Booty on the high-production seas
By Jessica Lum
Nov. 30, 2008 9:47 p.m.
There’s nothing small about “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge.”
“Stagnetti’s Revenge”, an X-rated feature written and directed by Ali Joone, has the biggest budget in the history of pornography. The film was budgeted at a whopping $8 million, a title previously held by the 2005 prequel, “Pirates,” which cost $3 million, according to Joone. The sequel, which invested most of its colossal budget in special effects and big names in adult talent, premiered on the big screen at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles in September.
UCLA’s Campus Events Commission will screen “Stagnetti’s Revenge” Wednesday in Ackerman Grand Ballroom, followed by a question and answer panel featuring Joone and several cast members.
CEC Commissioner Penson Liu, a fourth-year psychology student, hopes that students will benefit from the panel after the screening.
“We wanted to spark this dialogue of how the adult film industry, mainstream media, and regular films are becoming so (similar) … There’s a blurring of that line,” he said.
Adult actress Stoya, who was nominated for two AVN Adult Movie Show Awards for her performance in “Pirates II,” said she enjoyed the Hollywood treatment the film received. “I was extremely impressed. They had a premiere … and showed the movie on the big screen like a Hollywood movie,” she said. “It was a little awkward to see my vagina five feet tall.”
Liu noted that in 1978, CEC screened another X-rated film, “Deep Throat,” directed by Gerard Damiano and starring Linda Lovelace. Given the precedent of “Deep Throat,” one of the most profitable adult films of all time and one that captured the mainstream audience’s attention, Liu said CEC concluded that “Pirates II” might be an diversifying addition to its usual calendar of free sneaks.
Much like “Deep Throat,” “Pirates” and “Pirates II” also pioneer new methods of porn production.
As the name implies, Joone said his company, Digital Playground, has always thought of ways to incorporate technology of the digital age into his productions. For example, in recent years the company began producing the interactive DVD series “Virtual Sex.”
Additionally, according to Joone, Digital Playground is the first adult film studio to shoot in high definition. Other outlets of distribution include HD Blu-Ray discs and streaming movies formatted specifically for iPhones. “We try to use tech as much as possible to give the consumer the choice on how to view their material,” Joone said.
Through these alternative marketing and distribution methods, Joone said he hopes to avoid succumbing to the lethargic market dynamic that is characteristic of the modern adult film industry, as well as the Hollywood film industry of the 1950s.
The average 1950s consumer preferred to watch television at home, rather than go to movie theaters, just as most porn viewers prefer to stay within the privacy of their homes.
“We need to make better movies, to make people want to pay money to see it … People will not pay for a product where they can get it for free on the Internet,” Joone said.
Jennifer Moorman, a doctorate student of cinema and media studies at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, is writing her thesis based on an adult entertainment industry study. Moorman noted that the Hollywood trend of turning to bigger budgets for bigger audience turnouts now affects the adult film industry.
“(Hollywood) started making bigger budget films, and that’s how the blockbuster came about … Here we see something similar,” Moorman said. “With the competition of the Internet, porn studios are raising their budgets and making big films with higher production values.”
Thus, “Pirates” and “Pirates II” have much of the commercial appeal of Hollywood blockbusters: star power, with big stars such as Jesse Jane, BellaDonna, Riley Steele and Sasha Grey; a fast-paced plotline (Jesse Jane and Evan Stone return in the sequel to complete their pirate-hunting expedition); and plenty of battle scenes enhanced with special effects.
Joone noted that transforming the stars into actors was sometimes tough but rewarding. “None of them have formal training. Most haven’t done dialogues before,” Joone said. “BellaDonna has only done sex scenes before. Through this process she kind of found out she had talent in doing dialogue.”
On the other hand, Stoya said she still prefers pure porn to Hollywood productions. “I signed up for porn because I’m a whore … I’ll (act) if it’s required for the role on the movie,” Stoya said.
In addition to enlisting talent, Joone said he wanted to emphasize character development to provide context for sex scenes through the plot. “If you don’t build it up, then the payoff is not that great. To me it’s all about the buildup,” Joone said. “To me, the sex really happens before the sex.”
Joone originally wrote the first “Pirates” as a non-pornographic film; there is even an R-rated version available to consumers. Though he admits that his interest in pirates was sparked by fond childhood memoirs of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disneyland, his inspiration to write a pirates movie came from a short film that “Pirates” male lead Evan Stone made on a whim while in Bora Bora.
“We gave it to Joone and he absolutely fell in love with it,” Stone said.
“It tries to be its own movie, rather than mimic something else,” Joone added.
Because of the high production value of the film, Joone believes that “Pirates” appeals to a wide demographic of viewers. “It becomes more of a couple-friendly movie,” Joone said, “Porn is a very generic name … but if you take the time to look, there’s a lot of different flavors.”