O'Connell: Girlfriends' 1-Man Show
However, just with the scripting and shooting of 16 scenes a month alone which, at four scenes per movie, equates to one DVD per week, O’Connell has more than enough on his plate on a day-to-day basis.
Yet O’Connell wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves being the mogul of his own movie studio; whether it be a modest one or monolithic, pornographic or pedestrian. The man lives to make his own movies while navigating his own ship.
O’Connell started off in the banking world way before getting into the sex world. Born and raised in Bozeman, Montana, O’Connell was a marketing major at Montana State University, graduating in 1973.
“And the day after graduation, I was gone! I came right out here to Los Angeles,” he fondly recalls from his Reseda, Calif. office. “Those were the days of the beach bum, hot rods, girls and good weather. It was a terrific time to be in L.A.”
Yet he quickly got serious and became the consummate businessman hooking up with the banking scene with which he was intimately connected to for almost 30 years.
It was when he was finally winding down his banking career back in 2001 — and learning the ins and outs of documentary filmmaking at a UCLA extension class — that his business career took a totally unexpected 180-degree turn. He met a motivated, enthusiastic woman in his filmmaking class who was dead-set on making a lesbian-sex documentary. O’Connell agreed to help and that’s when Girlfriends Films was born.
Ten months later, in early 2002, the two filmmakers excitedly released their lesbian-sex documentary,“Uncovered — The Naked Truth!” Yet the film was no sooner released when O’Connell’s partner had to drop out of the business relationship for both personal and professional reasons, amicably parting ways with O’Connell in 2002.
Since then? Well, Girlfriends Films has pretty much been Dan’s baby.
To date, Girlfriends Films has released more than 150 all-girl movies, with the emphasis always being on the, once again, “real sex” element, according to O’Connell.
“I’d watched girl-girl porn before but was often frustrated and hitting the fast-forward button,” O’Connell points out. “More than anything, the key element of seduction was missing. So, in making our movies, we’ve always made it a point to keep the sex real and add seduction to the story line.”
By the way, what O’Connell means by “real sex” are sexual relations between self-professed bisexual women and lesbians, who have real orgasms with other women who really dig having same-sex erotic encounters. They’re also movies made for women, mature males and mature couples — all audiences which O’Connell felt were neglected for too long by too many studios that showed favoritism toward young male adult audiences hungry for boy-girl gonzo. And aside from having real bisexual and lesbian women experiencing real orgasms, the movies are all shot on real locations.
And the women are really delicious, too! Try such a delectably mixed bag of younger and older volcanic vixens with the likes of Anita Dark, Penny Flame, Magdalene St. Michaels, Deauxma, Ravenveness, Ariel X, Samantha Ryan, Faye Reagan, Leah Livingston and the incomparable Dana DeArmond, whom O’Connell has affectionately nicknamed “Do-Anything Dana.”
The stories making up the films are also as firmly rooted, as much as possible, in reality. Influenced by the genius of 1960’s and 1970’s film auteur Radley Metzger, O’Connell likes his girl-girl movies to have character development and realistic storylines in which the sex is directly connected to those same true-to-life scenarios. To date, his long line of realistically scripted, lustfully-sincere, all-female movies at Girlfriends Films include: “Women Seeking Women,” “Lesbian Seductions: Older/Younger,” “Mother-Daughter Exchange Club,” “Lesbian Triangles,” “Road Queen” and “Field of Schemes.”
And while O’Connell may be working in what is generally considered a fun business, it’s still a business, meaning there’s a lot of hard work involved in keeping his films erotically satisfying and financially successful.
XBIZ: So, Dan, as president/ owner of Girlfriends Films, what are your typical duties?
DAN O’CONNELL: Aside from helping run the business operations end of things, I also write 98 percent of the movie scripts and direct all of the films. Out of the 150-plus movies we’ve made, I’ve been on every film set. I also operate one of the two cameras used during the shoots and even drive the equipment truck and keep it maintained. And to help in the promotion of our movies, every month we put out a 12-page newsletter on GirlfriendsFilms.com — I write that, too. (laughs)
XBIZ: What kind of consumer response do you typically get regarding your girl-girl movies?
O’CONNELL: We get a huge amount of consumer response, somewhere around 1,500 posts on our fan forum every month. And we do listen to them. The biggest emphasis for our fans is on storyline, followed by the girls they want to see, and then sexual activity among those same girls. For example, the consumers want to see lots of kissing and want a distinct chemistry between the performers. Interestingly enough, they don’t want to see toys used between those same performers.
XBIZ: I agree. I notice that some girls use toys in girl-girl scenes as a crutch.
O’CONNELL: That’s the exact word some of our consumers have used! (laughs) But to truly work best in our films, the girls have to be either bisexual or lesbian. They have to be into it. Some girls will sneak under the tent flap, but between my lesbian cameraperson, Candy Girl, and myself, we pretty sniff those girls out; and after their first shoot, they don’t come back.
Also, we ask girls what other girls they want to work with, and when they suggest someone, we try to match them up with that person, because if you have two girls who work well together, it generally means a much better scene.
XBIZ: What business mantras do you uphold?
O’CONNELL: Putting out good movies — that’s the basis of it all. It’s also important that we always treat customers very fairly, always giving them a lot for their money. We generally run movies that are 2½ to 3 hours long — and without commercials, because we want the customer to have the best possible experience with our films. Assisting in all of these areas, we have a very good sales team and a very good editing team. Again, having a good product is our main thrust.
XBIZ: What are the most enjoyable aspects of running Girlfriends Films?
O’CONNELL: Well, we really don’t talk much about money around here. I like to save money because it costs a lot of money to run this business. You’d be amazed at the amount of money we spend. We have three offices and a dozen people. And we treat our employees very well; most everyone is highly compensated and every employee has health insurance. But I think the most enjoyable part of running a business is getting out the movies and having personal contact with people: contact with fans, girls, our staff members here in the office and people like you.
XBIZ: And the downside of running your business?
O’CONNELL: The downside of it? I’m totally hands-on here and have to work morning, noon and night, seven days a week in order to put out four movies a month, which is a movie a week. It’s a lot of work! And when you’re in a creative position like this one and you’re always writing scripts, you can never spend enough time on a project. I mean, if you make a widget, the widget is eventually made and you go home. It’s finished. But it’s just not the same with these projects. For example, until we actually start shooting the new “Road Queen” project I’m currently working on, I’m gonna keep working and working on that thing, trying to make the script better and better. Luckily, we’ve got a great office manager in Kathleen Fielder, who is great about freeing me up to be creative. And with all of the work involved in the company — in terms of both writing and directing movies and helping run the business itself with our terrific 12-person staff — you give up personal relationships. I mean, I lost my girlfriend over this business about three years ago.
XBIZ: So you really are married to the job. Have you ever been able to look back and discover what it is about Dan O’Connell’s personality that’s led to the success of Girlfriends Films?
O’CONNELL: I’d say it’s a focus, a discipline and a drive which I picked up from going to boarding school under the Benedictine monks. It was a very strict environment and you were made to study. I wouldn’t mind, however, winding down one of these days and taking a nice, long, overdue vacation. But in this economic climate, you can’t do it. You gotta keep working. You gotta keep people employed.
XBIZ: Do you have any inspirations in terms of the movies that you write and direct?
O’CONNELL: Radley Metzger’s films were a major influence. He did movies like “Alley Cats,” “Camille 2000,” “Lickerish Quartet” and “Carmen Baby” back in the ‘60s and ‘70s — movies which we’d call R-rated today, (Note: Aside from directing R-rated erotic films, many of which were shot in Europe, Metzger also filmed a handful of, now-classic hardcore features such as “The Opening of Misty Beethoven” and “Barbara Broadcast” under the pseudonym of Henry Paris.) There was a wonderful eroticism which those movies had without explicitly showing hardcore sex — and he had quite a bit of girl-girl sex in his movies, too. “Misty Beethoven” is an especially inspirational movie for us. It’s not a typically hardcore sex movie but there’s quite a bit of nudity in it. It’s a movie done on a budget, yes, but it shows a lot of great exterior shots, has a nice amount of drama, and more dialogue than sex scenes. So it’s more of an actual movie. We try to put out films like the ones Metzger made, rather than simply churning out your average gonzo videos.
XBIZ: In your self-penned historical sketch of the company you state that you hope Girlfriends Films will “one day be referenced as having a significant impact on the evolution of the adult movie business to a more sex-positive and widely accepted form of entertainment.” Explain.
O’CONNELL: I think the attitudes of the general population toward the adult industry are really a throwback to the Dark Ages. But I think — I hope — that as our society becomes a little more enlightened, this business will become more widely accepted. I grew up in a very religious household where all the tenets of Catholicism were stressed. And, as I mentioned earlier, I went to a Catholic boarding school run by Benedictine monks. Strong ethics are instilled in me for life, and I don’t see anything morally wrong with offering sex videos. We all hope our loved ones have good sex lives and — as long as the viewers want to see it — I don’t see anything wrong with showing two people making love. In fact, I find it funny how people will sit their young children in front of television sets and let them watch people getting murdered every night. And yet those same adults don’t want other adults watching movies where people are having sex, making love, having fun and doing something positive. We’ve never had violence in any of our movies. I don’t even like to show much drinking or smoking in our films. We have to keep the monks happy.