Last week I wrote an essay on some of my current favorite women of porn with the promise that I would follow it up by listing my favorite porn directors. I'm coping with a high level of disappointment that no one took me up on the contest. I think I'll survive it.
So, without further preamble, here we go...
I don't know anyone who is neutral about Nica. This doesn't mean that no one is neutral about Nica, it just means that I haven't met them yet. As near as I can tell the world falls into two camps: 1) Those who love Nica (and her work) and, 2) Those who hate her for various reasons.
I'm in group one. Firmly.
I had seen Nica in some Girlfriends Films videos and I'd like to say that I noticed her right away, but that would not be true. I believe that I became aware of her as a director AND a performer when I saw some of her early work for Girlfriends Films in 2009. That was about the same time that I actually began to pay attention to directors. I started looking for Nica's productions and found them, thanks to IAFD.com, a remarkable font of porn knowledge. By the time I really noticed Nica she had already left GFF to work with Mile High Media on her Sweetheart and Sweet Sinner brands.
In 2010 I started this blog and began writing reviews again -- I published reviews on the old USENET group rec.arts.movies.erotica back in the 90's -- and some of my early reviews for this blog were of Nica's work, starting with Lesbian Confessions, Vol 4 in June 2010. I loved Nica's lesbian videos. Then I discovered Sweet Sinner.
The same things that caused me to become a fan of Nica's lesbian features were duplicated in her hetero stuff: 1) Good chemistry; 2) Minimal directorial interference; 3) organic scene development; and 4) Good writing.
If you read my early reviews of the Sweet Sinner line you'll note that I take Nica to task for what I considered misplaced money shots. If the goal is to portray "real orgasms" and "real passion," I reasoned, what's up with using this tired old porn convention of having to show the male cum shot? I found it off putting, UNTIL I actually got Nica's take on this issue in a forum discussion on adultdvttalk.com. She agreed with me on the issue but she had a good explanation. I won't go into all the details here but apparently many, if not most, female performers just don't do creampie scenes as they've become known.
That discussion led to others. This was heady stuff for me -- I hadn't had an opportunity to interact with an actual porn director since a brief e-mail exchange I once had with the infamous Max Steiner back in the 90's. We discovered a mutual interest in the portrayal of real emotions, passion, and orgasms on screen, and I began to get a glimpse into the challenges Nica faced in swimming against the current of the industry.
What brought this into focus for me was viewing a Penthouse production titled The Orgasm. I generally only write reviews of videos I like. In retrospect I should not have reviewed The Orgasm because while I liked some things about it (great script, outstanding production values excellent humor, well acted by Randy Spears), the over all effect of the movie was negative. While I applauded Penthouse for their willingness to spend the extra money on good sets and great videography, Director Cash Markman's decision to tear down the third wall and show us how the sausage is made (or buried) slapped me in the face with something that I knew about porn but had willingly forgotten: most of it is fake. I took some heat in a discussion about that movie for only giving it 2.5 stars in my review. So be it. I thought Orgasm was a brilliantly funny movie but not very erotic. Let's just say that the people at Penthouse didn't agree with me.
The reason I bring that up is to contrast what I'll call the "mainstream" porn production method with what Nica does as a way of explaining why I am such a big fan of hers and the hand full of other directors who sort of get this.
Imagine that you're having sex. Now imagine that you're a man having sex in a room full of people including several camera operators, a microphone boom operator, lighting techs, a director, and various hangers on. Still hard? Now how about if the woman you're having sex with is someone you've never seen or spoken to before walking onto the set? OK, and now the director tells you he needs a couple of minutes of oral, then stop to change the camera positions before resuming in another position for a few minutes. Then stop again, move the cameras, change positions, resume, stop, repeat, etc. Does anyone actually have sex this way on purpose? Of course not. Well, that's mostly what we get in porn. They're selling us the fantasy of beautiful women and well hung, handsome (mostly) men doing things that are physically impossible for mere mortals as if they were routine. Men are reduced to cocks and balls and women are reduced to three hole jerk off devices.
What Nica does is treat her audience as if it was intelligent and her performers as if they were human beings. She puts people who have some chemistry together in (usually) comfortable surroundings, and tells them to enjoy one another. The set ups she writes are coherent, literate, and not too taxing for the acting abilities of performers who are not ever likely to receive Oscar nominations. She doesn't embarrass them with her scripts -- she gives them a chance to portray real human beings with real desires and emotions.
The resulting sex scenes are filled with passion and our vicarious experience is enhanced a thousand fold. Not all performers can handle this kind of treatment. Some are nervous about actually connecting to another performer, emotionally, in a scene. Some of the performers spouses are also nervous that their boyfriend or girlfriend will connect with someone else. There is some risk involved. But for those who can handle this level of emotional commitment to a porn scene the rewards outweigh the risks. As a consumer I applaud this approach and wish more directors used it.
I would be lying if I said that every video Nica has ever made is a masterpiece (not every review I've ever written is a masterpiece either, come to think of it). Her work has evolved. She has occasionally suffered at the hands of ham-fisted editors who did more harm than good to her work. There have been some technical issues, particularly early on. Sometimes the chemistry she hopes for from her performers is disrupted by actresses/actors who flake at the last minute resulting in substitutes being brought in. Some ideas sound better in pitch meetings than they eventually look on screen. And, often times, Nica hasn't had the budget to match her vision and incredibly erotic imagination. Some days you win, some days you lose, and some days you get rained out.
That said, the fundamental principles that she has described in numerous essays and on line posts remain sound. She is without question the best at the production of story based video erotica. I don't know anyone who can do what she does as well as she does it. She has imitators but few peers.
Her new circumstances promise even more great erotic stories for us to watch and enjoy. I look forward to seeing them and telling you what I think.
Mason (AKA Sam No)
I regard Mason as one of the most gifted videographers ever to put porn on the screen. Her camera work and direction are stellar. The images she captures are works of art. The performances she gets from her actors and actresses are legendary. People WANT to work with her because they know she'll make them look better on camera than they would with almost anyone else.
She doesn't tell stories. Given that I've just written an ode to story based porn it might surprise you that my next favorite director doesn't engage in it. I don't just like one thing. The visuals Mason captures are worth looking at. Her performers produce on-screen heat and passion.
In Girl Crush 2 Mason demonstrates her mastery of the medium by using long takes without any cuts. The first scene in Girl Crush 2 features Georgia Jones and Kristina Rose in an incredibly erotic and intense encounter. It appears that Mason shot the entire scene with one camera and you can count the number of edits on the fingers of one hand. The effect is startlingly intimate. You never, ever, get the feeling that she stopped shooting to have the women change positions. My assumption is that the only reason the scene was edited at all was for time.
I love her Club 59 work, particularly Teach Me, and Girl Crush. The Massive Asses series, particularly volume 5 featuring Brooke Lee Adams, also has a place on my video shelf. Mason's foray into the gang bang genre was, for me, a mixed bag. If I could take the Bobbi Star scene from Gangbanged 1 and combine it with the Dana Dearmond scene in Gangbanged 2 I would have one perfect gang bang video. The first (cover girl) scene in both of those volumes didn't work for me, but not because of anything Mason did/didn't do. I just didn't connect with the women in those scenes.
Any video I see that announces Mason as the director will get my interest and often my money. I hope she continues to create artful, exciting, passionate work.
In five years of directing adult video Kathryn Annelle has created 49 titles according to IAFD.com, all for Triangle Films. Boundaries, Intimate Invitations, By Appointment Only -- these three series alone would earn her a place on my list.
But the clincher for me was River Rock Women's Prison. This production was extremely well written, well played, well shot, and well edited. Seems to me it won some awards. It was an outstanding effort.
Kathryn Annelle is a story teller. Her stories in movies such as River Rock and They Met in Cherry Hill are interesting, erotic, well written, and nicely realized on the screen.
She often explores darker sexual themes and her performers clearly buy into what Kathryn wants to portray. I don't often use the word "interesting" to describe porn, but I do in Kathryn's case. Her work is interesting on a number of levels. But it never strays from the main point which is to arouse. No worries there.
If I'm reading her IAFD bio correctly Kathryn Annelle is no longer working in adult. I hope I'm wrong about that because adult needs more directors like her, not fewer.
I'll add more directors to this list as I think of them, just as I will add more performers to my list of favorites. I'd be interested in your reactions so please feel free to leave a comment. No one entered my contest, so my dirty underwear will remain in the laundry hamper for now...