Contributing writer Cody Noble sat down and interviewed legendary independent filmmaker and co-founder of Troma Entertainment Lloyd Kaufman and musician and film composer Willie Wisely. Both Kaufman and Wisely collaborated on 1996’s Tromeo & Juliet.
Cody Noble: Lloyd, I want to say congratulations on your new film, #ShakespearesShitstorm. I understand it was nearing completion back in 2019 and then the pandemic hit. How does it feel to have it finally come out?
Lloyd Kaufman: It opens April 8th in New York. It did very well in Philadelphia. It was kind of a sneak preview, so we’re looking forward to the Museum of Moving Image, the Cinema Village, and of course the best arthouse in Brooklyn, the Film Noir Cinema.
CN: So #ShakespearesShitstorm is based on The Tempest. It’s not the first time Troma has adapted Shakespeare’s work as was the case with Tromeo & Juliet. What do you find that draws you to Shakespeare and his works?
LK: I love Shakespeare! Michael Herz – we’re both pretty well read – Michael was valedictorian in his class, and we graduated from Yale University. I know I graduated because I have a diploma. I don’t remember it, but I do have the diploma.
LK: We love Shakespeare, and I would have done The Tempest – my favorite play – but I was too young when I met James Gunn so we did Tromeo & Juliet. James Gunn saved the day. I spent five years on the script and he made it happen and also directed a lot of it. But now that I’m Prospero’s age – Prospero, the protagonist in The Tempest – I could feel Prospero. I wanted to wait until I was old and decrepit and losing power. That’s what The Tempest is all about. Troma gets pushed further and further into the underground, like Prospero being banished to the island of Tromaville, NJ.
LK: Anyway, I could go on. The Tempest has a monster. Shakespeare definitely had to have been on drugs. It has a fairy. It’s very entertaining and there are all sorts of wonderful interpretations of Shakespeare, but I think it’s becoming known that #ShakespearesShitstorm is probably the best interpretation of The Tempest. I think it’s better than Derrick Jarman’s [rendition]. That was, in my opinion, the best of the Shakespeare interpretations. [It’s] certainly better than Power of the Dog. It’s better than most of the nominees of the so-called Academy of Motion Pictures Farts and Sciences.
CN: Unless I’m mistaken, this is your last film, Lloyd?
LK: It looks that way – unless somebody comes with something one-of-a-kind that knocks me out – I think I will stick to producing. It’s a lot easier. You know, I interviewed Roger Corman and I asked him why he stopped directing. He said exactly that. But hey, I’m still willing if there’s something that’s terrific and it does not have to be filled with vomit or fecophilia or whatever. It can be a romcom for all I care, just as long as it has something to say and it doesn’t even have to make money. Fifty years! This is my fiftieth year making movies.
LK: It’s all thanks to our fans! No question about it. Everyone who works started as an enterprise observer or worked on the crew. [Troma’s] a film school, really, except you don’t pay. You may pay with your soul!
CN: Willie, Tromeo & Juliet was your first time working on a Troma film. Had you had any previous exposure to Troma?
Willie Wisely: No, I had not. It was actually my first film score of any kind, so it was quite an experience to learn about Troma and go through that learning curve. I feel like James and Lloyd were extremely patient with me. There was a lot of iterative work, a lot of redoes.
CN: Were you ever taken aback by the footage you were scoring to?
WW: Oh yeah, absolutely! I mean, upon first seeing it, I’m like, “it’s apparent I’m going to have to watch this 300 times. How will I do that? What will become of my personality after the 300th view?”
LK, WW & CN: [laughter]
WW: I don’t think James gave me a particular heads-up, but it was always a pleasure with Lloyd on the phone and feel his warmth and magnetism. I’m not sure I knew what I was into until that VHS tape landed in the mail and I put it into the machine.
CN: You were in for quite a surprise!
WW: Yeah, but what a cool thing in retrospect to be involved with, and that’s part of the pride I take in releasing this film score that’s never seen the light of day. It’s a point of pride that I’m involved in a Troma film and a well-received on at that.
CN: I understand you got involved with Tromeo & Juliet through James Gunn.
WW: Yeah, I met James Gunn while gigging in Saint Louis. That’s where I met James and all his brothers. He was instrumental in getting me to move out to LA in 2000. He’s one of those guys that – without even being his best friend – changes your life which is completely a metaphor for what he does as a filmmaker. “You don’t know this guy, but he’s going to blow your mind and change your perceptions.”
CN: He seems like a cool dude.
WW: Yep, a really wonderful guy and he’s got a really nice family, too. A very close family.
CN: Do you keep in touch?
WW: Yes, very little. I knew he was in Atlanta, GA shooting The Suicide Squad before COVID. I had a business trip there, and so I just gave him a ring and he’s like, “you gotta come to set!” [It] was such a trip. To see filmmaking at that level – to see James directing twelve actors and three hundred tech people in a place the size of three football fields – it’s like he’s basically playing God, talking through this huge bull horn at all these folks. It was a reminder of how enormous an endeavor it is to make a film like that: the scope, the logistics. That was cool. I was also distant buddies with his longtime manager, too, so it was just fun to reconnect with them.
CN: That’s so cool!
WW: My wife was his veterinarian for a bit. James is always the hookup artist. He hooked me up with his wife at the time, Jenna [Fischer], and she starred in what’s still my most popular music video, “Through Any Window.” So yeah, we stay in touch loosely.
LK: The Saint Louis Grinder. Didn’t you meet James Gunn on the Grinder?
WW: Grindr? [Laughter] Yeah, Grindr circa 1991. Pre-internet Grindr.
LK: He loves you and you did a wonderful job with the score!
WW: We had limited budget for talent, but we still managed to get twenty-seven people through the door to play. A lot of people working…
LK: For the art, the love of the art!
WW: Of course!
LK: Willie’s movie was in the Museum of Modern Art about a year ago in their Shakespeare Festival. They only showed three Romeo & Juliet movies, and Tromeo & Juliet played at four in the afternoon. The weekday was packed! The security guards told me that all these old people who subscribe to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) came to see Tromeo & Juliet because they were in how we interpreted Shakespeare and they don’t get a chance to see many Troma movies in the theater. It shows you Willie knew what a good movie was and he joined the James Gunn Troma team and hit it out of the park!
WW: Good stuff! I didn’t know that was such a resounding success, that’s amazing.
LK: Yeah, at the museum it was! [Tromeo actor] Will Keenan, did you ever meet him?
WW: No, I never did.
LK: He was going kind of nuts, and he just suddenly showed up. We invited him but he never responded. Then he showed up but he was totally bonkers. The poor lady who was the curator and moderator was mortified and she’s no longer with the museum. I feel very bad.
LK: She was advising us, reading the script for #ShakespearesShitstorm, very enthusiastic, and then we never heard from her again. [Keenan]’s definitely gone into a new area. He bought a church in south New Jersey and I believe he shows Tromeo & Juliet there. [The church] is named after his mother and he’s created an arts center where he shows Terror Firmer, probably his best Troma movie. In Terror Firmer he’s amazing. In a fair world, he would have won an Oscar.
CN: That’d have been great!
LK: When Tromeo & Juliet came out, James Gunn, the Troma team and I went out to the Cannes Film Festival to present it. Kenneth Branagh, who’s a Shakespearean director, enjoyed it and especially excited about the music! No joke, he loved the score and noted the name ‘Arse Ponies.’ Either he knew them or found the name amusing.
CN: That’s awesome, that he enjoyed it!
LK: Good guy, nice guy! A lot people back in 1994 – or whenever the movie came out – didn’t get it, and it was in iambic pentameter, everything Shakespeare wanted! It took a while, and actually women were on to it before men were. I think Tromeo & Juliet was a great gateway movie for women in the Troma in the universe!
CN: Yeah, Juliet was fun to watch in that.
LK: It’s her movie, really. In Romeo & Juliet it’s really Juliet that’s the interesting character, and certainly in James Gunn’s script. Actually, all of the movies that Michael Herz and I have directed – going back to Sugar Cookies – it’s the women, all about the women’s liberation movement. Stuck on You, Alimony, Citizen Toxie and Tromeo & Juliet.
CN: Juliet liberates herself from her nefarious father.
LK: Yeah, exactly! But it takes time because Troma has no money to advertise, so word-of-mouth. In a fair world, [Tromeo & Juliet] would be probably among the great American Shakespearean adaptations and it is! Wait until #ShakespearesShitstorm comes out! It’ll take about thirty years, but I think people will appreciate quicker than they did Tromeo & Juliet. It’s pretty interesting that Tromeo & Juliet ended with the MoMA, but #ShakespearesShitstorm starts with the Museum of Moving Image and Cinémathèque Française.
CN: That’s incredible!
WW: In production [with Tromeo & Juliet] we had to hurry up. We had a strict deadline because it had to get to Cannes. We didn’t have any extra time. Back then, we didn’t have digital. You couldn’t record at home. You had to book studios and think in advance. Logistically, it was very tough and we had three weeks to get his done, locked and FedExed to New York so they could get it to Cannes on time. There was no margin for error.
LK: The Problem with Cannes is you have to book theaters months ahead of time, so we had to meet the deadline. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have movie to show. We have to pay to go to Cannes, to pay for the theaters and they are very expensive. They’re as much as a week at a New York art house. People pay three or four thousand for a showing for a week, and one showing at Cannes was that much!
LK: We don’t go there anymore. They’ve become very fascist. It’s not a film festival. It’s a perfume festival or a $50,000-a-gown festival!
CN: It’s almost too illustrious, the image that they try to create [at Cannes].
LK: It’s disgusting! Are they going to have all that stuff while the war is going on? Is MTV going to have a $500,000 party? Are they going to flash the $100,000 gowns on the Red Carpet? Are they going to go through all of that? I wouldn’t even go on the Red Carpet during peace time. We have a festival called TromaDance. Willie knows about it. It’s about 22 years old and you don’t have to pay to enter your films. At the festival, we have a little piece of carpet called the Brown Carpet to make fun of this bullshit Red Carpet.
CN: I like it!
LK: It’s obscene! Fifty years from now they’re going to look back on the industry and say how half the world was starving to make movies for $200 million. It’s ridiculous! How much money do they need? As my grandmother used to say to my father, “You’re going to be the richest man in the cemetery!”
WW & CN: [laughter]
LK: Give the money away! The tax system is all fucked up, too! I used to talk to James Gunn about it. How much do people have to earn? Let those fuckers at Boeing – who killed as many people as Putin did knowing that the Boeing aircrafts were going to crash – let them give back $80 million! Why are they making so much money? Give them $2 million a year – that’s a shit load – and the rest should go back to the tax payers, to us! Put the money back into the schools, right? Nobody needs more than $2 million a year. That can support how many generations, for fuck sakes?!
WW: Yeah, pay the teachers!
LK: We’re living in a terrible era, I think. We have freedom of speech as long as we don’t say anything about these nutty people in power. It’s pretty discouraging. In our industry, the arts – all the arts – are under a small number of thumbs. Somehow the Toxic Avenger reimagining has been shot, starring Peter Dinklage – and it’s wonderful!
LK: It’s going to be a big hit, better than the original Toxic Avenger!
LK: I recommended Willie Wisely to the director, Macon Blair. He’s very good. He wrote the script. Terrific, and a good guy!
WW: He just wants library music, right?
LK: He wants Aretha Franklin. No, he’s great! It’s going to be terrific and the Troma fans are really going to like it. Both people who like superhero movies and the core Troma fans are really going to enjoy The Toxic Avenger by Macon Blair. I was on set a little bit, but once I heard there was no Willie Wisely music…
CN: Speaking of The Toxic Avenger, 2019 was the 35th anniversary of the film. Why do you think Toxie has endured for so long, that’s he’s been such a fan favorite?
LK: I saw the film recently – hadn’t seen it for a while – and I think we got it right! One of the main reasons is that Michael Herz and I co-directed it. He was on the set every day and I was more on the camera. I think that has a lot to do with it. But we got it right and Toxie, as Stan Lee says, put a new face on the superhero movies in the same way that [Spiderman] put a new face on the comic book hero. Stan wrote an introduction to my third book in which he stated that, like Spidey – who takes care of his aunt and has problems at school – Toxie has skin problems, doesn’t have a job, has mother issues and he only has a mop as his weapon. He’s very human, he’s an underdog, almost the ultimate underdog! He’s bullied, poor guy. A lot of humanity! It took 35 years, but originally not one theater, not one distributor [was interested]. I think Vincent Canby of the New York Times was really the one who started Toxie’s mopping up!
CN: It’s hard to believe considering how popular [The Toxic Avenger] is now. When you think of Troma now, you instantly think of Toxie.
LK: Yes, and Willie Wisely, of course!
CN: Speaking of which, Willie, what are you currently working on?
WW: I’m working with Mark Schoenfeld, the writer/producer behind the Broadway hit, BKLYN. I’m writing songs for his new project which is in development in Los Angeles. We’re not sure if we’re Broadway-bound or bound for film. I can’t tell you the title, but it’s a very exciting project. I’m also working on my ninth studio album, The Aquarian Strings, which is orchestral in its conception. It’s going to be with a string ensemble and a horn ensemble, and in some ways it’ll be a completion of the work I did with Troma on [Tromeo & Juliet]. That was my first attempt at music from different centuries. Some of the music that James and Lloyd had me put up to were inspired by 18th and even 17th century composers. I’m applying the songs I’ve written to a string and horn quartet context. My nephew goes to the Eastman School of Music and his work there has inspired me to write for the kind of ensembles that he regularly participates in there.
WW: And I just got done celebrating forty years being a song writer with a series of “Watercolor-Editions,” where I did solo acoustic versions of the songs that are important to me and released them over the course of 2020, 2021. Now that I’m on my forty-first year of writing songs, we’re moving forward to a new album. And of course, we’re releasing this Original Motion Picture Score for Tromeo & Juliet, whichis a very important milestone for me. It’s work that might have disappeared. The experience of composing for the film was very traumatic, being a trial-by-fire for me, and I only had memories of all the redoes and the grind. But once I went back and did digital transfers of the two-inch tapes, I thought, “wow, we put our heart and soul into this! I love this!” It turned into a thirty-six-track album release. The first single came out on February 11th, that’s the “Tromeo & Juliet Love Theme” and that has a neat lyric video with James and Lloyd’s faces. Every time the word “collide” is sung, we see James Gunn crashing a car!
The second single is “So Alone” which was a song of mine from a previous album that James had fallen in love with. It works so perfectly over the scene where Tromeo and Juliet are separated and at a great distance, and it was used prominently in the film. That came out of March 11th, and then the “The Overture” – the music that underlies the famous Tromeo & Juliet party scene – will be coming out as the third single on April 15th. We’re making a video of that focuses on all the exciting characters from the film. That’s going to be a great way to introduce all the characters to a new generation of people.
CN: How exciting!
WW: It really is, to find something in my past that was completely unearthed is a priceless experience. A fun thing to look back on is a Disc 2 bonus extra on the 10th anniversary DVD release of Tromeo & Juliet: Lloyd came to Laurel Canyon, he and Frank Reynolds – the original editor on the film – came in to my home and we filmed a really good comic bit where I faked my death. That’s worth looking at. It’s good horse play, Lloyd-level horse play.
CN: The best kind of horse play.
LK: It’s a little dark, shall we say.
WW & CN: [laughter]
LK: Probably not acceptable in today’s woke-ish culture. Not allowed to make fun of suicide. Burt Reynolds made a whole movie called The End where he tries to kill himself. Hilarious, but you can’t make that today! We may have been the last one, Willie!
CN: Lloyd, aside from #ShakespearesShitstorm, is there anything else coming up for Troma?
LK: We have the Troma-produced Brandon Bassham movie. He wrote the screenplay [for #ShakespearesShitstorm] along with Gabriel Friedman. His new film, The Slashening: The Final Beginning is playing is in a few theaters and premiered on TromaNow. It’s very good, hilarious, a Troma Cuisinart of genre. Then, Mercedes the Muse directed a very good script she wrote called Divide & Conquer. She says that “Men will be shocked and women will understand!” Liam Regan is directing a movie in England called Eating Mrs. Campbell. I had the honor of producing that, and that’s in post-production. We’ve got another movie – an anti-hunting movie – made in Tennessee by the Shithouse Productions gang, all of whom worked on #ShakespearesShitstorm. It’s called Curse of the Weredeer, like a werewolf but a deer. It’s very funny and rather gay, actually. I especially like it!
CN: That sounds awesome!
LK: We specialize in making one-of-a-kind movies for one-of-a-kind fans! By the way, we’ve got a number of #ShakespearesShitstorm with Tromeo & Juliet [viewings] at festivals and conventions. So Tromeo & Juliet certainly lives on. The Blu-ray is out and if anyone wants to see the 4K version, they can go to tromadirect.com. You can find hundreds of unique Blu-rays, clothing, women’s underpants, shot-glasses – everything that WalMart has – you can get at tromadirect.com.
WW: Made in Tromaville!
CN: I understand that Troma also has its own streaming service, TromaNow?
LK: Willie, do you subscribe to TromaNow?
WW: I need to do that, no, I am sorry.
LK: If you want to be up-to-date on a thousand of the best movies, TromaNow, it’s the future! All independent movies, shorts, music videos, you name it. The first month is free so you can see it all! I wonder if anybody has ever watched everything in the first month because you probably could.
CN & WW: [laughter]
LK: There are around a thousand or more different things, not all of them are long, not all of them are features. You probably could do it. That’d be a great challenge.
CN: Yeah, get a trophy.
LK: Willie, I nominate you!
WW: Only if your earliest films are also included.
LK: Every month we put up new exclusive movies and art, Tromettes, music videos, shorts, documentaries. Much better than Netflix, really. I watch it myself and honestly the stuff on Netflix and Amazon you’ve seen already. If you haven’t, it’s all watered-down imitations of James Gunn and Troma or Willie Wisely. Go to troma-now.com. There’s an app. That’s free, you just signup, very easy. Roku. All the very up-to-date technical magic at your fingertips with TromaNow!
CN: Do you have any parting words of wisdom?
LK: Well, I would say if you’re making a movie and you’ve got a decent budget, go get Willie Wisely! Forty-one years of great music!
CN: That’s some great advice!
LK: Another thing is, “to thy own self be true,” a phrase coined by one William Shakespeare, who Willie knows wrote that great American bestseller, 101 Moneymaking Screenplay Ideas.
Book Tickets to see #ShakespearesShitstorm @ linktr.ee/shitstormtickets
Start a Free trial of TromaNow @ watch.troma.com
Tromeo & Juliet (Original Motion Picture Score):
The never before released Original Motion Picture Score for Tromeo & Juliet, a 1996 cult classic film by Troma Films. Directed by DIY film legend Lloyd Kaufman and written by James Gunn (Guardians of The Galaxy, The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker). Features a unique blend of music score, spoken word dialogue, narration from Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead and key thematic songs from Willie Wisely including the long sought after “Tromeo & Juliet Love Theme” by Willie Wisely featuring Kerith Spencer-Shapiro & The Conquerors. 36 tracks.
Stream on Spotify, Apple Music or wherever you enjoy music. Full Album out April 29th.
Watch the exciting “Tromeo & Juliet Love Theme” lyric video on YouTube.
Buy Troma merch @ tromadirect.com.