Whether it's the environmentalist theme running through his 1985 cult classic "The Toxic Avenger" or the indictment of the fast-food industry in his latest film, "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead," filmmaker Lloyd Kaufman has never had a problem mixing messages with mayhem.
Equal parts musical, zombie movie, gore fest, love story, social commentary and gross-out comedy, "Poultrygeist" follows the staff of a fried chicken joint as they battle throngs of protesters and evil spirits.
Along with fighting off zombies and monsters in his films, in real life Kaufam -- chairman of the Independent Film and Television Alliance -- is an active supporter of independent art who is working to defend Internet neutrality.
"The major studios and the film companies, the MPAA, which is the trade association for the cartel, the oligopoly, they have come out against net neutrality," Kaufman said.
"They don't want to have a democratic and free and open Internet because they want to control it, and they are lobbying heavily in Washington to try to control the pipes that go into your home. ... If (net neutrality) goes away, it's going to be a huge disaster for people who want to get information and art, so I'm extremely active."
Kaufman recently spoke with Metromix Jersey Shore about the "Poultrygeist," released this week on DVD through his film company, Troma Entertainment.
What kind of impact do you feel the advances in technology have had on independent filmmaking?
Well, (at Troma) our corporate slogan is "movies of the future." We're 35 years old next year, and we've always embraced new technology, everybody who works for our company. We have a very small company, but there are only four of us who are older than 30. Everybody else is very young, and our fans are very active in our company's strategy. ... Thanks to our fans, we've both gotten ideas for films and they've helped us write our films, make our films, and in the case of "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead"... that movie was in large part produced by our fans.
Our fans came from all over the world to Buffalo, N.Y., to sleep on the floor, eat cheese sandwiches, learn how to defecate in a paper bag, basically working for free, to make (the movie). The special effects people came from Stockholm, from Australia, from Canada, from Alaska. We had French people, Germans, people from Japan, due to the Internet. So, we got to make "Poultrygeist," a 35mm movie that cost around $500,000. If we were to make that movie the conventional way, it would be at least $20 million.
The fans are a major, major part of our business plan and part of our survival because the playing field now is very much tilted against independent film and the major international media conglomerates pretty much have a major oligopoly. Independent content, independent art is virtually economically blacklisted from distribution. Television is entirely closed to independent movies, unless they come in through divisions of the media conglomerates. ... It's a very, very tough world for the independent.
Troma is a 35-year-old company, but we're still around because of our fans. We have a big fan base, we have kind of a brand, and in the case of "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead," we only get one theater in New York and we cannot advertise the same way as "Indiana Jones," which had about 100 theaters in New York ... so our fans basically support us and keep us going, and we're able to sell our movies. If you got to http://www.troma.com, there's a studio store there and our fans buy a lot of DVDs directly from us.
The Internet is a way for us to communicate with our fans, and as I mentioned thanks to the Internet we had about 80 people from all over the world who worked on "Poultrygeist," most of whom came from far away lands, paid their own way and received no remuneration other than the joy of being involved in a work of art that they believed in.
A lot of well-known people, like Trey Parker, James Gunn and Oliver Stone, got their start at Troma. What do you think it was about working in your system that prepared them to take on Hollywood?
I guess what they get is the idea of having the luxury of working on something or making something that is totally without consideration of censorship. There are no limits.
You get the experience of doing something you believe in, something that totally comes from the heart, and I think that when either people work for us or work with us or are influenced -- Peter Jackson didn't work for us but he's said he's very influenced by Troma, Quentin Tarantino at Cannes talked about "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead" -- I think (they get) the idea of being able to have total freedom to create what you believe in. Once they've had a taste of that, even if they're in the mainstream, if they're clever they can still get to do what they want to do. Oliver Stone, he started with us, he gets what he wants.
And the same thing with James Gunn. He made the movie "Slither," which is totally uncompromised.
Yeah, and he himself talks about it being a big budget Troma movie. ... I think that that stays with those people.
So, what's next for you guys?
Well, we've got a wonderful movie that's just been released on DVD called "Special Needs" by a young first-time director, Isaak James, terrific movie. Also, John Huff made a film called "Cyzork 7," which is about the making of a science fiction movie, and it stars Ray Wise from "Twin Peaks" and a few other interesting people, so those are just being released on DVD.
As for me, I'm looking for a script. I've got this new book that I'm finishing ("Direct Your Own Damn Movie," due for release next January). "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead" ... will be three discs, too. There is a full-length documentary about the making of "Poultrygeist" called "Poultry in Motion."
Lloyd Kaufman on the set of "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead." (Troma Entertainment)