Interview with Director Lloyd Kaufman – Nuke ’em High Vol. 2
Nearly four years ago, Troma Entertainment released one of its most beautifully twisted works to date, Return to Nuke ‘em High, Vol. 1. As the title suggests, a continuation was planned from the start, but eager fans have been waiting on pins and needles for part two ever since the wild Carrie-esque cliffhanger cut the story short.
Dread Central recently had the opportunity to speak with director Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder of Troma Entertainment, about the conclusion, Return to Return to Nuke ‘em High, which is to be released in 2017.
Dread Central: What was it like on set of Return to Return to Nuke ‘em High? Any wild stories?
Lloyd Kaufman: Well there’s of course wild stories, but when you have 80 people, and many of them are volunteers, there are always going to be some who show up and think it’s a party. We had one guy who had a bit of a drug issue, and who got into fist fights, and finally he got so fucked up that we couldn’t wake him up. We all stayed in a funeral home, so at least if he died he would’ve been in the right spot. When he finally sobered up we sent him home. We gave him a one-way bus ticket to go back to one of the southwestern states.
DC: Sorry you had that experience.
LK: What I would suggest you do, if you want to see how difficult it is to make a Troma movie, the behind the scenes feature-length documentary, about Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, is called Poultry in Motion: Truth is Stranger than Chicken. It’s free on “Troma Movies” on YouTube. Check that out, because you’ll see people propose to each other, people try to start fistfights. There’s a whole lot of loving when you have 80 people or so living in an empty church. There’s lots of getting together, whole lotta lovin’. Heavy emotional events, all involved in the making of Troma movies. The “making of” process is as good as a year in film school. They can’t teach you this stuff in film school. You have to be there, you have to do it.
DC: As your films have gotten more and more ambitious, has the process become easier for you, or harder?
LK: It’s always very difficult, and this year is my 50th year of making feature-length movies and I still get extremely anxious about it. I’ll never get over it. The pressure is enormous, because we’re making, as you say, movies that are very ambitious, that have thousands of people in them, and usually have transformation scenes and special effects scenes and special effects makeup scenes, and when you’ve got day after day of having three or four hundred background people who have to come and volunteer their services, and in the case of Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High, wear outfits that look like Tromaville high school students or teachers, it’s a big deal. And it’s dangerous, making movies is very dangerous. Everybody on our set is young and fairly inexperienced, and one could get very easily injured. We have three rules to production. Safety to humans is the most important, then safety to people’s property, such as someone’s home if we’re shooting in it, or in the case of Return to Return to Nuke ‘em High, where we lived in the empty funeral home, we made sure to respect it and not do damage. And the third rule of production is “make a good movie.” We have these three rules of production made by the art department into posters they put everywhere on set in the bathrooms, on the trucks, in the catering area where the food and the snacks are. We try to brainwash our people that safety is the most important rule. Troma’s been around for 43 years, and we’ve not had any injuries. That’s more than the major studios can say; they’ve killed people.
DC: What inspired you to take on something as ambitious as a two-part event film?
LK: Well, Quentin Tarantino suggested something like that a long time ago at SITGES Film Festival, the best fantasy festival in Spain. He was there, I can’t remember what film he had, but we were there with Tromeo and Juliet, and he suggested something more ambitious because we’re on our own and so far outside the mainstream, and we ought to do something that separates us. That was probably 20 years ago, and then I kept that in the back of my mind while he did part one and two of Kill Bill. The themes in Return to Nuke ‘em High and Return to Return to Nuke ‘em High are important social issues, so I decided I’d spend the time to spread it over two halves. It might be my piece de resistance. It’s been seven years in the making, the two movies. Troma made several movies in that time, but I didn’t direct them. This has been seven years of my time, and the time of Travis Campbell, which whom I wrote the script and is the editor.
DC: With Return to Nuke ‘em High: Volume 1 setting the bar so high, how do you up the ante in Volume 2? Where do you go from there?
LK: Well, the story continues! I don’t want to be a spoiler, but it continues. What happens to the two lesbian lovers? What happens to the town of Tromaville? Is the organic food stuff gonna keep going so it can take over the minds and bodies of not just the students of Tromaville, but perhaps the world? Find out! And by the way, we dedicated volume 2 to both Lemmy from Motorhead as well as Joe Flaschinger, both of whom were dearly beloved by Troma and passed away in 2016. It’s the last film of both men, sadly to say. Today we got very sad news that Mr. Nakamura, who owned the company that created Pac-Man and was the co-producer of Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D, that he made a noise like a frog. They’re all going. You guys better appreciate Uncle Lloyd, because as soon as I get hit by a bus, suddenly everybody’s going to say ‘Oh, he was such a good guy! He was brilliant! He was in it before everybody!’ Soon as I get hit by a bus….
DC: Troma movies are always very ahead of the times and very topical when it comes to social issues. With the current political landscape and how crazy things are now, how’s that going to be reflected in future Troma films?
LK: Good question. First of all, the New York Times is glamorizing rape, because rape has made it into the mainstream. There are several mainstream movies that deal with rape, such as Elle, she says “I’m here, I got raped, big deal.” That’s the message. The NYT of course, because they have to glorify the mainstream, they twist it into a balloon sculpture in order to figure out how to help mainstream companies publicize their “rape movies.” But Terror Firmer, which we made in 1999, one of the themes of that was the “life-affirming rape,” which we in the movie satirically said that NPR was propagating. And sure enough, here it is, in the fucking mainstream media! Suddenly it’s all okay to deal with that theme. Our mission statement used to be “Movies of the Future!” But now we’ve changed it, after 40 years, to “Disrupting Media for 40 Years.” I think we’ll concentrate more on that probably than movies of the future. I guarantee you, when the dust settles 20 years from now, you’ll have somebody like the guys from Deadpool making another movie like that, except it’ll be similar to Vol. 2 of Return to Nuke ‘em High. We’re visionaries, but unfortunately we are totally independent, and unless you are a partner with one of the vassals of the mainstream conglomerates, you suck a hind tit.
DC: Why do you think all the Troma movies continue to resonate with people of all ages? Why do people both young and old love Troma after so many years?
LK: Well, the one thing we have going for us is you can’t buy us. The conglomerates can spend 100 million dollars to advertise Suicide Squad or Doctor Strange or that kind of shit, but if they don’t have word-of-mouth, those movies go nowhere other than the big splash in the first week. Our movies have no money for advertising, but because we have very good word-of-mouth, they not only resonate, but they last. Tromeo and Juliet was 20 years ago, and I’m going to London to present it at a show at the Museum of Modern Art, and they had about eight Shakespeare films, and one of them was Tromeo and Juliet among the great adaptations. In fact, the Museum of Modern Art had the premiere of Return to Nuke ‘em High Vo. 1. They put Vol. 1 in the Contenders Series, which in their language is a catalogue that represents the best movies from around the world. They had the winner of the Cannes Film Festival, movies by the Cohen brothers, Woody Allen, Scorsese, Sofia Coppola, and a bunch of others I haven’t heard of that’d probably put you to sleep. Ours had the biggest turnaway crowd they ever had, all because of word-of-mouth. None of the others even came close to our crowd.
DC: Anything you want to add?
LK: First of all, thank you for being interested in Troma Entertainment! This is our 43rd year, and to thank our fans, we put up about 300 movies of ours from our world-famous collection, including most of our classics and many short movies, and my “Make Your Own Damn Movie!” segments, and interviews with Trey Parker, James Gunn, Kim Jong Un, and all the great film people. That’s all free! If you subscribe, we send out alerts almost every day because we’re constantly putting out new content for our fans out of appreciation for supporting us all these years. Then we have a subscription service called “Troma Now,” at watch.troma.com, and that’s just $4.99 a month, and every month there’s a couple of world premiere movies and then I personally curate about 10 movies from our collection. You can’t find any of this stuff anywhere else, it’s exclusively here, and the first month is free. We may put up Return to Return to Nuke ‘em High there before it goes anywhere else, to give our fans something very special. It might go episodic, but we’re not sure yet. Cancel Hulu or whatever, we’re much better, and Hulu’s all the same trash over and over anyway. These are movies by independent filmmakers who are kind of inheritors of Troma’s shit-disturbing worldwide campaign. The next movie we’re making by the way is going to have a theme you and I just talked about, the social warrior. It’s going to be back to Shakespeare 20 years after James Gunn and I made Tromeo and Juliet, only this time it’s going to be The Tempest, our version of it. It’s my favorite Shakespeare play, and we’re going to Tromatize it. The working title is Troma’s Shitstorm. It will have quite a number of socially relevant and political themes, we’ll have to wait and see.
Wait and see, we shall! Keep an eye out for Return to Return to Nuke ’em High, coming soon!