Troma topper takes chair and looks to future

At first glance, the ascension of Troma topper Lloyd Kaufman to chairman of the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) might seem a little offbeat, to put it mildly.

Kaufman is, after all, the purveyor of such outside-the-box fare as “Tromeo and Juliet,” “The Toxic Avenger” and “Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.”

For more than a decade, he’s also been an integral part of IFTA — which reps more than 170 indie film companies. He served most recently as general vice chair, plus he’s been a board member for 15 years and chair of the new technologies committee.

And Kaufman’s Troma has been a member company of the org since it was founded. “We’re the independents’ independent,” is how he puts it.

He’s a true believer in the notion that indies are the wellspring of creativity — a point he’s stressed in books he’s written about low-budget filmmaking. “It’s the indies that are the ones who figure out how to build a better mousetrap,” he says.

Since his election in September, he’s already made a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with FCC chief Kevin Martin and lobby other officials on various issues that he plans to push hard during his two-year term as chairman. He emphasizes three key areas: continuing IFTA’s campaign against media consolidation; focusing on new technologies, such as protection of copyright and keeping Internet access on a level playing field (“net neutrality”); and stepping up international outreach.

Kaufman and IFTA prexy Jean Prewitt believe the issues of consolidation and Internet are intertwined. They cite the virtual disappearance of indie suppliers to primetime network shows — a reduction from 50% to 4% over the past decade, since fin-syn rules were eliminated.

“It’s become increasingly difficult in cable for independents,” Prewitt notes. “We want to make sure that the last mile of wire access into people’s homes isn’t controlled by just two or three conglomerates.”

Kaufman, who met with the FCC’s Martin on Oct. 2, believes that a lack of net neutrality would be devastating for indies. “There’s a real danger of the phone companies creating an elite for the Internet,” he asserts. “So the indies are in a position where, if they build a better mousetrap, how can it possibly be effective if no one knows about it?”

Kaufman’s also hoping that his own background can help inspire fellow IFTA members. He says that Troma was among the first production companies to issue DVDs, one of the first to have a Web site (in 1993) and the first to give Trey Parker and Matt Stone a break (“Cannibal: The Musical”).

“And right now, everyone is looking at new technologies as the Holy Grail,” he adds. “That means that major companies like Google and Microsoft should share the risk and give us an advance. We try not to accept Internet deals without an advance.”

At AFM, Kaufman expects the most pressing questions from IFTA members to be about market access. “If we can’t get access, it makes the economics very, very, very difficult,” he says. “So I’m taking this new position very seriously.”

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