John Stagliano, the Evil Angel Emperor

Arch Stanton
It’s all about honesty with John Stagliano. The founder/owner/all-around head honcho of Evil Angel is not only committed to delivering transparent, in-yourface, no-holds-barred adult movies, but also is similarly committed to being absolutely honest in all of his business dealings with the directors who work under the Evil Angel umbrella, as well as with those who buy the company’s products, from retailers right down to the end consumer.

And, of course, the porn movies that Stagliano delivers are of the best quality. Aside from outstanding gonzo and feature productions from Stagliano himself (all the way from his ground-breaking “Buttman” gonzo series, to his highly ambitious features like the “Fashionistas” trilogy), Evil Angel also showcases superlative adult material from a cadre of the industry’s most influential and popular directors of all-time like John Leslie, Rocco Siffredi, Joey Silvera, Cristoph Clark, Nacho Vidal and Belladonna — an awesome roster of porn auteur talent, to say the least.

But who is John Stagliano? He’s a much more complicated, multi-dimensional person than that vastly popular, happy-go-lucky persona he created back in the 1980s.

Born in November 1951 in Chicago, Illinois, Stagliano was an economics major who came out to California in the early ’70s to finish his college degree — and subsequently got involved in the professional world of eroticism.

“The first thing I ever did in porn,” recalls Stagliano, comfortably seated behind his executive’s desk (covered with a colorful potpourri of DVDs, magazines, artwork, memos and awards) in his office in Van Nuys, Calif., “was an erotic short story which got published in 1973 in an adult newspaper called Yes. I got paid a penny a word, and I made $14.50 for the story. It was an L.A. newsstand thing and Bill Margold was involved in editing it.”

After that, Margold got Stagliano some work as a porn actor throughout the swingin’ ’70s (“I worked like twice a year or something … a couple of good things … mostly bad things …”), during which time Stagliano also turned his talents towards professional stripping, becoming one of the original Chippendale dancers back in the 1970s.

“But when I had turned 30 years old at the end of ’81, I was thinking, ‘I have to do something with my life other than being a male stripper.’”

That said, he dabbled a bit in porn publishing — one of Stagliano’s true loves — and by 1983 managed to pull enough money together to finance and direct his first porn movie, “Bouncing Buns,” for VCA. More movies followed for various companies, while John continued to save money, eventually enabling him to begin his own porn production/ manufacturing house, Evil Angel Productions, in the summer of ’88. He released his first movie, “Dance Fire,” under the new company in January 1989.

It was, of course, during the late ’80s that Stagliano largely created the POV gonzo format so heavily used by a plethora of porn directors today.

These days, aside from the incredible roster of directors under the Evil Angel umbrella already mentioned, Stagliano’s company also has 19 websites, as well as a fan favorite publication, Buttman Magazine. And in addition to the usual great porn coming out on DVD, VOD, in print, on-line and live broadcast from Evil Angel, also be on the lookout for a special multi-DVD edition of Stagliano’s “Fashionistas” trilogy which, according to the man himself, should be out in either September or October of this year.

In mid-May, we sat down with Stagliano at his company headquarters to talk about the big business of porn and the Evil Empire.

XBIZ: What would you say is one of your most important business mantras at Evil Angel, John?
STAGLIANO: Well, the first thing that I always emphasize is that you want to do something good and not cut corners. That being said, that’s really broad and doesn’t tell you anything. You have to really do something that makes sense financially for the market where you can sell it. For me, personally, I like editing my own movies and I’ve always put more work into the movie than maybe was justified for where I was selling it. It looked that way at first. And yet, my reputation has been built on the fact that I have lots of fans and customers who have come back and kept buying my movies. And I believe that happened because I put a little extra effort into every aspect of making the production.

And the other thing is, whenever I hire a new employee I tell them, “There’s no being deceptive with our customers. The goal is not to make money here at all costs. The goal is for you to do your job the best you can and always be transparent and upfront with everybody you deal with in terms of what we’re doing.” I’m not going to be in a situation where I tell one customer that he’s getting the best price and then somebody else is actually getting the best price. I’d never want to be in that situation. It’s made my life a lot easier most of the time by being honest, while sometimes it’s been really hard because there are complexities in areas where you just have to take a stand and lose short-term gains. But in the long run, I’ve found that being honest all of the time, no exceptions, has been the best way to do business.

XBIZ: Over the past 20 years, Evil Angel has pretty much stuck to what it does best: namely, putting out the hardest possible adult gonzo movies and the occasional hardcore feature like, as examples, your own “Fashionistas” trilogy and John Leslie’s “Brianna Love: Her Fine Sexy Self.”
STAGLIANO: Well, the only branching out we did was [Buttman Magazine], and I’ve been struggling to do the Internet — and failing miserably. (laughs) Probably if I had it to do all over again, I would have tackled the Internet with a partner early on and would have put more money, time and effort into it. I would have done more. I might have even done it myself earlier on. I mean, in 2003 I was looking at porn on the Internet and thinking, this can’t compete with DVDs; the picture size is too small. But, of course, since 2003, the technology on the Internet has gotten so much better as has the delivery system, and I didn’t realize how important that was going to be.

In the ‘90s I probably would have done pictures on the Internet; I would have done something, because the people who are multi-millionaires today, billionaires even, were people who got into the Internet early on. Also the problem was I got really successful in the early ‘90s and I wasn’t hungry. Everybody was developing things on computers and I said, “Let other people do it.” I’d let other people program computers for me … I never knew how to put software onto computers … I didn’t know this sort of stuff because I didn’t have to; I was fat and happy, thinking I was on top of the world. And now the world has changed. It’s much, much more difficult. I have to work 10 times harder for much less money right now. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I actually kind of like the challenge. But it is a very different world from when I started Evil Angel and all we were doing was selling VHS tapes. The advertising was a couple of magazine ads and trade shows. That was it. Running this company now involves so much more complicated, difficult stuff. And there have been a lot of mistakes made, and we’ve adjusted. But the one thing that we’re good at it is producing good content.

XBIZ: Isn’t that what it all, ultimately, comes down to?
STAGLIANO: You’d think that it ultimately comes down to content. But look at all of these very, very successful Internet sites that have relatively mediocre content; content that would not do well on the DVD market, or not do exceptionally well, but it has done really well on the Internet partly because it’s more niche-like, maybe, or more specific to what the customers want. And, also, and this is the big factor, people know how to do the Internet well. They know how to deliver the product well on the Net and that has proved to be a big complicated and difficult thing; and, as I say, it certainly helps if you started a long time ago.

XBIZ: And, of course, all of the free sites on the Internet don’t help matters, either.
STAGLIANO: Free stuff is a problem. I was involved in some piracy suits, but I’ve now delegated other people in my company to worry about that.

XBIZ: Let’s talk a little about your wife Karen and her input in your movies and in Evil Angel as a whole.
STAGLIANO: Karen knows technology better than I do, and she helped me considerably with editing some of my work for the first “Fashionistas” movie and with preparing the concept for the making-of featurette for the first “Fashionistas,” where she basically figured out how to do it. I just shortened it. But what she did on that was great. It was a great format and she figured it all out. Karen is also the publicist here.

Additionally, she’s another smart person to help us with harder decisions on marketing. And Karen does a lot of other very important day-to-day things at Evil Angel, as well.

XBIZ: What about getting feedback from the outside world on how Evil Angel products are faring?
STAGLIANO: Well, the Internet is great for that because you can see how many customers you have, and there are great feedback mechanisms for that, as well. I also try to tell everyone who works here, “Never think that you’re the best. Always think that you’re second-best and that you have to prove yourself.” Maybe we are the best. But it’s not for us to say. It’s never a good thing to carry that attitude and to put it in other people’s faces. You want to carry the attitude that you’re good, but I don’t want to seem pretentious, and as soon as we start acting like we’re the best and we’re on top of the world, somebody’s going to compete and take away our position.

In fact, in today’s market, there are a lot of companies that are doing well and that are competing with our position. More of it comes down to the fact that, say, Digital Playground has a little different product line than what we have. Nobody really does hard gonzo the way we do it, although there are some other companies who are doing a pretty good job with that. Sales are down for everybody so … we just do the best we can to deliver our product and keep our price up, because we put a lot more work into our product. It’s just that there are some people who are doing the least and selling it for very, very low prices. That’s the way that they can compete for market share with us, which is a very valid way to do it. It’s just that we have to try and sell the idea that, if you buy our stuff, you’re going to get better product for your money, even at a higher price.

XBIZ: You’ve gone on record as saying that you want to be more than just a place to go to see the next big ass of the week; that you want to explore eroticism a bit more deeply than simply on a relatively superficial level. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
STAGLIANO: Well, I sincerely don’t want to just be a big-ass site, where we’re shooting the new big-ass girl every week. That’s not at all what it is. The site is about my movies and my experimenting with stuff. A girl appearing on doesn’t necessarily have to have a big ass — but she pretty much has to have a nice ass.

But there’s also a lot of titfetish stuff on the site, as well as a lot of other things going on that I like to shoot — and that I have shot in my “Fashionistas” movies, which are just starting to be used now on my website. And I want to do some new-girl masturbation material. From a DVD point-of-view, that material doesn’t sell as well because it’s single-girl stuff. But I personally really like it. I mean, I’m shooting the porn that gets me off, and I’m shooting little tease things and other interesting material. It’s not just about trying to find a girl who can do anal sex well.

Don’t miss Part 2 of our interview with the legendary John Stagliano, in which he candidly discusses the financial/creative necessity for directors to own their product at Evil Angel, live sex feeds, Buttman Magazine, the future of porn, his loves/loathings of the adult world, the status of the seven-count indictment against Evil Angel and some of the creative ways his defense team will employ their strategy.


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