We found ourselves in a medieval crypt below a giant church, chatting to the founder of Troma Entertainment about everything from fandom to video-games, to his rumoured role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It was a strange Thursday afternoon.
Lloyd Kaufman may well be one of the oddest and most exciting people in the entertainment industry, full stop.
He started his career scouting locations for Rocky (believe it or not, he was the one who found those iconic steps) and now, by day he’s president of Troma Entertainment, a low-budget production company who make and distribute some of the cheapest and most depraved shit you will ever see in your life. And by night, he’s… well, he’s still exactly that.
Kaufman works all day, every day, and has been for the past 50 years, attending every fan experience, Troma screening and yes, video-game press event he physically can – even if he barely has any notable role in what’s going on – because he loves his and other indie fans just that much.
At the London launch of Haemimont Games’ newest incarnation of their fantasy RPG Victor Vran (which is, weirdly enough, a console-wide Motörhead-themed expansion), he not only shows up in the flesh all the way from the States to promote said game, but also brings along his usual flare for dark humour, and an actor dressed in full Toxic Avenger regalia, complete with full-size mop. And still, we get the feeling that this is just another ordinary Thursday for Kaufman and co.
“I know very little about video-games, but the Troma employees, all day, that’s all they do. They play video-games and watch porn.” admits Kaufman.
The reason he found himself at the centre of the Victor Vran universe, voicing a frankly dashing barman in a Motörhead themed game, is fairly simple: “Lemmy [Kilmister, lead singer of Motörhead], was in about 10 of our movies… he was the best. He never charged anything to be in our movies, he gave us free music.” This, tied with one of the key developers being a huge Troma (as well as Motörhead) fan was essentially how it all came together.
In fact, Kaufman and Lemmy’s friendship lasted all the way up to the rocker’s death in late 2015, and the next Troma release on the cards is even dedicated to his memory.
But honouring his dearly departed friend isn’t the only thing that kept Kaufman attached: “I don’t know much about video-games, but this is art” he gestates, of course, rather wildly, “I know art when I see art, and this game is art! It comes from the heart, it comes from the soul, if it was a movie you would call the director an auteur.”
When questioned about his own auteur status though, Kaufman got rather humble: “I’m amazed I’ve been able to make movies. It’s Troma’s forty-third year in existence. Troma’s the longest running independent movie studio in history, I’m told, and I’ve been lucky enough to make feature-length movies for fifty years… The fact that anybody buys a ticket to see one of our movies, I’m always astounded.”
Although he’s the first to admit that none of his Troma releases will be winning any of the big awards any time soon, and he’s perfectly okay with that: “People talk about Oscars and Grammys and all that stuff, for me this is like getting an Oscar. Because I haven’t bought it, I didn’t buy that. That came from love, that came from appreciation and love. To get an Oscar, you pay for that, it’s bought. I mean, they’re great films, La La Land is a wonderful movie, and so are the other movies, but basically, there are better movies that nobody’s ever heard about that should get Oscars.”
In a world of $200 million blockbusters and his own micro-budget features, Kaufman insists that “you can’t buy word of mouth”. To him, it’s all about the fans, loving and respecting them as much as possible, just like his old buddy Lemmy.
“We owe everything to our fans!” he summarises, before getting a little more political: “And net neutrality on the internet. Trump appointed a guy now to the FCC, who says he wants to get rid of net neutrality – that’s the free open and democratic internet. Internet is the last democratic medium, and that’s why Troma is still here, because we can talk to our fans, and they can talk to us.”
And to be fair, he makes an incredibly good point. Without net neutrality, indie productions like his own don’t stand a chance in hell: “We can’t afford to advertise. If they get rid of net neutrality, a lot of innovation will go away, cures for cancer will go away, and, speaking of cancer, Troma will go away.”
Indies of course, were where a lot of the greats started, not forgetting Kaufman’s own protege, current Marvel Studios favourite and Guardians of the Galaxy helmer James Gunn. Kaufman himself appeared in cameo form in the Guardians’ first outing, but as for a follow-up role? He’s not too sure: “James Gunn is the best but he’s also a nerd, and I was killed in that movie, I’m dead. So apparently I can’t come back.”
The future still remains bright for both Kaufman and Troma though, with not only a new Nuke ‘Em High project on the horizon (cleverly titled Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High Aka Vol. 2), but another stab at the bard too: “The good news is we’re going back to Shakespeare. This is breaking news: we’re writing The Tempest now, which is my favourite Shakespeare. I wanted to wait until I was old because of Prospero and the whole theme of the play is losing power and turning old. It’s trippy and druggy and dreamy, so we’re just getting in to writing that script now, and it should be very interesting! My only regret is that Lemmy will be looking down from Heaven and watching, and I’m wishing he was here.”
Victor Vran is available now on Steam and the Overkill Edition, including the ‘Motörhead: Through the Ages’ and ‘Fractured Worlds’ DLC packs will soon be available on Xbox One, PS4 and the PC. More information can be found on the official website.
Troma’s latest film Essex Space Bin will be screening at the Prince Charles Cinema on Saturday 18th February with Lloyd Kaufman in attendance. More info here.