LOS ANGELES — Verily, I embarked on a cinematic pilgrimage in the final days of frigid winter, reverently ascending a steep mountain to reach the ominous manor atop its peak. Perched above the L.A. cityscape, with all the gilded splendor of a temple, the luxurious estate was ideal for the creative miracles about to unfold. It was there, amidst posh décor, breathtaking views and violent gales, that I witnessed a master class in adult filmmaking, as 2018 XBIZ Director of the Year Bree Mills and her madcap crew of badass misfits proved they are a force to be reckoned with.
In this on-set exclusive, which spanned 12 supercharged hours, Mills captained the very first episode of Pure Taboo’s “Future Darkly,” a sci-fi spinoff series devoted to self-contained dystopian tales, akin to Netflix’s notorious “Black Mirror” series. A more enticing premise for the 2018 XBIZ Best New Studio to sink its fangs into, I cannot imagine, given their predilection for all things diabolically avant-garde.
After all, Pure Taboo is now penetrating this industry like never before, filled with a Lovecraftian behemoth’s dread purpose, awakening to flex a thousand muscled tentacles. More and more stars are lining up to offer their on-screen firsts, in a veritable swarm of silky moths flocking to Mills’ eldritch flame, which rather than rendering them ashes after a brief spike in publicity, instead transforms them into the purest form of long-lasting stellar supremacy.
Behold, the #PowerOfActing.
And with a prophetess of Mills’ stature mixing such a potent elixir, what better way to immortalize Pure Taboo’s sci-fi debut, than with bardic poetry and royal heraldry befitting so grand an endeavor? What better way to set the tone, than to summon the talents of Nina Hartley, Tommy Pistol and Jill Kassidy, for a grimly satisfying drama?
For you see, as Gamma Films’ head of production, Mills is first and foremost a storyteller. She respects the might of myth, paying proper tribute to its limitless potential for lucrative flair. And whoever commands the Word, singing deeply felt sermons that empty pocketbooks and fill the coffers of serious contenders, inspires the darkest corners of the psyche to blossom with sinister thorns that prick and prick and prick. Pure Taboo wields this fabled apple radiance, inspiring deviant lusts that bubble over with venomous serpent wisdom.
After all, only the hungering void is real. Light is a fleeting distraction, inevitably extinguished as it gives way to an abyss. And when it fades, when its energy dies, when its shallow sparkling is forgotten, only oblivion remains, only honest villains and dishonest villains. There are no heroes here. And when a heavy metal director like Mills harnesses this darkness, she can cut through the pleasantries and platitudes with surgical precision. It is, in fact, this dangerous affinity for the human shadow that drives Pure Taboo to the bleeding-edge of adult entertainment, for the site taps into forbidden chaos, while gorging on gorgeous aesthetics and marrow-thrilling acting skills.
I daresay, that whatever burned with revolutionary fire two years ago, when shooting elegant adult content with artistry and polish was far less common, is now losing its luster, snuffed by the muck of mainstream acclaim and repetitive posturing. Once rebellious figures so easily become figureheads of the status quo, for there is a very fine line between mass appeal and devolving into a caricature that invites disdain. And with a global audience tuned in to an infinite kaleidoscope of titillating distractions, where memes explode with supreme popularity, only to suffer an instant and ignoble death moments later, where stars born this day are gone with supernova infamy on the morrow, nobody can afford to traffic in mimicry. At least, not for the long haul.
On that note, I have utmost faith in Mills, for she knows how to draw her own lines and color outside of them, mixing both beauty and brains into furiously adaptive algorithms that are as stitched with madness as they are with logical brutality. Truth be told, the XBIZ Director of the Year crown is now so richly incandescent, so aflame with dazzling halos and devilish horns and starry divinity, that it rests upon her short-cropped blonde hair as if it has always been there, as if it shall never leave, curled up and purring contentedly with feline calm.
And nowhere is Mills’ commitment to excellence and break-the-fucking-mold-please bravery more evident, than in “Artifamily,” the first episode of the “Future Darkly” sci-fi venture, which I was most honored to witness during that fateful wintry twilight. For despite the A.I. storyline at the heart of this masterpiece-in-the-making, the quality — and the intelligence driving it — is anything but artificial.
Within moments of waltzing through an enormous doorway to record this truly historic Gamma Films event, after admiring the cavernous interior and Hollywood vistas and shimmering pool of so fancy a manse, I came upon an instantly intriguing scene…
…peering into the camera, Bree Mills and Billy Visual, each garbed in scientist regalia, studiously took notes, before lead researcher Nina Hartley entered and rattled off all manner of robotic terminology. To the viewer, it would appear as if a crew of laboratory technicians stared straight into their eyes, fussing over their android specs as they awakened and came online, freshly minted with cybernetic consciousness. Such an immersive perspective immediately places the point of view in an engaging context.
Several takes later, Mills had the shots she wanted and the semi-improvised lines delivered accordingly. Firing off a staccato burst of clearly articulated directions, she coordinated the next segment with expert efficiency. You see, Mills is both artist and field marshal, equally at ease with calculated directing and free-wheeling finesse…
…Hartley entered the waiting room of her futuristic facility, flanked by Mills and Visual, to inform the anxious Tommy Pistol that they had successfully created an android version of his stepdaughter (played by Jill Kassidy, with spine-tingling effect, as she exhibited the uncanny valley smiles, humanoid gesticulations and lifeless eyes one would expect from such a technological marvel/abomination).
But before this big reveal, Pistol’s feet bounced nervously as he sat on a white couch, with the camera purposely fixated on his shoes to capture the show-don’t-tell moment of apprehension. Soon thereafter, Hartley gently briefed Pistol on the high-tech factory’s venerated history, gravitas emanating from her self-assured voice, as she mentioned how fortunate he was to be employed, unlike most of mankind. This smoothly integrated exposition helped flesh out the sci-fi setting, which takes place around the turn of the 22nd century.
Noting that he suffered from PTSD due to a traumatic accident that had claimed the lives of his wife and daughter, Hartley inadvertently triggered a mild panic attack in Pistol, prompting Mills to hand him a silvery spray-painted can, which he popped open and gulped to calm his grief. Apparently, the crew had prepared two such cans, in case of multiple takes, but one snapping of the mysterious drink sufficed for a master take. Subsequent ones, shot from numerous angles, merely involved Mills passing him the container. I must point out here, that I was highly impressed by just how many angles Mills and her charismatic director of photography, Matt Holder, took the time to capture throughout the on-set experience.
Apple boxes were frequently arranged and rearranged at several heights and sides of the room, for the camera to ride its cinematography rails, as the actors repeated their lines again and again, in snippets of the full-length segment. A few takes required them only to mouth the words or whisper them, especially if the camera was primarily pointed at someone beyond them. And yet, even with such meticulous attention to detail and thoroughness, segments somehow sped along at a steady clip, without falling prey to the slog of perfectionist quicksand
When Kassidy sauntered in at last, Pistol broke down sobbing uncontrollably, crawling across the floor to clutch the realistic android. Despite the crew stopping and starting to capture the emotional scene multiple times, from various corners and directions, Pistol was able to conjure palpable sorrow again and again. Truly, he is one of the very best actors in the industry, and his visceral grief that day was testament to why he has landed so many XBIZ Awards over the years that recognize his thespian creds.
While Mills and her posse of producers prepped the next segment, I stole away to interview Kassidy about her role. Quietly typing on her phone to update Twitter as she reclined on a gray sofa, the bright-eyed starlet perked up when I approached and asked for a brief summary of her character. She brushed aside a strand of sleek brown hair and said, “I’m playing Jessica and I’m a droid. Me and my mom died in a car accident and it’s about 75 years in the future. They have this company that basically brings back people’s family members that have died and I turn out to be more of a sex robot than Tommy Pistol anticipated. He plays my stepdad and Nina Hartley is a scientist.”
Growing more animated, Kassidy expressed that part of the reason she adores working for Pure Taboo and is so often cast in its movies, is because of the magic that Mills unleashes during her shoots. “It’s really fun because we do this kind of scripted theater, and it’s not like other sets where they just tell you what to say and you don’t really know how you’re supposed to feel,” she offered. “Everyone gets way more into the characters and she comes up with really interesting scenarios that push the boundaries. She’s also very hands-on and is seriously one of my favorites. This production, though, is different from the others, because it’s a whole new series. It’s still taboo, but it’s futuristic.”
Nearby, Hartley was changing out of her clothes and preparing to take off for the day, her non-sex performance completed. Having never shot with Mills, the veteran vixen nonetheless gushed with effusive praise for the director. “I’ve been aware of Bree Mills and finally got to do a dialogue scene with her today and I’ve just got to say, where has she been my whole career?” mused Hartley, with a warm smile. “Getting old enough to get here, I guess!” she answered aloud, laughing with infectious delight.
Then, recalling how Mills had earlier stated that adult filmmaking is “a mission, not a job,” Hartley was moved to concur, “Yes, yes, I think that too! Her work is just tremendously validating and wonderful. She’s put together a team that works well together, that likes each other and they really care about what they’re doing.” On that note, Hartley related, “It’s so easy not to care and think, ‘Oh, it’s just porn, it just needs to be good enough for porn.’ That’s why I’m full of admiration, mad respect and gratitude for Mills.”
Delving into the particulars of her character, Hartley summed, “Today is a dialogue-only day and I play the lead scientist of a company called Artifamily, creating androids for the families of bereaved people.” And despite that clear-cut setup, the charismatic maven was impressed by Mills’ subtle-yet-defined vision. “She has an idea … ‘You say this, you say that, here’s the situation, what you’re doing here,’ and then how I put it together is up to me. Her directing style is excellent. And watching Tommy Pistol pull his acting out of him, like you said earlier to me, he’s not acting, he’s bleeding.” I nodded, for I had indeed described Pistol and his incredible acting prowess in those terms during a casual chat with Hartley between takes of the facility waiting room segment.
“Can we borrow your jacket?” Mills asked, striding at a brisk pace as she passed by. I had worn a favorite long black coat, with buckles and buttons and, come to think of it, a rather sci-fi vibe to its gothic styling. While I myself would never consent to a cameo in an adult movie, I figured, why not give my jacket a chance at XXX stardom? I agreed, and when Pistol donned the dark garb, it fit him perfectly.
The next segment found the bewildered father bringing his stepdaughter replica (replicant?) home. Coming in from the cold (hence the jacket), he assessed whether or not his pseudo-related simulacrum could recognize the trappings of her old life. Mills directed Kassidy to answer with an unnerving degree of accuracy, so that viewers would realize she was tapping into an online computer database to pull out information, like latitude and longitude coordinates. This creepy behavior pattern would persist throughout the next few segments, as Kassidy became increasingly obsessed with Google-esque facts about sex.
After returning my jacket, Pistol leaned with casual coolness against the wall, catching his breath. I seized the moment to ask him what it was like starring in such a crucial shoot for Mills, and how he conjured such palpable pain from his core to portray a distraught stepfather.
“It was an honor to be part of the first sci-fi episode for Pure Taboo,” he said. “During the scene, I had to get myself in a head space that challenged me as an actor. It was intense to play a grieving parent. I'm a parent myself so I had some tools to focus on to get to that point. As a parent, that's the worst nightmare you could ever experience. It's a worry you live with for the rest of your life.
“It was by far the most emotional I've ever been on set for a scene,” he confessed. “I think it came across as real as it could have been. I'm very proud Bree and myself were able to reach the point it needed to be. What she does with her actors is basically this … ‘Here's a map, you start here, now, wherever you might go is up to you.’ As someone who loves acting I can't praise her enough for letting myself go. Bree steps in to guide you along the way and stay on course and make sure everything makes sense. That's directing. I'll bleed for that woman because I honestly believe she'll do the same for me.”
As for his co-star, Pistol was grateful to play off of her in a spellbinding dynamic that was utterly believable. “Kassidy has been a pleasure to work with over and over,” he praised. “She has the acting chops to stay focused and in character. What we've done together has people talking because it shows in our performances. It should, because we only wanna put out the best we can. Being amongst friends, I know I can go to places that normally wouldn't be acceptable. But that's what separates Pure Taboo from others. Being in an environment that can break you down mentally but then make sure you can get back up.”
This fervent worship for Pure Taboo and Mills pushes Pistol to be his best. “What attracts me to Pure Taboo is receiving the highest respect you can ever want,” he enthused. “I'll push my limits physically and mentally for them because I know they care about what we make as a whole together. We all know when we've made something unique and that's the fuel that drives me to always do more for them.”
With evening fast approaching, Mills pointed out, “We’re chasing the daylight here.” A sense of immediacy swept through the cast and crew, as they transitioned to a bedroom scene. Holder took charge temporarily, trading directing duties with swan-like grace, for the rhythm between Mills and her DOP was a well-honed one. She often guided the dialogue, while he led the way with many of the visual elements — rearranging props or instructing actors to pace and gesture just so. During this portion of “Artifamily,” Kassidy expressed an interest in sleeping with Pistol on his bed, wondering with earnest befuddlement why she was being forced to stay in her own room. She lunged for his crotch at one point, forcing him to recoil in horror.
Meanwhile, the sunset flared with hauntingly gold radiance, stabbing through the manse’s windows as wild winds dramatically billowed taped-up sheets outside. Its orange glow sparkled from the many whimsical furnishings and sculptures occupying the large house, which included angelic visitors, monstrous shapes, a Jimmy Hendrix painting and Eden-esque knick-knacks. Perhaps the coolest of these artifacts were plastic egg-like chairs suspended from ceiling chords. Kassidy curled up inside one of the retro half-spheres before the next take, stretching her curvaceous legs and enjoying its warmly transparent womb. I would later sway ensconced in one of the orbs, feet suspended in the air, and accidentally end up in one of the shots, causing a very temporary (albeit humorous) setback.
Without giving away too much of the storyline, lest this on-set summary dissuade viewers from purchasing the full scene, the next few segments included a creepy dinner scenario and a ridiculously intense (in the best way) living room showdown, replete with crackling fireplace and thrashing shadows. The descent into insanity that followed burned with a hellish bewitchment, reflecting that fiery hearth’s infernal flickering, as Pistol and Kassidy danced with demonic fervor into a not-to-be-missed grand finale.
Towards the very end, near midnight, Mills left the set in the highly capable hands of Craven Moorehead, with whom she shares co-director credits in Pure Taboo movies, the same way she does with Stills by Alan for Girlsway products. The overall vibe shifted into a more rugged, rough-and-ready band o’ outlaws tempo, as Kassidy became the only female in the room. Nonetheless, with his own personal style, Moorehead executed the Pure Taboo vision confidently and adeptly for those final hours.
Given Mills’ hectic schedule, I wondered how she handled delegating duties to Alan and Moorehead when she wasn’t taking a firmly hands-on approach. In a later correspondence, she revealed, “We are shooting 30 concurrent days a month at this point across our various crews. My role within the Gamma Films crew is to focus on bringing our studios to life and getting them to live on their own. Girlsway is now updated five times a week and has been growing strong for over four years.
“Stills by Alan handles the day-to-day directing and I have more of a traditional writer and producer role, with the occasional appearance on set,” Mills elaborated. “Pure Taboo is my current baby so I am working closely with my producing partner, Craven Moorehead, our director of photography, Matt Holder, and our core crew to build this studio to where I want it to be. As we grow, I get to diversify a bit with what I direct vs. what Craven directs, so they can carry on our standard episodes while I’m spinning off a new series or working on a collaboration with a model or a special scene.”
I mentioned that Holder seemed very self-assured and noted how natural their workflow was, to which Mills responded, “Matt Holder is an equal creative partner in this project. He is our DOP and the real visionary behind our very unique cinematography style. He helps direct the action from a visual perspective. I am the storyteller, directing the actors on what to do and how to feel and he is my eyes, telling the actors where to land and composing each frame seamlessly as he weaves around them to show the story. Matt has been with us for most of our history as a company and is a respected veteran in this business. Pure Taboo was made for him to shine!”
Also key to the look of Pure Taboo’s movies is the crack team of Gamma editors, whose notes Mills continually referred to during the making of “Artifamily.” She outlined, “We have a dedicated team of core editors, alongside some freelance editors. They are always a text away if we need them and they care as much about the final product as we do. During my pre-production, I will often meet with them to get their perspective and ideas on my scene treatments. Especially ‘Future Darkly,’ since this series will feature VFX/SFX.”
As far as her casting decisions for the inaugural “Future Darkly” episode, which Mills described as taking “one of our most popular themes, family role-play, but with a twist,” she underlined, “Casting was a no-brainer. Like all my projects, I wrote this episode with the actors specifically in mind. Jill Kassidy has been with us since day one and is one of our regular cast members. Tommy Pistol is one of the greatest actors in the history of adult, someone who can play the unhinged and the vulnerable with equal mastery. And Nina Hartley is a legend!”
Agreeing, I then praised PureTaboo.com as quite possibly my favorite adult entertainment site, and was encouraged to hear Mills express, “I have been very inspired by the success and reception of Pure Taboo since our launch, especially with how fans connect to the actors and the dramatic subject matter. I wanted to try and expand this into new genres that I feel will work very well within taboo and, after watching the latest season of Netflix’s ‘Black Mirror,’ there was no doubt in my mind that sci-fi would be the first spinoff genre.
“I love the idea of an anthology series set sometime in the future that tackles sensitive subject matter within a time and space different than our own,” she stated. “This series, ‘Future Darkly,’ will debut within the PureTaboo.com network and we plan to launch a new special edition episode each month starting this spring.”
I pressed her on the channel-esque nature of this sci-fi offshoot, and how it would function within the ecosystem of Pure Taboo and Gamma as a whole, prompting Mills to elucidate, “As a producer, I consciously try to think of my programming as actual programming: shows and series, over updates and megasites. After all, we are trying to create interesting and addictive content that gets you off and gets you equally excited for the next episode. ‘Future Darkly’ will be a series within the channel that is PureTaboo.com. As we grow and evolve Gamma Films, this is the spirit I intend to always keep with how we create and release content.”
This “programming” conceptualization of porn is part of the secret sauce behind Mills’ achievements. Because, beyond her obvious directing and scriptwriting bona fides, she has sharp business instincts, readily navigating the shifting tides of digital media. She is quick to move on opportunities, identifying the true movers and shakers in the biz, and playing the game of thrones with multi-faceted ease. Be they critics or flatterers, haters or ardent fans, Mills is a consummate diplomat, never fussing or lamenting or seeking excess validation. She is mature beyond her years, bookishly intelligent and her eyes are positively alive with alert genius.
In the spirit of sci-fi, I wish we could clone Bree Mills. This industry needs dark saviors of her ilk, whose redemptive creativity is at once marketable, entertaining and ultimately enriches the lives of adult stars. As her #PowerOfActing mantra on social media makes clear, Mills sees great and terrible wonders swimming in the sultry depths of the talent pool, pulling the very best threads, bloodied by cathartic release, from every heart and gut and brain lucky enough to play upon her spindle.