Troma and Economic Inequality

Troma and Economic Inequality

I’m preparing a page on perhaps Troma’s best film, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (and one that is, well, not). And I happened upon a “making of” documentary, Poultry in Motion: Truth is Stranger than Chicken. And it was awful to watch. For one thing, it made me hate Lloyd Kaufman.

But it’s funny, because even though the documentary is hard on Kaufman, it is especially hard on the cinematographer, Brendan C Flynt. But I didn’t see it that way at all. Flynt just thought they were making a professional film. And Troma doesn’t really make professional films. (Not that Flynt doesn’t seem to have the same kind of annoying arrogance that I’ve noticed in everyone I’ve ever met who has “made it” in Hollywood.) The end result of Troma might be of professional quality. But the company depends upon a lot of naive young people to work for free under terrible conditions with people like Kaufman abusing them.

Don’t get me wrong. If some struggling filmmaker came to me, I would be happy to be their production manager or extra or whatever for free. But when a company that has made many dozens of successful films is making millions of dollars, getting 200 young people to pay to go to the shoot, work for free, and live under terrible conditions, it’s wrong.

Troma’s Volunteers Don’t Know What They Are Getting Into

And the documentary makes clear that most of the volunteers had no idea what they were getting into. Even the star of the film was paid only $900. The secondary star was paid $1,800 — I assume because she did much of the film topless. Regardless, this isn’t non-union work. This is exploitation.

But sure: that’s what “exploitation film” means: the producers exploit whatever they have. But in general, that means nudity, gore, a great location, and countless other things. It also means exploiting free labor. But at some point, you grow up. Exploiting massive amounts of free labor is the main part of Troma’s business plan. The company is almost 45 years old and it is still doing this. It’s not just that it’s pathetic. It’s that it ought to be illegal.

Some Friendly Advice

So let me give you all some advice: there are filmmakers everywhere trying to get their stories told. If you want to have the experience of being on a film set, help one of them out. Don’t help out Troma! Don’t help a guy sitting on at least $5 million make yet another film so much like every other film he’s made. He’s not an artist; he’s a businessman. That’s who you are giving your summer up for.

The funny thing is that when I was trying to make my own film, there were always people who glommed onto the production. But they never did anything. I did have a cinematographer, but he was there mostly because it gave him a chance to work with a camera that was better than anything he had ever used. (And he was relentless in not doing what I asked for — something I would only find out after paying a fortune for development and work print.) Otherwise, it seemed to be me: I was the director, assistant director, production manager, gaffer, and anything else that was necessary. I got tired of it after a while.

People love to be on film sets. I don’t get it, actually. Even before I started trying to make a film, I knew that it was incredibly boring. It’s mostly a bunch of people waiting for something to happen. If you shoot two minutes of film in a day, you’re doing well.

But people weren’t working for me because I wasn’t a tyrant. If I produced the Troma way, everyone would have been working.

How Troma Works

On Troma’s FAQ, they say:

Unpaid Enterprise Observer/Volunteer positions are almost always available at Troma…

Now “observer” doesn’t sound that bad. But they put that in because they know they will be able to badger anyone around into doing something. And I have little doubt they get young women who would never imagine doing it to be in their films topless. I don’t know that, of course. That just seems to be the Troma way.

(I should point out that the lower level Troma employees seem pretty nice. But they also seem to know that what they are doing is wrong.)

But again: my point is that you have this super successful film company. And their business depends upon tricking people into giving them huge amounts of money in unpaid work.

Troma Doesn’t Look Good Compared to Other Companies

At the same time, more reputable production companies will often advertise for extras on Craig’s List. If you happen to get into a big budget movie, the money’s not bad. A friend of mine was an extra for Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). She worked for 3 days and was paid $50 per day. That would be over $110 today — for mostly sitting around.

Troma Should Be Put Out of Business

If Troma can’t produce films with all paid people by now, I don’t think they should be in business.

If you get a chance, watch Poultry in Motion: Truth is Stranger than Chicken, because there is a lot more to hate about Troma. Of course, the documentary is a Troma film too. So they are proud of this.

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