I am sitting in the late September sun in my garden and have a big smile on my face. I did it. I can’t believe I actually did it – the shoot to my fourth erotic feature “The female voyeur” is finally over and behind me. Only now – ten days after the shoot – am I beginning the feel alive and happy again.
The shoot was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Harder than moving to London 20 years ago with only £50 in my pocket, harder than producing and directing a three part series for prime-time TV, harder than shooting Sushi, Fantasies and Feeling it. Harder than anything. And there were times, many times before the shoot where I was so close to pulling the plug because things were falling apart all around me, over and over again.
I do believe in making dreams come true and normally thrive on challenges but sometimes it is the right decision to just let something go. Sometimes it just seems impossible to keep the faith and keep going.
This time round, I really wanted to push the boat out. Make the film look better and brighter than ever before. Involving more kit and crew and a proper location. I thought if I hire cameramen, a photographer and get professional catering it will be easier and more fun for me than if I do everything myself. But I underestimated the work it would involve to co-ordinate 8 crew and 10 cast members and deal with corporate companies for location and accommodation. Nothing is ever cast in stone, especially when it comes to porn. The stigma sticks.
It all started well with me doing castings all over Europe meeting around 40 interesting people who wanted to enjoy my alternative porn adventure with me.
As most chosen performers and crew came from the UK, it did not make sense anymore to shoot in Berlin as originally planned because the travel costs alone would have been astronomical. So I decided on the UK and chose to shoot right in my hometown – a sleepy seaside place at England’s South coast. I thought this would make the preparations easy. I could not have been more wrong.
When a local hotel agreed to let us use their nightclub as a location, I was over the moon. It had a hefty price tag but if they could also provide accommodation and catering for us this could be a perfect arrangement. Location in place, I proceeded to interview 20 camera-people out of the 50 that had applied for the position of camera crew on this shoot.
I was not just choosing people based on their technical and creative skills but also on their personalities – how will they deal with shooting real sex in a film that focuses on female pleasure and features male bisexuality? The mood on set of my shoots is very important to me and it is a delicate task to make everyone feel accepted and supported – just one dismissive remark from a crew member to my amateur performers and things could go horribly wrong.
Talented and tolerant Crew and the amazing bisexual cast in place, I looked forward to finalising all the fun details such as choosing the props and outfits and planning the scenes. But then things started to go horribly wrong: the management in the hotel changed and previous agreements were no longer honoured. I was told that since the club had only just been refurbrished, it would not be any longer suitable as a film location. Also suddenly the accommodation and food prices were double from what I had previously been told and I was forced to look for a new venue and accomodation. After many sleepless nights and endless viewings, I came across an amazing club that oddly had been closed for years. It was perfect: it featured a bridge, a waterfall, a dance-floor that changed colour, build-in beds and small platforms for go-go dancing. I was over the moon. Many more viewings followed – the club was photographed and measured, made-to measure backdrops were ordered, lighting plans created. Then I found out that during one of our shoot days the venue had been double booked for a birthday party involving 75 guests and various DJs. All the performers flights were booked. Equipment and crew were hired. I could not just reschedule. I just cried. Offering to pay for the party hire, we eventually managed to move the party to another date. The day I was in the club finalising room plans for the hotel above the club with the owner he suddenly dropped a bomb shell: he knew all along that we were going to shoot sex scenes in the club but made out to me that as he does not have a license for a sex club he needs to check with the town council if we are allowed to have “this kind of activity in his venue”. I was puzzled: this was a private hire over only 5 days. A closed set, no members of the public admitted. My internet research showed that a night club only needs a sex club venue if 11 or more nights of the year activities like stripping go on in the venue. But the council had other ideas – it told the hotel owner that he would indeed need a sex club license. But this would be refused point blank as “The council does not want this kind of filth in their town”. So the location was cancelled in a brief but stern text message to me.
I found myself 18 days before the shoot – without a location or accommodation for crew and performers.
I considered moving the shoot to Berlin but 18 days were not enough notice to secure affordable flight tickets, accommodation and a location. And to do the shoot later in the year meant that around two thirds of the crew and performers would not be available. I had two choices: cancel or go through with the shoot – against all odds in the UK at the planned date.
So I went back to the original venue and begged. After taking out a liability insurance that cost an arm and a leg and paying almost double for rooms, food and location, they finally agreed to let us shoot at their venue.
But then the crew and cast cancellations came in thick and fast:
First one cameraman cancelled as he had a better paid job offered to him. Then a female performer pulled out because she suddenly realised that “she never had sex before with someone that she did not at least know for 6 months”. I was gobsmacked. We had talked on the phone, met each other and she seemed very eager to the point that she booked her own flight to come to the shoot.
And then this cancellation out of the blue, with the afterthought that “surely I had enough time to replace her”. Maybe if I was booking people through porn agencies I would have but as it takes me months to find the right kind of people for a film it was too late to launch a new casting call for another leading lady.
It was such a blessing when 2 days later I found a casting submission in my inbox from an amazing girl that lives just ten miles from me who was very keen to be in the film and fitted the bill perfectly. What a blessing and relief when things work out this way.
But then – one week to go to the shoot another cameraman pulled out – he said that “I have to understand as it was a BBC job – something he always wanted”. I did not understand. When you apply for a job and are chosen in favour of many others, then that is a definite booking and you stop looking for other jobs for the time of the booking. But I had to learn that things seem to be different with porn – many people (especially guys) fancy the novelty. For like 5 minutes they think it is cool to work on a porn set but then they get cold feet (especially when it sinks in that this is not your usual kind of porn) and do a runner. It is very upsetting to be let down like that – it makes me feel like my project is second best when to me it clearly is everything.
Sometimes people pull out who you thought you could count on most: One performer, Peter (name changed) was super-keen to work with me. He had dabbled with other porn films before and wanted to work on a production that values women and respects performers and their desires more. He kept in contact all the time by mails and texts until one day I got a long mail from him. He had been to a Television X party and found whatever happened there so off-putting that he never, ever wanted to have sex in front of a camera again. He told me that in his experience all porn directors groom their performers and encourage men to disrespect women. He was fed up with it and even though he knew my shoot would be different, he decided to delete his porn profiles, email address and phone number and start afresh. I totally understand his motives but it was a hard pill to swallow that I was left to pick up the pieces of his previous negative experiences.
But this was another occasion where I was thrown into complete turmoil. It felt like I was working on a giant puzzle and every time the pieces started to fit together and form an image, someone took a big and significant piece away. When one element changes, all elements change. Back to the drawing board, start again- from scratch. It was a nightmare. Only that I did not even have nightmares but simply was not able to sleep anymore because I was so worried about what else would go wrong before the shoot.
It did not help that my sister pulled out of her promised credit because she lost faith in the project and I basically had to go into the shoot without finance in place – juggling various maxed out credit cards.
I started to countdown the days and then hours until the shoot. Longing to shoot the first take – at last. Doing it, rather than planning it. I knew whichever performers and crew eventually rocked up on the fourth of September was here to stay. I got to a stage where I told myself that “this shoot will happen no matter what”. Even without crew, even with only two performers. This is how I started out: just me with one camera and a couple of friends having sex in my bedroom. And that was sexy and hot.
I wanted to think large: Bigger, better, brighter. But I learnt that on this scale it was simply too much for me to produce and direct. My dear friend Candida was right – I should have gotten a producer involved very early on to organise things and take the blow when people pull out and locations fall through. Next Time round I will find that person who is reliable and strong and thrives on stress, so that my mind can be free to be creative. Or I go back to where it all began and shoot on a small scale, juggling the roles of camera, directing and stills photography. I know that I can count on myself. Sometimes it is best to keep things simple and small. So I knew if all else fails – I can pull this off even on my own. So I calmed down and kept the faith. Dreams do come true.
The blessing of the shoot was that the chemistry between all performers was better than ever before. The sparks were flying constantly, plenty of ‘guy candy’ and ecstatic female orgasms were had and I was told that the performers had 80% of their sex off camera every single night. I am glad that spending so much time casting unique, sexy and beautiful individuals created the best possible results: a sexy posse of people totally into each other; Women who got off on calling the shots and guys who enjoyed pleasing women. I cannot wait to view and edit the footage and publish “The Female Voyeur” in early 2011. The performers told me that it was the best week of their lives with the best sex ever and I hope it shows…
“Adam and Steve” by Petra Joy
The painful coming out of an Australian gay cowboy.
Originally published in Forum Magazine Volume 41 Issue 9.