Leaving film school in the early 1990s with "a single traveler's check and a stack of 16mm film cans," Stanley headed for his cousin Nikki Tyler's place in the Valley. She was working as a makeup artist for Paul Thomas and Bud Lee, and Stanley quickly scored a gig with Lee as a production assistant, then with Thomas as production manager. He got busier and busier as he honed his craft, and in short order was directing big-budget features whose style (and sales figures) led to an exclusive deal with Vivid.
Some of Stanley's ups and downs with Vivid were chronicled in a 13-part cable TV series, "Porno Valley," that aired in 2004. A camera crew followed the Vivid Girls around for six months or so, showcasing "their work, their dreams and their daily life." It may have appeared to viewers that Stanley fell for one of the aspiring starlets, but like most reality shows, it's always a bit difficult to distinguish fantasy from reality. More than one reviewer suggested the Vivid Girls couldn't tell the difference, either.
Wicked Pictures welcomed Stanley to the company in early 2005. Just prior to striking the deal, Stanley won a coveted best-directing award, further establishing him as a member of the adult film industry's elite. The director's unique vision can be seen in such celebrated releases as "Compulsion," "1000 Words" and "Just Like That." XBIZ spoke with the now-freelance director in mid-April.
XBIZ: Everyone's route into this business is unique. So, how did you get here?
Stanley: I was raised in the Minnesota woodlands, but my Dad's job offered a lot of family travel. On one of those trips, I fell in love with two things that made my slide into the world of adult feature films so easy that I never asked for lube. Number one was L.A. Number two was Nastassja Kinski.
XBIZ: So Nastassja Kinski got you into porn in L.A.?
Stanley: I watched Paul Schrader's "Cat People" remake in a hotel room in Westwood when I was 13. I learned that sex and love are both painful and erotic, and that kinky sex doesn't have to be silly.
XBIZ: What else informs your artistic vision?
Stanley: We need to face the reality that everything we do is driven by the desire to be loved and accepted. Let's be honest. Why censor? Why lie? Stanley Kubrick never did that. David Lynch doesn't. Philip K. Dick, Milos Forman, the Butthole Surfers, David Cronenberg and others — they aren't just my favorite artists, they're my favorite people, because they dream out loud and tell the truth.
XBIZ: The truth can be very dangerous.
Stanley: That's why, despite some commercial successes, most of these folks have been stoned in the public square, then more or less excluded from it. They are outcasts for the same reason pornographers are — because they tell the truth.
XBIZ: Let's get to the tech: What's you camera of choice, and your expertise level with technology in general?
Stanley: I like the new Canon HD cams. I use an XH-A1 for my documentary work, and I definitely dig it. I love Canon lenses, but there's always been that weird "fluttering focus" issue that goes all the way back to the XL-1, and it's tough to get decent sound without lavalieres or a boom. But I still love it. For sheer tech geekiness, though, I'm much more into home theater. Right now I'm in love with my Blu-ray player.
XBIZ: What's your take on the latest developments in hi-def?
Stanley: I love HD. I was part of the last wave of Super 8 filmmakers back in the day, and shot a lot of 16mm stuff for Vivid, too. Film was scary. You never knew if you'd gotten the shot until you saw the footage, and by then you'd already shot your wad in more ways than one, so if you didn't get it, tough.
XBIZ: That was then. What about now?
Stanley: HD solves a lot of the worry by instantly showing you where you're at, and giving you much more latitude in post-production. As director Harmony Korine says, you can "shoot at the speed of thought," but the downside is a fix-it-all-in-post mentality — shoot everything flat and boring, then jazz it up later.
XBIZ: Is there a "look" or identifiable style to your work?
Stanley: I skip the typical handheld look in favor of long tracking shots, slow zooms and wide masters that punch in for extremely tight close-ups. And, naturally, I steal shamelessly from my favorite directors. It's hard to improve on what people like Orson Welles began developing, and others like Kubrick, Scorsese, Leone and Ridley and Tony Scott perfected.
XBIZ: How big is your crew, and what's the vibe on set?
Stanley: I prefer to work with the smallest crew possible. With a big crew, you spend much of your time trying to get them to put out their cigarettes and get back to work. With a small crew, I can focus on performance and make the actors feel as safe as possible. Without actors, there's nothing, so I want the vibe on the set to be positive, meaning no drugs and no violence.
XBIZ: What are the issues of concern right now to rank-and-file performers?
Stanley: I sense fear among older actors as a new breed of young performers is rising up. It's not just that the actors are younger. They understand the business like they were born into it. Take Sasha Grey, for instance. She's smart, works hard, is business savvy and knows how to work the system. Those who aren't savvy will fall away, or worse, be exploited by the bus-stop hacks and suitcase pimps who are still around — and still giving us a bad name, too.
XBIZ: Now give us your diagnosis of the porn biz as a whole.
Stanley: Pornography has become corporatized to the point of not just self-parody, but worse: self-censorship. Larry Flynt is a lifelong hero of mine for standing up for the right to speak without fear of censorship. I thought that as the business matured, this would be the mantra for all company owners, but it isn't. This bottom line has become so important that it just might squeeze the sex out of porn.
XBIZ: Was your departure from Wicked due to your belief that the existing business models are facing extinction, or was it simply time to go?
Stanley: I left "the W" on good terms. All I want to do now is make the best movies I can. I invite all companies with the courage of their convictions to let me make some films for them. Small or big, I don't discriminate. Some of my favorite companies are Kick Ass, HellHouse and SexZ, because they came out of nowhere, did their thing and found audiences that love them for it. And the filmmakers that I love and respect — Jack the Zipper, Kimberly Kane, Ashley Blue, Corporate Vampire, Eon McKai, Eli Cross and others — are some awesomely talented folks.
XBIZ: What other creative endeavors are you into?
Stanley: I host a weekly film festival called "Movienight" that brings together people from the mainstream and adult worlds for movies and conversations about art. I've experimented with music on my own films, and it's becoming a second passion of mine. I also work with the Colombian-born artist Alejandra Guerrero, one of the most talented still photographers on the planet, and I'm collaborating with Ryder Skye on her "Sex Store" over at Clips4sale.com.
XBIZ: What does the future hold?
Stanley: I've been meeting with some amazing companies and will be delving into the world of gonzo full force. I'm also talking to some folks about distributing my own movies and am looking for investors with courage and foresight. Then I'm trying to get into Iraq with some of adult's hottest stars to cheer up the troops. If it comes together, it'll end up as a film under my Faraway Films banner, with the proceeds going to help soldiers returning home from the war.
XBIZ: In conclusion, what would you like to say to the industry, the readership — the world?
Stanley: Whatever company you see me working with next will be one of courage and vision, and I'm looking forward to that. Even though I've worked for some big companies, I'm not one for compromise, and I don't get on my knees for just anyone. I just want to give the best expression possible to the ideas that pop into my big, pretentious head. I love what I do and hope to keep doing it. It's not my living; it's my life.