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The Birth of Troma
Posted on November 6, 2009 7:41 AM | | Discuss | digg this | add to del.icio.us

Greetings from Tromaville!

Well the time has finally come. Today's entry is the final entry of Troma's takeover of DVD Talk's horror column. Every weekday for over a month, I've shared with you stories about Troma's films and the company's history, and what a month it has been! Before I hand this column back to the writers of DVD Talk, I'd like to share with you a story that few people know but may be the most important story in Troma's history: the story of how I paired up with Troma co-founder Michael Herz. I go into detail about this in the documentary Supersonic Guided Missile: The Origins of Troma, which is included in our new Sexy Box and features a rare on-camera appearance from the reclusive Michael Herz.

SOME CALL HIM...HERZ!

First meeting? I can't quite remember. We shook hands in my doorway at Yale, or something, and that was that. Michael and my younger brother Charles (director of the Troma classic Mother's Day) were both counselors at a summer cap a few months before and now he had stopped by to introduce himself.

At Yale, we were both basically loners. We weren't friends with each other, and neither of us had many friends of his own. Michael claims that the only reason he ever talked to me at all was because I was the only one in the dormitory who had a TV--a small black-and-white that went blank every time someone walked past it. He would come over occasionally to watch it.


Also, Michael owned a pinball machine. He put it in the Yale commons area and charged 10 cents a game--an entrepreneur from the very beginning.

Besides that, the only concrete memory I have of him at Yale was humiliating him, er, uh...filming him in The Girl Who Returned (included as an Easter egg in The Sexy Box). I didn't see him again until after we had graduated.

CUT TO: 1972--A young, attractive woman, Maris, is going for a night out on the town with her mother. They decide to see a movie. After they flip through the New York Times they agree upon a film called Cry Uncle because it has gotten pretty good reviews, and maybe also because it is rated X (though Maris holds her thumb over this part of the advertisement).

I had an embarrassing role in Cry Uncle as a burnt-out hippie. Here are some my lines:

"You're hallucinating, Herbie. This is really strong acid."

"Stay in the room, Herbie. Please."

"It's the fourth, hour, Herbie, the fourth hour. Dig it?"

In fact, those are all of my lines. Maris recognized me on-screen, and confirmed this by reading the end credits.


During this period, Maris' boyfriend, Michael Herz, was a law student at NYU. Although Michael loved the law, he was coming to dread the prospect of practicing it. It didn't seem like a fulfilling way to spend his life. Instead, he harbored a secret desire that he shared with only Maris: he wanted to be a screenwriter.[1] She took him to see Cry Uncle (which means Maris actually had to sit through the damn thing twice). Shortly thereafter I received a call from a young and eager Mr. Herz, and I brought him onto the production of Sugar Cookies. It was at this point that I began ruin Michael's life as well as my own.

--

Thank you, dear readers, for reading our column, but like the herpes of cyberspace, you can never get rid of me for good. Check into www.troma.com and www.lloydkaufman.com for more of my writings in the future and to see what Troma is up to. And stay tuned for The Toxic Avenger 5: The Toxic Twins. Here's an exclusive sneak peak at the poster!

XOXO

Lloyd Kaufman









[1] All of this information, incidentally, comes from Maris. Michael won't talk about any of it to me and I have a memory of a... what was I saying again? Anyway, I was surprised when Maris reminded me of Michael's screenwriting aspirations, because, outside of those first couple of months, I don't remember him having ever brought it up again.






The Godfather of Gore Speaks
Posted on November 5, 2009 7:39 AM | | Discuss | digg this | add to del.icio.us


Greetings from Tromaville!

Troma is known, among other things, for rarely shying away from the gore (see Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, Bloodsucking Freaks, and Redneck Zombies for examples), but we certainly were not the first people to do this. Herschell Gordon Lewis is a producer/director who has been previously anointed the "Godfather of Gore" for being a pioneer in horror and exploitation films. Some of his most popular films include Blood Feast, widely considered to be the first gore film, Monster a Go-Go, and The Gore Gore Girls (my personal favorite of his.) Lewis has also written 31 books (mostly on the arts of advertising and marketing), some of which include Effective E-mail Marketing: the Complete Guide to Creating Successful Campaigns and Open Me Now: Direct Mail Envelopes that Work...and Those That Don't. Herschell was the first director to show dead people on screen with their eyes open. Here's some sage advice from Herschell on the fine art of producing and marketing from my latest book Produce Your Own Damn Movie!

HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS SAYS "DISTRIBUTION, DISTRIBUTION, DISTRIBUTION"

If you want to be a producer, before you begin producing, make contact with a distributor of motion pictures who distributes either to DVD outfits or movie theatres and have a solid business-like conversation- not a "Golly gee willikers!" chat, but a solid discussion of the reality, saying, "Here is my situation, Mr. Distributor. I want to make a movie, not because I am simply dazzled by the glamour of the motion picture industry, but because I think that is a profitable way to proceed. Your company has distributed movies of this type and shown that they can be profitable. Here's what I have in mind and I would like your opinion. Ultimately, I would like more than your blessing, I would like your involvement. But I would certainly cherish and benefit from anything you might tell me that will help me get this project off the ground.

When someone in our business hears sincerity, backed by some degree of talent and business acumen, that person will react to it. Lloyd and I and everyone else who do this are constantly approached by people who want to produce movies. Why do they want to do this? If you penetrate down to the nasty core of reality, they want to produce a movie because they want to produce a movie. It is just that simple. A good producer has characteristics that run parallel to those of a good executive.

1. A good producer leaves his ego at the door and is not afraid to delegate responsibly.

2. A good producer is not afraid to give compliments as well as insults.

3. A good producer sets realistic goals, not pie-in-the-sky goals. That realism doesn't come from guesswork but from a knowledge of what he or she is going to do. Hence, think marketing and distribution way up front, Mr. Producer!

4. A good producer has to have a sense of humor and be reasonably unflappable in case disaster strikes. I don't care what you are shooting, how low or high the budget is, how much help you have or don't have; something is going to happen that represents a minor catastrophe.

5. A good producer should treat himself/herself as a part of the team. Problems will occur, almost always, over money- not over amount of screen time or lines of dialogue, but money. You have to understand that when you go in. A producer's function is to understand exactly how much money each person is getting paid, how much each location is going to cost, who is responsible for what and who gets what.

6. Finish strong. Pretend that you are not someone who is producing a movie, just a person who is watching someone else's movie. Be heartless in your analysis of what you see at the tail end of the film. You've got to have a good ending. In our business, there is no sin more cardinal than a half-finished picture. If you're not going to make it at all, there is no harm done. If you can't put your deal together, there is no harm done. But if you have it halfway done and you are afraid, so you stop and think you'll never get it done, that's a big mistake. I've seen that so often; someone will start a picture, then they'll run out of money, or they'll run out of ideas, or the cast leaves, something happens, and what have you got? Nothing.




2 or 3 Things I Know About Toxie (2 and 3)
Posted on November 4, 2009 8:27 AM | | Discuss | digg this | add to del.icio.us

"2 or 3 Things I Know About Toxie (2 and 3)"

Greetings from Tromaville!

With a Blu-ray of The Toxic Avenger due out early next year and a hit stage musical adaptation currently playing in New York and Toronto, I thought I'd shine a light on the circumstances that led to the The Toxic Avenger II and III.

I had a bug up my ass to shoot The Toxic Avenger II in Japan. After I had finished doing Toxie, Nuke 'Em High, and Troma's War, I felt as if I was in a creative rut, on the verge of shooting the same movie over and over again. Michael Herz contended that this was already the case. Making a sequel could be even worse. Japan seemed a way to attack this problem. If I was going to make the same movie again, at least I could do it in a different country.

The fact that Troma, the world's cheapest movie studio, chose to shoot in the world's most expensive country struck my fellow low-budgeteers (of which there were more then than there are today) as ironic. Other productions traveled to the Philippines, Mexico, or Taiwan so that they could save some money. Everyone told me Japan couldn't be done. Even Japanese producers said it was impossible--there was no low-budget hustling there, no tradition of people working for the creative joy, experience, or credit instead of money. But this made me more determined.

I traveled to Japan on a prescouting expedition with out friend Tetsu Fujimura. Although his name sounds Italian, Tetsu was in fact, Japanese--he had been born and raised in Hiroshima. At the 1985 Cannes Film Festival Tetsu was a Troma fan who would stop by the office to talk about our movies. He attempted to convince Michael and me that we needed a Japanese agent. He himself, he said, would be a prime choice for the job. Although he was unknown, he instilled in us a good feeling. We gave him the job. It was a great decision--over the next few years Tetsu would make Troma millions. He later went on to being the head of the multimillion-dollar company Gaga Communications.

Tetsu located a production manager, who Tetsu said was the only one in Japan who understood the Troma production technique. We called him Binbun Furusawa--mostly because that was his name. Binbun wore a beanie, was small and quiet and smiled most of the time. We told him we only had $200,000 to spend in Japan. Binbun told us he could put it together. While Michael and I readied things for the U.S. part of the shoot, we trusted Binbun to lay down the tracks for the Japan production.


Black Rain, the Ridley Scott/Michael Douglas picture, was shot in Japan shortly before The Toxic Avenger II. The Japanese film industry had deep feelings of resentment for the Black Rain crew, because they shot the film in a distinctly American style: aggressive, overstated, and arrogant. Eventually, the American crew had such a difficult time that they moved the entire production to Hollywood, where they built sets approximating Kyoto. I had to admit to myself, normally Troma also shot in an aggressive American style. However, in Japan, Michael and I decided we would do the best we could to shoot in the manner of the Japanese. This was both out of respect and because we wanted the production to flow as smoothly as possible. We would live Japanese style, eat what the Japanese ate, and run the set in a Japanese fashion.

Upon my arrival at the airport, Binbun Furusawa let me in on a serious problem regarding accommodations:

"I don't think we can do two to a room on this trip," Binbun said. "Some of the actors refuse to share a room."

"What do you mean?" I asked, a bit aghast. "The actors always share rooms...that's how they get to fornicate."

"Have you seen the rooms?"

"No."

"They're small."

"I don't care if they're small. This is Tromaville."

Binbun showed me the rooms. They were basically each the size of a single bed, only five and a half feet long, and a couple of feet across. They were small enough that if two men shared a room and one of them got an erection, it would have been an instant homosexual experience. For the first (and possibly last) time in the history of Troma Studios, each member of the cast and crew got his or her own room.

Our trust in Binbun had been well placed. Tetsu and he had assembled a marvelous Japanese crew and a cast that included Japanese television and movie stars-all for the price we had discussed. I thought, now, perhaps, we can get something really unique going, something to break me out of my pattern. A little bit of American-Japanese fusion just might help the world of Troma.


We had been assured that all the Japanese actors could speak English. And they did speak English, it was just incomprehensible English. When we saw the dailies, we couldn't understand a word. Michael, Pat, and I ended up post syncing or dubbing all of the voices ourselves. Michael and Pat made me take the small roles, because I stink at dubbing.[1]

Besides these speed bumps, the Japanese people were wonderful. Our Japanese fight coordinator added a new element to our fight scenes, making them move twice as quickly as American fights. The precision of the crew as a whole, the ability for individual egos to work first and foremost as a group, was refreshing and made for a smooth ride. The Japanese ended up liking us as well, precisely because we did the opposite of what the Black Rain crew did; we tried to learn from the Japanese style. We ate Japanese box lunches on the set, and learned as much of the language as we could. Although we may not have always been successful, our effort was apparent. Some of our crew even joined some of the Japanese crew for an excursion to "Soapland"--the area of Tokyo where you can get laid. I waved at them as they drove away, beaming like a proud father.

Upon completion of The Toxic Avenger II, the perennial Troma problem reared its ugly, pustule-filled head. The first cut was over four hours long.

"I can't believe you've done this again," Michael said to me. "I told you we were overshooting."

I looked at the floor.

"And the plot isn't like Troma's War," Michael added. "It's not simple. I don't know any way you're going to be able to cut this down to under two hours. We're dead."

We were dead. I had killed us. The holocaust, Hiroshima, Vietnam, and now this. Another tragedy in the long line of twentieth-century horrors. The worst part of all was that the footage looked so good. Jimmy London's cinematography was the best I'd seen yet (it was even in focus). We were working with a new lab, TVC, and the dailies looked more crisp, clean, and colorful than ever before. We had tons of expensive special effects and stunts; we actually drove a school bus over a cliff.[2] All for naught.

"Pat, it's all over," I told my wife in our bedroom that night.


"Come on now," she said. "You're overreacting. Everything's going to be fine. You'll think of a way out of it. You always do."

"Not this time. This time I'm dead. I'm going to blow my brains out. We better put the brownstone up for sale. If we fall on hard times, maybe your mom can adopt the kids."

"Lloyd, I don't think that will be necessary. Whatever happens, I think we can afford to keep the kids."

"Maybe she can adopt them anyway. I'm getting kind of sick of having them around."

"Ha. Ha. Lloyd."

"Oh Pat! Dear God! Making bad jokes is all I can do to stop myself from thinking what a ruin I've made of my life!" I threw my arms up in the air and began to cry. I looked ridiculous, I knew that, but I couldn't help it. I literally felt my life was over. If not for Pat I would have blown my brains out.

The next day I jogged to work. The adrenaline pumped through my body. The serotonin rushed to my head. I stopped at a fruit stand to buy an orange. I was breathing heavily. I sifted through the oranges for one that wasn't too bruised. I found a good clean one. Picked it up. At that moment I heard a giant "Whoosh!" sound above me. I looked up. I realized I was having a vision:

There in the sky above me floated a giant, human brain. The creases in the gray matter were so clear I almost thought it was real. The brain seemed to be dripping slime of some sort. I squeezed the orange in my hand.

"Fifty cents," the grocer said to me.

"A brain," I said.

The floating brain began to tremble and writhe when suddenly the left and right brain split apart. There, between the two halves, appeared a vague face. It was the Toxic Avenger wearing a top hat. My mouth dropped open in shock. I had gotten a runner's high before, but nothing like this. From the corner of my eye I saw the grocer hold out the palm of his hands.

"That'll be fifty cents, man," he said.

Beneath the head of the Toxic Avenger came a small scroll with the typewritten words: "Two movies."

"Two movies?" I said to myself. And then it struck me in one giant, brain-cell-popping burst:

WE CAN MAKE TWO MOVIES OUT OF ONE.

The plot lines instantly developed for me. It took no planning. It took no thought whatsoever. I could clearly see how The Toxic Avenger II could turn into The Toxic Avenger II and III.

I moved away from the fruit stand in a daze. I walked forward, an enormous, idiot's smile crossing my face.

We can do this, I thought. Out of the four-hour movie we can make two movies, with two different plots. Sure, there may need to be a fair amount of goofy voice-over narration to explain what the heck's going on, but we at Troma were masters of filling in plot holes with voice-over. With two movies we can make twice as much money. Lorimar had the video rights to the second film, but we could also sell the video rights to the third film. Instead of making one movie for a million and a half dollars, we've actually made two for that same price! This is fantastic! Screwing up was the best thing I could have done!

I couldn't wait to tell Michael. Again, I began to jog toward Troma, filled with a rare joy.

I felt arms sliding roughly around my waist.

"Wha-?" I exclaimed.

"Come back here with my orange!"

It was the grocer. He was tackling me. The orange was still in my hand; I had forgotten about it. I plummeted to the pavement. A group of bystanders gathered around us. The enormous grocer flipped me onto my back.

"Think you can steal from me!?!?"


His fist flew down into my face.

"You yuppie bastards come along, stealing my fruit every day! You think you own the goddamn world!"

Again, his fist came slamming down into my face. And then again, and then again. The red of my blood flowed over my eye. His fist came down again.

Still, none of it mattered.

Two movies! I thought. How much more could God possibly love me!?



[1] Michael plays Toxie's Japanese father, Pat plays Miyako, and I play the sumo wrestler. My deep voice practice paid off.

[2] This is one of the stranger Troma phenomena. Although we pushed a real bus over a real cliff, the effect still comes out looking somehow like a miniature. Some of the reviews even mentioned the fakeness of it.







The Troma Acting Method
Posted on November 3, 2009 8:12 AM | | Discuss | digg this | add to del.icio.us

Greetings from Tromaville!

In my book Make Your Own Damn Movie, I spoke at great length about the trials and tribulations of working with actors. For those of you who are unable to purchase a copy due to the overwhelming demand for the book[1], I'll repeat one of the most important lessons contained therein:

Most Actors Suck

However! A very, very, very small percentage of them are among the greatest people in the world. There are even a handful of big-time movie stars (like Oscar winning Jon Voight) who are genuinely good, decent people. If you cast your film well, you will weed out the actors that suck and use the 1 percent that give you everything they've got and more besides. I've been lucky enough to build an ensemble of actors out of the 1 percent and these people have become lifelong friends. Actors like Will Keenan (Tromeo & Juliet), Mark Torgl (The Toxic Avenger) Yaniv Sharon (Citizen Toxie), Debbie Rochon (Terror Firmer), Joe Fleishaker (Poultrygeist), Jane Jensen (Tromeo & Juliet), and others have continued to be a part of the Tromaville Players, despite opportunities to make a lot more money than we could ever even pretend to offer them. There is no reason you can't build your own recurring ensemble of gifted and generous actors. But first, you have to get the people to the door of your casting couch... er, office.

Troma's basic theory of casting is to make the audition process as difficult as humanly possible without getting punched in the face. You may think this is a joke.[2] But I swear to whatever god you're comfortable with that, not only does it work, it's necessary. Troma movies require actors who are completely fearless, totally committed and willing to do absolutely anything on camera. That could be anything from getting completely naked and running through the middle of Times Square to pissing and shitting themselves after their head is crushed.[3] The casting process should be a microcosm of the production of the film. You need to find out what these people will and will not do. People who will not do something need to be eliminated. Don't hide anything from them. If there's nudity, tell them. If a part requires long, difficult, uncomfortable makeup applications, tell them. At this stage of the game you should describe your production as the fifth concentric circle of Hell. If anything, make it sound much, much worse than it will actually be. That way, your cast can be pleasantly surprised when it all turns out okay.

Getting people to audition for your film is relatively simple. Ask anybody on the street if they'd like to be a big, famous movie star and every single one of them will respond with a resounding and emphatic, "Yeah, I guess, why not." Filmmaking, particularly outside of Los Angeles and New York, is very glamorous to most people. You may know the process is rife with neurosis, stress, fatigue, filth, and gastrointestinal distress, but the rest of the world doesn't. To paraphrase a movie whose title I can't remember,[4] "If you make it, they will come."

The first step in the audition is the open call. This is traditionally the most amusing part of the process, as well. Here, you get anybody and everybody from all walks of life and give 'em sixty seconds to do whatever the fuck they feel like. As with every audition, you should videotape the entire thing. I learned this, and a lot of other things, from John Avildsen when I helped him cast Cry Uncle. When I worked on Joe in 1970, we had the idea to film the audition and rehearsals on Super-8. We switched over to video on Cry Uncle. Around the same time, I was hanging out with Andy Warhol's Factory crowd. Warhol always carried an Instamatic camera with him and photographed everything. Ever since, I've carried a camera with me most everywhere I go. Now that video camera are about as small as a Wrap-Around Sally rubber vagina, I've started to carry one of those with me as well.[5] By keeping a camera with you all the time, you're prepared for those moments when you just happen to see the perfect location or (and this is more pertinent to our discussion here) the perfect actor.

During your auditions, don't just lock the camera down and forget about it. Hopefully your movie will consist of more than just medium shots from fifteen feet away, so your audition tapes should, too. Use the camera to get in there and really look at these people. If there's anything particularly unusual or distinctive about their look, focus on that. Explore the bodies of good-looking guys and gynos. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, you need to get the bodies in the room.

If you live anywhere near a metropolis, you can place advertisements in an industry trade magazine like Backstage or Variety. For the 99 percent of the planet that doesn't live in or near a very large city, any classifieds section of a local newspaper will do. Most places have classified mini-papers where you can advertise for free - just look for key words like "saver," "penny," or "cheap ass" in the title. The Internet might be another good place to list (usually free), but then you're dealing with an international audience. Flying in actors from other regions isn't an option for a big and powerful motion picture company like Troma, so it's probably out of the question for you, too.

But don't worry, I have had the most success at casting by using one of the cheapest methods available: posting flyers. For the last thirty years, for every movie I've done from Battle of Love's Return to Citizen Toxie, the cheapie flyer has been my primary means of obtaining a cast. A simple piece of paper with the words "YOU CAN BE A MOVIE STAR" posted throughout the local college campus, video store or old folks home will result in a line of nubile undergrads, zit-faced teenage loners, and geriatric hotties outside your door. Don't be afraid to get creative with the flyers, either. In 1967 on The Girl Who Returned, I wanted a wide range of people to choose from but I knew that since this was my first film, people weren't necessarily going to come out in droves just to be in my movie. So I made up flyers that read, STANLEY KAUFMAN IS CASTING FOR A NEW MOVIE. Stanley is my first name (I was named after my father) and, coincidently, Stanley Kauffman is a highly regarded film critic from The New Republic. Not a lie, not a hoax, simply a mild exploitation of a fortuitous association and most people's inability to spell. It worked, too. I got a pant-load of shitty actors of all ages and sizes willing to work for free in my half-assed, 16mm, Bolex[6]-shot film.

While most of the people that show up at your casting office after seeing your flyer won't be professional actors, don't let this stop you from auditioning them. Many great films have been made with "non-actors," from Class of Nuke 'Em High, Part 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Subhumanoid to The Bicycle Thief. If a character in your film is a homeless one-armed black castrato with a Ph.D. in astrophysics and a facial tic, there is a person out there who is that character. In Hollywood, they'd pay Mel Gibson[7] $20 million, erase his arm with CGI, and hire teams of black castrati and astrophysicists to train him for six months. And, whether or not the studio was able to purchase an Academy Award to give Mel the stamp of approval, his performance would never come close to the real thing.

Of course, your quest for realism isn't going to amount to squat unless you communicate what you're trying to accomplish with your crew. For a scene in The Toxic Avenger that required a guy to have his arm torn off, I had a brilliant idea of casting a bona fide amputee. After a long and arduous search, I found Larry Sutton. He wasn't a professional actor. He was an IRS agent who wanted to act and was willing to have his handicap immortalized on celluloid. However, the overeager special makeup effects crew decided to create a fake arm-stump anyway. Without my knowledge, they tied his real arm behind his back, put the fake stump on his shoulder and rigged the fake arm up on that side of his body, completely defeating the purpose of casting Larry in the first place.

You, as the independent filmmaker, have the advantage of spending as much time as possible finding the perfect cast. You don't have the time constraints that a "real" production company has. This can be used to your advantage in the casting process. Take your time. Find the right people for the job. Sometimes the right people, like Larry, aren't professional actors. Joe Fleishaker is a 500-pound computer programmer, yet has turned brilliant performances in everything from Troma's War to Poultrygeist. Trent Haaga was also some kind of computer hotshot[8] when he wandered into the Troma offices and Will Keenan suggested we audition him for the role of Jeremy in Terror Firmer. Of course, there are probably outstanding amateur actors who are not computer geeks. But a lot of these techno-types have made a lot of money in the real world and are more willing to take a pay cut (down to about zero dollars an hour) in order to live their dreams of being a movie star.



[1] Sales tracking provided by the Florida electorate.

[2] For that matter, you may think my whole career is a joke. I guess I can't argue that, but I'm dead serious about Troma's history of casting.

[3] We do not, however, insist that our actors provide their own piss and shit. A trained crew of defecators is always standing by, ready to assist.

[4] It may have been something called Field of Creams starring Troma regular Ron Jeremy.

[5] By "one of those," I'm referring to the video camera. I've been carrying Wrap-Around Sallies with me for decades now.

[6] This means it was shot on a Bolex camera, a type of 16mm camera that was quite high-tech back when it was introduced in the 1930's. When I got around to using one, it was already the kind of camera you found lying around in your grandparents' attic, covered in dust and rat piss. This is not to be confused with a Botox-shot film, which would mean that it stars Michael Douglas.

[7] Because the very first thing to be changed would be the character's ethnicity.

[8] Designing web sites or something like that... I'm not really sure. I try not to pry into personal details that I probably won't understand.







Stunts Gone Wrong
Posted on November 2, 2009 7:09 AM | | Discuss | digg this | add to del.icio.us

Greetings from Tromaville!

On Troma movies we hang up posters on every set and in each production office that read:

Rules of Troma Production:

  1. Maintain Safety to People
  2. Maintain Safety to People's Property
  3. Make a Good Movie

Michael and I take these principles seriously. These principles are repeated throughout Terror Firmer, a movie about making movies. Here is a glimpse of what it is like working on a Troma set. Making a good movie is not worth killing people (unless those people are U.S. senators or studio executives or people that you don't like). We decrease the chances of injury by taking every precaution available. However, in the past we have screwed up. I will provide a few examples of stunts that have not gone as planned. In addition to a few cheap laughs, I hope that these mistakes will provide the novice filmmaker with a vivid illustration of what not to do.

1

MOVIE: The Toxic Avenger

THE STUNT, IN SCRIPT: In the midst of a chase scene a car crashes, flips, and rolls.

THE STUNT, AS PLANNED: The car comes rushing down the road and zooms up a ramp. On the ramp, the car's right side rises up while its left wheels stay low. The car then rises high enough to flip over and roll across the street.

It has been my philosophy that, if you want, you can hire hack writers, hack directors, hack actors--but you can't hire hack stunt people or pyrotechnics. You shouldn't even be a hack stunt person or pyrotechnic. In a world of ridiculous legal regulations on virtually every aspect of life, this is the one area which has practically no restraints.

On The Toxic Avenger, we hired stunt people with long lists of past credits, many of which were Hollywood movies.

The dangerous part of this stunt would be hitting the ground upside down and rolling. If you did this in a regular car, the nonreinforced roof would crush in, leaving the driver with a head akin to Sylvester's after Tweety hits him with a frying pan. But our professional Hollywood stuntman had taken precautions. He had set up the car with a "roll bar"--that is, a bar that went around the inside of the car and over the roof, reinforcing it so the car could roll without being crushed.

Three people were involved in the stunt: the stunt coordinator, the guy who put the roll bar in the car, and the driver, Russell.

Michael Herz was directing the scene. He had been taking control of all the stunt sequences in The Toxic Avenger. I was behind one of the cameras. We were filming with four cameras, as we had been doing with all our major stunts. That way we would be able to cut from angle to angle without having to redo the stunt. And if something went wrong with one of the cameras, the stunt wouldn't be lost forever. We also set the cameras at different speeds, getting some angles in slow motion for increased drama, and some in fast motion to exaggerate the feeling of speed.

Michael was standing on top of a truck. He had a megaphone. "Action!" he cried.

I watched through the eyepiece as the car came rushing down the street. Looks great. Beautiful. The car runs up the ramp and into the air, flying there against the backdrop of the blue sky. Then it falls. Rolls. Gorgeous! Fabulous! Perfect!

Then, suddenly, while the car is upside down, it flattens like an accordion. The roll bar didn't hold.

Russell is dead!

I dropped the camera. I ran toward the car. Michael was ahead of me.

"RUSSELL!" I yelled. "RUSSELL!"

No answer. Through a crack in the metal I could see part of his body, part of the brown jumpsuit he was wearing. He didn't seem to be breathing. Christ, he couldn't have been much more than twenty-five years old.

Michael and I looked at each other. I knew we would never, ever make another movie again. This was our fault, the two of us.

I was too old to go to dental school.

Then a small sound came from inside the car: "Elggh."

"Russell? Is that you?"

"Shit. Ow."

He was alive. My body swayed for a moment. For a second I could have sworn I fainted, but I stayed upright.

Soon the ambulance arrived. They used the jaws of life to cut open the car like a tuna can and remove Russell. He was miraculously unbroken. I inspected the car: the moron who had installed the roll bar simply screwed it into the floor of the car. As soon as any pressure was applied on top of it, it popped through the bottom like a fork through a wet paper bag. The guy who built it was an idiot--the floor was obviously unstable.

Whose fault was this?

It was his fault for claiming to know what he was doing. It was the stunt coordinator's fault for hiring such an idiot, and for not checking out his work. It was Russell's fault for not checking out the car before doing a stunt like this and putting his own life in jeopardy. And, finally, it was my fault because I also should have checked it out myself, and I shouldn't have hired guys who were shitheads.

Lesson: Don't hire shitheads.

Also: A Hollywood pedigree does not preclude shitheadism. If anything, it ensures it.

2

MOVIE: Troma's War

THE STUNT, IN SCRIPT: The bad guys are on a huge cruiser leaving the pier on their way to America to enact their wretched conspiracy. One of our heroes drives a jeep up a ramp, out over the water, and directly into the ship. At that point the ship explodes, killing the baddies.

THE STUNT, AS PLANNED: The boat is filled with explosives. The jeep (with no one inside) goes up a set of tracks, flies over the sea, and into the boat--when they collide, the pyrotechnic detonates the bombs with a trigger on land.

If you've heeded the call of Rule #1 and you've chosen adequate stunt people, they should know a lot more about doing stunts than you. Therefore, most of the primary decisions should be up to them. On Troma's War we hired Scott Leva as the stunt coordinator and Will Cabane as the pyrotechnic. Leva was always extremely responsible, safe, and accurate. He had used a complex series of mathematical equations to figure out exactly where to place the boat so that the car would fly into it. Cabane was likewise trustworthy--when he set off an explosion, he could tell you to the very inch how far it would go. He stood by with a detonator to charge the explosives.

The cameras were set. The jeep was revved up, ready to go. Suddenly, Michael Herz stopped the whole thing.

"Move the boat closer," he said.

"If we move it closer, the jeep will just fly over it, not into it," Scott said.

"No way," I told him. "Michael is a hundred percent correct. I can see. The boat is too far away from the land. The jeep's going to land in the water in front of it. Move it closer."

A minor debate occurred, but, as usual, Michael and I prevailed. They moved the boat closer to land.

The jeep revved up. There were four cameras--four cries of "Rolling" came out, one after the other--the last one from me, on camera four. "Speed!" yelled the soundman. "Action," Michael cried.

The jeep took off. It went up the ramp. It flew over the water in a clean, clear arc. And then it flew directly over the boat.

"Oh, shit," I said.

Will Cabane, thinking quickly, set off the explosives as soon as the jeep was over the boat. The result on film looks rather humorous. The boat explodes beneath the jeep, without even touching it. But at least we got our explosion, and the idea of what was supposed to happen was shown on-screen. Thanks to Will, but no thanks to either Michael or me.

LESSON: Let the experts be the experts.

3

MOVIE: Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD

THE STUNT, IN SCRIPT: Harry Griswold unintentionally transforms into a Kabuki-clown and is chased around the city by Brick Bronsky and other hoodlums. Two of the hoods crash their car into the rear end of another, propelling their car to flip in the air, turning in circles, landing and exploding.

THE STUNT, AS PLANNED: The stuntman drives up a very steep ramp, flips over in midair, and lands on the ground. Later on, we shoot a similar (but different) car exploding and cut them together.

In addition to being a classy stunt, this provided me with a chance to steal a Brian DePalma shot from Carrie. At the end of Carrie, John Travolta and Nancy Allen get into a car wreck, flipping over. DePalma shot the two actors in a stable car while twirling the camera around in circles. I would use this same shot with the hoods as their car spun in the air. By the way, DePalma's first movie, as well as Robert DeNiro's first movie, is The Wedding Party, which is owned by Troma.

We shot on a street in Hoboken, New Jersey (although it was supposed to be Manhattan, it looked more like Boise). We set up five cameras around the area of action. As usual, I took the camera position closest to the danger, nearest where the car would land--but 100 percent safe according to the stunt coordinator. When everything was in place, I yelled, "Action." This was relayed to the stunt driver by walkie-talkie. The car took off. It zoomed up the ramp very fast...too fast. It flew into the air, drawing a perfect arc. Everyone was in awe. It was truly beautiful. As I looked through the viewfinder, I noticed something unusual. The car seemed to be coming straight to me.

Either someone had misjudged or they hated me.

It's hard to say what happened next. I only remember the car landing ten feet away from me. Bits of gravel and metal shards struck my body. I was in shock.

Everyone was clapping. The stunt driver jumped out of the car and did a little football dance, wiggling his legs around.

"Wonderful!" the crowd shouted. "Fantastic!"

I wondered if they were referring to the fact that he had almost killed me.

I told the DP that I ran away from the camera, that I didn't get the shot. Strangely enough, though, when we watched the footage in the dailies I had stayed with the camera the whole time. The shot looked perfect.

LESSON: Don't let a car fall on you.





Lesbians are Heroines in Tromaville!
Posted on October 30, 2009 8:18 AM | | Discuss | digg this | add to del.icio.us

Greetings from Tromaville!

During a retrospective on Troma done by the British Film Festival, I visited Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. Whilst there, Shakespeare's spirit entered my body. I cannot reveal from which orifice Shakespeare's spirit exited my body, but it wasn't long after that that Tromeo & Juliet was delivered unto the world and it contains one of the most lesbian-friendly scenes in film history!

Tromeo & Juliet came to me in a visionary burst. First the title, which I found humorous. Second, the desire to do a romance. True love has often been on the sidelines of Troma movies but never in the forefront. Third, I felt some debt to Shakespeare. I was bored with the baby-food adaptations that were being released. Shakespeare was a shit disturber. His plays had sex and gore[1] and risqué humor. They may be tame today but back then they weren't; it was even illegal for his plays to be performed within the city limits of London. The Bard was a regular 2 Live Crew.

Some of the essential aspects of Romeo & Juliet were as applicable today as they were in the time of Shakespeare. Today, the old are still feeding on the dreams of the young. My generation, the baby boomers, the largest segment of society, has manipulated the world to suit its own economic desires. The boomers trumpeted peace and emotional freedom in the sixties. Now they've given way to a blind elitism which preaches coolness over feeling. Meanwhile, they bombard today's kids with rehashed sixties music and movies and big-budget versions of sixties TV shows; these boomers have thus plasticized their own pasts, making the values they once trumpeted no more real than the Partridge Family, and therefore no longer dangerous to the status quo--that is, themselves. Contemporary Americans in their teens and twenties have turned inward, concocting their own universe of the cool, cold, and uncaring. To me, they can hardly be blamed. It's the same emotional response a man has after being repeatedly raped in prison. It's the natural reaction to being screwed.

The cast of T & J was the best we'd had yet. Will Keenan and Jane Jensen exuded vulnerability and passion as the star-crossed lovers, and their performances were unanimously praised. Some of the actors were good friends of the writer James Gunn, whom he enlisted in different roles, such as Valentine Miele as Murray Martini, Steve Loniewski as Harry, and his brother Sean as Sammy Capulet. Many of these actors were imported from the classic Goodman Acting Conservatory in Chicago. It's a good thing to keep in mind while producing low-budget films; often it's easier to find great actors willing to work for very little in cities outside of New York and Los Angeles.

The rehearsals were the most in-depth yet, lasting for over a month. By keeping the actors focused more seriously than usual on their roles we were able to elicit performances that had more substance and were funnier because of their relationship to the ludicrous surroundings and situations.

The shooting of the movie was the smoothest I had ever been on. I attribute this to an extremely organized crew, but especially to the hand of God. Tragedies were few and far between.

Many of the problems had to do with continuity and framing. For some reason, much of the Tromeo & Juliet team, including the hard-working, talented editor, Frank Reynolds, considered it funny when there were little cheesy hints of the movie's unreality. Since I never cared much about this either, the film is today replete with such errors. The script supervisor became so disgusted with our apathy that she quit after a couple weeks. We replaced her with a college guy that couldn't give a shit if a person's part in their hair changed from one shot to the next. In the DVD version today, you can see:

  • Juliet playing the guitar on the bed in her room. As she sets the guitar on the ground, a pair of hands come up and take the guitar from her. This was actually a PA who needed to stifle the noise the guitar would make upon hitting the ground, so it wouldn't block her dialogue.
  • After Murray slices of Sammy's fingers with a paper cutter, we cut to a close-up of a hand spurting blood and pulling away from the cutter. (Only one of the two sliced fingers actually bled. When Valentine Miele was asked how the special-effect looked, he replied, "It looked like a piece of rubber, and then another piece of rubber bleeding.") If you look at the top of the frame, you can see special-effects artist Louie Zakarian's hand gripping the wooden handle of the rubber hand and dragging it away.
  • Numerous shots of actresses, including Rosy, played by Jacqueline Tavarez, and Juliet, wearing skin-colored panties when they're supposed to be totally nude.
  • While he's in bed with Juliet, Cappy Capulet holds on to a curling iron; we cut and the iron magically transforms into a blow-dryer.
  • A shocking amount of crew reflections; orange cones in the background of stunt scenes; buttons buttoning and unbuttoning from shot to shot; and more.

Most of the other tragedies had to do with physical problems. The actor slated to play Fu Chang, Steve Roberts,[2] had a heart attack shortly before shooting. Though Gunn wanted me to play Fu Chang, we found another actor, Garon Peterson, the day of shooting. Then there was the "Tromeo Triad of Pain," with Sean Gunn's nose, Stevie Blackheart's lip, and Arthur Jolly's head. However, the worst on-set occurrence had to do with Jane Jensen and the maggots.

We filmed a dream sequence in which Juliet's belly engorges into pregnancy while Tromeo watches. He is disgusted until he hears the mouth-watering sound of Jiffy-Pop popcorn popping. He tears open Juliet's belly and rapturously digs into the booty of delicious popcorn. Soon after, live rats begin to emerge from her body.[3]

Now, Jane had no problem with the rats. They were extremely cute--too cute, in fact, to provoke the desired effect. They make you want to speak in goo-goo baby talk more than scream in horror. What she didn't like, however, was the last shot of bugs exiting her womb. In reality, they were only mealy worms--the little things that you buy at any pet store to feed your anole or water frog. For some idiotic reason, the crew and I started calling them "maggots." Jane asked me:

"Are you sure we have to have the maggots come out of my belly?

"Yes."

"Really? Aren't the rats enough? Can't we just leave it at that?"

"Sure. If you want to ruin the whole movie."

And then Jane stopped her protestations. Basically, although I knew that Jane was disgusted by the mealy worms, I didn't know how disgusted. I thought it was the same feeling as not wanting to have Ultraslime sticking all over you--it was "icky." And I thought her protestations were primarily aesthetic. I thought she believed the movie was going "too far," which I didn't think was valid since what we were trying to do was take everything one step too far. In the end, I should have been more aware. This was Jane. She was the most strong-willed, ambitious, and talented actress I've ever worked with. And she wasn't about to complain about minor things. But, while directing a film, you get wrapped up in the technical aspects and forget about the human side sometimes. We went on with the scene as planned.

Brendan was on one camera. I was on the second. After we started filming, James and the prop master, Samara Smith, threw two buckets of maggots on Jane's stomach and then ran out of frame. Just as rehearsed, Jane started to scream.

"Nooo! she cried. "God, nooo! Nooo!"

She kept going, absolutely wild. Gleefully, I panned the camera from the mealy worms to her face. Boy, I thought, she really seems like she's in pain. This is fantastic!

"NOOOO! PLEASE, NO!" Jane screamed.

What an actress! Amazing! The whole crew was smiling. We were loving it.

Then, suddenly, Jane picked up a pillow and stuffed it over her face.

Wait a second. She's not supposed to do that.

"PLEASE STOP! she screamed. "CUT! CUT!"

The crew rushed at her from all sides. Efrem, the still photographer, one of those very rare true and kind souls, arrived first, tearing the fake belly from Jane's skin. James ran toward her and grabbed her in his arms as she sobbed. Samara Smith frantically tried to wipe the mealy worms off her body. And it still took a moment to really strike me.

It was real, I thought. That pain and horror that I was enjoying, that we were all enjoying, it was real.

They finally got Jane clean. They ushered her away from the set. She was still sobbing, stark white. I had never seen even a crack in her strength before, and now here she was, this vulnerable young girl. I didn't know if I should approach her. I didn't know what to say. I was afraid I'd make it worse, and I was ashamed. There's something about that moment that I'll always remember. It was chilling how all of us had been receiving pleasure, even though unknowingly, at the expense of another.

As I waited for her to come back upstairs, I feared that she had cracked somehow, that she'd lost it completely. I envisioned her future: alone in a padded cell with a straightjacket and dark circles around her eyes, a Frances Farmer type of thing; all because of me. I told this to Brendan. He said, as always, I tend to see a situation in the most extreme light possible. Everything's either a horrible tragedy or a tremendous triumph.

"I guess," I said.

Jane was back in an hour and a half. Although completely numb, she was able to film one more short, easy scene, and then go home. I couldn't really sleep that night.

Later, she told me that she had more than a minor fear of "maggots." She was terrified of them. She didn't want to tell us how much, because she didn't want to be a poor sport and she didn't know her reaction would be as intense as it was. The animals had gotten all over her body and underneath the stomach contraption. She felt them squirming. She had simply freaked.

Two mornings later, I saw the dailies of the footage. The most horrible irony of it all was that the "maggots" that we poured onto her, from the camera's point of view, looked pretty similar to Chinese stir-fry. It could have been anything. In the final cut, we went ahead and used the reaction shots of Jane, screaming, with the tears running down her face. You can see them in the movie today.



[1] In the same way men played women on the Elizabethan stage, animal entrails played the roles of human entrails.

[2] Steve's health improved by the end of the shoot, and he had a cameo as the larva-toting meat packer.

[3] This is the primary scene that brought on critical comparisons to Buñuel. I would more likely compare it to windowpane acid.





Yakov Levi Will Make You Yak: The Most Disgusting, Perverted Movies I've Ever Seen!
Posted on October 29, 2009 8:13 AM | | Discuss | digg this | add to del.icio.us

Greetings from Tromaville!

A little while back, I was invited to Slovenia, the Cancun of Europe, by these crazy Croatian boys who were making their own damn movie. All day while shooting, they kept talking about the filmmaker Yakov Levi. They kept saying, "Yakov Levi! You gotta see the movies of Yakov Levi!" So at 2 in the morning, I was dragged to a theater to see Yakov's movies and I thought, "My god! Here are some unbelievably great films!" Made in Ukraine and starring real life prostitutes and drug addicts, the movies of Yakov Levi came to me as a total shock; he's like an Eastern European John Waters. Toothless prostitutes! Girls with penises! I haven't been this grossed out since Redneck Zombies!

I took it upon myself to expose American audiences to Levi's sick masterpieces. Shameless, Tasteless: Trash Cinema from the Soviet Underground is the first DVD anthology of Levi's work to be released in the US, and with English subtitles!

Shameless, Tasteless includes the movies Shameless, Tasteless, The Killer Bra, MatroshkaDolls of Doom, Vanity Insanity, The Ghost of Marquis de Sade, and Penisella I, II, III, & IV! You can see the trailer here!

In addition to the many films, Shameless, Tasteless comes loaded with special features such as deleted scenes, interviews, commentaries, PSAs, a documentary about Yakov Levi, and a collection of comics by Levi that are so filthy, we can only show you a few pages from one of the comics in the collection. Here's an excerpt from "Yummy Mummy (or M.I.L.F.)."









Re-Animated Corpses and Body Piercing: One Night with Stuart Gordon
Posted on October 28, 2009 8:17 AM | | Discuss | digg this | add to del.icio.us

Greetings from Tromaville!

I've given a lot of advice to young filmmakers, inspiring them to make their own damn movies. The Make Your Own Damn Movie! DVD box set is full of my ideas and theories on filmmaking. For the Direct Your Own Damn Movie! DVD box set, I enlisted other filmmakers to contribute their expertise of filmmaking. Stuart Gordon is an expert on horror filmmaking. Right around the time I made my indelible mark on the horror genre with The Toxic Avenger, Stuart Gordon made the horror classic Re-Animator. He has also dipped his toes in another kind of horror as a writer on Honey¸ I Shrunk the Kids. While in college, he organized a stage production in which the aim was to get the audience to leave. He should have known that all he had to do was show Troma's Big Gus, What's the Fuss?, now available for download here.

STUART GORDON ON DIRECTING HORROR

Horror is a good way to start in the business. That was the advice given to me. Someone said the easiest movie to raise money for is the horror film and no matter how badly it turns out you'll probably be able to sell it to someone and your investors will get their money back. It's even truer today because horror is more popular than ever. I think that probably has something to do with 9/11. Audiences are flocking to see horror films.

One of the things I have learned is that horror is slow. Horror is about anticipation and the audience knowing that something bad is going to happen. Stretch that moment out as long as you possibly can. There are lots of shots in horror movies of people walking down hallways or opening doors or approaching bodies - those should be done slowly so that you really build up to something. The audience is just waiting for the horrific something or other to happen. John Carpenter says it's easy to scare someone, to make them jump, you know "boo," but it's moments that lead up to that "boo" that really separate the men from the boys in terms of making horror films.

I've also learned that it is the little stuff that scares you the most. Godzilla destroying Tokyo is not scary, but a guy taking a razor blade and slicing the tip of his finger is terrifying. It is the things that we can relate to that make us cringe because we can imagine what this would be like. When things get too enormous it goes beyond human comprehension.

The other thing that is really important is having characters that the audience cares about. We really have to want to see these people survive. I'm not a big fan of the Friday the 13th movies where you have these obnoxious teenagers getting bumped off one by one because you're really on the side of Jason. You want to see those kids get it and so there is no real fear in those films at all. It just becomes a question of how they're going to die. With my first horror film, Re-Animator, there is a character, Herbert West, who is this guy who invented a serum that would bring the dead back to life. He was a really difficult character for the audience to really sympathize with - he's kind of a mad man. What we really needed in this story was a normal person to interact with him, so we created the character of his roommate. We made this guy a poor kid who was at the University on a scholarship and dating the dean's daughter. He had all of these things going for him and all these things he could lose when he started teaming up with this crazy man scientist. It made him very vulnerable and it made us really want to see him succeed.

I think the biggest mistake you can make is to censor yourself. I was making a film called From Beyond. I shot a sequence involving a woman being tortured and a big nail being pounded through her tongue, and ended up cutting it out of the movie myself because I thought there was no way that it would ever be allowed on screen. I thought, "Oh, that's the most disgusting thing in the world!" Now you walk around and you see all these women with pierced tongues, and it's exactly like what I was thinking. So that was a lesson to me. Don't ever do that.

-

Lloyd here. I agree with Stuart. I haven't censored any movie since Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD. Nobody tells me what to do anymore... except my wife. During Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, she put a stop to filming Joe Fleishaker's unsimulated bowel movements. But aside from her, nobody tell me what to do!





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