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It Takes a Woman's Touch

It Takes a Woman's Touch

July 27, 2007
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" I just wanted to see if I could do it once and about halfway through the first day I decided I really liked it "

All is not equal in the adult business. Not only do women make up the public face of the industry, female performers are paid significantly more than their male counterparts. In some respects, the ladies appear to be fully in charge.

In other respects, it remains a business-as-usual boys club. The vast majority of producers, salespeople, crew, company owners and even the industry media are men.

Women have made inroads as directors; it's no longer considered a novelty to see ladies listed as the director. While several male performers have become successful performer-directors in recent years, women attempting the same are still often greeted with a snicker, and not without reason: It is a frequent gimmick to give director credit to a female performer who has done little more than lend her name to the production. It gives the company a marketing angle.

Don't ask for apologies — it's a competitive industry.

Since the female directors appear here to stay, it seemed a good idea to find out what they're up to. Are they doing anything differently from their male counterparts? Who is their target audience? Why aren't there more of them? It turns out, in one sense, women are just like men: Ask 10 of them 10 questions and you'll get 100 different answers.

Some of those answers just might surprise you.

"I just wanted to see if I could do it once and about halfway through the first day I decided I really liked it," Daniels said of her directorial debut, 2004's "One Night in Vegas." Stormy found industry success quickly, winning Best New Starlet, signing a contract with Wicked Pictures and taking home awards for her directing in such quick succession that it's hard to remember what order they actually occurred in.

Daniels also had an additional vested interest in directing: She had been writing award-winning scripts and she was tired of seeing other people's interpretation of what she had written. "I wanted to see if I could take from paper to screen exactly as I had imagined it," she said.

Whereas Daniels joined an established machine at Wicked Pictures, pioneer Candida Royalle needed to create a niche from scratch.

When she came on the scene in 1984 there was no such thing as couples pornography. After she convinced Russ Hampshire at VCA to distribute, her father-in-law agreed to put up money to cover productions costs.

"I got a little grief from the reviewers in the beginning, I think not because I was a woman, but because my material looked different," Royalle said. "They called it the porn equivalent to Muzak. I think they had a vested interest in keeping it sort of a renegade business and they didn't like that I was talking about making this a nice thing for couples to do together. They felt that my stuff wasn't hardcore enough. Money talks, and when they saw the numbers, I had very little obstacles in my way."

Tina Tyler said there was a lot of resistance when she first tried making the jump from performer to director in 1998. While today she keeps busy directing seven lines, straight and gay, for Mercenary Pictures, in the beginning she had to pony up her own cash to cover production costs.

"I was looking for a new challenge and directing seemed to be the easiest stepping stone," she said. "But in 1998 not everybody was thrilled about giving a female performer a directing deal."

Not as Easy as it Looks
There is a comical story about a bubble-headed performer- turned- "director" who showed up to direct her first scene without lights, camera or film. When her cameraman asked her what they would be shooting on that day, she responded with a straight-faced, "Tape?"

While that may be an extreme instance, directing and performing are entirely different animals. A great performer does not necessarily make a great director, and there is plenty of supporting evidence that is not gender-specific. Still, a slow start doesn't mean a director should be dismissed. Some of today's most talked-about directors struggled to get it together at first.

Belladonna was a performer who had no aspirations to direct. Instead, then-boyfriend Nacho Vidal, inspired by her ideas, successfully took them to Sineplex, where she helmed the successful "Bella's Perversions" line, and then to John Stagliano at Evil Angel. Once at Evil Angel, Belladonna quickly discovered that she had much to learn about directing.

"It took me a year to get one movie out," Belladonna said. "I wasted a lot of money, and I shot movies that will never be seen. I let people take over and do it, and it wasn't me, but I learned a lot."

Likewise, alt-porn darling Joanna Angel encountered a serious learning curve when making the jump from directing for her BurningAngel.com to putting together a DVD.

"I went from shooting for myself to shooting video for the biggest company in porn," Angel said. "We were always shooting everything with a little crappy camera. You have to step it up a notch when you move up to DVD. I was used to leaving in the little fuckups, and then when I handed in 'Joanna's Angels,' my first movie, to Hustler, I got back a 10-page QC [quality control] report, and they're usually like half a page. It was a big challenge and I had no idea what I'd gotten myself into."

While the performer-as-director might seem like a harmless marketing ploy, Daniels suggested that was not the case. For example, if someone is curious to see what a female director does and it's bad, they never check out one of her other titles.

"I'm not ungrateful for being given a chance, but I agonized over making sure I was prepared and that I wouldn't look stupid," she said. "I don't think you should be allowed or not allowed to direct a movie depending on the fact that you have a vagina or you do not have a vagina. It should depend on whether you are able to direct."

Will Women Watch?
It is generally understood that the traditional audience for adult material is overwhelmingly male. It is not fully understood whether the opposite sex represents a largely disinterested party or a massive untapped market.

Kelly Holland, whose directing career kicked off in 1994 with the über-successful "Blondage," is the most prolific female director in adult history (mostly under the now-retired name Toni English) with more than 300 titles to date. Her resume includes a stint at Playgirl TV as the head of production and spokeswoman — a position that allowed her to be hands-on with a tremendous amount of research. She recently established Chick Media to produce material for women and couples.

"I believe that the couples market driven by women will be the last bastion of retail DVD," Holland said. "Do I believe it's exclusively women? I don't. I started off thinking there was a woman by herself watching. I don't believe that anymore, because I just don't think women process that way."

Holland, who describes herself as a "political leftist," sees her mission not so much as bringing women into the market as porn viewers, but as freeing women from societal constraints.

"It's the last great frontier for women to break through, which is this issue of being so out of touch with their own sexuality," she said. "You can fuck every single person on the block, if that's what you choose to do. You should not allow yourself or anyone else to judge you for being a sexual person. And the converse of that is true."

Rough Stuff
Not every gal behind the camera is focused on targeting her own gender as an audience. If women want their smut to be prettier, lighter fare, they probably aren't waiting with great anticipation for new releases from such directors as Mason and Jewel De'Nyle.

Kylie Ireland's new production company SlutWerkz, with its "Hardcore filth for men by women" slogan, is straightforward about the intended market.

The SlutWerkz mission includes not only giving women the opportunity to direct but giving them the ability to direct without restrictions commonly placed on directors by production companies. As Ginger Lynn, Katja Kassin and Lorelei Lee begin shooting for the company, fisting and hardcore bondage are being encouraged.

"Not all the scenes will be going into my DVD releases," Ireland said. "The DVD releases will be ultra-hard, they will be pushing the envelope, they will be harder than any DVD releases out there. Some things I would put on the Internet and on my foreign [releases] only."

Angel didn't set out to win either gender, though she said she's been happy with the mix.

"A lot of people have misconceptions of what females like and don't like," Angel said. "Sometimes people think that if a girl is watching porn she wants to see something romantic and sensual and more plot-driven, which is not always the case. There are girls who love rough, dirty stuff just as much as men do; they just want to see that the girl is enjoying it."

How Hard is Too Hard?
"Women can certainly handle the filthy scenes, they just need a little reasoning behind it," Daniels said. "Women are just as dirty as men, we just need a little more back-story."

Stormy said that she never intentionally went after the female half of the couple but that it did happen. She didn't even realize she had inadvertently tapped into it until she hit the road and experienced first-hand the reaction from women.

"They really appreciated the attention to detail that I bring and the realism and the sensuality and just that it's a logical story," she said. "If you get into a story and something illogical happens, the woman is going to sit up and say, 'That'd never happen,' and walk out of the room. So guys might not know that I directed the movie, but they appreciate it."

It's an opinion voiced by most female directors contacted for this story that women don't need different product, just slight changes to the product that is already coming out — so slight that the men watching probably won't even notice.

"Men are visually driven," Holland said. "Women are much more complicated. They want to spin whole scenarios around what's happening. Women can watch the hardest sex imaginable and not be turned off by it as long as it's pretty to watch, meaning the girl has got a good manicure, she's got top-notch lingerie, not looking cheesy or tacky. Women want to project themselves into the role, and they want to be beautiful. Women need to feel sexy about themselves."

Closing Shots
In the end, one might wonder if female directors in porn are worthy of a story. By engaging in a gender-based discussion, does the media trivialize the position and contribution to the adult industry? As Belladonna put it: "Big deal, we're directing. So what?"

As in life, few things in porn are that simple. It's a competitive industry for either gender and the fact remains that the ratio of women in front of the camera to those behind it is in no way equal. The fact also remains that men consume much more pornography than women, and maybe it will take women to tap the larger market — if it exists at all.

"There are a lot more male directors than female directors, both in porn and in Hollywood," Angel said. "I think it's a positive thing when people want to celebrate females stepping to the plate, and hopefully that can inspire other females to want to do the same thing."


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