Hot on the heels of his first book, Everything I Needed to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger, Troma Entertainment’s president and co-founder Lloyd Kaufman is back with his second low-budget how-to instruction manual, and there’s no shame in saying that it’s perhaps even more entertaining than the first.
Lloyd Kaufman is, of course, the director of cult classic gross-out movies like the “The Toxic Avenger” and “Class of Nuke ‘em High” series, Terror Firmer and Troma’s War, as well as the distributor of other examples of high/low art, “Combat Shock,” and the Parker/Stone debut Cannibal! The Musical. For the elitist, it’s easy to scoff at this resume until you realize that Kaufman also did a great amount of time in the trenches working in various aspects of production with folks like John Avildsen, on films like “The Final Countdown,” “Saturday Night Fever,” and “Rocky.” He’s done his time, and continues to do his time. Regardless, people are going to scoff anyway, so get it out of the way now.
You don’t have to be a Troma fan to utilize the good advice in this book (just as you don’t have to be a fan of John A. Russo’s movies in order to gain knowledge from Making Movies or Shock Value), but non-fans may be put off by Kaufman’s trademark juvenile humor. Every page has at least one reference to a bodily-function; sometimes the fun is guessing which one it will be. The irreverent style is what keeps this how-to manual from becoming a, er, well, a how-to manual. Kaufman covers the entire filmmaking process from pre- to post-production, and adds a new layer: post-post-production, meaning marketing and distribution. All the information is filtered through the Troma experience, largely using Terror Firmer and Citizen Toxie as reference points.
Kaufman’s theme is that not only can everyone make their own damn movie, everyone should (which should send chills down the spine of every Film Threat reader and reviewer). But if you’re going to do it, take some time and try to do it right. Raise money for your project, spend time on your script and getting the most out of your production, pay attention to little things like sound and editing. And try and get the damned thing seen afterward (implying “good luck” at every point).
For the fledgling independent filmmaker, the book is both inspiring and terrifying. Kaufman doesn’t pull punches, and paints a pretty grim picture not only of the marketplace (constantly referring to Blockbuster and Viacom as “soulless, devil-worshipping conglomerates” – it’s actually at its funniest when skewering corporations, Hollywood and Spielberg), but also of the Troma experience itself. Having had friends go through the Troma meat grinder, I’ve experienced a lot of the nightmares discussed here (dozens of people sleeping in unheated warehouses, eating – if they’re lucky – cheese sandwiches, enduring endless non-union hours of ridiculously hard labor), but punches aren’t pulled here, either. Occasionally, the dissatisfied dismissed former Tromites are referred to as “cry-babies”, and not always in fun, the entire filmmaking experience is painted as grueling work, not always rewarding and not always worth the end result. But, and as it should be, filmmaking is a passion, and it’s up to the filmmaker to realize his passion.
Note, however, the word “film”. Kaufman isn’t a great believer in digital video – the source of an ongoing debate in the book between himself and co-writer Trent Haaga. As most indie fans know, Haaga starred in Terror Firmer and went on to make “Dead and Rotting” for J.R. Bookwalter’s Tempe and “Killjoy 2” for Charles Band’s Full Moon studios. Haaga knows from digital video, and constantly breaks into the narrative to cheerlead for this format, expressing that it will keep costs down much lower than if one used even 16mm or Super-8. At one point, the argument literally breaks down to “Does not!” “Does too!”, which only adds to the entertainment.
If you’re serious about making your own “damn movie”, you could do worse than follow the Kaufman plan. He’s not a big proponent for feeding his crew (or doing anything to keep them happy), and, of course, restraint and decorum aren’t exactly well-used parts of his vast vocabulary. Still, he explains exactly what Assistant Directors and Gaffers are, which should put an end to some amount of head scratching during closing credits.
The book is both inspiring and discouraging, often at the same time. Just when the reader is ready to surge forth and begin production on his brewing opus, Kaufman hits you with some hard facts about the business, particularly regarding how the corporations have and will continue to stomp down independent art and businesses. If you make a movie, it will be hard to get it seen. If you get it distributed, it will be nearly impossible to get it stocked on the Blockbuster shelves. And the bottom line is you will almost definitely never see a dime from your trouble. Then he tells you to not let that stop you. Go out there and make some art! Whatever your definition of that word might be. In Tromaville, there’s no such thing as ‘no taste’.
Check out the Lloyd’s new book at the Troma website.