It’s no secret that here at HMFH HQ we’re all big fans of performer turned director Dana Vespoli. Over the years, she’s helmed both dark, dramatic features and hardcore, dirty gonzo flicks, sometimes even blending the two. Porn’s gonzo genre has often been looked down upon by mainstream as being something that the average woman could not enjoy, with its usual focus on the more extreme side of pornography and unwillingness to examine the relationships and emotions of its subjects. Vespoli is seen as a pioneer of the genre, approaching gonzo with the sensitivity and candidness of an artist, a documentarian, and longtime fan of pornography. With movies like Fluid, Dana Vespoli’s Real Sex Diary, and the genre/gender blending Girl/Boy and its recently released sequel Girl/Boy 2, Vespoli makes it clear that she’s one of the most porn’s valuable directors working today. She generously agreed to an interview with me about her work as a gonzo director.
Judy Hologram: How do you define gonzo porn?
Dana Vespoli: I know that most people think of gonzo porn in the Hunter S. Thompson “breaking the fourth wall” way, but I think of it as indie movie making—so the crew is smaller, you’re working with fewer resources. It has a more intimate feel to it.
JH: Who are some other adult directors who have influenced you or who you admire?
Dana: John Leslie, Joey Silvera, John Stagliano, and Radley Metzger are major influences. I really admire Nica Noelle, who has been a great ally and friend in the business. She taught me a lot about the seduction aspect of porn. The importance of restraint. Her work is very elegant, and she’s smart as a whip.
JH: A lot of the gonzo porn that comes into the office has this strong sense of machismo to it and feels like it was made for the male gaze. Do you think that being a woman affects the way you approach gonzo?
Dana: I don’t know. I think it has a lot to do with the fact I was heavily influenced by the porn from the 1970s—it was the first porno I ever watched, and it felt very free, and happy and magical to me. There were all kinds of people having sex—black couples, women of all shapes and sizes and pretty decent narratives. Men weren’t cropped out of frame, and the scenes were very much about people giving and receiving pleasure. I carried that sensibility with me when I started shooting my own stuff, although I let it go for a minute, in my anxiety to try to keep up with the current times and see better financial returns. Everything now is so fucking compartmentalized because porn has turned into a fast food culture.
JH: When I interviewed B Skow, I learned that that he has a broader definition of gonzo than what I had, and his doesn’t necessarily include breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the camera. He considers some of his plot-based and vignette movies to be gonzo as well. Do you think of any of your movies the same way?
JH: What made you a fan of the gonzo movies?
Dana: I became a fan of gonzo because I had endured so much of the stuff coming out of Vivid and it felt very cold and phony. I was trying to find movies that had the same intimacy as the old movies I had watched when I was 12. I found Seymore Butts and was hooked. After that I found John Stagliano and John Leslie.
JH: A lot of your earlier work for Evil Angel was POV, but in the past two years or so you’ve started moving back in front of the camera with series like Lesbian Public Sex Fetish and Dana Vespoli’s Real Sex Diary. You’ve said in past interviews that female directors who held the camera, like Mason and Francesca Le, were influences on you. Do you think that you’ve started moving away from those influences and coming into your own as a director, or is there a different reason for this change?
Dana: My first movie with Evil Angel was a feature called Forsaken. After that feature I needed to shoot something inexpensive so I made Lesbian Anal POV, and then did another feature called Descent, and then created a pattern where I would follow a feature with something more cost effective to shoot. I prefer features or vignettes and really just shot POV movies, and Public Sex Fetish as a way to offset the cost of my features. I stopped doing those titles because they didn’t perform very well, and honestly they felt awkward to do.
JH: I’ve reviewed the past three installments of Dana Vespoli’s Real Sex Diary and you know that I’m kind of obsessed with it. In the last one you were kind of musing about whether or not you would continue the series. A lot of gonzo series will just go on forever and have dozens of entries if it’s successful. On the other hand, you seem to have ended Lesbian Anal POV at #5 in 2014. How do you decide when to end a series?
Dana: I end a series when it doesn’t make money, and as it turns out both my Real Sex Diary and POV didn’t not sell well. I will also end a series if I just can’t stand to do it anymore, like My Evil Stepmom or My Evil Stepson. I sold my soul to the devil in the interest of money, and tried out the [family fantasy] shtick, and I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Not a fan of faux [family fantasy].
JH: You live next door to Manuel Ferrara and Kayden Kross, which is like the Bohemian artist lifestyle fantasy of Andi’s and mine. Do you guys collaborate with each other or exchange ideas? Are there any other people in the industry who you collaborate with?
Dana: Manuel and I have kids together, so the arrangement made sense. I’m their daughter’s godmother, too, so it is nice to be able to see her every day. We all respect each other’s privacy and they very much do their own thing creatively and I do mine. I adore Kayden, and love what she and Stoya have with Trenchcoat X, where I’ve licensed all my best work.
JH: Have you had any ideas that you’ve wanted to do but weren’t able to execute for any reason?
Dana: I’ve wanted to do more blending—including scenes with TS performers in non “specialty” marketed movies, as well as gay. I have been discouraged from doing this because it is hard to sell, but I did it anyway with Girl/Boy 2, which comes out in a few weeks.
JH: What do you think has been your greatest success in this industry?
Dana: Finally being described as iconoclastic in a recent article. I can’t remember where I read that.
JH: You’re known for being a huge movie buff. Naturally that drives some of your plot-driven pornos, but does it also work its way into your gonzo movies?
Dana: Absolutely. I reference stuff all the time.
JH: What mainstream movies have had the biggest influence on your work as a director? What other works of art have influenced you?
Dana: Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway from David Lynch–Lickerish Quartet, and The Opening of Misty Beethoven from Radley Metzger–Romance, and A Real Young Girl from Catherine Breillat—Persona from Ingmar Bergman and everything Almodovar has ever done. I am also inspired by literature, since I spent all of college studying comparative literature and literary theory, and poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke, especially Sonnets to Orpheus, Federico Garcia Lorca, Virginia Woolf, the Ancient Myth, the Bible as literature, it goes on and on. I’m in love with Faust and also the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.
JH: What’s next for you?
Dana: I’m trying to figure that out right now. I am still shooting for Sweetheart Video, and have begun doing some shooting for Icon Male and Transsensual, which is exciting. It has been a struggle to find a happy medium between the art of what I do and commerce. What I love doesn’t translate well in the current porn consumption climate. I’m just trying to find my footing and reach my demographic. We’ll see what happens. I hope to land on my feet.