President and executive producer of Holofilm, Anna Lee, is also often the woman behind the camera on Hologirls’ VR porn sets. In our interview, she tells me what it’s like directing porn in a brand new medium, and how performers are warming up to the new tech.

Would it be safe to say that performers in the adult industry are more ready to jump into VR than producers of adult content across other mediums?

We’ve still got people fighting it and raging against VR porn who are dragging their heels, but that’ll happen in any industry.

Performers are so excited. It’s wonderful to be a part of something that’s fresh and exciting for them, and that they look forward to being on. And they don’t mind if they’re on set for like twelve hours. We’re creating something new together, and we’re creating something cool together.

I myself actually started directing a couple scenes that you can find on Hologirls right now; the latest one I directed just came out yesterday. (It was a girl-girl scene with Cherie DeVille and Anikka Albrite.) I’ll sit with the performers and say, “technically, this is what I want. Let’s hear from you now and your experience. What turns you on? How can we create a very highly charged erotic scene?” And they seem to really enjoy that a lot because I’m not just asking them to get banged. [laughs] We’re working together to create something that’s very realistic.

One cool thing that I notice about VR porn, is when you’re coaching the performers, it’s really an opportunity to let them know we’re actually trying to reach someone. Whereas in conventional 2D porn, there’s a fourth wall. This is Brechtian in the most ultimate way where fourth walls are broken and you are right there with the performer which is something that I really try to push and promote to my performers: “There’s a guy, or there’s a girl, or there’s whoever, sitting right here in front of you. And I want you to take a moment and close your eyes and really get into that moment as if that person is with you. Think about your boyfriend, or your partner, or your girlfriend, or whatever, and let’s reach that person.” So that’s something that’s been really cool to be able to do from an artistic standpoint.

Abella Danger for Hologirls
Abella Danger for Hologirls

It’s like a brand new way of performing adult content.

And they’re so excited, because they’ve been doing the same gonzo stuff over and over again for years. Now they’ve got a chance to actually act, and perform, and emote, which is kinda neat. For example, the scene I just directed with Anikka and Cherie, I said to them, “I don’t want you to say ‘he,’ or ‘she.’ You are going to be very, very, gender neutral through this whole thing. You’ve got somebody who is watching you, and you want to turn them on. I don’t care who it is or what they have.” And they did an amazing job with that. They just went for it. It’s a scene I’m proud of, it’s really good.

That adds a whole layer that wasn’t there before. What performer before VR has had to think about the appropriate pronoun for the person watching the porn they’re performing in?

Exactly. Before it was like, “we’re making a gonzo film for guys. So you know, look really slutty, get ‘em off.” It’s different now.

We also take a lot of time to look at feedback on forums like Reddit. And one of the things that we noticed is (this was a big, big, ask and request), that people want very realistic sort of girlfriend experiences. And I get it. What are you looking for in real life that you’re trying to experience in VR? And for a lot of people, it’s intimacy. We’ve been working really hard to create that intimacy that people are asking for.

Reddit users are generally pretty articulate about sexuality and their sexual desires. They’re really good at vocalizing what they like and why they like it.

It is a good place. They’re also the people who own headsets right now. They tell you what they want. It’s extremely invaluable to listen to that. I love the fact that we are creating intimate, immersive experiences.

Funny enough, I was looking at some of the feedback [for a scene I shot] on Reddit – kind of anonymously to see what people thought – and I found a lot of guys saying, “lesbian porn usually bores me and this one didn’t.” That to me, was like, the biggest compliment. When I was doing that scene in particular, I wasn’t trying to create something for women, I wasn’t trying to create something for men, I was trying to create something highly erotic and sensual that affects diverse audiences in some kind of way. I’m not trying to put a label on it. I just want to create something that is extremely hot. I want to turn anybody and everybody on, which is a tall ask.

Chanel Preston for Hologirls
Chanel Preston for Hologirls

Do you feel that shooting in VR ever interferes with the more artistic process behind directing and performing?

When you’re performing in a traditional sense (I also do some mainstream acting), it’s limiting, I feel. Whereas with VR, you often shoot (now this is changing – as opposed to the early days of VR, meaning three months ago) in one take. Now you can cut a little bit. But there’s something great about that. There’s something freeing about not having a director harping over you. Instead, we have a good, intense conversation in the beginning. We set up the feeling, we set up the scenario. We go through the motions technically. There are parameters. You kind of have a box you have to stay in as a performer.

In traditional porn, they’ve gotta get the closeup, they’ve gotta get penetration, they have to get a certain angle. And then they’ll fuck for a minute and then they’ll cut. And then they’ll switch positions and cut. There is a natural realism that happens with VR. I’ve heard the performers say it feels more real. The performers are more real. They’re going through sex from beginning to end. There’s no stop and start. There’s a freedom to that. There’s a freedom to the improvisation that they do. There’s a freedom in trying to reach someone. And there’s a certain creativity to it because you sort of have to perform in this new box…but now you get to do whatever you want inside the box.

And that’s a really wonderful artistic challenge. How do you create something visually appealing, visually stunning, and get the right angles – angles that they’re not used to. The performers are not used to doing the angles themselves, so much as the camera coming in and getting that angle. In the old way of doing porn, performers would turn out, but also the camera would get right in there.

Now, they’re performing almost like live performances, as if they were having sex in front of a live person, because the camera’s fairly stationary. There’s experiment with movement, but we’re still a ways off of perfecting that. Since the camera is stationary, how do you play, as a performer, to a stationary object or person just sitting there. That is the creative challenge. And all of these performers have just been like, “let’s do this! “Let’s figure this out!” And in my time working with these performers on VR, I can see a huge progression in their confidence, and their creativity, and their ability to really shut-eye the scene, in the timespan of only five shoots.

It sounds as though VR provides performers with a great opportunity to grow their craft.

Exactly. It’s cool, because from a director’s standpoint too, you kind of go through things and then throw it out into the ether and leave it up to the performers, which is like a play. When you’re running a play, you rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, and then you leave it and let the gods of performance decide how it’s gonna go. [laughs] That’s really great too, in a sense.

We do try to do things in one take generally, but it doesn’t happen all the time.

Joanna Angel for Hologirls
Joanna Angel for Hologirls

Generally it sounds like many adult performers are smoothly transitioning into shooting VR porn.

The cool thing is, like I said, I get the chance to work with some amazing people in this industry. There are some real shining stars that have come on board with HoloGirls, like Manuel Ferrara, Kayden Kross, Joanna Angel, Anikka Albrite, her husband Mick Blue, those guys have been amazing in supporting us, and working with us, and trying to make an amazing product. And it’s been really wonderful to make these friendships and develop these relationships with all these people that are just really cool.

I first got into this industry like, eighteen years ago. And even though I was on the business side of web back then, I’d see the porn guys – you know, the live action porn guys – and they looked like harsh partiers and did like, crazy things, and now, it’s so not that. The days of really super heavy partying and those kinds of stories [about being in porn] don’t exist. I have friendships now with people I never thought I would, and they’re normal, and wear normal clothes, we go for burgers, and everyone’s home by five. These guys and gals have families. They have kids, and they have babysitters, and dogs. I go to their houses for parties…and it’s normal.

A lot of people have preconceived notions. I have a lot of experience in mainstream film, and a porn set is actually a really cool place to be. It feels like a safer environment. I think people are starting to get that. They’re starting to realize that [adult performers] go to work Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM. They’re usually done shooting at a reasonable time so they can go home and spend time with their family. It’s a different scene right now. I think people are getting that and they’re becoming more accepting of it.

Female porn directors seem to have an awareness of the kinds of things many female consumers want, and furthermore, that porn doesn’t have to be focused on penetration shots, that it can be artful, that it can take more time than mainstream porn sometimes takes. Do you see a correlation between new technology and women both becoming a bigger part of the adult industry?

I see it. It kinda goes hand-in-hand with the whole thing I was talking about earlier regarding overall acceptance with what’s going on in Adult. That and the realization that women consume adult content like guys do. And…I hate to say it, but 50 Shades of Grey did help. [laughs] I daresay even Twilight is kind of like softcore [porn].

Chanel Preston for Hologirls
Chanel Preston for Hologirls

So you’ve got a lot of females that are emerging in the industry business wise. Kelly Holland just took over Penthouse, which is huge. You know, back in the day, Digital Playground was run by a good friend of mine Samantha Lewis – amazing woman. Women are really at the helm here, pushing stuff forward. Women are standing up and saying, “this is cool,” too. It’s not just a guy’s dirty secret anymore.

I recently came back from Phoenix Forum. (I think I actually said this to Jen from MiKandi.) I looked around [there] and thought, when I started in this industry there were three women [here], including myself, who were not talent. And now there’s actually a whole women’s group, and summit. It’s still like 80:20 in terms of guys to girls, but you’re seeing an immergence. And even in the porn industry, you’re seeing a lot more female directors that are producing amazing stuff: Jacky St. James, Mason, a couple of the girls from Kink.com that I met the other day who do the VR stuff there – it’s all women! They’re driving this stuff. Women in Adult are really starting to emerge and I love that.

This is just beginning. We’ve got some great stuff on deck coming up. Especially for women. I’m making it a personal mission to try and get the perfect woman POV. I’ve experimented a couple times, I’m going to get it right eventually. So you’re going to see a lot of cool stuff, and a lot of experimental, creative things coming out of HoloGirls in general.

2 COMMENTS

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