LOS ANGELES — Lead-bellied clouds loom over the golden slopes of a mountain estate just outside of L.A. Dressed in all black, with red highlights shining through her long raven hair, multi XBIZ Award-winning Kay Brandt stands in stark contrast to the setting. Although she has been on location since dawn, her makeup looks so meticulous, that I wondered if she’s appearing in front of the camera as well.
“Are you worried about those clouds?” I ask by way of introducing myself to the adult director.
“What clouds?” she asks, smiling beneath black sunglasses. “It’s going to be a sunny California day. Perfect for shooting porn.”
Her shoot schedule has already been delayed due to difficulties hauling equipment up the steep terrain. Still, Brandt’s optimism is radiant enough to nullify the bleakest forecast. She shuffles a paper copy of her script, rearranging the scenes into a more efficient shoot schedule.
Porn offers a case study in the principles of “survival of the fittest,” particularly among the dwindling ranks of feature directors. When Manwin purchased Digital Playground in March of 2012, Brandt was among the directors cut from the studio. This layoff came in the wake of her greatest success as a director — her 2011 films “Cherry” and “Cherry 2,” which were adaptations of Brandt’s erotic stage play, “Kiss Me Twisted.” While this incident might have ended other directors’ careers, Brandt adapted. She poured herself into writing erotic e-books. In the process, she discovered an ocean of devout romance readers.
Hoping to bridge the gap between literotica and porn, Brandt directed “Safe Landings” in 2015 based on her erotic novella of the same name. In 2016 she adapted Selena Kitt’s New York Times bestselling romance novel, “Babysitting the Baumgartners.” The films were critical and financial hits, enticing legions of romance readers to purchase their first pornos. Now, Brandt is refining her formula with her 56th film.
“Is this film a parody of the reality show, ‘Naked and Afraid?’” I ask.
“Parodies are dead,” Brandt says. “It’s an adaptation of my novel, ‘Naked.’”
The story follows a couple on a reality show as they struggle to survive in the wilderness while naked.
Brandt picked Mia Li to play the role of the reality show’s director — a tough woman who plies her craft in a hostile environment. My first glimpse of Li is of her posing for photos. She performs a kind of porno yoga, holding awkward positions on a boulder to showcase a body built by rock climbing.
Li takes the lead in the first scene of the day, carrying the dialogue as she chats with her crew: Small Hands and Logan Long. As if waiting for Brandt’s cue, the rain falls just as Li leads Long and Hands into her tent. A procession of cameramen and gear follow the performers into the shelter. I remain outside with Brandt, looking in. She instructs Li that even during sex she should subtly direct the action.
When the scene begins, I stand on tiptoes trying to see in. The soundman extends his boom mic over the tent’s screen roof. We hear the jangle of belts and Li’s giggling, the sound of spitting and slurping, of moaning and gasping.
“Mia,” Brandt calls into the tent as the threesome builds toward a conclusion. “Before the boys finish, I want you to have an explosive orgasm while you’re in a power position over them.”
After this “in-tents” sex scene, Li, Hands and Long are filmed pretending to film a naked Britney Amber and Derrick Pierce surviving in the wilderness. Amber and Pierce’s fit, bronzed bodies blend in with the backdrop of sandstone boulders.
Soon, long shadows stretch off the mountain and the temperature drops into the fifties. Brandt pushes the crew to capture the final sex scene before nightfall.
“Where do you see yourself boning?” Brandt asks Pierce and Amber, who shiver as they cling to each other beneath a comforter.
“At home, in bed,” Pierce says. “After a long, hot shower.”
Smiling, Brandt positions the couple in a bedroom of boulders.
“Remember,” Brandt tells the performers before their sex scene, “you two have been naked in the wilderness for sixteen days. You’re in animal mode. You want to ravish each other.”
The scene offers a prime example of why most men would not survive in porn, as few could rise to the occasion on command, in the cold, before a waiting audience, while in a race with the sun.
On Brandt’s command, Pierce and Amber devour each other. The sound of their bodies in collision echoes off the rocks. Amber grinds against Pierce as if trying to spark a fire. The scene becomes so intense that Brandt has to shush Amber so the neighbors don’t think a woman is being mauled by a mountain lion.
When the sex scene concludes, I pack up to leave. Brandt and her team remain, shooting long into the night. This is Brandt’s third, 14-hour day of shooting “Naked.”
The entire shoot, I kept expecting her to crack, if only for a moment, to curse the clouds, or the terrain, or me for continually pestering her with questions. In the face of every obstacle she keeps smiling and moving forward.
Her disposition suggests that shooting in the rain, on uncooperative terrain, while trying to pack in as much sex and storyline into a single day as possible — that these are the lesser challenges of her job. The true art of her craft comes in convincing authors, producers and consumers of the virtue of her work, in showing them through her films that stories still have value in the marketplace of desire.
Before I leave, I ask Brandt how the story ends.
“It’s not happily ever after,” Brandt says, “but then, it’s never happily ever after in porn. It’s more, happily for now.”