The first night of Tromadance kicked off in a more educational light, showcasing mostly documentary submissions in the Salt Lake City Library's auditorium. I got a chance to talk to a number of directors who were here for Q&A after their films were shown and learn more about their journey here, as well as Tromadance Co-Director Jonathan Lees and his views of the event. And as an added bonus on the first night, Troma Entertainment's own Lloyd Kaufman, who did a walking interview everywhere around the festival from Night Flight Comics to the Library's lower level men's room. Truly, and experience by itself.
Gavin: How does it feel being here at Tromadance?
Chris: It's a joy to be here. It's great that it piggybacks off of Sundance and replaces what Sundance has lost in a lot of respects.
Gavin: Cool. What's your film here and what's it about?
Chris: My film is called “Independents: A Guide For The Creative Spirit.” It is a documentary on creativity. It talks about creativity and being and artist and explores the questions of such through comic books. I interview two dozen comic book artists, writers and publishers. All of them involved in the independent side of comic book publishing, no corporate arms at all. Most of the artists or writers were self publishers at one point. That is they wrote and drew their own comics and published them and sold them and distributed them themselves.
Gavin: More like gureilla publishing.
Chris: Yeah. Very much so.
Gavin: How did you get into film making?
Chris: I've always loved film and comics, and I've always had a sort of visual side of storytelling. And out of college I tackled comics books more than film because film always seemed too far beyond me and there was too much involved. Comic books seemed doable on an individual basis without having to compromise my own vision to the input of others around me. But I moved to Los Angeles and started working on films as a P.A. and a Story Board Artist, and I found that there were some advantages to a collaborative process and learned to work in that process. There's a documentary I'm doing and I have several scripts I'm perusing.
Gavin: Anything you want to elaborate on as far as current or future projects?
Chris: There's a documentary I'm doing and I have several scripts I'm perusing. My two scripts that are completed are roadtrip scripts, just personal pieces that I wrote so I could shoot them myself on a limited budget. They could still be filmed for bigger but I wanted to make sure they got done. I have ideas constantly coming through, so I'm just trying to match the output somewhat.
Gavin: What was the process like putting the film together.
Chris: It was a hellacious process, almost two years of my life of shooting and editing. There was a four month period where I didn't look at it at all after I had the first 95 minute cut. Showed that to some people and took time off immediately. I was severely depressed because of the changes that needed to be made. And then after a stint in the psyche ward with a 72 hour observation, I went back and tackled it whole heartedly. (Laughs)
Gavin: That's a great response. I don't think we need to go further.
Gavin: What was your reaction to being selected?
Chris: It was a pleasure after being turned down by both Sundance and Slamdance. It was great to have a film being shown at the same time and have a reason and an opportunity to come up here and hang out here. Turns out the Tromadance crew is really cool and a dedicated bunch of people. It's been an honor to meet them and experience it first hand.
Gavin: Nice. Have you seen any of the other entries? And if so, what's your opinion?
Chris: I have seen a couple of the short films from previous years, but I have not had a chance to see anything but my own film here. Sundance has been impossible to get into and my film was the first for Tromadance so I'm still waiting to see the rest.
Gavin: Anything else you wanna add?
Chris: Yeah. Visit my website and www.independencedoc.com and buy a copy. Find out for yourself what you're missing out on in the world of creativity.
Jonathan Lees: Tromadance Co-Director & Program Director
Gavin: How did Tromadance come about this year?
Jonathan: This year was actually difficult. Troma Entertainment moved out of it's office in Hell's Kitchen for the first time in 34 years to move to Long Island City, so this year was especially tough because we were working in flux out of Lloyd's home, which I'm sure his wife was not thrilled about. But this is a volunteer effort and all of us worked very hard for months in advance to even put together the program. We have hundreds of entries to choose from and maybe fifty will get in. Thanks to Mimi and the Salt Lake City Library, we were able to do an additional day of screenings this year which I took upon myself to lead off a set of educational films. We did an academic series which was mostly documentaries, like one about Vampira and one about retired circus performers.
Gavin: What was it like setting up for the Library this year? And how have the library staff and Night Flight Comics been in helping with that?
Jonathan: Mimi and Night Flight are one of our longest sponsors. She has provided us a space at the comic show to kick off the festival every year, and has provided an access for us to get the library, which has one of the most beautiful auditoriums and is really a spectacular way for us to open this year. And we hope over the years as we continue to work with these sponsors, we hope more people come to check us out.
Gavin: What's the most important thing about Tromadance?
Jonathan: After five years I'd say the most important thing that still rings true is the fact that we are completely independent and completely free of the corporate sponsors and the shwag peddling on the streets of Park City. I mean, we present films for free, by film makers we did not charge a dime to submit their films. So it truly is a festival for the people, by the people. People should keep submitting, send us your films early and we try to get them out to people. We provide a free service to locals who get basically booted out of lines at Sundance or the VIP parties that are extremely exclusive, and the whole atmosphere is becoming so sophisticated. Sundance isn't doing anything to stop it, I'd say their programming committee is removed from it, but still they're doing nothing to stop it. I think it gets aggressively annoying each year to see people just focused on what gift bags they're getting instead of the film makers who worked like hell to get out here and make something. So we support the artists, true and tried.
Gavin: So what's your opinion of Sundance and Slamdance?
Jonathan: Sundance layed the groundwork for us to rise from, they started but they obviously lost vision along the way. To me I no longer see films, I see money. Slamdance, again, they were born out of Sundance out of respect that they were fighting what Sundance had become. They were showing the works Sundance rejected or didn't focus on. They tried to be an independence force, and their programming committee does a wonderful job of showcasing, but I think each year corporations get more involved and you end up needing the sponsor money.
Gavin: Is the festival staying here in Utah?
Jonathan: We plan to stay in Utah, we want to make our presence known here, and we will stay as long as we can afford to stay. What we do is branch out though, we're never going to “just stay” in Utah. We've moved on with kids who have set up Troma-Poluza's which as music festivals designed to focus on Troma films, and they've set up festivals of their own. If we can inspire other people in other states who don't have this kind of exposure and access to independent film to start their own festivals, that's great. There are hundreds of indie theaters who will show your stuff, you just have to be ready to present yourself in a good manor and be ready to show. If you have to throw up a screen in the forest for ten people, that's a festival. You don't have to have corporate names behind you, you can do it yourself, and that's what we promote.
Gavin: Have you tried working with Salt Lake Film Society to get the Tower Theater or the Broadway, or do you feel they're too wrapped up in Sundance to happen?
Jonathan: I actually don't know about the other venues in Salt Lake City. But if they are entwined with Sundance, they probably won't offer us the space. But we're always willing to branch out. I mean, the library, I don't think many theaters could match the structural genius of this place. But if other people wanna give us a chance, why not?
Gavin: Any other festivals you recommend people should check into throughout the year?
Jonathan: There's so many it's hard to name specific ones. New York Underground, Fantasia Festival, Screamfest. I don't know if they're totally independent, but there are hundreds out there. But I do think that maybe there are too many festivals, they're almost strangling the nation. I think you should just show your films where you can and get the exposure and get the feedback, that's the real point. That's what a film maker needs to learn from and grow to make better films Ditch the ego and listen to your audience.
Gavin: Anything else you want to add?
Jonathan: Yeah, I'm really impressed with the people who have submitted films to Tromadance and taken it seriously year after year. We have films from all over the world, all sorts of genres, we don't just stick to the Troma mentality. They put their name on the festival to get exposure, but we have many forms of film here for people to check out. We will show anything as long as you show a passion for your craft. If we feel it, it will most likely get in. And there's plenty we couldn't program only because we didn't have space. So the more we expand, the more we get to showcase. I hope those out there continue making art.
Gavin: How does feel being here at Tromadance?
Zack: Tromadance is great every year we go. We promote true independent cinema, and as a film maker I get to promote my art for free.
Gavin: I was told you've been a volunteer here three years straight and have gotten a film in each year.
Zack: Yes, with our first year I had a film called “Unicorn”, second year was “My Bloody Valentine”, and this year is “The Mislead Romance of Cannibal Girl & Incest Boy.”
Gavin: What's the film about?
Zack: It's a romantic comedy about a cannibalistic girl who falls in love with a child of incest. But how can someone fall in love with their food? Watch to find out.
Gavin: I'm sold! How did you get into film making?
Zack: Actually through Troma I watched “The Toxic Avenger” and I saw they could do it so I didn't see a reason why I couldn't make a movie too. I just liked the bloody effects and it looked like a lot fo fun. So me and my partner Richard Taylor, we went out and started squirting blood around and tried to make Troma movies until one day we're now working with them. It's a lot of fun.
Gavin: What was the process like putting the film together.
Zack: We put the film together using Super 8 film, which is a dying art form and it's hard to find but they still sell it through Kodak. And it's even harder to find a place that will develop it so it ad it's own list of challenges. We had problems with actresses willing to do nudity and being sprayed with blood at the same time. But it all worked out in the end I we got ourselves a masterpiece I think.
Gavin: What would you say were the easiest and hardest aspects of making it?
Zack: I'd say the easiest was getting people interested. We just went on MySpace and started adding friends like crazy and just giving them links to the movie. Then you get a personal connection with someone like “hey, I have this friend who made this movie!” Probably the hardest was selling the movie. We had trouble with PayPal, they had taken offense to our title with the word Incest, so they kicked us off for violating their terms of contract for being pornographic, when there's no porno in our movie. So after calling and talking to them, we eventually got our movies unbanned from PayPal. But watch out, they're pretty particular.
Gavin: That's the first I've ever heard of a film being booted from PayPal for a porn violation.
Zack: They told us they didn't like the way we were promoting our movie. And we're like “what about Moby Ass? That's a pretty racy title if you know nothing about it.” Then they cited the preview and saw two ladies making out, and we were puzzled because that's not even in the movie. So they had no issue with the movie or knew what it was about, they just had issue with the title.
Gavin: What was your reaction to being selected this time around?
Zack: It's pretty nice with our first year we were super excited, and this year we were really excited because we had Lloyd Kaufman in the film and it got accepted. So we're excited to see it played for the Troma crowd.
Gavin: Have you seen any other entries, and what's your opinion about them if you have?
Zack: I have yet to watch any of the entries this year because we just started. There's one called “It Came From The West.” It's a zombie movie with puppets, I'm excited to see that one. My friend Frankie made one called “A-Bo The Humonkey” that I'm looking forward to seeing.
Gavin: Any thing you're working on or plans for the future?
Zack: Right now, me and my partner are working on a feature called “Adam The Amazing Zombie Killer.” It'll be the first zombie movie with no zombies. It should be pretty great.
Juan C. Lopez
Gavin: How does it feel being here at Tromadance?
Juan: It feels great. It's an independent festival and I'm enjoying it.
Gavin: What's your film and what's it about?
Juan: It's called “Sideshow Still Alive.” It's a historical look at the sideshow from it's origins to it's present times. We got James Taylor who was the publisher of “Shocked & Amazed” and he pretty much narrates the historical part of it over the archival footage. Then we get into the contemporary sideshow performers, see them and interview them about their performances. It's a fun educational documentary. A little disturbing maybe, but that's what they do, they shock people.
Gavin: How did you get into film making?
Juan: I'm a painter, and I wanted to paint sideshow performers. There's a town called Gibson in Florida, it's a town where circus people retire. I started visiting it and researching it and making friends and all of a sudden I had subjects to paint and next thing you know I had a camera and started interviewing them and tracking down people of interest who were the best performers. And now it's a movie three years later.
Gavin: What was the process like putting the film together.
Juan: A lot of traveling. A lot of do-it-yourself. From promo material to editing, animating, sound editing, photography. You name it, it was a challenge. Pretty much everything.
Gavin: What was the hardest and easiest things about making this movie?
Juan: Hardest part is making sense out of raw footage. When you don't really have a story board, or when you're doing research on something that's not really out there. There's little of this out there, so you have to make sense out of what every performer is trying to tell you, especially if you want to do it in a chronological way. And finding archival footage for footage that doesn't exist. You have to edit photos to make it fit and make sense. That's the hardest part, to make a story out of raw footage that doesn't have a script. Easiest, I don't think any of it was easy. It was a lot of fun, I love making movies and meeting these people, but rarely easy.
Gavin: What was the reaction when you got selected?
Juan: I felt great! Tromadance is a real independent festival. You don't need to have John Trovolta in your movie to have a movie. You don't need to pay ninety bucks to submit it. You make a movie and if it's good enough o watch, they will showcase it, and I'm happy about that.
Gavin: Have you seen any of the other films, and if so what's your opinion of them?
Juan: I've seen Tromadance short DVD's and I've been at the Berlin version where I got my first award as a film maker for my short, “The Justice Illegals Of America.” So, it's a lot of fun and you see a lot of stuff you wouldn't see anywhere else, so I have a lot of respect for this stuff and the people involved and the way they approach film making. Money doesn't matter, it's about talent and that's what I'm about.
Gavin: Any current or future projects in the works?
Juan: Right now I'm working on my thesis. I'm about to get my MFA, so I'm pretty busy with that. And busy promoting the film, working on a website, other things I'm working on. I'm not bored. I don't think I'll be bored for the next ten years. There's a lot of things coming up for me to work on.
Gavin: How does it feel being here at Tromadance?
John: The environment's pretty cool. I have been walking up and down the Main Street in Park City just putting fliers up. And that was pretty interesting just because you'd put a flier up, go get a drink at a bar, an hour later your flier is totally covered beneath three layers of posters. So it's a unique experience being up in Park City and it's definitely an honor being here at Tromadance.
Gavin: Yeah, they tend to do that. What's your film and what's it about?
John: My film is called “Blood, Boobs & Beasts”, it's about Don Dohler who is a low budget horror film maker. And he led a pretty tumultuous career but he's also got roots all the way back into underground comics. When he was a teen he was friend with several underground comic artists, people who would go on to become famous artists before the movement started. So Don was right there, he was pioneering the underground comics movement and then his friends brought his comic book character Pro Junior back, drew some strips for it and made it famous. And that inspired him to do a magazine called Cinemagic which ended up inspiring a lot of people in Hollywood today. And all that kind of DIY success led him to be a film maker which he did from 1976 all the way until he passed in 2006.
Gavin: How did you get into filmmaking?
John: Sort of accidentally. I was actually going to school for painting in Baltimore, and I had a friend names Steven Greenstreet who is a filmmaker, and he was always messing around with cameras and I would get involved. And then I started messing around with it myself and eventually the medium became more interesting than painting. So I started dabbling in documentaries and kept doing it.
Gavin: Cool. What was the process like in putting the film together?
John: The process was sorta just started as filming him and collecting information for two and a half years. I started editing in January of 2006 and wrapped in February 2007. I was editing as there was still story going on. He would shoot his movies on the weekends because everybody had day jobs, so every weekend I would be there too and filming him making movies and the drama that would take place.
Gavin: In your view, what were the hardest and easiest parts about making this film?
John: I think the hardest part for me, and it becomes that way with all documentaries, is that you become friends with your subject. But you're still a documenter first, so when a dramatic moment comes up and you film it, they'll eventually come up and ask that you not use it, and you have to explain to them that if you don't then there's no reason to make this movie. Don saw a rough cut of the film and asked me to cut out all the stuff that was dramatic tension, and I was telling him I can't do it or I wouldn't have a film. So that was really hard. On the other hand the easiest part for this film was that Don himself let me film whatever. He let me into his house, let me film his family, his grandchild, his mentally retarded sister, like he was very open.
Gavin: What was the reaction to being selected for Tromadance?
John: I was just psyched because my friend Steve here now lives in Salt Lake City, so there was an opportunity for us to get together and drink. And second I've never been to Sundance before so I was always curious what Park City and all that was like. Just to be honored with the chance to show at a festival like Tromadance was just something great to brag about.
Gavin: Now that you've actually gotten here and seen it first hand, what's your opinion of Sundance?
John: My opinion on Sundance. Well, I've only seen one film from it and that was “Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden”, and I was not impressed. So, I'm sure there are great films there, but I think Sundance most of the time just shows films that are buzzworthy and get people talking and get a lot of press.
Gavin: Have you seen any other films for Tromadance, and if so what did you think of them?
John: I only caught the tail end of the one before mine because I just got here, but I intend to sit down and watch the one after mine. The Sideshow documentary.
Gavin: Nice, I've heard good things about it. Final question, you got anything you're working on at the moment or future plans?
John: I've got plans, nothing I've actually started filming for. I think the character Don created, Pro Junior, would make a great action film. I'd love to develop a script for that character and film that movie. I think there's a lot of potential in that, sort of like Repo Man meets Fritz The Cat. And then another thing is Skip, one of the people I talked to in this film, I've asked him about doing a film about his life. So, lots of ideas, but just looking to see which one would work out.
Gavin: So how did the festival come about?
Lloyd: Well I was working with the “South Park” guys when they did “Cannibal: The Musical”. We got to talking about how you want to enter your film into a festival and how ridiculous it was to pay a fee to show your movie. Most of us aren’t exactly rich, most filmmakers are living out of freezer boxes. So it was dumb to have to pay to submit your film to a festival, which seems to be dominated by producers, representatives and big fat agencies. You shouldn’t have to pay to submit. I’ve been making movies for 35 years, I’ve had my films in many festivals, I’ve never had to pay a dime to get them in. Unless I wanted to because the festival was poor.
Gavin: Never entered a festival at all where you had to pay?
Lloyd: I’ve never paid to have a film in. They asked for my movies to be in. The Venice Film Festival had a Troma day. I’ve been asked to bring films to several festivals for tributes and retrospectives. I’ve never submitted, they come to me and ask me for the movies.
Gavin: Which is an odd experience for us here in Utah were a lot of us have grown up and watched Sundance form and we’re used to the process. It’s kind of an oddity for a film festival to ask for your films instead of saying you must submit and charge you.
Lloyd: Well I know how hard it is to truly be a filmmaker and get your material in. To do what you believe in is very hard when you don’t have money. So the idea was no entry fee, why bother with that? A festival like Sundance charges you to enter, but why bother when they have several sponsors bringing them in money already? You got diamond and perfume companies funding it. You got these very rich sponsors, and the people who run Sundance seem to be flying all over the world and eating at expensive restaurants, why must these people pay to submit their film to the festival?
Gavin: Especially after already pouring out all that they had on the film to begin with.
Lloyd: Exactly. And also the method of selecting movies for Sundance in my opinion is suspect. I have a feeling that the Bruce Willis movie got in a little crookedly. Instead of earning twenty-million, Willis is paid two-million for the film, and they call it independent. When you watch it on television, all they ever talk about is the celebrities and the red carpet. Is that what the festival is about? The Red Carpet? So with all that in mind the idea was no entry fees and allowing the public to see them for free. I mean, why do we make movies? We make them so people can see them, we make them for the audience. So let’s get an audience of people who want to see them. Brewvies, the people who come watch them there are people who want to see movies, they have no other agenda. In Park City, everybody’s got an agenda, they wanna meet somebody, they wanna market themselves to somebody, they wanna be an actor or director. They’re still cool, but they have a different motive for being there. But fans down here are just total fans, they like being here and having a good time and watching films that challenge them.
Gavin: Nice. So what are the differences you’ve noticed between the first Tromadance and the ninth one you’re doing this year?
Lloyd: Very good question. The first one was inspired by this kind of shock that Sundance was a fraud. And I think that’s kind of worn off of us, at least personally I think I’ve gotten over it. The first time I came here I was with Matt Stone and Trey Parker for “Cannibal” and I couldn’t believe the attitude and the snobbery and the nastiness of it all, and how they treat the filmmakers and you can’t hand out leaflets in the street. I mean, Park City, the supposed Mecca of Independent Film, you can’t hand out fliers to support your film. But Sundance can apparently and that makes no sense. The young kid with the accordion gets hassled by the police for trying to get support for his film, but meanwhile half a block away the loudspeakers going with some crappy band making generic noise promoting a blockbuster movie that doesn’t belong here.
Gavin: I think Quentin Tarantino once called Sundance the Tiananmen Square of Film Promotion.
Lloyd: Well he’s not far off. But it was just ugly to witness so that was kind of the motivation to just poke a finger in the eye of Sundance. In fact we’ve been called the Conscience of Sundance by the Salt Lake Tribune on the second year of Tromadance. We were interviewed and put up on the front page of the Entertainment Section. And I don’t know if you can go look in the archives anymore for it, but I was mouthing off and I was really bitter and hostile over it. But now I’m pretty much over it and I think the biggest difference is that Tromadance is just doing its thing. It’s very lovely and idealistic and real absolute love of cinema. And the media has started to take us seriously too, it was almost schadenfreude to see it happen, but there was also a jealousy thing of being on the outside looking in. But now I think we’re over that. The New York Times just interviewed Josh Ableman, he just graduated from NYU and is the other director of Tromadance this year. The media started taking us seriously as a festival and started to realize this isn’t some goofy Troma thing, it’s a real festival, it’s just called that because Troma is renegade. I think Trey Parker told me to call it Tromadance. He said “Everyone hates you, so they’ll know what it’s about when they hear the title.” And all the films we got here come from the heart. They challenge the audience, they entertain the audience, some of them may make them laugh or piss them off, but I think that’s what people are looking for. They want to see art, they want to be challenged, they want something to challenge them. You know, “Little Miss Sunshine” is an entertaining feel good movie, but it’s like fast food. Feels good going down and then you get diarrhea. “Juno”, everybody talks about this film about how it’s feel good stuff, it’s not independent.
Gavin: You feel like it’s unfair more now than it was when it first started?
Lloyd: I think the playing field has become very unleveled. When I started out the playing field was slightly in favor of the conglomerates. But we were running circles around them because there were regulations against monopolies. But now those regulations have all been done away with, so it’s really hard for an independent film studio to survive anymore. I think Roger Corman and Troma are all that’s really left, and now the playing field has become almost perpendicular. It’s like a greased stripper’s pole and you have to somehow get up there and it’s almost impossible. We’re still around because we have a very local fanbase and cult following. Every city has this little Troma community so we’re lucky we got into this thing a long time ago with films that come from the heart.
Gavin: And a lot of the stuff you’ve done is still going strong.
Lloyd: Well I think that’s because the films we have come from a different place, they give you something to chew over and think about while you’re being entertained. Most of the stuff you see at Sundance and even at your local theater is baby food. It’s so expensive so they don’t wanna take any risks, so they make a movie that will try to be all things to all people like baby food. You can live off baby food, but it gets very bland after a while. I like to think we make the jalapeno peppers of the cultural pizza.
Gavin: Any final thoughts as you enter the rest of the festival?
Lloyd: I’m very grateful to the community of Park City and Salt Lake City for having us here, the people are very appreciative of Tromadance. The locals in Park City are so nice to our volunteers, they give them coffee and bring them in and put posters in their stores. I think a lot of them hate Sundance. And I’m not knocking Sundance because I think the world’s a better place with it in the longrun. But, it’s gone way off the tracks. I really appreciate the fans who do all the work and promote the festival. It’s all volunteer, no one gets paid to be here.
Gavin: Do you think Sundance will ever find it’s way back to what it once was, or do you think it’ll run its course and eventually be replaced?
Lloyd: I honestly don’t know. I just know that it’s become ugly. But what do I know, I’m living in a refrigerator box. I’m just Lloyd Kaufman. Obviously there are millions of people who are interested in Sundance, they even have their own channel owned by Viacom. But this is the world we live in. I honestly think Robert Redford doesn’t like what has happened. He can’t possibly like what’s happened. I was just elected chairman of the Independent Film & Television Alliance which is the trade association for independent material, we have over 200 members and we’re fighting industry consolidation. I have a hunch Redford would speak out for our fight against it. I fought on a platform to become chairman by saying we should go to Washington and lobby FCC and law makers there to speak out and try to change the playing field back to level again. There used to be regulations to prevent Rupert Murdoch from owning a newspaper and a television station in the same market, those have all been done away with. General Electric used to have to buy 35% of their programming from the independents, Clinton did away with that. So there’s no regulation anymore for these guys. So we want to used our clout a little bit to fight for these causes and try to help the internet keep neutrality, which seems to be the last truly democratic source of entertainment. Try to prevent the film companies from moving in and colonizing the internet and ending up like all the networks. Whoever controls the pipes to your house controls how you drink the water.