so no theaters want to run anything from a studio that doesn’t have any advertising. It’s not a big incentive for theaters to play RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH, VOLUME 2.

But the Drafthouse theaters around the country are very good to Troma and the individual managers love us because our movies have made money for them. They’ve been great to us and our movies bring more life to these movie theaters, so hopefully when VOLUME 2 is finished, we’ll get it and it’ll play there, and if fans in certain places want it, they can contact their local theaters, and I do know there are places where fans will call up their theaters and tell the managers to play our movies. The fans just want at least a weekend or a midnight showing of Troma movies, as long as they get to see it.

FANGORIA: Is there anything else coming soon from Troma?

KAUFMAN: Well, what I think is really important for Troma fans is to subscribe to the Troma Movie Channel on YouTube, which is free and hosts over 250 movies plus cartoons. Every day we put up short content, whether it’s UNCLE LLOYDIE’S DIARY or MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE LESSONS. We have more than 100,000 subscribers and I think your fans would very much enjoy that channel. So we did it to thank our fans for supporting us for 40 years and we have given away our movies, cartoons, short features and political statements, and all of it is free.

We also need to make sure we preserve net neutrality, and that’s a very important message. Uncle Lloyd says don’t let the lobbyists from the MPAA and the phone companies destroy net neutrality on the internet so that we all become victims of Comcast. If net neutrality is dismantled, Troma and FANGORIA will be on a dirt road and fans won’t bother going to us when there’s a super highway with all of these corporate movies. Fans won’t want to bother with us when it takes too long to buffer and it sucks. I’ve written essays and made videos about net neutrality on LloydKaufman.com explaining it to consumers and what it means to those of us who are bringing out innovation and vision. We won’t be able to afford a ticket on that highway, and that’s something we’re going to talk on the panel about branding.

Tromadance will begin at 6 p.m. this Friday, June 24th, at the Paper Box in Brooklyn, NY. For more information about programming, panels and the full schedule of events, you can visit the official Tromadance Website HERE. You can also subscribe to the Troma Movie Channel HERE. Be sure to check back here at FANGORIA.com for more on RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH, VOLUME 2!

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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