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DVD Stalk Blog - Stalking You Daily!

The Troma Acting Method

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.


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