Featured

James Franco and Christina Voros On Their BDSM Documentary ‘Kink’

Featured

James Franco and Christina Voros On Their BDSM Documentary ‘Kink’

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After shooting the independent movie About Cherry at the historical San Francisco Armory building in the city’s Mission district, James Franco got inspired. Housed in the building is the headquarters for Kink.com, an adult film company that is the Internet’s foremost provider of BDSM content. Franco wanted to make a documentary about the creative dynamic he observed there, and brought the idea to his long-time collaborator Christina Voros, who’s worked as the cinematographer on Franco’s directorial efforts. Voros jumped on as the film’s director with Franco serving as producer and giving the film a financial edge by stamping it with a ‘James Franco Presents’ title card. The result is Kink, a film that is neither political diatribe nor a cheerful exaltation. It’s simply one group of filmmakers’ look into the world of another group of filmmakers. We spoke to Franco and Voros about working together and exploring this world. 

What led you to making this documentary?
JAMES FRANCO: I was primarily interested in the dynamic between the performers and filmmakers at Kink. Christina and I had done a documentary about Saturday Night Live, where we used a similar approach of capturing how the material for entertainment is put together. As a performer and creative person, I just found that fascinating. So when I saw the dynamic behind the scenes at Kink, I though that it was, in some ways, even richer. The on-screen material was so kind of extreme–master/slave or dominant/submissive kinds of relationships–but then behind the scenes it was much different. Everybody is working as a team. I found that on-stage/off-stage dynamic incredibly interesting. I wanted to try and capture that. And I knew that from working on so many different kinds of films with Christina, that she was the one to really capture this material, to do it in a way where the people in front of her would be relaxed, just be themselves, and allow us to see what they’re really like.

Did you take anything away from the Kink sets that you might now employ in your own work? Did you learn anything from the Kink directors such as Princess Donna?
JF: These Kink sites are for titillation, but the kind of material they’re making and the way that they’re pushing the material and finding new ground is kind of closer to art than just run-of-the-mill pornography to make money. I found that the people there were very kind of conscientious and smart about what they were making. They weren’t just pumping things out of a mill like filmmakers in mainstream film or in independent narrative films. They were looking to continually grow and develop their material. Christina can talk pretty well about how the directors there are not what you think of when you think of the cliché porn director.

CHRISTINA VOROS: Not unlike us, Princess Donna was a student at NYU and studied photography and gender studies. She ended up getting into directing porn through a photography project that she did, I think as her thesis, while she was there. There are certain things that are important as a director in any discipline. I think there are directors at Kink who exemplify that to the same degree that directors in any other medium do. It has to do with understanding what your story is and understanding what the limits and strengths of the people you’re working with are. The directors we chose to feature in this film are directors we chose specifically because they’re people who prize the quality, the artistry, and the storytelling in their own genre as much as directors do in more “mainstream” disciplines. You can learn from a good director, be it pornography, independent film, or Hollywood movies.

What do you think will surprise your audience most about Kink or the world of BDSM while watching the movie?
CV: It’s tricky. It’s a mixed audience for this film. I think there are a lot of people who are going to watch this who are familiar with Kink.com, and a lot of people who are going to watch this who aren’t at all. I think the things that are going to be surprising to each of those audiences are different. The most simplistic misconception about BDSM is probably how much control the submissive has. But if you know anything about BDSM, that’s the first thing you know about it. What’s most surprising to someone who knows a lot about BDSM probably has more to do with the specific way Kink handles the making of the creative content. To my understanding, it’s different than a lot of mainstream porn producers out there. This isn’t a movie about porn at large. This is about very specific content. I think the takeaway for people will vary tremendously, whether they’re coming from a place of knowledge about this lifestyle or not.

Early in the movie, someone asserts that humans are naturally inclined to want to protect people experiencing pain. That’s one perspective as to why some people are so adverse to the BDSM images shown in Kink. Looking at the world today, do you think that’s accurate? Or does it just come down to fear?
JF: It’s sort of a weird fear because it’s not just a fear–there’s an attraction there, too. If you look at the sales for 50 Shades of Greyit’s obvious many, many, many people are interested in this kind of subject matter. But when people are actually doing it for the camera and experiencing the pain otherwise only described in words or the movie, where things will be kind of simulated, it becomes much more intense as a viewing experience. There’s that kind of attraction and repulsion. Also, your reactions might be different depending on whom you’re watching with or whether you’re watching it alone. A lot of it is getting scared of how you might be perceived if you’re watching that type of thing.

You two have now made a number of projects together. What do you think is your biggest asset as a team? What makes you work well together?
CV: I think from the time we started working together, we’ve always had a kind of shorthand. I don’t know if that comes from a similar background, whether it’s a love for poetry or the way things can be expressed in a non-obvious form. We’ve always had a certain kind of understanding in how to do things visually. I think James has a really tremendous ability to push people outside of their comfort zone and into a place they might not have gotten to on their own but is a place they’re glad they’ve gotten to. For me, this film is an example of that. I would have never found this movie on my own. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I was going to find this movie, period. But James has a way of identifying people’s strengths. Why do you get along with anyone who’s a good friend of yours? It’s not something you can really put your finger on, but you understand each other’s jokes and each other’s silences. That makes for a good collaborative team.

JF: Christina is tough. For a lot of these projects that we made right after film school, they were subjects that were difficult or difficult to get made, which equates to a rough and tumble production period. I needed someone who was a rock and who would just go through it with me and share my sensibility, someone who would go into a place like Kink, just speak the truth, and keep going and going and going to get to the bottom of things. That’s what Christina does.

This interview has been edited.