One decade directing, 200-plus credits. Go-to guy at one legendary firm, then another. Now a key member of Joone's superstar staff at Digital Playground, Robby D is up for the XBIZ Director of the Year Award, and has the sales stats and critical standing for Director of the Decade. He's a man at the peak of his powers in an industry going through a paradigm shift. He's on any list of adult industry leading lights, of top artists and innovators.
Still, Robby D is human, and his life has produced its share of contradictions. Ladies like his movies, but he doesn't make chick flicks. His gonzo projects are frankly aggressive, but women are not demeaned or mistreated. He doesn't do a lot of self-aggrandizement, but seems to wield a kind of quiet influence. He knows everyone, follows everything but will give you a straight answer as long as you are prepared for an honest one. Robby D didn't mince words when XBIZ spoke with him in mid-December.
XBIZ: How did you get your start in this industry?
ROBBY D: I've been in the business now 10 years. I was an action sports cameraman, but wanted to make porn. At first I didn't know anyone, but I lucked out by making two right phone calls. The first was to Jim South, who totally hooked me up with my first girls. In those days World Modeling would close for lunch and everyone would hang out at Hamburger Hamlet, so I cruised over and made the connection right then and there.
XBIZ: And the other lucky phone call?
ROBBY D: I'd been watching the "Venom" series for a week, just loving it. One day I call LBO, not even knowing who they were, and I get this guy on the phone. Says his name is Ron Sullivan, he asks me what I like and I say, "I'm watching 'Venom' and really digging it." He says, "That's the $64,000 answer. I'm Henri Pachard." I hooked up with him, then I went to some company with some of my stuff and they bought it right away and asked for more. Then more work led to more people and to more work. Then Vivid grabbed me up, and now I am right at home here at DP.
XBIZ: There has been incredible progress in digital imaging in the last decade. What cameras did you use along the way?
ROBBY D: I went through all the great Sony models along the way, the 1000s and 2000s, then jumped on board with the Canon because of their 16mm glass options, moved into Varicams for a long time, back to Sony and the 900s for a bit. Those 900s are temperamental, and I didn't like them so much.
XBIZ: What are you shooting on now?
ROBBY D: The Red 4K camera, and it's incredible. It has great image quality but it also depends on the lenses you're using. The Red 4K is a heavy beast of a camera, and you're not going to toss it around or shoulder it much. It's about a 45-pound camera, and with the spreaders and all you've got a 6-foot circumference. It gets big fast. But the format is tremendous. It captures raw footage and is a great system.
XBIZ: Your consistently high production values are also due to the other pros behind the camera with you. What makes it all work?
ROBBY D: I say something and they know what I mean, and give me what I need. It takes a lot of time to develop a top crew. You have to spend a lot of time on your craft, learning the cameras, learning the new technologies, not to mention learning to work as a team. My crew has been with me a long time, because you can't have guys bouncing around, you have to have guys you know. We're all best friends, we're doing the jiu-jitsu and the mixed martial arts thing together.
XBIZ: How do you work with the cast, as opposed to the crew?
ROBBY D: Shooting sex really is like shooting sports, which is where I came from. It's about the way people move, how you learn to anticipate, improve communication, get the right chemistry going, be ready for anything. Often the best way to be a director is get out of your own way, roll with it, trust your instincts. You can shoot the same girl in the same house and one day it's totally hot and the next day it's just plain not happening. You just learn to recognize it and let it happen.
XBIZ: It seems like the culture war runs right through cyberspace. Any chance for a truce?
ROBBY D: The Internet is synonymous with porn, and we're forcing it down people's throats. That can only have a negative effect. I think you should have to know the domain name and enter that to find porn. You search for the word "nurse," like I did recently, and the first three pages on Google are porn sites. We don't need to force it in the public's face like that. I don't think the industry will self-regulate on this, because there are always opportunists in it for the quick buck. It might take some government regulation, not a "porn czar" or anything. Just a few simple rules should do it.
XBIZ: Expect some phone calls on that one. Now, DVDs are way down and VOD is not picking up the slack. What brought us here?
ROBBY D: Lousy porn, that's what. Consumers have to wade through a lot of crap, and they get frustrated. You get some people who will know the crap for what it is, and learn how to find the quality. But in a lot of cases, the crap makes people think it's all crap, and that this is what all porn is, some throwaway junk that's free for the taking.
XBIZ: There must be more to the adult business doldrums than free porn, right?
ROBBY D: Another culprit is short-term thinking. It's not what you put in your pocket today that is the most important thing. It's what you can put in your pocket tomorrow and down the line. The opportunists are shortsighted. I want to make it big forever, not for a minute, and do good work and serve the customers. A lot of people in this business are on a race to the bottom. There definitely is quality product out there, but only a few firms are doing it consistently.
XBIZ: OK, then, what to do?
ROBBY D: The one thing you have to deal with is that free porn is here to stay. As far as the people putting it out, I have no respect for them at all. They are not doing this industry any good. And I just don't understand people who are satisfied with free 10-second clips? I mean, why shortchange yourself on jerking off by getting the cheapest, shortest clip? For guys, it's worth it to treat yourself right when you do it. Good porn is a big ingredient in that.
XBIZ: How has the recent economic trouble affected the business?
ROBBY D: I don't see a downturn, really. Every time I go to book some hot girl or guy they're way overbooked. Lately when I want to shoot a house, it's overshot or unavailable, so I don't see the business slowing down at all. I am in the trenches, shooting five or six titles a month, and things seem busy to me. There's enough room for everyone. I just want others to treat this business the way I do, to respect it, to be here for the long run, not the quick buck.
XBIZ: So the recession isn't hitting porn?
ROBBY D: I've heard some people blaming the recession, but this industry was having problems before that, and everyone knows it. The ease of production, the low cost of entry, the powerful and cheap tools allowing everyone to run out and make movies. What did people expect that would lead to? Add the Internet to that, and you've got the goods as well as the way to deliver it all to John Q. Public.
XBIZ: Is it important to you to be "the best"?
ROBBY D: I wanted to be the top guy from the day I started in this business. I want everyone to smile and watch my product and say it's great, but that takes hard work. I am not out partying all night, I am working, I am learning the Red 4K system, learning to do my job better, studying cinematic conversions, all of it. I want to be the top guy, want my company to be the best and if I were laid back, maybe I wouldn't be working so much.
XBIZ: You know that lot of people are calling you "the best porn director" now, right?
ROBBY D: You get to a certain level, and there comes a time when you stop listening to other people, stop caring about critiques and criticism, both good and bad. Hopefully you will learn at your own pace and keep on learning, while exploring in all directions. At some point you just have to tune everything else out and focus. John Stagliano has been making great stuff forever, and I love Erik Everhard, everything he does. I like being here, in this industry, at DP, and it's heartbreaking to see the business chase its tail.
XBIZ: It's been a fascinating conversation. What does the future hold for Robby D?
ROBBY D: Digital Playground is a tough company. We have the best editors, the best tech people, the best bosses in the industry. To be here as a cinematographer or director I have to stay on top of my game, work hard and do everything I can to keep the company moving forward. I don't know about the future of the world, or what the porn industry's future is going to be. My world, my future, is here with DP, and we will keep doing what we've always been doing, which is working hard, doing the best possible job and making every moment count. When you dig deep, you find some amazing stuff.