WIA Profile: Kay Brandt
Each month, industry news media organization XBIZ spotlights the career accomplishments and outstanding contributions of Women in Adult. WIA profiles offer an intimate look at the professional lives of the industry's most influential female executives.
The woman behind Jewelbox Films not only grew up around the entertainment business, she also ran her own theatre company prior to moving into adult. In fact, when Kay Brandt arrived at Digital Playground earlier this year, she came armed with two decades of experience in creative fields, making her transition into a key role with the company a smooth one.
Now Brandt is steadily building her all-girl feature label Jewelbox, which made a strong statement in its first year as her dramatic “Cherry” series garnered critical acclaim, setting the tone for what’s to come. Her screenwriting ability has also strengthened Digital Playground’s formidable brand as she has already delivered more than a dozen scripts for various other projects.
In this exclusive interview, Brandt discusses how her background in stage production helped prepare her for the challenges she encounters on the set and how she has grown to love directing erotic films. She also reveals how adult filmmaking has forever changed her perspective on sex.
Where are you originally from? Los Angeles is where my family planted roots after spending several years traveling the country. I spent my early years in a funky Hollywood Hills apartment building under the infamous Hollywood sign, which I could see clearly from my bedroom window. Perhaps falling asleep to the glow of the sign was influential in my single-minded belief that my career would be in show business? Not to mention, my father was a writer/editor for a few top industry publications back in the ’70s, including Billboard Magazine, which meant industry events and personalities were constantly around me at a very young age.
What was your professional background prior to adult? I’ve worked in every facet of the mainstream film industry, from minimum wage script reader, to development assistant, to executive producer. I’ve spent the past 20 years honing my creative craft, developing my business, and exploring all areas of the entertainment industry. I owned a Los Angeles theatre company for six years, and wrote, directed and produced quite a few successful stage productions, which is no easy feat, considering how challenging it is to make money in live theatre, especially in L.A. I’ve been an indie producer and writer of experimental concepts, like an interactive epic for a well-known mainstream studio. I worked with some real film industry legends, and learned everything I could in order to grow as a filmmaker. However, the hardest aspect of competing for work in mainstream were the few years when the industry itself was caving in and companies were closing left and right and the big wigs I knew couldn’t get hired. As rewarding as mainstream film can be, it is also one of the most unstable industries and very difficult to navigate a successful career at times.
How did you transition into adult entertainment? I was ‘discovered’ by the man who owns Girlfriends Films (Dan O’Connell). I had my resume posted on a mainstream industry job board website. He was seeking a mainstream writer/director, as his brand of adult films are story heavy and require someone who gets writing erotica as well as unique stories and set-ups. We had several meetings before I started working for him, and it took some persuading on his part for me to be able to wrap my brain around writing/directing fully explicit content. It was a somewhat petrifying thought to be in the same room with beautiful women engaged in deeply passionate sex right in front of me and direct them in the process of lovemaking. At first I just wrote for him, taking over a few of his established lines, like ‘Lesbian Legal,’ and brought more complexity to the plot layers. Then he started inviting me to set, and asking me to direct the dialogue, and then gradually I was able to get beyond just directing the kissing and breast play to directing full sexual contact and ultimately the lovemaking. It’s not a secret that I directed my first sex scene standing in the hallway off the bedroom from a monitor! Once I did manage to stay in the room and direct the sex live and in person, I fell in love with the art of it, and the absolute freedom of not having to censor the filmmaking at all.
What was your experience in adult prior to arriving at DP? I was writing/directing for Girlfriends Films from 2009–2010. In February of 2010 I wrote the business plan for Jewelbox Films, a vision I had for making higherend, bigger budget all-girl erotic films. I was ready to put my own brand out there, and break ground in a new area of the industry that hadn’t really been explored. Making full motion pictures based on heavily erotic stories, featuring all female casts, with substantial budgets and roles that required a certain depth of acting from the performers, was exactly what I wanted to achieve. I had several companies interested in putting Jewelbox forth, as well as DP. I had meetings with Joone, who has been a friend of mine and business associate for 12 years previous to me joining his company. We discussed my intentions, and he saw the potential and we mutually decided to join forces in launching Jewelbox Films, with CEO, Samantha Lewis, spearheading the line. In truth, I’d only been writing/directing in the adult business one year before joining DP. I see my time at Girlfriends Films as adult filmmaking boot camp, as there were weeks and months that I never stopped filming for them and I became very resourceful at constantly keeping my mind open to creative inspiration as my shoot schedule was quite intense.
What are your various responsibilities/roles at Digital Playground? It’s been an exceptional experience becoming a member of the number one production company in the adult business, Digital Playground. I am the writer/director of our Jewelbox Films movies, and I also serve as the inhouse staff writer for various company projects. I’ve written 14 scripts for DP’s director, Robby D, including ‘Escaladies’ which received an XBIZ nomination for Latin-Themed Release of the Year. It can’t be argued that Digital Playground is the leader because of the company’s absolute commitment to hiring the best talent in the industry, from the most beautiful contract stars to the post-production staff. Being one of the DP team means I work with an incredibly talented group of professionals. The post production manager and her staff of editors are the best in the business, and their dedication to ‘Cherry’ 1 and 2 was proof of their sheer artistic dedication. I work under the guidance of Samantha Lewis, DP’s President and CEO, who’s also spearheaded our Jewelbox Films projects. We are also discussing me directing boy/girl movies in the coming year for the company as well.
How would you describe the mission of Jewelbox Films? Jewelbox Films is about creating groundbreaking story-driven erotica. There is a middle area of the industry that Jewelbox fulfills by blending equal parts of erotic storytelling with stylized explicit all-girl sex that satisfies the needs and wants of the lesbian film connoisseur.
What inspired the “Cherry” story/series? The first stage play I ever wrote was about two lesbian strippers who are in love but caught in a rather destructive relationship with each other. The entire play takes place in a small, somewhat rundown strip club where they dance nightly. The story was revealed through their dancing and backstage drama. I really am not sure how this lesbian-themed concept appeared in my subconscious 16 years ago, but it did, and I felt a certain passion and deep inspiration for telling the story that took on a life of its own. The play was successful, and got quite a bit of press, including primetime radio interviews with me and the cast on major radio stations and publications. When the play closed I wrote it as a screenplay, but couldn’t get any traction for it and ended up sliding the script into a drawer and letting it collect dust until I began developing ideas for the movies I wanted to make for Jewelbox Films. That’s when I realized that the play would be perfect reincarnated as an explicit all-girl adult film, and immediately added it to my slate.
How would you describe the central character Cherry? Cherry is a complex woman, who has experienced her share of betrayal and drama. In Episode 1, I wanted the viewer to be introduced to her as a seemingly ‘together’ person. She’s a woman who has achieved a great deal of business success, owns a beautiful home, keeps beautiful toys (the young women she plays with) and operates a successful, private all-women strip club where she is the supplier and fulfiller of sexual fantasies for a certain class of female clientele. Her personal life is quite a different story, as she trusts no one and yet seduces young women into her bed, only to never surrender herself emotionally. When we meet her in Episode 2, the demons that haunt her subconscious, as in, the total obsession she has for the one girl she is completely in love with, are starting to invade her conscious life, bringing on delusional fantasies that ultimately could bring destruction to Cherry’s otherwise totally controlled existence. The more she builds the armor around her heart, the colder she becomes, and any crack in her well guarded life could bring her ‘perfect world’ down in flash. She’s a woman with everything at stake; strong enough to keep every aspect of her life under control, and weak enough to lose it all.
Writing is a personal process, what works for you? It’s never an exact process for me, in fact, the inspiration I need to delve in and write a solid scripted story is quite random. You can’t force ideas, or creativity, and certainly not an honest depiction of characters, or dialogue that is purposeful. Sometimes the process for me is about waiting, allowing drafts to happen that end up being totally thrown out, and exploring different approaches for the way scenes are structured until the truth finally rings out and the writing process flows on its own.
How would you describe your directorial style? How has that style evolved? I directed my first short when I was in 4th grade, so, I had no style for many years … it was all fumbling, clumsy practice. Directing live stage was the best training an aspiring filmmaker could have because everything matters, from blocking to nuances, and yet you have to allow the actors enough freedom to be spontaneous and empowered. My style has become very organic, especially when directing adult films. I change accordingly to accommodate the needs of who I am working with scene per scene.
Ultimately, I strive to create a trusting, professional, warm, playful environment. I am a cheerleader and a supporter of the talent and I want to bring out their best performances for not only sex but acting. Not every performer has acting aspirations, but many have talents they didn’t even realize they had. It’s my job to support that and bring it out in the open and guide them to give beyond their comfort zone. I am an actor’s director, not a camera shooter or a director who is more focused on the shots rather than the performances. The story/dialogue needs to be executed just as authentically as the sex performances in my films and it’s my responsibility to make that happen.
What is the next move for JewelBox Films? 2011 was clearly an initiation year with Digital Playground’s launch of our first all-girl line. We now see 2012 as the year that the ‘gloves are off’ and we come out stronger with more productions. We’ve been in development with another groundbreaking series and a few feature films and will be making an announcement at the first of the year.
What career accomplishment are you most proud of? Owning a successful theatre company for as many years as I did in the very challenging environment of Los Angeles. Working with ‘A List’ mainstream filmmakers and learning from them. Launching Jewelbox Films with Digital Playground and seeing the first two productions, ‘Cherry’ 1 and 2, come to fruition. ‘Cherry 3’ will be in production next year with a script that promises to take the series to an entirely new level.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve been in adult? Without a doubt, I’ve learned how many personal hang-ups I had about sex and the adult entertainment industry that were only holding me back from true self-discovery. Society is a real bitch when it comes to shame, stigma and closeting our sexual nature. Now I find these societal issues to be moronic and destructive to creating a more healthy mind, body and spirit. Over the past two years working as an adult filmmaker I have really freed myself from the brainwashing I once bought in to. Thank goodness for pornography; there are many, many benefits to society by its mere existence and the people who enjoy it for healthy reasons.
What’s something most people don’t know about you? I am a fitness instructor and dedicated to mindbody formats. I am also a volunteer teacher for select enrichment/educational programs that teach youths about financial responsibility and their place within their communities.