Stan Lee Gets Tromatized
Greetings from Tromaville!
You may not suspect it, but we here at Troma have a special relationship with our comics. A very special one. You see, when I was growing up, I didn't have access to the worldwide smutfest known as the internet. Like R. Crumb, I spent many nights losing myself to fantasies of the beautiful women in my comic books: Betty Boop, Wonder Woman, Bugs Bunny. I knew from those early moments that I wanted to repay the favor and help future generations discover America's favorite pastime through my art. You wouldn't believe how many dudes have told me about their formative experiences based around sexy Troma scenes, so thank you. There is no such thing as too much information, except when it comes to playing with yourself.
Anyway, where was I going with this? Oh, right, comics! We've left our mark on the world of comics with a successful run of Marvel Toxic Avenger comics, which are now collector's items available here! The Troma Team and I have been going to comic book conventions for years. In fact, the Troma Team will be at New York City's Big Apple Comic Con this weekend. Drop by and say "hi!"
What? Think you're doing something better this weekend? Not true. Fact: everyone who drops by a Troma booth gets laid. If that's not enough, check out this video of me getting roasted at San Diego Comic Con by my good friend Stan Lee. In case this is the first time you've ever been on the internet and have no idea who Stan Lee is, he is the founder of Marvel Comics and the co-creator and writer of Spider Man, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Iron Man, and many other iconic characters and comics. Aside from being a comic book hero, Stan has also had his fair share of work in the film industry. After all, who could forget his spectacular narration on Troma's very own Citizen Toxie!
I recently sat down with Stan to talk to him about his adventures in filmmaking as recounted in my book Direct Your Own Damn Movie!
Lloyd: You've worked with the great, great directors, with mediocre directors, and the maybe not so good directors. Could you talk a bit about what you see as the principles of film directing.?
Stan: Well, you do know I'm no great authority on directing, but I've been lucky because most of the people who've done Marvel movies have been great directors and, well, I wasn't always on the set. I was only on the set for a few hours doing my cameo in each movie. What I've found is that the one thing they had in common was the great relationship they had with the actors, as well as a great way of expressing themselves in order to help the actor really understand the essence of the scene. Then they have the ability, after they've explained it and have confidence in their cast and crew, to get out of the way and let it just happen normally and naturally. I have never been with a good director who lost his temper or shouted or screamed at people or did any of the things they let directors do in movie comedies, or films where they show how temperamental directors are. As a matter of fact, they don't even dress funny. One director that always impressed me was Sam Raimi who did Spiderman. He's the only director who actually wears a suit and tie to work. The rest of the crew looks like commandos in field jackets and jeans and so forth. Sam looks like a visitor from the city. I asked him once...I said "how come you always wear a suit?" and he said his father taught him "when you work with people, always show them respect," which was an unusual thing to hear. I think Sam is really great but, as I said, of all the directors I've been lucky enough to work with, it's Jon Favreau.
Lloyd: What did Favreau do?
Stan: He did Iron Man. It was a happy set. He has a great sense of humor. He was kidding with the actors, giving them a lot of freedom. Bryan Singer as well; beautiful working with him. He was always so prepared. He knew what he wanted, explained it, and did it. They remind me of you, Lloyd.
Lloyd: Very funny.
Stan: It's true.
Lloyd: Do these guys have storyboards? Did you manage to see if they have shot lists?
Stan: Well they always have a clipboard with a million papers on it. To be honest I've never seen it. I know a lot of them do storyboards for a lot of scenes of course, and they have a lot of notes. If they don't have notes, their assistants are always walking, loaded with papers.
Lloyd: If you were young, let's say a film school graduate, or just a fanatic, and you wanted to get into the mainstream...do you have any suggestions?
Stan: The only thing that I've heard is that most directors come out of film school and get a job working for a movie company or some sort of production company. They start out as an assistant's-assistant's-assistant and working their way up. But some actually direct a movie in film school and it looks good and people notice it and then they take it to one of the film festivals - Sundance Film Festival - and, if they're lucky, somebody notices it. Didn't George Lucas get started by producing something like THX 1138 in film school and people were impressed? I'll be honest with you, when I was young; I wish I had gone to film school. I would have loved to learn how to produce and make a movie. I don't know if I wanted to be a director because...I'd love to be a director, if only it didn't take up so much time. When they do a big film, they can be away from home for two or three or four months. It's being on the set everyday and the thing that amazes me is that directors can keep their interests up whilst they're involved in all the little details like: "Let's do this scene over because the light wasn't right, or let's do that over because the sound quality wasn't right." You do one scene over and over and then you'll have to wait for a maybe a few hours because the camera needs to be set up for the next scene, which you'll do over and over. I don't think I've got the temperament. And you know better than anyone that a certain temperament is needed for that sort of thing.
Lloyd: Have you noticed certain directors along the way that make mistakes?
Stan: Well, the early Captain America movie wasn't that good. Real low budget movie. I don't know what specific mistakes were made, but it looked like a low-budget movie. There was Sgt. Fury, which had gone on television as a movie of the week or something and everything about it I thought was pretty good. David Hasselhoff played Sgt. Fury, but the mistake they made there, I think, is the girl they cast as the villain. She was a good actress, but wasn't right for that role. And for me it ruined the whole thing. Every so often if you have the wrong person in a major role, or the wrong music, or the wrong approach or attitude...There are so many elements that all have to come together and gel perfectly. I feel funny telling this to you. You're a director.
Lloyd: Have you seen cases where people have compromised? Maybe they've tried to re-invent a script to fit television, or a market, and that ruined the film?
Stan: Very often when something is intended for television, they feel the need to change the original script to have it more accommodating for the TV screen. Very often that ruins it, but that happens with movies too. Often you'll have a successful novel that people enjoyed as a book and yet, when they film it, unfortunately they will leave out the very element that made the book a success. Sometimes that element is magnificent dialogue, but most directors don't want their movies to consist of "talking heads" as they call it, so they'll leave out the dialogue which fascinated the readers the most. There could be countless other things that are left behind. Sometimes a book could sell well because, even though it was a serious story, there was an underlying tone of humor which gave it a good balance, and the director either has no sense of humor or didn't feel the humor belonged in the movie. From what I've seen, the director really is in charge. Even when the producers are on the set he's the one who determines the mood of the movie. He determines what the pace is. He determines what to emphasize, what to minimize. I mean it's really in the hands of the director. Even when the script is written, the director still can let it go in many directions.
Lloyd: Do you recall any specifics about books or movies? To me Daredevil was good because...
Stan: Daredevil. I'm probably one of the only people that I've spoken to - I speak to myself often - who thinks...who was the fellow that played Daredevil?
Lloyd: Ben Affleck
Stan: Anyway, I thought it was good, but I thought that there was too much suffering in Daredevil. Originally Daredevil was of a lighter tone and I felt somehow there were too many scenes that were too dark. We didn't need that business in the church at the beginning and end, but I believe that there were some beautifully done things in the Daredevil movie.
So many of the really successful directors have their own style. You can recognize their hand in whatever it is that they do. Quentin Tarantino - you can almost always tell right away that it's one of his movies. You have that same thing; you can always recognize a Troma movie directed by Lloyd Kaufman. And that's great. People spend a lifetime trying to get their own stamp of individuality, and you can always tell a Troma movie directed by Lloyd Kaufman. The unfortunate thing about it is that it's catered to a certain audience and they have a lot of sex and violence, and it's all humorous, but it's still there. That makes it hard to get enough screen time and a lot of theater seats. You can't get into enough theaters. And, maybe this is bad advice, but I think the day should come when you do a movie like Sgt. Kabukiman, and you do it like it's a comedy for a general audience. Not an R-rating, but a G-rating. So many of your movies have a clever concept, they're always parodying something. Like Toxic Avenger - it's a great idea. A superman who is that ugly and he has a mop and a pail - it's funny! But because of all the violence and all the far-out stuff, you can't get it played for the general audience. So I think it would be great if sometime in the future..for your next...even your Tromeo and Juliet here, everything is a parody of something. Well I think the next time you want to do a parody of something, you ought to write it, but leave out the things that will make it not acceptable to most theaters, but still make sure that you have your own far-out humor in there. If that's possible without the other element then, I think, the sky would be the limit. Your basic concepts are great! You're a great director, but you direct movies that only a certain young audience will go for. And that's not bad - you've got your own niche - and you've got something most people don't have, you've got your own personal recognizable style. As your friend and fan, I just wish that that style would be more distributed around the field.
Now take something like Sgt. Kabukiman, so many things to enter into what makes it a success. Say you have someone like Jim Carey playing the role and let's say you eliminated some things that were too far out. You'd have a great actor, a great comic, a great concept, and you might have a film that could be another Bruce Almighty. To me, something like Bruce Almighty would be your type of story, but it didn't have any of the objectionable stuff in it. So they were able to just go with the funny stuff. All of your main concepts and your plots are funny, but you don't have enough confidence in your funny stuff and you put in all the other things. Which I'll admit, your fans love, but it doesn't get you into enough theaters.
So, if you were to decide to come up with an off-the-wall concept, as you always do with some sort of parody, and you'd say to yourself, "I'm going to see if I can get an Adam Sandler, Jim Carey, or Ben Stiller," you know somebody like that for the role, and instead of spending a million dollars or so and doing it in a studio in NY, come out to LA and spend 5 million dollars, I'll borrow it from friends - only joking. Maybe we'll spend a few million and for once I'll go for a mainstream wild comedy, because they do well! Things like the Wedding Crashers and Knocked Up. Those are your type of movies, but they're done in a family way! But I feel silly telling this to you, because you're a successful director and I would like to see you more recognized.
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