Lloyd Kaufman Q&A: Troma Legend on Hollywood, James Gunn and ‘Toxic Avenger’ Reboot

Sporting a bright red jacket and a pair of snazzy trainers, 73-year-old Lloyd Kaufman would make an impression on anyone passing him in the street. But here at the Starburst International Film Festival, he’s a bona fide superstar. 

Fans gather from all over the United Kingdom for a chance to chat and take selfies with the co-founder of Troma Entertainment, a studio with forty-five years of history and a reputation like no other. He’s more than happy to oblige, posing in photos and signing merchandise without charging or complaining. There’s a palpable enthusiasm to his every interaction, which is a far cry from certain Hollywood stars who barely suppress their grimace during press junkets and conventions. Kaufman would probably be grateful for the distinction.

“They’re horrible people,” he says of Hollywood’s elite during his Q&A session on Friday night. The latest in a long line of grievances happened mere hours before, with Deadline’s coverage of James Gunn’s return to Guardians of the Galaxy 3. The industry trade posits some of the blame for the director’s controversial tweets on his previous work at Troma, where he co-wrote the Shakespeare spoof Tromeo and Juliet. Kaufman, who had a cameo appearance in the first Guardians movie, unsurprisingly believes Gunn should never have been fired, blaming the situation on “bullshit social justice warriors.”

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Kaufman with James Gunn on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

Kaufman’s most recent directing effort, Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High AKA Vol. 2 enthusiastically echoes that sentiment. The film is seemingly designed to offend the faint-hearted, placing sexuality, religion and politics firmly in its cross hairs, while serving up the familiar blend of gore and nudity that Troma fans will be familiar with. The film effectively serves as an antidote to the buttoned-up politically correct culture we live in, holding a certain therapeutic value in that regard. It’s quite possibly the polar opposite of high-brow, but there’s a fierce independence to Nuke Em’ High which is admirable. As Kaufman concisely describes it: “It’s something that comes from the heart and isn’t made by committee.”

In this way, Troma Entertainment stands defiantly as a firm advocate of original and independent cinema. “It’s being crushed by the homogenization of the film industry… People don’t like different. They want the same thing over and over,” Kaufman says. He and fellow producer Michael Herz have done their best to combat this, distributing over one thousand independent films through their company since its creation, a feat which he says has been difficult but ultimately rewarding: “If you have something that’s going to change the world a little bit, it’s going to get slapped down… but years from now, Citizen Toxie will still be here and Green Book will be forgotten.”

Kaufman has few positive things to say about this year’s Best Picture winner, believing that Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman should have taken home the top honor.

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Poster art for Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High AKA Vol. 2 (2017).

Joining him on-stage is Pat Kaufman, his wife for over four decades. She is often referred to as The Commissioner, due to her former job role as president of the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI). Founded in 1975, the global organization works to encourage on-location film production as a means to drive economic growth and prosperity. The pair have a charming dynamic throughout the talk, with Pat frequently having to keep her husband on topic when he veers off onto amusing tangents.

Despite working closely with numerous major studios while at the AFCI, she doesn’t share her husband’s disdain for Hollywood. Speaking of the conversations she had with studio executives: “If it was my first meeting with them and it came up that my husband was Lloyd Kaufman, they would go nuts! Institutionally, they are not respectful, but individually, they adore Troma.” Lloyd remains unconvinced.

Between the two of them, they have an impressive amount of filmmaking expertise, meaning it’s little surprise when the conversation shifts to advice for budding creators. “Don’t do the Troma thing,” Lloyd says jokingly. “If you want the red carpet and the accolades, you should try to get in with the mainstream and work your way up the food chain. Otherwise, do what Shakespeare said: ‘To thine own self be true,'” he continues.

It’s advice that has served Kaufman well creatively, if not financially. Troma alum and South Park co-creator Trey Parker is quoted in his Twitter bio saying: “Nobody knows how to make films and not make any money doing it better than Lloyd Kaufman.” However, listening to him talk about his craft gives the distinct impression that his cinematic endeavours have never been about getting rich, but are in fact genuine labours of love. With this in mind, his only motivation for making money seems to be so that he can simply make more movies.

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Poster art for The Toxic Avenger (1984).

He could well receive some cash to invest soon, with Legendary Entertainment recently acquiring the rights to The Toxic Avenger, the film Troma built its brand on. It tells the story of a bullied teenager who is transformed into a hulking monster after falling into radioactive waste. The graphic violence and tongue-in-cheek humour of the 1984 original has earned it cult classic status, meaning a reboot will have to tread carefully in order to please die-hard fans. No writer or director has yet been announced for the project, but Kaufman is optimistic about how it’s progressing: “They seem like good people. They seem like they want to pick a good writer. The guy they’re talking about writing it is good. He’s very good.”

In the meantime, Troma is gearing up for its next release: Shakespeare’s Shitstorm. Judging from the teaser trailer released last summer, that title could well be literal.

Without a doubt, their rude, crude and violent style will not be to everyone’s tastes, but Troma is still thoroughly deserving of respect. This is cinema at its least cynical and most absurd, which is needed more than ever as the industry edges closer to monopolization. Their movies are fueled on the sheer passion and determination of the Troma team, or as Lloyd describes them: “The nicest people in the world.”

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