When entering the porn business, many porn stars have taken different routes to eventually end up in the AVN Hall of Fame. Dana Vespoli definitely took the route less traveled but after 13 years in the jizz biz, she now is in the rarified air of the AVN Hall of Fame. Entering porn at the age of 31, Dana Vespoli was just getting started at the age when many porn stars have made their money and have chosen to get out. Vespoli started working as a stripper in 1996 in San Francisco. There she met other pornstars like Nina Hartley, Kylie Ireland and Marilyn Chambers and after working "regular jobs" in the financial district of San Franbcisco, Vespoli decided it was time she took a crack at porn. Entering as a performer and eventually making the transition to directing, Vespoli's body of work has stood the test of time. In this exclusive interview with XRentDVD's Big D, Dana Vespoli shares which performers, both male and female, have that "it" factor, what her ultimate fantasy film would be if budget and scheduling were a non-issue and how she balances being a mom and a porn performer/director all at the same time.
Big D: Starting off, I wanted to say congratulations on your induction into the AVN Hall of Fame which was just this past weekend.
Dana Vespoli: Yes, thank you.
Big D: Obviously being an AVN hall of Fame inductee, it wasn't a surprise because that was announced before the actual awards show. What was your reaction and how were notified to being named an AVN Hall of Famer?
Dana Vespoli: It took me by surprise but didn't totally surprise me just because of the length of time I have been in. I just didn't think it would happen this soon. The way I found out was I got a text message from Dana DeArmond saying, congratulating the both of us. And then I said, "For what?". She replied with, "We were just inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame." I said, "Oh! Awesome!". So, yeah. It was fun.
Big D: Is there a nominating committee for the AVN Hall of Fame? Is there an application process?
Dana Vespoli: No. I think they just decide. I think it is a group at AVN that makes the decision. I'm not sure what kind of criteria they look at. I think they - when I read my little bio for the AVN Hall of Fame, I think it listed things that were acknowledged like starting out as a performer and then becoming a director and winning director awards. Then launching a [web] site and shooting for - I've been nominated for awards for performing, writing and directing. I think they took that into consideration over the span of the 13 yeasrs I have been in [the adult entertainment industry]. That was a factor. I am not sure exactly because they are people that have been inducted in who are strictly performers. I think they have been consistent. I think if you have been consistent, over the span - over 10 years, I guess, that's something they acknowledge. There are amazing performers that come in and suddenly they are gone in the matter of five years. You have people, for example, like Dana DeArmond, who started in - I don't want to say she was an internet girl for a few years before she moved over to video - to mainstream porn. She's been consistent for - I mean, she hasn't stopped. That makes sense. I guess the answer is just people being consistent over the course of over 10 years.
Big D: Obviously being inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame is a really big deal. How do you plan on using this? Is it just a feather in your cap and you will just go ahead, business as usual, and keep directing and keep performing on a limited basis? Or is it something you have been striving toward and now that it is here you are going to parlay it into something to further your career?
Dana Vespoli: I was hoping actually that they would carve me into Mount Rushmoore. I'm just joking.
Big D: The Mount Rushmoore of Porn?
Dana Vespoli: Exactly! (laughs) For my numerous contributions right along side with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington - no, just kidding. No, for me it has always been business as usual. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep forging ahead. It's wonderful and it feels like an accomplishment. It's always nice to be recognized because I work very, very hard. I try to do things with integrity. I want to continue to make contributions in adult that can continue to be long lasting. My favorite people like John Leslie and [John] Stagliano and Joey Silvera and the people that are the reason I started to begin with. I look back on their work and alot of it is groundbreaking work. I want to keep moving forward and making movies and trying some different things and hoping they stick.
Big D: Having AVN Hall of Famer on your resume isn't going to get you more jobs...
Dana Vespoli: I really don't think it does. It certainly brings attention back to you. People have strayed away into other things but more than anything it is more of an acknowledgement of, "Hey, you done good!" It always feels wonderful to be recognized and acknowledged and get a pat on the back. It is encouraging and it feels good. It doesn't neccessarily change anything. I haven't seen it change anybody's career in any kind of way. It's certainly nice.
Big D: Definately not something you want to give back.
Dana Vespoli: Of course not.
Big D: Not that you are ready to retire any time soon, but now that you are in the AVN Hall of Fame, you might be at that perspective that there is the longevity factor that does play a role into being inducted into the Hall of Fame - What do you point to as one of your biggest accomplishments? What are you most proud of? Is it your directing or is it your performing? Is it a particular DVD you are the most proud of? Not that you are ready to hand them up but now that you are sitting in the Hall of Fame chair and can survey the career that you have had and say, "I'm really proud of this particvular aspect of my career."?
Dana Vespoli: I think things that I am proud of are definitely my body of work as a director. Certain titles like Girl/Boy which I point to as a sort of pivotal movie in breaking down gender barriers and honoring and respecting people who are gender queer. A lot of my work can be seen as a little political. My TS movies. Sometimes when I push against the mainstream aspect of porn. There are certain movies that I have done as a director that I am proud of. It is the stuff that has been nominated. As a performer, my work in those movies. I've always felt my work as a director has always been stronger than my work as a performer. I've never been a constent performer. I always go back to Dana DeArmond. I don't think she has ever put in a bad performance. Same thing with Adriana Chechik. I've never been that kind of performer. I rise to the occassion for the things that I think are really interesting and I have fallen flat in stuff that I wasn't that much into. You can just look at some of my scenes as a performer. It's like, "Eh, I phoned that one in that day.". And then there are ones where I say, "Wow, I really showed up.". As a director I feel I have been consistent, more consistent than as a performer.
Big D: You have mentioned Dana [DeArmond] a number of times now. You and she are quite close friends? What makes Dana the quintessential performer? What makes her someone you can point to that brings it every single day whether they are feeling well or not quite feeling it that day?
Dana Vespoli: There are certain performers - and there are a handful of them - and she is definietly one of the. I have always said that Dana DeArmond for me, is one of the top five best performers that I've ever worked with or shot. Either male or female. She is just talented. She's just very strong. She is just talented and she is very well rounded. She always shows up. She's funny. A very good actress and a very powerful performer. The people that have that "it" factor, Adriana Chechik is another one. The first day I shot her, she is incredible. She is still on the newer side but she has been in for a few years. Again, she will be on set for 15 hour and she indefatigable. She just keeps going and she is friendly and fun to be around. She is a smart performer. She knows depending on what the project calls for how to - she understands how to work herself in a scene. If it's a scene that is someone's first anal, she showcases the other girl. She doesn't try to upstage her. She doesn't get in the way. There is an instinctive thing that I think really talented performers come in with. It is just an inate understanding of how to function in a scene. It's really isn't just sex. It is a performance. That's usually about it. Really great attitude, obviously. The girls don't have to be perfect looking or even beautiful. They just have to be magnetic and interesting and engaging. Those are the factors - for guys too. You look at Manuel [Ferrara]. You look at Erik Everhard. You look at Mike Stefano. All of these guys were and are interesting and engaging.
Dana Vespoli: Xander Corvus. Xander Corvus is so talented and charismatic. He is somebody that I am surprised did not win AVN Male Performaer of the year. No disrespect to Mick Blue who is another great guy. Xander is very sexy. He is a really good actor. He has a natural charisma. James Deen, of course. That goes without saying who is another amazing pefromer. And other young guys coming up there is Markus Dupree. I think he is Russian. There's been a lot of buzz about him. A lot of directors keep saying "This guy. This Guy! He's amazing!". He worked a fair amount in Europe and he comes Rocco Siffredi recomended. That tells you too that he is really good.
Big D: It's funny that you mentioned Xander Corvus in that I have done a number of interviews with a good portion of porn stars. It's funny in that his name is consistently mentioned by these girls that they know it will be a great day if they get on set and they are paired up with him. I've even heard some of the girls that are not paired with him that day, these girls are trying to absorb that charisma even off camera.
Dana Vespoli: Oh yes. And so talented. It's crazy.
Big D: You mentioned that Dana DeArmond is very talented and Xander Corvus is verty talented. You said it is not just sex and that it is a performance. What is that "it factor" that separates those people from other porn performers other than just having sex on camera?
Dana Vespoli: It is a charisma. I think of them as the people that is for the couple or the guy or the girl that logs on to rub one out as they watch a scene. The "it performers" are the ones that stay with them long after they have logged off or turned off their TV and they are going about their day. They just stay with you. These performers are the ones that stay with you. Xander is definitely one of them. Of course Dearmond and Chechik. There is just something about them that they are about to convey. They are not shut down. You see beautiful girls - I have been watching porn forever - they are pretty and they are doing their things on camera but there is something that feels closed about them. With these particular performers - I could go back in time and say Nina Hartley, Christy Canyon - these are the ones that stayed with me. TT Boy. There is something about them that I would seek out their work. They are able to find their way through and into the minds of the audiences. I can usually tell when I am shooting them that there is something that can get me outside of my head space from shooting. When I am shooting, I am focused on time codes and focus and framing. It becomes a technical thing. When I am shooting somebody that gives me goosebumps, I am saying "this person is a star!", like Chechik. Right away. What is with this girl? It wasn't just her being beautiful. I see beautiful girls all the time and you hope for the best. Then they start in and you get goosebumps. Xander Corvus did that for me. Dana DeArmond many times. I just love working with Dana too. Anytime I can have her - she is as strong as the male performers. I have done DPs or three-ways and I will put her in there with a strap-on and she can keep up with the guys. She's got this weird almost, what's the word...? Androgynous quality to her. She's clearly a woman but she's like Joan Crawford. There's something kind of masculine about her. If that makes sense. She just runs with the boys. I will put her in blow bangs with a strap-on. She is so aggressive and she has so much personality. That's the thing. It just filters out. With Chechik, I just believe her in everything she does. She could have 50 guys piled on top of her and I believe that she wants it. I have no idea if she really does but I will give her the benefit of the doubt. You've convinced me that you want this. She wants everything and it comes across. I don't know what it is but but there are certain people like that. Then there is Leah Gotti. She is brand, brand new but she's got so much - I don't know where she is going. I don't know if she wants to stay in. She is incredible She's one to watch.
Big D: She's one of those newer European gals? (Interviewer was mistaken and was thinking of Lea Guerlin)
Dana Vespoli: She's not European. I want to say she is from the Midwest or something. Leah Gotti. I shot one of her first or second All-Girl scenes and I couldn't believe it. She is another one that understands how to position herself. Engages with you. Good actress. Very sexual. And then she steps away for a minute and then she is back again. She has done quite a bit for, I want to say for Erotica X. I don't know if she has done anything for Blacked yet. She has come out the gate really strong. Really pretty girl.
Big D: As of late, you have moved more towards the directing than performing. Why have you chosen to still perform in front of the camera rather than just concentrate on your directing?
Dana Vespoli: Some it is because when it is the right project, I really enjoy it. Sometimes I come up with ideas for things and I think this particualr part here, I feel like only I can do it. Sometimes it is really an economic thing where I really want a DP. Or I really want a modified Gangbang. It makes more financial sense for me to do it rather than paying someone else a ton of money to do it because I am working with my own money. Sometimes it's that. Sometimes it's because I really want to work with somebody. I am in this happy, fun position of having this luxury of being able to put myself - like Markus Dupree. I am excited. I met him and my significant other shoots him all the time and said, "You'll really like this guy. He's great". I met him and I wanted to work with him. I am able to make that happen. That's fun. Here and there I do it because I enjoy it in certain circumstances. I really love working with Dana DeArmond. If I have an opportunity to work with her I am excited to. Or Stoya. She was on my bucket list of people who I really wanted to do a scene with and I was able to do that last year. It is also for the pleasure. Part of the reason why I got into the business is because I enjoy performing. I think I function better in a here and there role rather than constantly. I just don't have the energy to do it constantly - and write scripts and shoot movies and reconcile budgets and raise a family. I do all of these things too. I kind of paired down a little bit.
Big D: Describe your directing style. Are there current or past directors you like to model or take influence from? Or are you your own person and you are your own director and you have your own style?
Dana Vespoli: When I very, very first started, I was influenced by a lot of directors. I was really influenced by John Leslie. I loved the way he shot with natural light and it was a kind of a dreamy quality to his stuff. Joey Silvera. I like how Joey would interact a lot with talent. John Stagliano for the same reason. I like how he as Buttman would interact with talent. For my features I drew heavily from directors like Catherine Breillat. She's not really a porn director but she made X-rated movies. Radley Metzger who is one of my all time favorite directors. He did Score and The Lickerish Quartet. I'm also a movie buff. Sometimes there will be a visual style that I really like. A lot of my stuff is inspired by certain authors and books that I have read and I really enjoy.
Big D: You mentioned performing with Stoya was a bucket list item for you. If budget and scheduling were not an issue, what would be your ultimate bucket list movie you would want to produce and direct? Who would be in it and what would be it be about?
Dana Vespoli: Oh God! Oh Jeez! I am thinking. I am constantly up against a wall with budget. (laughs) It's weird to even think of a scenario where I could - I am a huge, huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan. I'm a huge Al Motivar fan. I'd love to shoot - God, I don't know. Probably like a Robert Altman ensemble type of movie with... You mean with adult actors or mainstream actors?
Big D: It could be both. This is your fantasy movie if money and budgets and scheduling were no problem.
Dana Vespoli: It would be an ensemble piece. It would probably still come in under a million dollars. I can't even fathom crazy, crazy budgets. I'd love to have a mix of actors. People like Danny Wilde and Jiz Lee. Foxy is a dance performer. I'd love to have Ryan Gosling in it. I don't know. There are so many amazing mainstream actors that I think are incredible. You know who I love is Giovanni Ribisi. I'd like to see more of him. I don't know. I am just throwing people in and I have no idea what the movie would be. I am just throwing in something that would be something really irreverant and strange and have some X-Rated elements but not completely. That would be cool to combine some people from adult and some people from mainstream. I've always been a huge fan of people like - there are some really great character actors out there. You know who is great is Aaron Eckhart. I haven't seen him in anything in ages. He can do anything. It's crazy.
Big D: Do you think that doing some sort of conglomeration would be possible or there is too much stigma attached to adult that they are still separate and you wouldn't be able to do any collaboration like that?
Dana Vespoli: There are certain people that do not get enough love and maybe they are seen as weird, but there was a time where you wouldn't see a movie like Love which is the new Gaspar Noé movie which has a 3-D ejaculation scene in it. There is actually sex in it. He is a guy who has been recognized by the Cannes Film Festival. He did the movie Irreversable. He has clout and credibility as a director. As long he has been doing that and Catherine Breillat had Rocco Siffredi in, I want to say two movies, and Steven Soderberg had Sasha Grey in a movie and Paul Thomas Anderson gave Belladonna a part. I think we are moving now more than ever in a direction you can see - and I don't know if would be straight up half the movie is porn stars and half the movie is regular actors. You see more instances of that. For me, I've always loved the artist within the industry. I brought up Danny Wilde. He is a guy that performed but his work as an author, his work as a musician and his work as a shooter and an editor just far surpasses anything he did as a performer. And he was a good performer. Then you've got Jiz Lee. And you have a lot of these adult stars that are kind of Bohemian and interesting. And it harkens back to a time when adult was primarily made up of political artists that were making a statement about the sexual revolution. And then we kind of moved away from that. Now I see a lot of entrepreneurs. People that cam. People who have their own sites and they have their clip stores. They write. You've got Stoya who is very political. She makes contributions to different blogs and the New York Times. You have Kayden Kross doing the same thing. You've got jessica drake who is another one that has a voice. It is more outspoken now than ever before. In part I think with just the way the economy has gone and how the porn industry is kind of in this weird state where it is still trying to find its footing. While everybody else is either dispursed or retired, there still is the core group that do it for the love of it. And they are fighting for it. Those people to me are the most important aspect in the industry. Those are the people that I find the most interesting. I would just love to work with them more and see them more in front of the camera as well. I think their performances are more interesting and would lend themselves more to even a mainstream project that would have a blending. Because there is a fearlessness with people like Jiz Lee and Danny and people who I mentioned before. Sorry. I get passionate about stuff.
Big D: Would you say that today's technology of web camming and social media where not only porn stars but mainstream celebrities can directly interact with fans and the consumers of their content. Do you think that has broken down the barriers? Before it was a girl from the Midwest that had to take a bus out to Los Angeles and hopefully she gets picked up by a studio. But now, someone can get discovered from their bedroom in the middle of nowhere.
Dana Vespoli: I think it has. There is something really great and there is something really awful about the fact that anybody can have access or be seen by hundreds of thousands or millions of people. I think it has created a very - it's makes our society more narcissistic. You've got 16 year old girls that need to be validated by complete strangers by what they are eating or what they bought at the store. An experience stops being an experience unless it is captured by Instagram. People are not really living in the world but at the same time you see with Twitter a live documentation of police brutality or something happening on the other side of the world. You have up to the minute information and in a way it has all made us a little closer. It's a weird kind of thing. As far as adult, it has saved adult. At a time when people are just pirating content - social media and Twitter popped up and came at a time when it was really, really necessary for the survival of a lot of the talent to say, "Hey, please pay for your porn," or "Hey, I'm here. Subscribe to my site. Watch this scene. Buy my movies. Come see me on cam.". It made it more humanzing for the girls. It humanizes the producers and directors. I have people that will tweet at me pictures of them holding DVDs they just bought and they will say, "Hey I just bought this.". I always say thank you because they are the reason I can keep shooting. It has broken down a lot. Also, we have access - it is amazing that on Twitter that I am fans of people that turn around and follow me and communicate with me. That would have never been possible before. It's exciting. It's an exciting time. With everything that is awesome there is a weird, creepy downside too. When there are girls who can't stop tweeting. I'll say, "Hey, look at me. I'm right in front of you. We have to get this job done.". It has in a lot of ways helped preserve the industry quite a bit.
Big D: I've been working in this indurtsy since the early 2000's. It seems like today's girls - maybe being a director and producer and you hire these girls - it seems like there is a lot less "flakeyness". Back in the early 2000's, there was so much demand for content that if girls showed up to set and they were late, they were hung over from partying the night before, just didn't show up at all, they would still get a gig the next day or two days later because there was such a demand for talent and content. It seems like today the performers need to be a bit more responsible and they just can't show up and say, "Hi, I'm really, really cute. I brought my own lube and you need to shoot me because I know there is not enough of us out there.".
Dana Vespoli: You are absolutely right. I remember one particular girl back in 2003 - I swear to God, every other month she was given a contract. Then she would blow it and then she would end up with another company and given another contract. She had a horrible attitude. That doesn't happen now because there are fewer jobs. We have also realized that it is not necessarily the new hot girl on the block that is selling the movies. It is more the established talent. I agree with you. I've noticed that as well and it is less tolerated now.
Big D: It seemed that the circumstances of industry - the indistry didn't police itself - it was the downturn in the industry that weeded out those "undesirables", for lack of a better term. Now it is seems as though it is a quality compared to quantity type of thing. It seems like we have a lot more quality and a lot more passion put into the content that is being put out there rather than just an avalanche of four hour comps and there is no getting away from them.
Dana Vespoli: Exactly. Shot on a little camcorder on a tripod on a black couch up against a white wall. That doesn't fly anymore. It might for the super duper amateur market but that is a very specific market. But yeah, you're right.
Big D: You attribute your induction into the AVN Hall of Fame to your longevity but you entered the adult industry later in life at age 31. This was not your typical career path into the adult industry. Do you think that helped your longevity in that you didn't come in at age 18, wide-eyed and never really having a job?
Dana Vespoli: I think so. When people ask me if I have any advice for girls coming in, I always say, "Go to school. Spend a year working at a regular job so you understand the value of a dollar. If you still want to do it, then go for it.". I think I was able to take it seriously and work hard and have goals and work towards achieving those goals because I had been really broke. I had student loans at one time. I worked minimum wage jobs and had worked a crappy job in the financial district in San Francisco. So I really appreciate the money I was getting and understood that it was fleeting. You have to work smart and work fast. Money comes and money goes. I think that really helped a lot. Which is not to say that there aren't girls that come in really, really young that aren't business minded and are able to do those thing. By and large, I see more disasters than anything else which is some girls not understanding how to pay their taxes or save their money. They come in and they finish high school and suddenly they are earning $20,000 a month. And they think it is going to last forever. I think coming in late for me definitely helped. I don't know if I would have made good decisions at age 18. The ones that I see that are really successful are ones that have a little bit of life experience first. Maybe not as much as I did because I was 31. You look at someobody like Veruca James and she has an education and she had a regular job before. She is smart. She is making good choices. So I think it helped me a lot.
Big D: When you came into the business you were in for shorts bursts in that you were in and then you were out and then you came back. What kept drawing you back into the adult industry?
Dana Vespoli: In the beginning I took a break and that break coincided with me getting married. It was just a case of my body was just tired. I needed some space and I was worried about getting shot out. I was working every day and it happens. The thing that drew me back in was because it had been a year and a half and I was still sort of involved. I was writing articles for a magazine called Hot Video and interviewing people in adult. I came back to performing and then ended up directing shortly thereafter.
Big D: How do you balance now being in the industry for over a decade? You have kids. You are in your 40's. How do you balance the directing and performing and just being a memeber of the industry with your personal life? It's obvious you are not 100% porn is what you are all about. You are a mom and you have other things going on. How do you balance that?
Dana Vespoli: It is hard. It is really hard. There are some things I am able to do around my children. Like when I am doing scripts or reconciling budgets or creating budgets or even booking. I'm careful because there are some things on my computer that I can't do that kind of work. It's a constant balancing act. It's constant. Sometimes there are months that are really packed with shooting. I have a wonderful caregiver that comes in and helps me out. Usually what I do - if it is my stuff, like my Evil Angel stuff, I'm usually done by 5 pm. Then I come home and just shrug all of that off. I shrug it off and devote the rest of my evening to my kids. I am usually helping one of them with their homework. Reading to them. Reading with them. Doing activities. Weekends I don't work so that is completely devoted to them. I just try to break it up. I guess like any other hectic job, a parent with a hectic job, but it is stuff that I can't talk about with them because they are still really young. It is a contstant balancing act and sometimes I feel like I am going to get sick because it is just so much energy out. I try and schedule it so on the weekends there is no work. Usually after they go to bed I will pop open the laptop and do the writing stuff that needs to get done.
Dana Vespoli: 1977 Ford Ranchero. It looks a lot like an El Camino. It was awesome.
Big D: What's in you iPod, iPhone, MP3 player?
Dana Vespoli: I have so much stuff. I have ELO. I am a huge Electric Light Orchestra fan. I have Led Zepplin. I have Radiohead. I have The Roots. WuTang Clan and Noz. Those are the ones that pop up right away.
Big D: Favorite food?
Dana Vespoli: Japanese
Big D: Favorite position?
Dana Vespoli: I am a big mish (missionary) fan.
Big D: Movies or the ball game?
Dana Vespoli: It depends on the sporting event. If it was boxing, I'd like to go see boxing.
Dana Vespoli: There are so many. I will just say The Revenant for this year. If I had to go with one of all time, I will have to say Manhattan. The Woody Allen movie.
Big D: Modern convenience you can not livwe without?
Dana Vespoli: Cell phone
Big D: Favorite vacation spot?
Dana Vespoli: Paris
Big D: Who is a person, living or dead, that you would like to meet but have not had the chance to meet yet?
Dana Vespoli: Oh my Lord. Boy! Let me see. I am going to say, it's weird it's on the tip of my tongue. There are so many of those too but if I had to pick just one. Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. Paul Thomas Anderson. Abraham Lincoln. I would really like to - this is going to sound horrible - but it would have to be translated and I would have to be kept safe but Genghis Khan. I'd like to understand what's going on.
Big D: Where is a place you would like to visit but have not had the chance to go?