24 Jan 2007
AJ interviews Anna Span
Anna Span runs Easy On The Eye Productions, making movies from a female point of view, aimed at women. Her fun, high quality movies focus on good looking guys, interesting scenarios, funky streetwear, and very hot sex. AJ visited Anna's Soho office to ask her some probing questions.
Why are you hobbling?
I'm learning pole dancing, and I've pulled half my muscles... I really enjoy the dancing itself, but I don't enjoy the way my body feels the next day!
A pole dancing pornographer. You're one of the only female porn directors in the UK. What's it like working in this testosterone fuelled world?
I haven't faced any major problems, but that's not because I'm female, it's because I'm a strong person. I go in with all guns blazing, and cut good business deals. For the most part, people have been happy to see a woman in the industry, and they've treated me with respect.
Was it harder than you thought it would be?
I faced the same problem as everyone else - mainly that there's no decent money to be made from porn in the UK anymore. But it was even harder for me, because I couldn't find a distributor - they all seemed to think movies like mine weren't worth taking a risk on. In the end I had to set up my own distribution company - Easy On The Eye Productions!
Why do you feel most distributors didn't want to take on your movies?
Compared to the USA market, the UK market is set up for piling high and selling cheap. People want a constant array of new flesh every time, but they don't want to pay much for it. I take a bit more time and care over my productions, because I want to put in more detail and make the whole thing better quality.
How do you feel about American productions compared the the UK ones?
Being such a huge place, there is, of course, a massive selection of new girls to choose from, but a lot of the labels just work with one girl, take their time and spend the extra cash to make her look incredible. It all just comes across as a lot classier, although I don't like it too glossy, there has to be some realism left.
Whose work do you admire the most?
I love what Belladonna's been doing, both as an actress and as a director. Johnny Darko's work is pretty hot too.
Did you have to compromise on anything when you started out?
A lot of people who make their first porno really believe they can reinvent the industry, and I have to confess, I made that mistake as well. But porn has it's own rules that you just can't break - both sexual and financial. I did try to do things uniquely - some of it I got away with, some I didn't.
So what rules did you manage to break, or at least bend?
A lot of it was down to the styling - when I started, the default outfit for an actress was glass heels and some kind of stripper style dress, usually pink. I dressed my actresses in funky underwear and combat shorts, because I wanted them to look like real girls - not pornstars. Movies like Hoxton Honey made a big impact because of this. The Brit porn industry hadn't seen much like it before, but now cool outfits are commonplace - largely because of my influence.
What was your first exposure to working with adult movies, and do you think it affected how you made them?
I used to work at TVX, editing full time, and watching about 350 movies a year, plus all the programs they churned out. The thing that made me want to get out there and make my own porn was all the amateur footage I had to watch - it was horrific, all this badly filmed footage of below average people. I had to ask for the amateur batches to be shared between us all, because when I got landed with a month's worth of it, it made me depressed!
How do you deal with amateur porn being so popular in the UK?
I understand why it's popular, and I accept that some people want the 'real' side of sex, but there's far better ways to do it - it's not even real half the time - just staged! I try to make movies that have some of the glossiness of professional shoots, but with the authenticity of amateur. I think I've done well with the latter side of it, because people often believe the sex I film is real - they ask after 'couples' in the movies, which I find really sweet.
Would you ever film an actual amateur movie, in the usual style?
Rudebrit asked me to, once - they asked me to film a bunch of really sub-par people, in a hedonist club...needless to say, I refused point blank!
I'm glad to hear you didn't just do it for the money - if you're not into it and you don't find the models hot, it would probably show in the movie.
Some directors are the complete opposite though! They're thinking with their pants, not their brains, and letching all over the models is a bigger priority than making a decent film! That's why a lot of porn is so very, very bad.
So how do you treat your models?
The minute they walk through the door, I want them to be relaxed, so I have a laugh and a joke with them. I certainly don't flirt on the job, it's more an atmosphere of messing about and gossiping.
Do you have an all female crew, too?
Yes, because I feel it's important that the girls are having sex on camera for their own pleasure, not for the male gaze. Especially with girl/girl movies like Take This Down - they can really get down to it and have the kind of sex they'd have for fun, not feeling the need to put on the usual formulaic 'lesbian show' men expect.
So what kind of sex do you try to capture, when you're not relying on the normal porn 'routines'?
The main thing I want is sexual energy, good chemistry, and for the participants to be truly into each other. I just let it go with the natural energy of the day, letting the models carry on and go with the flow. The only pointers I'll usually give if I want to enhance things are asking for more eye contact, and perhaps a little dirty talk.
Do you think girls enjoy working for you more because of your directional style?
I couldn't really say, but you hear stories of shoots where the distressed girls say the directors made them like they've had something taken from their soul for 200 pounds. They may get some dodgy locations from me, but at least they keep their dignity and self respect.
Yes, I've noticed some of your filming locations are a little off-beat.
I've shot porn in some of the most bizarre places - a stately home on the cascading lawns, in someone's front garden, even in a derelict squat in Brixton, with holes in every floor and a motorbike in the front room! I do have a real thing about public sex too, it's a real kink of mine.
What kind of reactions have you had when filming in public places?
I try to do it so people won't see, obviously - I once shot by the side of a canal in the middle of London, and I had lookouts on either side to warn me if people were going to come past. But sometimes it's unavoidable - we were shooting in a park in South London, and loads of people were turning up to watch, despite our best efforts to chase them away! One guy just would not leave, so we turned the camera on him, which made him scarper.
So filming outdoors in the city is pretty risky then?
The main problem is if you're halfway through a scene, and you get caught, you have to find somewhere else, and start all over again. Then there's the whole matter of being on the wrong side of the law - I have to choose really generic places, so viewers can't tell which borough it's shot in!
What locations haven't you used that you'd like to?
I did ask a dentist in Peckham - I thought they'd allow it for the money, but they said no! I kind of understand why, but still! The silliest thing, though, is the hypocrisy of some people - I know people who are happy to work in the admin side of the porn industry, but will they let me use their office for a scene? Will they fuck. I spend more time trying to find good locations than I do filming in them!
What else goes on behind the scenes that makes life difficult for you as a director?
The biggest nightmare is dropouts - if I'm shooting 2 scenes in a day, there's a 50% chance one girl won't turn up. I'm always panicking on the phone at the last minute, trying to find a replacement model. Girls like Poppy Morgan and Avalon get loads of work, because they're so reliable - all a girl has to do is turn up on time when you want her, and she'll be remembered as dependant and used again and again.
It sounds like being a director is really hard work!
It's certainly not as easy as people think. Like any industry, you have to deal with people you really don't like, and what's more - everyone wants something for nothing, and I'm continually fighting with buyers who don't give a shit about the quality, they just want it cheaper. It's also difficult when people reject my favourite ideas, which is made even worse by the fact that I'm the one who has to phone people up to try and do deals - it's personal.
So what are the best things about the job?
At the end of the day, I get paid to watch people shagging... it's lots of fun, and there's plenty of variety in it, so even if things do go wrong, at least I'm never bored. Having control over what I do is fantastic - if I have a fantasy, I can just go out there and film it!
Talking of fantasies, what about all the men that desperately want to appear in pornos - you have a reputation for giving new guys a try, don't you?
The industry's crying out for new studs, but a lot of the men that talk a good shag can't perform on the day. When I used to do softcore, it didn't matter, because nothing was actually shows, so there was less pressure, but in these days of explicit, fast paced hardcore, I can't have my whole team waiting around while the stud tries to stroke some life into his floppy member. In a lot of my films, there's men in the background, having a good wank, like the surgeons in A and O Department. If they can get it up in that situation, with the cameras on, and other men around, I give them a try in a boy/boy/girl scene - if it doesn't work out, I have the other stud there to take over.
So where do you find these new guys?
I don't have to look for them - they come to me! I get emails every day from wannabe studs, but some of them are so bizarre. I mean, look at this one - a photo of the guy, fully clothed, in a tourist snap at Charing Cross Station of all places. And this other guy - he's fat, he's middle aged, he's balding, but "it's his dream" to appear in porn...carry on dreaming! I do get some hot men though - here's a nice photo of a sexy 21 year old with a hard cock; he can come for a tryout next time I shoot!
Apart from wilting erections, what problems do you encounter with studs?
"I won't do that, cos it's gay!" I've never met a bunch of men so paranoid about their heterosexuality! One guy wouldn't even wear this necklace, because he thought it would make him look gay. It's a pity, because if I could find willing men, I'd love to film some bisexual porn - but every time I hint at a little action with another guy, the stud freaks out on me.
Why do you think it's such a huge problem for them?
There's just a big stigma in the industry - they know actresses don't want to shag men who have been with other men, because of the fear of disease.
Do you think it would be easier to just shoot gay porn then, and leave the women out of it?
I want to shoot some boy/boy this year, if I can find the men! There's plenty of gay actors, but I don't want ones that actually look gay - I want masculine, good looking guys who my female viewers will find sexy. There must be some men out there who aren't either muscle marys or camp, mincing queens! I want men like Heath from Brokeback Mountain!
While we're on the subject of sexuality, I was wondering... are you bisexual yourself?
I am bi, and I love women, but I've never dated anyone in the industry, because it's a very bitchy scene. Also, I wouldn't have filmed so much girl/girl material if I wasn't truly into girls! Mind you, filming girl/girl is easier anyway, because you don't have to worry about cumshots, or whether they can get it up.
Being into girls yourself, does it make it easier to tell if one of your actresses fakes an orgasm?
I can nearly always see if it's not real, especially if I talk to them afterwards. If it's particularly badly acted, I have to gently ask them to do it again... there's no easy way to do that really!
Is it a big problem for you, finding girls who can act well enough generally, for all your little vignettes?
I think I get better acting out of most girls than a lot of other directors do. The worst thing you can do is give them loads of lines to learn and recite, because they inevitably end up sounding wooden and corny - you can't make someone do something they really aren't cut out to do! I push the cast as far as they can go, while getting them to use their own words with my story, and be as natural as they can.
Do you have to edit out a lot of what you shoot?
A bit of the more unconvincing acting here and there, and the usual stuff, like unfortunate views of boobjob scars or bad stretchmarks. One of the worst things is when an actress accidentally ends up looking bored while being fucked - that always has to go!
I'm guessing the BBFC don't make too many cuts either, since I haven't seen much rough sex from you yet? Any plans for a movie that pushes those boundaries a bit?
I've been quite ambivalent to that kind of sex up till now, but I would like to film a rougher movie this year, because no sex acts are wrong or sexist if the girl is up for it - I like all the fashions of porn like cream pies and male rimming, because its variety.
What are your personal kinks, what turns you on?
I'm not into any particular fetishes or SM, but I do enjoy medical themes more than is probably healthy. I tend to make a variation of what turns me on, which is where films like A and O Department and Uniform Behaviour come from. They're female focused fantasies.
Who can see more of a difference between your porn and regular porn - men or women?
Blokes don't seem to notice at all! It's the women that pick up on some of the more subtle things that men don't think to look for - the added dialogue, lots of eye contact, and better looking studs. I also give the guys more screen time than a male director does - capturing his face, his body, his reactions to pleasure.
What's the best way to really capture the pleasure of sex, on film?
I wrote a book about the subject of making erotic home videos - basically it's the 5 into 2 rule - 3 of your 5 senses are missing, on screen, so you have to exaggerate the 2 remaining senses, sight and sound. That's why porn has the loud sex noises - without that audio, it'd be way too flat compared to actual sex, and noone would want to watch porn!
What other advice would you give to someone who wants to become a director themselves?
Do something different and stand out from the rest of the crowd. The market is flooded, and it's increasingly a cottage industry - you have to be the producer, the director, the editor - spreading yourself really thin. Never forget your original reason for doing it the first place, whatever that may be, because it's easy to lose your voice in the stressful adult market. And stay motivated!
Is sex enough of a motivation?
If sex is your only motivation, you'll get bored very quickly. Surgeons have to get over the sight of blood to be good at surgery, and pornographers have to get over the sex - you can't get all turned on because there's too much to think about - lighting, acting, filming, timing... it's not as easy as it looks!
What's in store for your company in the future?
I've been training up 20 female porn directors under Easy On the Eye, involving them in various "Women Love Porn" type competitions, with the winner, Katie Coxxx, making a mainstream feature film with lots of sex. There's going to be commissions to make programs for ETO, and all kinds of exciting projects in the pipeline.
Lastly, I have to ask, because I've heard customers asking... have you ever considered appearing in a porno yourself?
I did have a fantasy of starring in a porn movie, but the reality is somewhat different! I'd want to do it under my rules, for fun, not for some dodgy guy who's just churning out another shit amateur porno!