10 Filmmaking Lessons Troma’s “The Toxic Avenger” Can Teach You

6. Sound Effects Are an Effective Tool for Comedy

There are a couple schools of thought on the use of sound effects in comedy: some feel it should be a subtle thing as to let the humor of the situation take over while others don’t care about subtly as long as they can get a laugh. I’d be lying if I said the latter wasn’t a cheap method, but that doesn’t mean it’s not of value. One of the elements that stand out most in a Troma film is the way they choose to have the most weird, and sometimes disgusting sound effect possible to accompany an action.

I can guarantee that many of you reading this haven’t heard anything quite like the sound of someone eating, or getting horribly maimed like in a Kaufman film. By using the right sound effect, you can take a really morbid scene of a kid’s skin getting burned and mutated from nuclear waste and make it extremely comical, albeit unsettling.

Now, I’m not saying go out and use over-the-top sound effects for everything. I’m saying you’ve got to choose your battles and use the sounds that best mix with your film. Be warned, however, that while an over-the-top sound can be great for a laugh, if used too often or not done well, it can have a reverse effect and take your audience out of the film. Choose wisely and follow your gut.


7. Create Your Own World


Inspired by the works of Preston Sturges and the universe of Marvel Comics, Kaufman wanted to have his own world in which he could freely tell his stories without worrying about keeping true to how the world really is. From this thought process, a small little city in New Jersey by the name of Tromaville was created, and with it a universe all his own to play with.

Every film Lloyd Kaufman has directed since the Toxic Avenger has been set in Tromaville, NJ and his films show a shocking amount of interconnectivity. While “The Toxic Avenger” featured Tromaville at it’s most infant stages, throughout his filmography Kaufman continues to expand on it to create a very unique city filled with a menagerie of motley characters.

Don’t ever feel like your film has to be set in a real location, a real time or a real world. It can be anything you want it to be, and more. Next time you’re writing a script, think about where it’s set and why. Is there anything new you can bring to it? Not every film needs to be set in some fantastical place, but sometimes changing the location just enough to make it unique can be very cleansing.


8. Editing Will Make or Break Your Low Budget Film

Editing is the invisible art of filmmaking and without it, your amazing vision can be reduced to looking like an amateur first film. The relationship between Director and Editor is crucial because if they’re not on the same page, all is lost and the film will lack a specific focus. One thing you’ll notice while watching “The Toxic Avenger” is how the film is very confidently edited and has a very quick pace when it comes to the fight/murder scenes.

A lot of the mistakes and lulls in the action are covered by the editing and make the scenes feel very fluent. Richard W. Haines, who cut “The Toxic Avenger” would later go on to co-direct “Class of Nuke ‘Em High” with Lloyd Kaufman and edit the film as well. Kaufman and Haines obviously have a good working relationship together as two of the biggest Troma hits were made while collaborating.

There has to be a good balance of give and take with a Director/Editor collaboration. The Editor follows the Director’s vision and helps bring what he sees in his head to life. At the same time, the Director must trust the Editor to shape his film and use their talents to help pace the film and make it not only watchable, but entertaining. When making your first films, don’t just throw it together, take a little extra care with the edit and you’ll be thankful you did.


9. Put Money Into Your Makeup


Fans of the horror genre can be very polarizing about the topic of gore and whether it’s needed. There’s pros and cons to both arguments, but what can be said without a shadow of a doubt is if an effect looks poor, fans will lose interest. It’s harsh, but true, so if you’re going to commit to making a violent, gory film you best do it well. “The Toxic Avenger”, though rough around the edges at times, has some truly great looking effects and make-up jobs. The entire segment of Melvin falling into the barrel of nuclear waste and his transformation into the Monster Hero looks great.

Lloyd Kaufman is the first to acknowledge how important make-up is, so much so that on his film “Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead” it’s been said that the Make-Up Artist was one of the only crew member that was paid a full wage while most of the crew volunteered. If you’re an aspiring horror filmmaker, you probably love a good gore scene, so when it comes time to make your masterpiece don’t take money out of “the gore fund”. Cut corners in other areas, but make sure you put enough into make-up because it can really help raise the look of your film and make it feel like a bigger budget production.


10. To Thine Own Self Be True


Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz have never backed down from a fight and rarely did they care how others perceived them. If you watch their appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, you can tell Cavett doesn’t understand Troma and doesn’t care to, yet Kaufman and Herz stand their ground because they believe in what they do. “The Toxic Avenger” was never made to be a darling in the eyes of mainstream moviegoers; it was made as an F.U. to the Hollywood Studio system and mainstream audiences.

Don’t be afraid to piss people off and push the envelope, because even if you get a rise out of someone, you can take comfort in knowing your film made them feel something. Troma’s motto is “movies of the future” and I’ve always perceived this as meaning they champion films unlike anything you’ll see in the mainstream and they’re happy with that. Do something different, be yourself and don’t feel the need to apologize for making YOUR film. Follow the Troma motto and make a movie of the future.

Author Bio: Michael Viers is an award winning filmmaker from Milwaukee, WI and a graduate from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee with a Bachelor’s Degree in film. He has made two successful short films during his stay at the university: From the Darkness Theatre which screened at the Short Film Corner at the 66th Festival de Cannes and Love You Still which debuted at the 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival. His new film was accepted to play at TromaDance in New York, you can help him a lot by donating here.