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Chapter 29: Raising your Hand

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 29 of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. This chapter addresses stepping up to take on new opportunities, whether you are qualified or not…

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 6789, 10, 111213, 141516, 17181920212223242526, 27 and 28. 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 29: RAISING YOUR HAND

In business, there are many theories about doing things “in-house” versus
“outsourcing” or hiring agencies, consultants, so-called experts, and
other third parties to work on your company’s behalf. It is a decision
entrepreneurs struggle with all the time, and in truth, the decision is
based on much more than a cost-benefit analysis. There are other considerations, including your company culture, to think about when deciding what roles your employees play versus the roles of outsiders.
In Tromaville this decision was easier to make, as we didn’t have the
resources (or mind-set, for that matter) to hire someone from outside to
do the work someone inside could do cheaper (and, perhaps better, but
mainly cheaper). After all, when we were in production, we were known
for throwing inexperienced people into uncharted waters and hoping for
the best. Why wouldn’t the same philosophy apply when we operated the
business side of things? For the most part, it did.

When we were growing and making more deals, our legal bills were
growing as well, as we had to run everything by “outside counsel.” Instead
of continuing to pay the pros exorbitant fees, we hired a young, green
law school graduate who had probably spent far more time in a bar than
studying for and passing the Bar. He was eager to work, had no practical
experience yet, and thus was willing to work for very little in order to gain real-world experience as “in-house” counsel for an established independent
movie studio. (It sounds good on paper, doesn’t it?)

In truth, David G was a bright, eager, somewhat conservative addition
to the Troma Team. (You will note that in previous chapters I use people’s
actual names; however, in this case, I have chosen to say “David G” instead
of our lawyer’s real name. I ain’t stupid. He is a lawyer, after all…). In
truth, as with many who passed through Tromaville and passed their sink-or-swim test, David proved to be a genuinely talented attorney who may
have learned by fire at Troma, but also earned the respect of an industry
and went on to have a great career as a leading entertainment attorney.
Having a young, in-house attorney is something I learned from Troma
that I have lobbied for at every company I have worked at since, and I have
always hired one at every company I have founded and have been in control of. Sure, you still will need the expertise of out-house counsel from
time to time, but having someone on your payroll to do as much of the
legal legwork as possible, and then letting the high-priced pros review it,
will pay for itself in no time. Plus, an in-house legal beagle will truly and
fully understand the ins and outs of your business in ways “the big guys”
never will, and your inside guy or gal will create a sense of checks and
balances with the outside firm of record. It may seem frivolous for a small
start-up of ten or twelve employees to have an attorney on staff, but I can
assure you from experience it can be a tremendous benefit and cost savings in the long run.

Clearly, in Tromaville the culture was one of DIY at every possible turn,
which is how I suddenly found myself at the heart of the licensing and
merchandising industry. We were in the midst of launching The Toxic
Crusaders
, the cartoon spin-off of The Toxic Avenger that was going to be
produced as a Saturday-morning cartoon series, made by the same animation studio, MWS, that had been responsible for the megasuccessful
animated TMNT: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles had emerged
from the shell of a popular underground comic to become one of the biggest TV, toy, and game phenomenon in history. Kids everywhere were
obsessed with the adventures of Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and
Raphael and a gazillion dollars were being spent on TMNT toys, games,
clothes, and anything capable of having a logo printed on it. The Teenage
Mutant Ninja Turtles
were an industry, and at that moment it appeared that The Toxic Crusaders were ideally positioned to be next in line for the kids’ cartoon and merchandising throne.

Miraculously, Toxie was loved by the industry that had made the
Turtles massive. Like the TMNT, Toxie was edgy, action-packed, and had
an underlying positive message—pro-environment and anti–toxic waste.
(Toxie knew firsthand the perils of that!) We were shell-shocked by the
attention but managed to line up the animation deal with MWS (same as
TMNT) and a master toy license with Playmates Toys (same as TMNT).
We had the “A” team behind us and woke up every day pinching ourselves
to test the realization that kids everywhere would soon be looking up to
a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength that first
gained notoriety in a trashy, uber-violent, R-rated, low-budget, low-brow
cult movie. The irony was not lost on anyone. The engine of greed salivating
for the next TMNT made it all OK.

So as the animated series commenced production and the Playmates toy line began taking its hideously deformed shape (in the form of neon green
Toxie action figures and accessories) we were suddenly the darlings
of an industry we knew nothing about. Suddenly we were being courted
by every major licensing agent in the industry, from Surge Licensing, the
team behind the TMNT merchandising machine generating hundreds of
millions of dollars in royalties, to a literal parade of agencies and agents
ascending our narrow stairs to enter Tromaville and trying to convince us
to sign over our exclusive rights for them to represent.

One guy literally showed up with a check for $50,000 that he insisted
we take as a deposit against the millions of dollars of royalty fees he would
soon be raining upon us. We didn’t have an agreement or contract with
him. He just handed us a check. Lloyd held it, briefly, until Michael
promptly swiped it from him, and inspected it carefully. $50,000 was
a lot of dough in Tromaville in those days. We made entire movies for
$50,000. And this guy was ready to hand it over to us, over a property he
barely knew anything about. I suppose Gordon Gekko was right: “Greed is good.” Thanks to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, when people in the
licensing industry looked at Toxie, they did not see his grossly wrinkled
skin or droopily deformed eye. All they saw was green. And not the green
of his toxically tanned skin, but rather the green of money. The whole thing made us, the proud purveyors of so-called schlock, feel a bit “icky.”

After the wave of eager agents had subsided and we were able to
reflect on our newfound role as the apparent object of everyone’s affection,
we realized that all of our suitors had one thing in common. They all
wanted to keep one-third of all the money we would make from The Toxic
Crusaders
. That seemed to be the industry standard. They’d go out and
make licensing deals with the manufacturers of sneakers and bedsheets
and pajamas and school supplies and underwear and coloring books and
anything and everything else they could, and in return, they’d keep a full
33.33 percent of what we collected from such deals. From where we sat
that was a pretty steep commission.

So I raised my hand.

“How hard can this be?” I asked Lloyd and Michael. “I mean, it’s not rocket
science, and we already have all the manufacturers interested in The Toxic
Crusaders
thanks to the TV series and Playmates Toys. Why should we give
up a third? I’ll do it.”

And with that, Troma Licensing was formed, and I was it.
It was dive in headfirst and sink or swim. I was, fortunately, able to
swim and soon became entrenched in the world of licensing and merchandising.

In truth, it is an amazing industry, at the time led by many sincere
and hardworking manufacturers that were often long-standing family
businesses, like Wormser Pajamas. As a kid, I wore Batman pajamas
made by Wormser, so it was truly a thrill to get to know and work with
Ed Wormser and his team to make Toxic Crusaders PJs. And it seemed
everyone in the close-knit industry was warm, friendly, and eager to see
Toxie succeed. I was very glad I raised my hand.

When new opportunities arise for your business before you hire the so-called experts, could you create an expert from within?

• • •

That’s Chapter 29  –  In business, especially in a startup, it can be advantageous to keep it “in-house” and do it yourself when a new opportunity arises. Could someone on your team do it just as well as an outside expert?Stay tuned for Chapter 30: “In What Universe Could The Toxic Avenger and Reading Rainbow Coexist? The Troma Universe” which goes behind the scenes of one of the most unlikely partnerships in entertainment history!

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
Chapter 4: Trailer Trash
Chapters 5 and 6: Working FREE-lance & Becoming a Full-time Tromite
Chapter 7: Branding Begins on the Ground Floor
Chapter 8: The Power of We
Chapter 9: Old Yeller (and Be Your Brand)
Chapter 10: Find Something to Believe In
Chapter 11: Show Up!
Chapter 12: Sink or Swim!
Chapter 13: Embrace your Vision and Culture!
Chapter 14: Strategic Partners – Burn Houses, Not Bridges
Chapter 15: If You Don’t Want to Swallow a Frog, Start with a Stunt
Chapter 16: Repurpose, On Purpose!
Chapter 17: Always Salute the Schwag!
Chapter 18: Playing by the Rules
Chapter 19: Fix it, or Forget it… Fast!
Chapter 20: This Means WAR!
Chapter 21: Delegate or Die!
Chapter 22: Location, Location, Location
Chapter 23: Everyone is Expendable (Especially if you Wear a Mask!)
Chapter 24: Be Open to the Unexpected
Chapter 25: Influencing the Influencers
Chapter 26: Yes, we Cannes!
Chapter 27: Putting Out Fires (Literally!)
Chapter 28: Sleeping on the Job!

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My Troma Story on the Good Story Podcast

I recently had the chance to speak with Eric Skwarczynski, host of the GOOD STORY Podcast. Eric, already a self-professed Troma fan, had read my book and was well-prepared with some great questions. In addition to being a great podcast host and producer, Eric has some great editing chops and put together some great short videos with excerpts from our talk, which I will share on Social Media. Meanwhile, below is the full podcast episode. Enjoy!

Chapter 26: Yes, We Cannes!

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 26 of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. This chapter talks about the residual value of trade shows and conferences, the Cannes Film Festival, and Market, and the only time I ever was in a fist fight (thanks to Toxie!)

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, 1718192021222324 and 25. 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 26: Yes, We Cannes!

2017 marked the seventieth anniversary of the Cannes International Film Festival. This means Troma has been around for more than half of the illustrious festival’s existence. What most filmgoers don’t realize is that behind the glitz and glamor of the stars and awards, the juries and red carpets, the yachts and parties, there is a vibrant film market going on along the Promenade de la Croisette. Behind the closed doors of suites at the Carlton, the Martinez, and countless other locations along the lovely French Mediterranean backdrop are hundreds of hustlers hawking their films to buyers from all over the globe. Hollywood goes to Cannes to celebrate, Tromaville goes to Cannes to sell!

There are so many stories I have and lessons learned from Cannes that it could be a separate book in its own right. The only time I have ever been in a fist fight in my life was in Cannes, where I was ultimately banned from a restaurant I’d been frequenting for years (starting in my Satori days). A simple, poorly placed Toxie sticker caused a chair-throwing, table-tumbling, all-out brawl. But I digress. I’ll tell you the Toxie sticker story another time.

Attending the Cannes Film Market (not the Festival) is intense hard work, made even harder by the realization you are indoors, pitching your celluloid dreams, while outside you are situated in one of the most beautiful places in the world, surrounded by some of the most famous and wealthy people in the world, and representatives of every and any company that means anything in the entertainment world. It is truly heady stuff, and then there you are, hondling over the minimum guarantee for theatrical rights to Big Gus, What’s the Fuss? in Indonesia. That’s show business.

Attending the Cannes Film Festival each year was a very costly endeavor for the Troma Team. Flying four or more Tromites to France was just part of it. Hotels, food, an office suite at one of the main hotels such as the Carlton, all added up to a huge expense for a small, self-made and self-financed entity. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars for a two-week stay, and while the goal is sales, oftentimes the hard results that could be specifically attributed to our attendance at Cannes were quite elusive.

Until one year.

We were set up at the Carlton Hotel, the most expensive, but also most impressive and convenient, place for one to hold court during Cannes. It helped that nobody really understood Troma’s business and all were dazzled simply to see this lowly, low-budget outfit offering their wares in the Carlton, alongside the “real” players in international film sales. Of course, in Cannes showmanship is king, and just about anything goes, so it was a perfect venue for the Troma style of guerrilla marketing. Every morning before dawn we blanketed every car parked along the Croisette with flyers for the latest Troma releases. During the day, scantily clad actresses (Tromettes) and costumed creatures (Toxie, Kabukiman, and more) would stroll along the French Riviera along with the Hollywood stars, posing for the press and paparazzi and generally causing a ruckus.

We put on a great show and fought tooth and nail for every foreign market advance we could get—typically we were thrilled to get our hands on checks ranging from $500 to a few thousand bucks, praying they would actually be good when we deposited them back in New York. One year a quiet man, conservatively dressed in a tailored summer suit, came wandering into the Troma suite at the Carlton. We assumed he was lost and looking for some other company. He looked far too normal to have intentionally sought out the Troma team. He soon made it clear that indeed he was in the right place.

“I would like to buy a large package of Troma movies for my territory,” he stated.

“What’s large?” we wondered.

He went on to put together one of the biggest deals, hundreds of thousands of dollars, that we had ever made in a single sitting. A seriously big deal for the likes of Troma. And we didn’t have to sell him. He knew what he wanted, and he wanted it all.

After the agreement was prepared and signed on the spot, and a deposit check was paid, and Lloyd had picked up his jaw from the floor, we asked the gentleman why he was spending so much money on Troma movies? With barely a pause he replied.

“I have been coming to the Cannes Festival for years, and every year I see you guys working it hard and promoting your films. You are always back, reliably, year after year. I have always admired how you promote your brand, but I was never ready to buy any Troma movies for my territory. Now I am ready. I know you are real, and I know you will support your films, because I see you here, doing it year after year.”

We shook hands with our new friend and customer, and it was the start of a long and fruitful relationship. It was also a lesson about trade shows and conferences that I have never forgotten.

In most cases, it is very hard to see direct results from attending a trade show or conference that covers the cost of being at the event. On the other hand, if you return to a show, year after year, there is a residual value to being there that doesn’t go unnoticed by your customers. If you can be patient, that residual value can pay off years later, and big enough to make all the earlier “dry” years worthwhile. Yes, you Cannes!

•••

That’s Chapter 26  –  How do you approach trade shows for your business? Do you try a show once and give up, or are you slowly building that residual value, year after year? Something to think about… Stay tuned for Chapter 27: “Putting Out Fires (Literally)” in which we discuss dealing with “Celebrities” and my heated encounter with legendary producer, Samuel Z. Arkoff (R.I.P.).

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
Chapter 4: Trailer Trash
Chapters 5 and 6: Working FREE-lance & Becoming a Full-time Tromite
Chapter 7: Branding Begins on the Ground Floor
Chapter 8: The Power of We
Chapter 9: Old Yeller (and Be Your Brand)
Chapter 10: Find Something to Believe In
Chapter 11: Show Up!
Chapter 12: Sink or Swim!
Chapter 13: Embrace your Vision and Culture!
Chapter 14: Strategic Partners – Burn Houses, Not Bridges
Chapter 15: If You Don’t Want to Swallow a Frog, Start with a Stunt
Chapter 16: Repurpose, On Purpose!
Chapter 17: Always Salute the Schwag!
Chapter 18: Playing by the Rules
Chapter 19: Fix it, or Forget it… Fast!
Chapter 20: This Means WAR!
Chapter 21: Delegate or Die!
Chapter 22: Location, Location, Location
Chapter 23: Everyone is Expendable (Especially if you Wear a Mask!)
Chapter 24: Be Open to the Unexpected
Chapter 25: Influencing the Influencers

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Three Words I Learned from The Toxic Avenger

It's a new year, and everyone is considering their resolutions and goals for 2019. A lot of folks I know (myself now included), opt to choose three words as their inspiration for the new year, rather than more traditional resolutions. These are three words you can point to for inspiration and guidance during the year. You can see my "three words for 2019" on my blog, SASSHOLES! In the spirit of "three words" I thought I would write about three words I learned from my monster mentor, Toxie. So, with that in mind, here are:

Three Words I Learned from The Toxic Avenger

BEAUTY.
The word "beauty" may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you take a gander at the hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength. He's got more than a few wrinkles (especially for his age) and that droopy eye thing, is, well, a bit of an eye-sore to look at. But Toxie's beauty is not skin deep, but rather, deep within. What he may lack in more traditional good looks, he more than compensates for with his glowing (sometimes, literally glowing) inner beauty. You can't judge a book by its cover, and you can't judge a monster by how horrifying he may appear on the surface. When I see Toxie, I see nothing but beauty. Do you see it too?

FAMILY.
Despite having to mop things up for most of his childhood, Toxie matured into a loving and caring family man-er, family monster. No matter how busy he is beating the crap out of criminals and ridding Tromaville of its true ugliness - the corrupt and evil corporations and the crooks who run them - Toxie always makes time for his Mom. He's a loving and caring son-er, monster, who will do anything and everything to help his Mom and make her proud. And he treats his girlfriend pretty well too, though she may not always see it, being blind and all...

COMPASSION.
There's no other way to say it. Toxie cares. He cares about his friends and family. He cares about his hometown of Tromaville. He cares about poor, defenseless kittens caught in trees. He cares about the elderly and disabled folks being taken advantage of by corrupt politicians. He cares about cute kids wearing footsie pajamas (and not just because they are the children of the director). Toxie cares. He is by far the most compassionate person-er, monster, I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

So there you have it. Three words I learned from The Toxic Avenger:

Beauty. Family. Compassion.

What words are you thinking about in the new year?


Did you enjoy this post? Please share it, or even better, buy the book!

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Legendary Indy Studio Troma Joins Hollywood Studio Legendary for Toxic Avenger Reboot

Still Toxic After All These Years!

My monster mentor The Toxic Avenger (aka Toxie) is in the news again as word spreads through the media touting a brand new Hollywood remake. Yes, the legendary independent studio Troma is teaming up with the Hollywood studio Legendary to bring Toxie back to the silver screen!

This is not the first time Hollywood has threatened to embrace Tromaville and welcome Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz (and their hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength) to cross over to the dark side and “go mainstream.” Back toward the end of my stint in Tromaville, riding on the grossly green backs of The Toxic Crusaders cartoon series (of which I was a co-creator), we had a deal with New Line Cinema to produce a big budget theatrical “Toxie” flick. But alas that flick flickered away and never came to be. Sad.

In more recent years, there have been rumors of a Toxic Avenger remake to star Arnold Schwarzenegger as Toxie. It looks like Arnold won’t be back, but at least now The Toxic Avenger will!

As someone who lived intimately with Toxie for more than seven years, through two sequels and a cartoon series spinoff, I can personally vouch for the lovability and durability of The First Superhero from New Jersey. Like Troma itself, this new take on The Toxic Avenger is destined to be Legendary!

I couldn’t be more happy for Lloyd, Michael, and the Troma Team. After all, “Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER!”

Chapter 24: Be Open to the Unexpected

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 24 of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. This chapter shares the lesson that inspiration comes in many forms and often in unexpected shapes and sizes. You need to be ready to see it, and embrace it!

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, 171819202122 and 23. 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 24: Be Open to the Unexpected

You never know where inspiration will come from. The key is to be open to seeing it and acting upon it when it decides to burst in on you unexpectedly.

Back in the days when our cars were not actually computers on wheels, there was a fad when anyone with a child would stick a suction cupped diamond-shaped yellow sign to the window of their car that said “Baby on board,” the idea being that other drivers would be more careful driving around a car that was transporting a young, defenseless human. Parents loved it, and the signs became a literal sign of the times. You’d see them stuck inside vehicle windows everywhere. Whoever came up with those signs was making serious bank. And of course, the more popular they became, the riper they became for being copied and parodied. Soon, as an attempt to deter would-be robbers, some cars started posting the same yellow diamond sign that said “No radio on board.”

There’s a running visual joke throughout Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, where a parked car is broken into, and then we see it has one of the “No radio on board” signs, in this case presumably left by the lowlifes who just broke in and stole the car’s radio. Throughout the film, we revisit the car as more things are stolen, and more yellow suction cup signs are added to the window. Eventually, we see the car, up on blocks, stripped bare, with a “No tires on board” sign added to the crowded windows. Hahaha. Corny but timely (those yellow suction cup signs were really a thing).

Whether you thought the car gag was funny or not, there’s a story behind how it ended up in the script. Lloyd and I were writing the screenplay for Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD at his place on the Upper East Side. As we sat in the small room (the former closet that was now “the computer room” so we could type our script in bits and bytes), we were interrupted by the persistent shrill piercing sound of a car alarm. Any excuse to not write was welcome, so we stopped what we were doing (or not doing) and gathered by the second-story window.

There, on the street below us, we watched the dude who had just smashed the window of the car parked on the street in front of the Kaufmans’ humble abode. It was summer time, hot, and the window was already half-way open to welcome the occasional breeze. Instinctively we screamed out the window in unison, “Hey! Get away from that car!” Startled, the would-be car thief looked up at us and started to run. Without hesitation, Lloyd and I looked at each other, turned, and bounded down the stairs and out the front door onto the street. A quick glance at the smashed car window and requisite glass on the curb beside, and another glance down the street toward the corner where our culprit could be seen running from the scene.

Perhaps it was because we were in the midst of writing the story of a crime-fighting New York City cop who turns into a crime-fighting, kimono-wearing superhero, or perhaps because we were just a couple of nerdy idiots, but whatever reason we felt compelled to run down the block screaming “stop, thief!” Needless to say, the thief did not stop. The jaded New Yorkers around us looked at us as if we were indeed a couple of nerdy idiots. Huffing and puffing from our brief, unexpected bout of cardiovascular activity, we put our tails between our legs and dejectedly walked back to Lloyd’s. We were clearly not effective crime-fighters in real life. So we trudged back up the stairs to the computer closet and our screenplay in progress and memorialized the experience by writing in the aforementioned car gag.

Inspiration comes in many forms and often in unexpected shapes and sizes. You need to be ready to see it and embrace it (even if doing so makes you appear to be a nerdy idiot).

No tires on board! (Screen capture from Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD)

•••

That’s Chapter 24  –  Are you always ready for the unexpected? What random events have influenced the outcomes of your project? Stay tuned for Chapter 25: “Influencing the Influencers” which shares the lesson of being real, authentic and self-aware, and how those traits have helped Troma influence filmmakers and celebrities over the years, from Quentin Tarrantino to Peter Jackson, and countless others.

The book in previous posts:

Chapter 23: Everyone is Expendable (Especially if you Wear a Mask)

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 23 of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. This chapter shares a lesson about dealing with talent (i.e. employees) and their unique quirks, and recognizing that everyone is expendable… even you and me.

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, 17181920, 21 and 22. 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

NOTE: Earlier this year, and subsequent to the publishing of this book, the talented John Altamura passed away unexpectedly. John shared the role of The Toxic Avenger and is referenced in this chapter. His contributions to Troma and these films will never be forgotten, and my condolences go out to all of his family, friends, and fans. R.I.P. John.

Chapter 23: Everyone Is Expendable (Especially if you Wear a Mask)

Dealing with “talent” is a special skill in and of itself. Like it or not, “talent” is special, and often for the best results, you need to treat them special. Fortunately, by the time I made it to Tromaville, I had a good sense of this, having produced the early cable TV show Celebrity when I worked at Satori. The hostess of that show was the great NY disc jockey Alison “ The Nightbird” Steele. When I worked with Alison, she was already a celebrity in her own right, one of the first female FM radio DJ’s to make it big on the prestigious NY City Classic Rock station, WNEW. For the show, we often had to show up at various hotels to interview famous actors and actresses in town to promote their latest movies. Everyone, from Jane Fonda to Robin Williams, to Christopher Reeve, and countless other A-list stars of the day.

Alison was a pro, and wonderful to work with, but she had one quirk. She was always late. Always. We were typically on a tight interview schedule as the stars were basically on a junket conducting back-to-back interviews all day long, so we needed to show up and be ready to go at our appointed slot. Difficult to do with Alison’s chronic tardiness. So, we began to adjust her call time to account for this. If our interview was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. and she needed thirty minutes to get ready, we’d tell Alison that her call time was 8:00 a.m. Invariably she’d show up at 8:30 a.m., and we’d be on time for the 9:00 a.m. shoot. This worked like a charm until one day she actually showed up “on time” and saw that we were just sitting around doing nothing because we had plenty of time to set up. She figured out our game, and we could never play it again. Talent.

Back in Tromaville, we had our own set of talent issues, from on-set relationships gone awry, to drinking issues, and on and on. Often what was most challenging was what I’d call “prima donna syndrome”—when our stars became star struck with themselves. It turns out that actors and actresses don’t have to be paid huge sums to think and act like a star (or, more accurately, their warped personal vision of how a “real” star might behave). Even in the context of a low-budget action/horror film, the stars want to be treated as such. Those of us on the production side, if we wanted to keep the set moving and on schedule, often needed to swallow our pride, roll our eyes (when nobody was looking), and suck up to the whims of those with the most screen time. To a point.

And then there was Toxie.

The titular role in The Toxic Avenger is, of course, the Toxic Avenger himself, affectionately known as “Toxie.” Mind you that the actor (and, as you’ll soon see, actors) who portrayed Toxie on film all had one very crucial thing in common: they wore a freakin’ mask over their heads! The popular hideously formed creature of superhuman size and strength, the first superhero from New Jersey, the goofy guy who emerged from a vat of toxic chemicals, was always played by an actor wearing a full- head mask, not makeup. Other than the whites of their eyes and teeth, essentially there was no individually identifiable part of the actor’s face or features visible when they were in front of the camera as Toxie. Toxie was the star. The actor(s) in the costume and mask were, for all intents and purposes, anonymous. This came in handy in a number of ways.

First of all, when we decided to create a sequel to The Toxic Avenger, we didn’t have to worry about trying to dig up the dude who played Toxie in the original film. We could cast any muscular mensch we wanted and have them fill our hero’s goo-soled shoes.

Having Toxie’s presence dictated by the presence of virtually anyone wearing the mask had many other efficiencies. In particular, while the real Toxie was filming one scene, a second unit could be off shooting stunts or effects with Toxie at the same time. All we needed was to have duplicate masks and costumes, and the stunt teams and effects teams were ready to rock and roll, with one of their own dressed as Toxie. From a production perspective, it was super-efficient. From the point of view of the actor playing the primary Toxie, it was super annoying. In his mask-covered mind, he was the star. He should be the only one in front of the camera in his hideously deformed glory.

So, as we set out to make the sequel to The Toxic Avenger, we hired a well-muscled hunk to play the infamous lead role. I’ll call him John (mostly because his name was John, and because, smart as you are, I know you’ll just look at the publicly available film credits and figure it out!) John was indeed a great Toxie until he got a bit too full of himself. While he never went so far as to demand that there would be no brown M&M’s on set, he did start to make things difficult as his case of “prima donna syndrome” kicked into high gear. Eventually, Toxie John became his own worst enemy, and we mutually decided it was time for us to go our separate ways. Fortunately, seeing the proverbial writing on the wall, we had already been integrating Toxie’s backup, who I’ll call Ron (mostly because his name was Ron, and because, smart as you are, I know you’ll just look at the publicly available film credits and figure it out!) By the time John moved on, Ron was all set to be the primary Toxie.

So, if you watch carefully, in The Toxic Avenger Part II and III, you can spot the physical differences between Toxie John and Toxie Ron, in height and musculature, but Toxie is such a strong character that his heart and soul stands out and rings true, regardless of who the man is behind the mask, and the film plays on just fine.

Everyone is expendable.
Even me and you.
Don’t worry about it, but don’t forget it either.

•••

That’s Chapter 23  –  Do you agree? Is everyone on your team actually expendable (including you)? Stay tuned for Chapter 24: “Be Open to the Unexpected” which shares the lesson that inspiration comes in many forms and often in unexpected shapes and sizes. You need to be ready to see it, and embrace it!

The book in previous posts:

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Mister Productivity Gets Some Productivity Tips from Making Movies

Mark Struczewski calls himself “Mister Productivity” and with good reason. He’s singularly focused on solving productivity problems. Through his website, speaking, coaching, and podcast he brings valuable productivity advice to thousands. With that in mind, when Mark invited me to be a guest on his show I focused on lessons I learned from making movies that have an emphasis on productivity. The truth is, even though my book is called Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER, a lot of the learnings I gained from filmmaking are indeed productivity related (and not just about marketing). Mark is a smart and passionate host, and he had some great questions as he had read my book in advance of our talk. To listen, click here or on the player embedded below. I hope you enjoy it and find some value in the productivity advice we discuss.

 

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.

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Get Ready for a Super Time at Florida Supercon!

 

It’s Supercon time! On July 12-15, 2018 Supercon returns to the Broward County Convention Center, which is literally in my backyard, just a few minutes from my home. So how could I not take advantage of this great opportunity to promote my book to avid pop-culture fans!

I’ll be selling and signing books at Booth 735 all four days of the show. Also, on Saturday, July 14th at 1:00 pm I’ll be giving a presentation in Room 304 sharing some of the business and marketing lessons I learned working for Troma that have helped guide my career from B-movies to the C-suite!

During Jeff Sass’ 7-year tenure in Tromaville he worked on classics including TROMA’S WAR, TOXIC AVENGER II & III, CLASS OF NUKE’EM HIGH II & III, he co-wrote SGT. KABUKIMAN, NYPD and he was instrumental in the creation and launch of THE TOXIC CRUSADERS cartoon series and merchandise. In this entertaining and educational talk, Jeff shares the lessons he learned making Troma movies that have helped him throughout his career as a tech entrepreneur and CMO – lessons that you too can apply to your career. Fun Fact: When Jeff left Troma in 1994, they hired James Gunn to replace him…

(By, the way, I offer a customized version of this presentation as a free webinar for businesses that purchase 12 or more copies of the book  – contact me for more information).

If you are in South Florida and love movies, comics, cosplay and pop-culture you should definitely make your way to Supercon. It is an awesome event, with costumes, celebrities, tons of great products and merchandise, and great content sessions every day. Organizers Mike Broder and Sandy Martin and their team run an amazing show!

And if you do attend, please be sure to stop by Booth 735 and say hello!