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The Troma Apex: know your film market.

Unless you have an unusual hit, it's hard to make money with a small independent film because "the expenses of a theatrical run are simply unimaginable," said Lloyd Kaufman, president of Troma, Inc.

"Today in the U.S., out of a total of around 24,000 theaters, there are some 500 screens with good play dates available to us. though of course we don't necessarily get them all," Kaufman added. "In addition, there are 2,000 houses that are possibilities and reasonable for us to get in, but a lot of them are typical multiplexes. Theatrical distribution has become very difficult, very expensive. That's why nobody [indie] is in it. There are so few left in the game.

Troma produces and distributes (both its own and acquired product) between 10 and 12 movies a year, a number of them directed by Kaufman and his long-time partner, Michael Herz. Troma, which in 1994 celebrates its 20th anniversary, is a beehive of activity and, operating without a debt load. is by all accounts a very successful operation, a showmanship-oriented company that is currently planning to set up its own video label.

But Troma is experiencing the same problems that have created such headaches for other independents, and it is constantly hitting its head against the exhibition wall. "We really bootstrapped our way into the distribution business," said Kaufman. "I'm not sure we could do that today. The situation has changed so much. It's difficult to get into theaters unless one has an awful lot of money. And the art film business is even riskier. Just look at all the bankruptcies in the business."

Kaufman noted that the majors spend around $800,000 to launch a film just in New York City. Troma isn't that far behind. It shelled out $400,000 in the Big Apple to get My Neighbor Tortoro, a Japanese film on the road with around 70 prints, and an additional $400,000 on a too-print launch in Los Angeles. "That figure doesn't include print costs," emphasized Kaufman. "The economics are simply horrendous. You just can't make money unless you have a fluke."

Getting into theaters is just as hard--if not harder--in Europe. Kaufman commented. But, in the U.S. at least there are many houses, and they need product. "Our pictures actually make more money for them than the majors, partly because our terms are better. We get 35 per cent to 40 per cent on a sliding scale. With the majors. the theaters are often stuck with 90/10 deals. and they have to take a lot of the run-of-the-mill product."

The exhibition side has changed a great deal since Troma came into existence. "Cinemas have all been merged. The big chains have bought the family-owned circuits, and the studios now themselves run circuits," said Kaufman." Of course, we send our people who contact the chains, and we work the phones and faxes. We provide a service, but the promotional costs have risen tremendously. We recently opened Vegas in Space. a musical with a drag queen cast, in one L.A. theater: we spent $30,000 to advertise it. How are we ever going to get that back? Of course, now Vegas has moved to other houses and it's doing pretty well. You have to hope that a picture becomes well known theatrically and then makes money on cable and video."

Kaufman summed up the problem succinctly: "Either you open a picture with just a couple of prints and keep expenses very low. or you go much wider. The trouble is that the chains won't permit you to go wider unless you spend an awful lot of money. And the unpleasant truth is that the chains just don't need us now."

To Kaufman, the majors are his main competitors, not so much in terms of the type of pictures Troma turns out--"we have established a unique brand name"--but because of the overwhelming power of the big companies. In the theaters, the majors dominate, at the video end, they saturate the inventory with their cassettes.

"The hope for Troma and other independents would seem to lie in the trend toward specialization," Kaufman ventured. "There are more and more 'niche' channels on cable. Maybe, eventually, there will be a Troma channel," he said.

Kaufman's most bitter complaint is against the majors that, he charged, apply a double standard to his product. "The MPAA disembowels our pictures. By the time they get to the theaters they are like Disney movies," he said. "Jurassic Park gets a PG-13 rating. Pretty Woman is shown on airplanes. It glorifies prostitution. Where were all those women's groups that picked on our Bloodsucking Freaks? Television reeks of sex and violence and any kid can turn it on."

"We object to stuff much sicker than our movies getting a PG-13 rating while we draw an R or and X rating."

Kaufman, who at press time is running for the chairmanship of the American Film Marketing Association, pointed to the "tremendous consolidation of the giant, multi-national conglomerates that have, to an extent, pre-empted the independents who now are under stress. We, the Troma team, feel that "AFMA is doing things that members don't require, and are not doing the things the members do require. AFMA isn't providing the necessary leadership in a crisis, and the association needs new blood," he said.

"I would like to restore in AFMA the spirit of independence for which we, at Troma, have an almost religious reverence," said Kaufman.

"AFMA has only about 110 members, and it isn't growing. What's more, the association seems to have become more important than its members. At least, that is how its leadership looks at it. At the AFMA market, our people get the feeling that it's an 'us against them' situation. Additionally, the AFMA is too expensive and not user-friendly.

"Most members are trading companies, and right now they are under pressure. They don't have the means of financing their own movies.

"This is a time when the AFMA should be responding with financial relief, not with higher costs and more expenses."
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Troma Inc. motion picture distribution
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:About new shows ... when can I buy them?
Next Article:The Troma experience: non-U.S. films can reach Americans.

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