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May 01, 2018

Stormy Daniels Shares Her Wicked Past—and the DP in Her Future

This interview with Stormy Daniels by Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals is featured in the May 2018 issue of AVN magazine, which can be seen online here. Above, photo courtesy Digital Playground. Everyone in the U.S. knows everything about Stormy Daniels—her legal name, her well-developed ability to cut Twitter fools off at the knees, and who her attorney is. Within the world of porn specifically, people know quite a bit about her too. She’s won many industry awards (including AVN’s coveted Best New Starlet Award in 2004), she’s a magnet for mainstream attention, and she’s been a Wicked Girl since 2002. One of the most overlooked aspects of Daniels’ storied, spectacle-laden career though is that she’s also a director. That hasn’t changed—but her affiliation with Wicked Pictures has. Amid everything else happening in her life, Daniels’ sixteen-year performer/director contract relationship with Wicked Pictures terminated this past January. In its place: a director contract with Digital Playground and performer contract with Digital Playground and Brazzers. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Daniels about her filmmaking work, her once seemingly inextricable link to an iconic industry brand, and her new path forward within another equally iconic space. Here’s what she had to say. Dr. Chauntelle: How did you end up being a contract director at Wicked Pictures? Stormy Daniels: During the first year I was with Wicked [as a contract performer], I wrote a couple of scripts. Brad Armstrong was having trouble writing a script, and I said, “I can help you, I write.” He laughed at me, which really, really pissed me off at the time. Looking back, I understand where he was coming from though. Since I’ve been a director for so many years, I’ve gotten hundreds of scripts in the mail and none of them have been shootable. They are all so terrible. So, I’m sure he was chuckling at me based on the fact that most people can’t write a good adult movie script. But he read mine and loved it and bought it and asked me if I could do some more. It grew from there. I also wrote scripts for Michael Raven and Jonathan Morgan, who were the other contract directors for Wicked at the time. But the problem with that was that I have a photographic memory, so when I write a script the movie actually plays in my head. Like, it’s very specific and even though Brad, Jonathan and Michael Raven are all fantastic directors and they didn’t do anything wrong, it’s still going to be their interpretation of what I’ve written. So, that was really irritating, like “You’re ruining my vision” and “In my mind she had on a purple shirt, and you just put her in yellow? This whole thing is a disaster!” So, you needed to actualize your vision and directing was the natural next step? Right. And this was back when money was no object for the big companies, and I really just wanted to know if—just one time—I could take something from my head to paper to screen. I was able to bluff the owner of Wicked into letting me direct a movie. It was called One Night in Vegas (2004), and I wrote it, of course, and it starred Kaylani Lei. I’m pretty detail-oriented—it goes with me being a control freak—so I was pretty prepared production-wise, and I have a really great crew. Most of them still work for me to this day. But I remember sitting in the director’s chair the first day and leaning over to Jake Jacobs—who still works for me and has worked for me on every movie I’ve shot—and [saying], “OK, so when do I call ‘action’?” and he was whispering in my ear and coaching me. I totally had no idea what I was doing! Halfway through the first day, though, I remember standing at the top of the staircase and directing kind of a big scene because, of course, it was my first movie and I had to complicate things. ... And I remember standing on top of the stairs and people are asking me what to do and I’m giving directions and orders to talent and crew, and I had an epiphany. I was just standing there and I had this moment, like, “Oh my God, this is what I was meant to do.” And then my very next thought was, “Muhahaha I’m the puppet master, they must do what I say”—and I’ve been drunk with power ever since that moment. Well, you’re a diverse puppet master: comedies, Westerns, that gruesome one where the teen runaway dies in the end (Wanderlust, 2013). What do you like directing best? I like the comedies and then my second favorite is really dark and suspenseful. I have a really hard time writing just a “normal” romance, which was tough because I was the director for the Wicked Passions line. My contract with Wicked was to direct ten movies a year, and then it changed to five regular Wicked movies and five Wicked Passions movies. I struggled every time I had to write one of those because you can’t be too much of anything—you can’t be too dark, you can’t be too funny, you can’t be too sad. It’s just, like, so plain. Do you think they gave you the Passions ones because you’re a lady, and ladies know a lot about passion and romance? Nobody else really did very many of them, but I don’t think that it had anything to do with my vagina. I think it had to do with the fact that I was the only one that could get the scripts approved consistently. I was punished for my good behavior. So, what are some of your favorites? Sleeping Around (2006)—I love that movie. I had dinner with Randy Spears recently, and we talked about that movie. I haven’t talked about that movie in ten years, and we had [our friends] in stitches. We were talking about when I jumped over the couch and how I chased him with the dildo—it’s still one of my favorites for sure. I like that one, and I like Divorcees (2013) a lot. I felt like the dialogue was really real. It wasn’t contrived or trying to paint a picture of how nice divorced ladies should talk. I also like Switch (2013) a lot, where me and Michael Vegas switch bodies—he does a fantastic Stormy—and then, of course, I love Wanted (2015) because I survived it. But really, I’ve done so many, it’s hard for me to pick. I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done. Stormy Daniels, photo courtesy Digital Playground   ...and yet, after all that, now you are with Digital Playground and Brazzers? Yes. Honestly, I thought that I would be at Wicked forever—or, at least until there was no more Wicked or I got hit by a car or fell of my horse too many times and couldn’t function anymore. I don’t know, I just never really imagined that I would be in the adult business and not be with Wicked Pictures. The very first porn set that I ever set foot on was a Wicked set, my first boy-girl scene was for a Wicked movie and my first feature and, I mean, I just never really thought I would be anywhere else. So, what happened? Over the last couple years, obviously, money has become tighter, budgets have gotten smaller, and the work has gotten harder. I added it up one day and, for the last couple years, I’ve been making minimum wage if you break it down by the hours that I put in. It was a labor of love, though, like when I did Wanted. So many things went wrong on the set. ... My profit was less than $700 when it was all said and done because I put so much of my own money back in. I didn’t care though because I loved it and I was so grateful to finally do this movie that I’d tried to get done for so long, but that also kept me there perhaps longer than I should have. You know, it’s hard to stand in your living room and look around and go, “I would have none of this if it wasn’t for my job” and the job that was with Wicked. But it’s also been pointed out to me that I earned it. Like, I did the work to get the money ... ... but a bunch of things happened that made it increasingly hard for me. I didn’t feel like [Wicked] was aligned with who I was and what I wanted to portray. “A bunch of things” like what? I felt like increasingly, over the last couple years, I have not gotten the attention or the press that I should have, while other people get all the attention and press. For instance, if one of the other girls was doing a dance booking, Wicked tweeted the shit out of it. I did multiple appearances without a peep. I was repeatedly left off of things. One of the biggest blows to me was that I waited until last year to do my first anal scene, and Wicked didn’t even mention it. It’s not even listed on the box, that’s how little they paid attention to me. They were basically burying my name and my career and giving attention to other people. Editor’s note: AVN contacted Wicked Pictures head Steven Orenstein for his comments on Daniels’ statements about her experiences with the studio. Orenstein responded as follows: “Stormy had wanted to shoot a big western for years. We finally agreed to let her shoot Wanted, an Adam and Eve co-production, just a couple of years ago, to support her in the creation of her passion project. We were very happy with the job she did and the final product, although the shoot came in about $30,000 over budget. The overage we incurred is more than most companies spend on their budgets in their entirety. Of course based on the long relationship we had at that point we continued to have Stormy direct her usual amount of movies going forward without change. “Stormy was under exclusive contract with Wicked for 15 years. We have always supported her as best we could. Early on in that relationship, we embraced her desire to write scripts and then to direct her own scripts, while most still thought of her only as a ‘porn star.’ When she decided she wanted to have a child but didn’t want to be that long without new releases featuring her on the market, we agreed to shoot twice the amount of movies in one year and hold half to release the following year. Besides Wanted, which was shot a couple of years ago, last year Stormy shot our highest-budget Wicked Passions feature to date. Certainly, over a relationship this long, there will be plenty of great and not so great things that happen. Stormy has always been a very strong personality and handled things as she felt best. After this long, things become expected from both sides and to keep a relationship strong both sides need to work harder in that relationship to keep it strong. That probably wasn’t done properly from either side.” And what about when the stories related to Donald Trump began to break at the end of last year? Well, let’s just say that I was actually trapped in a hotel room because of the media attention, and I got 472 text messages the day the story broke but it took Wicked eight days to reach out to me. No one from Wicked—who I thought was my family—called to say “Are you OK? How do you want us to handle this? Is your family safe? Is there anything we can do?” Nothing, for eight days. Wicked chief Steve Orenstein responds: “Of course we were—and are—concerned for Stormy’s health and welfare. There is public communication and private. We were in private contact with her, having normal talks about things like the XBIZ Awards, where we had hired security for her, as she had planned to attend until 5 p.m. that evening. At that time we heard about her concerns and the aggressive press. “After fifteen years I care more about Stormy herself than whether she directs or performs more movies for us. Like I told her directly at the [AVN Adult Entertainment Expo] hours before the AVN Awards red carpet, when she let me know she had made a deal for a lot of money with another company and wasn’t going to continue our deal, I wish her well. If she was able to make a lot more money than she was making at Wicked I am happy for her. I truly hope it works out as she hoped and she is happy. We support her in all her efforts to get her story out to the public and to get whatever closure she needs.” I spoke to [director, producer and performer] Keiran [Lee], and he said “I’ve been telling Stormy to join MindGeek and Digital [Playground] for a long time. I’ve always felt she was held back in some ways at Wicked and always had to play second fiddle to other directors.” I’m too loyal for my own good. I probably should have left a while ago. ...and now you have. So, how do you feel about MindGeek’s reputation for piracy and generally gutting and monopolizing the industry? I felt like I was meeting with the enemy. It was really hard for me to accept, and there’s no easy answer to that. What I did not know—and I will say was kind of eye-opening—is that their reputation is far worse than what they’re really doing. Like I was always told from Wicked that they were stealing our content, but then they showed me that they have a deal in place with Wicked. I knew they ran the Wicked website, but what I didn’t know was that [Wicked] made separate edited clips specifically for the tube sites. I didn’t know that it was like that. I still don’t like it, but that’s just the changing environment and technology. I wish people still went to record stores and bought CDs, but that’s not the nature of the business. It’s either adapt ... or don’t. So you’re adapting via this new contract. What does it involve? I’ll be directing for all the different projects under the Digital Playground label—like, their series, their scenes, and their movies—every month, so there’s not a set number of projects required because they format things a little bit differently than I’m used to in relation to the way my old contract [with Wicked] was structured. As far as performing, we’re starting with two scenes—one for Brazzers and one for Digital. The bulk of my deal is directing, but I’ll have the option to do more [performing] if and however often I want to. Why do you think they hired you? I know that they are wanting to return Digital Playground back to its original classic format, which is back to the feature movies that they were once known for. ... And I’ve been directing features exclusively for fifteen years, and I know that they are very excited to add a female director to the MindGeek brand. And hopefully, they hired me because I’m awesome and I know what I’m doing. Your first shoot for them is coming up at the beginning of April. Are you nervous? Oh, I am shitting my pants. I don’t like change and literally everything, even the budget form, is different. They upload differently, they need things in different formats, and they have their own system in place and I don’t know that system yet, so I feel like I’m flying blind and that makes me uncomfortable. And I know that I’m being scrutinized and judged a lot harder because they’re evaluating. Honestly, the biggest change for me is that I don’t get to write my own scripts anymore. They write the scripts and give them to me and any changes have to go through this whole chain, whereas I had so much control before. Tibbals reconnected with Daniels after she wrapped Highway Home, a story about a young woman on a journey of self-discovery that culminates in a reconciliation with her past. Here’s what she had to say: Well, how did it go? It went well. It was very different and I felt very out of my element the whole time, but I was still very pleased with the performances and the footage we captured. I think [Digital Playground] will be happy. I had my same crew, which almost made it more difficult because they all felt out of their element too. These guys and I have worked together, most of us for over a decade, and we have our system in place and the way that we do things. And then you take us collectively and put us in a situation where all of the protocols and the system and everything is different and we are all learning together—when it comes to paperwork and all of that, it was a little bit like the blind leading the blind. Digital Playground is very detail oriented and I am used to having more creative freedom, so I felt a little confined at moments—but the flip side of that was that I also felt a little bit relieved to not have to make every single decision, especially considering everything that’s going on [in the “off set” world] right now. How do you feel about your future in this new environment? Well, depending on how fucked-up the paperwork is ... aside from that, I’m feeling pretty confident! Honestly, I feel a little bit confined, but I hope that as the company and I develop our relationship—both creatively and our working relationship—that I’ll be able to address some of those things and the crack in the door will be widened for creative input and ideas. I feel like they are open to listening, I just have to prove myself first. As a takeaway, what do you want the lovers (and the haters) to know about Stormy Daniels, Director? I hope that people, both cast and crew, don’t treat me differently on set because of everything that’s going on. That would affect performances for sure, and that’s the last thing I want to have happen—because making great movies ... writing and directing and creating interesting projects for the fans and viewers, as well as for the talent ... that’s still my first love. Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals is a sociologist and author. Contact her via Twitter at @drchauntelle. Stormy Daniels, photo courtesy Digital Playground

 
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