This article originally ran in the April 2014 issue of AVN magazine. For a feature on storytelling in the adult industry, reporter Jason Lyon interviewed a dozen top directors in the business. AVN is posting longer versions of the interviews online, beginning with this trio of talks with Wicked Pictures directors Brad Armstrong, Stormy Daniels and Jessica Drake.
To see the entire issue online, click here.
Many people come to the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo to talk to stars. This year, I came with a different goal in mind. I wanted to talk to storytellers.
I set out to explore something more mysterious and elusive. Forging a path through AEE 2014 and beyond, I sought out a creative force that quietly courses through this industry, a force with a transformative power all its own: the complex and timeless art of telling a story.
I wanted to explore the here and now, to dig deep to the elemental beauty of a tale well told, to talk about those break-your-pencil-in-half-trying-to-figure-out-believable-dialog moments. I wanted to investigate the nexus where sex and story combine to express emotions that can’t be expressed any other way. I wanted to speak with the writers, directors, and performers who create the stories in which our fantasies, fears, joys, frustrations, longings and pleasures find a home. It’s a journey that begins, fittingly, with a stop by the Wicked Pictures penthouse suite at AEE 2014.
“Stories in any form—whether it’s a novel, short story, a movie, or an adult movie—rely on fantasy. Stories are a means of escape, of entertainment, and sex is the biggest fantasy there is for most people, right? So the two go hand in hand.”
Stormy Daniels and I are sitting on a leather coach in the Wicked Pictures suite. AEE may be roaring into action thirty-two floors below, but high above all is calm as Daniels and I talk about the art of writing for adult.
“When I’m writing a script, I try to do two things. I try to write a story that is believable and would stand on its own. So if I were to take out all the sex scenes and just watch the movie with no sex, would it still be interesting? Would it still be entertaining? And would it still make sense? And then vice-versa, if you were to take out the sex scenes and just watch those … would the sex still pop? So it’s very difficult to blend those two things together, because the sex needs to make sense within the story so that the sex just doesn’t randomly happen.” But Daniels adds, “If you get to the sex and it’s not hot, then that sort of defeats the purpose of pornography in general! So it’s a delicate balance, and Wicked seems to really have cornered the market in that, and we’re very good at what we do.”
I ask Daniels if her stories flow easily when she’s writing, or it’s more often a struggle.
“I’ve had movies where I sat down and it just poured out of me,” she answers. “And then some of them—oh my goodness! I’ve actually written scripts that I struggle really hard writing and I decided not to shoot them, because I just wasn’t happy with them. I’ve written a script in a day before, and I’ve thrown pages against a wall for weeks and cursed.”
I tell Daniels how much I enjoy her comedies—Operation Desert Stormy, Operation Tropical Stormy, and Divorcees (“That’s my all time favorite movie!” she says)—and then I ask her about breaking new personal ground with the tragic tale of Wanderlust.
“[Wanderlust] was difficult, but not because of the story,” she answers. “The story is actually quite short. It’s probably the shortest script as in number of pages I’ve ever written. What was difficult about Wanderlust is I was experimenting cinematically.”
I think back to Wanderlust, and I recall its quick pacing and its stark dialog that leads so powerfully to its conclusion.
“It’s a very visual movie.” Daniels says. “I think it’s only eighteen or nineteen pages long, where most of my movies are thirty-five to forty pages. So that movie is told through visuals, and it was an experiment for me.”
I close by asking Stormy Daniels the question I would ask everyone I interviewed: When you watch your story progress from the early writing stages all the way to the final product, and you know you’ve done good work, what does that feel like?
“There’s nothing better. Nothing better. I love to write, I love to direct. There’s not a thing in the world that I would rather be doing, and I’m very lucky that I get to go to work every day and say that.”
“A lot of times when I’m writing I see the movie in my head, who I want to play what, and it’s always pretty good ‘upstairs.’ Sometimes you get lucky and the movie turns out even better than you could have hoped for. Divorcees was one of those. I was giggling to myself as I was writing it,” she recalls. “That’s one of those that turned out even better than I could have hoped for. And that’s always the best.”
“Some people think I take my job maybe a little bit too hard, but I love developing a character in an adult movie and getting the chance to play someone different entirely. And I think that in the production of a movie one of the most important things we can do … is to integrate sex scenes that make sense in the story.”
Next in my trio of interviews in the Wicked Pictures Suite is Jessica Drake. Speaking of Three Days in June, which Drake wrote and directed, I ask if she feels there are emotions she can express in the adult medium that cannot be expressed in other forms of storytelling.
“Yes, I think with the adult medium obviously we don’t have to censor ourselves because we’re already naked,” she laughs, “and we’re intimate and I think that in itself can be really revealing and vulnerable as far as allowing people to develop a little bit more in the way of a character.”
Speaking of the evolving creative process behind Three Days in June, Drake recalls:
“I have to see [movies] completely in my head before I start to direct them. I have to. I’m one of those people—I like a plan,” she says. “When I did Three Days in June, it became somewhat of an introspective for me, and initially I wasn’t going to be the star of that movie. I was going to be the writer and be the director. And the more I wrote it and started reading it, I realized I was putting myself into it. And I kind of backed myself into a corner!”
In finally deciding to play the lead role, Drake recalls thinking, “Well, if it’s not me, then who’s this going to be?”
I ask Drake if she is able to choose a couple favorite characters out of the many she has brought to life over the years as a performer. She mentions her roles in Fallen and Fluff and Fold as being two of the most special, and discussing her character in Underworld, Drake describes a story’s power to influence the artistry of sex scenes themselves.
“For me Underworld was great on two levels. One, because there was acting involved in Underworld. There’s definitely a storyline. There’s definitely a plot. But Underworld was also great because of the fantasy aspect of it. We could really make the sex scenes whatever we wanted them to be. So as I encountered these characters, we would do with those scenes whatever we wanted to, and I thought they should be dark and edgy. I wanted them to all be contrasting throughout the movie. So we have the aerial scene where the dancer’s in the sky over my body on the water. And then we also have the blood scene and it’s very red and edgy. And then of course the death scene at the end with Derrick Pierce, which was quite an experience! I made the sweet love with Death!” she laughs.
“When I am as much a part of the production as humanly possible,” Drake concludes, “which is just about all the movies I’m doing with Wicked now, it’s really fulfilling to see the final product, because it just makes you understand that your hard work is worth it. I think what’s happened in the industry in the past few years is everyone that’s picked up a camera has called themselves a director and a creator, and the reality is it’s just not the case. I think that seeing a final product that you can really be proud of, that people are really going to enjoy watching—it’s really fulfilling.”
The writer-director of some of the industry’s most epic works appears thoughtful and relaxed as we start our interview. I begin by asking Brad Armstrong if there is something inherent in sex that inspires good stories.
“I think it’s almost the opposite way around, where the story can express the sex better, because you can go anywhere on the web and see fuck, fuck, fuck—but you don’t really know per se who they are, why they’re fucking. Is it the first time they ever fucked? Is it the last time? Do they like each other? Hate each other? It’s just: fuck! So way back when I first started, part of the reason why I [began] directing was all the stories I was doing were so bad and so cheesy, because back then every movie was made in a day.”
“That’s originally why I started this,” Armstrong says, “to make things better and tell a story. And if you are going to tell a story, make it worthwhile, as opposed to whatever you can cram into a day.”
Speaking of Wicked Pictures’ contract performers, Armstrong says, “For the most part we sign women who’ve lived a little bit or have some acting chops, and again it all goes toward what we’re looking for as the end result, which is kind of that mainstream feature that happens to have sex in it. That’s always our goal. It doesn’t always happen that way because of time and budget, but our goal is to make a movie that people can watch that just takes that kiss from a mainstream movie that much further, and you see what happens after the door closed.”
I ask Armstrong if there are times when the story and the sex scenes come together to create something that is even greater than the sum of its parts. He answers by providing a glimpse inside the ever-changing process of creating a story:
“Sometimes you get those moments where you’re sitting there and you know right on set ‘ah, that was good!’ And then there were other times where it’s all in the editing. And then there are times that you think you got it, and you didn’t get it! But there are definitely times like during Eternity—we shot the scene, and I walked up to Randy [Spears] going: ‘You’re going to win best actor for this.’ And he did! And sometimes even when I’m just writing the script, it’s like, ‘Fuck, this is going to be something.’ You know what I mean? And then sometimes it becomes greater when it’s finished, and other times it doesn’t quite live up to the script.”
“You don’t have the time to redo reshoots, or just go ‘OK, we’ll pick that up tomorrow.’ So what you get that day is what you get that day and then it’s all a matter of how you finesse it in the edit bay that makes it as good as it can be.”
In discussing how the details of his work contribute to its epic nature, Armstrong talks about his background in commercial art, and then describes how his characters find their voices during production.
“There are times where we do a table read. We’ll get all my characters sitting at the table, just like a mainstream movie. And when we start reading it, it becomes alive. [The performers] become that character, and you can see: ‘Fuck, this is going to work!’ And you definitely see where your strong characters are and your weak characters are. It’s one of those things where in the story and the script, especially on an epic, you can have all the fucking you want and make all the great art direction, but if you’re trying to tell a story, the believability factor of your characters and the verbiage that they’re using is really important, because you have to get the viewer vested in who that is … and why they’re having sex.”
When I ask Armstrong what it feels like to see his finished products on screen, he approaches my question from the standpoint of perception:
“When you start, there’s about seven or eight stories. There’s the one you’ve got in your head, the one you put on paper, the one you think you’re actually going to produce once you got the money and you figure out what you have to trim down from the script—or if you’ve got a lot of money, what you can elaborate on more with art direction. And there’s the one that you shoot on set that you think you’ve seen. Then there’s the one that you get into the edit bay and you didn’t quite get what you thought you got! And then there’s the finished product. And then—there’s the product that everybody else sees in their head, because you see your product as one thing, [but] not everybody else always sees that.”