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All I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger
Lloyd Kaufman and James Gunn
Berkley Boulevard Books, 336 pages

Art: Ann Marie Manca
All I Need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger
James Gunn
Born in 1923 in Kansas City, MO, James Gunn received a degree in journalism and an MA in English following three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He is now professor emeritus of English at the University of Kansas, specializing in the teaching of fiction writing and SF, and director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. In 1971-2, James Gunn was president of the Science Fiction Writers of America. He won a Hugo Award in 1983 for Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. He is the author of at least 19 books, and the editor of seven more.

James Gunn Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Lloyd Kaufman
Lloyd Kaufman is the head of Troma Studios. Their vaults include such celluloid classics as Surf Nazis Must Die!, Zombie Island Massacre, Teenage Catgirls in Heat, and the well-known classic, The Toxic Avenger.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Donner

Perhaps Lloyd Kaufman's editor, Barry, summed up the point of All I Need To Know About Filmmaking best toward the end of the book, when he said, "The book is a harangue against the establishment -- and even established forms, like grammar and good taste." Anyone who has ever seen and loved a Lloyd Kaufman movie will understand this and perhaps will not need to read any further.

For those who choose to continue, the first thing to point out about Lloyd Kaufman's book is that it is written as a kind of first-person discussion of Lloyd's life and filmmaking career. The "I" in the title refers more to Lloyd himself than to the reader. In other words, this is not a how-to book for independent filmmakers, if by that you mean a book that teaches someone how to make and market independent films. Instead, All I Need To Know About Filmmaking is a book that explains how to BE an independent filmmaker, from the attitude and lifestyle to the mistakes and lucky breaks that allowed Troma Studios not only to exist for so many years but to thrive -- if surviving as a bare-bones, non-Hollywood independent studio can be called thriving.

Lloyd maintains a breakneck pace throughout the book. If you didn't know it from his movies, it is clear from this book that his attention span is about the length of a 500-word sidebar, although occasionally he digresses in these as well. Many of the books in the recently popular "how-to" genre might be compared to a paint-by-number kit (there's a subject that the "For Idiots" series hasn't covered yet). However, Kaufman's version of a how-to book ends up looking more like a work of art by Jackson Pollack -- streaks and lines and bits of stuff that somehow come together to form a painting, or a movie, or a book.

Much as in his movies, Lloyd's book consists mainly of fascinating scenes, sometimes combined in a way that supports what could be called a plot, and sometimes placed apparently at random. However, while the book doesn't follow a clear storyline (nor do Kaufman's movies, generally), there is so much style, humor, horror, and chutzpah that you almost don't even miss the "plot." The plot is Kaufman himself, and you can hardly come away without being entertained.

Additionally, whatever else he may or may not be, Kaufman is certainly engaging. He is constantly challenging his readers to agree or disagree with him. He heaps up his disgust for Hollywood and its ilk in grotesque piles, until it begins to resemble the bubbling green vomit that he describes how to make in the first couple pages of the book. Major studios, video distributors, Entertainment Weekly, Leonardo DiCaprio, Winona Ryder -- these all receive their portion of scorn. But the healthiest helping of disgust goes to the MPAA rating board.

It's not so much that Lloyd hates the MPAA -- that much is a given -- it's that he does such a good job of showing why he hates them. His comparisons between Troma films the MPAA has refused to rate, or rate favorably, and Hollywood films that include similar amounts of sex, violence, language, etc. are quite telling. He even points out cases where the MPAA has commented on the quality of the films in their ratings, which of course should have nothing to do with an audience age rating. As with anyone who represents the status quo, however, the MPAA suffers tremendously at Kaufman's hands in All I Need To Know About Filmmaking, and as a reader, I was constantly cheering him on.

When all is said and done, the amazing thing about this book, and about Troma movies, is that I could have written it. Given talent and creativity, anyone could make Troma movies, but very few people do. And for that reason, they are enjoyable, in the same way that the camcorder and the Internet are enjoyable, because we use them to create what we are interested in. In reading about Lloyd Kaufman and Troma Studios, I found myself thinking, "There, but for a movie camera and a couple thousand bucks..." And I'm sure Lloyd would not want it any other way.

Copyright © 1998 by Chris Donner

Chris Donner is a freelance writer and magazine editor living in Manhattan and working in Connecticut. He will read almost anything once, as it makes the train ride go faster. He is currently writing a screenplay, a novel, several short stories, a collection of poems, and a letter to his mother. The letter will probably be done first.

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