The Lighter Side of Jonni Darkko

Erik Jay
Jonni Darkko left Chicago a decade and a half ago, armed with his trained photographer's eye, a taste for gorgeous ladies and an innate skill at recutting porn flicks in his head while watching them. "I was ready artistically before I was technically," Darkko muses. He hit L.A. like a Windy City twister and has stayed both busy and focused.

From shooting stills for Jill Kelly Productions, to breaking in with New Sensations' legendary talent spotter Scott Taylor and landing his current exclusive Evil Angel gig, Darkko has been nothing if not determined. He's racing toward 100 director credits; he produces all his own music tracks; he brainstorms without ceasing; and the awards have started piling up alongside the celebrity status.

"It's a cool life," Darkko admits.

XBIZ spoke with the polymathic pornster in late May.

XBIZ: About your history in this business, I'm tempted to say, "You came, you saw, you conquered," with all the attendant double meanings, of course. How did you get started?

DARKKO: I started out doing stills for Jill Kelly in the late '90s after I came to L.A. from Chicago. It was the hardest thing to get people to give me a break, even a halfway decent opportunity. They were fearful for their jobs, afraid they'd lose out on something if they helped me.

XBIZ: There are always a few special people along the way, right?

DARKKO: The person who put me on track to get where I am today is Scott Taylor at New Sensations. I did stills and helped him with other stuff for two years before I even picked up a video camera. One day I hustled him to do some camera work and he said OK. So I showed him everything I'd learned, from storylines and camera angles to all kinds of crazy things. He worked with me, and that led directly to where I am today, exclusive with John Stagliano and Evil Angel. And John, of course, put me through finishing school.

XBIZ: What is your camera of choice?

DARKKO: I'm using the Panasonic HD models but I am not outputting hi-def yet. It's not ready in my opinion. I am trying to come up with something new, probably around Spring 2009, that will use a mature HD technology. I really don't need to be the first kid on the block to do it and pat myself on the back. I'm still feeling it out, and I'm not in a hurry.

XBIZ: Part of your reputation is that you are impulsive, another part is that you are deliberate and focused. How do those reconcile in real life?

DARKKO: I go for it once I know what I'm doing. If I rush through something I get frustrated because I know I'm not prepared. So I prepare carefully, then I execute efficiently. Like the new things I eventually want to do with HD. I want to dick around with some filters and see what I can get, experiment with different things, learn the ins and outs — then just go for it.

XBIZ: You are also very much a "Valley director," meaning you do it all.

DARKKO: There's a simple reason for that. I don't trust anyone else. I do it all, the set, my minimalist lighting method, all the camera work. It's my vision, and I know what I want. I knew what I wanted from porn flicks long before I started making them. Before I ever picked up a camera, I was thinking of what I wanted to see, the things I wanted to convey, the message, the medium, everything. I had it worked out artistically before I was ready technically.

XBIZ: What's that "minimalist lighting method" you mentioned?

DARKKO: Lighting and set design shouldn't be problems. People make it difficult. I just avoid the lighting hassles and take a minimalist approach. I don't like a whole lot of "business" to take away from the shot anyway, because I want you to focus on what the actors are doing, not the lights and reflections. That's been my thing from day one, just getting the viewer to follow my lead, to just go with the flow.

XBIZ: Great advice for a porn fan. On the other hand, for the creative side of the business "go with the flow" is not such good advice.

DARKKO: I'm not a follower, and I don't play it safe. A lot of people will follow a bandwagon, in this business and any other, but at the end of the day you have to be happy with what you do. On the other hand, if you want to be successful, you can't get stuck, you have to grow.

XBIZ: So give us your analysis of the State of Porn Today, professor.

DARKKO: Modern life is fast-paced, things are always changing, and the advent of the Internet has made it even more of an accelerated process. Today, in the porn world, it's not the glory days anymore.

XBIZ: What are those changes and where are they leading?

DARKKO: For directors, the more diversified you are, the better. You have to have all the avenues managed these days, and know about the web, revenue streams, packaging, all of it. But mostly you need to know your fans, and respect that fan base, because even the best content has to be delivered to the right place at the right price. The record industry finally "got it" and started changing its delivery models, paralleling the moves our industry started first.

XBIZ: Cutting out layers and layers of middlemen and intermediaries, that's what it comes down to, right?

DARKKO: Precisely. The delivery mechanism of the future leverages the fan base, and you meet them where they are, so direct marketing and delivery are the future. Still, if you want the best picture quality today, you won't get it from VOD, so the "DVD is dead" talk is premature, and may not be 100 percent right anyway.

XBIZ: There are some other compelling reasons that DVD might live on, as vinyl records and cassette tapes have.

DARKKO: Clearly, people like buying something and having it, holding it, so there's always going to be a need for high-end, tangible product. Things are moving away from DVD, but I don't know if it's going to be "all VOD all the time."

XBIZ: How's life as an exclusive studio director?

DARKKO: An Evil director, or any kind of contract director, can feel stuck sometimes, like you're not growing anymore. Your career path will depend on your ability to brand yourself. That's all I work on, image and branding. That really is the whole business. Overall, though, being exclusive is a good thing. You can't hit a home run every time, so the security is a plus.

XBIZ: How is your working relationship with the acknowledged King of Gonzo?

DARKKO: John Stagliano is a smart guy, and if you work hard he just appreciates your talent and lets you do your thing. He's amazing in that regard, and won't push people to get their best work. John has got artistic gifts, as well as business sense, and has blended those so well.

XBIZ: It seems there are tons of self-styled directors and a score of new porn companies every month. What would you tell someone who wants to be a porn director?

DARKKO: When your chance comes, be ready. That was true for me, it's true for other directors, it's even the same for talent. You can't just dump people on sets and yell, "Fuck!" Wardrobe, makeup, set design, acting — it all counts if you want a great product on every level. I hope in 10 years I can look back and think what I did was cool.

XBIZ: What attitudes are important for success, and then survival, in this business?

DARKKO: Don't get caught up in any trends or crazes, whether it's gonzo or "extreme this" or super-triple-X anything. I didn't sign up to be a "gonzo" director or any other self-limiting description. You have to keep growing, keep recreating yourself. And when you meet good people, good dependable pros, keep working with them.

XBIZ: You do seem to have a few favorites you work with, and you don't seem to be constantly introducing "the next hot starlet."

DARKKO: I don't have contract girls, but I am a "repeat" guy, certainly, using Eva Angelina, for example. I don't do a lot of fresh-off-the-bus stuff because I am not holding a seminar, you know? And I'd love to have a contact girl, in a way, because you'd build up such a rapport, but I really don't understand the contract thing. I just know there a lot of variables and it ain't cheap. Contract or not, you have to have your act together these days. It's a serious business.

XBIZ: Serious doesn't have to mean "somber," of course.

DARKKO: Of course not. I want everyone on set to have fun, so I'm positive, upbeat, businesslike, but no hard edges, you know? Everyone knows it's no party, but it's still up to the director to set the tone. So I always stay alert and do my best to walk in the door and just get it going with everyone, get to work, have some fun, shoot some good scenes.

XBIZ: Final thoughts?

DARKKO: Well, I already said it the best way I know how. It's a cool life, man.