Brad Armstrong's path to becoming a top director in porn has been a ten year journey. His career has seen him direct for some of the biggest companies in adult and he has found a home with Wicked Pictures for the past few years. In this interview with XRentDVD's Big D, Brad Armstrong reflects on the last ten years in porn, pulls no punches for his hatred of gonzo and weighs in on who he thinks are some of the hottest new girls in porn.
Big D: For those that don't know, how does a guy from Canada go from being a male stripper to an adult performer to being one of the biggest name directors in adult films? Brad Armstrong: Back in the day, (laughs) the movies were so bad it was almost embarrassing to be in them. Being from Canada it was a big deal for me to get into this business. All of my buddies from back home were telling me, 'send us some movies' and this and that. Half of the movies I was doing were so bad and so embarrassing I didn't want to send them any. I got to the point where I was thinking there has to be a better way of doing this. I come from a little bit of an art background. I went to college for commercial art and advertising while I was stripping to put myself through college. I was making so much money dancing I kept dancing and then the opportunity to come down to LA and work for some magazines came. I was doing the couples stuff for Hustler and Penthouse and through that I was able to meet all the people in the adult business. I was still doing these bad movies and I thought there still has to be a better way. I just sold my house up in Canada for some cash and I thought I was going to do one of these. Back then it was nearly no budget and I think it cost me about $15,000 and I made one of these movies. As luck would have it, the people I made it with I ended up dating. That was Dyanna Lauren. As luck would have it, Vivid was just about to sign her under contract. I already had a movie that was in the can so they decided to buy it. That was unheard of at that time for Vivid or any of the other major companies to buy outside work. I was at the east coast video show and I just happen to end up in bar with (Wicked Pictures owner) Steve Orenstein. I knew who he was. I knew he was an owner of a company and I was hustling up work at the show. I told him, 'oh yeah, Vivid just bought my first movie.' His eyes kind of opened wide and he said, 'get out of here.' I said, 'no, seriously. Vivid just bought my movie.' Not knowing the circumstances in which they bought it for he was impressed. After much lunching he finally gave this young, dumb kid from Canada a shot to direct one of his movies. The first day everything turned out okay and a director was born. From there I kind of went back and forth directing for Vivid and Wicked. I would do a movie for them and then do a movie for the other. Back then they really didn't have contract directors. Vivid had PT (Paul Thomas) back then but that was pretty much it. All the rest of the directors were kind of like hired guns making movies for whoever needed them. That went on for a couple of years. The competition between Vivid and Wicked was growing by leaps and bounds and Wicked was a relatively new company back then too. It came down to at the CES show in Las Vegas, not really a bidding war, but both companies were interested in having me come under their banner. I ended up picking Wicked and it's been a good run ever since.
Big D: Whenever you hear Wicked you think of the rivalry with Vivid when it comes to talent. Jenna Jameson was both a Wicked and a Vivid contract girl and is probably the most recognizable person to have helped build those companies. Why are those two companies constantly intertwined in any conversation you have about the adult film industry? Brad Armstrong: They are two of the best companies that focus on quality, the girls, the promotion, all that kind of stuff. It is a natural thing. There are a few other companies that have sneaked in since then like Digital Playground. As far as places you want to call home, Vivid and Wicked are the only two mainstays.
Big D: It's been ten years since you directed your first film back in 1995. How has the adult film industry changed in just ten years? What changes have you been happy to see and what has changed that maybe you wish had not?
Brad Armstrong: It definitely has become more of a business. When I first came down here I wasn't actually legal to work and it was still okay. It was still a kind of 'under the table' kind of business. Now it is definitely major corporations. At least the major porn companies are run like a big company. If you were to walk through most of the doors and they pulled down all their artwork and movie posters you wouldn't really know or think that this is some seedy little porno company. It looks like a real business. Now we are completely payroll and completely above board. We have workers comp. I just did a movie a little while back that we had a police officer come to the set to do a check. He was giving me a hard time about not having an ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) person there because it was a period piece where we had horses there. He was hassling me about not having an ASPCA rep there. I was thinking, 'this is just porno! Come on.' With the mainstream acceptance we have gotten we now have to start working like it is a real Hollywood set. We have the same problems with all the regulations and getting permits that a mainstream movie has except that we are nonunion. Other than that it is a regular movie set and we are dealing with all the headaches that go along with that. That's one of the downfalls. Before it was a lot more carefree and an attitude of, 'hey, we'll do whatever.' Now people are starting to eyeball us for lawsuits. We are super logo conscience. We know that if someone's logo ends up in the background of our movies, we are bound to get a call. We've had that happen and we have had to settle so we are super conscience of that. It is definitely more of a business than it used to be. The bottom line is that we are on the radar. We are definitely seen and known all over the world now. Big D: What changes in the past 10 years have you liked?
Brad Armstrong: Good changes are that we are getting more recognition for being above board. With that mainstream marketing it is good and bad. You deal with the good side like getting recognized more. I can walk into restaurants or a car mechanics shop or a hotel and people know who you are. Like any other star you are sometimes reaping the benefits of that by getting comp this or free that. You are definitely getting the bonuses of being a little more in the public eye. With that, the downfall is that some of the girls now have to deal with wacko stalkers and that kind of stuff. It is the nature of the beast.
Big D: You've won a number of AVN awards in some of the biggest categories. When Wicked hands you a project, do you direct films with intent on being nominated and winning awards or do you shoot adult films for the sexuality and stroke factor? Brad Armstrong: Fortunately I am at the position I tend to give Wicked the project. I am at the point where I can say, 'I want to do this or I was thinking of doing this.' I have kind of carte blanche. Luckily enough I get to do pretty much whatever projects I want within reason. When I am coming up with a project it is a little bit of both. You are definitely taking into consideration that you have done a bunch of video this year but I haven't done any films. I need to do films because they (AVN award nominating committee) still separate them. You are almost assured of a nomination if you shoot both categories. You definitely keep an eye on the prize but you your main objective it still to entice the viewer and to give people what they want. I they want a real movie they'll go watch a real movie. That is kind of the downfall of some of the upper echelon of the directors. Sometimes we forget we are still making porno. You try not to get caught up in the excitement of making what is a cool movie and given a bigger budget, the same premise and the same everything could apply to a mainstream movie and it would be fine. It's a battle. Any of the good directors, the big name directors, me, Michael Raven, Nic Andrews, Michael Ninn. We all get caught up in the movie making process and forget the porn a little bit. Either self-induced or by the boss or by the customers get kind of slapped and told, 'Hey! Don't forget the porno. Don't take yourself too seriously.' But then again, if you'd don't take yourself seriously you would have never gotten to the place where you are at. You have to do a little bit of both.
Big D: What is your take on the gonzo trend that seems to have taken over the porn world lately?
Brad Armstrong: Obviously I think it has killed the business. For me it is certainly a thorn in my side because it is one of those things where it is taking away certainly income from the companies that do features. Gonzos are selling so much cheaper and there is so much of an influx of it. I hate it. It lets everybody with a camera become a director. There is no real quality control. There is no real emphasis on lighting or camera work. It's oversaturated the business and that's why it has taken over like a cancer. Even the companies that have done features have taken the easy route for the quick buck and went with gonzo. I think it is bad personally. Big D: Do you see it as a commentary on today's society that this type of porn is so popular? Kind of like we are living in the fast food generation and that we as a society aren't even willing to be patient with our porn?
Brad Armstrong: Yeah and it is also a take on the distributors too. The distributors may ask, 'what can I get for the cheapest amount?' That turns out to be gonzo. You can still make a better buck on gonzo than on a feature that is going to cost me $10 a piece whereas a gonzo will cost me $4 a piece. It's the quick route. Any of the big directors are not that enthusiastic about it because it is such a quick buck to made. Some of the guys that are doing little gonzo things are making more money than the big directors. It's a little frustrating at times.
Brad Armstrong: Paul Thomas, Michael Ninn, Nic, Michael Raven. Now the owner of Digital Playground, Joone, has obviously come up with a pretty big picture. I haven't seen Pirates yet but I have seen the trailers and he said he was going to send me a copy of it. It's good to have a couple of guys around that pushes the other companies to have a little competitive bite. The companies are willing to spend a little money on their features to kind of up the ante. As a director that is good you get to play with some money. Big D: When it comes to features, it seems like each company has to now come out with what seems to be the 'super feature'. This year it was Pirates, last year it was The Masseuse or Dinner Party #3. It seems like a regular feature has no shot at winning an award unless it is this high dollar, big budget super feature that seems to be the trend. Are you seeing that as well?
Brad Armstrong: It's one of those things that you definitely have along with your regular features you have your one or two or three contenders from each company for the year. One of the things that Wicked likes to do is consider ourselves not a one shot wonder. Some companies this year had one movie up for awards. But with companies like Wicked and Vivid, you have a broader reach. Of my 43 nominations they were scattered over six movies. You are buying Wicked as a brand name. You know there is good stuff in the box. As opposed to, okay of all these other shit movies you are going to buy this year; you are going to get this one good one. That's one of the differences at Wicked. We all have our monster feature that we are all thinking is going to be up for the awards. For us this year it was Eternity. It had 16 nominations. Unfortunately it fell a little flat to The New Devil in Miss Jones and we're a little bitter about that. One of the things we do find is that it is like in the mainstream, when you have what the reviewers are considering the best movie, they just blindly give every award to it as opposed to taking it on merits. Yeah, maybe it is the best film of the year but there is no way that it the best art direction or the best cinematography. Sometimes the reviewers just blindly give it to it because they think 'oh, that's the best movie.' That's frustrating some times. I wear a lot of hats. I do the art direction. I do all the wardrobe. I do a lot of stuff along with the directing. Those are some of the awards that I am most proud of. The two that I really wanted to take home this year were Best Screenplay and Best Art Direction. Unfortunately we got neither. Sometimes that is a little frustrating with a super feature is just blindly given everything as opposed to just what is deserves. Big D: Obviously, Wicked has a number of contract girls on staff. Outside of the girls already on contract with Wicked, which performers do you like to work with and who do you see as a possible contract girl for any of the companies in the future?
Brad Armstrong: It's tricky because I normally will use a Wicked girl as the star and I will use another contract girl as a co-star. After that I usually only use sex players after that. As far as acting goes, Lezley Zen is one my favorites to cast as the actress in supporting roles. There are all kinds of little hotties out there. I suck at names. Every time I am casting a movie I actually have to go and look at the websites because I suck at names. I remember faces but I suck at names. It's hard because anyone that is worth a contract get snatched up pretty quick. For that matter, a lot of people who aren't contract worthy I have seen get signed. I will say, 'I wouldn't even hire her.' When we are a little short on girls, we sometimes go in cycles; we just get into a signing frenzy. Some companies will get nervous that there will be no girls around to shoot and they get frantic and just signing everybody. You'll see all of a sudden in the AVN one month they are announcing three or four contract girls. You'll turn around and say, 'What? How did that happen?' The contract girl thing is kind of a quirky animal. There is no real rhyme or reason to it. A girl can be brand new off the bus or she can be around for years and you feel that she is really coming into her own and she at the top of her game now. For us as a company we take personality into account as much as anything else. Some companies are so focused on who this girl is going to look on a box. They don't care if she can act. They don't care about anything. We really take a full inventory of all her skills. We have them read scripts. We have them do a cold reading and then we let her take the script home and then we act it out. A lot of the times we really put these girls through the paces before we decide to sign them. Sometimes we lose girls that way. Especially if she is new and she has been to all of the companies, we sometimes hesitate and we lose girls that we want. Sometimes we are happy because we took the time and later we'll say, 'Whew, thank God we didn't sign her.' It goes both ways. The signing process is tricky because you don't want to look like a revolving door. We pride ourselves on once we sign a girl; usually they are with us for quite some time. You always have your worst case scenarios, but normally they stay a long time. Big D: You've been around long enough to see VHS come and go and it sounds like Hi-Def is the new battle to be waged with the adult industry right in the middle of it all. What's on the horizon for you and the industry? If you could look into a crystal ball, what do you think the next 10 years will bring?
Brad Armstrong: Myself, I hate Hi-Def. It's exactly what porno doesn't need. We are trying to create this fantasy of the perfect woman and when you can see every pimple, every blemish, every this and every that you are now making the fantasy a little harder to create. I am not a big fan of HD myself. We go to great lengths to try to dull that down with the use of smoke or lighting. We try to give that perfect look and with HD it's nearly impossible. Because HD is such a new thing and it is such a pain in the ass and everything is so expensive I think for a good five years we won't be messing around with HD. From there I think it will probably be going back to what's happening with the internet. How are we going to utilize the internet? Now everything is about teching. It is now porno on cell phones or iPods. With the gonzo for the quick buck, everyone is looking at how I can make money with all the old movies I already have. It is just teching out. Because porn has become so much more mainstream everyone is trying to tech out their porn. There is a market for pretty much everything out there. I think teching and all the different avenues of where porn can go is probably going to take up the other five years of that ten year window.
Big D: What's on the horizon for you personally?
Brad Armstrong: I have a big one coming out called Curse Eternal. It's a big Egyptian, mummy movie. Jessica Drake plays the archeologist and Kaylani Lei plays the mummy. It's quite a good movie and is scheduled to come out in the end of February. That's on the near horizon. We are still making our plans for the super feature as you call it. We are still in the plotting and planning stages to figure out what that one will entail.