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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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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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R.I.P. John Altamura… Tromaville Weeps for a Toxie

This week it was announced that actor John Altamura passed away of a heart attack at the young age of 52. While the Toxic Avenger was played by Mitch Cohen in the original The Toxic Avenger film, it was John who I first knew as Toxie, working closely with him on The Toxic Avenger II and III (which we shot at once and then edited into the two sequels).

As I write about in my book, in the end, Toxie was portrayed by both John and Ron Fazio in the final cuts of the films, but there is no question that John made a significant contribution to both films and that his version of Toxie will always be warmly and fondly remembered and admired. John’s portrayal of the Toxic Avenger brought both a strength and humility to the character that helped to make the lovable monster a hero for the ages…

Like John’s memory, the Toxic Avenger will live on, and everyone who ever dons the mutated mask and portrays Toxie in the future will surely be influenced and inspired in some way by the work John did before them.

My condolences to John’s family, friends and fans.

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John Oliver Tackles Nuclear Waste with The Toxic Avenger on HBO’s Last Week Tonight

My monster mentor is going mainstream! Not only is Toxie the star of movies, cartoons, and an off-broadway show, but lately The Toxic Avenger has been a darling of late-night talk show hosts looking to make a convenient comic reference to a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength. First, it was Seth Meyers comparing our illustrious President to our favorite monster hero. Now, HBO star and host of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver, featured excerpts from the trailer for the original Toxic Avenger movie as the lead-in to his extended report on “Nuclear Waste.” So, I am not the only one who has been influenced and inspired by the first superhero from New Jersey. You can watch John Oliver invoke The Toxic Avenger in the video below, and of course, you can read about the many inspired business and marketing lessons I learned from Toxie in my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER.


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Video Highlights from Book Promotion with the Troma Team at Florida Supercon

I had a blast reuniting with the Troma Team at Florida SuperCon to promote, sell and sign copies of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. Every time I get together with Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, it is just like old times and we slip back into the rapid fire, Troma-esque, witty (if we do say so ourselves) banter that fueled our fun working relationship so many years ago. As much as it was fun to hang out with Lloyd and Toxie for a few days, the highlight of SuperCon was by far having the opportunity to talk about my book with true Troma fans – signing copies, posing for selfies, and even getting great feedback from folks who picked up a copy of the book on one day, and came back the next day to tell me how much they were enjoying reading it. Nothing could possibly be more rewarding for an author, so thanks to all of you who I was lucky enough to meet during Florida SuperCon. And if you missed it, Lloyd, Toxie and I hosted a live reading from the book during one of the SuperCon panel sessions. I was even awarded a long overdue “Troma Diploma” 23 years after my service. 🙂

I took a lot of fun pictures and at SuperCon and below is a short video of some of the highlights. Enjoy!

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Live Book Reading at Florida Supercon with Lloyd Kaufman and Toxie Himself!

At the recent FLORIDA SUPERCON, I had the chance to read a few chapters from my book accompanied by Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, who wrote the Foreword for the book. Lloyd and I were joined by The Toxic Avenger himself. Needless to say, I was a little nervous to read from my book in front of the very monster – er, mentor, who inspired me to write it. Thankfully, the audience of Troma fans were very welcoming and it was a lot of fun to share a few chapters with them, along with some live commentary from Lloyd and Toxie. Below is a video of the session. Enjoy!

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Florida Supercon, Here We Come! @Sass and @Troma (@LloydKaufman) United Again!

Greetings from Tromaville! It has been over 20 years since I was officially a member of the Troma Team, but since writing my book, “Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER,” I have been having a blast retelling my tales from Tromaville in interviews and on podcasts (and even on a few random street corners) to promote the book to anyone and everyone I can.

Later this week I’ll be rejoining the Troma Team at FLORIDA SUPERCON – the largest Comic Con in South Florida, where I’ll have a busy schedule signing copies of my book, hanging out with Lloyd, Toxie, Kabukiman and the Troma Team, and presenting my first live public book reading! If you are in South Florida I hope you can stop by and say hello. Besides my unknown self, there will be some amazing REAL celebrities at the Con, from your favorite movies, TV shows and comics including Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, Dr. Who, The Walking Dead, The Karate Kid, plus world famous comic book artists, wrestlers, amazing CosPlay fans, and much, much more. I’ve been to FLORIDA SUPERCON before and it is an awesome event.

On Saturday, July 29th at 3:00 PM I’ll be reading from my book live in room 304, joined by Troma cofounder Lloyd Kaufman as we relive some of my adventures in Tromaville together in what I can guarantee will be a fun and funny session.

In addition, I’ll be signing copies of my book in the official CELEBRITY AUTOGRAPH AREA at the following times:

Thursday, July 27th:  1:30 pm
Friday, July 28th:  10:30 am
Saturday, July 29th:  10:30 am
Sunday, July 30th:  10:30 am

The rest of the time you’ll find me at the Troma Booth. If you’re at FLORIDA SUPERCON, you’ll be able to spot me, as I’ll be wearing this awesome T-shirt I had made just for SUPERCON…  🙂  (And no, I won’t be wearing the same smelly shirt four days in a row… I had a few of them made!)

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My Mentor was a Monster! (Video)

Here’s a short promotional video for the book:

In business, it is important to have a mentor… Watch the video (and please share!)