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!

 

Chapter 10: Find Something to Believe In

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 10 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, I reveal my true feelings about Troma films, and one of the keys to success in any career. 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 , 8 and 9. 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 10: Find Something to Believe In

The common thread you will hear people say is that you should “pursue your passion” and find a job you are passionate about. The truth is, in my humble opinion, often the opposite. Most people do not find a job or career that exactly matches their deep inner passion. But that doesn’t mean that being passionate about what you do is not important. It is. But you may need to work a bit to find that passion.

If I am honest, despite the fact I worked for Troma for more than seven years and was intimately involved in the writing, producing, marketing, and sales of many of their signature films, I was never actually a hardcore fan of Troma movies. As a moviegoer, I tolerated them. As a creative, I got caught up in the muse of the moment and immersed myself in every production wholeheartedly. I was able to do this for two reasons.

One: I loved the act of making movies. The creative collaboration was infectious. The concentrated energy and intense focus on one common task was exhilarating. Making a movie, especially an independent film, where the lines of responsibility are perhaps more blurred than in a more formal production, is like going to summer camp (and is for around the same amount of time). For roughly eight weeks, you are practically living with a bunch of strangers with a common interest. Together you are in your own little world for this intense, but short, time period, more or less cut off from or at least not focused on, the rest of the world.

I loved summer camp. I loved making movies too.

The second reason I was a great citizen of Tromaville was that I came to truly appreciate our fans. While maybe these films were not necessarily my cup of tea, I could recognize that there were a lot of loyal tea drinkers out there who really, really loved and enjoyed what we were brewing. Troma fans are loyal and dedicated. They are free spirits, free thinkers (and, if they transitioned from fan to employee, mostly free workers). Regardless, their love and appreciation for our movies was, and is, real. The joy and satisfaction I saw in our fans made me proud to be in a position to help bring our films to them. The work we were doing, as campy and sometimes childish as it was, was anticipated and more importantly, appreciated by our fans.

So, I worked for our fans. I made silly movies I didn’t necessarily want to watch myself because I knew there were people out there who did want to watch. I became passionate about our films because I knew our fans were. My passion was real, and it fueled all the hard work I did to keep the Troma dream alive. I could get inside the heads of our fans, and from their perspective, I could see, enjoy, and contribute to the awesomeness that was, and is, Troma.

There’s a great lesson in this for anyone in business. There are going to be times in your career where you are doing something that is not so great, or that you are not particularly fond of. You still need to do it well, and to do it well you need to embrace it. You need to find something about it that you can love. Find some element of the work that you can be honestly and deeply passionate about. There is always something.

I found the fans. I didn’t have to be passionate about the movies themselves as I was passionate about delivering to the fans exactly what they wanted. I wanted to make great Troma movies—the best we could—to satisfy those fans, and I came to love doing so.

It’s like any good relationship. Eventually, you come to love the whole package, even if, in the beginning, it was just certain bits of him or her that you were attracted to.

Find something to believe in. It is the only way to succeed.

•••

That’s Chapter 10  –  Another one of my favorite lessons in the book: no matter what your job is, there is always something you can find to become genuinely passionate about – and that will make all the difference! Stay tuned for “Chapter 11: “Show Up!” which focuses on finding the true things that matter to move your business forward. What are the bare necessities to make your business succeed?

 

Chapter 9: Old Yeller (and be your Brand)

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 9 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. This chapter still resonates strongly with me to this day. It’s all about the importance of consistency when building a brand. 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 and 8. 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 9: Old Yeller (and be your Brand)

The most valuable trait to understand and recognize in someone or something is consistency. We, humans, are hardwired for pattern recognition. We are built to spot things that are consistent, for a pattern is simply something that appears or occurs consistently. We can deal with patterns. We can deal with consistency. When I first arrived in Tromaville, I quickly learned that Lloyd and Michael were yellers and screamers. Especially during film production.

Author’s note: We realize that the previous chapter espoused the importance of using “we” instead of “I,” and yet here we are using “I” throughout this book. We are distraught over this blatant contradiction and recognize that we may lose some credibility and perhaps even some of your trust. We feel truly awful about this and hope we have not let you down. However, in the context of a somewhat autobiographical tale (after all, the subtitle of this Tromatic tome is “one man’s journey to Hell’s Kitchen and back”), the author felt we could take creative license—and risk it being revoked—and share the stories and lessons herein from the author’s unique, first-person perspective. We hope you will forgive us. And now we return you to chapter 9, already in progress.

When the pressure was on, the yelling and screaming was also on. And on at a very loud volume. Before joining the Troma Team, I don’t think I really understood what it meant to be yelled at. Sure, as a child I had done stupid stuff to the point of provoking one or both of my parents to raise their voice at me. But never in business had I been the object of such verbal aggression. At first, it was shocking and upsetting to me, and since it was such a foreign experience, I took it personally and assumed that I was being yelled at for something I had done.

But soon the patterns revealed themselves, and as a genetically sound human, I came to recognize that the yelling had absolutely nothing to do with me. It was simply the way the mad moguls operated. They were screamers. They were yellers. And they screamed and yelled consistently, at anyone and everyone. They screamed and yelled at each other. Hell, they set up an office environment where they faced each other all day, probably (consciously or not) to facilitate easy yelling.

And once my pattern recognition light bulb went off, the yelling no longer bothered me. Consistency is easy to deal with because your expectations are set and accurate. If someone always yells, you always know what to expect. If someone is consistently an asshole, you know what to expect. You understand their pattern and can deal with them accordingly and with less stress. It is the inconsistent people who challenge us. The person who rarely yells and then suddenly, unexpectedly screams, will truly throw us off. The person modeled on Jekyll and Hyde, who is sometimes your best friend and sometimes a maniacal asshat, and you never know which to expect, that is the most difficult person to deal with. They are unpredictable. They don’t fit a pattern.

So, the yellers were easy.

And to their credit, by the time I left Tromaville they had calmed down quite a bit, and the old yelling, with true vim and vigor, was seldom experienced.

So, what does all this talk of yelling have to do with branding? Consistency. It is all about consistency. An effective brand must always stand for the same thing. An effective brand must be consistent. What your brand is consistent about perhaps matters far less than the fact that you are consistent in presenting the brand values. Know your brand. Decide what it stands for, good or bad, and get behind it consistently. The more consistent your brand message is, the more lasting it will be. Look at the great brands. If you ask ten people what those brands stand for, you will get ten very similar answers. They all have the same expectations of the brand.

At Troma, the brand image was one that resonated deeply with our fans. We were a team, The Troma Team, and if you were a fan, you were a part of that team. You were welcome in Tromaville. We took our business seriously, but we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. If they had not already been violently ripped from our throats, our collective Troma tongues were held firmly in cheek.

Understanding and appreciating the Troma brand was critical to my success in Tromaville.

•••

That’s Chapter 9  –  Another one of my favorite lessons in the book: the power of Consistency, learned from a couple of real screamers! Stay tuned for “Chapter 10: Find Something to Believe In” in which I reveal my true feelings about the films I had a hand in making during my tenure in Tromaville…

 

Chapter 8: The Power of We

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 8 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. While a short one, this is one of my favorite chapters in the book and one I am most often asked about when I’ve done interviews about the book. It is also one of the more powerful lessons I learned while working for Troma, and something I still try to practice in my business dealings today.

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 1234, 5 and 6, and 7. 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 8: The Power of We

Wheee! Rather, “we.” If Troma were to publish their own Elements of Troma Style, two things would happen. First, William Strunk Jr. would roll over in his grave. Second, the book would begin with the statement, “Never, ever, ever, say ‘I’ when speaking or writing on behalf of the Troma Team. It is always ‘we.’ There is no ‘I.’”

This simple rule was enforced by Lloyd as if it were gospel. More than gospel, as if it were the single most important thing above all other important things. As if by violating this one seemingly simple rule, one would be engaging in the most heinous act of corporate malfeasance. In Tromaville saying, “I” was a crime. You as an individual did not exist. Only the Troma Team existed. You did not do anything. Whatever you think you may have done, you didn’t do it. We did. We, we, whee!

If Lloyd caught wind of a letter going out with “I this” or “I that” in it, he would go ballistic. It didn’t matter who you were or what the topic or contents of the correspondence was; you had to use “we” instead of “I.” Always. Without exception. And that went for Lloyd’s own correspondence as well. In Tromaville, though seemingly a royal pain in the ass, the use of the Royal “we” reigned supreme.

And it was great. And it was a great lesson, not only in building a brand but also in creating a culture. Think about it. By enforcing this one simple rule, the notion of being a part of a team was deeply instilled in every employee at every level. From unpaid students and interns to barely paid senior executives, we were all collectively the Troma Team. Everything we did was to support the Troma Team.

As important was the subtle message this consistent use of “we” instilled in the outside world, even if they didn’t quite realize it. Something was different and special about Troma, and you could sense it from every letter or e-mail that always started with “Greetings from Tromaville” and never put self ahead of team. And once you got used to it, it felt better to say “we” than “I.” We were a team and saying “I” felt like you were taking something away from the group. On the other hand, after a while, saying “we” made you feel good. It reassured you that you were indeed part of a tribe (albeit an odd and sometimes creepy one).

To this day, I prefer to say “we” in business correspondence, and it took me a long time after my tenure in Tromaville to not feel a touch of guilt when I wrote “I” in a business letter or e-mail. In truth, “we” is often much better and more accurate. Just like making a movie, business is a very collaborative process. Unless you are truly a sole proprietor, it is unlikely that there are many, if any, business projects or accomplishments that are truly achieved by you alone. If you are an employee or an employer, you are part of a team, and for most things you might take credit for, just saying “I” is a bit disingenuous. And even if you had the lead or did most of the work yourself, saying “we” lets you share the love, and sets a great leadership example. Even today, I often find myself cringing in meetings when I hear someone spouting “I did this” and “I did that” when I know, as does everyone else in the room know, that the person shining the light on him or herself had lots of help from other members of the organization.

Here’s an exercise: Go forty-eight hours deliberately using “we” instead of “I,” and see what happens. How does it make you feel? How do your coworkers and others treat you when you credit “we” for everything?

•••

That’s Chapter 8  – Yes, another short and sweet one (are you seeing a pattern here? This book is an easy, enjoyable read!) Stay tuned for “Chapter 9: Old Yeller (and Be Your Brand)” where we learn a valuable lesson about consistency and branding (and working with a screamer). 

 

 

Chapter 7: Branding Begins on the Ground Floor

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 7 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. It’s a short one. 🙂 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 1234, 5 and 6. 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 7: Branding Begins on the Ground Floor

Greetings from Tromaville! That was how every single bit of correspondence began—from the letters we’d type on typewriters and word processors in the early days, to the telexes, faxes, and eventually e-mails we would send. The lessons I learned about building a brand and brand consistency while a member of the Troma Team have stuck with me for more than twenty years. What was this offbeat, off-kilter, often tasteless runt of a movie studio doing that was so compelling from the standpoint of branding? First of all, they were building a brand, something in those days arguably no film company except Disney had done.

Nobody went to see a movie because it was a “Paramount Picture” or because it was from “Warner Brothers.” They went to see a movie because it starred Robert De Niro or Meryl Streep, or because it was based on a favorite book, or was directed by Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola or another star director. The studio was secondary and largely meaningless to the moviegoer. Except for Disney. People, especially families, went to see a movie because it was a Disney movie. And Troma. Our fans would go see (and still go see) a movie because it was a Troma movie. Whether it is Redneck Zombies or Tromeo and Juliet or some other odd title they never heard of; as long as it was Troma, our fans would show up. Why? Because, like Disney, based on the brand, they knew what to expect. That’s what branding is all about—establishing trusted consumer expectations. It doesn’t matter if the expectations are for family-friendly fare or tasteless, sophomoric gore, as long as the brand message is well established and consistent, it works.

And a strong brand has to be rooted in something accessible. Something consumers can relate to either by association or by aspiration. Something that makes them feel that by supporting the brand, they are part of a community or tribe of like-minded consumers and fans. This is as true for toothpaste as it is for a cookie or, in this book’s case, a low-budget, independent movie studio.

Troma has achieved remarkable brand affinity over forty years and around the globe by creating an inclusive universe—Tromaville, where everyone is part of the “Troma Team.” This concept is hammered into every Troma employee and everyone who watches a Troma movie. From the opening logo to every Troma film, the message is clear. This is “a Troma Team release.” There is no “i” in Team, and there is definitely no “I” in Tromaville. Well, I suppose there actually is the letter “i” in the word “Tromaville,” but aside from that grammatical digression, once you enter the land of Tromaville, you must always put the Troma Team first, literally and figuratively.

•••

That’s Chapter 7  – Another short and sweet one (are you seeing a pattern here? This book is an easy, enjoyable read!) Stay tuned for “Chapter 8: The Power of We” where we learn a valuable lesson from a simple rule we lived by at Troma, and something you might consider trying. 

 

 

Chapters 5 & 6: Working FREE-Lance & Becoming a Full-time Tromite

Greetings from Tromaville! Here are Chapters 5 & 6 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. Since they are short and related, I am including both chapters here. 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 123, and 4. 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 5: Working FREE-Lance

Lloyd, Michael, and I hit it off quite well, and I was immediately fond of them and enamored by the crazy, self-contained, and self-controlled world they had created for themselves in that messy building on Ninth Avenue. But despite our good connection, they had absolutely zero interest in doing any business with Satori. Troma was, and is, fiercely independent, and if anyone were going to distribute their movies to pay TV and beyond, it would be them (or someone willing to pay an exorbitant fee in the form of an offer they could not refuse.) So we parted ways as friends.

Until, some six months later, when I decided to leave my job at Satori to become a screenwriter.

I had been with Satori for five and a half years and at that point felt I had gone as far as I could within the organization in its current structure. It had been a great run for me, and I had gained incredible experiences there, producing the early Cable TV show, Celebrity with hostess Alison Steele, traveling the world to film festivals, and much, much more. But my personal creative itch was screaming to be scratched. I wanted to be a screenwriter and make movies. While Satori gave me many opportunities to be creative, it was clear the company was on a path focused more on distribution than production, and I wanted to make stuff.

So I struck out on my own, with the initial goal of writing (and hopefully selling) original screenplays. I got to work on my very first screenplay, Wunderkind, and upon completion, I sent it over to Lloyd and asked him to read it. While a comedy, Wunderkind wasn’t a Troma-style film, but I was hoping to get feedback from someone who actually made movies.

Lloyd was kind enough to read my script, and he and Michael invited me to visit them again in Tromaville to see what I was up to. I once again found myself sitting in the kooky chasm between the desks of Messrs. Kaufman and Herz. I was young and green and passionately told them how “I wanted to write and make movies.” They said that based on Wunderkind they thought I could write and if I wanted to, I could write a screenplay for them. They had an idea for a story.

They offered to pay a little something if I was able to turn their story idea into a full screenplay. My recollection was that it was around $1,200, payable when an acceptable script was delivered. I probably would have done it for free, but it was even more exciting to have a “paid” writing assignment. I was briefed on their story idea, took notes and their treatment, and got to work on it.

During the eighteen months after leaving Satori, I wrote three full screenplays (Wunderkind, Deep Cover, and the Troma Project). I also formed a production company with Academy Award-winning animator Jimmy Picker and another partner to write and produce a clay-animated and live-action special, My Friend Liberty, which aired on CBS in the summer of 1986 to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. Troma paid me my small fee, I made a modest fee from My Friend Liberty, and one of my screenplays, Deep Cover, was optioned by a Hollywood producer. I also got married, and we eventually became pregnant.

I thought My Friend Liberty would immediately lead to tons of work for our burgeoning production company and that I was on my way. But I was way off in my naive enthusiasm. More production work was not forthcoming, and the dwindling funds and insecurities of the freelance life were not conducive to starting a family, not to mention supporting one. I needed a job. A real job. I settled for working for Troma.

•••

Chapter 6: Becoming a Full-time Tromite

Back at the Troma Building, I told Lloyd and Michael that I was ready for full-time employment. I wanted to make movies. They thought that was nice. But, they weren’t in production on anything at the moment, and besides, they didn’t really pay much to the folks they hired for production work since there were so many willing and eager to work for literal peanuts (and a cold beverage to wash the nuts down with) just to gain some hands-on experience on a real film crew. If I wanted a working wage, I’d need to do something more important than making the movies, I’d have to sell them.

Given my background in acquisitions and distribution over at Satori, they thought I’d be the perfect guy to start moving Troma into the blooming home-video and pay-TV markets. It wasn’t much of a salary, but it was a real job. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was a step closer to making movies, and I figured (correctly, as it turned out) that once they were actually in production again, I’d find a way to get more intimately involved in that process, along with my sales responsibilities.

We came to an agreement and shook hands. And Lloyd walked me out into the main office, swiped a mess of papers off the corner of a desk where there was a phone, and pulled up an orphaned chair. “Here you go, Sass,” as he pointed to the workspace he just created. “Welcome to Tromaville!”

And so it began.

•••

 

That’s Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 – Two more short and sweet ones (are you seeing a pattern here? This book is an easy, enjoyable read!) Stay tuned for “Chapter 7: Branding Begins on the Ground Floor” where I share insights as to how Troma built a unique brand that has lasted more than forty years… 

 

 

,

Chapter 4: Trailer Trash

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 4 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. 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 12 and 3. You can also see me read this chapter live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon. 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 4: Trailer Trash

Having huffed and puffed my way up to the fourth floor, I entered the editing lair. Here, there were a few seemingly ancient Moviola “flatbed” film editing consoles. Remember, this was more or less predigital, and still in the age of film. Editing involved literally cutting and splicing strips of film and magnetic sound tapes in an attempt to make something cohesive. A film editor works with prints of the raw footage that was shot during production. When the edited film is finalized and approved by the director, it gets sent to a “negative cutter”—someone skilled in the art of carefully and cleanly handling the camera negatives. The negative cutter conforms the original film negative to the approved edit, and that cut negative, when married to optical effects and a fully mixed soundtrack, becomes the master from which all the prints are made, that eventually end up in theaters. This was 1985. The first nonlinear video editing systems were just being demonstrated and were several years away from being put to any practical use by filmmakers. And, anyway, Troma was decidedly “old school” in those days.

As I took my tour with Lloyd, he showed me a work in progress, a new trailer for the intentionally gross, soon to become legendary, Troma epic, The Toxic Avenger. The film had enjoyed some early notoriety but had yet to find its niche in B-movie history as the so-called cult classic it remains today. I don’t think I had actually seen The Toxic Avenger at the time, but its reputation preceded it and I had a pretty good inkling as to what it was all about. My impression, from reviews and word of mouth, was that it was fairly gross and somewhat sophomoric, yet somehow charming and disarming because of an underlying sweetness and humor. Lloyd showed me the trailer in progress, which was fairly graphic and straightforward, and ended with a particularly dry and emotionless tagline, “A Different Kind of Hero!”

Lloyd asked me what I thought. I answered honestly. “Meh.” My understanding was that part of the movie’s appeal was that it had an element of comedy to it, despite the graphic, arguably tasteless violence. I felt the trailer, in the end, fell flat, largely because the tagline, “A Different Kind of Hero,” didn’t really convey how Toxie (or the movie for that matter) was indeed different. It was boring. It was plain.

“Well,” said Lloyd, “What tagline would you use instead?”

I thought about it a moment and asked a question. I had done my homework and read up on the film. I knew that much of it was filmed across the Hudson River from Manhattan and that the locale had been worked into the story as Toxie’s home. Like any good New Yorker, I also knew the various slurs and aspersions we’d lovingly cast at our Garden State neighbor. So, thinking fast I responded, “The Toxic Avenger is from Jersey City, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Lloyd.

“So,” I continued. “I’d use the tagline “The First Superhero…from New Jersey!’—something that is an immediate wink to the audience, letting them know that there’s a hint of comedy here too.”

Lloyd paused a moment in deep thought. Then he repeated my suggestion aloud, quietly, like a freshly assigned mantra. “The First Superhero from New Jersey…That’s great. Can we use it?”

“Sure,” I said.

The trailer was changed. The posters too. And like that Toxie became the first superhero from New Jersey.

And that was the first of the many things I would end up writing for Troma.

 

The lesson here, of course, and one I have used again and again since is to share your ideas. Don’t be afraid to give someone a good idea or help them without expecting anything from it. Holding back your ideas because they are precious or valuable or because you are afraid someone will steal them, is just a way to hold yourself back. This is especially true when you are trying to get a job or a new client. Give them a tangible taste of what you are really capable of. Give them a sampling of your valuable ideas that they can use and benefit from whether they hire you or not. More often than not, if your ideas are good, you will get hired or get the client. If you allow your best ideas to be turned into secrets, you may never get to see your ideas put to use.

There’s also a great lesson here from Lloyd’s behavior. He listened! Even though it was probably he who came up with the original tagline, “A Different Kind of Hero,” Lloyd was open to change and to new ideas, regardless of where they came from. Who was this Sass guy, anyway? He had just met me for the first time. I had no track record to speak of, and yet when Lloyd heard a good idea, a better choice, he was ready and willing to discard what he had already done and make a change that he perceived to be for the better. And it cost money to change the trailer and the posters and flyers. But it was the right move.

How open are you to accepting suggestions and new ideas?

•••

That’s Chapter 4 – Another short and sweet one (are you seeing a pattern here? This book is an easy, enjoyable read!) Stay tuned for “Chapter 5: Working FREE-lance” and the story of how Troma became my full-time employer… 

The book in previous posts:

Foreword, by Lloyd Kaufman
Introduction: Lights, Camera, Action!
Chapter 1: Welcome to Tromaville!
Chapter 2: The Troma Building
Chapter 3: Meet the Moguls