Q&A: Rocky Director John Avildsen on Working With Lloyd Kaufman
In last week's print issue of the Village Voice, we spent time with Lloyd Kaufman, the Troma Entertainment president and splatter-comedy director who's currently remaking his early '80s original, Class of Nuke 'Em High this summer. Kaufman's known for his prolific career in the independent underground, but one of his earliest mentors was future Academy Award Winner John G. Avildsen, who met Lloyd in the editing room of shoestring studio Cannon Films and brought him on for Joe (1970), which introduced actors Susan Sarandon and Peter Boyle, and then Rocky, which shows Kaufman briefly onscreen as a drunken bum and in the credits as pre-production manager. "A title I had never heard and never have since," offers Avildsen, who invented credits for nonunion Lloyd, including "executive in charge of locations" on Saturday Night Fever, which the Academy Award winner was slated to direct. Avildsen spoke with us on the phone recently about his old friend.
What impressed you about Lloyd in those early days?
His intelligence. His curiosity, his passion for movies. He has a great sense of humor.
Has Lloyd always been the same guy?
Yes. Totally nuts.
What's an early memory of Lloyd?
I was making Guess What We Learned in School Today and he came in to rewind the reels. It's been a love affair ever since.
He's written about how hard he worked to impress you.
It was either that or he didn't get any food.
How'd he end up playing a drunk bum in Rocky?
Rocky was all non-union and the producers wanted to shoot the whole thing in Hollywood and said [that] we [didn't] have that kind of money to go on location to Philadelphia. And I prevailed that Philadelphia was a big part of the story and that I could work with my New York, non-union crew. I had shot a lot of movies with these guys, including Lloyd.
He was the production manager for all the stuff we shot in Philadelphia. Besides everything else, Lloyd is a ham. He not only loves the movies, he loves being in the movies. I said that he could be carried in Sylvester [Stallone]'s shoulders into this bar that we see him being carried into in Philadelphia. Then we can't really identify him in that exterior shot, as he goes into the bar. But we would see him when he comes in to the interior of the bar, which [was filmed] in Hollywood. He paid for his own ticket.
He can also be seen when we cut to the bar during the fight sequence with everybody rooting for Rocky, there's Lloyd.
Lloyd Kaufman's cameo in Rocky
You were first slated to direct Saturday Night Fever and went around with Lloyd and John Travolta, looking around Brooklyn for nightclubs to set the film. What memories do you have of that?
Oh, very pleasant ones. Lloyd, and his wife Pat, and Travolta and I did all the discos that were popular in those days. We had a great time.
I'm trying to picture you and Lloyd in a disco with John Travolta. Can you help me set the scene?
One of the good things about being in the movie business: you don't have to wait in lines. We always got the red-carpet treatment and in those days, there was a line outside and depending on where you were in the pecking order, how long you'd you'd have to wait and suffer humiliation in the line. We didn't have to go through that, so that was nice.