Ed. note- On August 3, 2010, I became Tromatized for life. Four months earlier, I’d won a low budget lunch with legendary director Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder and president of Troma Studios, and creator of the Toxic Avenger. So on that fateful Tuesday, I packed up my cheese sandwiches, hopped in X’s car and headed to the Troma Building. It was one of the highlights of my life as a horror fan. Here is Part 1 of my Tromatic experience, as it appeared on Icons of Fright. Check back soon for Parts 2 and 3, which will be Death Ensemble exclusives. Long live independent cinema! Long live Troma!- P.F.
Part One: Welcome to Tromaville
I started this past Tuesday off by making cheese sandwiches.
Perhaps I’d better start from the beginning, as that probably makes no sense out of context. This whole story begins back in February, when I was perusing Troma Films’ website. Under their “Recent Press,” I found a contest. Its premise was this: write an explanation of why I love Lloyd Kaufman and Troma, and I could win a lunch with Lloyd himself.
My entry read as follows:
“Daring. Creative. Nutzoid. Intelligently crafted social commentary with a gross out aesthetic. Oh, and damn entertaining! I’m a master of English language and literature who’s at a turning point in life. I’m now writing scripts and trying to get a film made, because Lloyd has convinced me to follow my creative muse and to my own self be true. I wrote my first script, DEADTENTION, specifically as a Troma film. Lloyd, you passed on it, but I love you anyway.”
Was I fellating Lloyd? Sure, a little. But deep down, in the gooiest part of my horror loving heart, I loved Lloyd Kaufman. Here was a guy who didn’t merely talk about making movies, or think about making movies. He made movies. For nearly 40 years he’s been making them. Funny, gross out movies, not likely to be considered great cinema, but movies that spoke to the independent spirit. Movies for the world’s unconventional thinkers. Movies for me. Okay, so I was fluffing Lloyd, but I wasn’t being disingenuous. Besides, I was never going to win this thing anyway. I submitted my entry, and entirely forgot about the contest.
Until April 13 rolled around. Arriving home from my lousy office job, I was astounded when I opened up my Gmail account and saw the top email was from the Tromemoir competition. As I read on, I couldn’t believe the words. Somebody at Troma had chosen me as the winner. I could tell the email wasn’t a spoof, because whoever had written it had misspelled “insighteful.” A true hallmark of Troma. The first thing I did was call X, my screenwriting partner on DEADTENTION. Clearly, I had to get him in on this. I emailed the Troma people back with my information, and assured them X would bring his own lunch.
And then it was quiet again. I got no response back for several weeks. So I decided to do the logical thing: Harass Lloyd himself. My email to Lloyd got the ball rolling, and to make a long story short, his personal assistant Justin and I spent many months emailing back and forth, before we both settled on August 3, this Tuesday. In fact, about a week before, Justin assured me he was leaving Troma and that Lloyd’s new assistant Allison would help me with anything else I needed. I felt pangs of guilt, figuring that I had harangued this guy into quitting. Then I remembered where he worked. And for whom. And how much he was getting paid. Yeah, that made me feel much better.
Which brings us back to cheese sandwiches. I’ve seen and read Lloyd say it many times that he feeds them to his cast and crew while making his films. Even without this foreknowledge, I should have been prepared to provide for myself; after all, the contest I entered was called “The Low Budget Lunch with Lloyd.” So Monday night, I went to the King Kullen. I would dazzle the co-founder of Troma Studios and creator of the Toxic Avenger with these cheese sandwiches. After all, I wasn’t just making cheese sandwiches. I was making them on sourdough loaves. With American and provolone. Oh yes, I was a Tromavillean. And I was going to make Uncle Lloyd proud.
As Allison never actually responded to my request to bring X along, I decided that he should come, surmising it wasn’t likely anybody would stop him. Off we went into the heart of Long Island City, where the nerve center of Troma had moved a few years back, with me constantly reminding X that we needed to be on time for our prescribed lunch hour, or it would be “serious asshole time.” I gathered Lloyd would have been proud.
We arrived at Troma’s front door promptly at noon, with the Fed Ex guy directly behind us. An intern buzzed us in, and we proceeded up a long flight of stairs to the 2nd floor. Stepping inside an office with two desks, I met him with, “My name is Phil Fasso. I’m here for the Low Budget Lunch with Lloyd… who’s sitting right there.” Off to my right at a distance of maybe 15 feet was the modern day god of independent cinema himself, Lloyd Kaufman.
I’ve met Lloyd twice before, once at last March’s Monster-Mania where I gave him the DEADTENTION script, and a few weeks later on April Fool’s Day at a book signing at the Strand, where he kindly rejected my script. But none of that mattered now. As the aroma du Troma filled my lungs, I was absolutely excited that Lloyd and I were about to share in cheese sandwiches.
What I expected from Lloyd was the Lloyd Kaufman persona: a self-effacing clown in a bow tie, salesman not only for the Troma films, but it’s approach. What I got was something altogether different. Lloyd was kind to a fault; he greeted X and me with a politeness and a welcome to Tromaville that was completely free of shtick. When I proffered him the cheese sandwiches, he gave me my first surprise of the day: we were actually going out to lunch, and Lloyd was going to foot the bill. I couldn’t have been more blown away. Hell, Lloyd wasn’t even wearing a bow tie. Ok, so his white golf shirt bore two Troma stickers and what looked like Cheetos stains on the back, so I guess he held to just a little bit of my expectations. But still.
Also living up to expectations was the answer to this question: “Is Michael Herz here today?” “No, he’s on Long Island, golfing out in Quiogue.” Astute Troma fans have seen him on a commercial selling Troma videos at blow out prices, and in an 80s infomercial espousing the Troma system. But there was no physical evidence of Herz at the Troma building that day, and so I continue to believe that he’s a hologram.
Lloyd then took us on a tour of the Troma building. Heading into the next part of the office, we saw Troma’s editing room to the right, a squalid little room inhabited by an editor. He and Lloyd discussed an audio piece he was taping about “cinema of the mind,” Troma’s no-D answer to 3-D.
Listen to noises, and create your own damn visuals. If anybody has doubts that Lloyd has a genius to him, this little exchange should dispel them. Lloyd then took us into the bigger room, occupied by about a half dozen desks and his interns. We got to watch one gyno (in Tromaville, they don’t use disparaging terms such as “girl” or “woman, which includes the word “man”) editing a special feature for the DVD release of THERE’S SOMETHING OUT THERE, a film with an X connection; he knew the filmmakers years ago from his work with the Creation conventions.
The vibe in this office was just as sedate and lousy as mine, with the drones at work behind their desks, but for one thing: Tromabilia was everywhere, with posters and signed 8x10s adoring every inch of wall space.
Lloyd then took us down into the bowels of Troma. And there before me was the sight of all sights for Troma fans: the “Welcome to Tromaville” sign from the very first TOXIC AVENGER movie. This sign conjured all sorts of connotations in my head, memories of the first time I saw Toxie on cable as a kid, how I’d followed Troma throughout the adventures of Sgt. Kabukiman, Larry Benjamin and more recently Arbie and Wendy. But it was so much more than just a prop from some films. It was a symbol for the independent spirit of low budget filmmaking, a testament to the particularly twisted genius and life of one man. It made a statement: “You can live the life you want to, be free of any constraints, if you never sacrifice your singular vision.” And suddenly, instead of being in some dumpy little building that used to be a Chinese restaurant, I was in Tromaville. And I was with the man behind Tromaville himself. And my day was going to get even better as it passed…
Don’t miss Part Two, in which Lloyd actually pays for lunch, and the lovely Lily Hayes Kaufman joins us!