CANOGA PARK, Calif. -With today's release of Fallen - one week after his 43rd birthday - Brad Armstrong celebrates a centenary: the 100th movie he's directed for Wicked Pictures, the studio that wisely put him under contract in 1996.
Wicked contract star Jessica Drake, Fallen's star and Armstrong's life partner, told AVN, "In the five years since I've been with him I've definitely seen his style and his talent evolve and I'm very proud of everything he's accomplished."
She calls Fallen "the best movie I've ever done. When I watched it for the first time, all I could do was tell him, Thank you."
The movies Armstrong has brought in for Wicked range from big-budget productions shot on film (Manhunters, Flashpoint) to vignette videos (FUCK, The Craving) of the most elegant kind. They've been among Wicked's top sellers and showered with awards from AVN and XRCO.
The stars he's worked with are unanimous in their praise. Sydnee Steele, featured memorably in Euphoria and Exile, says, "Brad is a dirty, dirty rock star, man. He's awesome as a person and one of the best directors the business has ever seen."
Shayla LaVeaux, a veteran of several Armstrong titles, says, "It's amazing, the quality of the movies he has done on a consistent basis. And still that sweet genuine guy with the cute little boy smirk."
Current Wicked star Kaylani Lei calls him "an extremely talented, creative and intelligent director, totally dedicated to his work on and off camera."
Armstrong's first movie for Wicked was Wildcats (1995) - one he says he'd like to forget. "Oh man, what a way to start - horrible!" But Steve Orenstein, he remembers, "saw I was trying to do something that wasn't just the norm." He not only kept him working but gave him and Greg Steele, his directing partner at the time, a shot on a big-budget epic, Conquest.
It paid off. Armstrong had been directing for Vivid as well - "I bounced back and forth"- and after Conquest became a huge hit both studios offered him contracts. "I decided to go with Steve O," Brad said, and the rest is XXX history.
Brad's breakthrough as a solo director was the firefighting saga Flashpoint (1997). It became Wicked's top selling title of all time and is still bringing in the bucks 12 years later. "That was my first big one all by myself, where I could say, OK, I can do this. We can play with the big boys."
Before turning to directing, Armstrong worked as talent, and it was that experience that caused the career move. "I was embarrassed by half the stuff I was doing. What gave me the directing bug was that, wow, there has to be a better way of doing this."
Armstrong actually started as an art director, and the look of his movies has always been distinctive. "He is by far the best art director in the business," says Kirsten Price, whom he directed in Coming Home. "He has such an amazing sense of style."
"He's always had a flair for style," echoes Vince Vouyer, the male lead in Conquest. "He really knows how to costume the girls, make them look their best, and shoot them in the most attractive way possible."
"He's very patient, attentive and always keeps you laughing to keep you at ease and relaxed," says Wicked contract star Alektra Blue. "He goes that extra mile to make sure that we always look beautiful."
"I can always count on him to make my movies look great," says fellow Wicked Girl Mikayla Mendez.
"He was art director on a lot of movies and I think that's very evident in how he shoots his movies," says fellow Wicked director Mark Stone. "They are visually beautiful and meticulously made."
Drake calls him "very hands-on. He writes his own scripts, does his own casting, goes out and shops for the wardrobe. He envisions everything himself. It's really all him. But not in an egotistical way - he always gives credit to everyone who's helped him."
Tommy Gunn, who was directed by Armstrong in his first sex scene (Fluff and Fold, 2005), says, "Eventually I'd like to direct myself and I've kind of fashioned myself and my work ethic after Brad."
Francois Clousot, Armstrong's director of photography ever since Eye of the Beholder in 2004, says working with him is "demanding. He knows what he wants. He's very precise. It has to be good at all times, there's no in between."
"He's always searching for perfection," reiterates Alex Sanders, who has not only acted but worked as an editor for Armstrong. "This is a man who is not afraid of using mainstream elements in adult movies, to try to add a little more story, a little more production value.
"In a business where people think that that's a waste of time, I like the fact that he's saying, no, it's not a waste of time-we're making quality entertainment here."