James Franco and Christina Voros on BDSM documentary ‘kink’

The producer and director discuss their new film

Aug 27, 2014 Web Exclusive
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While filming 2012’s About Cherry, actor James Franco had the opportunity to explore the former San Francisco Armory. The massive, castle-like building now serves as headquarters for Peter Acworth’s Kink.com, the Internet’s largest producer of BDSM pornography. The facility is operated not unlike an old Hollywood studio lot, with multiple productions occurring simultaneously across the building’s many sets and soundstages, generating a steady stream of content for Kink.com’s various websites.

Franco tapped cinematographer Christina Voros – who worked on his recent directorial efforts, Child of God, As I Lay Dying, and Sal – to spearhead a documentary on Kink.com, its employees and models, and its production complex. The film, kink, offers a rare and surprising behind-the-scenes look at the world of professional BDSM pornography.

Kink director Christina Voros and producer James Franco spoke with us about their film.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: This documentary takes a taboo subject matter and displays it in a very bare and easy-to-process manner. How were your own preconceived notions about pornography changed in the course of making this film?

Christina Voros: I didn’t understand how similar it was to the craft of filmmaking that I was very familiar with. At the end of the day what’s in front of the camera is different than the way you try to tell a story in an indie or Hollywood feature, but the process is very similar. You’re looking to tell a story and you’re looking to get a certain emotional response from people. There’s an arc for the best way to elicit those responses, and you’re working with people, be they actors, or designers … you’re trying to draw on the strengths of the resources you have and the limitations of the resources to do something well over and over again. I think I walked into that world not recognizing how similar my process was to the process that I was documenting.

James Franco: Generally speaking, I did gain so much more respect for the people who make it, in front of any behind the camera; especially this kind of material, which is so intense and requires so much coordination between the people and trust amongst them. I just kept thinking, gosh, this is just one or two clicks away from a lot of the performance art that I really love. I guess I have more appreciation for these kinds of performers, but especially BDSM performers.

Something that struck me is while the directors and models are shooting these very intense scenes, is just how professional and friendly everyone seemed when the camera isn’t rolling. Was it a disorienting experience to observe that dichotomy up close, coming in to that world as an outsider?

CV: I would say more than anything it sort of normalized the situation for me. One of my favorite things about shooting that film: at least for me, being in the Armory there was this tremendous air of candor and openness between people on the basis of what they do for a living.

I think on the first couple days that I was shooting, especially each shoot that I did for the first time with a director, I think there was a sense from them of wondering how I was going to feel seeing this for the first time. But the fact that it was so matter-of-fact, and not that different than being on a film set for an indie feature, for example, made it feel really much more normal than it perhaps should have felt to someone who wasn’t familiar with that form of filmmaking.

I understand you were a little reluctant when James approached you about doing this film. What finally convinced you to take it on?

CV: He said from the very beginning, “You have to see this place. You won’t believe what they’re doing, and you won’t believe the energy there. Just go.” And I said, “Okay.” [Laughs] And he was right. There was something so unusual about the openness and the professionalism and the transparency. I mean, here’s a world from the outside we’re led to believe is behind closed doors, and not for public consumption in a mainstream fashion.

So, certainly, going behind the doors at the Armory at first seemed like, not necessarily a transgressive thing, but you were going into a world that most people don’t get the chance to see. But the way Peter [Acworth] designed Kink from the very beginning was for it to have a certain transparency. You can go in for tours of the Armory facility. They run workshops. I think that as soon as I walked in the door, I realized that it was a very unique place. I was surprised to find so many female directors, and I was surprised to find so many people who just really loved what they were doing.

We made a point when we were making this movie to not say we were making a movie about porn at large, because that spectrum is vast … By focusing on a specific place and a specific group of people, I think it allowed us to be a little bit freer in not feeling like we had to make a broad statement about the industry at large.

Was there a certain point while making this when what you were seeing and filming lost its shock value?

CV: I think it’s something that you kind of flash in and out of. Whenever you’re filming anything that is that foreign, or particularly intense, whether that’s violence, a tremendous amount of emotion, or porn, I think having a lens in front of you distances you a little bit while you’re shooting it. You just have to stare down the barrel of that lens and find your frame, make sure it’s in focus, and make sure you’re following the story.

When you get back into the editing room, sometimes that footage [feels] more intense than it was when you were actually shooting it. I think there were times where I stopped noticing how intense something was, then something really extreme would happen and it was like, “Oh my god, I wasn’t expecting that.” But in general, I found the footage more intense in editing than in the room, because you were [shooting] in a room with people for whom this was normal. There isn’t an air of any kind of anxiety. You’re just trying to blend in, so you let the energy in the room sort of guide your own.

What do you hope viewers will take away from the film?

CV: I think the audience is probably pretty varied. I think there are people who will see this film who are very familiar with the world of BDSM, and that there will be people who will see the film who aren’t familiar with it at all. I’m loathe to say because I haven’t read Fifty Shades Of Grey, but I think that book has opened up a potentially much larger audience for this film than has exited before that phenomenon. I think what will be taken away from it will be different with each of those audiences. I think for the so-to-speak uninitiated, the arrangement of power and control in BDSM will be a surprise to people who are not familiar with it.

James - Just in this year alone, you’ve directed, produced, acted on screen and on Broadway, painted, and more. Is there a personal philosophy you embrace when prioritizing your creative endeavors?

JF: Everything’s just sort of happening at the same time. Everything has its release time, and everything has its time to be worked on. I guess my life has just been arranged so that it all flows together now. It’s nice, I guess.

Both in the case of this film, and with Gia Coppola on Palo Alto, you’ve helped shepherd a new filmmaker toward completing their first feature-length films. To you, what sort of rewards do you take from this scouting and fostering of new talent?

JF: I love it for a lot of reasons. I love that it’s a way to give others – I mean, I have a very good life and I’m very proud of my career, so it’s a way to get off of myself and give opportunities to other people that deserve them.

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For more information about the film kink, check out its website.



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