In the end, she was homesick. After a string of hits with Rock Candy Films at AEBN — including two that were nominated for Gay Movie of the Year at the XBIZ Awards — award-winning director Nica Noelle decided to return to Mile High Media to launch Icon Male, a new gay studio that continues her unique blend of romance and storytelling that explores taboo subjects.
“I missed Mile High’s dedication to artistry and their family vibe,” Noelle says. “I missed the reliability and camaraderie I took for granted when I was there. AEBN was a great experience, and I grew as a director because they allowed me to spread my wings and explore other genres. But as far as making a long-term decision about my artistic future, which it was time to do — I wanted to be at Mile High.”
I like to do religious-themed porn. I think I’m the only one doing it on a regular basis, because a lot of producers don’t want to touch it, or maybe it’s just not their thing. But it’s definitely my thing. -Nica Noelle
When Noelle was considering becoming a free agent, she contacted her former employer and asked if they would be interested in joining forces again. “They had seen my success with Rock Candy, and said they were ready to explore doing a gay studio if I became available. Shortly thereafter, AEBN and I amicably parted ways and Icon Male was born,” she says, noting that the brand will be characterized by Mile High trademarks: passionate, raw sex scenes, emotional content, forbidden attraction and realistic seduction.
“We like to put ordinary people in taboo situations and watch them squirm for a while, and then give in to their urges. We also have the beautiful photography of my exclusive photographer, Joshua Darling. His stills really capture the feeling we’re trying to communicate, and the fans go crazy when he tweets pictures from set. Our box covers don’t look like anyone else’s, and that’s because of Joshua.”
Up first will be “Forgive Me Father” — continuing a fruitful career for the director, who started her adult industry escapades as an exotic dancer.
“I stopped just before my 30th birthday — I felt that by that point I should be doing something more serious with my life. But as most sex workers will tell you, once you’ve been in the adult industry, it gets in your blood. You always feel like you’re part of a secret society, even if you reinvent yourself as a ‘normal’,” Noelle says. “So I always felt the need to keep in touch with my sex industry roots.”
She turned to magazine writing, an article about the making of a fetish video for Spread magazine leading to her performing in a spanking video. The experience was so enjoyable that Noelle decided to explore other adult film work, though she says she had no plans to give up her day job. Girlfriends Films soon cast her in their videos, and within a few months the owner asked Noelle if she’d be interested in becoming the Creative Director.
“My job was to write and direct the movies and to help bring Girlfriends Films, which was an unknown niche company at the time, to the forefront of the porn industry,” she says. “I accomplished that goal within a year.”
That led to other offers, which is when Noelle originally partnered with Mile High Media to create Sweetheart Video, Sweet Sinner Films and Sweet Sinema Films. “But I wanted to explore gay and TS porn, and Mile High wasn’t ready to do that with me at the time. AEBN was, so I went with them and created TransRomantic and Rock Candy Films. We had a good run, I made a lot of great movies at AEBN and acquired a new fan base, but ultimately I wanted to go back to Mile High.”
Before the release of “Forgive Me Father,” Noelle took time out of her busy schedule to reflect on her new studio and her role in the industry.
XBIZ: Why gay porn? Was it something you always wanted to do? Where did that calling come from?
Nica Noelle: I’m not sure, but I’ve always identified more with men. I relate to men, and I’ve always been interested in men’s fashion and jewelry; just the overall male aesthetic. All of my favorite writers are men. I’m entranced by gentlemanly things. I don’t have the “us against them” mentality that a lot of women seem to have. All that gender war stuff is lost on me.
It’s funny, when I was a little girl, about 8 or 9 years old, one of my best friends was a gay man. His name was Jamie, and he worked in Sloan’s supermarket in New York City. He used to let me put the prices on all of the soup cans, and help him stock the shelves. I would go there every day, and he would talk to me about school and life, like we were best buddies. Gay people were still openly discriminated against back then, and I remember my brother said to me, “Jamie’s gay, you shouldn’t be his friend.” That was the first time I’d ever heard the word “gay” and learned what it meant. I remember being distraught and thinking, why can’t I be friends with Jamie? What did he do? I dedicated my first Rock Candy movie to him — if you look at the beginning credits of “His Mother’s Lover,” it says “For Jamie.”
Speaking from an artistic standpoint, it’s more liberating to write about men. With male/ female relationships, it’s easy to default into archetypes or stereotypes: the hot cougar and the horny young guy, or the slutty teen and the sex-starved dad. But with gay relationships I can create more nuanced characters and the relationships are less cartoonish.
XBIZ: There are few female voices in gay porn; do you think it is more challenging? Is there any push-back or misconceptions you hear from fans/peers simply because you’re a woman?
Noelle: There’s a small group of bloggers and fans that feel women should stay out of gay porn; some of them feel women shouldn’t even watch it, which is absurd. Those guys seem pretty angry and bitter in general, though, so I think there’s something wrong with them. They troll performers and directors on social media, picking fights and hurling insults. For the most part, the gay porn community has been overwhelmingly supportive. I feel very welcome and very much at home. When it comes to porn, I think the rule should be: If it truly turns you on and you have an appreciation for it, you’re qualified to shoot it. If you share the fantasy, you’re in the club.
XBIZ: Will your Icon Male work be in the same realm as your Rock Candy films, or perhaps an extension/evolution of those?
Noelle: There will be a lot of similarities to Rock Candy, but I’m also venturing into new territory, literally. For one thing, I shoot on the East Coast now, so the New England landscape is going to bring a new look and feel to the movies, which is long overdue. Not to point any fingers, but it kind of sucks when a copycat studio pops up and not only steps on your brand but starts shooting all of their movies at your long-time location. That happened to us in L.A. with another romance studio, which kind of blew my mind. I know porn is all about looking at what’s selling for the next guy and doing the same thing, but I’d feel like a hack if I kept going in someone else’s lane. So now that I’m out of Porn Valley I can maintain some degree of artistic space, which is important to me. Plus, new locations are so inspiring — they open up a whole new world of ideas.
XBIZ: Talk about “Forgive Me Father.”
Noelle: I like to do religious-themed porn. I think I’m the only one doing it on a regular basis, because a lot of producers don’t want to touch it, or maybe it’s just not their thing. But it’s definitely my thing. I went to confession all the time when I was growing up, and to church every Sunday. I went to religious instruction class after school and I made my first holy communion. There’s just something about the Catholic Church that makes you think about sex a lot; I’m not sure what it is, but I used to be menaced by sexual fantasies all the time when I was in church. I had so many erotic thoughts when I was standing in the pew, reciting mass. Plus there’s something about the anguish of sinning, of trying so hard not to give in to temptation and failing, that really appeals to me in terms of storyline. “Forgive Me Father” is structured along those lines: men are confessing their sins, which have to do with secret homosexual desires. As they confess, we revisit the sins they’ve committed.
XBIZ: What can you share about your other upcoming films?
Noelle: “Prisoners of War” is a period piece that takes place during World War II. It’s a little rapey, so I thought I might get in trouble for it, but Mile High looked at it and said it’s not that bad — which is a relief, because I really didn’t want to cut anything out. Tommy Defendi plays a prisoner of war who’s lost his mind, just suffered a complete psychotic break, and so he turns on his comrade, Ludo Sandor. Then we have the incredible Rob Yaeger, who speaks fluent German, playing a Nazi officer who interrogates Brandon Wilde. He’s creepy as hell and it’s just fantastic. Liam Harkmoore plays a younger Nazi who taunts a tied up Ty Roderick, but Ty breaks free and you can guess what happens next. And Billy Santoro plays a sadistic U.S. sergeant, which was really fun to shoot.
“Men Seeking Men” is about men who look for secret hookups online, because they’re desperate to find an outlet for their gay fantasies. Sometimes it’s a married guy, or a very religious guy, or someone who just — for whatever reason — is looking to explore with other men.
“Forbidden Encounters” is about illicit affairs, and the storyline kind of unfolds during the sex scene. Sometimes there’s a break in the sex where the characters talk or fight, and then the sex scene continues — sometimes in a completely different vein. I try to let the sex tell the story as much as possible. My goal for that series is mathematical elegance. Let the sex tell the story, with as few words as possible.
XBIZ: How is your work different in the gay landscape, and why do you think that this kind of voice is so rare?
Noelle: I think it’s a bit of the copycat syndrome I was talking about earlier — everyone in porn does what everyone else is doing, and for a long time, gay porn was done a certain way. I’ve always found it ironic that in porn, this group of supposed rebels and outlaws are terrified to take any artistic risks. Everyone waits to see if it sells for the other guy first, and if it does, they all jump on the bandwagon. And because of that copycat mentality, porn is the worst of all mediums when it comes to artistic innovation. Everyone waits for the other guy to do it first, and sometimes years can go by with no one taking that first step.
My approach to Icon Male is the same as with all of my studios. I try to bring forbidden sex, emotion and storyline together along with very intense, intimate hardcore sex. And of course I love doing period piece films, so I’ll continue shooting those. If I could keep everyone dressed in Victorian costumes all the time, I’d be so happy.
XBIZ: Who is your audience?
Noelle: People who like to watch seduction and emotional sex scenes. It’s not gender or sexual orientation specific. You will never hear me call my work feminist porn. You will never hear me say my audience is this or that gender. I have straight female fans that watch Icon Male, and gay fans that watch my straight stuff. People don’t stay in the boxes we put them in, I can tell you that much. Human sexuality is all over the place.
XBIZ: What unique challenges/differences/advantages are there in filming gay adult content?
Noelle: Well, there are more penises involved in gay porn, so there are more technical difficulties. Remember, female performers can fake their way through an entire scene and they can even fake an orgasm, but male performers can’t. Guys have to get an erection and they have to have an orgasm. So they sometimes need a little extra time to get there, which is normal. These are human bodies we’re working with, not machines.
XBIZ: What influences and inspirations have you drawn upon in your work?
Noelle: The first time I saw a Shine Louise Houston sex scene, it blew me away. I never saw anyone shoot sex so flawlessly — she does everything right. I don’t think there’s anyone who can shoot sex as well as she can, and I bow down to her completely in that regard. She’s brilliant. Dana Vespoli is a true artist and a gifted filmmaker. I can watch her porn like I would any mainstream movie and be tremendously moved by it emotionally, intellectually and physically. She’s the one to watch, in my opinion. Beautiful woman, compelling artist, truly gifted and original as hell. As far as outside of porn, I would say Merchant Ivory films, and my own emotions and experiences, or things confided to me by friends. Once you open your eyes, inspiration is everywhere.
XBIZ: Talk about how you go about casting, which seems to be something you do very well. What kind of performer do you look for?
Noelle: I look for people who have an interesting mixture of personal qualities, and who are passionate about the work. I look for people with character and energy and a certain type of sex appeal. And then I’ll envision them in different situations, and imagine what they might say or do if they were confronted with a certain dilemma. So many times a performer will read his script and say to me, “That’s exactly what I would say in this situation,” or even, “How did you know this happened to me?” I guess I pick up on certain things intuitively.
XBIZ: Talk about some of the men you have used in your projects and what makes them so special. Who do you hope to use?
Noelle: Tommy Defendi and Ty Roderick are two of my favorite leading men. They’re both brilliant performers, versatile and intensely charismatic. Ricky Larkin was a big muse for me, but we fell in love — occupational hazard! — and he retired from porn soon thereafter. So I lost a star but gained a boyfriend. I dearly love Alex Green, Boston Miles, Rob Yaeger, Trenton Ducati, Brandon Wilde, Lance Hart, Ludo Sandor, Adam Russo and — my heart — Nick Capra. Nick is the sweetest, most beautiful man. There’s such an innocence about him. He has what’s called “beginner’s mind” in Zen Buddhism — it’s like he’s seeing everything for the first time. I love people who maintain their sense of childlike wonder no matter what life throws at them. Those are my favorite people.