Indie Horror Month: Lloyd Kaufman Talks Net Neutrality and Indie Horror Filmmaking
Chances are, if you’re an avid reader of Dread Central, then you are very familiar with Lloyd Kaufman, creator of Troma Entertainment and vocal supporter of both net neutrality and independent filmmaking. That’s why when this writer was putting together her coverage for DC’s Indie Horror Month celebration, Kaufman was at the top of the list of people I definitely wanted to chat with.
See, not only is Kaufman still busy creating films under his Troma production banner, but he’s also busy fighting for the rights of independent filmmakers everywhere. How so, you may ask? Well, he’s regularly raising awareness for net neutrality through a series of PSAs released on the Internet but also keeps himself busy as the Chairman of IFTRA (Independent Film & Television Alliance), which represents companies that finance, produce and license independent film and television programming worldwide.
I recently chatted with Kaufman about the difficulties independent filmmakers face these days, why net neutrality matters to all of us and what his thoughts are on filmmakers like Kevin Smith taking their films on a road tour to get the word out to audiences independently.
Kaufman admitted that the film industry has changed a lot since he first hit the scene in 1985 with his comedic and violently gory satire The Toxic Avenger, which introduced the world to a brand new anti-hero, Toxie. In those days he wasn’t worried about the studio system interfering with getting the word out about Avenger, but he says now indie filmmakers face some pretty big challenges in just getting the word out over the Internet due to the major studios putting up roadblocks to thwart their efforts.
“One of the biggest problems that indie horror directors face is that the industry is very consolidated so it can be very difficult for an indie film to penetrate into the mainstream,” explained Kaufman. “That’s definitely the reason why the horror genre as a whole is usually pushed to the back, so to speak - most people think horror movies aren’t real movies and are just devoid of any artistic merit. It’s hard for even big-budget horror movies to get taken seriously, so imagine what indie horror directors face when they try to pitch their projects!”
“Troma’s philosophy from the start was that we never cared about marketing our films. We were here for movies, not money because honestly, there are better ways to make real money than making a movie. But for a lot of indie filmmakers out there, the real difficulty lies in living off of a film, especially when it isn’t being distributed by a major studio. It’s an unfair playing field and can make it near impossible for anyone working outside the system to actually make any sort of money creating their art,” Kaufman added.
Kaufman’s philosophy on a level playing field for all filmmakers led to him becoming the major proponent of net neutrality. Since this writer was not well versed in what net neutrality really is or how it truly affects filmmakers, I asked Kaufman to break it down for me.
“The way I see it is that the Internet is the last truly democratic medium left, and we have to do what we can to level the playing field for the horror industry as a whole,” said Kaufman. “Think of net neutrality in this context: Let’s say you’re an independent filmmaker and you have a trailer you want to release. So does Disney Studios. But Disney thinks that they should be able to put their trailer on a better version of the Internet than you as the indie filmmaker should be able to. The studios' whole deal is that they want a multi-tiered Internet so they can use the ‘super highway’ to post on and the rest of us are left to use the ‘dirt road’ version of the Internet, which is not fair to anyone.”
“There’s a lot of controversy with the idea of sharing your art with the public. Major studios want to prevent independent filmmakers from being able to give away their work because it’s a controversial concept to them to embrace piracy. But with conventional paths closed off to independent filmmakers more than ever, you have to find ways to get the word out about your work. And I am fighting the good fight just to make sure filmmakers can continue to do so on the Internet,” Kaufman added.
With Kaufman having the expertise he has in working within the independent film world, we asked him to weigh in on writer/director Kevin Smith’s controversial approach to releasing his latest project Red State through the road tour approach (much like what Darren Lynn Bousman first did with Repo! The Genetic Opera in 2009).
“There’s really nothing new to what Kevin Smith is doing - I mean, it’s new for Kevin, but it’s nothing new to the genre,” explained Kaufman. “I don’t want to take away from anything he’s accomplishing either with his road tour. I think it’s exciting that someone who used to work for the conglomerates is taking risks, and I hope at the very least he’s inspiring to some of the little filmmakers out there who are looking for new ways to get their movies in front of audiences.”
“The only thing I think, though, Kevin did wrong was that he didn’t reach out to Troma. We’re both Jersey guys; I know how this industry goes, and I would have had a great line-up of theaters to get Red State into. The reality is that Kevin has never really been ‘that’ independent, but I do applaud him for taking a true risk now with Red State, and I just hope people get inspired by his actions,” Kaufman added.
And even though he still keeps super busy making sure independent filmmakers have the resources they need to reach out to audiences on the Internet, it doesn’t mean Kaufman isn’t focused on the future of Troma Entertainment.
Kaufman said, “The next thing we’re gearing up for at Troma is TromaDance, which is being held in Asbury Park, NJ, next month from April 22nd to the 23rd. TromaDance spent 10 years in Park City, Utah, as alternative programming to the Sundance Film Festival but moved to Asbury Park last year, and the move was a total success. It’s one of the few festivals that is completely free to enter, see movies and everyone there is treated like a rock star - there are no VIPs because, in our eyes, everyone is a VIP.”
“I’m also preparing for the release of ‘Sell Your Own Damn Movie’, which is set to come out in late March or April, and it’s about, well, selling your movie. The first book (‘Make Your Own Damn Movie’) we did was really quite successful so the publisher came back to us to do some more books, and they’ve all been well received by both horror fans and mainstream readers, too. ‘Sell’ is the fourth book in the series and might be the best yet,” Kaufman said.
With the independent filmmaking world being more challenging than ever, we spoke to Lloyd about what sort of wisdom he could impart on our readers and what is the secret behind Troma’s staying power over the last 25 years or so.
“Troma as a brand has been able to keep going for so long because of word of mouth and our amazing and dedicated fan base,” explained Kaufman. “So I would tell indie filmmakers out there that it may take time, and you may not make money right from the start, but if you keep getting the word out there and showing your passion for your work, eventually it will lead to ways to make a living at being a filmmaker. Sheer word of mouth will help make your film grow and eventually prosper.”
“If you’re going to be any sort of visionary, you have to sell your movie. You have to keep taking chances at the risk of very little rewards at first, and if you want to be controversial, you have to keep pushing yourself to get noticed,” Kaufman added.
Our thanks to Lloyd for sharing his time and words of wisdom with us. For more visit Troma Entertainment online.