Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Interview With Eli Cross
Check out Eli Cross' blog, Entropy Tango, and follow him on Twitter.
Danny: So you're Eli Cross, and you've worked in the adult industry...
Eli: Forever. It will be twenty-one years in January.
Danny: Can you give a brief description of your history in the industry and some of the job titles you've taken on?
Eli: In 1990, I started out running the Castle Boutique in Arizona when they only had one store. I actually started off as a warehouse manager and was, three-months later, made general manager. I managed them through their first expansion to their first four stores in Phoenix. Now it's owned by a whole different company, and it's Castle Mega Stores, and it's all up and down the West Coast.
I ran the Castle for three years, moved out here [to Los Angeles] in 1993, and briefly worked for an electronics company, hated that job, and was looking around for something else. Someone at the electronics company had a friend who ran hardcore adult magazines. And I knew them because, of course, we had stocked them in the store.
So just out of the blue, I called this guy up and I said, “Do you need anybody?” He said, “Can you write?” And I said, “Well, I'm no writer but I've seen your magazines, and I can do better than what you've got.” So I sent him a couple of writing samples, and he initially hired me – this is sort of a going theme in my life- to be a freelancer. Then I think it was within three months that I was editor-in-chief of all of their magazines.
It was good because I set my own hours. I was, at the time, still heavily pursuing mainstream acting and directing, which is what I came out here for. And I had gotten an internship at Concorde Studios, which was Roger Corman's old studio in Santa Monica. We used to call it “The Barn Down on Rose.” It was actually a big former lumber yard that they had turned into a studio.
I interned there for six months and then got hired on for one of the very few paid positions at the low level. Concorde was stratified. There were these three tiers of productions. There were big budget productions that were two-and-three-million-dollar movies. There were mid-budget productions, which were five-hundred-thousand to million-dollar movies. And then there were low-budget productions, which were anywhere from one-hundred-thousand to five-hundred-thousand dollars. And I was in low budget.
So I got hired on as an AD [assistant director]. Concorde was one of the only places on earth where you could actually grow up from being an assistant director to a director. Because what most people don't realize is that the assistant director doesn't actually have anything to do with the director. The assistant director works for the producer. So you grow up from being an assistant director to being a producer.
So... Champ was the company that did the hardcore magazine. While I was running that, I actually managed to direct four movies for Concorde. These were mainstream, straight-to-video movies. They're just unbelievably bad. But on one of them, I had Mickey Rourke for a day. Mickey Rourke was my lead and I had him for one day.
All the mainstream people were people that Roger had called in for a favor. “Come in an work for me on this thing off the books. We'll pay you cash.” And you get them for “x” amount of time.
Mickey Rourke showed up two hours late. The first words out of his mouth were, “When's lunch?” He made it very plain that he was going home at six-o-clock. So we sat down, tore a bunch of pages out of the script, and tried to figure out a way we could make him the lead largely in voice-over. You can see how this was great training for porn.
I had another movie where I had Martin Sheen for an hour. He was playing the president. He was making a speech. I had Eric Roberts once for two days on a movie. You know, he was my lead. I had him for two days.
Now, right on the tail end of directing that fourth movie, about a month later, Roger sold Concorde Studios, along with everything that was unreleased, to New World Cinema, which is now long gone and out-of-business. So he sold the movies to them, but sold the credits around town. Because Roger will call himself the “Wiliest Mexican in Hollywood.” Roger never missed a nickel. So he sold all the credits to those unreleased movies, because they're all non-union. Nobody has any say over who gets credited in that movie except for Roger. It's his movie.
To this day, even though I'm in a couple of these movies playing these parts – one of them wasn't even intentional. An actor never showed up. We couldn't find him and he wasn't answering his phone. So I said, “Oh fuck it, I've got a suit in the car. I'll do it.” - I'm not on any of those as the director. Actually, one of them, I'm back on as the director – the one that is absolutely the worst.
I've only found two of the four movies. I've found Double Crossed 2, which is funny because I was making a sequel to a movie I never saw. I asked them for the script and they said, “Eh, it doesn't matter.” I asked them if they had a copy. They said, “Eh, it doesn't matter.” That was the Mickey Rourke movie. Double Crossed 2 is out there available for direct download from some company that does, like, video-download services.
The other one, when I directed it, was called Cloak of Madness. It is now available on DVD as The Coroner. It is, without a doubt, one of the worst movies you'll ever see. Made even worse by the fact that the guys who bought it decided that it needed an extra twenty minutes of footage to open the movie in a strip club. It has nothing to do with the movie. And apparently, they couldn't be bothered to track down the guy that was my lead in the movie. So they just got some guy who really looks nothing like him, put a bad fake mustache on him, and a hat and sunglasses, and he's supposed to be the same character in this strip club, watching strippers, to get more tits in the movie. So it's even worse now. I have that on DVD. The other two I've never found.
So I was running hardcore magazines, which are, of course, a thing of the past, with the exception of Hustler and things like Leg Show and Genesis that are still out there. But we were different. Because at that time, news stand magazines couldn't show hardcore. Penthouse and Hustler, they had spread shots, but there was no penetration, there was no sex. So if you wanted that stuff, you had to actually go to an adult store. Because 711 and places like that, they wouldn't carry stuff at the time that had hardcore. We're talking early-to-mid-90's.
So there was a market for magazines that showed hardcore, because the one thing that magazines had over video – which, of course, nobody could foresee this [points to my iPhone] – was that video wasn't portable. It was all VHS. If you wanted video, you had to watch it at home. If you wanted something you could take to work, or take on the train, or whatever, you had to have a magazine.
These magazines had cover prices of, like, twenty-dollars-a-piece. But they were expensively printed, they were on heavy-bond paper, and you know... But that was already a struggling industry that turned into a dying industry by the time I was at my tail end of it.
While I was there, I was actually approached by Paul Fishbein, who owned AVN, to come and run AVN. I turned him down because Champ was struggling, but I had hired several of my friends to work there. And I knew that when I left, that company was gone. I was the only thing keeping that company afloat, and I had people pulling paychecks off of that company. We managed to limp along for another eighteen months. In that period, AVN had another editor rise and fall, and decide he was going to leave. And so they called me up and offered me that job again.
At that point, it was obvious that Champ was done. We were going to be out of business very, very shortly. Champ had been sold to a video company called Western Visuals, who at the time – they had briefly been a big player in the early nineties and won a bunch of awards. It's funny, the guy who owned Western Visuals was like a cartoon character. His name was Elliot Siegel. And he claimed to be the great-nephew of Bugsy Siegel, who was one of the Jewish mob guys. Bugsy Siegel started Las Vegas. The Flamingo casino and hotel in Las Vegas – that was Bugsy's casino. And this guy, Elliot, if you put him in a movie, people would say he was over the top. He would come to you and say, “No! Come on! Would I do something like that to you? I would never do that to you. You know me. I would never do that to you!”
So I took the job at AVN. Everyone jumped ship. The last I heard from Elliot, he burned down his warehouse in Van Nuys to get the insurance company, and then vanished somewhere into the wilds of Kentucky. And I ran AVN for five years.
That put me right in the center of everything for a while. To me, that was the heyday of AVN. That was in the days when the advertising still really mattered. The Internet was not the driving force. DVD was becoming the driving force.
It was interesting because, when they gave me the job - when I met with Paul Fishbein and Gene Ross - I told them, “Okay, I'm not the guy you want for this if you want things done the way you've done them. I cannot be micro-managed and I won't be micro-managed. If you're gonna let me do this, you're gonna have to give me all the rope you can give me, and either let me hang myself or let me pull myself up. I will do what I want to do whether you want me to or not. And I will either make you fire me or I will make things much better.”
Paul has told me several times that he doesn't feel the magazine has run as smoothly or as well since. I agree. I find the magazine unreadable now. It's just advertorial. When we were there, it was great. We were snarky, and we were feisty. Where that has come back to bite me in the ass now is because we really did try to review with impunity. There are still company owners out there who hate me from when I ran AVN. Scott at New Sensations still can't stand me because we went back and forth, and back and forth. And Ali at Digital Playground still can't stand me. I'm cordial with Steve Orenstein, and I've shot for Wicked, but Steve still has a chip on his shoulder about some stuff we did that Wicked wasn't happy with back in the day.
Because all working at AVN is, and nobody ever realizes it – and to this day I'm sure it's still the same – working at AVN is a ticket to have everyone think you're out to get them all the time. The problem is that everyone wants you to do them a favor every day of the week. And you have to say, “No,” sometimes. And every time you say, “No,” you're an asshole and you're in somebody else's pocket.
I will never forget the day after the awards show in 2000, which is when Miscreants won for best video, which was a Rob Black movie that was actually not directed by Rob Black, but Rob Black got the credit. Largely, what Rob did was put up the money and hang around on set. Jane Waters actually directed the movie. But it was a great movie. It was really well done. And it was a twenty-five-thousand dollar video. And VCA, and Metro, and Wicked all had big, expensive movies up against Miscreants.
It was a great year. It was evenly dolled out amongst everybody. Nobody went home with all the awards in their pocket. But Wicked called threatening to pull their ads, because to them it was obvious that VCA and Metro had us in their pocket. Metro called threatening to pull their ads, because it was obvious that Wicked and VCA had us in their pocket. And VCA called threatening to pull their ads because it was just obvious we were out to get them. There was just no winning that year.
So for five years, I ran AVN. And that grinds you down so badly. And we had some mainstream projects that looked like they were gonna go, that I wanted to devote more time to. In the meantime, I was starting to make inroads to get back into directing, and start directing some adult stuff to make money. And, of course, the mainstream stuff all fell apart. And here I am, still struggling making porn, and you know...
Danny: But to be fair, you've won quite a few awards, right?
Eli: I have won best director twice. Once for Corruption, which was for Best Feature. And once for Icon, which is the one I really enjoyed because I beat out Jules Jordan in that category, and Jules Jordan despises me. So it was really gratifying to beat Jules in what he considers his category.
But that's it. I mean, I've had movies that have won tons of awards.
Danny: But as far as Best Director...?
Eli: Best Director, I got twice.
Danny: What would you say differentiates your adult films from other porn?
Eli: There are a lot of guys now who either genuinely do, or either claim to, come from a mainstream background. I think the difference is that I genuinely come from a mainstream background. I have a rule on set when we do our big movies, which very rarely happens anymore. I almost universally use a mainstream crew when I shoot these big features. And we approach them as movies. I have a standing rule that for the duration of pre-production and production, no one is allowed at any point to say, “Fuck it, it's just porn.” Because we put in so much work on these movies. It kicks you in the guts to even start thinking that way. You can think it after the fact, because then the work's done. It doesn't matter. I don't care. But while you're doing it, it makes you feel like an idiot to have it be demeaned. And maybe it is stupid.
I mean, Upload was nine months of my life. At the time, people said Upload was the best adult movie ever made. Well, that's great. That means it's only slightly less respectable than the worst mainstream movie ever made. There's Upload, and then there's Beast of Yucca Flats right above it. Fine. Whatever.
The other thing I think that I do differently than anyone else in porn - because I haven't encountered anyone else who takes this approach...
You give Brad Armstrong, or you give Nick Andrews, or you give Andre Madness... You give these guys three-hundred-fifty-thousand to make a movie, and they're going to spend a hundred thousand of that on location, and they're going to spend another sixty thousand dollars of it blowing something up. Because to them, they want it to look like they spent money. They want it to look like money, you know? That's fine. But I really think that if you start off thinking, “I need to make something that looks expensive,” what you're gonna end up with is something flashy that doesn't have any substance.
I will always try to tell... Again, this all sounds ridiculous because we're talking about porn. But this is an example of how I just can't approach it that way. I will always try to tell the story first. The reason that it takes me two months to write a script for one of these big movies is because I refuse to have the sex scenes feel like a Busby Berkeley musical, or like an old Marx Brothers movie, which is what always happens with most big features. Where it's like, “Okay, movie, movie, movie. Stop the movie, we're going to have a sex scene. Sex scene's over. Movie, movie, movie.” Because that's just so self-defeating.
For one thing, if you make a feature that's structured that way, god forbid you've actually done your job and you're actually telling a story, and the audience is invested in the story, guess what happens when you get to the sex scene? It pulls them out of it. They want to fast-forward through the sex.
I actually had reviewers complain about Corruption and Upload. Because Corruption is four hours long and Upload is five hours long, which does not mean that I'm a maniac. It means that it's a movie with fourteen sex scenes and a sixty-eight page script. But I had reviewers actually complain that they felt obligated to watch the whole movie because the sex scenes were part of the story, particularly more so in Corruption. Every sex scene in that movie is plot. Every sex scene continues to forward the story. And if you watch Corruption without watching the sex scenes, it almost doesn't make sense because you're missing plot. It's really hard to do that. And it's even harder when you figure out it's still got to be porn, which means you've got to have multiple people with multiple partners and different shake-ups, and mix it all up because that doesn't happen in the real world.
So the other thing that I do different is you give me all that money, and I don't buy... I have shot at these seventeen-million-dollar McMansions, and you can never show the money, because you can't have people naked outside. They don't want anybody to know you're there. When you're inside, you can't touch any of their furnishings. So either you've got a 17 million dollar house that you're shooting on a five-thousand-dollar couch looking into a white corner that could be anywhere, and that five-thousand-dollar couch is covered with a blanket to make it look like a dorm room. Or you rent the space and then spend the money to bring in all your rented furniture. Then you've got to rent it for two days, and it turns into enormous money. I don't work that way. Especially if it doesn't fit the story. You give me that money and I will buy time. Every time I will buy time.
Upload was a twenty-two day shoot. That was what I did with three-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars. I bought the time to do coverage, which is what really makes it look like a movie, as opposed to a Soap Opera, which is what most porn features look like. And god knows I've shot them. You're making two movies in three days, you ain't gonna get much coverage. I will shoot coverage, and I will work to actually get performances out of people who you never think of as actually being actors.
The other thing I do is that I don't cast for look. I cast for talent and enthusiasm. You give me someone like Eva Angelina who was my lead in Upload, who had never gotten to do a real acting role. And who was so invested in it. I mean, Eva was on set for seventeen days. She had sex twice. Every other day was dialog. She knew that script cold, inside and outside. I made her do essays on the background of her character, and why she was the way she was. She had a back story. She had an internal monologue. We did the scene in Upload where she's alone at home one night, drunk, and has a total breakdown, and it's great. She put so much effort and energy into that, and it was simply because I respected her. Not as a porn star, not as some whore I was paying to fuck on set. I respected her as an actor who was putting in the work. And she gave me that effort back. And that counts for more than anything else you can get on set. I don't care who you have. You've got one person who sits there and says, “Yeah, this is great, but can we go home? Do we have to do this again?” And then you're done. You're done. “Get off my set. Fine. Get out!”
So those are the things that I do differently.
Danny: Is there any way to look at one of your movies in a store and differentiate that you've put all this effort into this film?
Eli: Absolutely not. There's no way whatsoever. Unless people are big enough porn fans that they're reading reviews online and they're coming in educated. If they went in cold, no. There's no way. There's absolutely no way.
Danny: Several years ago, I remember some controversy surrounding your film, Corruption. Can you talk a little bit about this?
Eli: Um. This actually is not a simple answer. The problem with the porn industry is that, even more than movies, more than almost anything I've worked in, porn has no sense of its own history. There are people coming into this business now who literally have no idea how it started, who started it, and how it came to be. They don't understand the fact that twenty years ago you could be arrested just for shooting it. They don't understand that it is still actually technically illegal to do anywhere outside of Los Angeles County. They don't understand these things. They just think, “Oh porn. I'll just go shoot some porn.” They have no idea.
They also don't understand that these rules that I know you have heard on sets: “Oh, you can't shoot this, you can't shoot that. You can't do this.” There are no rules. That was the industry self-censoring. And the reason that has come to be dogma is that largely the people who are working now have not been around long enough to understand that those rules are something the industry enforced on itself to try and prejudge what would and would not be prosecutable for obscenity.
And it all stems back to the 1973 Miller Case, which is where our obscenity laws come from, that demonstrates that obscenity is completely subjective. There's no list in any law anywhere that says, “This is obscene, this is not.” As long as everyone is over 18, and walks primarily on two legs, it is legal to shoot whatever you want to shoot as long as everyone walks out alive. You can do whatever you want. There's no law that says you can't.
The flip side of that coin is that because the obscenity laws are so abstruse, a prosecutor in Broward County, Florida, who thinks that she can get seven people to say Entertainment Weekly is obscene, can pull Entertainment Weekly out of a 711 and prosecute Entertainment Weekly for obscenity. Because if those seven people in that community say it's obscene by those community standards, Entertainment Weekly is obscene. And then, once you've got a conviction for obscenity in one jurisdiction, you can then use that as a standard for all other jurisdictions, and say, “This was obscene here. The jury must give it more weight in this jurisdiction because it was considered obscene in another community.”
So one of the first video prosecutions was for a movie called Candy Stripers in 1977. And what the jury specifically found obscene was the fisting scene in Candy Stripers. “So now you can't shoot fisting.” Alright. So all these things like, “You can't shoot fisting, you can't shoot hard bondage, and you can't shoot all this stuff,” these all stemmed from obscenity prosecutions that specifically said, “You can't do this stuff.”
Danny: Do you know if the prosecution won for Candy Stripers?
Eli: They did.
Now, here's where it gets muddy. And here's where you can pre-configure your project if you want to, so that you can do whatever you want to do.
For something to be found obscene, it has to fail the three prongs of “The Miller Test.” It has to be considered obscene under community standards, it has to be designed to appeal to primarily prurient interests, so it has to be primarily sexual in orientation. And it has to found to have no artistic or literary merit.
What people don't understand is that this is why you have features in the first place. Going way back to the late 60's, when mob guys in New York were selling loops of Swedish erotica on Super8 film out of the trunk of their car, those loops were just, “Girl goes into an alley and gets banged by a guy.” It's three minutes, sex scene, “Blah, blah, blah.” There's no sound, much less a story. Those failed the Miller Tests. So those were apparently obscene into the early seventies.
This is why producers got the brilliant idea of saying, “Fuck! We'll make a movie, then it's got a story. Then it's got art. Then it has artistic merit and people can't find it obscene.” It's not that gonzo was such a brilliant idea. Porn started out as gonzo. It was just that people in the early 80's thought, “Why are we fucking around with these stories? All people really want to see is the sex. I got an idea. Let's just shoot the sex scenes.” Well, guess what? You just took a step twenty years backwards. Everybody thinks that their idea in porn is the first time anybody's ever had that idea. Well, you know what? There are petroglyphs of dirty drawings in France. Porn is the oldest art form there is. There is no idea you had that some cave man didn't have first. I guarantee you. You go back and you look at tintypes from the early teens, from the birth of photography. Thing one they shot: still lifes. Thing two they shot: porn. There are books of photography shot in France and in New York from the 1880's that are beastiality porn, because nobody was telling them, “You can't do this!” None of this is new.
So I had a producer who said, “You know what? I really want to shake people up. I want to make a movie that's gonna make people sit up and take notice.” And I said, “You want to really make people take notice. Let me shoot the sex I want to shoot. No rules.” He said, “Well, how do we get away with this?” I said, “I'll tell you how we get away with it. We have a script that's forty-four pages, we have a huge BTS that documents the fact that we had three weeks of production meetings, that we were sitting there discussing color pallet of scenes, and what those color pallets meant, and how each character had their own color pallet that determined who's scene that was. Who had the power in that scene? Well, that's the color pallet. That's how we shot that movie. The fact that we sat down, and we re-shot scenes, not because the sex scene wasn't good, but because the sex scene didn't fit the story of the movie. And then you show me a prosecutor who's gonna sit down and say, “I can get an obscenity prosecution on this.” There's no way that movie fails the third prong of “The Miller Test.”
And Paul Cambria, who is one of the big adult attorneys... He is the attorney for most of the big adult companies. He is the guy who is largely responsible for these rules. Paul Cambria likes nothing less than somebody who actually understands the obscenity law. Because Paul likes to come down off of the mountain, all five-foot-one of him, and say, “You can't do this, you can't do that. This is the rule! This is the way it's got to be!” He hates it when somebody who knows the rules comes back at him.
Cambria is the attorney for SexZ Pictures. The producer says, “Oh well, you know, we're still gonna have to run this by Cambria.” So I say, “Great. Let me write up my argument.” So I wrote it up, and they submitted it. Cambria approved it. He hated approving it, but he couldn't argue it. He could not argue the fact. So we distributed a movie with fisting, with pissing, with hard bondage, as a feature. SexZ told the stores, “If anybody gets busted for obscenity on this, we'll pay your court fees. We'll go to court and we'll defend it. Because it's not gonna get busted.” Nobody did, because that movie is un-prosecutable. No jury in the world could convict it.
The sex is harder in Upload. Sixty-six page script. I have a 91 minute cut that doesn't even have nipple in it. You may not like the story. You may not appreciate the story. But it is impossible to argue that there is no story. And if there is a story, it cannot be obscene. It is protected by the first amendment as free speech.
Danny: You said in Corruption you planned out the sex scenes, even who has control?
Eli: The whole movie.
Danny: Can you tell me about one of your favorite or most memorable directed sex scenes?
Eli: Probably my most favorite one in Corruption is... Corruption is about a Senator in California. I just happened to make him a Republican, which is not necessarily my own views. It just fits more the public's idea of Republicans as being more cutthroat, and Democrats as being more wishy-washy. My own personal opinion is that all politicians are liars, cheats, and thieves. And really that no one is really better than another.
So the story follows the first Republican senator in California in over a decade as he is making his bid for the presidential nomination. And he is utterly morally bankrupt. He has a wife who is largely a function of convenience. Because if you're a politician, you have to have a wife. You have to have a wife and she is an arm of your political image. So he has a wife, and they're business partners. She even says this in the movie, “We are partners in a business called David Walker Helms.”
So he has a girl who is attached to him, who is essentially a sex slave. Not even anyone that he particularly has sex with. But when you are a senator in the age of the Internet, you can't do these things yourself to get your yah-yah's out. So he has her to use for that purpose. He can send her out to do things, and he can sort of live vicariously through her, because she's nobody.
We find out in the movie that she's the daughter of this business man who ended up owing a bunch of money to the Armenian mob, and the senator made that go away, and in exchange, he basically got the daughter. The daughter has Stockholm Syndrome and is convinced that she is desperately in love with the senator because she is an emotional child. So when this reporter rescues her from this situation that she's in, he's nice to her, and she's immediately in love with him. You know, she has no compass.
So he is doing a business deal. He wants to run for Senate. He knows he needs the support of the unions. We never specify which union, but in my head, it's the teamsters. So he has a meeting with one of the teamster leaders and two of his goons, and they're discussing this clean air bill that's going to kill him back east. It's going to end up leading to the loss of thousands of jobs. So he makes a deal that, even though he sponsored the bill, he'll make sure the bill gets killed in committee if they will back his run for president - having no intention of following through with that promise.
So he has them meet at a house that is wired, and he throws hookers at the two goons, pulls the leader away and takes him down to this special bedroom. The girl is waiting for him in this special bedroom. And the girl gets this mob boss to tell her what he really wants.
So the scene is this little roleplay with him as the priest, and her as this little altar boy. And it's a straight anal scene. It's with Hillary Scott. We cut back a couple of times to David on the roof watching the live feed on his laptop while this is all recorded in the bedroom.
In the sex scene, there's a moment where he's banging her in the ass and she's doing, “Hail Mary full of grace. Hail Mary full of grace. Bless me father, bless me father.” Finally, he comes on her face. She licks it all up. And she's still playing the game, and he looks at her and goes, “Shut your fucking mouth,” and he walks away and goes to the bedroom. She looks up at the camera, and covered in cum, she blows a kiss to the camera. She knows David is still watching.
That whole sex scene has a gold tint to it because Natasha, the character, has the power during that entire sex scene. She is manipulating this fifty year old man. Herschel Savage plays the mob boss. She is manipulating this man through the entire sex scene. She's got the power. So that whole sex scene has a slight gold wash to it. Whereas, the scenes where David, the senator, has the power; they're very desaturated. They've got a very disublimation look to it. It looks like ink transfer, silver nitrate film. It's a bleach bypass look. It's still in color, but it has a very desaturated, high-contrast look. That's David's look throughout the movie. So whenever David has the power, he has that look.
Danny: You've already talked a bit about how you find people for your productions. It's more or less, who's invested in your project?
Eli: Well, they've got to be able to act. That helps. Because I hold real auditions. I'll send out scripts. I have days of readings and callbacks. If somebody can't be bothered to show up for the audition, I already know I don't want to be bothered with them. And I want to have on camera the moment where I give them all the speech:“These are gonna be long, hard days, and they're gonna be boring. You're gonna do a lot of sitting around, and you're gonna do a lot of the same takes over, and over, and over again.” Because I don't go home until I've got what I want. I just don't. Period. That's it. And I can tell in those meetings who's blowing smoke up my ass, and who really means it.
Upload is a good example where Eva Angelina was not the best read for that character cold. She was not the best audition for that character. But there was no way I was going to cast the girl who was the best first audition for that character, because she was already an enormous pain in the ass just at the audition. You know, I'm not gonna spend seventeen days with you.
I mean, Eva had a day which was nothing but rehearsing for one of her big fight scenes for the movie. And the next day we shot that big fight scene, and the fight scene... it's all in this virtual arena. And the fight scene is ostensibly with Hillary's character. But Hillary is about as coordinated as a chimpanzee on roller skates. There's no way Hillary was going to be able to do it, and we knew that.
So I designed the fight scene so that they get into this virtual arena, and the idea is that you can imagine whatever equipment or gear you want for yourself. Eva imagines something very physical. She imagines pads and stuff like this. She's a brawler. After this, we actually see her kick the shit out of somebody huge, and it actually works in the real world.
In this virtual world, she's unprepared. She thinks herself up this stuff like pads. And Hillary thinks herself up this powered armor suit. So she transforms into this robot version of herself that's actually much larger than her. What that enabled me to do was to have Eva actually do the fight scene with Derek Pierce. And then we painted out Derek and painted the robot over him.
So then Eva spent the whole next day getting her ass kicked by Derek. Because it's all kicks and getting grabbed, and getting thrown, and she was seriously bruised after that. Never complained once. The girl that gave the great reading... I would have never got her through the rehearsal, much less the actual day of shooting. It just wouldn't have happened.
Danny: In terms of the actual sex scenarios, have you ever cast these people and then you get on set and find out that someone has a problem with working with somebody?
Eli: Oh, always. That's just unavoidable. It's worst in big group scenes. And I always feel obligated to [do group scenes] in a huge budget movie. Forgive the pun, but you have to finish with a bang. I always regret doing it, but fucking fans love em, so I always have these orgies. Upload and Corruption both end with these big orgy scenes.
During Corruption, I had fewer last minute replacements... Any time you try to get ten, eleven, twelve porn people all in the same room at the same time, you're gonna be lucky if you get eighty percent of them, of who you actually cast. That's just the way it goes.
So on Corruption I got lucky and had more of the people that I actually wanted in the scene in the scene. My last minute replacements, a couple of them were trouble. Like one of my last minute replacements was a guy who just couldn't get hard period. At all. So we sent him home. “Oh, I'm sick to my stomach.” Okay, great, I don't care. Go home. That's fine. It's an orgy scene. It all works. All good. One of my last minute replacements was great. I actually ended up getting Ariana Jolie, who I didn't think I could have, and you know, Ariana Jolie was a fucking monster. She didn't care. She was thrilled.
Another one was Jordan Styles, who is now long gone from the business. And Jordan was a little bit of a pain in the ass. She had begged to be in the movie. I didn't want to use her because I knew she was a pain in the butt. But she begged, and begged, and begged, so I was like, “Fine. I've had somebody drop out. Are you working today?” “No, I can be right down.” “Great.” Shows up, has a problem with that girl, has a problem with that guy, has a problem with that girl.
Okay, and see, any time that happens it makes it tough, because of course an orgy is all about mix and match. You're not making three little groups that are gonna stay the same for the whole scene. And then I finally got fed up with her, and just to embarrass her in front of everybody, I shuffled people around – and Tyler Knight's in the orgy- I shuffled people around, and said, “Okay you go here, you go here, Jordan you go with Tyler.” She stands in the middle of the room and goes, “Um, I don't do interracial.” And everybody just went, “Really?” And Tyler just laughs. He's just laughing at her. I said, “That's funny. It didn't occur to me. None of us think of Tyler as black. Tyler, what's in your CD player?” “Uh, The Carpenters.” “He's not black.” So she ended up sitting next to Kylie Ireland while she was banging Tyler. Because that's what I do. I put people in time out. You can just sit there with the dunce cap on and not be involved. That's fine.
In Upload, the orgy was much worse. We ended up having all of this drama we didn't know about until the day of. “I don't wanna, I don't wanna work with him, can you please move me?” “Oh, for fuck's sake! Can one of you please fuck somebody!?!”
Danny: Obviously, you've filmed scenes that would be characterized as rough or even violent.
Eli: My ideal sex scene is that close to a rape scene [He closes his fingers to a small gap]. But that being said, I intentionally... It's one of the things that makes my features different. You do not see the normal cast in my features because I intentionally cast people who really like that. I don't want to talk anybody into doing anything that they don't want to do, you know. I cast girls who do double anal for girl/girl scenes, because I like the filthy whores. Those are the girls I like to shoot.
So if I'm going to shoot a really hardcore bondage scene with somebody who's supposed to be raped against her will, I cast that scene with Alex Sanders, Adrianna Nicole, and Julie Knight. Because Julie Knight loves playing rape victim. She had the best time doing that. She has a scream that is blood curdling and at no point during that scene do we ever wink or say, “Oh no, she's enjoying it.” Oh no, she's pretty much just getting abused and forced. And at some point, so we could have her stop struggling, she said, “How about I just go into shock? And I'm just letting them use me.” I said, “Oh, that would be great.” And she loved it. She had a great time.
Danny: She actually suggested this?
Eli: Yeah, she's totally down. She's thrilled.
Danny: Did you ever feel you were degrading or taking advantage of a performer?
Eli: No, because I was giving people the opportunity to do what they want to do. You've got to cast for the sex scene. I do think it's possible to degrade people in this business. I've seen it happen. I think it's possible to degrade both men and women in this business.
Danny: That's actually my next question. Have you witnessed performers being degraded or taken advantage of?
Eli: Absolutely. I absolutely have. You know, because I have the location [where I live], I see a lot of other people's shoots as well. I've seen a husband, who's talent, haul off and smack his wife in the face, and not in a good way, because “It was her fault that he couldn't get his dick hard.” That's not on camera. But that's inherently degrading. What is that about? That's absurd. You know, I kicked him out of the house. I don't let him shoot here anymore. I'm not gonna put up with that.
Jim Lane, I think, is the pinnacle of degradation in the industry. The fact is, he does not respect the people who are working for him. He has absolutely no respect for them. He has no respect for them as people. He has no respect for them as individuals. He has no respect for them as performers. His ideal set is one where everyone is drunk so that their shields are down. And then he can get them to do things that they do not want to do.
Whereas I am the guy that, if I find out someone is drinking on set, I take it away from them. I don't want people altered on my sets. I want them sharp, and I want them present, and I want them doing what they want to do. And I want them to want to be there.
It's still work. And I don't have a lot of sympathy if you know, “Wow, it's really late, and I want to go home.” Well good, I'm glad we're paying you then. Because that's why it's a job. I can be hardcore about the “it's a job” element. But I have never in my life, ever, asked somebody to do something that they didn't want to do. With the exception of something that they might normally have been fine doing, but they just didn't feel up to. Like, you know, “I'm kind of sick today. Do you really need the anal?” “Well, you know, you were booked anal. It's the last scene of an all anal movie, so yeah I kind of need the anal.” But even in that situation, I'm not gonna say to somebody, “You have to do it.” I'm gonna say, “Decide now before we start shooting.” If you can't do it, no harm, no foul. Go home. I love you. I'll book you next time. But let me know so I can get somebody else in. But if you're gonna commit to doing it, and I gotta have it, and we get into the scene, then “Do the anal.” But that's the business side of it. That's where I respect you as a professional, so respect me as a professional.
Because I look at porn performers during the sex scene. It's a dichotomy and I know that. When we're acting, we're actors. When we're doing sex, you're stunt people. Much more than actors, porn performers are stunt people.
Like stunt men, like professional athletes, like circus performers, porn performers are largely in the business of exploiting their physicality for the entertainment of others. That's what they do. Nobody cares if a football player has injured his knee. They just care, “Can he finish the game?” Right? Are you out for the season or are you not? If you can play the game, play the game. If not, I have to take you out of the game.
By that same token, is that football player who is in the business of injuring himself for no public good other than entertainment value- and let's have no illusion. You can tell me all along, “Sports in school, it's for this, it's for that.” No it's not. It's so the school can get money. Sports is entertainment and it's a business. That's all it is. Porn is entertainment and it's a business. That's all it is. It's all about physicality. So that is the limit that I'm willing to exploit people. To the limits of their personal physicality.
If you are not a trapeze artist, I am not going to ask you to swing on the trapeze. But if you tell me that you're a trapeze artist, and I have now built a trapeze act, and I have spent money to install the trapeze, and I have put down the net, and I have an audience that are waiting to see a trapeze act, don't show up and expect to sell me on fire eating. That's not what I paid for.
Danny: Have you, as a non-performer, ever felt you were taken advantage of on set?
Eli: Yeah. Never as a director because you have a lot more control. Other than people trying to pull shit on me. The worst are brand new girls who really are just escorts looking to make a name for themselves. Sometimes you have to be careful in that they'll try to take advantage.
It's interesting in that that's something that has changed so much in the past fifteen-to-twenty years. In the 90's, girls did porn so that they could feature dance and make more money. Now girls do porn so that they can escort and make more money. It's really interesting.
But I have done movies where I was the producer and I've had the production company absolutely try and rape me. And more so as a camera operator, where you have so much less control, and you're working for someone who is a moron, who is convinced that they know everything and that their way is right. Which everyone in this business, by the way, is an expert, and they're always right, and everyone else is absolutely wrong. There's only one way of doing anything, and it's their way. And those are days in which I've felt like I've very much been exploited, where I'm already working for less than what I would normally work for, and there just reaches a point where you're well beyond the “Fuck you, I want to go home stage,” and there's no reason it needed to be that long.
Often in porn, because it's so low-budget, you end up with way too much to shoot and so little time. I understand that. I signed on for that. That's okay. I have worked 22 hour days with a smile on my face because I went into it knowing it was gonna be a 22 hour day. We had this much that we had to get done. Suck it up. That's the job. I don't mind that.
What I hate is cramming three hours of work into a nineteen hour day. That's why I stopped directing music videos. Because every music video I've ever directed in my life was an hour's worth of work crammed into a twenty-six hour day. It's mind-numbing because of all the personalities you have to deal with, and the bands, and the stylists, and the label. And all of the fevered egos you have to assuage every minute of the day. You're not there to be a director. You're there to be a therapist. You're there to be a fucking babysitter. It's a nightmare.
So if you're on a set where somebody else is the problem, and you don't have the authority to say, “You're the problem,” and you don't have the ability to fix it because all you've been hired to do is what they tell you to do, and everything that they're doing is making your day longer, rather than shorter, than yeah, I feel like I'm being degraded. Because you don't have any respect for your crew. You don't have any respect for what you're doing. You know, you get a fucking director who stops the shoot so he can go off and get a fucking blow job. We're all standing around with our thumb up our ass, and we all get to go home an hour late so that you could get your dick sucked on set. Yes, I feel degraded by that. That's not cool.
I have never in my life done that on set. I've had girls proposition me on movies and I've had to turn them down because, you know what, “Sorry, I'm working.” And I'm not gonna make my crew stand around and wait for me. I'm not gonna do that because I've had it done to me. And I have never been more furious in my life than when that's happened.
Danny: Do you think a performer who's had a few drinks or is under the influence of marijuana can still perform with informed consent?
Eli: I don't think that that's something that you can make a hard and fast rule for. I mean, this is gonna sound racist, because on its face it is racist, but it is also just flat out true. I worked for a video team that was largely an interracial company. And that meant almost exclusively black male performers. If I'm only going to exclusively shoot black male talent who do not work stoned, that leaves me Tyler Knight. Full stop. That's it. Every other black guy in the business smokes right before the scene. So if I'm going to put my foot down about that, I'm not going to have guys. That's just not going to happen.
So there comes a point of practicality, at which you have to say, “Yeah, you know. I'm going to turn a blind eye and pretend I don't know. And just hope I don't see it because I don't want to know about it.”
I worry more about people I don't know. If I'm shooting Sean Michaels... Sean's been in the business almost as long as I have. I'm gonna tell Sean how to do a scene? No. Man has his own company. Man has been banging girls on camera longer than some of the girls he's been banging have been alive. I'm gonna tell him, “No, you can't go smoke in the middle of a scene”? No. Obviously, that's his decision. He's making that decision on an informed basis.
Okay. The first time that we ever shot Amber Rayne - who is not by nature, a party girl - we were shooting her in an all-girl scene with four other girls, one of whom – and we never did figure out who- thought it was a good idea to bring a fifth of Jack [Daniels]. And Amber, who doesn't drink, and weighs about ninety-six pounds, had had about four or five shots. And it's because she was very new. This was gonna be a very hardcore scene, which she was totally down for. But she was nervous.
Amber walked out and we immediately realized, “Wow. This girl's really fucked up.” So we only shot her to the extent that we had an excuse to remove her from the scene. Because we had already shot the intro with all five girls. So we put her in the scene just long enough to make an excuse to say, “Yeah, god, you should go lie down,” so that we could get her out of the scene. And then we took her to a mattress and had her lie down so that she could pass out, and then wouldn't let her drive home.
We took away her car keys, and then when she couldn't find them, we said, “Oh honey, I don't know where they are. We'll help you find them. Did you look in the couch?” Then we shot the scene. So she wandered around kind of lost. Then we put her to sleep until she was sober. And then we let her drive home like seven hours after we had finished shooting.
So when it sneaks past you, you have to make that decision. Because she absolutely would have not been doing that with informed consent. She was out of her fucking mind. There was no way we were gonna shoot her in that fucking scene. So you have to take it on a case-by-case basis based on who you're shooting.
Danny: Aside from that, have you actually witnessed a performer sent home for drug or alcohol use on set?
Eli: I have seen it a couple of times on other people's sets. I have had to do it a few times on my own sets. That was actually a movie that Kylie [Ireland] was directing, the example with Amber.
I have done it probably three or four times, where I could tell that somebody was fucked up, and wasn't about to shoot them. And they're never happy about it. They always say they can do the job. “You know what? Sorry.” “But what about my car?” “Your car will be here in the morning.” We're gonna put the address in your purse so that you can come back and find your car because I have no doubt that you have no fucking idea where you are right now. “Drive her home.”
But I've seen it a few times, yeah.
Danny: How prevalent do you think drug abuse is in the industry?
Eli: It goes in cycles. I think – maybe I'm out of touch- but I think right now... The industry right now is largely composed of people in their early twenties and people in their late thirties, early forties. There's not much middle ground. There's few people in the middle.
I think, right now, we're in a relatively clean stage in the industry. Because the people who are in their early twenties, almost all of them go out and party. But most of the ones I deal with seem to have it relatively under control. I don't think it's falling into abuse.
I mean, I know plenty of performers, male and female, who go out and party, and they party hard, but they don't seem to do it all the time, and it doesn't seem to be their motivating factor. They don't seem to be working to feed a habit.
Also, because the industry now has such a quick turnaround. People, especially the girls, don't stick around long enough to get a problem. They come in and then they're out in six months. And that's not long enough to get the big, expanded fish bowl where you're feeding a six-hundred-dollar a day coke habit.
The girl's who come in with a problem get to be known now pretty quickly because everything happens so fast. And people just don't want to hire them, because people don't want to deal with it. So I think, right now, we're actually in a pretty good stage. It's always been pretty similar to the music industry, which is that a lot of people get in thinking it's a big party. And in some sets it is a big party. But at some point, work still has to get done. The people who can't function, can't function. And word gets around quickly that they can't function, and then they don't get hired, and then they're not a part of the industry anymore.
And the old farts are all sober. They're all working on their amends, or trying to find their higher powers.
Danny: In your personal sex life, do you typically take on a dominant, submissive, or sexual role?
Eli: I'm a dom. I'm the top and have been since a very young age.
Danny: I'm guessing then, that no one generally calls you a cunt, whore, slut, or bitch during sex?
Eli: Oh, they absolutely do. I have absolutely been called every name in the book.
Danny: Do you ever enjoy being called any of these names?
Eli: I don't enjoy it. I don't care.
I'm kind of a sociopath, and I know it.
Danny: In what ways do you feel you're a sociopath?
Eli: I had a lot of... I mean, everybody had teenage drama and trauma, but I had some sort of off-the-charts teenage trauma, not involving sexual abuse or anything like that, just with people around me, and it's not relevant...
But the point is, as a result of that, in my early teens, parts of my psyche broke. As defense mechanism, I just shut them off. I stopped accessing stuff because it hurt. And as a result, I am very emotionally cold. I am very distant. It really has developed into full blow sociopathy.
I don't really have normal empathy unless I'm thinking about it. I have a select circle of people who are my friends. And once I let those people into the circle, I'm able to have somewhat normal emotional response to them without having to remember to do it. People who are outside the circle... The fact is, you could tell me Joe Blow died in a horrible car accident yesterday, and if I don't remember to act in a way that's going to make you feel comfortable with my reaction, my reaction's going to be, “Yeah?” Because I don't feel anything about it.
So you can call me anything. I don't care. That's what made me so great at running AVN.
Have I called girls those names? Absolutely. I absolutely have. But only if I knew that they liked it, or with girls who are friends of mine who understand that if I call you a whore, it's a term of affection. I do not mean that in any derogatory way. I love me the dirty whores. If I call you a slut or a whore, it's a compliment.
Danny: Are you getting any pleasure out of it?
Eli: If they are. It's not something I need. It's something I'm thrilled to indulge in if it works for a partner. The problem is, again because I have this remove, I'm always one step back from everything I do, like I'm watching it in a movie. So if I'm with somebody who isn't getting off on it, and I'm calling them names, and I know that they aren't getting off on it, then it just feels silly. Then I feel ridiculous.
Danny: Have there ever been instances on set where you call people these names that you don't know?
Eli: There have been instances where people who I met that day... As I learned a little bit more about them, and I realized that it would be okay, then yes. But never without thinking, or at least believing, that it would be taken in the spirit that it was intended.
Danny: What are your feelings about condom use on the straight side of the industry?
Eli: Here's what I think: What we want to do and what we should do doesn't matter. It's a business. We all tried it.
The first really big AIDS scare was when Mark Wallace, who was a performer, got AIDS. He got full-blown AIDS actually. This was late 90's. This was the huge one. The first big AIDS scare of the industry. At the time, AIM [Adult Industry Medical] was still doing ELISA testing, rather than the PCR-DNA testing that they do now. And Mark was a heroine user, and probably also was peddling his ass to get drugs. And he forged tests for three months. Because of course, there wasn't the Internet. You couldn't go look up the tests yourself. Performers showed up to set with a copy of their test.
So Mark forged tests for three months, knowing he had HIV, and worked anyways. Because he needed the money. During the course of that, he infected four girls, one of them being Trisha Devereaux, who is married to John Stagliano. One of them being Brooke Ashley, who ended up working as an editor for a while and now, I believe, lives back in Hawaii. And I can't remember the other two girls.
Anyways... That was sort of the big wake up call for the industry. Now, that being said, at the time, the tests didn't go to AIM. The test went back to the performer. So AIM didn't know he was positive. So that led to the changes that we now have in place. Now AIM gets the test and gives the test to the performers. Nobody knew he was working dirty, except him. And we all figured it out. And we went back and looked at his records, and went, “Wow. Holy fuck. Okay.” That is the only time, from then until now, that you can point to anybody who got infected working on a porn set. A straight porn set.
The Darren James case, which was the big AIDS scare about eight years ago... He claims he got it working. Well, that's fine except that he had also just gotten back from a trip to Brazil, where he was hanging out with a company that largely shoots transsexual porn, who shot something like sixty scenes while they were in Brazil with transsexual prostitutes.
All I know is that at least John Stagliano was honest about how he got HIV, which was that he went to Brazil, and had sex with a transsexual prostitute, and according to John - and I have no reason not to believe him - he said that he was just so fucked up out of his head that he didn't think about the fact that he was having unprotected sex because everybody wears condoms in Brazil most of the time, because you just all assume all the prostitutes have HIV. It's just accepted.
Now, Laura Roxx, who [James] had supposedly infected, had had one clean test, then gone back to Canada, done a bunch of escorting, then came back and tested for HIV on the day she worked with Darren James. Her test came back that day. Not possible. She didn't get it from him, and he didn't get it from her. When you really dig into this, which of course nobody wants to do, because they want to have the drama and the headlines. Okay, fine.
So we all went condom after that. All the companies went condom only. Well, the only one that has survived shooting condom-only is Wicked, and Wicked only survived shooting condom-only because Wicked's not really in the business of shooting porn. Wicked is in the business of making these big budget movies that they can sell as R-rated, straight-to-video features in Europe, and in India, or wherever. And that's how Wicked survives. Nobody buys Wicked movies here. You know why? People don't want to see condoms in their porn. In straight porn, they don't want to see condoms.
Everybody tried it, and nobody bought the movies. And the problem is, it's not like we can just say, “All porn is going to be condom only.” Guess what? Europe is never going to shoot with condoms. It's not going to happen. Suddenly now, miraculously, European porn was outselling American porn, three, four, five to one. Nobody went back to shooting without condoms because they wanted to. They went back to shooting without condoms because they had to.
And the people who point to gay porn and say, “Well, they use condoms in gay porn.” Well, A: that's the culture. B: gay porn doesn't test. They don't test. I know this because I've shot gay porn. And I shot gay porn for a company that was shooting straight porn. And they would only shoot performers who tested. And making gay performers go test so that they could get paid to come shoot with condoms was like pulling teeth. They don't want to test, because they don't want to know. They don't want to know. Gay porn's official policy to HIV is, “Lalalalalala.” They don't want to know. So you can't use gay porn as an analog for what we do.
The fact of the matter is that this most recent HIV scare, which lo and behold, what a shock, came as a result of a kid who did gay escorting. “Wow, where did that come from?” Luckily, he didn't infect anybody. The system worked. He went in, he got tested, they found him. Part of the reason that we're having such an issue with this right now is that the LA Times, they ran that story that said, “Well, there have been fourteen people who have tested positive, and they never got reported.” It's a lie. And the LA Times even had to print a retraction. But of course headlines go on page 1. Retractions go on page 34, and nobody ever sees them. There were not fourteen people, who were performers, who tested positive for HIV, and it never got reported. There were fourteen people over the space of two years who wanted to come into the industry doing porn, who went to AIM to get tested, had HIV, and never worked. So because they never worked, there was no reason to report them. They hadn't done any scenes. Look at that. The system worked.
Now, do we have a problem with chlamydia and gonorrhea, and all of that? Yes.
The fact is I used to do HIV education. Before I got into porn, I was in children's theater. And we did HIV education programs. The thing that people don't realize about HIV is that HIV is a very fragile virus. It's actually very difficult to catch. It is only a blood born pathogen. You carry so little of it in your saliva, that you really can't catch it from your saliva.
As much as the lesbian community loves to claim that they are as at risk as the gay community because they want to be involved in the discussion, they're not. To this day, there is not a single confirmed case of lesbian HIV transmission. Every single one has been traced back to HIV drug use or heterosexual sex. The other thing is, since we're shooting straight porn, it makes it much less likely to transfer. Because while it is true that a man can give it pretty easily to a woman, especially during anal sex, it is almost impossible, not impossible, but extremely difficult for a woman to transfer it to a man. It's very, very, very difficult. Unless you have some enormous, bleeding cut on your penis, and she has enormous, bleeding tears in her anus. But if you have an enormous, bleeding cut on your penis, odds are good that you're gonna get sent home.
So the last real wave of infection we had was because of someone who had indulged in criminal negligence. He had been working for months, and in the space of three months, which is all we know for a fact that he was forging tests, he infected four girls. And those were all from serious hardcore anal scenes. And no other men got it.
So I think that the condoms thing.... The fact is that most performers that I talk to despise them. I've shot condom movies and everybody bitches. Nobody wants to use them.
Danny: So what are some of the reasons performers give for not wanting to use them?
Eli: Lots and lots and lots of women are allergic to latex, so they do condom scenes and they're raw, and they're sore, and they're inflamed, and then they really can't work the next day. Or if they're gonna work the next day, it hurts.
Obviously, it makes it much harder to maintain an erection, it makes the scenes go much more slowly, it makes the scenes much longer, and much more irritating to shoot. We have a tendency just in any kind of scene, even if it's just a straight boy/girl scene, we go vag, oral, vag, oral. Well, okay. So every time you've got to take the condom off, or you're gonna taste like latex, and it's just unpleasant in every way. Now, let's throw in a third person. We're doing a boy/girl/girl. We're trying not to cross contaminate. Okay, you're going to a new girl. Switch condom. Okay, she went down on you, switch condom. It's just utterly impractical for what we do. And again, like stunt performers...
I was a professional stunt man for three years. You wear protection adequate to the capturing of the scene that you're trying to capture. I've done full body burns. You know what? The only safe way to do a full body burn is in a full burn suit with an oxygen tank. The problem is, you can't wear a full burn suit with an oxygen tank. Because if you're doing a full body burn, you're supposed to just look like some guy in clothes who's on fire. So you don't wear that. There's no way to do a full body burn as a stunt unless they're gonna do it all CG. It can't be done. So you don't do it.
The way you do a full body burn is you wear a nomex suit, which is skintight. It's like wearing long underwear. That doesn't show through your clothes. If your hands are gonna be seen, guess what? You're not wearing nomex gloves. You have pyrojelly on your hands, which essentially petroleum jelly, which protects you for about fifteen to twenty seconds. You're still gonna get a little warm. Your face is exposed. The way you get around that is the gel that they put on you to set you on fire, they just try to keep it away from your face.
But the real thing is you don't breath. You can only shoot a full body burn for as long as you can hold your breath. Because as soon as you breath in, you're going to char your lungs. There's no way around it. That's how you do a full body burn.
Well guess what? Shooting a sex scene is the equivalent of doing a full body burn. We cannot make money and shoot condoms. We have proved this. We tried it. We failed. So you get to be a stunt person. You get to have protection that's adequate to the requirement of the scene. If you're a stunt person and you don't want to do a full body burn, you know what your alternative is? Don't do it. Go home. Don't get into the business. You're not saving anybody's life. You're not contributing to the greater good. You're not doing anything other than risking your life to entertain somebody and get a paycheck out of it. That's the decision you make.
When I did stunts, I got run over by a stage coach on a non-union shoot where there was no insurance. I thought I had lost my left arm. And before I looked to see if my arm was still attached, I distinctly remember lying there, looking at the sky, thinking to myself, “I just got my left arm cut off for $500.” But that was a decision I made before I ever decided to do the stunt.
Is it completely safe? No. Is the risk managed as well as we can feasibly manage it? Yes. Do I think that the companies should be paying for testing? Yes. Do I have any say in that? No. Do I think we should have two week testing? Yes. I think it would help. But what I largely think is more of an issue is the gonorrhea and the chlamydia. And I think if we had two week testing, that we could possibly put that largely to bed. I honestly don't think that HIV is that much of an issue, because by and large we've caught it.
Danny: What are some of the ways a porn director or producer ensures the consent of the performers other than their physical presence on set?
Eli: Well, I always have what we jokingly call “The pre-game meeting,” or “The pre-fight meeting” right before the sex scene where I will actually sit down with either the guy and the girl, or whoever, all the performers, and have the discussion with everybody all in the same place at the same time: “What are your do's, what are your don't's, what are we doing in the scene, what are you okay with, what are you not okay with, what can we not do?” So that everybody's on the same page.
That allows me to hear it as well, so if someone gets out of hand and is doing something that someone else doesn't like, then I know about it, and I can step in and be bad cop. Like, if I'm shooting somebody with Amber Rayne, and she's gonna say, “Look, the only thing is don't slap my pussy.” That's the only thing that's on her no-list is “Don't slap my pussy.” Then she gets with some guy who gets all flustered and isn't paying attention, then I can go, “Yeah, don't do that.” That's how I can kind of make sure that everybody knows where everybody else is in their head space, and what we're gonna do, and then everybody's okay.
Danny: So do you think that consumers should always assume that performers are always providing full consent to the acts taking place on screen?
Eli: I think you kind of have to. Frankly, that's not the consumer's job. These aren't like diamonds. It's not like tuna, where you have to worry how many dolphins they killed to get you your tuna. These people are still out there and either still working or not working. If you want to investigate that, you can. But regardless, that product is done and probably in your hands already. It's not your job.
Danny: Do you think that content that depicts rough or violent sex, such as rape fantasies, should be held to higher standards in terms of providing consent? Interviews, BTS, etc...
Eli: No, I don't actually. I do not think that for that stuff that it's unreasonable to have a pre-scene interview. I don't think that it necessarily has to be included with the content. I just think that it should be shot, simply because I don't trust all the other directors out there to be telling people exactly what they're in for, because often they're afraid that they're not going to be able to get it.
I mean, I've shot that stuff. I've never worried about it. Because I know that I've hired people who know exactly what we're doing, and exactly what we're here for. But if someone were concerned, I would absolutely shoot that because I have no issue having everyone explaining what they're doing beforehand because everyone always knows. I think everybody should know. And I wouldn't have any issue with forcing people to shoot interviews beforehand explaining precisely what they're gonna do, so that there isn't any miscommunication, so that you know that the shooter has told the girl exactly what she's in for. Yeah, that's fine.
Danny: Do you think these interviews have any effect on the scene?
Eli: No. Simply because, you know, it's work. It's work. Not to speak of ill of the dead, but she was somebody I really despised- Andrea Dworkin...
Or Catharine MacKinnon. Let's Pick on Catharine MacKinnon...
There are these people who have all of these absolutely righteous, force of moral opinions about the shooting of porn, and have never been to a fucking set. You know what? Come to my set. I want you to watch these people. If you don't think it's just a job, come hang out on a set for a day. You think anybody's being forced to do anything that they don't want to do, go to a set.
My god, you're there for three hours before you even get naked. You think in that amount of time, somebody doesn't have the time to go, “Oh my god, you want me to suck his what?” And then get up and walk out. It's a job. There's a reason you're a performer. You don't fuck on camera the way you fuck at home. Nobody does. They just don't. Unless you're shooting some sort of strange, pseudo-amateur porn where they want you to, you know, lock arms, lock lips, close up, don't show us anything and just go. “Just fuck the way you want to fuck.” Well fine, you're not gonna see anything. That's cool, whatever. And some people shoot that. I understand that.
But absent that, sorry folks, it's a performance. Believe me, I dated for eight and a half years, a girl who is one of the dirtiest whores on the planet, and she was really loud, and really enthusiastic at home, but they're still not the same noises she makes during a scene, and they're still not the same things she says during a scene. It's still a performance.
Danny: Do you think these interviews have any effect on consumers?
Eli: I think they probably do. If I were putting it on a DVD, which is hardly relevant anymore... I don't really know what the solution would be for the Internet other than maybe having them available on the site.
Like Kink.com, for example. Kink does these interviews before and after to cover their butt. I think that the after's kind of pointless other than that you can see the girl's not crying, or desperate or whatever. But they include those as part of the scene if you download the whole video, or if you watch it streaming. But if you want to pull it in parts, you can pull it without the interviews. So what's the point?
I think probably for the viewers, it's kind of a buzzkill. Because you're telling them what they're gonna see before they're gonna see it. Unless you're talking in the most vague terms, and then what's the point of the interview?
Unfortunately, my solution doesn't work from a legal standpoint, which is the really point of these interviews. But my solution is to park these some place else, and then if people want to see them, they're available. Why that doesn't work as a legal solution, and why that doesn't work as integral to the scene, is that if it gets busted for obscenity, the prosecutor has to show the jury the entire scene. So then the jury has to see the interviews before and after. If it's not included as part of the scene, the prosecutor would probably move and succeed at keeping it out of evidence. That's why it's done that way. I just think it sucks.
With a feature film on DVD, you don't have to worry about it because they have to watch the entire DVD. So, you know, like my making-of for Upload is two and a half hours long, and there's tons of interviews from before and after, and “What are we doing today?” and all this other stuff. It's all in there and it's not in that formalized context, but it's there.
Danny: Maybe you're the wrong person to ask, but... Is there anything other than an interview stating explicit consent that would make you feel comfortable watching a staged rape scenario between two people you've never met put out by a company you've never heard of?
Eli: Well, I am the wrong person to ask because A: There's almost always a give-away that what you're watching is obviously consensual. And B: No staged rape scene, that is actually a rape scene, is going to work as porn.
The reason that I say that is... Like, the scene in Upload is a different thing because it's staged as a rape scene, but they're actually recording the experience to be re-lived later. So the man and the woman are doing it as porn, and so there is a reason for everything to be exposed and everything to be seen, and the chick is really into it and the guy is really into it.
If you're just really doing a real rape scene that you're presenting as a real rape scene, you're not gonna see anything, you're not gonna show anything. It's not gonna be lit. There's not gonna be any excuse for it to be shot unless there's some accomplice there who's also shooting it. It's gonna work as something violent that's in the movie, but it's not gonna work as porn.
Irreversible is a good example, which has one of the roughest rape scenes that I've ever seen in a movie. Which is also, by the way, three of my exes' favorite porn. They masturbate to the rape scene in Irreversible. But it doesn't work as a porn scene, because it's not. It's a rape scene. You never see anything other than the fact that this guy is on top of this woman, and she's trying to get away, and she's crying, and she's miserable... and it's Monica Belluci and her husband who are doing this scene. It doesn't work as porn. Physically, it doesn't work as porn.
You can look at the Katherine Breillat movie, Base-Moi, where she's got what is supposed to be a rape scene, and it was all controversial because it was hardcore. Well, it's a rape scene where the girl's opening up for the camera. Give me a fuckin' break. So there's always gonna be those little indicators that show you that the girl is playing along. If it were an actual rape scene, then that girl's not gonna be pulling her hair out of the way when she sucks his cock. She's not gonna be sucking his cock. She might be forced on to it, but she's not gonna be helping. It's just not gonna happen. I don't care how well they act it, I don't care how well they play it. If they are at any point making it porn, it's not going to work as a rape scene.
So those little indicators are always the give-a-ways for me. Now, a lot of people don't know to look for that stuff.
So absent that interview, I think if something's incredibly well done – I've never seen something that's sold me – but if I did see one that was done well enough to make me wonder, I'd want to know. That interview would come in handy. I'm sure that there's some Japanese thing somewhere where I would seriously wonder if that girl was still alive. That would make me deeply, deeply, deeply uncomfortable. Because the Japanese do have the most psychotic pornography on the planet. There's something deeply wrong with that country. “Let's put crickets in a woman's vagina.” Why? At what point does that become hot? I don't understand, but whatever.
Danny: So are there any acts you believe should not be performed on camera other than the depiction of minors or actual rape, and other illegal activities?
Eli: As long as everyone's consenting, I really couldn't care less what you do. I don't think it's anybody's business as long as no one is being forced to do something they don't want to do.
Just because you don't like it, and you don't want to watch it, doesn't mean that you should have the authority to say, “No,” which is, of course, the problem with censorship: Who gets to say no? Cause I don't want them saying, “No,” for me. God forbid, it would have been Jesse Helms. You don't get to make that decision for other people. You have the choice not to watch it. That's where you're no longer the injured party. No one's making you sit and watch “Two Girls, One Cup.” You don't have to sit through it. You can say, “No.” So do.