Heart To Heart With Candida Royalle
By Netta Gilboa
You've no doubt heard of Candida Royalle. She's a former adult film actress who has gone on to launch Femme Distribution, Inc. Femme has made seven adult films to date: Femme, Urban Heat, Christine's Secret, Three Daughters , Taste of Ambrosia, Rites Of Passion and Sensual Escape. An eighth film is in the works, Revelations.
I became interested in Candida years ago when I read a piece she wrote for High Times on her acting experiences. I followed her career as she appeared on 20/20, Sally Jesse Raphael , Today Show, Dr. Ruth Show, Phil Donahue , Attitudes and 48 Hours. She's been interviewed and featured in the New York Times, Mother Jones, Psychology Today, Playboy, Elle, Variety and Time.
Candida has lectured at academic conferences sponsored by Women In Film, Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, Smithsonian Institute, Mensa, Columbia University and the 10th World Sexology Conference.
Candida is herself a feminist and her films, though thoroughly X-rated, include the use of condoms, foreplay and afterplay, caressing and tenderness, use of female directors, etc.
If you thought there was no hope for the sexism in adult fims, or that if you've read one interview with someone from the adult industry you've heard it all, read on...
GA: What sort of jobs did you have before you entered the adult film business?
CR: I really didn't have that many straight jobs. I certainly did my time in office work when I was very young. I think that certainly set me up to not want to do anything conventional because it was such a miserable experience working in an office. I had clerical jobs, between college and stuff and I did sales and things like that. But I managed from a pretty early age to always get something rather off beat or creative to work in so that I could make my own hours. So, I did a lot of things that I didn't get paid for and to make money I used to pose as an artist model. I did sell some of my art work. And obviously, I did adult movies then for a while because the income was great for me in such odd, uneven hours. And then when I left that business I segued into writing for magazines, mostly men's magazines. I wrote a really fun piece for High Times about my career. I worked as a freelance writer for quite a while. And even there I started as an editorial assistant and after a few months realized I'd be making a lot more money doing what I want by quitting and doing freelance writing for that company instead. Then of course I started up my company, Femme Productions back in 1984 and I started up distribution in 1986 or 87 and that's what I've been doing ever since.
GA: Probably that's what you will do for many years to come.
CR: I know, I know. I'm looking forward to the day when I can start pulling back and not doing everything. I do enjoy what I'm doing a lot. I love the public speaking aspect of it and my work is extremely varied. I do a lot of administrative work, that's necessary unfortunately, but my work is varied in terms of making the movies and doing a lot of public appearances and speaking. I really look forward to the day when I can delegate much more. I have a couple people I can delegate to now but when I can do more ultimately I want to write about this whole experience. I really want to write my memoirs and what it's been like and I look forward to that period of time.
GA: There has been some success with other books in this industry, but most of the actors don't write and most people don't try to get them published.
CR: Yeah, and even the ones that have been published, it was very moderate.
GA: One dimensional.
CR: Very one dimensional and with very minimal success I would say. I've spoken to people in the publishing industry and gotten some very, very good pieces of advice from them. One of which was that to just write and edit a book about some porn star really doesn't do it. It seems that what's really popular for anyone in the mainstream entertainment industry as well, is when you have some kind of cause or
some issue. Those biographies are what really are successful. For instance, the example that they gave me is Suzanne Somers writing around the theme of having grown up in an alcoholic family.
GA: And Magic Johnson's book of course. Right after he made the announcement about being HIV positive, they rushed a book in progress. I don't know how they got it done so fast.
CR: Amazing, amazing.
GA: So he's got a book out and I imagine he'll write another two or three of them. I'm sure he has more than one book inside of him. No doubt his relationships with all the celebrities he knew changed over night.
GA: Some probably opened up and told him things he'd never known about them and some probably never wanted to see him again.
CR: Exactly, exactly. So that's the trick and I think that it is certainly won't be difficult for me to have some issue to base my whole story on.
GA: How did you get started in the sex films?
CR: Well, I was living in San Francisco and I was already living a rather unconventional, wild life style. I was performing in underground theater and I went on to do more serious singing in jazz clubs but I never really cared about making money with that stuff so that eventually I thought, well I've got to try and make some more money here and I didn't want to burden what I loved doing with worrying about that so I decided to go out and look for nude modeling and one of the agents asked me if I'd be interested in being in porn films and I was very shocked. I'd never even seen any. I was very insulted actually and what changed my mind was that my boyfriend at the time who was a musician decided to try it and also a close girlfriend of mine. And he was working for Anthony Spinelli who is really one of the nicest guys in the business to work for and does very nice quality stuff and it was through him working that I got to see what it was really like.
GA: Or at least what it could be like.
CR: What it could be like, exactly, exactly. So he went right into sort of the upper echelon of the industry and I got to see that. And I was very surprised because I had the same preconceptions of what it must be like, very sleazy and dirty and a couple of junkies need a fix you know. And instead, at the time in the mid 1970s a lot of film makers were moonlighting doing these movies, coming up to San Francisco and doing these for extra money. So they are all very professional. There was a script, there was a huge crew.
GA: There were budgets.
CR: There were budgets, exactly and there were the people, the actors and actresses were very nice looking, very clean and healthy and it was really like, my god, this isn't what I imagined it to be at all. The money was excellent, so I decided to give it a try. Much to my boyfriend's chagrin. I decided that if he could do it, I could do it. And that's what really got me into it.
GA: And how many films did you personally make all told?
CR: I would say about 25.
GA: I had a lot of trouble tracking that down. I wanted to have the answer and not have you have to tell me but the box covers are so misleading as you know.
CR: I know. I've turned up in movies that I've never heard of. You know.
GA: I'm sure. And I'm sure you are not listed in many others that you were in.
CR: Well, I don't know about that. Especially now, if anything, I'm listed under an old name that I might have used back in the very beginning. But it's funny because my current boyfriend was saying, "Oh, I saw this ad where they listed you as starring in Ultra Flesh." And I said, "Well, that's pretty funny since I was hardly the star of Ultra Flesh," but now they say that because of the media presence that I have.
GA: You mentioned the money. What else did you like best about the industry?
CR: Well, I think that I liked the fact that I didn't have to work non stop in some horrible, creepy job. I found it very, very confining to work in office situations. I've always had such a wild, vivid imagination and my art was always my medium, art and music that to be stuck in any kind of routine job was very, very awful for me. So this kept me from having to submit to that. I would work one week every few months and have enough money to live on for some time because I was living a very bohemian life style. I didn't need a lot. And so I liked the hours. There was a certain amount of glamour to it. It was fun getting made up and dressed up. I probably liked the sex least of all, but you know I liked doing lines. They always liked me because I was professional. I learned my lines, I could deliver lines and back in those days they had real scripts and budgets and real productions going on. I think I liked the people for the most part especially the people that I worked with, the women and the men. I remember that people would always say, well what's the best thing that you got out of it? And I would say the friends that I made. Every time I turn up to do a shoot it was like old home week. You would run into all your buddies.
GA: And they are still your buddies.
CR: I really remained very close to many of the people. I ended up marrying someone out of the industry. We were married for about nine years and he was wonderful. We had a very nice marriage for quite a while and so I really got a lot of wonderful friendships out of it and I think on a deeper psychological level, I think I liked the attention, I liked you know feeling like a beautiful, sexy star and the times that I actually felt that way. I think even though I later had to deal on a psychological level with all the negatives that I experienced, the positives were there also and one of them was that it did keep me very open minded about sexuality and sex and I appreciate that.
GA: And that brings us right to the next question, which is what you liked least?
CR: I hated the way they were made, the sex scenes were portrayed. The crudeness of them, the fact that you know they would stick these cameras way up your legs and I just couldn't understand why they had to be made so crudely and amateurly. And some of the people. You know there were some very nice people to work for, but there were some creepy people to work for. Sometimes it wasn't always a really top thing to do, and so that it could be kind of like, you get there and you realize, oh god, these people are really sleazy, they don't care what they are doing, they are just making a buck. And it is kind of demoralizing. And so that wasn't very pleasant. What else? I think when I was doing them, I didn't really think too much about the negative aspects because once you start thinking about that, you have to do something about it. And if there is no way to change it then you have to just leave and I liked the money. Eventually I realized that I had a lot of ambivalence about doing these movies because I noticed that every time I'd do a few I'd start gaining weight, and I realized that this was my body's way of saying, I'm not really completely comfortable with this, and it was this way of trying to keep me from doing it. So at that point, I decided you know I think there's a lot going on underneath that I'm not dealing with and I'd like to move on in my life, so I decided to do movies for one last year because I was getting a name and I could get some good money from them. I thought it would be nice to do some that I could feel proud of and direct people to when they wanted to know what I've done and then leave, which is essentially what I did. So that there was a whole level of ambivalence about this stuff that I couldn't really consciously deal with until I left.
GA: And how did you make the transition to director? It involves two transitions, one is the physical task of now having to fund things and distribute them yourself, and the other is in your head. You now have to treat the very same people differently.
CR: Exactly. It's interesting because it's all such a natural evolution the way it happened. It was so organic, the whole metamorphosis of going from one part of my life to the next. I came out of it. I was very bewildered about why I went into an industry that was so sort of looked down on by the rest of the culture and that I knew would get in the way of certain things I might want to do in the future and I had many promising careers that I could have taken up and I was troubled by it. I thought, why did I go and do this? It's not like I wanted to be a big sex star. So I put myself right in therapy with a woman who had actually been a sex worker many, many years before herself. And I did a lot of work with her. I really wanted to come to terms with the career I had in the sex industry so that I could understand it and live with it. I didn't want to carry around this big question mark and I didn't want to subject myself to any of the shame that I felt creeping around down there because as much as we on the one hand came from the generation of free love, sex is great and it's open and beautiful and there's nothing wrong with it, I also grew up with all the information that we received in the fifties.
GA: Or didn't receive.
CR: Well, I got a lot of stuff from the Catholic Church and just all the, yeah the good information I didn't receive. There's always a conflict going on there. And I wanted to expose my inner conflicts and any shame I might actually be feeling so I don't have to live with that. One of the ways that I dealt with it was that I realized that I had to understand what I thought of this industry, what did I feel about what I did? We tend to base so much of our existence on what other people think and how other people judge us and that's a lot of why it becomes uncomfortable for women who are professional sex workers because we are living in a culture that puts us down, so very often we take on that guilt without really looking at how we feel about this. That's what I wanted to get to. How do I, Candida, feel about what I've done? How do I feel about this business, does it exploit women? So in that process I really took a long, hard look at the films and all of this, completely apart from myself. I came to the conclusion that I felt that the concept of adult movies was perfectly valid in some instances. In most instances, it's the only form of sex education or information that we receive.
CR: And that there was really nothing wrong with consenting adults performing for other consenting adults to view. We've always had a fascination with erotic imagery since we were scratching these images on cave walls. But unfortunately the industry as it was, or as it is, did not reflect any sort of real positive effort. There was no real social consciousness or sense of responsibility that went into making the films, and it did indeed exploit women because here we were instrumental to the production of these movies and yet, our sexuality wasn't at all taken into consideration. Instead, we were really presented as little bimbos there to serve the most bottom line male fantasies and so that's how it sat with me. It's a valid concept but it's in the hands of people who really don't care what they are doing and how this impacts on people's lives. That led to, well, gee, how would it be if someone did care about what they put out there and if it was created from a women's perspective and was something that a couple could watch together, and that's what really started intriguing me. I was also motivated by the desire, because I had been an active feminist back in college, to give something back to women after having taken part in this medium that exploited us. At the same time video and cable TV were coming to be and all of a sudden my name was becoming sort of reborn and I was not reaping any of the rewards. I thought well, am I going to run away from Candida Royalle and hope that people don't notice because it is kind of embarrassing to try to lead a normal, anonymous life and every so often someone comes and says, I think I saw you in the most intimate of settings. I decided if they are going to exploit my name and make money, I'm going to exploit my name and make money off of it too but I'm going to do it with something I believe in, that I feel has integrity. So the whole thing was motivated on many, many levels. Artistic challenges, political challenges, and personal need. It was amazing because it really all sort of fell right into place. I was sitting there trying to think for about a year, how would I make it differently. The part that I wanted to change, it wasn't so much that I wanted to put a big soap opera plot to it, it's that I felt that the sexual depiction is what needed changing. I can't stand the same old crude formula sex and that's what needed changing in my opinion. This woman who had been a photographer came along and she was sent to me through a series of events that were really mind boggling. It was like this was really meant to be and we sat down and had a meeting and started talking and she had the concept of erotic music videos for women. I liked the idea a lot and at the time my father-in-law was in town getting ready to go back to Sweden. He heard us talking, sent back information to my ex-husband who said if they can find distribution interests, I'll put up the financing and that's how it all happened. It was like it was meant to be. I really feel like having been around the film industry for so many years plus my husband was a producer himself, it was a real natural crossover for me. I think that as long as you have a basic intelligent mind and a good sense of organization and logic, it's not difficult to figure out how to put a production together and so I started producing. My partner was directing; I was writing them, and I would spend all day working on the production. My husband would come home from his job; I would run by him what I had done and he was kind of a support system. That's really how it started.
And then the directing came about because I really felt that there was need for me to step in and take over some of the directing. I was watching my partner kind of do things that I didn't think were very good and we were having some real problems and at the last minute around the second production, Urban Heat, I felt that the movie was not being directed adequately and it was not a matter of ego, it was like hey, we want to get this done correctly. So I just started stepping in and directing things and found to my delight and surprise that I really had a knack for it, that I loved working with the talent and that is really what I should be doing.
GA: What would you say are the fundamental differences between your films and the others?
CR: Well, I think the whole slant, the focus, is completely different.
GA: It's like the mood is different from the first minute.
CR: Yeah, I guess it is. The mood is different. It all comes back to the very, very bottom line, who is creating it? Your goals, your reason, your concept, everything comes right back to who is doing this and why. That's first and foremost in how it is going to come across. How this is translated then is in the details, I guess technical explanations, or conceptual explanations. For me I felt like hey we all know where it goes, we all know the basics, we all know basically we like to perform oral sex on each other, and we like to put it in holes. Okay. But what I found was sorely missing from productions as well as our personal lives for the most part was pulling back and exploring the more subtle aspects of lovemaking. The build up. All the non intercourse forms of sexual expression. I don't even like to call it foreplay because that implies that everything is just a build up to the intercourse. Whereas what I prefer to say is the non-intercourse lovemaking and that's what I wanted to focus on, sensuality as opposed to sexuality.
GA: Also dialogue.
CR: Well, yeah. But some of my work has very little dialogue. Our original concept really was to not get tied up in heavy duty stories and dialogues because what these people were really good at was performing erotic sex and I ultimately then came to realize that because women are so much more cerebral, there really is something nice about having a story to latch on to or caring about the people that are involved. But people go either way, women are very varied in their tastes and you can't really generalize. I would say that the main thing is that I like to focus on the sensuality, the non hard core aspects of sex and all the wonderful nuances around it and then even when it does get down to intercourse and the explicit sex, I still like that. It's just that I don't focus on the constant gigantic shots of genitalia. There's no come shots. I like to portray the people as real human beings with personality and character. I like to show mutual pleasuring, how do we really make one another feel good. It's like informing people while entertaining them.
GA: That's a very good way to put it. How has home video changed the business?
CR: Well, I think home video enables the market that I've helped create to happen. It brought it into the home where I think it belongs. It made women feel comfortable enough to explore the medium for themselves and it made it more of a couple's experience, something that they could share together rather than a guy sneaking off to some icky theater somewhere. The negative impact it's had is that so many people have taken it as a way to seeing it as their ticket to spending even less money on the production, unfortunately. But other than that I think it's had a very positive impact which has unfortunately I guess set the anti-sex censorship movement in gear because it has become so accessible to the most middle class adults now.
GA: Although I think they were always there.
CR: They were always there.
GA: And they've always never watched the films and don't know the difference between one film and another.
CR: Yeah, that's right and they were always there but it was okay as long as it was something that just men were doing. The idea that men are just uncontrollable, naughty animals anyway. So as long as they just go sit in these darkened theaters and don't bring it into the realm of reality of us mothers and daughters, everything is okay. But once it became a more main stream middle class preoccupation, then they just couldn't put up with it any more. I think that's how it changed those people.
GA: Where's the money these days? Is it in selling the films to theaters, to the video store owners or going after the consumers directly?
CR: Well, I would say probably the video stores are still the main income. Theaters are really dinosaurs. They are just dying off left and right.
GA: And your market wouldn't necessarily go down to 42nd Street to a theater and if they did, they wouldn't necessarily be looking for your type of film.
CR: No, definitely not. The mail order business is definitely thriving more and more as women become consumers because I think many women are still uncomfortable with going into stores. So this is a very safe way to do it. Also, it's amazing how many people order them through mail, order direct from us from places like the south where they probably find it very difficult to find in stores.
GA: That makes sense. What's the greatest challenge in trying to convince people that your movies are different? I'm already finding this with my readers. They ask why are you interviewing all those porn people. They write and tell me porn stars are all the same. No, they are not!
CR: The only way for people to really understand is to look at them. That's really the only thing that they can do. That's why I always hope that people will see my work before they interview me because so much is explained right from you know just looking at it and then I don't have to verbally try and convince them because of course they've all heard the same story. Everyone says oh, my movie's different. You know, it's like, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, you all say that. So really seeing is believing. I think also it really helps to have so much mainstream media attention.
CR: By having "nice" magazines and "nice" TV shows talk about it. It sort of gives it that seal of approval and certainly the fact that so many sex therapists now use my work and condone it also kind of gives it that doctors' seal of approval. It was really something to have Current Affair do a piece on myself and two other women, and there's Dr. Joyce Brothers sitting there in her nice high collar dress saying, that yes, these movies can be used in a very helpful way. That's pretty helpful.
GA: Has piracy and bootlegging been a problem for you?
CR: Not badly. I'm sure that my movies are pirated and bootlegged to a small degree. I had one major run in a couple of years ago and I had to get very, very tough with these people. But that was the only time. We nipped it in the bud and got rid of that but nothing major, nothing that I know of anyway.
GA: That's a subject that we cover in every issue, that's why I asked.
CR: Really? It is a big thing in this industry.
GA: It certainly use to be with the Deep Throat and the Mob.
CR: Oh, yeah. That's right, but so far we've not had too much problem with that, knock on wood.
GA: And what are you working on now?
CR: Well, now I'm working a movie called Revelations . I'm about to shoot my last scene and get it out by mid-Winter and it really goes much further than anything that I've done yet in a couple of ways. One thing is it is shot on 35 mm which was a big scary step for me. And the other thing is that it is a very, very heavy duty story and it is definitely a story with a message. I took the risk of putting in a real message. The whole point to my film line is a message about women taking back control of their sexuality and deserving their own pleasure and all of that, but also this one is a response to the, as I said the anti-sex censorship movement in the United States. And it is really not just the United States. But it is a story about life under what I call the New Order and this young couple, well sex there is only for procreation, creative thought and individuality are also quite suppressed, people wear gray uniforms, everything is really rather kind of bleak and controlled. This young woman witnesses the arrest of a man and manages to sneak into his apartment that they arrested him from and she in the process discovers a secret room he's had set up to enjoy erotic literature and movies that are quite illegal in that time. And how the discovery of this work impacts on her life and changes her and what happens to her as a result. And the subjects in these movies she sees are actually movies the couple had made themselves and that explore various different fantasies that quite forbidden under the New Order. So it's really about a reality that isn't terribly far from us now if we don't all snap to and start going out and defending our freedom of expression and our First Amendment rights and it's also about fantasy, the importance of fantasies and sharing them with each other and how liberating it can be.
GA: I think that's going to be very successful. And I think it's also an opportunity to go back to all those places that you've been interviewed before the mainstream press and go for a second round.
CR: Yeah, yeah, no kidding.
GA: Which is something that you surely picked up from the publishing industry.
CR: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
GA: Many years ago you united some of the other sex workers in the New York area for a support group. Is that still ongoing?
CR: Well, it is to a degree. It's a little difficult now because it started out with seven of us and two dropped out after about a year and it remained five of us, very strong women who just kept meeting and it's really been quite wonderful. But in the last year, two of the women have moved out to Los Angeles, so unfortunately it's not a regular thing any more. The three of us still here get together every so often. When the other two come to town we have a meeting but because of the fact that they moved away it's not quite as ongoing but it's only in the last year or two that it really ceased as an ongoing regular thing. So it's quite amazing how long it lasted.
GA: I often wondered if there had been something like that years ago, whether we would have had some of the experiences with people like Colleen Applegate ("Shauna Grant").
CR: Right, what I always say in terms of women like that is that so much of it is what you bring to the experience.
CR: And unfortunately if you are really a weak, troubled young woman and you come into this industry, it really is going to gobble you up and spit you out real fast. And she tragically was such a fragmented person to begin with.
GA: And Megan Leigh also.
CR: Yeah, Megan Leigh, god, you know, in my opinion she really fell in with the wrong people and she was so susceptible to the drug abuse and everything.
GA: But it's in every industry and you mentioned before about being a secretarial worker, if the same two women had gone into that industry, they probably would have ended up abused by their bosses.
CR: Absolutely, absolutely. You know I always like to point out that it was in that clerical, secretarial stint that I did in two different jobs where I was sexually assaulted. I was never sexually assaulted in the sex industry. I knew I was here to perform sexually, so no one had to assault me or try to take advantage of me. But boy, you go into those regular jobs, and sexual harassment really is everywhere. You go into mainstream Hollywood, that is such a disgusting place for a young woman. It really is. I lived in L.A. for two years and I sort of flirted with the idea of going mainstream and the stuff that you had to put up with there, which I never could do. Where on the one hand I would perform professionally, get paid to perform sex, I would never submit to someone's sexual advance on a hope and a promise. I would spit at the guy before I would let him touch me and that's what they all wanted. In fact, in L.A. you didn't even get invited back to big parties unless you put out.
GA: Well, Brian DePalma was told that he couldn't use Annette Haven in Body Double. She ended up training Melanie Griffith for the role.
CR: Oh, you are kidding.
GA: He hired Melanie Griffith who was a total unknown then and he had Annette come in and train her to dance.
CR: Oh. They are so hypocritical out there. It is such a disgusting place. It really is. And you know, all those guys have the biggest collections of pornography.
GA: Musicians also.
CR: It's just amazing. It's just amazing and they are so abusive to girls and I would never get invited back to parties and I finally figured it out.
GA: I'd take it as a compliment.
CR: I know. It's true because I would never take part in their orgies with these big, fat old men. Oooh, it's just disgusting. All these poor young girls did it thinking that they would make it because of it. It was very sad.
GA: So, while we are on the subject of mainstream films, what sorts of mainstream films do you like?
CR: Well, oh gosh I like a lot of different films. I really like dramas. I like things that touch on eroticism a lot. And I like comedy. I cannot stand the gore and the violence in most of these so-called horror films. I don't think they know how to make horror films any more, all they know how to do is gross you out.
GA: Slice and dice.
CR: Yeah, slice and dice. I just think it's very disgusting. I don't watch any of that kind of stuff. I will go ahead and watch something like Martin Scorcese's last film Wise Guys. That one really was so beautifully shot that I had to go see it. But, for the most part I really enjoy good drama and things that are about relationships. And I love the classics. I recently saw Casablanca on the big screen. Oh my god, that was a movie. That was so beautiful. I'm waiting for them to bring Citizen Kane out on big screen, that was another real beauty.
GA: How long does one of your films take to make?
CR: Well, with each one our budgets have gotten bigger, and the time we spend gets more lengthy. People have been asking, "like when is Revelations coming out?" I started working on Revelations over a year ago. We shot it a year ago, we are just going to shoot another scene now and get it out. So I have spend anywhere from two months or several months to a year on something. I really take my time, I'm afraid.
GA: I think that's good. We know exactly what the ones that are shot three in a day look like.
CR: Yes, I know, I know. I think I would be a lot wealthier if I was more like them, but not even. I would just be another one of the run of the mill crank them out type of production then.
GA: Did you use condoms in the last films that you did?
CR: Yes. These days I do. My first four before 1986 I didn't and then I insisted on condom use after that. Some of the stuff I shot this time wasn't even explicit. One scene was about power exchange and I shot that simulated. Then in the other one we use a nasty, sexy black condom and yes, I am real careful about that. In fact, I feel so awful that all my early stuff is going out without any condom use. So I'm considering taking the time and trouble and money to put a message about safe sex on the beginning of it just cause I think you have to be responsible when you are dealing with the area of sex.
GA: God knows some of the viewers aren't!
CR: I know, and that's what I mean. Wake up, especially women.
CR: My god, we are 17 more times likely to get it from a man. Even though it has not really gone into the white, middle class heterosexual community that badly yet, it is there and the danger is there. The horrible thing is there is no emphasis, there've been no studies being done in that community. So we really don't know.
GA: Is it harder to get actors and actresses because of the AIDS virus?
CR: Well, it doesn't seem to me that it is stopping them in California. In my work because we do safe sex, it's not really been a problem. It's hard to get actors and actresses in general that can really act because my work requires a lot more. I just don't want to even use most of the available talent, unfortunately.
GA: And most of the talent that you and I remember from the old days are gone.
CR: Yeah, and they were the women who had become seasoned and had some living under their belts and some good acting. They are the ones that I would want. I don't like these little young new bionymphettes who are tragically getting breast implants at the age of 22.
GA: Or younger. By the time they are stars they are 22. They probably started out two or three years before that.
CR: I know, it's just awful. Imagine them at the age of 40 looking at these balloons inside their breasts and going, oh what did I do.
GA: I worry about the ones who are 40 and don't think that yet.
GA: They still think it's wonderful because they got to get sexually harassed by five more bosses because of the implants.
CR: Oh, it's horrible, horrible.
GA: How expensive is a film to make?
CR: In mainstream adult they really only spend anywhere from like $5-30,000. We started our very, very first one in 1984 at $20,000 and Three Daughters was $70,000 and now Revelations is probably going to run me at least $100,000, probably more, up to about $125,000.
GA: How much do actors and actresses get paid?
CR: Anywhere from $250 a day to about $1,000 or $2,000 a day depending on how big a star they are and what they do. I generally try to pay all my actors somewhere in the range of $500 to $1,000 a day.
GA: Do the women still make more in the industry then men?
CR: I really don't know. I'm so out of touch with the mainstream adult industry. I'm not sure. I pay all my leads the exact same thing.
GA: There's a big difference right there between you and the others.
CR: Yeah, yeah, it's true. But it's a strange industry because one thing that validates women getting more is the fact that they have such a short life span in them. If you look at the films, you are still seeing Joey Silvera and all these guys who have been around for years and years and women after just a year or two, three years tops they are considered old hat and they are replaced. I guess it's also a lot harder for the men to be able to perform but still it's the sexism that's inherent in the mainstream adult movies that dictates that.
GA: Yeah. Do actors and actresses get royalties these days?
CR: Mine don't. Most don't. We really couldn't afford to pay royalties at this point. I would like to be at a point where I could though.
GA: It is also hard to track how many copies are sold.
CR: Yeah, we certainly track them but we are such a tiny independent little company that we just don't even deal with royalties. I don't even take in royalties now, I just pay myself a salary. As long as the investors are paid back, that's the important thing.
GA: How many sex scenes can the same people shoot in a day?
CR: The talents?
CR: I never, never let mine perform more than one a day. I know in the rest of the industry sometimes they do two and three a day which I think is brutal but I would never do that. One a day is plenty. It is totally exhausting to do. You know, I know there is a lot of people who have this fantasy that it's just a whole lot of fun and one big party. Well I remember when I was an actress, coming off of shooting a sex scene was so exhausting, so incredibly fatiguing physically and mentally that it is very, very hard work.
GA: I always tell people to compare it to sitting under a sun lamp with thirty people watching you including your father and your mother.
CR: I would say sit under a sun lamp and perform all kinds of sex acts you can think of. Keep the guy hard, keep him up.
GA: And don't let your make up melt.
CR: Yep, don't let your make up melt, worry about whether you are looking bulging or bulgy or just all kinds of things really. There is so much to think about. It's hard work and I really feel that for me I'm glad that I had the experience as actress because it really has given me so much respect and compassion for the actors and actresses. I think that it was good that I came from that place. And they always feel more comfortable with me having come from that place. I had a young man in Revelations who had never done anything before and I found out from someone later on that he had actually gone and rented some movies that I was in so that he could feel more comfortable performing in front of me.
GA: That makes a lot of sense.
CR: Yeah, I think it makes them feel so comfortable that I've been in that position.
GA: It also shows somebody who wants to take his job in the industry seriously. This is someone who wants to come back for a second time.
GA: What advice can you give to newcomers who are trying to break into the business?
CR: Well, I would tell them to be very, very smart and careful and to maintain a real sense of themselves, to be very self-respecting and just very, very careful to only work for people who treat the talent well, that have good reputations. Insist upon the use of safe sex which may mean that they don't work a lot but they stay alive and disease free. They should not do everything that comes along. Just really go for quality and don't do everything that comes along because they'll expect you to and then they'll tell you a year later that you are used up.
GA: Or even less than that.
CR: Yeah. So to just really go in with a sense of pride and value of oneself. If you don't have a good sense of self-esteem and dignity about yourself, don't go near this industry.
GA: And to be clear about what you want from the industry before you go in, right?
CR: Yeah. That's a very good one too.
GA: Tell us about a bad day on the set. There must be a thousand examples.
CR: Revelations was very grueling to shoot. We spent seven days shooting and we had one day that was 18 hours because there was so much to shoot. Some of the days weren't that long but they still were grueling. We were shooting in June, it was up in the nineties, mid-nineties. You've got to keep all the windows closed while you shoot because of the noise levels, you've got to cover the windows with cloth because you create your own light and so we had these long, brutally, hot days. There was one place we were shooting in where the person had a roommate that they had not really explained what was going on to. The guy insisted on talking on the phone in the next room until I totally exploded and had to go in and deal with him.
Oh, okay, here's a good one. Every producer's nightmare. We are getting ready to shoot this movie. It's the morning of the first day, I go in and there on the machine having been left there at 3:00 a.m. is a message from the lead actor. Now I used two serious, theater-trained actors to do my lead roles in this movie and they did not do any real sex because I needed such good actors. So I had this one actor who seemed very eager to do it, was fine, he knew for a couple of months that he was doing this role. Then 3:00 in the morning, he leaves a message that he finally showed his agent the script, the agent flipped out and he had to pull out of the film. So here we are, he is shooting a scene in two days. Luckily he didn't have a scene that day. I had to shuffle all my talent around. I had one actor who was due to shoot that day, who was also a theater-trained actor but was willing to do a sex scene if he got the lead. I had to call him and say, don't come in today, I'm putting you in the lead. Then I had to call my actor who was scheduled to shoot tomorrow, put him in today's scene, call up and start having someone at the office call in the actors to interview for the scene tomorrow. While I'm setting up and trying to shoot the scene today, I have actors coming in and auditioning for me for tomorrow's scene and eventually it all worked out fine. In fact, I think it worked out for the best. But it's really like your worse nightmare come true. In my very first film, Femme, that we shot, the same thing happened. I had Jerry Butler on that shoot whom I would never hire again after that. The day before we were shooting on Easter/Passover weekend, he calls me the night before to cancel out of his work the next day. I said, "You cannot do this to me. You get your ass in there." He turned up for one scene, I had to replace and find someone for the other scene on the spot and I had to pay another person to be on call just in case. And it was again, it was such a nightmare and interestingly it really also turned out for the best. I really believe that things can happen for the best if you see it that way. And even with that one, the guy that I replaced Jerry with for the other scene was so much more handsome and pleasant to work with. He wasn't jaded the way Jerry had become. So it really did work out for the best but boy, when it's happening you are just a mess. Yeah, it's a nightmare.
GA: Especially when it's yours.
CR: Yeah, then it is, otherwise it doesn't matter, really, you just kind of sit back and watch but I don't have the typical kind of nightmare in most adult shoots which is the guy can't get it up and come. Obviously I've had that happen and it really doesn't matter. In Urban Heat, there's a scene in the elevator with Chelsey Blake who is my absolute favorite actress. She was just so wonderful and she did a scene with this young, first time actor, he was very excited about working with her, but he got stage fright. It's the reason it's so risky to use new actors who have never done this before and naturally he couldn't maintain an erection and I just shot around it. It didn't even matter and she was so hot, she really carried that scene and it has turned out to be the hottest scene in that movie and to be one of women's all time favorite adult scenes. It's been used in scientific research. Women find that scene very validating in terms of showing that older women are just as sexual and hot and it shows a woman taking control of her own sexuality and there it was, he never even got it up in the whole scene and it just didn't matter. The explicit content is secondary to all the other stuff going on.
GA: Which is something you have tuned into and so many others in your industry have missed.
CR: Absolutely. Boy have they missed it. Yeah. Definitely.
GA: Are there any challenges getting the footage developed? Obviously it is not an issue with video, but when you shoot on film?
CR: Well, we didn't have a problem. We were working with one of the biggest, most famous labs here and we didn't have any problem with that. I don't know if maybe we were like again, a standard hard core porno company, it might have been different. What you are asking, we see that more in getting our tapes duplicated. And that can be a real issue. We always have to shop around for a duplicator that will take on explicit material. And the reason for that is of course, our hypocritical censorial times that we live in, but also because they are afraid that the people that get their duplicating done there are going to freak out and they are going to be worried about an accidental slip up. You've probably heard the stories where some kids watch some cartoon and then on comes two people going at it.
GA: I always got the feeling that was probably on purpose, like employee tampering.
CR: I wonder, I wonder.
GA: Disgruntled employees.
CR: You never know. That wouldn't surprise me one bit. But, unfortunately, the results is all the same. In fact, my own duplicating company finally had to take on a new name to handle the X-rated materials just so that their clients wouldn't know that they also doing this kind of work. And I understand the dilemma because of the times we are living in, but it does make it more difficult for me to find a good duplicator.
GA: Who writes the scripts for these movies?
CR: Well, generally I've written them all except for the Star Director series where the women that took turns directing wrote their own script as well. The Star Director series was very interesting because it really gave voice to so many other women with different kinds of feelings and fantasies and things. I gave those women free reign.
GA: You had Annie Sprinkle do one and Gloria Leonard if I remember?
CR: Yes, also Veronica Hart and Veronica Vera and it was three video tapes with two short stories per tape. I really always take particular glee in breaking all the formulas because when I started out it was like, here's the formula, you have to shoot it this way, put these sex scenes, you have to have come shots, blah, blah, blah and every time I'd shoot I'd get further and further away from the formula. And in these videos, it was like each 30 to 40 minute short story had one major erotic scene in it and the story builds up to it. I wrote and directed two of them and the other women each wrote and directed one each. There are six short stories in total, and they are really interesting. Annie did hers on discovering tantra sex and a more spiritual approach to sexuality as a healing medium and it's a wonderful piece. Veronica Vera having grown up Catholic really explored how that affected her sexuality. Hers was about a very, very timely piece about a TV evangelist and we really get to see what's inside his mind. This happened to be made just before the Baker scandal. Gloria Leonard did a really very fun piece sort of a la Woody Allen where you heard the thoughts and insecurities of this couple, they were finally going to make love for the first time and we used safe sex in a very nice way. Veronica Hart who had become married and had two children by this time, wanted to show more middle aged people, and how to keep the sex in your marriage spicy, so it's about a couple that you think are total strangers who pick one another up, and we end up at the end of a very sizzling scene, finding out what the truth is. And then mine. One of my pieces is actually just a sort of a Tales From The Dark Side type piece about a woman who has all these cats she loves and her boyfriend gets jealous and gives her an ultimatum and how she deals with that. It has kind of a twisted, depraved ending that's a lot of fun.
GA: My husband and I had a good laugh at that one because I've always told him that if I ever get lots of money I'm going to have 70 cats in the house.
CR: Well, you and I have something in common. I live in a one bedroom apartment in New York and I have four cats. I'm realizing that four cats is really a lot of work.
GA: It's like having four children.
CR: It really is and there's just so much more cleaning up to do in that amount of space but I love them. They were all cats from homeless kittens that I rescued and I placed several more than that so I feel the same way. Then the other story I did was "The Tunnel" and that was part of Sensual Escape and that was my most progressive, visually progressive erotic piece that I have done yet.
GA: How long do the scripts take to write? Is it an ongoing thing when an idea comes to you or do you sit down and write a script for eight to ten hours a day?
CR: No, no. Usually it comes to me all of a sudden and sometimes it's like pulling teeth, but usually what happens is I take in lots and lots of information and visual stimuli and just hope at some point it is going to hit me and then all of a sudden it will just come together and the first thing I will do is spend a few hours writing out a synopsis. Then generally it will take me a few days of non-stop writing to really develop it at great length. Then I have to enter it into my word processor, make even more changes and show them to other people and then I have to develop it as a working script to direct from. So it is a pretty time consuming thing actually. But the ideas come from interesting places. This one I'm working on now I feel very inspired by and it came at a moment that I was lying in a hot oil bath at home and my boyfriend was playing the piano.
He's a professional musician, and all of a sudden I just started having this fantasy while lying in the tub while he was playing and it ended up being the basis of my next script. So you never know where they are going to come from.
GA: That's true. The good thing is you never know where they are going to go. Sometimes they make more money or
more social impact then you expected.
CR: That's right. This one's a real, just sort of playful, moody one and it's funny because one of the ways I know a scene is hot is if I get turned on while I'm writing it and this particular one I started developing on the train up to see my mother, on this long train ride, and I started developing this scene and I'm starting to get turned on.
GA: What's the market for your films abroad like?
CR: Well, it's very black and white. It's kind of spotty I would say. There are some markets that are really wonderful, that we've done very well in and then there are others that are untapped. I've got to find distributors who have vision and are willing to put some marketing and advertising and real effort into it, because you can't just plop my movies out on the shelf.
CR: One the main reasons they are so successful here is because of me going out promoting them all over the place and so it's very hard. I can't give it to your typical porno distributor overseas. They won't pay as much as I want anyway. So I always have to wait till someone with vision comes along. I have them placed in Australia, Japan, Holland, they just came out in Great Britain this year, and usually what I do is I suggest to these people that they bring me over for like a week of promotion because that's going to make a tremendous difference in how the work does. At first it's sort of like a feeling of a very glamorous thing to do but boy, it's really hard work just doing endless, endless interviews.
GA: Especially with language and culture barriers.
CR: Exactly and also because it's like reinventing the wheel every time I go over. There are people who have never heard of Femme and want to challenge me and I've got to start all over from the beginning for them. So it gets very exhausting and I get more expensive each time as a result. But then there are countries like France that it's hard for me to find a distributor with vision in. I had one guy who was like the porn distributor over there and he has all the top adult films but he's afraid that my work won't be explicit enough for his audience, and then you get people who feel it's maybe just a touch too explicit. So it's difficult to know exactly where it's going to do well and where it isn't. And also a lot of countries just aren't willing to pay my price.
GA: It would help to have a feminist who was also involved in the industry over there but that's even harder to find.
CR: And sometimes it does happen. The woman who handles the work in Australia is a woman exactly my age, we've become friends. So sometimes it does call for that sort of person. And then surprisingly, very often it's the man that discovers it and thinks, yeah this is terrific, let me take it on.
GA: But it takes someone who has seen enough of the other films to know what's different and to want to make the change and go after the change.
CR: Exactly, yeah.
GA: What sort of hobbies do you have?
CR: Well, let's see when I have time for them I'm very physical. I do yoga, I dance. I studied dance for some time so I like to keep up some kind of dancing. I love to just dance around my house even. Of course, I love to read. Mostly periodicals. I don't read a lot of fiction really these days. I use to love to read biographies and autobiographies. I do love gardening. My cats I guess. They started out as sort of a hobby. Now they are a full time job.
GA: Soon they will be employees.
CR: Yeah really, if they could just earn their keep some how. But they do bring me a lot of love.
GA: Sure they do and they inspire you.
CR: Yeah, they really are wonderful. And what else, hobbies. Music will always be very big in my life.
GA: What type of music do you like?
CR: I like all kinds of music except country. I don't like light type music, nothing but love song type stuff. I really go for good, progressive rock and roll. I love David Bowie and U2 and contemporary groups. I like jazz. I've sung a lot of jazz and I like classical a lot. My boyfriend is getting me into opera more and more. I like international music. I like listening to music from other cultures and other places in the world. I like hearing new things constantly. I really believe in staying open to new sounds constantly.
GA: You know that might help you too with international distribution to incorporate the music of the countries that you want to go after.
CR: That's not a bad idea. Sure.
GA: That would probably be an easy thing to do. And then it would be an immediate selling point.
CR: Yeah, that and even some of their talents from that country also. Yeah.
GA: On the backgrounds. Outdoor shots.
CR: I just think a lot of times a lot of people my age seem to get caught up in only listening to the stuff from their era. And they seem to be the same people who will say things like, oh boy, when I was in college it was the happiest time of my life or it's high school. Life does go on and I just think you really need to always be open to new things even if you don't necessarily like them but you've got to be open to them.
GA: Where can people get your films?
CR: Well, I know that it's spotty because most video store owners really don't care what they put on their adult shelves, unfortunately. And so I would suggest that people do one of two things. They can write to me directly. We do in-house mail order. I think our prices are much better than the stores. They are in certain mail order catalogs as well. The Sexuality Library of California carries our stuff. If they just want to rent, the only other thing I can suggest if they are not in the area, is to write to us and let us know the name of their local store and who we should ask for and we will try to get it placed. They can write to: Femme Productions, P.O. Box 268, New York, New York 10012.
GA: Great. Is there anything else that you want to cover that I didn't think of?
CR: No, you were amazingly thorough. Thanks.
GA: Thank you!