Speaking Human with Dana Vespoli
Dana Vespoli is an acclaimed female director and performer who first entered porn in the early 2000’s. I like her a great deal because we share things like politics, coffee, and a baby daddy. People thinks this is crazy, but hear me out: she also likes books.
We feature some of Dana’s series on TRENCHCOATx. In anticipation of releasing the second installment of Girl/Boy, I did this interview with her. Because we also share conversations.
KK- There has been an uptick in female directors—it seems—though it’s possible they were already around and no one was noticing. Even so, there is a noticeable shift in the world in terms of how women are being portrayed. In the adult industry we are seeing that reflected in projects that are branded as ‘directed by women’—which also often means they are directed for women. Do you think that there is an actual change or do you think the concept is just a buzz term that is now being monetized?
DV- I think there is an actual change. When I came in in 2003, Francesca Le and Mason were already directing but there were also a lot of stars putting their names on movies as directors but not doing the work. So now there are definitely more women taking on big features, more writing, more artistry, etc. The rebirth of the feature has also made a difference. When I came in, big studios like Vivid or Wicked would do features—occasionally you would see something from Elegant Angel/Axel Brawn like Compulsion or Cadillac Highway—but otherwise it was all gonzo because gonzo was cheap to make and there was so much money. Now with the climate being difficult to turn a profit in and broadcast being an outlet, I think there is more of a drive towards plot-driven stuff. So with that, I think you also see a lot more emerging female writers and directors.
KK- Do you think women bring something to the table because they are putting a quote/unquote feminine touch on their content, or do you think its more of a factor of their lack of male-ness, and therefore lack of immersion in the male-centric viewpoint, so that in creating content they are able to step further outside of the traditional porn box in their thinking, or is there some other factor?
DV- I’m trying to think of projects I’ve seen that were created by female directors that are somehow different or special. There was more attention paid—and I don’t know if it’s because she’s a woman or because she’s just sort of math-brained and recognized a formula that resonated with viewers—but Nica Noelle had a line that was unique and it was very successful. It had a seduction aspect instead of a plot that just turned immediately into sex—remember even with a lot of the features, it’s some sort of dialogue and then suddenly they are having sex, without the buildup of attraction. Nica used a lot of tension, and there was an art to it. The way people would end up fucking, especially with the taboo themes—which was big—it wasn’t like, “I’m going to fuck my dad,” or, “my stepmom is hot, I’m going to fuck her,” it was “I don’t know if this is okay, you make me feel this way/you make me feel this way too,” and then it would build and the tension was really good. In those titles, you also would end up seeing different body types, woman that were older and not perfectly toned, with not a lot of surgery. Back to when I started, that was very unappetizing and very niche. But now you see such a range of real women, good god, look at Nina Hartley’s career now. Women have been able to age into porn, what is left of it. But I don’t know if it’s because Nica is a woman, I don’t know if I buy that its different because a woman is doing it. When I came back in 2011 and started shooting, I would shoot more voyeuristically and I would also pay attention to the man in the scene because I like to see the dynamic between the two of them and not just the disembodied penis pounding into a woman—I wanted to see his reaction to her. My position is that it’s not gay to see a guy enjoying a girl, it heightens the scene to see his reaction to her. It may be because I am a woman that I want to see both.
KK- Do you always shoot based on what you think is seductive or do you feel that you sometimes have to guess or at what the viewer wants?
DV- I am a terrible business person, because I don’t care about what anyone else likes. I tried it once and I was miserable, and that’s when I did the incest shit for Evil. I was like, “This is gross, I’m not into it.” I did three of those titles and then I just couldn’t do it anymore. I can’t get into it, and when I would try to, it would turn into this very fairy tale, very good vs. evil thing, so it wasn’t even sincere. Since then, I’ll only shoot what I enjoy. It’s the only way I can do it, certainly, for the length of time that I have been shooting. And it’s not just about the content. It’s about the performers I shoot, too. I want to shoot performers I believe in. If I’ve never met a performer, I’ll at least go on recommendations because I hate to shoot blind. If I hear a particular performer is really great from someone I trust, I’ll book based on that. I don’t care how pretty a girl is, she can pop up on a site and be the most beautiful thing in the world, but I don’t care. If she has no charisma, or is not interesting, she doesn’t do anything for me. And we have social media to thank for that. Because before, no one knew! Now, though, it’s easy to go on twitter and can see if she is racist or can’t put a sentence together or has no sense of humor. That, for me, affects how seductive the content will be, if it features her.
KK- You have two series you created that were completely yours, in that you conceived of them and you wanted to make them—“Fluid,” and “Girl/Boy.” What brought about the ideas for each of these?
DV- Fluid came about when I was torturing myself by watching this water bondage on Kink.com. I like to watch the trailers, because there is something so terrifying about it, and I am so claustrophobic, that it made water bondage fascinating for me. In one of the trailers there’s a point when Bobbi Star is in this metal box and she is dropped down in this glass thing that’s filled with water—she’s just submerged inside of this metal box in water, and then they bring it back up. I was on so many levels, for me, that was a situation with no way out. You are at the mercy of whomever is outside of the box. And the next trailer was with Steven St. Croix and Lauralie Lee, and it was so sexy. She is really looking at him and getting off on this dynamitic of wanting to please him so much and at the same time trusting him as he’s dunking her under water, but they are making love and then she comes up for air and I was so captivated it, thinking wow, that’s so intense. Also, what came with that is the whole fear/arousal aspect that is terrifying. And the whole idea of water—because I love water but there is also something very terrifying about it—I wanted to somehow incorporate water and body fluid. I do a lot with spit play and so on, but I had no idea on how it would go. I tried in the first one to incorporate some of these things with very little money. And the first one did well, so I just wanted to elevate it as much as possible. In Fluid 2, I tried some different things with it, and that went well. And then I kept going, so that’s how Fluid came to be. With Girl/Boy, I was really interested in gender transgression. So Fluid was more power transgression and then Girl/Boy was more gender transgression. I wanted to experiment with different things like cross dressing, or trans performers or non-binary performers doing scenes that were respectful of their choices.
KK- That’s maybe the great sin porn commits against the trans population—we have such open arms in terms of, hey come in, we want to work with you, but we only want to portray trans content in one way—as something freaky, or exotic, or other-than. I don’t think there is another title, at least in the mainstream porn industry, that portrays trans content the way you do.
DV- I try so hard to make it mainstream, I didn’t want Girl/Boy to end up in the specialty subsection. With Girl/Boy, it was a way to take different content that is seen as niche and bring it to the forefront of traditional porn because it should be conventional because we all live on the same planet and we all want the same things. As much as it is possible, that is what I was trying to do. I don’t know if I will be able to do more in the future but I would like to.
KK- Do you see any sort of change or hints of change with regards to the direction that the industry has taken that makes you think there will be a way that porn becomes profitable again?
DV- Porn is not going anywhere. Even if it is made illegally, it will continue to be made. The direction I’ve seen it go is very Mom and Pop. I see a lot of people doing custom videos. It used to be that a performer would come in the industry and be a marginally interesting performer and she would make $20,000 a month. That was nearly guaranteed and that’s just how it was. Now, you come in, and if you want to do this job, you can’t count on just making money performing for other companies. Maybe for a little while if you’re a Carter Cruise, but even that volume of work is only going to last for a year. And then after a year is w hen you start doing Skype sessions, web camming, custom videos, feature dancing—you have to diversify quickly to survive. Porn is very blue collar now. These girls come in and they think it’s glamorous and they are going to be glamorous and I’m like no, you have to be interesting. You didn’t use to have to be interesting, but now the guys that you want to show up to see you at an appearance Philadelphia—they will only show up if you’re more than a pretty face. In social media, everyone has access to you. So the girls that come in now, the ones that will consistently book, it’s because they have fans who are loyal to them and feel invested in them based on who they are on social media. So it’s an interesting time. Imagine if we had this kind of social media back in 2005. It would have been really awesome, for some of us! But I do feel its very Mom and Pop right now, and its been interesting seeing all of the fresh performers have a voice now. It’s a time where Crash Pad series is doing well and Shine Louise Houston is doing really and well and Jiz Lee and people like that. You’ve got Danny Wild publishing books and Tyler Knight is putting out a book. And you’ve got such interesting people now that you can’t say porn stars are stupid. You use to be able to, but now it’s almost like saying something racist.
KK- Porn gets a lot of backlash for allegedly disrupting the union of couples in both real and psychic ways, but the consumption of porn is growing every day. Do you think the idea of monogamy as a cultural standard is changing?
DV- I have friends in Portland who are high school sweethearts, and they have been together and never left really. They have always live there and have adult children and have always stood by each other. They’re happy with that, and they have every reason to be. I think the problem is that we live in a culture that tells us constantly that you should aim higher, you deserve more, you’re entitled to X, Y and Z, your current situation is not good enough. That thinking is everywhere. And I think its hard because we get into this mindset where we think what we have is not enough, so monogamy becomes unrealistic. Independently of that noise, I think monogamy works for some people but I think that we need to stop beating ourselves up for wanting something else or desiring something else. These feelings also ebb and flow. I’ll have a crush on someone, and I’ll think, “Wow I wonder what life would be like?” But I am also at an age where I know what it would be like. It would be fun for five minutes, but I have children who are more important, and eventually I’ll grow bored with the relationship and probably hate this person after a while. And maybe it would be better, but I don’t jump on it as quickly. So it’s become a thing where, if I know that there is something I’m fantasizing about now, I’ll give it a month. After that, nine times out of ten, I’m done. My crush is over. Also, I don’t think about forever. I can’t. I think everything is cool right now and I don’t know where we’ll be in six months or a year. I think you’re cool to show up for me emotionally but I don’t know what will happen next year, and that is just the truth. I think we need to look less at this forever goal. If life is a journey then maybe we are just taking a walk with this person. Maybe we’ll walk the whole way together or maybe we’ll part ways and someone else will join us, and it’s no one’s fault. It’s just life and that’s okay. I have good relationships with all of my exes, and they have moved on too and it’s weird to think there’s this expectation that we have to be with one person forever.
Other titles from Dana include Fluid, A Thing of Beauty,
and Back in Black.