Speaking with STACK ahead of the Australian premiere of #ShakespearesSh*tstorm at 2020 Monster Fest, Troma’s colourful co-founder Lloyd Kaufman discusses his motivation and inspiration for making the film.
A crash course on Troma for the uninitiated: Founded by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz in 1974, Troma Entertainment is an independent film studio that specialises in cheap, violent and trashy exploitation films. Amongst the hundreds of titles, some of the most notable are The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD and Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Troma’s fan-base is loyal and some of the careers launched by the studio include Samuel L. Jackson, James Gunn, Marisa Tomei, Oliver Stone and Kevin Costner. Troma’s history is a colourful tale, which has been documented across various mediums including Kaufman’s own book Make Your Own Damn Movie.
The latest Troma film is #ShakespearesSh*tstorm, based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and also a spiritual companion to their James Gunn-penned magnum opus Tromeo & Juliet (1996). True to form, the new film is a kaleidoscope of tasteless antics, offensive hijinks and outlandish stereotypes, whereby the current state of cancel culture is addressed head-on and proverbially peed upon.
“What pushed me over the line was an incident at Yale University where a crowd of politically correct – whatever you want to call them, snowflakes or social justice warriors – were lynching a Nobel-winning professor,” explains Kaufman. “They were kids, basically. The university had put out a letter telling the students what to wear on Halloween, and this professor’s wife – who is also a professor – wrote an open letter saying, ‘Gee, I don’t think Yale students need to be told what to wear on Halloween. Things like ‘don’t wear a Mexican hat, or don’t wear Japanese pigtails. And boy did she get lynched, and her husband faced a very angry crowd trying to debate them. He was trying to have an intelligent conversation and they lynched him. F–k them!”
“Also, The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare play. You know, it’s very druggy. It’s got an old man to whom I can relate very well. And I would have done The Tempest when we did Tromeo & Juliet, but I wanted to wait until I could really feel Prospero’s agony, and boy do I feel it.”
Following up on the topic of cancel culture, Kaufman adds how Troma has managed to survive in such a socially turbulent era where even one of their own alumni, James Gunn, previously fell victim to the movement.
“I think I’ve been cancelled several times” he quips with a smirk. “You know, we don’t have a huge fan-base, but those we do have have stayed with us no matter what. They stick with me.”
Those familiar with the Troma story know exactly what he’s talking about, and there’s no denying Kaufman’s enthusiasm when talking about the fans.
“We are fan-fuelled. We’re the classic cult movie studio in the tradition of Roger Corman and Hammer, and our fans stay with us no matter what. And actually, even though we only have about ten employees – and only three of us are over 30 – our fans make us into a corporation with hundreds of employees. They help book our movies. They do publicity. Some of them invest knowing they’re going to lose money. In fact #ShakespearesSh*tstorm is all fans. Everyone from the director of photography to the background people, who we call ‘actor persons’ – we don’t call them extras.”
For diehard fans, #ShakespearesSh*tstorm is a delicious treat, jam-packed with the frivolity and vulgarity that they’ve come to expect, from gratuitous nudity to explicit phallicism, as well as Easter eggs and throwback references to classic Troma films. Ultra violent and jacked-up on sugar, it is a frenetic and outlandish caper to be sure.
When asked about the future of Troma, Kaufman muses on the COVID-19 pandemic. “You know it hasn’t really changed us in that our main goal is survival. And I think it’s helped us because it’s increased the subscriber base for our streaming service, which is called Troma Now, and we have had absolutely no subscribers who have left us.”