Couples-porn pioneer Candida Royalle is an institution in the industry. She's been shooting plot-oriented "couples" videos since the early 1980s. Royalle had no behind-the-camera experience before she started shooting adult, but she had starred in such films as the Mitchell Brother's "Femmes DeSade" and "Candida Royalle's Fantasies."
"I learned how to make films by starting my own company," Royalle said.
Experienced or not, the ex-porn star had a new, marketable idea: that couples and women (both gay and straight) were hungry for softer, subtler adult movies. "I went to the main distributors at the time," Royalle recalled, "and they said, 'Nice idea, Candida, but women aren't into this sort of thing.' "
However, according to Royalle, the adult business eventually caught on to a good thing: About two years after Royalle's first title was released, every other movie that came out was called a couples movie, whether it was or not, the innovator said.
Like Royalle's revelation about the fairer sex seeking softcore content, filmschool alumnus Eon McKai is inspired by an under-represented market for alternative, or "alt-porn," fans.
Websites like Suicidegirls.com and Burningangel.com have been drawing huge numbers of subscribers, but according to McKai, the people who enjoy those smart, tattooed and pierced women have yet to be served by video makers.
"On the Internet, you have these beautiful girls doing pinup-style pictures, but there are no girls in the business that carry that other style. They have to squelch it to be in video," McKai said. "In my movies, they can be more themselves."
McKai added that he's the only creator in the alt-porn community getting widespread distribution. "So I have to represent the scene with a good variety of girls — from raver girls to punk rock girls to emo girls," he said.
Since approaching Larry Flynt with his idea, McKai has released two videos, "Kill Girl Kill" and "Art School Sluts," targeted at the alt-porn crowd, with a third film in the can awaiting release from VCA.
Another younger director shaking up the adult film scene is second-generation pornographer Holly Randall. In a typical Randall DVD, there is no story and no apologies. "There's no acting in my movies," Randall said. "I don't think I'm some amazingly great artist who got stuck in porn and I'm waiting for my next big break. I actually like my job. I like sex. I like porn. I like watching porn movies."
Randall's mother, legendary adultphotographer Suze Randall, helped her get into XXX-shooting. They started out co-directing, but Holly quickly took the reins.
Randall says the key to her directing is in the details, and the meticulousness of her scenes separate her from the glut of porn oozing out of Southern California's San Fernando Valley. "We put a lot of time and effort into the styling, the makeup, the set, the way the girls look and the way they're lit," she said. "We pay a lot more attention to the aesthetic qualities, the visual qualities, of a scene. If a girl has flaws, we'll direct to hide them. As a woman, I've grown up with body issues, so I'm more attentive to the little things, where I think some guys are like: 'Big tits and an ass! All right!' I'm not like that."
On the other side of the coin from Randall's highly stylized vignette videos, veteran director David Stanley shoots higherbudget, story-oriented adult videos and films. Stanley moved to L.A from Minnesota toting an independently financed, mainstream feature he'd shot in film school. The up-and-coming director quickly found his place among the Valley crowd, working as production manager for adult legend Paul Thomas.
Eventually he began shooting features for Vivid and has since moved to a contract director spot at Wicked Pictures. Last year, Stanley won an AVN award for Best Director for an autobiographical feature released by Vivid. Stanley said he's driven to make adult films good enough so that the public will accept pornography as a legitimate film genre.
"The great American porn movie has never been made," Stanley said. "There hasn't been a movie made that mixes hardcore sex and stories that everybody could acknowledge as a movie. If you have hardcore sex in a movie, people immediately discount it. There's great stuff out there, but I don't think anyone has yet found the style that will get porn there yet."
Passion For Viewing Sex
Whether shooting features, vignettes or gonzo, all the directors XBiz talked to agreed on one point: You must love shooting sex to make it interesting to watch.
"I've heard of a well-known director who directs the dramatic scenes and then leaves his assistant to direct the sex," Royalle said. "How can you do that? I don't know how to direct an award-winning acting scene. I'm not bad, but it's about the sex. That's why people are buying it! Make the sex outstanding."
McKai agreed. "The biggest problem I see with porn is when the person making it has lost his passion," he said. "When they just do what they're told. Their heart's not in it; it's a job, like making french fries."
Another porn precept: It's all about the casting. Which girls you cast and how comfortable you make them on set can spell the difference between a successful video and another lackluster day at the flesh factory.
McKai scours the Internet for models and tries to cast decidedly nonporn types. "I get interested if she's got punk rock style or maybe an electro thing happening," McKai said. "If she has any kind of hipster vibe to her at all, I try to find out how to hook into what she's about and build a scene around her."
"I let the models go with it," Randall said. "Some models really like rough sex, and if they're up for it, I'm not going to stop them. The No. 1 thing I ask girls when they come in is: Who do you like to work with? Then I put them with people they want to work with. That way I'm much more apt to get a good scene."
No matter how many mediocre DVDs crowd the shelves of local video stores, adult directors who will be remembered are the ones who push the envelope and strive to make well-crafted X-rated work that presents a unique erotic vision to the world
"Adult is the last bastion of independent film," Stanley said. "I'm going to make something out of that. Porn stars can become household names like Jenna Jameson or Traci Lords, but the directors haven't done that. I don't know if it's ever going to come true, but I have it in the back of my mind when I'm working. It's this impossible goal. I'm delusional too, but it's that crazy thing that you have to have if you're an artist."