Interview: Adult Filmmaker Erika Lust

Editor Matty Byloos, Interview, July 4th, 2016

"...when it comes to the sex, the main key is that I don't direct it."

Erika Lust NAILED Interview
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Erika Lust makes films. They’re of a sexual nature, sure — she’s an adult filmmaker, after all, but they’re something else, too. In a world where, according to Forbes Magazine*, as much as 13% of all web searches were for “erotic content” in a single year, there’s certainly no shortage of pornography out there, with something for everyone to love or hate. And in that sea of adult films, she still manages to stand out. Has the female perspective finally come to porn in a way that brings the sensual and the real back into adult films? Where did this filmmaker come from and what do her politics look like around sexuality, pornography, feminism? We interviewed Erika Lust to find out the answers to these questions and more. Enjoy.

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NAILED MAGAZINE: In terms of what you make, how do you refer to yourself? As in, what is your profession, or what would you tell someone at a cocktail party that you do for a living?

ERIKA LUST: Over the years I’ve referred to myself as many things… feminist erotic filmmaker, feminist director, female director of erotic films… but it took a little time to find the one that I felt truly described what I do and didn’t carry the negative or misunderstood connotations of those titles. Feminism and porn either confused people, or they only thought it was all girl films only to be watched only by women. And this just wasn’t true of what I was making at all.

I’m also a full time mum to my two daughters, I’ve written books and started my own company Lust Films, so I guess I’m a business woman as well!

But, right now, what best describes my work and communicates the professionalism I take, is Director of Independent Adult Cinema, as it sums up my passion for cinematography, creativity, beautiful erotica and clean values.

NAILED: That’s interesting — do you think that bringing in the term “feminism” to describe what you do professionally had too much of a political charge to it? Have you maintained a feminist perspective or sense of politics in your work and life, but just dropped the descriptive from your title?

LUST: I personally don’t think the word feminist is too charged, but “feminist porn” is a complicated concept that is easily and often misunderstood. Too many people think it’s porn with furious women that humiliate and oppress men, or that it’s only lesbian porn, or just made for women only, or that’s it meant to be any type of “better ” porn – none of those things is true! Feminist porn doesn’t work like one homogeneous group of filmmakers, like one brain thinking collectively, creating one type of film.

Some films are good and others less good, but whatever the definition, they’re needed as a counterweight to mainstream porn, the kind that in most cases is full of chauvinism.

Erika Lust NAILED Interview

The reason I prefer to refer to films simply as erotic films or Independent Adult Cinema is partly for simplicity – it means I don’t need 15 minutes to explain what it is I do for a living. That doesn’t mean that I’m not a feminist and that my films don’t embody my feminist values. They are that too, but for example, a writer might be a feminist, and they might see themselves as yes, a feminist writer, but also maybe as a novelist, author, a poet or simply – a writer. So when I refer to my work as other things, it doesn’t mean I reject the feminist label – not at all. I will always maintain a feminist perspective in my work. But it’s not the only thing that’s important in it. Because it’s not just about a political idea – it is about film, art, culture, creativity and pleasure too!

NAILED: How did you begin this career? Were you first studying film on a technical level, or cinema on a cultural / philosophical level, and then applying what you learned to the genre of adult films? Or were you interested in sexuality, or adult film, and you wanted to do something about the dearth of well-made films from a feminine perspective? Or was it something completely different?

Erika Lust NAILED Interview

LUST: My university background is in Political Science and Gender studies at the University of Lund in Sweden, so I always had an interest for politics and sexuality in an academic sense. At that time, I had no idea I would be doing this for a career, but I thought about the discourse of pornography a lot during my university years, and I would say my background in political sciences has greatly influenced my film making. It wasn’t until then that I had the space, time, and tools to really think about the structures of mainstream porn and its messages, who’s behind it and who gets to have a voice and so on.

Erika Lust NAILED InterviewI had a eureka moment when studying Lina Williams (and her book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible”) and I realized that mainstream porn is not something that reflects a truth about sex – it’s a statement, an idea, it’s expressing ideologies and values, opinions about sex and gender. So the more I learned about pornographic discourse, the more I worked up the courage to try to create something totally different in the genre – my own films, according to my taste, expressing my own values and ideas, showing the importance of female pleasure and desire as well.

But having said all that, it’s by no means all about politics. No, no no… it’s as much about pleasure, art, fun, and sex too! But to me, being aware of the politics behind artistic expressions doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun being creative with a project. The love of filmmaking is in my heart, politics is more in my head. So it’s not just politics that drives me, it’s passion for film too, and wanting to make sexy, beautiful films that are exciting to watch.

After university, I moved to Barcelona and that’s when I started taking classes in direction and working in production houses to learn as much as I could. I’ve always been a film nerd so that helps too. I started shooting my own films and quickly saw there was a market for them after my first film THE GOOD GIRL was downloaded for free over two million times in the space of a few months!

NAILED: There’s something very passionate in nearly every one of your films. What do you think is the source of that passion? I want to be very specific about this — the people in the films are real people, not your standard actors in standard pornography. Their bodies move differently, there’s always a quality of intimacy and of shared pleasure. It’s almost like watching a sexualized version of a Cassavetes movie, where you know the actors in the film have some real connection and relationship with each other off screen, so when they’re in scene together, there’s chemistry and emotion and all of the things that we experience in real life. It makes your movies so much more interesting.

Erika Lust NAILED Interview

LUST: I’m a passionate person and so is my team so it’s embedded in every part of the production process. When choosing the confessions, the location, and then deciding on the aesthetic and creating the story, every narrative has to have passion and connection. The characters need to have a reason to be there. A realistic passionate reason to have sex that’s in the interest of them both, that’s consensual.

Then when it comes to casting, I always make sure the people I am working with love their job, love sex, and like our ethos. I will also extensively talk with them about what they like, if there is anyone they wish to work with, and to find out what they are like as people and see if they share my values.

Usually they have people they like performing with or something they want to try. This helps me decide who to put together. So often when the performers meet they get on well and have natural chemistry. Then when it comes to the sex, the main key is that I don’t direct it. I let the performers do what feels pleasurable. Then it’s down to me and my team to capture all those tiny details that make up sex. Creating a narrative that shows the fun, passion, and intimacy of it.

Erika Lust NAILED Interview

NAILED: In many scenes, the point of view is that of a woman’s, and it permeates the film — the fantasies are from the female’s perspective. The places where the camera goes to are decidedly not masculine or stereotypical shots from mainstream pornography. The cinematography is well conceived and there’s a lushness to the photographs, how things are framed. Is this part of your consciousness about setting out to do something different with the genre of porn? If so, to what ends? What do you anticipate your audience taking away from your art?

LUST: I’m a cinephile, so I love movies and series. I love cinematography, creativity, and innovation. And I saw no reason as to why we couldn’t inject that into our porn. So it’s in every step of my consciousness when I start to think about the film I’m about to make. From choosing the confession to the location, the art direction, the styling, the script, characters, and of course, the sex.

Erika Lust NAILED InterviewI want to tell a story, show real people, real passion. I am offering something completely different to what I see as very boring mainstream porn. I want to offer an alternative for people who aren’t satisfied with what they see. So they can be inspired, to be turned on and to enjoy the experience. To see people enjoying their sexuality, desires and kinks!

NAILED: Have you ever been obsessed with anything? Are any obsessions, sexual or otherwise, at play in your films? If so, what are they, where did they originate, and how have you made them (or avoided making them) a part of your art?

LUST: Oh many things! Especially with XConfessions, when I get so many great fantasies being sent to me every month. But that also means they change a lot, as once I get to make a great film with that obsession, usually I’m looking for the next. But there are some recurring themes, like shooting films with food; I love oysters, and food and sex go so well together. That lead to films like, Eat With… Me and My First Time Eating Oysters and Pussy.

More recently, I have been very into exploring BDSM, power play relationships, and the more kinky and fetish side to sex. It started with An Appointment with Master, as I also felt like I needed to make a film that clearly showed the importance of communication between people in a BDSM relationship, and that it’s actually the dominant who is there to serve the submissive. BDSM too often gets a bad reputation. Then I made Dominate Me, and at the next shooting, I am looking to work with latex clothing!

Another recent obsession I had was when I found this metallic gynecology chair. I loved it and had to shoot with it. But it took some time to find the right confession. Now you can see it in Dirty Doctor. And doesn’t it look awesome!

So yes, I can have a lot of obsessions, but once I find the right confessions and film to shoot, and the end result looks so great, it’s so satisfying.

NAILED: Will you always work within the genre of adult film, or is there another form of art, cinematographic or otherwise, or even a specific project, that you’d ideally like to pursue in the future?

LUST: I have always been a cinephile, so as much as XConfessions is amazing for letting me exercise my “director’s muscle” a lot with lots of short films, I would love to make a feature length film, and I will be soon! Later this year, pre-production will start for my first feature length film Barcelona 2000, which is based on my erotic novel La Cancion de Nora. There also plans in the works to start a tv series as well. All in the very early stages, so keep your eyes peeled!

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erika lust filmmakerErika Lust (erikalust.com) is a filmmaker, writer and blogger based in Barcelona. Born in 1977 in Sweden, she studied political science, feminism and sexuality. Tired of chauvinistic and tacky mainstream porn, she burst into the adult industry in 2004, with the indie short film The Good Girl — a humorous statement of principles.
The immediate success of this first attempt encouraged her to pursue a film career. Besides the XConfessions series, Erika has directed four multi-award winning features: Five Hot Stories For Her, Barcelona Sex Project, Life Love Lust and Cabaret Desire. Last year she gave her “It’s Time for Porn to Change” talk at TEDxVienna, which gained her notoriety for her campaign to change porn. She defends the need of having women behind the camera in all key positions. Her female characters are sex-positive, powerful and active, captured within films embodying her sexually intelligent narratives with relatable characters and realistic hot sex.
* Forbes citation here.
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Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).