Candid talk with Ms. Royalle

The porn actress-turned-director and producer shares her filmmaking philosophy, views on censorship and the feminist movement

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Candida Royalle

I’ve wanted to speak with Candida Royalle since I first read Wendy McElroy’s XXX A Woman’s Right to Pornography.

My Catholic background made pornography a taboo topic and my feminist leanings made me question its effect on women. McElroy’s book forced me to question the stereotypes about women in the adult film industry and whether censorship is the right move.

It forced me to acknowledge women like Royalle as a thoughtful, professional and entrepreneurial woman in addition to a former porn star-turned-director and producer.

She is fascinating. She has a quintessential New York accent and she pulls no punches talking about how boring mainstream pornography is.

She does not believe in censorship of what are perceived as degrading scenes: cum shots and mock rapes and advocates a more sex-positive society. She is estranged from the feminist movement, which she feels is too centred on the male problem. She is one of the only adult film industry directors and producers " including other female directors and producers " trying to take a fresh look at sex.

Royalle began her career in the adult film industry as an actress in San Francisco in order to support her alternative lifestyle making art, performing in avant garde theatre and singing in jazz clubs.

“I went looking for nude modeling for extra money and was asked to appear in porn movies, but had never seen one. Insulted, I stormed out, but my boyfriend decided to try it.

“I visited the set and was impressed by how professional it was and how attractive the people were. The money was good for a struggling artist, cultural attitudes toward sex at that time were quite open, and back then there were no serious life threatening diseases.”

Four years after Royalle ended her acting career, she did a lot of soul searching to come to terms with her controversial career choice.

“In the process of looking at whether adult movies were actually bad for society, I concluded that sexually explicit art and movies were not necessarily bad and could in fact be informative and inspiring. That said, it seemed to me that most porn was sex-negative and did not present a woman’s point of view or show what women liked sexually.”

At the time of the women’s movement, women allowed themselves to explore their sexuality and home videos emerged, she realized there was a challenging new market for female-oriented adult movies no one was paying attention to. She started Femme Productions to satisfy this market.

Royalle’s filmmaking modus operandi is quite different than most mainstream pornography.

She finds most adult movies follow the same porn aesthetic, which makes them boring and formulaic.

Candida Royalle

“Some directors will go to great lengths to create a story and surrounding footage ... but as soon as they get into the sex scene, it falls back into formula ...‘We need 20 minutes of fellatio, cunnilingus, one-on-one missionary, we need doggy, cowgirl etc.’”

She prefers to discuss roles with actors to find out what they would really do and what they would like to see. Rather than micro-manage sex scenes, Royalle allows the scene to evolve as lovemaking would evolve by encouraging the actors to act freely.

Her filmmaking philosophy is akin to the “golden age” of porn in the ’70s. Within the limits of small budgets and unskilled actors, she emphasizes the sex’s context through a storyline " why these people are together, why they would make love " which she believes makes for a more compelling film.

“I think a lot of us are looking for something that reflects what we seek out in real life " the kind of people we are attracted to and the kind of sex we like to have.”

Her desire for realism is reflected in her choice of actors.

She avoids featuring women who have had surgery. “I don’t want to promote the idea in order to be desirable, you have to go to such extremes.

“I like to feature people we might actually fantasize about without being intimidated ...I like people who can convey a sense of mindfulness and intelligence in their face ... who are able to give themselves over to the erotic and who can actually connect with their partners.

“When I started Femme, I really did it to give back to women ... My main market is women looking for something explicitly erotic ... that has more integrity and creativity to it. It doesn’t make them feel cheapened or insulted watching it. [My films] are for women looking to explore their sexuality and enjoy it.”

She believes her films also appeal to men who desire something beyond the porn aesthetic.

“I think not all men want the typical ‘wham, bam thank you ma’am,’ very non-connective type of porn that features giggly, bubbly girls with pumped up boobs and big hair " they are not turned on by it.

“Men are looking for work to enjoy with their partner and not just turn on the two hot minutes and jerk off to it.”

When Royalle started making films, she realized in order to reach women she needed to market her films to men as something their partners would enjoy. A lot of men brought her films home and introduced them to their partners, which introduced women to her work.

Her goal is to encourage women to embrace and feel good about their sexuality.

“I believe in showing sexuality in explicitness, because I think women have a lot of discomfort around their bodies and their genitals and by hiding and making it a soft-core [film], I think we reinforce discomfort with bodies.”

Showing the beauty of human bodies and embracing sex " what she calls “one of the greatest forces in our lives” " will allow women to view sex as natural and normal.

Royalle believes censorship will not stop the production of objectionable pornography.

“Censorship feels like a nice solution to make women feel safe, but it’s not the solution ...Women, and people in general, should be left to look at and read what they want. We are not delicate flowers that need to be protected ... As long as it is not criminal, allowing people to create what they want, allows me to create what I do.”

She feels in order for women to see the kind of adult films they want to see, they need to wrest the reigns of production away from the “lowlife, no talent creeps” and create films they approve of, would want women to see and that make them feel good about themselves sexually.

“We’re getting swept away by the resurgence of boring, insulting porn crap, which will dominate until the stigma comes off women expressing themselves sexually.”

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