Chapter 20: This Means WAR!

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 20 of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, we take a look at the importance of breaking down your objectives into manageable tasks… similar to the strategies of war (and Troma’s WAR).…

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,8910111213141516, 17, 18, and 19. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

Chapter 20: This Means WAR!

They say “business is war.” I am not sure who “they” are, but I can assure you that when I began getting involved in Troma’s business, my first shot at working on a movie was indeed war. Literally. The very first Troma film I had the opportunity to work on was Troma’s War. When I enlisted, my job at Troma was to sell movies, but I dreamed of making them. When plans began for Troma’s War, my number came up, and I was drafted to “temporarily” move over from sales to production. My dream had come true, and like many dreams we have, be careful what you wish for—you might get it.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure and delight of seeing Troma’s War, it is the story of a plane crash on a mysterious island long before the TV series Lost laid claim to similar territory. Rather than the long-unfulfilled, and unexplained, “monsters” of the TV series, the lost crash survivors in Troma’s War find themselves on an island run by bizarre and deadly terrorists. According to Variety, Troma’s War “makes Rambo III look like Lassie Come Home!” It was quite an entrée into filmmaking for me.

Yes, I wanted to make movies. No, I had no freakin’ idea what that meant, especially in Tromaville. One moment I was trying to sell Rabid Grannies to a home-video distributor in Japan, and the next moment I was on my way to Camp Smith, training ground for the NY Army National Guard, outside Peekskill, NY, to meet with Colonel Garvey to see if I could convince him to let us use their grounds to film and blow shit up (and let our kooky cast and crew live in their barracks for weeks at a time). The irony of having the cast and crew of Troma’s War living and filming on a military base was not lost on any of us.

But let’s start by looking at how the War began.

Once there’s a script and a budget and funds to cover said budget (or enough of the promise of funds, through pre-sales and other means, to risk taking the risk of pulling the trigger on the production), it is time to start staffing up and commencing “preproduction.” Preproduction is the planning stage for a movie production when the script is broken down into manageable daily chunks, and the schedule is set. The locations are scouted and finalized, cast and crew are hired, and costumes and props are decided upon and created. Basically, everything and anything you can do in advance of actual filming so that you are ready to go like a well-oiled machine when that first day of “Principal Photography” rolls around.

Sounds great, right? Of course, it is never as smooth as the previous few sentences make it sound, and come day one of filming that ideal well- oiled machine may well spit and sputter like an aged clunker only partially restored. Still, it can and must move forward. The proverbial clock is ticking, and, like the car you drive around in the midst of rebuilding it, you can keep working on the film machine while it is running. Not ideal, but not unusual, especially for a low-budget Indy production, where location and talent availability might dictate a hard start date. Ready or not, here we come!

As we started hiring (and given the lack of actual monetary compensation offered to many early staffers I am using the term “hiring” lightly), we needed to set up a temporary production office to act as home base, ideally somewhere nearby (but definitely not in) the Troma Building. We found a great deal on a short-term lease on a dinky and dirty four-story, walk-up brownstone on West Forty-Eighth Street, a short walk from Tromaville central. I remember thinking it was an odd building with an odd smell, and odd-looking “cubicles,” each curtained off and just wide enough for a small mattress to fit inside. Oh, and did I mention that there was a red light by the front door stoop?

Admittedly, I was quite naive in those days, and it took me a few late nights in the production office (where some of our young, more adventurous Troma Team members had essentially moved in) before I realized why this building was “available” so inexpensively. I figured it out when every night an odd “gentleman” or two would ring the doorbell only to be awkwardly surprised when one of our heavily pierced and tattooed young folks of indiscriminate gender would answer the door. The “gentlemen” would invariably look past the welcoming Tromite as if they were hoping to see a familiar face inside, and then, clearly disappointed that they did not, would turn and hurriedly leave, mumbling obscenities under their alcohol-laced breath. Yep, our production office had previously been an operating brothel. Oh, brothel, er, oh brother! When the realization dawned on me, I felt truly blessed that I had a home to retreat to each night and was not one of the “adventurous ones” camping out on the “great mattresses” the previous tenants had left behind.

Despite its lewd history, our production office for Troma’s War served its purpose, and our preproduction was off and running, and I was learning on the fly. I went to battle in Troma’s War, and it was my deployment to film school…on steroids. But the lessons I learned in preparation, scheduling, and negotiation, were lessons that have proven to be valuable in every career move I’ve made since. The discipline and planning of pre-production is something that every product launch could benefit from. Few businesses understand their processes as well as a film production, where literally every page of the script (think product roadmap) is broken down into manageable (well, hopefully manageable) chunks, to be executed according to a strict schedule, literally laid out on a schedule board for all to see. Imagine how much more efficient your business would be if it were broken down with the detail and depth even a lowly Troma production had. Every day was fully accounted for, with a breakdown of every needed element—location, actors, costumes, set pieces, props, equipment, crew, a plan to get us all there, a plan to shoot something else should Mother Nature, or other forces, interfere.

Of course, things were fluid and could and would change along the way, but at the onset, we had a plan that, in theory, would successfully get us from point A to point B. From having nothing to having all the necessary footage in the can to piece together the film we intended to make.

Do you have a script breakdown for your business?

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That’s Chapter 20  –  Do you breakdown your objectives as if you are going to WAR? Should you? Stay tuned for Chapter 21: “Delegate or Die!” which explores the importance of letting go and surrounding yourself with smarter, better people, and letting them do the things they are good at (while you do the things you are best suited for!)… 

The book in previous posts:

Chapter 19: Fix It, or Forget It… Fast!

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 19 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, we take a look at the importance of having a plan B and making sure every day is moving your business agenda forward! 

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,8910111213141516, 17 and 18. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

Chapter 19: Fix It, or Forget It… Fast

On a movie set, there is no shortage of things that can go wrong. Your camera truck can be stolen. Your location can be locked when you arrive with the owner completely denying they ever gave you permission to come and film there. Your lead actress can refuse to come out of the bathroom to film a scene or refuse to kiss the leading monster—er, man, despite the romantic scene that was in the script and agreed to when she was hired. Essential costumes and props disappear. Cars containing essential talent or equipment break down. It rains (it pours). Actors show up drunk. Actors show up without knowing their lines. Actors don’t show up. Assholes do show up. Equipment breaks. Crew members quit. Sound people forget to record. Camera people forget to load film. It rains (it pours). Teamsters protest and interfere. Stunts don’t work as planned. You run out of power. You run out of light. You run out of time. You run out of money. You run out screaming.

Shit happens.
Lots of shit.
Every day.
All the time.
It is fun, really.
That’s Hollywood (well, Tromaville).

But on a set, the clock is always ticking, and whether you are on a shoestring Indy budget or a gazillion-dollar studio budget, time is still money. There are pages to cover, and a schedule to follow. The shit may hit the fan, but the film still needs to end up in the can. So, when something does go wrong, and it will, you need to make a decision. You need to fix it, fast, or work around it, fast. Innovation and creativity will save the day more than money will, and that’s a solid lesson for any business.

Even if you have the money, replacing something that breaks can take time and delay production. What’s the backup plan? To successfully make a B-movie, you’d better always have a plan B (and frankly, the same applies even if you are attempting to make a blockbuster).

Do you have a true plan B for your business? When making a movie, learning to be prepared and expect the unexpected is essential (which actually makes the unexpected the expected).

Filming on a soundstage is expensive and outside the budget of most independent films. As a result, to get great on-screen production values at a reasonable cost, many Indy films are shot “on location,” leveraging the scenic beauty of the real world in lieu of the fabricated beauty and control of a costly studio set. But in the real world, you can’t control Mother Nature, and your location is always at risk of being shut down by bad weather. Having a plan B means that for every day of exterior filming, you had better have an alternate scene ready to be shot indoors should Mother Nature decide to fool you for a change. That means an alternative location, indoors and nearby, so you could quickly and efficiently save the day.

So, when we were filming The Toxic Avenger Part II (and Part III) in and around the lovely town of Peekskill, NY, we always had several indoor “sets” ready and waiting inside the abandoned Masonic temple that doubled as our local production office. While these makeshift sets were far from “studio” quality, they were good enough, and if Mother Nature decided to poop on our heads, without hesitation we knew exactly what to do, where to go, and how to make the day as productive as possible.

This is a lesson that is easy to forget in the nonmovie world because in most businesses there is a lot more flexibility on a day-to-day basis than there is on a movie set. You may be under pressure to meet a monthly or quarterly goal, but what about losing sunlight before all the necessary pages are shot in a location you absolutely, positively can never return to after the end of the day? Movies function day to day, and that fosters a discipline that would be beneficial to apply to any business. Every day on set must contribute to the end-goal of a finished film.

Chapter 18: Playing By The Rules

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 18 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, we take a look at the importance of having some basic rules as a way of aligning your team. 

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,89101112131415, 16 and 17. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

Chapter 18: Playing By The Rules

By now you may be thinking that things were fairly loosey-goosey in Tromaville, with inexperienced young lads and lasses running wild and wreaking havoc. You would be mostly correct. In truth, while there were certainly some wild and crazy times (and even more wild and crazy characters and personalities), much of the working of the Troma machine was actually quite well-oiled. There were processes and procedures, and there were rules. In particular, there were the “Rules of Production.”

On every Troma movie set, in numerous, highly visible locations, the following sign was always posted:

Rules of Production:

1. Safety to people
2. Safety to property
3. Make a good film!

This was key. This was important. These were the rules Troma lived by on set, and at any given moment, Lloyd could walk up to a member of the cast or crew and quiz them on these three simple rules, and they had better know them. When it came to setiquette (etiquette on the set), the Troma Team was very clear on their priorities. A film set can be a dangerous place. There are lights, there are cameras, and there is action—big heavy things that can fall on people, miles of cables and electrical cords strewn about, vehicles, explosives, and lots of people around. A lot can go wrong. A lot does go wrong. It is a tribute to the dedication to these three “rules of production” that in over forty years and dozens of productions, Troma has a solid record and reputation when it comes to safety.

Safety to people is the number one priority. Safety to property is second. We were grateful for the fair deals we received on the equipment we borrowed or rented. We were forever grateful for the folks who generously let us use their homes and businesses as sets and locations for filming. The least we could do was to respect their property and do all we could to leave it in the same condition it was in when we arrived (which, frankly, was often no small task).

Finally, the third rule was to “make a good film” and in practice, if you paid attention to the first two rules, you were far more likely to succeed on the third.

These were good lessons in focus and culture. While a Troma film set consisted of a wild and varied sampling of human existence, a seemingly random collection of delightfully disparate souls, the one thing that they all had to have in common was respect for and adherence to the “Rules of Production.” Anyone who could not live up to these three simple concepts did not belong (and did not last long).

While in some cases, rules can be restrictive, when they are simple, direct, and core to your objective, a few good rules can help bind your team together and help keep things moving forward in a positive way. If it can work for Troma, it can work for you.

What are your business’s “rules of production”?

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Chapter 17: Always Salute the Schwag!

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 17 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, we take a look at the importance of always carrying… not weapon, but rather, marketing materials – SCHWAG! What do you think?

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,89101112131415 and 16. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

Chapter 17: Always Salute the Schwag!

“I pledge allegiance to the schwag…of the United States of Tromaville.” As part of the Troma Team, I quickly learned the power of “schwag” and the importance of always “carrying.” In this instance carrying did not mean a concealed weapon, although one could argue that good schwag is an excellent sales and marketing weapon. In Tromaville carrying meant you were always equipped with a supply of stuff—stickers, flyers, T-shirts—schwag. Your briefcase was full of the stuff. If you owned a car, your trunk was full of the stuff. If you carried a purse or murse*, your purse or murse was full of the stuff. While representing the Troma Team, you never walked into a meeting empty-handed. You always had your schwag at the ready. Schwag sells.

There’s a reason printed paper flyers were called “sell sheets” in the movie business. They were also called “slicks,” perhaps because the slicker they were, the better they sold. For every movie in the Troma library, having a great key art image that became the basis of the poster, and then the smaller sell sheets was essential. As essential as having a good trailer. Arguably far more essential than having a good movie. Back in the day, especially in the realm of international film distribution, the sale (technically, the licensing) of a film for distribution to a small foreign market was often concluded based on the sell sheet and trailer alone, many times long before the film in question had actually been completed (or in some cases, even started). We were selling the dream. Selling the outcome. And schwag helped.

Like trusty Boy and Girl Scouts, always carrying schwag meant you were always prepared. You never knew when you’d have the opportunity to leave behind that flyer for Curse of the Cannibal Confederates or that gorgeous green “I love Toxie” sticker. And then there were the T-shirts. Especially the T-shirts. We would print bright-red (and sometimes yellow) “I made the Troma Team” T-shirts by the hundreds. They were inexpensive thin cotton tees with a big Troma logo on them, and people loved them. When it came to production time, our “I-Made-the-Troma-Team” tees were like a liquid currency. They were our beads, our wampum, our bitcoin, and often our savior. It is amazing what regular unassuming humans will do or give up in exchange for a free T-shirt.

When scouting for locations, popping open the car trunk and tossing a couple of T-shirts to the owner of the property you are begging to trample and defame was often the tipping point that sealed the deal. When casting dozens of background actors (we never had extras…always “background actors”) to fill a scene, hordes of fans would stand for long grueling days, all for a stale bagel at seven in the morning and a Troma T-shirt when they left at the end of the day, often past midnight.

When making a movie, especially a low-budget independent movie, there are 1,000 things that can go wrong at any moment. Giving someone a free T-shirt can solve 937 of them.

As proof that the Troma Team always carries (schwag) wherever they go, I will share a story that Hertz. Not Herz as in Michael Herz, Lloyd’s partner in cinematic crime and Troma co-founder, but rather Hertz as in the car rental company that doesn’t quite try as hard as Avis. Many years after I emigrated from Tromaville, I was in Los Angeles on business, and I rented a car there. At one point while navigating my way through the torturous traffic that is synonymous with driving in LA, I stopped short at a light, my unpracticed foot a bit heavy on the brakes of the unfamiliar vehicle. As I screeched to a sudden stop, a sudden mess of papers and folders slid out from under the driver’s seat. I looked down, and lo and behold, my feet were surrounded by Troma schwag—flyers, stickers, press kits, and the like. It was literally a blast from the past.

I laughed, and at the first opportunity, I called Lloyd asking him if he had recently been in LA. “I just got back last night,” he replied. “How did you know?”

“Did you rent a car there?” I queried.

“Of course, I did; it’s LA,” said Lloyd. (This was years ago, before the invasion of Uber).

“Well, I think I rented the same car you were driving. You left your schwag under the front seat!”

Yep. He did. Schwag rules.

*A “murse” is a man-purse, carried by a man, just as a “manzier” is a brazier worn by a man. Watch Seinfeld reruns for more details.

Chapter 16: Repurpose, On Purpose

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 16 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, we take a look at Troma’s take on “content marketing.” What do you think?

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,891011121314 and 15. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

 

Chapter 16: Repurpose, On Purpose

As stunts go, we did some amazing ones at Troma, and the best of them, like the dramatic (and now infamous) “car flip” have been used and reused in countless Troma movies. Shot one quiet afternoon on the back streets of Hoboken, New Jersey, while costly and complicated to shoot, the “car flip” has perhaps become the most cost-effective bit of film ever shot by the Troma Team (when amortized across the vast number of subsequent films the same sequence has appeared in). Why not? It’s a great stunt, even the seventeenth time you see it. Like a fine wine, it gets fermented—er, I mean better—with age. Like the pestering of a wild and crazy two-year-old toddler, with repetition, it becomes less annoying and cuter. Like a pimple that, after it won’t go away for nine months, reinvents itself as a beauty mark. You get the idea.

Of course, in the case of Troma, given the cult and culture of the rabid fan base, repurposing a stunt or scene across multiple movies turns into a welcome wink to the knowing film fan who can spot the repeated spot. So not only does the cloned scene save time and money, it becomes an Easter egg that delights eagle-eyed fans who are paying close attention—a double whammy win for the Troma Team.

What content can you wisely repurpose for your purposes? Do you have anything that can double as an Easter egg to charm your customers?

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Chapter 15: If You Don’t Want to Swallow a Frog, Start with a Stunt

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 15 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, I talk about the team building benefits of “doing the hard stuff first…” What do you think?

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,89101112, 13 and 14. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

 

Chapter 15: If You Don’t Want to Swallow a Frog, Start with a Stunt

There’s a popular productivity quote that is often attributed to Mark Twain about swallowing a live frog every morning. If you can get past that rather grotesque task, then anything else the day may bring on should seem infinitely more manageable. The fate of the poor frog aside, the concept is one we embraced when making movies in Tromaville, and it is a sound practice for any business. Start with the hard stuff.

When making a movie, especially a low-budget action/horror flick, the hard stuff is typically anything involving stunts or special effects. Those are the days that cost more money, often take more time, and ultimately have more at stake because it is harder to “fix it in editing” should the planned stunt go awry on film. These were the pre-CGI(1) days, and things like explosions and crazy car stunts were all done “live” on film for the most part. When we blew up a building, there were real explosives, fire, and debris. Cameras were set behind protective plexiglass shields, and crew and actors were reduced to the bare minimum possible and kept as far away from potential harm as possible. Fun stuff. Exciting stuff. Dangerous stuff. So why not do it on the very first day of filming, before anyone is comfortable working with each other?

Swallow the frog.

Exactly.

Do some really super hard shit right at the beginning to get everyone focused (and maybe a little nervous), but in truth, there’s no better way to quickly bond a group of disparate people than to have them accomplish a really hard, potentially dangerous, task together. Focus is required. Teamwork is required. It is going from zero to sixty in the first few hours of working together. It forces the cream to rise to the top and quickly exposes the weak links in the chain. (There were always fewer people on the crew on day two than there were on day one.) It is risky, but it is also rewarding. And when it works (actually more often than not), it sets the tone for the rest of the production, with everyone diving in with a level of confidence and camaraderie that otherwise might have taken weeks to develop.

So, pretty much every Troma production I worked on started with a bang—literally and figuratively.

Are you pulling a team together for a project? Try scheduling the equivalent of your explosion or stunt right up front. Put the team to the test. Swallow the frog. (Then spit it out so the Troma Team can use it as a prop in that tender love scene that requires a regurgitated amphibian.)

•••

1. “CGI” referring to computer-generated imagery—that is, the technology behind digital effects. The only “digital” effects available to Troma at the time were effects involving fingers and toes.

•••

Chapter 14: Strategic Partners – Burn Houses, Not Bridges

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 14 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, I talk about an early career lesson – “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” – and how it led to literally explosive results! What do you think?

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 , 89101112 and 13. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

 

Chapter 14: Strategic Partners – Burn Houses, Not Bridges

Croton-on-Hudson is a lovely, quaint, and somewhat exclusive village overlooking the Hudson River in a ritzy part of Westchester County, about thirty-five minutes north of Manhattan. Lush greenery, winding roads, large picture-perfect homes, and a reasonable commute to the city make it a desirable and expensive area in which to live. Croton-on-Hudson is one of those dreamy communities that, as you drive through for the first time, your eyes and mind wander together as you imagine what it must be like to live in such an elite and peaceful hamlet. You pass the homes with tall trees and thick lawns, a luxury sedan and SUV or nice minivan parked in the driveway, and you imagine yourself in their shoes…and their clothes, and their homes and cars and country clubs for brunch on Sundays, wondering how your third Bloody Mary will impact your afternoon tennis game. Ah, Croton-on-Hudson…

So, I was a little intimidated when I entered the adorable Town Hall building for my scheduled meeting with the town supervisor to discuss my request, nay, a small favor. I was coming to ask for permission to blow up a small vacant home that was scheduled for demolition anyway. Yes, I literally asked if we could use real-live explosives and blow up a home nestled in a lovely little lakefront valley in the heart of the lovely village of Croton-on-Hudson, nestled above the lovely Hudson River.

This reminds me of one of the first business lessons I learned from my previous boss at Satori, Ernie Sauer: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Ernie said that to me in the context of me boldly asking him for a raise while dining together on my first-ever business trip abroad. I was a lowly PA (production assistant), earning $250 per week (take that, Ivy League education!) and less than a year into the job, but here we were, me, alone with the company CEO, so I went for it. And he went along, agreeing to my request, mostly because I had the gall (read “balls”) to ask. After all, as he proudly espoused, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

And in the realm of independent (read “low-or no-budget”) filmmaking, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” is a worthy mantra for the production. Especially when it comes to scouting for shooting locations. So I asked.

“You want to do what?” said the town supervisor, now paying very close attention.

“Blow up a house that is already scheduled for demolition.”

“Blow it up? With explosives?”

“Well, it would be hard to do so without explosives,” I smiled and delivered the piece de resistance. “It’s for a movie!”

It is truly amazing what you can get away with when you tell people “it’s for a movie.” Everyone wants to be part of making a movie and have their moment behind the scenes. Remember that church I mentioned, where we shot scenes of drugs, guns, and debauchery? Even a seasoned priest was in awe of the prospect of “lights, camera, action!” Dreams of Hollywood are deeply imprinted in the minds of most humans. Powerfully imprinted, so deeply that intelligent, sane, hardworking individuals can be mesmerized and bedazzled into confusing Tromaville for Hollywood and letting the likes of our literal motley crew and me wreak havoc on their homes and businesses, temporarily turning lives and livelihoods inside out, all in the name of “cinema!” And, in the case of Indy productions like ours, all for no compensation (other than the glory of the experience).

As the wide-eyed Croton-on-Hudson town supervisor pondered my polite pyrotechnic request, I figured I might as well go for broke.

“We’d also like your local fire department to be on hand to put out the raging inferno after the building goes boom. OK? And we have no budget for any of this (except, of course, for the explosives…we have a budget for that). So, what do you say?”

To break the awkward silence, I added, “And the fire department can use this as a great training experience—a controlled explosion for them to put out…a valuable opportunity for sure.”

And boom! That was the clincher that made our big boom possible. The town supervisor got it all approved. Of course, there were permits and insurance and other details to be worked out, but we came to them with the blessing of the N Y Governor’s Film Commission, who had supplied us with the list of “scheduled demolitions” that led us to Croton-on-Hudson in the first place.

Which begs me to mention the value of city and state film commissions. They are populated by hardworking and dedicated film-loving staff that are there to help you, struggling filmmaker, regardless of your pedigree or budget. All you have to do is ask. Long before Lloyd’s lovely and talented wife Pattie Pie (er, I mean Patricia) was appointed to head the NY State Governor’s Film Commission, the Troma Team was wise enough to leverage the free resources of the New York City, New York State, and New Jersey Film Commissions. Are there similar state or city-funded resources to assist you in your industry? Dig in. You might be surprised.

Back to our big blast in Croton-on-Hudson. It was, indeed, a blast. The weather was perfect. The fire department ready and eager to engage in their “training exercise,” and of course, our cast and crew were equally fired up to start production of The Toxic Avenger Part II with a bang!

Croton-on-Hudson got their building demolished as planned. Plus, their fire department had an exemplary training opportunity. And to top it all off, the Troma Team got a great location, and an even better explosion, all on film, and all for free.

The house in Croton-on-Hudson goes “boom” in Toxic Avenger II

•••

That’s Chapter 14  –  I hope you had as much of a “blast” reading it as I had living it. And remember, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get!”  Stay tuned for “Chapter 15: “If you Don’t Want to Swallow a Frog, Start with a Stunt!,” which explores the benefits of doing the hard stuff first.

 

Chapter 13: Embrace your Vision and Culture

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 13 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, I talk about the “c” word – culture, and how Troma taught me what’s really important to pull a team together (hint: it’s not pizza and beer on Fridays). What do you think?

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 , 891011 and 12. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

 

Chapter 13: Embrace your Vision and Culture

“To thine own self—be true.”

—WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, HAMLET

“I don’t make crappy movies. I spend two or three years making a film. I don’t take myself seriously, but I take my movies very seriously.”

—LLOYD KAUFMAN, TROMAVILLE

Willie and Lloyd are both sort of saying the same thing here. Know who you are and embrace it. Self-awareness is as important for a company as it is for each of us as an individual. There is so much talk in the business world today about culture. There are countless books, countless consultants, and countless dollars spent on “culture building” within corporations.

Often these efforts miss the core of what culture really is, what culture really means. Contrary to popular belief, culture is not about pizza and beer on Fridays, or unlimited free snacks in the company dining room (though on a film set of any size or budget, heaven help you if you don’t have a functional craft-services department. The fastest way to throw any film production off course is to fail to feed the crew, and feed them well and often). At its core, culture has more to do with your brand than your office decor.

A great company culture enables and encourages employees to embody and reflect the essence of the brand in their ethic, attitude, and execution of their work. It goes deeper than office environment and is more significant than a list of core values on a whiteboard. A great company culture is one where everyone organically lives and breathes the same brand. A great culture is one where all employees understand and appreciate the DNA of the brand. They don’t have to be it, but they have to believe it.

A great company culture is not a cult (though some of the highly publicized “great-culture” enterprises seem to have lost that distinction) because in a cult the disciples are most often following blindly while in a great company culture the employees are following with purpose. A great culture is created by a shared purpose that will move the company forward toward success.

Defining and communicating that purpose is core to a company’s success. On a film set, the purpose is most often very clear. We are making a movie. The roadmap is the script, literally. The strategy is the production schedule. If the director is a good CEO, then everyone on set knows their role and expected contribution toward the execution of the plan and the fulfillment of the purpose.

In business, the purpose and strategy also need to be clearly defined, and as important, the role each employee plays has to be understood by the employee(s) and management. There needs to be a screenplay and a production schedule for your business.

•••

That’s Chapter 13  –  Another valuable lesson I learned making Troma movies: Having a clearly defined purpose and strategy is the best way to create a great company culture! Stay tuned for “Chapter 14: “Strategic Partners: Burn Houses, Not Bridges,” which explores some “hot” lessons about business development learned from location scouting for Troma films.

 

Chapter 12: Sink or Swim!

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 12 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, I talk the many opportunites Troma affords to aspiring filmmakers and the benefits of giving people a chance to do something they have never done before… What do you think?

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 , 8910 and 11. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

 

Chapter 12: Sink or Swim!

The only source of knowledge is experience.

—ALBERT EINSTEIN

And thus, Tromaville has perhaps been the greatest film school ever. Literally, no application process or qualifications required. No tuition. Virtually every student is a scholarship case. Show up eager and ready, and you are likely to be put to work. Present even a modicum of initiative, and you are likely to be given a chance to operate at a level you have no reasonable qualifications for, and in 90 percent of the time, no chance of actually being any good at it or succeeding. More than likely you’ll quit, sobbing and broken, and never set foot on a movie set again, let alone say anything remotely kind about your personal experience in Tromaville.

But, if you’re in that 10 percent who make it, who actually rise to the occasion, set the bullshit aside, and get the job done, your stint in Tromaville will be the best experience you could ever have, and you will learn career-inspiring and career-changing lessons. It’s film school on steroids. It’s sink or swim.

Never underestimate the power of just doing it. There’s a reason the famed Nike slogan has endured all these years. “Just do it” is often the best way to grow and learn (and it sounds a hell of a lot better than “sink or swim”). But, in Tromaville, where madness and opportunity abound, anyone at any time may be given the opportunity to step up to walk the plank, dive into the unknown, and truly sink or swim. Never directed a second unit? Now’s your chance. Never designed and sewn a wardrobe from scratch? Now’s your chance. Never written lines of dialogue at 1:00 a.m. that actors would speak in front of the camera at 7:00 a.m.? Now’s your chance. Ever convince the monsignor of a local church to allow you to shoot scenes of violence, drug use, and debauchery inside their lovely chapel? I did (and I had no idea what I was doing…the first time).

Experienced talent costs money. Giving experience to newbies costs nothing. It’s hit or miss, sink or swim. Most will implode and fuck up, but many will do just fine, and some will be amazing, and somehow, everything will get done, and the film will get made.

That’s Troma. Better to be finished than to be perfect.

That’s a lesson, too. The best way to learn is simply to do. Take a chance by doing something you’ve never done before. Give a chance by delegating to someone who has never done it before. Of course, you need to supervise them and make sure the whole project doesn’t implode, but within reason, let them make the noncritical mistakes they can learn from.

•••

That’s Chapter 12  –  Another valuable lesson I learned making Troma movies: The best way to learn is to do!  Stay tuned for “Chapter 13: “Embrace your Vision and Culture” which focuses building a company culture… but not a cult!

 

Chapter 11: Show Up!

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 11 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, I talk about understanding the true “bear necessities” for your business, and how I learned what are ultimately the most important things needed to make a movie. What do you think?

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 , 89, and 10. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

 

Chapter 11: Show Up!

Question: What do you think is the most important thing when it comes to making a movie? A good script? A talented director? A great DP? (Director of Photography).

Answer: None of the above.

The bottom line is, every day of production you need three things to be able to make a movie, and without these three things, well, basically then you are fucked. Without fail you need the following:

1. A working camera
2. Film (or in this day and age, ample digital storage to record on)
3. Actors and actresses to perform in front of the camera

Without those three things, it doesn’t matter how good the script is or how talented the director is. It doesn’t matter if the DP has won awards, or if the lighting is perfect or if the location is amazing. No camera, no movie. No film, no movie. No performers, no movie. Those are the basics. You must show up every single day with those three things as the bare minimum. But they are more than the bare minimum. They are the bare essentials. Or, as they’d say in Jungle Book, “the bear necessities.”

When I worked on my first Troma movie, the epic masterpiece, Troma’s War, I learned these lessons. I was the associate producer, and one of my first assignments was to “protect the cameras” and make sure all the principal actors and actresses showed up on time. Protect the cameras? WTF? It turned out, once before, while filming an earlier cinematic epic, a rogue group of angry Teamsters stole the Troma camera truck overnight, literally bringing that production to a costly halt.

You see, as a (very) low-budget operation, Troma makes nonunion, independent films and back in the late ’80s, especially when shooting in New York, the powerful Teamsters Union didn’t like that. Even though we always played by the rules and had permits and permissions, often with the kind support of the New York City Mayor’s or New York State Governor’s Film Commissions, the Teamsters would go out of their way to attempt to make our lives miserable and disrupt our production.

Perhaps it was because it was before the dawn of the World Wide Web and free Internet porn, and those lonely Teamster souls had nothing better to do with their time than leave their homes and families on a weekend to come harass the Troma Team. Perhaps that was it, and now with the Web readily available via the mobile device in their sweaty palms, perhaps now they don’t bother the Indy filmmakers as much. Perhaps.

But back then they were nasty, and I was warned. Protect the camera truck. That was my responsibility. The camera truck was a rented U-Haul truck that was custom decked out by our team to house all the rented camera and lighting equipment for the shoot. We may have been low budget, but our largest expense, and thus the most-prized asset, was all the professional (and valuable) 35-mm camera and lighting equipment we rented from the same well-known NYC rental houses that served the “Hollywood” crews when they were in town. Fully loaded with all our essential gear, the camera truck was the first vehicle to arrive on the set every day, and the last vehicle to leave each night after it was carefully packed, every lens, film can, and camera body in its designated, custom-fit place. Where to park the camera truck each night was a critical decision, because, once before, those tricky Teamsters had stolen our truck, rented cameras and all, right out of a locked and guarded NYC parking lot.

I had to protect the camera truck. It was not going to get stolen or disabled on my watch. Fortunately, we filmed most of Troma’s War in Peekskill, NY and at the National Guard training facility, Camp Smith. At the time, I was living in Rockland County, about a twenty-five-minute ride away, through the winding roads of Bear Mountain State Park. So, I would have the camera truck park behind my house every night, hidden from view from the main road. With the fear of Teamsters deeply ingrained in my younger, impressionable mind, I remember the first few nights, waking up at the simplest sound to look out the window and make sure the truck and its precious contents were still there, behind my humble abode.

The basics. Protect the camera (and the film, which was also stored in the truck). Make sure it showed up on set, first thing, every single day. And don’t forget the actors and actresses.

There’s a reason the transportation captain is one of the most important people on a movie crew, and more importantly a reason that captain makes certain that a car and driver was waiting outside the apartment or home of every principal actor before they even were awake, ready to herd those sleepy thespians to the day’s location long before they were actually needed. Despite our low-budget operation, even our talent got picked up by a car and driver every day (granted, on a Troma set it was usually a wide-eyed intern in their own beat-up vehicle, but it was a car and driver nonetheless). We did this not because we wanted to treat them special or like a “star” (although many of them took it that way), but rather because of the basics—no actors, no movie.

Understanding the necessity of the basics was a good lesson. In business, it is very easy to get caught up in the detritus, in the details of the moment, and lose sight of the simple things that are actually far more important.

Exercise: What are your basics, your “bear” necessities? What are the three things you should be doing every day to ensure that you are keeping your business or marketing on track? What are your equivalents of the camera, film, and actors?

•••

That’s Chapter 11  –  Another valuable lesson I learned making Troma movies: No matter what your business is, you need to recognize your “bear nececessites” to keep your business moving forward, and focus on them every day! Stay tuned for “Chapter 12: “Sink or Swim!” which focuses on learning by doing, even if – no, especially if – you’ve never done it before!