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!
https://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/3thingstomakeamovie.jpg20482048Jeffrey Sasshttps://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Untitled-5-6.pngJeffrey Sass2020-04-12 12:20:562020-04-12 12:26:30My Troma Story on the Good Story Podcast
Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 28 of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. This chapter addresses some of the more interesting sacrifices you may have to make in the name of your startup!
By the time I joined the Troma Team, I already had a long history with the American Film Market. Satori had been one of the “founding members” when the AMFA (American Film Marketing Association) was formed in 1981, and I had attended every AFM from its inception before I started attending on behalf of Troma. As the name implies, the American Film Market is an annual conference in Los Angeles, where mostly independent film producers and distributors from all over the world gathered to hawk their celluloid wares and find distribution and dollars from territories around the globe.
Given its LA locale, the early days of the AFM were glitzy and glamorous and attracted foreign film buyers (as well as buyers of foreign films) who wanted to get a firsthand taste of Hollywood. The event would be held at hotels such as the Century Plaza back when it truly was one of the premier hotels in town. There were parties, and celebrities and red carpets, and…Troma!
A section of the hotel served as the market offices. For several floors, the beds had been removed from the hotel rooms so they could serve as offices for each participating seller to hold meetings and pitch their movies. The bedless suites were loaded with VCR machines and TVs to screen films, and their walls were lined with posters and displays for the movies being offered. The buyers would walk up and down the hallways, going in and out of the temporary offices to see what films they might be interested in licensing for distribution.
Troma had one of the offices (which, as noted in the previous chapter, was almost set aflame by a mogul’s cigar.) There were strict rules at AFM and the “office suites” had to be empty by a certain time each night, and the office floors were closed until the next day. The proper guest rooms in the Century Plaza were expensive and, being Troma, we couldn’t afford to put up everyone in such fine digs. That said, I didn’t want to schlepp back and forth through LA traffic each day to stay at a cheap hotel. I volunteered to sleep in the bedless office room (even though it was expressly against the rules).
So, the first night I snuck back onto the office floors and made my way to our suite, and went to bed on the couch, fully dressed, just in case. In the middle of the night, the door to the room opened. It was security.
“Sir? You’re not supposed to be here.”
Me, startled but thinking fast. “Oh my, I must have fallen asleep! I came back here after dinner to get something I forgot, and I must have fallen asleep. So sorry. Just give me a few minutes, and I’ll be on my way.”
“Ok. But I’ll be checking back in a few minutes, so you need to leave this floor.”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir…”
Alone again, I pondered my predicament. I had nowhere to go, and it was almost 3:00 a.m. Then the proverbial light bulb went off above my head. The wall behind the couch had floor-to-ceiling poster displays we had put up to decorate the suite and turn it into a mini Tromaville displaying our movies. I pulled the couch away a few inches and then pulled the poster displays up against the back of the couch. This created a gap between the posters and the wall that was just wide enough for me to slide behind. And slide behind I did. Lying on the floor behind the posters, invisible, I waited. Sure enough, soon the door to the room opened and I could hear the security guard step into the room and turn on the light to see that I was no longer there (as far as he could tell). He shut the lights and left. I held my breath a moment or two longer, and then exhaled with relief and fell asleep. The next morning, I made sure I was up early and showered and changed and out the door for breakfast long before the morning cleaning crew would come through.
And that’s how it went, every night. I’d sneak back into the room and squeeze into my little cave behind the poster displays and hope and pray I wasn’t snoring when the security guard made his rounds in the middle of the night. And you thought the movie industry was glamorous! Hey, if George Costanza can sleep under his desk I can certainly catch some zzzs hiding behind the couch in a bedless hotel suite. It’s all good.
The truth is, when you’re a start-up and operating on limited resources, you have to get creative and be willing to do things “the big guys” might not consider. For me, aside from adding a bit of intrigue and adventure to my trip, sleeping surreptitiously in the suite saved the company money and me time. I was happy to be taking one for the Troma Team.
Would you make a similar sacrifice for your team? Have you ever put up with unusual conditions just to get the job done?
That’s Chapter 28 – In business, especially in a startup, you may have to be willing to do some crazy things to move your business forward…including sleeping on the job! Stay tuned for Chapter 29: “Raising Your Hand” which addresses stepping up to take on new opportunities, whether you are qualified or not…
https://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Toxic-Avenger-Marketing-Chapter-28.png315560Jeffrey Sasshttps://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Untitled-5-6.pngJeffrey Sass2020-02-23 12:48:432020-02-23 12:48:46Chapter 28: Sleeping on the Job
For the past few years, I’ve been visiting Traverse City, Michigan every summer to escape the Florida heat and humidity, and to enjoy the beauty, lakes, wineries, and breweries of Northern Michigan (fitting in some biking, hiking, kayaking, and sailing in between the wineries and breweries!) This summer, by pure coincidence I planned my trip during the well-respected Traverse City Film Festival. With its main venue the beautifully restored State Theatre, and the sister cinema, the Bijou, on the shore of the Grand Traverse Bay, and additional charming venues scattered throughout the small town, it is a perfect locale for a summer film festival.
The Traverse City Film Festival was started in 2005 by award-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore with a clear and determined mission:
“The Traverse City Film Festival is committed to showing ‘Just Great Movies’ and helping to save one of America’s few indigenous art forms- the cinema. We are committed to showing great movies that both entertain and enlighten the audience. We need movies that seek to enrich the human spirit and the art of filmmaking, not the bottom line. Our goal is for people to leave the theater with the feeling that they just watched something special.”
– Michael Moore, President and Founder
Back in my Troma days, I recall seeing Michael Moore and saying hello to him a few times on the streets of NYC, in and around Times Square, where he may have been doing post-production on one of his films. When I realized I’d be in Traverse City during the festival this summer, I hoped perhaps, to have a chance to see him again and perhaps even give him a copy of my book. As it happened, the summer stars aligned for me to be able to do just that.
Always Be Marketing
Knowing the town would be flowing with film fans, including some who would likely recognize The Toxic Avenger, I packed a bunch of my tee shirts that have my book’s logo on the front and www.ToxicAvenger.marketing on the back and decided I’d wear that shirt every day the Festival was going on. I also got tickets for the opening night party and brought some copies of my book which I kept in my backpack at all times. I also attended some festival events including a great panel discussion on the “Future of Film” with Michael Moore, some of the festival filmmakers, and Ira Deutchman, film industry veteran, and Columbia University professor. I sat in the front row, in my promotional tee-shirt, and was sure to ask a question during the Q & A (and shamelessly plug my book in the process.) Always. Be. Marketing.
During the opening night party, a fun street party within a closed-off section of Front Street, with the classic State Theatre marquee as the backdrop, I did have the chance to say hello to Michael Moore and give him a copy of my book (see photo above). We had a brief and friendly conversation about Troma, and he could not have been nicer.
As I wore my Toxic tee-shirt around town during the festival, every once in a while I’d get a knowing nod from someone or a comment or question about The Toxic Avenger. When a short conversation would ensue, I’d always hand out a business card for the book. It was a lot of fun, and I was pleasantly surprised to even see a little spike in book sales during the festival days. In my book, there’s a chapter called “Alway Salute the Schwag” which talks a bit about the power of tee shirts and schwag. I put that power to work during my vacation in Traverse City! Remember, always be marketing!
https://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/jeff-sass-michael-moore-toxic-avenger.jpg20481536Jeffrey Sasshttps://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Untitled-5-6.pngJeffrey Sass2019-08-18 12:49:572019-08-18 15:28:57"Michael and Me"
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!)
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.).
Chuck Reeves (aka #BeastHost) is a pretty interesting dude. After serving 10 years in the US Navy (thank you for your service, Chuck!) he’s been an outspoken character as a rapper, radio DJ, MC of hundreds of live events, and now as host of the #BeardSpeaks YouTube show and podcast. Chuck is very familiar with Troma and The Toxic Avenger, and he actually read and enjoyed my book before we spoke, so this was a lively and entertaining conversation. Chuck is also a passionate marketer himself and we also dive into a bit about my role at .CLUB Domains and the importance of domain names to independent creators (about 32:33 into the interview).
You can watch the full interview on YouTube below, or you can listen to the audio version embedded below the video. Enjoy, and if you do, give a shout out to Chuck the BeastHost and #BeardSpeaks!
https://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/beardspeaks-and-jeff-sass.jpg400400Jeffrey Sasshttps://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Untitled-5-6.pngJeffrey Sass2019-03-17 14:35:462019-03-17 14:35:49Talking Toxie & More on the #BeardSpeaks Podcast (video/adult language)
Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 25 of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. This chapter shares a lesson about self-awareness and authenticity, so get ready to get real!
This Chapter also talks about the many filmmakers and celebrities who have been inspired and influenced by Troma.
One of the amazing things about Troma is the incredible impact Lloyd, Michael, and the Troma Team have had on today’s mainstream film industry. Because of the general lack of respect for Troma’s inimitable style of moviemaking, the deep influence it has had has gone largely unnoticed by the public at large. In fact, I should not say Troma’s “inimitable” style because indeed it has been imitated by Hollywood proper many, many times (see the original Robocop for one example). Yet more than the on-screen talent that has passed through Tromaville (the likes of Kevin Costner, Marisa Tomei, Vincent D’Onofrio, Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Bob Thornton, and many others) perhaps the greatest influence is the impact Troma has had on some of today’s most well-known and well-respected filmmakers.
As a young Tromite myself, I witnessed many of these soon-to-be– greats come by to visit Troma at our office or at an industry event to pay homage to Lloyd and Michael and catch a bit of the “Eau du Troma” in per-son. The Troma suite at the Carlton Hotel during the annual Cannes Film Festival or our hotel room office at the annual American Film Market in Los Angeles were both particularly popular hangouts for the soon-to-be- famous filmmakers.
Like the time a scruffy kid from New Zealand came by the Troma
suite in Cannes. He professed his Troma fandom and hung out to talk
6with Lloyd about his film, which we had seen and admired, and which he said was influenced by his admiration for Troma. The film in question was aptly named Bad Taste (after all, it was inspired by Troma). Oh, and the scruffy filmmaker from New Zealand? His name was (and still is) Peter Jackson. Yes, that Peter “Lord of The Rings” Jackson. Others who would visit with us in Cannes in the early days of their budding careers included Quentin Tarantino, another loyal fan. And then there are filmmakers who were groomed in Tromaville.
After I left Tromaville in 1994, a young, educated lad was hired,
ostensibly to replace me. His name was (and still is) James Gunn. James
cowrote Tromeo and Juliet with Lloyd, and of course has gone on to become
one of the greatest directors of our time, helming, among other films, the
megasuccessful Marvel/Disney epic Guardians of the Galaxy. Other bigwigs
who have collaborated with Troma include South Park creators Trey Parker
and Matt Stone. Before they created one of the most successful musicals
in Broadway history, Book of Mormon, their early film Cannibal! The Musical
was released by the Troma Team.
So what is it about Troma that so influences the influencers? I think it
boils down to a culture, creativity, and freedom that many filmmakers
and creatives find genuinely inspiring. And a great deal of credit goes to
Lloyd and Michael, and especially Lloyd as the more visible face of Troma
(if you don’t count Toxie’s hideously deformed face). To filmmaker-fans,
Troma represents the embodiment of the independent auteur. Lloyd and
Michael created a world for themselves where they are beholden to no
one and can make any film, and any creative choices they want. It could
be bizarre, it could be silly, it could be funny, it could be gory, it could be
all of the above. Most of all, if they are willing to create it, it can be—
without the interference and baggage that normally comes with making
Lloyd and Michael are a quirky pair. They met at Yale. Michael went on to NYU Law School. Lloyd studied Chinese in college and spoke fluent Mandarin decades before it became both a fashionable and profitable pursuit. Somehow, Lloyd, this educated and erudite, bow-tie-wearing, sometime socialite, Upper East Side son of a successful attorney had a predilection for creating goofy, often cheesy (dare I say schlocky) and often violent and bloody, yet somehow very human, films. And he convinced his equally smart and strongly business-minded Yale buddy to join him in a venture that became a forty-plus-year adventure. It’s like the very first time the Reese’s folks put chocolate and peanut butter together. Who knew? The quirky combo and quirkier tastes of Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz became an object of admiration to some, and even jealousy to others.
There are plenty of folks in Hollywood who made more money than Troma did. But there are few, if any, that have had a career with the real creative freedom Lloyd and Michael enjoy and the ability to say “no” to anything that did not suit their muse of the moment. They are also very transparent and very humble. While the Troma Team really does take the business of making movies seriously, they never take themselves too seriously. They are fully aware that almost everything they do is done with at least somebody’s ripped-out tongue held firmly in cheek. That self-deprecating and honest approach has proven to be very appealing. And not just to the filmmaking community and fans, but also to the media.
Given the genre of gory, silly, low-budget and often low-brow films Troma is known for, the studio gets widespread and kind treatment from the press and media. I always attributed this to being authentic and realistic, traits the media greatly appreciated in an industry where far too many believed that their proverbial “shit” did not stink. Troma, on the other hand, had no qualms about their scent, because their arguably stinky films made sense to their fans, and made enough cents to keep the dream alive for over forty years.
The Lesson: Be real. Be authentic. Take your business seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Be self-aware about your business, and its role in your industry and the world. Some folks are out there saving lives and curing cancer. Most of us are not, so be true to the true value of your products and services. That’s not to diminish them, but rather to present them in the right light and context.
That’s Chapter 25 – Are you self-aware about the role your business plays in the Universe? Or are you guilty of taking yourself too seriously when it comes to presenting your business? Something to think about… Stay tuned for Chapter 26: “Yes, We Cannes!” which 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!)
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.
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!
https://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Hooray-for-Hollywood.png315560Jeffrey Sasshttps://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Untitled-5-6.pngJeffrey Sass2018-12-12 21:03:172018-12-12 21:03:20Legendary Indy Studio Troma Joins Hollywood Studio Legendary for Toxic Avenger Reboot
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!
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.
https://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Chapter-24-Be-open-to-the-Unexpected.png315560Jeffrey Sasshttps://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Untitled-5-6.pngJeffrey Sass2018-11-18 10:22:292018-11-18 10:22:29Chapter 24: Be Open to the Unexpected
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.
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.
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… 🙂
https://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/The-Marketing-Panelat-Grand-Indiewise-ConventionHollywppd-florida2.png7201280Jeffrey Sasshttps://everythingiknowabout.marketing/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Untitled-5-6.pngJeffrey Sass2018-08-12 10:30:082018-08-12 10:30:08Indie Film Marketing, and How Things Have Changed... (video) #GetIndieWise