There are many different ways to describe Joanna Angel and the type of porn she puts out. Alternative, goth, punk rock or underground porn could easily describe this girl's humble beginnings from the web to now a contract with VCA. Her impact has been so strong that she has been nominated for AVN's Best New Starlet award but has only put out five DVDs. In this interview with XRentDVD's Big D, Joanna talks about her humble beginnings on the web, struggling with signing with a major studio and why she considers herself a feminist despite working in porn.
Big D: So you call yourself a feminist with a porn site. Explain that a little more.
Joanna Angel: There is a book that just came out called Naked Ambition: Women Pornographers and how they are Changing the Industry by Carly Milne, and I have a chapter in it and that is what my chapter is called. That's why I have said that.
Big D: I am sure the traditional feminists of the world would be appalled to hear a woman that is actively involved in porn calling herself a feminist. What's your reaction to that?
Joanna Angel: I always considered myself a feminist but I didn't really feel like one until someone else called me a feminist. I didn't really think I was accomplished as a feminist until someone else called me one. Carly named my chapter and that made me really happy and made me feel like a real feminist. My whole chapter is about searching on how to be a true feminist and where to look for it and how I sort of found it through my website. It's a really important part of my life before porn and I have been trying to find the right outlet to express it properly. I think that through Burning Angel I've been able to find that right outlet. I don't think that everyone needs to do that and I think there are different ways for different women to be a real feminist. For me, I found it in porn.
Big D: You started out and gained popularity through your website, burningangel.com and became well known. Tell me about your decision to start the website and how did you start doing porn DVDs away from the internet for companies like Red Light District, DVSX and ultimately VCA.
Joanna Angel: Burning Angel started in April 2002 and it was really my roommate in college coming to me and asking me if I wanted to help start a porn site. I said okay. I have never really watched porn or been into porn or cared about porn nor had any feelings about porn whatsoever. I wasn't really an overtly sexual person or someone with repressed fantasies that needed to be unleashed. I was in my last year of school and I was looking for something exciting to do with my life. It just came along and I took the opportunity and I really, really liked it. It was not a serious thing and was done for fun. It was really the most embarrassing excuse for a website you could ever imagine. Most of it really didn't work. The pictures were really blurry and upside down. It was me and about five of my friends that had photo shoots on there and they were all shot by the guy that I started the website with. He was no photographer. We borrowed a camera from someone and it was like a school project. These were just my friends and I guess we got a lot of attention. I was getting interviewed by magazines which was really weird for me especially from where I was coming from. People would ask me, 'are you starting some sort of a revolution?' or 'What are you guys doing?'. We didn't set out to do that and everyone was interpreting it the way they wanted to. We weren't deliberately doing something different because I didn't know what regular porn was like so that we could be doing something so different from it. I was just sort of doing what I knew which was nothing. I guess I got a fair amount of attention quickly because it was so different. I know now what type of industry porn is and my site is definitely different from anything that is out there. I think people recognized that even with the couple of blurry photos we had on there when it started. It just has a different personality. I interviewed bands and put them up on the website too and tried to make the most out of it. I was still in school and still living in New Jersey and it wasn't a serious thing. I then finished school and it wasn't until a little over a year ago that we came together and asked ourselves what were going to do. We said, 'Okay we have this website thing. Do we want to make this a serious thing or do we want to keep doing this as a hobby and have our other jobs?' It started to get bigger and bigger but we didn't really know what to do with it. I sat down and went to an internet conference and asked questions on how to run an internet company. As that was happening I was sort of growing up and learning things about myself and experiencing things. Everything that I was learning and was doing was going into the growth of the website. A friend of mine offered me a free pass to the porn convention out in Las Vegas to see what was out there. I think that was about two years ago. That was the very first time I had ever seen porn. Once I got there I was like, 'Oh, I get it'. I didn't realize it was this humongous industry. At that time, Burning Angel was just a bunch of photos of my friends. I think we tried to be something artsy. I remember coming home form the convention and suggesting we should make some DVDs. I wasn't disgusted by it all because it was a learning experience. I knew that the DVD I would make would be nothing like the DVD they would make. I had no idea how to make something that would look like that. I just wanted to make my version of a porno DVD. That really got the ball rolling after we started doing that.
Big D: Since you went to Las Vegas and saw that everything there was completely different than what you guys were doing, did that open your eyes that you had something special that no one else had thought of?
Joanna Angel: I think one of the problems that people had with porn is that it is not real. What we were doing was pretty real.
Big D: Do you think it turned into a phenomenon because regular porn had soft lighting and professional camera work and you guys were raw and unpolished and people could identify with that?
Joanna Angel: I think it appealed to the type of people that would go to their corner coffee shop where you know everyone that works there rather than go to a Starbucks. Maybe the coffee there would be better or maybe it would be worse but it wouldn't be a big corporate environment. When anything is a big industry things become manufactured. It starts to become where you make something and then you multiply it and make as much of it for as many people as possible in a short amount of time so you can make as much money as you possibly can. That is what most of porn is and any other industry for that matter. Burning Angel was definitely not that and the people had the same type of relationship that they would have with that coffee shop where they feel connected. When I grew up, I grew up around the indie, underground culture and I was never into mainstream bands. I liked smaller bands even if their CDs sounded crappy and you could barely hear what was going on. There was something about the personality and the passion that went into it that attracted me to their music. I think that same way of thinking was what attracted other people to Burning Angel. It's not very often to find people who are doing porn and are really putting their hearts into it. We were not just saying, 'okay, if I use this girl, this girl and this girl with this guy, this guy and this guy and put this picture on the box cover and have this company distribute it, we'll make a lot of money.' That is the way a lot of porn that sells well is produced. It is an equation that has already been figured out that they are multiplying. We were sort of stupid from a marketing standpoint that we were not thinking about the consumers or who would buy it or where we would sell it. We were just making things that we thought were cool. We would find a way to do it as cheaply as possible without any prior skills or knowledge. I think people really liked that there were things that didn't really work on the site and the shadows or the people you see in the background. I think people really liked all of that and as we got more professional, people appreciated that a lot more than just going into a store and seeing a product that's perfect. Once we started to make things that didn't look completely disastrous our fans were really happy for us. It's sounds pretty silly but that is really what went on.
Big D: Coming from this background of being independent and not manufactured, how is the relationship with VCA since signing a contract with them? In all seriousness, VCA would be considered one of those monster production companies, part of Larry Flynt Productions, which could be lumped into that category of corporate, manufactured porn.
Joanna Angel: That was a really weird moment for us when we were approached with that opportunity. We didn't really know if we could go to work for someone else. That was rather strange to us. Burning Angel was at the point where we had made one DVD and we put our hearts into it. It took us about eight months to complete it. Things we scheduled either got canceled or stuff we shot could never be used because it was so terrible. We shot a scene and the mic was off on the camera and we had no sound. We had no idea what we were doing. When this thing finally came together we were in tears and we were so proud of ourselves. People really liked that DVD. It was frustrating for me to watch it because I knew if I had more money I could do something so awesome. It was very frustrating that it almost made me jealous because by this time I was starting to watch a lot more porn. I would watch other people's porn and I wouldn't be disgusted by it or offended. I would get jealous. I would say to myself, 'I wish we could get a camera like that' or 'I wish we could have lighting like that' or 'if we had more money to get a location we wouldn't have to shoot that scene in my bedroom'. Those girls looked really pretty and I thought if we had make-up artists our girls could look a little more glamorous. Because I had worked with so little money, just getting a little bit of money I felt like I could really do something amazing and not feel restricted at all. Part of the reason why I took it wasn't so much as to get out but rather because I wouldn't have to save up to put together a scene and then do and then wait to save up some more. That's not a very efficient way of doing things. I am a pretty humble person and I know what I am good at and what I'm not good at. When it came right down to it, I was just a young girl running a company which was something I really didn't know about. The thought of having a boss for a little while was kind of a relief to me. I felt that in order to be a better boss, I needed to have a boss for a little while. It almost got to the point where everyone at Burning Angel, which wasn't that many people, when there was a problem no one really knew what to do. I had a hard time telling other people what to do. I was supposed to be this boss and I wanted to be good at my job but I really didn't know what I was doing. It was hard for me to tell someone to do something when I didn't even know what I was doing. We had been doing what we were doing for about two years, found our personality and started to come into our own. So we thought it would be really cool to do something that everyone could see. We did have a small fan base compared to other things and very, very loyal fans. It was really cool to see what the rest of the world would think about us if they knew about us. It wasn't like we would have a million dollar marketing campaign where we would have ads everywhere and billboards in Times Square like for Jenna Jameson. I thought it would be a very good way for me to learn more about what the industry is like. I would learn more about directing and making porn in general from people who know what they are doing. This would be another way for people to know who we are. Meeting with VCA and going over everything it didn't take away from any of my creative control at all. I've heard of bands that have signed with major labels and now they have to completely change their sound just to be at the next level. We didn't really have to change anything. VCA wanted me to direct a movie because they wanted me to put what I was already doing in a more professional setting. I thought that was really cool because I didn't feel restricted creatively at all. If that were the case, I probably would have had a problem with it. I look at Joanna's Angels and I am so proud of it. I love being proud of what I do. Until that movie, I could always look at things and get a little annoyed. It was always because we didn't have enough money or we didn't have the right people or the right equipment. Having a professional company guide me through it and help my ideas come out better with the funding that I needed was really great. I'd like to continue making movies with them. It also helps the movies that I make for my website better.
Big D: What are the details of the deal with VCA? Is it only for directing or performance or both and for how long?
Joanna Angel: We don't really have anything on paper really. Basically I made one movie for them and they offered me to make another one and I said yes. I think they have been talking about me making more. I like making features for them. That's something we can not do on Burning Angel. I want to continue to make the movies that Burning Angel is making. I want to have every couple months have a big feature come out with them. We are still using all Burning Angel girls and it is all shot in New York. We get to raise the professionalism a little bit and it's pretty cool. It's very exciting for some of these girls that have shot scenes with me before on a couch in my room where now they will be making a really big porno movie once every couple months. It makes them really happy that I am able to offer that opportunity.
Big D: You mentioned you have a very loyal fan base before you joined VCA. How did they react to doing movies for VCA? Was their reaction that you sold out and are no longer cool because you aren't independent like you were?
Joanna Angel: They love it. They love the movie. Everybody knows that this movie was not me selling out. Joanna's Angels was me finally being able to do what I wanted to do. I think everyone who had been on Burning Angel for a while would say that. The movie was great. I think it is really hard to be a sellout in porn. Any Burning Angel fan could watch that movie and understand that it is one big running inside joke between me and all of our fans and members. There are a lot of references to places where we hang out in New York. A lot of it was shot in places where we hang out in bars and friends gave us music. All of the characters in the movie were playing parodies of themselves that have already appeared on Burning Angel. It's really funny.
Big D: Were you surprised you were nominated for Best New Starlet by AVN even though you haven't really put out that many DVDs?
Joanna Angel: I was extremely surprised. I really didn't know how to take it. I am really happy and really flattered. At this point I have done about 17 movies that were not Burning Angel movies and I was playing just a role. I think anyone that wants to be a porno director should just go be a porno actor for a little bit. It is really helpful and you learn so much on set if you really want to pay attention. It's the insider information that no one else can get. Most of those movies have not come out yet. The only movies that have come out yet are those of my own and a few others. I remember before the nominations were announced that I was thinking 'that sucks, I wish more of my movies had come out and I would have a better chance of being nominated for best new starlet'. Then when the nominations came out it was like, 'whoa, that's crazy'. I kind of feel like I don't deserve it but of course I really want it. I was really happy to get nominated.
Big D: Which are you more proud of; being nominated even though you haven't had a lot of movies released yet or the nominations that your movie received for Best Screenplay or Best Actress?
Joanna Angel: I am proud of every single one. I am not at the point in my career where I can take anything for granted. We started from nothing, so anything that comes to me I am happy about. I want to always try to be that way because I don't like when people are jaded. I really try to appreciate everything that comes to me. I think I am most proud of the Best Screenplay nomination because I worked really hard on that. I've always been a writer. When I was writing it, I would ask myself, 'is anyone else going to really get this?', because it was a lot of inside jokes. 'Is anyone else going to find this funny but me?'. I probably work harder on my writing than anything else I do. Almost too hard sometimes where I will stay up many days in a row because I am stuck on one word and I can't sleep unless I am happy with it. That one is probably the one that I am most proud of because I put the most effort into writing the screenplay. That took the most brainpower. I am the most excited about the Best New Starlet award because that is the most glamorous award. It made me feel like I was this seventh grade loser that just got accepted to the cheerleading squad. I know it sounds silly but it made me feel like I got invited to some football player's party or something like that. It was like, 'why are they asking me? I am a big loser'.
Big D: You recently were published in the book Naked Ambition: Women Pornographers and how they are Changing the Industry by Carly Milne. Are you more proud of that than the porn you have put out on the web or on DVD?
Joanna Angel: I think my biggest accomplishment is that book. A lot of people judge success financially. That was definitely not a financial accomplishment at all. The dollar amount did not reach three digits I will tell you that. I am most proud because I am in the same book with other women that I believe have changed the world not just pornography. Once I started learning about porn there were a few select women that really had a big impact on the way I turned out by either watching their movies or going and listening to them speak. To be associated with these women and to know that I might have that affect on another girl one day, even if it is just one, that means more to me than driving a Hummer. It really made me feel like I was doing something good. It's really hard to feel good about what you are doing when you are doing porn. Even if the directors do not intend for this to happen but a lot of girls tend to go crazy in this industry and it does have a negative affect on it. A lot of the directors are not intending on ruining girls' lives, they are just doing their jobs and making movies. I am a very strong person and I am definitely proud of what I do. There are times when I ask myself, 'what am I doing to myself?' or 'why am I here?'. I am a good person and I don't want to do anything that hurts people or exploits people and it is very hard to find a comfortable, successful place in this industry where you can be doing that. I feel the same way about any big company. Nike and Coca-Cola exploit their employees and do terrible things to them and put their profits before any of their morals. I felt that when that book came out it was some sort of validation that I was asked to be in it that I was doing something positive for the world. To be able to do that through pornography is a big feat and is important. Now that I have that validation I feel like we can go really far and am able to do it in a fair way. I am really glad that we have been able to come far and we haven't had to sacrifice any morals or beliefs creatively that we have wanted to keep. My passion has always been writing ever since I was little. It has always been my dream to have a book published more than anything. I never tried to be a full-time writer that sat in my house and sent manuscripts to people because that sounds terribly depressing. For as long as I can remember I have been writing everyday mostly for fun in my room and no one ever reads it. To write something that is in a book is a pretty big deal for me.
Big D: You sort of fell into this career because you didn't go off to college thinking you wanted to become a pornographer. What do you think might have happened had your roommate never approached you with the idea to start a website? If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?
Joanna Angel: I would have probably gone to grad school. That's where people normally go when they don't really know what they want to do. I always wanted to write. I remember my dad asking me what I wanted to do. I really didn't want to work for a magazine or do things that most writers have to settle to do. I would have rather been a waitress and hope to get published one day. I've never been one to want some sort of corporate job. I probably would have gone to grad school and then procrastinated getting a job after that. After I graduated I knew Burning Angel was doing something and that I really shouldn't look for a serious career because I have this thing that I really don't want to ignore. I knew I wanted to do something with it. I wasn't quite sure what but it was something. That's when I became a stripper. I really liked that.
Big D: Stripping is a way you can get that Hummer you were talking about really fast.
Joanna Angel: I bought a car and I paid off all my student loans. I really didn't stop stripping until about eight months ago because it was just getting too much. When I had to stop I was kind of depressed about it. I really enjoyed it but I really needed a ticket to keep Burning Angel going. I know it sounds silly because I went to college but I really don't think I would ever have a normal job.
Big D: First job?
Joanna Angel: I worked at a fast food restaurant as a cash register girl in high school. I had to fry the chicken. It turned me into a vegetarian at a very young age.
Big D: First concert?
Joanna Angel: I am not really sure. I am sure it will be something embarrassing. I think it was Paula Abdul.
Big D: First car?
Joanna Angel: It was a white 1988 Pontiac Boneville. It broke down on a regular basis. It was very big, like a boat. I pretty much drove it until everything in it was broken and no mechanic would fix it anymore. Fortunately that time was right about when I became a stripper and I was able to buy a new one.
Big D: What's in your CD player right now?
Joanna Angel: My Chemical Romance. That's probably the one band I am listening to way too much lately. Gang of Four. I think they came out with a Best of type album with some songs that had not been previously released.
Big D: Favorite food?
Joanna Angel: I like bagels.
Big D: First porn you ever watched?
Joanna Angel: I think the first one I ever watched I was in sixth grade with this guy and he found some Penthouse porno thing that was in his dad's room. We watched it for a couple of minutes and I was shocked and then said, 'I feel funny'. First porn I ever masturbated to was a Jules JordanFlesh Hunter porn. It was either Flesh Hunter #3 or number four. I masturbated to it so any times. I think Jules Jordan has the best porn to masturbate to.
Big D: Favorite position?
Joanna Angel: This sounds really boring because people ask me this question all the time. I think I like missionary position because I have pretty much tried all of the ones that are humanly possible. I think missionary gets a bad rap because the name, missionary, sounds boring. You can be really intimate and dirty at the same time. I like to be able to feel the other person and see the other person and be able to have a connection with them. Call me crazy. I like that position the best because there is a lot you can do with it. For a while I liked getting fucked doggy style and that was my thing. I have this new found love for missionary that just happened this year. There is a lot you can do with it that people don't normally do.
Big D: Go to the movies or go to the ballgame?
Joanna Angel: I might go to the ballgame just because I have never been to one. I think it might be funny just to do something really American like that. I would like to go to a game one day so that is probably why I would pick ballgame tickets. I would much rather go to the movies. I can't really say I would go to the ballgame because I never go to them.
Big D: What modern convenience can you not live without?
Joanna Angel: The internet.
Big D: Favorite mainstream movie?
Joanna Angel: Halloween.
Big D: Favorite vacation spot?
Joanna Angel: I really don't get too many vacations. The last time I went on vacation I went to Paris. I love Paris. It's my favorite place to be. When I think of paradise I think of going there for another vacation which will hopefully happen again at some point in my life. I just like to indulge in life there. You can just eat and drink all day until you pass out.
Big D: Person you'd like to meet that you have not met?
Joanna Angel: 50 Cent. I really want to meet him.
Big D: Place you want to visit but haven't yet?
Joanna Angel: You know, I have never been to a tropical island. I've been to Europe in Amsterdam and Prague and Germany and England and Paris. I've never been to a place like the Bahamas. I think I would really like to go there. It just looks pretty in the commercials and it looks like something I should do at some point in my life.