By Sean Boelman
The newest film from cult-favorite Troma Entertainment and its leader Lloyd Kaufman, #ShakespearesShitstorm, makes its debut at the virtual edition of the Fantasia Film Festival. And in exciting news for fans, this is the only screening of the fest geoblocked to both Canada AND the United States, so Troma fanatics in both countries can check Kaufman’s interpretation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest out!
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with Mr. Kaufman about his new film in a conversation that got surprisingly political, talking about the making of the movie, how Troma has evolved over the years, and some of the issues regarding free speech that have been weighing on his mind! Check it out below!
On His Shakespearian Influences:
This isn’t Troma’s first re-invention of one of the Bard’s plays — Tromeo and Juliet came out in 1996 — and Shakespeare’s work was transgressive in its day. This is what Kaufman had to say about what he feels the iconic playwright would have thought of this version of the tale:
“I think Shakespeare... I know enough about Shakespeare that he would love this without a doubt. In fact, I’m sure he was… almost all of these guys were blacklisted and censored. We’re living in an age in the United States where we have free speech as long as we don’t say anything. And the move has been stronger and stronger towards the oligopoly and the world of media and YouTube and Amazon and the phone companies who control the media now. They’re in a nice little club and they’re slowly kinda doing what the Chinese guy is doing in his country: getting rid of independent thought. Thank the Good Lord for Fantasia Film Festival!”
On the Challenges of Making #ShakespearesShitstorm:
#ShakespearesShitstorm is arguably Troma’s most ambitious film yet, but it still retains that iconic do-it-yourself feel that helped Troma’s first films become cult classics. Here’s what Kaufman said some of the biggest difficulties were in making the film:
“I think the making of the film was very challenging because we had to get whales. You know, it’s a fifty million dollar movie made for less than half a million U.S. American dollars. Maybe half a million, I don’t know, about that amount. And it’s a fifty million dollar movie, so it was very very very difficult. And because our first rule of production is safety to humans, it has to go very carefully and be very very very well-organized, months in advance. It was a very difficult film to make. We also had to film in Albania for eight days with a wonderful crew there who were all Troma fans and the movie went very very well. Justin Martell and Pat Kaufman, my beautiful wife, and John Brennan produced the film and I think we stayed on budget. It went very well. Everyone on the movie was a fan and very very enthusiastic about working on something that they truly believe in. It wasn’t a job for them — it was art. They were paid, but it was art, and they were paid about ten percent of what they would normally get. So it was a very devoted group, every actor. I mean, people came from Europe and all over the map to work on this movie. And they paid their way to go to New York to shoot, and Albania too. We had people from Iceland, from England, France, Japan, and Canada! People from Canada! All coming to take part, and it was really a very joyful, loving group. And the film is without a doubt the most interesting film that I have directed, and thank you to Fantasia for premiering it.”
On Making a Literal Shitstorm
It’s hard to watch #ShakespearesShitstorm without wondering about some of the logistical challenges of working with artificial poo. Kaufman broke down the process of creating the eponymous shitstorm:
“On Toxic Avenger, we had a team who worked 24/7 making the slime. You know, now you can get slime, buy it at your supermarket or the toy store. But we would have to go 24/7 boiling agar agar, which is a seaweed component. A lot of work. So this time, thirty-five years after Toxic Avenger, we’re manufacturing. Doug Sakmann, who has worked for Troma starting when he was sixteen years old, now he’s very old, and he was in charge of the special effects, and his team would literally be making excrement for 24/7. And like blood, you have to make different versions for different things. So the Albanians, I asked them to put corn in the whale excrement and they loved that, they thought it was very funny. And I think if you notice in the movie, I love it when you can actually see the whales’ fecal bloom there’s corn going in it, which is fun. By the way, a fecal bloom is real and a very important nourishment for the oceans. Apparently the plankton, the things that a lot of fish eat enjoy it, and whales get together as a group and go to the bathroom. So everything in the movie is based on truth. Everything in #ShakespearesShitstorm. It was a lot of work. Tapioca pudding, oddly enough, I think that was one of the main ingredients. And when we had to go into the water, the scene where we’re coming out of the water after the ship was sinking, it was freezing and it was raining. But the special effects team put all that artificial... I think it was artificial... shit on us, and it was warm, it was very warm, right out of the oven. I’ll never forget how nice that was because it was cold, we were all shivering like crazy.”
On How Troma Has Changed Over the Years
Troma’s films have been popular with fans for over thirty-four years, and a lot has changed in the industry in that time. Kaufman discussed how his artistic process has changed (and in some ways hasn’t) since he burst onto the scene:
“Well I think that Michael Herz, my partner, and I want to make movies that become classics. And to the extent that Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Surf Nazis Must Die (which we did not make) and Cannibal! The Musical (which we helped make) by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, they’re all now mini-classics. And many two-hundred million dollar movies, they have disappeared, will never play again. Our movies are still getting theatrical bookings for movies made forty years ago. We are getting a lot of help from our fans. Troma is a fan-fueled company, forty-seven years old, and we’re only here thanks to our fans.”
“And regarding the making of the film, that has become a much more pleasant thing because equipment is smaller. It’s more fun, you don’t need as much lighting. And it’s almost fun to make a movie that’s digital. And it looks better! The first movie we did was Return to Nuke ‘Em High and the second half of that Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High. Those were my first digital movies and I have to say, I don’t think I would ever want to go back to celluloid. Even though it has in its third syllable, the syllable ‘Lloyd’, I’ll stay with ‘digi-tal’.”
On Making a Movie on a Low Budget
#ShakespearesShitstorm, like the rest of Troma’s films, is a low-budget comedy. Here’s the advice Kaufman has for filmmakers trying to make their own movies for as little money as possible:
“In the digital world, you can make your art for half a million dollars. That’s the exact same amount that the original Toxic Avenger cost back in 1983, and #ShakespearesShitstorm is actually made for less than Toxic Avenger. We still don’t know the exact budget, we’re going through the receipts. But the point is, you can make a movie for less. So you can see how it doesn’t get any easier. It gets easier to make the movies — you don’t really need the money, that’s what’s so cool. So you could be a nurse, do something with your life that’s useful. You know, teacher, we could use some more teachers these days. You don’t have to be a Harvard law school graduate to go to William Morris Agency and Xerox scripts. You can make your own movie for five thousand dollars and have a real job, do something good for humanity, and then you know, do what Troma does, distribute them yourself and after a few years you’ll maybe have enough movies that bring you enough revenue so that you can be a full-time movie maker. And you can go to the conventions and go to film fan expos, things like that — New York Comic Con, San Diego Comic Con — sell your stuff, have fun, and build up a fanbase. We have millions of fans, and it’s mainly personal contacts, doing what anyone could do. But it’s very hard to live. And I don’t know if it’s possible to start a real independent studio that performs all the functions that Troma does now. I think it would be very hard to do it today, I don’t know, I think it would be virtually impossible to do it today. Maybe with a lot of money you could do it.”
On the Limitations of "Free" Speech:
#ShakespearesShitstorm addresses some issues of the limitation of free speech. Here’s what Kaufman has to say about the real-life implications of the issue.
“The main conglomerates, the media conglomerates, are now owned by phone companies or electrical parts makers, like Sony. They aren’t movie companies, and that’s not art. There’s art, and there’s nowhere near art. It’s a business, and it’s committees and there are very few artists that can leave their mark on the movies because their budgets are so high. And there are very few independent filmmakers who can break in because the rules that used to protect the public, and I’m talking about the United States, against some monopolies have all been done away with. The big guys have even been able to gobble up the competition, the independent movie companies, or just put them out of business. Because they own the theaters, the big guys own the theaters, control the theaters, all the rules against monopolies are done away with. And now, the Federal Communications Commission in America is gonna get rid of net neutrality on the internet, which will allow phone companies to speed up and give themselves a speedy highway and charge, there will be no more free and democratic internet. The price will go up for the fast superhighway for the elites, and then us, maybe even Fantasia, unless we can pay for the speed, we’ll have to go onto the bumpy, constantly buffering road which the public will not want to go on. Also, the courts are giving the giant conglomerates the right to slow down your so-called “content”, your art — they call it content, which is disgusting — your art will be slowed down. Fantasia’s art could be slowed down. But AT&T, who own Warner Bros., their art will go fast. They’ll be able to make art look worse than their stuff, which is not what is supposed to be. It’s a very complicated thing, I’ve been chairman of the trade association for independent studios and we lobbied in Washington against the Comcast merger and against the lying but didn’t succeed really. We did get Comcast to at least speak with independent producers, but as time went on, like China, they didn’t abide by their contract.”
Troma’s YouTube channel was taken down for violating community standards, and Kaufman is obviously not happy about it. Here he talks about YouTube’s double standard:
“You know our YouTube channel was deleted, supposedly for community standards, but when they started there were a small number of filmmakers, artists, “creators” they called them, like Lorne Michaels and me they invited to use their space down in New York. It’s a studio, a regular studio, mixing consoles and sets and equipment and cameras. And I was invited because of my movies. Now maybe ten years later, because of my movies, they kick off eight hundred thousand fans and our channel of three hundred free movies for some kind of community standards. Meanwhile, what community has not honored Troma and me, from Moscow to Shanghai to the American Film Institute to the British Film Institute, Cinematheque Française, festivals in Spain, Italy, Portugal, the government of Portugal! The Portugese taxpayers paid for half of Mutant Blast! What community hasn’t accepted and praised and honored Troma over our forty-seven years and my fifty years? The only one I haven’t gotten any kind of award from is Antarctica, and I guess that’s penguins there. You know, they marry for life, and maybe they’re a little prudish. I don’t know, the penguins don’t seem to be too excited. But every place else they love us, so I don’t know what YouTube has against us. I think it’s because the big guys have got so much control that any competition, their algorithm is there not just to remove any violence and nudity but to remove independent art. And if you go, you can dial in just about every obscene word and YouTube will have plenty. In fact, right now YouTube is giving us some nice pedophilia. Netflix has a movie called Cuties and the poster has a number of five-year-old boys and girls dressing in pole dancing costumes. And so I put #NetflixPedophilia on my socials. And so YouTube is clearly hypocritical. You can see people getting their heads chopped off by the Arabs. You can dial in any kind of perversion and there’s plenty of it on YouTube. And porn! And CNN: lots of decapitations, lots of people getting blown up and bleeding and war crimes. But meanwhile, we’re the ones that get kicked off. So I don’t know what community we’re transgressing, whatever we’re doing, who we’re bothering. Anyway, that’s a big issue now, we have freedom to say anything we want, but as long as we don’t say anything. That’s how it is in the United States. And when we settle for Biden, #SettleForBiden, it’s gonna be just as bad, ain’t gonna be any better.”
#ShakespearesShitstorm streams online (geoblocked to Canada and the U.S.) at 9:30pm on Saturday, August 29 as part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 2.