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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)

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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.

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Chapter 22: Location, Location, Location

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 22 of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. This chapter explores some of the negotiation skills learned from scouting film locations and the importance of finding and leveraging your team’s hidden passions and talents.

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 and 21. 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 22: Location, Location, Location

War is hell. And the hell of Troma’s War, according to the script, begins with a horrific, fiery plane crash onto a deserted tropical island. So, all we needed to recreate such a scene was a beautiful, desolate beach, with no hint of civilization. Oh, and of course we would need to “dress” such a pristine and lovely beach with the smoldering remains of a commercial passenger aircraft, post-crash. Easy, right? As it turned out, thanks to the terrific support of the NY State Governor’s Film Commission (again, many years before Lloyd’s wife Pat would be appointed to head said commission), we were told about a little-known property of the state, on the north shore of Long Island, Caumsett State Park.

Once owned by Marshall Field III and purchased by the State of New York in 1961, the beach at the park was situated on a peninsula, Lloyd Neck (coincidence? I think not) that jutted out into the Long Island sound in such a way that you could create a view where no buildings or lights were visible. Just unobstructed water and hilly beach, with trees along the edges of the sand. It was perfect, but it was complicated. There was nothing in the area where we needed to film. No buildings, no structures, no electricity or bathrooms or phones. At least three miles from anything even resembling civilization. Visually perfect and a logistic nightmare. Not only would we have to get cast, crew, equipment, and props there (and back) but we had night filming on the schedule and a wide range of required environmental rules and guidelines we’d have to adhere to in order to keep the location in the same condition as we found it. Still, the location was perfect (and, as a state-owned property, the price was right…zippo, as long as we arranged for the proper permits).

Troma’s War was essentially shot on two primary locations: Caumsett State Park on Long Island and Camp Smith in Peekskill, NY. Both locations were handed to us courtesy of the NY State Governor’s Film Commission, an invaluable resource for an independent production such as ours. Our set department managed to get hold of airplane doors and pieces of fuselage and other airplane parts such that we truly made the once-pristine beach look like an actual crash site. The natural beauty of the location created production values that far exceeded our budget and made Troma’s War one of the best-looking Troma films to date when it was released. The woods on the edges of the beach blended well with the woods of Camp Smith creating a realistic and believable deserted island setting as, in the finished film, we seamlessly move back and forth between the two distinct (and distinctly different) locales. Essentially, everything on the beach was shot at Caumsett State Park, and everything in the woods was shot at Camp Smith. When actors are seen stepping into the woods from the beach, they were essentially then teleporting themselves to the woods of Camp Smith. Ahh, the magic of the cinema…

As one can glean from the title, Troma’s War involved lots of battles (and I am not just referring to the arguments between Lloyd, Michael, and myself…one of which drove me to quit. But I returned, and I digress). The script called for lots of action, guns, and explosions. Pyrotechnics was practically a supporting actor based on the number of scenes that called for explosions and blasts. Fortunately, we had the services of the soft-spoken Will Caban, aptly nicknamed “Will Kaboom,” to handle the more explosive pages of the script. Will was quiet, calm, and completely dedicated to his craft of blowing things to kingdom come. He drove around in a nondescript, beat-up brown panel van loaded with mortars and mounds of flammable and explosive materials. I could not imagine today how he could do what he did then, but I always admired him as a man who truly had a blast at work.

The weapons of War were another challenge as the script called for a very well-armed militia of terrorist baddies and near-constant gunfights. Renting realistic stage guns, including heavy arms and automatic weapons, along with the requisite rounds of noisy, flash-firing “blanks,” can be a costly and complicated proposition. As much as the actual rental of such equipment was a big deal, as weapons were needed just about every day, we’d need a near full-time weapons wrangler to manage, secure, and clean all the weapons, as well as train our actors and actresses in the proper and safe use of the arsenal. As it turned out, the owner of NY’s best modern theatrical gun collection was also an accomplished actor in his own right, and so not only did we rent his guns, buy his ammunition, and hire him as their daily wrangler but we also cast Rick Washburn in one of the lead roles. If he had to be on the set every day to handle the weapons anyway, we might as well use him in front of the camera too. And we did.

Lesson learned: Find out the hidden talents of your teammates, and explore how they can use their passions to further your cause. Just as we were able to leverage Rick Washburn, the actor, to maximize his contribution as more than just the weapons guy, what are the talents of your team that can be utilized? Do you have budding photographers and videographers among your midst? Wouldn’t they love to show off their talents to benefit the company rather than have you hire some outsider to do something they are already passionate about? Your best contractors and evangelists could already be in your midst. Give them a chance to shine in an area they weren’t necessarily hired for. What do you think?

With the near-daily requirement of shooting off weapons and blowing stuff up, we needed a location that would allow such things. Not every neighborhood would welcome such noisy violence as easily as Croton-on- Hudson took to our explosive home demolition. And besides, the blast we had at Croton-on-Hudson was a year or so after Troma’s War was over. But Camp Smith was perfect! As a military training facility, the sound of artillery fire and explosions were de rigueur. They even had their own on-site fire department to handle the aftermath of Mr. Caban’s kabooms. The Colonel and his staff could not have been more accommodating, and the woods and grounds of Camp Smith became our home away from home for the majority of the filming of Troma’s War.

In truth, the two locations, Caumsett State Park and Camp Smith, played a substantial role in the success of the film (and by Troma standards, the war was won, and Troma’s War was a success). It was also the early and growing days of home video, and Troma’s War was first in a series of well-publicized Troma VHS releases by Media Home Entertainment, one of the leaders in the then-nascent home-video industry.

Scouting for and securing filming locations was by far one of my favorite aspects of making movies, and the skills and experiences handling such negotiations are some of the most valuable I’ve carried forward throughout my career. Relationships, sincerity, authenticity, and directness were the keys to successfully securing locations like Camp Smith and Caumsett State Park. We were upfront about our needs and the content we were creating, and we were upfront about our respect for the process and responsibility to care for the people and property under our watch (remember the “Rules of Production”).

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That’s Chapter 22  –  What do you think? Have you given your team the chance to use their hidden talents in addition to their core responsibilities? Has it had an impact? Stay tuned for Chapter 23: “Everyone is Expendable (Especially if you Wear a Mask)” which shares a lesson about dealing with talent (i.e. employees) and their unique quirks, and recognizing that everyone is expendable… even y0u and me.

The book in previous posts:

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Indie Film Marketing, and How Things Have Changed… (video) #GetIndieWise

I was on a panel about Indie Film Marketing at the Grand Indiewise Convention in Hollywood (Florida, that is…). I had the chance to share some of my experiences in the “old days” and how things have changed today with the proliferation of Social Media and new distribution channels. As the saying goes, “everything old is new again,” and I think that many of the marketing angles we applied “back in the day” can be applied to the Indie Film world today (but with a few new twists), and I share some of those ideas and tips in the video below. NOTE: This is an edited version of the panel, of mostly my bits, as I just had my phone pointed at me…  🙂

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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 20: This Means WAR!

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

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

Chapter 20: This Means WAR!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a script breakdown for your business?

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

The book in previous posts:

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My Weekend as a CON Man! (Supercon, that is…)

A great time was had by all at Florida Supercon (as mentioned before). It was great to talk to people about my book, including some who had already read it and came by the booth to let me know. It was especially fun to chat with folks who had watched and loved THE TOXIC CRUSADERS and various Troma movies I had been involved in the making of. Good times, then and now.

Aside from enjoying my time hawking my book, one of the highlights of my long weekend at Supercon was the chance to be reunited with William Shatner. Almost 23 years ago I had the pleasure of working very closely with him on the release of his TekWar computer game. At the time I was VP marketing at IntraCorp Entertainment, the developer and publisher of the game, and I personally accompanied Bill-er, Mr. Shatner, on both East and West Coast press tours for the launch of the game. They were great times, and thanks to the Queen of Supercon, Sandy Martin, I was able to say hello and spend a few minutes catching up with Shatner (and yes, I gave him a copy of my book). 🙂

I had a great weekend being a “CON” man at Florida Supercon. Here’s a short video with a few more highlights. Enjoy!


 

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!

 

 

Chapter 18: Playing By The Rules

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

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

Chapter 18: Playing By The Rules

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

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

Rules of Production:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•••

Chapter 17: Always Salute the Schwag!

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

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

Chapter 17: Always Salute the Schwag!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. He did. Schwag rules.

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