Chapters 5 & 6: Working FREE-Lance & Becoming a Full-time Tromite
Long before I became a CMO, I worked for over seven years making low-budget action/horror movies for the NY based studio, Troma. In one’s career, having a mentor is a valuable asset. My mentor was a monster– a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength. His name was Toxie (a/k/a The Toxic Avenger). I recently published a book to share some of the stories of my days in Tromaville and the real lessons of value I took from Toxie; lessons that have helped me throughout my career and that can be applied successfully to any business. I will share the book with you here on Medium, chapter by chapter. Good news for the TL;DR crowd — my chapters are always short and sweet. :-) Here are Chapters 5 and 6 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. If you want to start from the beginning, you can read the Introduction,Chapter 1, 2, 3 and 4. Enjoy! And, of course, if you are enjoying what you read here, please consider buying the book! Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! — Jeff Sass
Chapter 5: Working FREE-Lance
Lloyd, Michael, and I hit it off quite well, and I was immediately fond of them and enamored by the crazy, self-contained, and self-controlled world they had created for themselves in that messy building on Ninth Avenue. But despite our good connection, they had absolutely zero interest in doing any business with Satori. Troma was, and is, fiercely independent, and if anyone were going to distribute their movies to pay TV and beyond, it would be them (or someone willing to pay an exorbitant fee in the form of an offer they could not refuse.) So we parted ways as friends.
Until, some six months later, when I decided to leave my job at Satori to become a screenwriter.
I had been with Satori for five and a half years and at that point felt I had gone as far as I could within the organization in its current structure. It had been a great run for me, and I had gained incredible experiences there, producing the early Cable TV show, Celebrity with hostess Alison Steele, traveling the world to film festivals, and much, much more. But my personal creative itch was screaming to be scratched. I wanted to be a screenwriter and make movies. While Satori gave me many opportunities to be creative, it was clear the company was on a path focused more on distribution than production, and I wanted to make stuff.
So I struck out on my own, with the initial goal of writing (and hopefully selling) original screenplays. I got to work on my very first screenplay, Wunderkind, and upon completion, I sent it over to Lloyd and asked him to read it. While a comedy, Wunderkind wasn’t a Troma-style film, but I was hoping to get feedback from someone who actually made movies.
Lloyd was kind enough to read my script, and he and Michael invited me to visit them again in Tromaville to see what I was up to. I once again found myself sitting in the kooky chasm between the desks of Messrs. Kaufman and Herz. I was young and green and passionately told them how “I wanted to write and make movies.” They said that based on Wunderkind they thought I could write and if I wanted to, I could write a screenplay for them. They had an idea for a story.
They offered to pay a little something if I was able to turn their story idea into a full screenplay. My recollection was that it was around $1,200, payable when an acceptable script was delivered. I probably would have done it for free, but it was even more exciting to have a “paid” writing assignment. I was briefed on their story idea, took notes and their treatment, and got to work on it.
During the eighteen months after leaving Satori, I wrote three full screenplays (Wunderkind, Deep Cover, and the Troma Project). I also formed a production company with Academy Award-winning animator Jimmy Picker and another partner to write and produce a clay-animated and live-action special, My Friend Liberty, which aired on CBS in the summer of 1986 to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. Troma paid me my small fee, I made a modest fee from My Friend Liberty, and one of my screenplays, Deep Cover, was optioned by a Hollywood producer. I also got married, and we eventually became pregnant.
I thought My Friend Liberty would immediately lead to tons of work for our burgeoning production company and that I was on my way. But I was way off in my naive enthusiasm. More production work was not forthcoming, and the dwindling funds and insecurities of the freelance life were not conducive to starting a family, not to mention supporting one. I needed a job. A real job. I settled for working for Troma.
Chapter 6: Becoming a Full-time Tromite
Back at the Troma Building, I told Lloyd and Michael that I was ready for full-time employment. I wanted to make movies. They thought that was nice. But, they weren’t in production on anything at the moment, and besides, they didn’t really pay much to the folks they hired for production work since there were so many willing and eager to work for literal peanuts (and a cold beverage to wash the nuts down with) just to gain some hands-on experience on a real film crew. If I wanted a working wage, I’d need to do something more important than making the movies, I’d have to sell them.
Given my background in acquisitions and distribution over at Satori, they thought I’d be the perfect guy to start moving Troma into the blooming home-video and pay-TV markets. It wasn’t much of a salary, but it was a real job. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was a step closer to making movies, and I figured (correctly, as it turned out) that once they were actually in production again, I’d find a way to get more intimately involved in that process, along with my sales responsibilities.
We came to an agreement and shook hands. And Lloyd walked me out into the main office, swiped a mess of papers off the corner of a desk where there was a phone, and pulled up an orphaned chair. “Here you go, Sass,” as he pointed to the workspace he just created. “Welcome to Tromaville!”
And so it began.
That’s Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 — Two more short and sweet ones (are you seeing a pattern here? This book is an easy, enjoyable read!) Stay tuned for “Chapter 7: Branding Begins on the Ground Floor” where I share insights as to how Troma built a unique brand that has lasted more than forty years…
The book in previous posts:
Visit www.ToxicAvenger.marketing to buy the book on Amazon (Paperback or Kindle).
Visit www.EverythingIKnowAbout.Marketing for more info on me and the book.