AVN’s Best Film Award recognizes the few brave and artistic souls who continue to shoot motion picture film stock in an industry flooded with shot-on-video product. With many high-end features now turning to HD, the category stands as a last link to the technology of porn’s Golden Age.
This year’s eight Best Film nominees represent four companies: Vivid Entertainment, Wicked Pictures, Studio A and ClubJenna. Alongside established directors Paul Thomas, Brad Armstrong and Andrew Blake, a new contender emerged this year in the shapely form of Jenna Jameson, making her directorial debut with Jenna's Provocateur.
Paul Thomas has won Best Film trophies for The Masseuse (2005), Heart of Darkness (2004), Fade to Black (2002) and Bad Wives (1997). In 2006, the actor-turned-auteur scored nominations for no less than four major Vivid releases. Two of Thomas’s nominated titles are self-referential efforts that address the subject of adult filmmaking.
Shot in Hungary and the U.S., the ambitious Emperor stars Rocco Siffredi as a frustrated mainstream film director in mid-life crisis. Thomas pays homage to Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ as the main character’s state of mind is revealed through flashbacks and fantasy sequences. In Fade to Black 2, Thomas plays an adult movie director who gets conned into shooting amateur smut for a group of suburban couples.
“I’d like to see Emperor take home the award because I think it’s good for the business,” Thomas said. “It’s a high-profile film, with high-profile stars, much like Pirates or The New Devil in Miss Jones were to the video format. The performance by Janine was so good. It’s good for the mainstream movie business when they give awards to Titanic, and I feel that way about Emperor. Fade to Black 2 is an absolutely authentic, original screenplay derived from my experiences in the X-rated business. I think it’s the most authentic piece that I’ve ever done. It carries on the same theme as the first one, and that is how a director has to almost play tricks on the talent in order to get them to forget all of the problems of their personal lives and give 100 percent to the camera. It’s all about how to get people to be spontaneous and honest and real.”
Thomas’ To Die For presents a trilogy of intertwined stories about love gone wrong. “It’s actually inspired by several French films,” he said. “I’ve always admired the French filmmakers’ ability to take the small, personal subjects and make relatively low-budget, very effective and very erotic films out of them. A couple of the stories in To Die For are based on Truffaut; another one is based on a Louis Malle film. I took the main themes of each film, and I wove them into one film. It’s a bit more commercial – the actors are just fantastic, particularly Austyn Moore, Lisa Harper, Monique Alexander and Tommy Gunn. They all gave really good, personal and moving performances.”
The director's fourth entry in this year's competition is Janine’s Been Black Maled, which boasts Janine Lindemulder's first interracial scene. The blonde super-starlet plays unfaithful wife to Julian's cuckolded husband, with Evan Stone co-starring as a private eye following the trail of infidelity. Touted by Vivid as “The Forbidden Scene,” the movie’s main selling-point is a scorching threesome in which Janine takes on Mr. Marcus and Sean Michaels.
“Who wouldn’t want to fuck Janine?” Marcus laughed. “It was like she had this simmering in her all along, and we were really fortunate to be on the receiving end of that. Right after we finished, everybody was saying, ‘That’s probably the most incredible scene I’ve ever shot’. I heard through the grapevine that people at Vivid were still talking about it months later; we did the scene over a year ago, and to still have that kind of lasting impression says something. The scene was really genuine; we all wanted to fuck. Paul Thomas was real loose with it; he let Janine decide what worked best for her. He started out with a wide shot in a car, with everybody dressed…he didn’t come in for close-ups on the foreplay, and let us build the heat. When we came into the house, it was more about the sex. Janine is so far beyond a lot of the girls who are just coming into the business. She’s a consummate professional, and in the hands of a great director, it worked out well.”
For Sean Michaels, the scene was symbolic of his long-standing ‘no color lines’ philosophy. “It was definitely a statement, although that wasn’t intentional on my part,” he said. “I was there specifically for Janine; I’ve wanted to work with her for a long time, as of course any red-blooded male would. I wasn’t sure this movie was a serious thing, because we’d been talking about getting together for quite some time, and with Janine taking hiatuses here and there, you never know if it’s going to happen. I didn’t think it was the real deal at first – sure enough, it was well worth the wait. I was mentally and physically in tune with her and Marcus. When you have a ménage a trois, you want everybody to be as one, enjoying themselves equally. Even with a condom, it didn’t matter because of that passion.”
Brad Armstrong picked up Best Film noms for Wicked Pictures with his big-budget action feature Manhunters and arty all-sexer FUCK. Manhunters tells the story of four female bounty hunters played by Jessica Drake, Carmen Hart, Kirsten Price and Exotica. FUCK is a visual feast of vignettes illustrating the history of sex through the ages.
“Manhunters was a challenging movie to shoot, because you’re following four girls around throughout the story,” Armstrong said. “Every scene has six to ten people, because you’ve got the four chicks in every scene, plus whoever they’re interacting with in the story. Film’s always kind of a pain in the butt to begin with anyway, so you’ve got to mind your time. With all those people the set, it was an especially demanding project.”
The four lead actresses in Armstrong’s feature actually trained as bounty hunters during pre-production. “They did a lot weapons training before the shoot,” Armstrong said. “In many porn features, you get the girls doing stuff that’s cool, but then they don’t quite pull it off because there’s no preparation, no training. That’s what we were trying to avoid when we made Manhunters. I tried to make the girls look as cool and realistic as possible in their roles – the premise is hard to sell as it is, but we wanted to make it as real as we possibly could.”
Armstrong attributes much of the movie’s success to his cast. “Other than the look and the mainstream quality of the film, one of the strongest points in Manhunters is the interaction between the girls,” he said. “I wrote the script knowing who was going to play each of the leading roles, so we hit the ground running. In the finished movie, it really feels like a team of girls who have been together for a good number of years. The last thing in the whole movie we shot was the all-girl four-way scene; that’s the one that got nominated. The girls had hung out together for long enough, so they were all just champin’ at the bit to get at each other.”
“FUCK was just art for art’s sake,” Armstrong said. “We wanted to make it really pretty, but as nasty as we could be. With film, you’re always a little bit limited to the heat transmitted in the scene given the stop-and-start issues associated with film. It’s tougher to shoot the sex scenes when you’re working with film; you have to be really focused on the art direction and making the scenes as hot as possible at the same time. FUCK is going up against Andrew Blake, and Manhunters is Paul Thomas’ competition. There’s some good stuff out this year, so we’ll just wait and see where the chips fall.”
Andrew Blake’s cinematic artistry is unparalleled in the adult field. Blake’s movies have won consistent acclaim for their stunning visual beauty and commitment to excellence; his numerous AVN awards include Best Film honors for the adult classics Night Trips (1990) and House of Dreams (1991).
“I’ve always shot on film,” said Blake, who worked in mainstream television before entering the porn world. “I started out with a 16mm Bolex in 1969, and found it to be a very beautiful camera, depending on what you do with it. It can be straight-on, or very funky, the beauty of it. I still shoot on film because it gives it a different once-removed fantasy look with the girls; even very high-end HD that some people are using still has that video look. Even if you try to process it, filter it, it’s still video. Film is a beautiful medium. I never see myself shooting video except for behind-the-scenes purposes.”
In his latest movie Valentina, Blake’s muse was actress Valentina Vaughn. “The whole movie was fashioned around the beauty of Valentina,” he said. “Her legs are the most beautiful legs I’ve ever seen. That’s my subjective opinion; I guess I think every girl I hire has the most beautiful legs in the world. It’s an endless parade. She really took to her look in this movie; we put her in very erotic, high-fashion stylings. We shot in Paris, spent a couple of days shooting in a beautiful hotel there, with Valentina styled up as part runway model, part slut. The movie fell together very easily from a complicated edit, which I did here on Final Cut Pro.”
The movie’s unusual sex scenes include a lesbian vignette involving a RealDoll and a staged urine-drinking sequence. “Valentina is a stream-of-consciousness work,” said Blake. “It’s filmmaking as personal or self-analysis. A lot of my personality is in these movies, and I’m projecting it through my main characters – always the dominant ones. The tall, strong, aggressive brunette: that’s my type, and always has been. I think my sex is more implied; in other words, I view women as beautiful objects to be looked at, to be made love to with the camera. I’m always working in the dominant/submissive type relationships with boy/girl or girl/girl. That’s just my personality. My approach is always fetishist; I consider fetishism in a broader spectrum than, say, whips and chains. The personalities are more interesting to me than raw sex. I’m rolling the marbles differently. The end result is for masturbation, or to turn you on; there’s no two ways about it…but it depends on your take on sexuality.”
Jenna Jameson turned director in 2006 with Jenna’s Provocateur, a non-narrative exercise in wall-to-wall sex and glamour. Jameson’s company ClubJenna scored a marketing coup by releasing the movie in six different collector’s DVD editions, each packaged to appeal to fans of an individual starlet. Jameson was unavailable for comment at press time, but ClubJenna president Jay Grdina spoke to AVN.com about his role as the film's cinematographer.
“We tried to make a really visual movie that would stand out in the pack,” said Grdina. “Our goal was to make the movie look like a Victoria’s Secret ad with sex in it, and we were ecstatic about the results. I was so happy when we screened the dailies and brought it in to telecine. We ran three different passes when we transferred the film, giving it different looks. I had a blast in post-production. It turned out to be a phenomenal project – our girls’ performances were, bar none, the best I’ve seen. Sex in a lot of porn movies usually puts you to sleep; our sex in this movie is out of control. It’s gonzo sex in a feature film.”
On Jameson’s directorial skills, Grdina commented: “I was really impressed. Initially, we went back and forth on whether or not I would shoot the movie for her. I didn’t want Jenna to feel like I was taking over as director or imposing my visual style on the project. I wanted to let her run with it. At the last minute, she said, ‘I really want you to shoot the movie.’ She did a really good job; she was calling her own lighting and shots. Jenna was really into the project, really energetic; she worked really well with the girls and the crew. When you first come on set, you have to earn respect as a director. Once people saw that she knew what she was doing, Jenna won them over.”
Grdina cites the opening sex scene with McKenzie Lee as a standout. “McKenzie’s scene was the very first thing we shot, so we wanted to start with a bang. The sex is so strong; McKenzie did six positions, four of which were anal. Each scene in the movie was so different than the others that I fell in love with all of them. I try to cut each feature differently than I cut the previous one, so I used different jump-cuts, different hard-cut editing and no dissolves… we also acquired mainstream music. It cut together really, really well.
“Film is such a beautiful medium,” Grdina concluded. “This was the first time I picked up a Super 16mm camera; I shot the whole movie hand-held, and sometimes it felt I was carrying that camera like a giant cross on my back. But if you control the costs and go in with the forethought of ‘here’s what I need to get,’ I think it really works.”