Book Review: “Sell Your Own Damn Movie!”
Lloyd Kaufman is a name known to many lovers of film all over the world, mostly those with a penchant for the more fun and eccentric. You can like him or not, I’m sure many people don’t, but he’s here and I don’t really think he’s going anywhere. Since the mid-'70s he has been one of the faces behind Troma Entertainment, a film production and distribution company that takes the ideals of real independent filmmaking to heart. Not the “indie” films you see with a budget of a couple million dollars but those with a budget of $5000 - sometimes more, sometimes less. Over the past few years Lloyd has released a few books (like Make Your Own Damn Movie! or Direct Your Own Damn Movie!) in a series to help aspiring filmmakers to realize their dreams and make the best of a financially challenged situation. This low budget film school continues with his latest, Sell Your Own Damn Movie!, which tells you what to do with your masterpiece once everything is shot and edited.
Lloyd is a passionate man who turns people on to a new way of thinking about cinema. When I saw my first Troma film, THE TOXIC AVENGER, some twenty years ago I might have been young but I knew that this was something special, fun, and different than any other film I had seen before. Many years and Troma releases later I can say that not everything they distribute is gold, but I appreciate what it is they are doing and fully support it in every way. Lloyd is a little guy fighting for the voice of the little guy.
From the very beginning it’s easy to tell this isn’t going to be your average boring how-to of the film world, but really, is that what you would expect from Troma? Lloyd pours his heart out time and time again throughout the book in many loving anecdotes involving young hairless Asian men, mocking his assistants and editors, and plugging his latest feature, POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD, roughly a billion times. It might seem some of these tales go on forever and for no apparent reason, and, in a few cases, this is certainly true. Still, there is a method to the bow-tie clad man’s madness. With his charming, albeit goofy, attitude and constant puns it would not make sense for him to spew out a standard textbook. He knows his audience and takes full advantage of their fascination with his antics. It definitely fits with the fun spirit of Troma.
This is not to say that Sell Your Own Damn Movie! has no real advice to give, because there is plenty. Most of his chapters are steeped in jokes with a little advice thrown in, but each chapter also has a few special sections of interviews with, or articles written by, filmmakers, producers, and the like. Here is where you will find the really great information. The majority of these “sidebars” are handled rather sincerely and passionately. These people made movies and had ups and downs in the distribution game but take time to share their experiences with anyone who reads this for the love of the art.
Among those contributing are James Gunn (former Troma employee and director of SLITHER), David Cronenberg, animator Billy Plympton, Adam Green (HATCHET, FROZEN), and director/producer of the supernatural no-budget sensation PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, Oren Peli. All of these people, and the many more in the book, have a ton to say but the story I found most interesting is that of Nina Paley, cartoonist and animator of the film SITA SINGS THE BLUES. In Lloyd’s pro-bootlegging chapter entitled “Piracy is Good. Long Live Pirates. Yarrr.” he speaks with her about the troubles she had releasing her film due to some legal finagling of copyright laws. After spending much time and money “legalizing” her film she decided to say “screw it” and just release the film for free through her website. Because of this she has seen quite a bit of revenue thanks to fans of the film who want to support her and her future endeavors. They got the entree for free but are ordering dessert and drinks galore to show their support. This concept of the artist giving away their product for free is a fairly new one and it really has something that scares and confuses many. If people like you and what you produce they are going to support you. They might get your album for free online, but they’ll come see you in concert and buy some t-shirts. At least they hope.
Plenty of points are made by Lloyd himself through the nine chapters to give you great insight on the dirty side of movie making. He is obviously one who is against the big studio system and he never really tries to hide that fact. He doesn’t play their games and it shows, but he does get his name out there, along with those of his films, to people all over the world. He has tried for the better part of four decades to bring real independent filmmaking to the front of the line and give every filmmaker, regardless of status and bank accounts, a voice. One of his latest crusades, which he touches on briefly, is the issue of net neutrality and how these major media companies want to take away the total freedom of the internet - basically because they’re scared and can’t stand to not be in control of something. A real important issue that could once again screw over your struggling independent films.
This is the first of his series of …Your Own Damn Movie! books that I’ve read, but interest is certainly piqued in the rest. Very funny and insightful and Lloyd Kaufman knows what he’s talking about in the business, though many times he may try to convince you otherwise. Much of the book might discourage you. It is a tad depressing. You have a vision and a film that you love and just want the world to see but everything is clouded by the system which seems like an impenetrable force. Even if you do get through non-stop headaches are to be expected. It’s enough to crush your dreams for good, but I like to look at is as just the thing to give you the kick in the ass you need. When you had this idea for a film it wasn’t to make a vast fortune but instead to entertain and get people to see your creativity. This is what Lloyd is all about - your vision over its monetary value. So read this book, take what it says to heart, and go forth into the distribution market a little wiser. Who knows, you might actually make a couple bucks for all your hard work. If you figure it out be sure to let Lloyd know how it happened.
And don’t forget to BUY TROMA, of course!