Before "Blue," Armstrong studied art and advertising in college (while making a few bucks for textbooks by working in strip clubs), then jumped right into the adult industry, performing and producing tirelessly. By 1996 he had come to the attention of Wicked Pictures owner Steve Orenstein, and Armstrong's directorial credits have since skyrocketed past 150.
Armstrong's work is regularly held up by reviewers and critics, such as Don Houston of DVDTalk.com, as how porn should be done. Houston has a serious bone to pick with neophytes and wannabe filmmakers who "suggest they are trying something new in the name of artistic expression [but] are usually just bullshitting the public." Houston concluded that "for every 'Curse Eternal,' there are a hundred poorly shot vignettes by the 'next Brad Armstrong' [who] hasn't mastered the basics."
Armstrong's list of awards is lengthy and not limited to directing; he has received accolades for his acting, art direction and screen-writing as well. To "mash up" a couple of clichés, this Energizer bunny wears lots of hats, but they all still fit his head. Armstrong was his famously straight-talking self when XBIZ spoke with him about his work.
XBIZ: I understand there was a bit of a scandal around the Canadian short you did with David Cronenberg.
Brad Armstrong: I was 20-something years old, and the director knew David, so that's why he was in it. This wasn't hardcore really, but there was this chick in it and she was sucking my cock, you know. It wasn't shot straight on, it was shadows on the wall, but you could definitely tell what was going on.
XBIZ: That was 1992, before any talk of adult/mainstream convergence. How did it go over?
BA: People were just going nuts and yelling, "Oh my God! The Ontario Film Board is financing pornography!" [Editors note: Despite the controversy, "Blue" won the Special Jury Citation for Best Canadian Short Film.]
XBIZ: Great story. Now, about the "tech story" behind some of your movies. You shoot both film and digital — what do you use for each medium?
BA: For hi-def today, it's definitely the [Panasonic] VariCam. But this digital versus film thing? I think that if you're really good at something, you can take whatever tools you have and do it.
XBIZ: Doesn't Wicked — and you — do a certain number of shot-on-film titles ever year? What's the rationale for that?
BA: I think with most companies, there's always those few big ones you do each year, looking toward the awards, but I don't know if [we] will be separating the lines going into the future.
XBIZ: Aha — digital convergence.
BA: Then again, my last two movies were shot on film, and we've got two really big films coming out in September, both on film.
XBIZ: Camera of choice?
BA: The Aaton. But whatever you use, it's a fairly big chunk of dollars to be shooting on film. My new one, "Fox," is perfect for it. It's really "art direct-y," shot down at this 1930s theater, a super-super-ornate place. It's real hardcore sex but a hardcore art movie, too — sex and art for art's sake, you know? Very cool stuff.
XBIZ: The lighting would have a lot to do with that "art direct-y" look, right? What's your approach to lighting?
BA: My approach is to get really good people working with me. For about four years now, every big movie I've done has been with J.W. Gacy. This guy knows what I like, knows my style, knows the equipment. I mean, love him or hate him, he gets it done.
XBIZ: How about the audio side of the equation?
BA: With sound, what you get is what you get. It's that simple. You need a good sound guy, and he needs to get it right. There is just no money to spend on ADR [Automated Dialog Replacement], so forget about bringing in talent to match up some lines later — in this business, half the talent is going to be gone, I mean gone, by the time you're doing post anyway. Like I said, you get what you get, so the first thing to get is good people.