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Totally Tromatic!
A Visit to the Set of Citizen Toxie
Troma
On a recent Sunday, here in the sprawling metropolis that is La-La Land (that's L.A. to you), director Lloyd Kaufman and the folks at Troma came a-callin'. That is to say, they took over the West Coast office of Troma Entertainment for a day or two, to shoot some final pick-up shots for their latest film masterpiece, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger, Part 4. Through a mutual friend, The Digital Bits staff was invited to visit the set, to observe Lloyd working his magic firsthand. And it was quite an adventure. Before we get into that however, I've asked Doogan to say a few words for those of you who may not be so familiar with Troma. Take it away, Todd...

Thanks, Bill. Troma Entertainment stands proudly in it's home on Ninth Avenue, in New York City's Hell's Kitchen. Once, Hell's Kitchen was home to crazies, addicts, pushers and whores. And in a way it still is. Now, the crazies are working for Troma, the addicts and pushers there are only addicted to B-movies (and they'll try their mightiest to get you hooked too) and the whore is a man named Lloyd Kaufman.

Now, I don't mean to use the word "whore" in any negative way. When I talk about Lloyd, my heart wells up inside. You see, I've known Lloyd since I was a teen. I've only been able to truly call him my friend for maybe 4 years or so. But I've been a big fan since I first laid eyes on The Toxic Avenger, way back in 1985 (you can read my review of the DVD here). That's when my love affair first started for Lloyd and his dream called Troma.

Lloyd is a whore for his art... which is to say that he'll do anything to get his movie made (and he expects everyone he works with to be just as dedicated). Pound for pound, Lloyd is the most dedicated filmmaker around, and I'm glad he's making movies. Because of his drive and dedication, Troma is the oldest American independent film studio still in operation (and is also becoming a driving force on the Internet at Tromaville.com). Just about every genre of film has been churned out of the hallowed halls at 733 Ninth Avenue. Just walking inside, you can feel the passion for film pouring out of the place. The people that work for Lloyd (and his partner Michael Herz) are as crazy about film as Lloyd and Michael are. There are posters, props, toys and just about everything else you could imagine floating around in there - all objects to inspire the imagination. In fact, Lloyd and Michael's shared office is a shrine to everything Troma, where file cabinets are overstuffed with business papers and comic books, and shelves display toys from The Toxic Crusader cartoon series and other assorted treasures. Best of all, the main office area showcases the many awards Lloyd and Troma have won for their work, proudly posted next to blow-ups of the many articles written about the company over the years. And among it all, quietly making the place hum with activity, is a group of film fanatics clad in t-shirts and jeans, with more than a few tattoos and piercings divided between them.

I've hung out at Troma a couple of times - one of the added perks of being the East Coast editor of The Digital Bits. I've worked on projects for Lloyd, become good friends with more than a few members of his creative team, and have developed a great admiration for the man and his studio. And yet... I've never been in one of his movies. It's been threatened - but it's just something that's never come together. Lloyd's sets are often described as controlled chaos, where everyone who wants to can pitch in, both behind and in front of the camera. But as the lucky West Coast staff of the Bits, Bill and Frank managed to find their way onto the set of Citizen Toxie. So here's Bill to tell the whole sordid tale...

Damn fine intro, Todd. Well, I can honestly say that Frank and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. The shoot wasn't scheduled to begin until the afternoon, so Frank and I met to watch the Vikings' first win in this year's playoffs (it would also be their last), and figured we'd head up to the set after that. I've worked on a number of movie and TV sets over the years, but really had no idea what to expect on a Troma set. So as we made our way up the 405 Freeway, speculation dominated the conversation. I mean, anyone who's seen a Troma flick knows that they're basically B-movies on steroids. ANYTHING goes in a Troma flick, from bad dialogue to silly plots involving mutants and bimbos to blood and gore and nudity - you name it. And it's all on purpose - Troma knows what they do best, and they set out to do it better than anyone else. They're the kings of B-movies. There's just something... perfect and pure and fun about their flicks. But what it would be like to visit the set of one... well, that was anyone's guess.

We rolled into Troma's West Coast office in Santa Monica at about 1:30 PM. There's no mistaking their building for anything other than what it is. The windows of the corner storefront property are covered with the Troma logo and posters of their latest projects - Terror Firmer in this instance. And if you have any doubts at all, one need only look at the mural on the side of the building, which shows Toxie's twisted visage in all its mutated glory.

Troma's West Coast office in Santa Monica, CA.
Troma's West Coast office in Santa Monica, CA.

The Toxie's on the wall at Troma.
The Toxie's on the wall at Troma.

We parked on the office's side street, which is lined with pleasant-looking California-style family houses. If we had any worries about finding the set, we were put as ease quickly - the alleyway behind the Troma building was bustling with activity, filled with crew and equipment.

Our first clue as to what we were in for came just at that moment. As Frank and I were locking up the car, and grabbing our jackets from the trunk, we noticed a small gaggle of onlookers gathered across the street - local neighborhood residents. One of them (a normal-looking middle aged woman) approached us curiously... and maybe a bit warily. "Are you guys filming another porn movie over there, or what?" she asked. Frankie and I looked at each other nervously. "Uh... I don't think so," I managed to stammer, which seemed to reassure her. But as we walked towards the set, we couldn't help but wonder why she had asked US that question. I mean, we're good-looking American boys... but I don't think we looked like guys who make porn movies for a living. Did we? And then there was that "ANOTHER porn movie" comment. What the hell were we getting ourselves into here? As our minds wrestled with these questions, little did we know that we'd just experienced "Tromatic" moment Number One...

On location... in the alleyway behind the Troma office.
On location... in the alleyway behind the Troma office.

When we strolled onto the set, the first thing we noticed is that no one cared that we'd just strolled into the set! Let me just tell you... this is NOT a common experience when you walk on to a movie set in Hollywood. Usually, security is so tight that you'll never get past a bunch of burly guys with walkie talkies. And here we were, standing right next to the camera.

After just a moment, we spotted Scott, our contact at Troma, walking around the set like a man with a mission. He was quick to greet us and make us feel at home. "Come on into the office... there's food and sodas... you can throw your stuff in the corner..." We followed Scott into the building, which is basically two big rooms - a back office area and an open main room, which we quickly learned was the nerve center of Tromaville Online. And as with Todd's description of Troma's East Coast office, Troma West is a blizzard of tables, computers, books, toys, posters... and TONS of videotapes and DVDs. In other words, it was a lot like the offices of The Digital Bits. Frank and I breathed a sign of relief, feeling right at home.

After much gear-stowing, soda opening and staff introductions, we went back outside to the set. There we bumped into our good friend - the fellow who arranged our invitation - who we'll call John (just to add to the atmosphere of the story). John was on hand to be an extra in the film, as (we eventually learned) were most of the people there that afternoon.

We stood off to the side, chatting affably and watching as crew members prepared the location. Finally, out of the crowd comes this smiling little fellow in tan khakis and a tweed coat to start giving directions... the master himself, Lloyd Kaufman. "Hey, Lloyd come over here," Scott calls out. "This is Bill and Frank - the guys from The Digital Bits." Immediately, Lloyd's smile gets even bigger and he hurries over to shake our hands. "Oh great... the DVD guys! I know the Bits!", he says. "Todd Doogan and I go way back. We're big fans of you guys." It's all Frank and I can do to keep our mouths from falling open, when suddenly Lloyd says, "So you guys wanna be in the movie? Come on - let's get you in there." And with that, "Tromatic" moment Number Two is in the books.

Bill and Frank pose with Lloyd. Do we look bewildered yet?
Bill and Frank pose with Lloyd. Do we look bewildered yet?

Lloyd led us all into the center of the action. We learned that the day's shooting was at the tail end of production on Citizen Toxie. The idea was to film a number of pick-up shots needed to wrap up the production - crowd reaction stuff and a few "celebrity" cameos. The celebrity of the day was none other than Lemmy Kilmeister, the lead singer and bassist for the head-banging band Motörhead. As all good citizens of Tromaville know, Lemmy has cameos in several Troma flicks, including the recent Terror Firmer (in which he narrates a funny PSA on discrimination against hermaphrodites, played by South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone). Lemmy is like the comedic straight man - he gets all the one-liners. And today was no different.

Lemmy and Lloyd... pals and professionals!
Lemmy and Lloyd... pals and professionals!

The first shot of the day called for a crowd of Tromaville citizens to react as an "Evil Toxie" starts tossing bodies through the air. Lloyd lined about 10 of us up against a brick wall, with Lemmy front and center. Off to one side, a stagehand stood on an overturned waste basket, holding a dummy high over his head. After making some adjustments to the camera, Lloyd comes over and marks an "X" on the wall behind us with a pencil. "When you throw the dummy, try to hit this spot so we can see it on film," he says to the stagehand.

Special effects at their finest... cue the dummy!
Special effects at their finest... cue the dummy!

The master at work.
The master at work.

And just like that... the camera rolls and we're off. Lloyd is clearly in his element. "Okay... everyone is looking over my shoulder... oh my God - Evil Toxie is picking up a little girl!... everyone is shocked... there's screaming, screaming... everyone scream but don't make any sound - we'll add it later... there's pandemonium... everyone start running back and forth... now everyone run offscreen except Lemmy... cue the dummy... line Lemmy...!" As we all watch out of breath, the dummy sails over Lemmy's head and bounces off the wall. Lemmy, unphased, looks into the camera and says, "Now that's my kind of hero..." Lloyd victoriously cries, "Cut!" And THAT folks, is filmmaking Troma-style. We all assemble again for a few more takes, so the camera can focus on one thing or another - the dummy, Lemmy, our best panicked faces. And then we're done, and the crew starts setting up the next shot. When I say crew... I mean that most of the extras start picking up gear. You see on a Troma film, EVERYBODY gets involved on BOTH sides of the camera.


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