James Franco, Unfiltered
By Jerry Portwood
James Franco and Christina Voros understand each other. After meeting at NYU’s film school, they’ve collaborated closely on many projects. Voros was the cinematographer on several of Franco’s indie films—including Child of God, As I Lay Dying, and Sal—and they worked together on a documentary titled Saturday Night, about SNL, that will premiere on Hulu for the show's 40th anniverary. But she still didn’t understand why Franco, who produced the documentary Kink, thought she’d be perfect directing a doc about Kink.com’s San Francisco Armory facilities.
“James was more certain that it was the right fit for me than I was,” she explains. “I was not 100-percent sure about what my entry into the story was going to be. James said just go see this place and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I spent an afternoon talking to the directors there, and I was struck by how I didn’t think I had any preconceptions about that world, but I was surprised how about the people who became characters in the film. My agenda wasn’t to make this all about women; I was trying to choose stories and scenarios that weren’t what you expect to find or traditionally the mainstream understanding of what the pornography world is.”
Both Voros and Franco admit the film contains humor and, when it premiered at Sundance in 2013, many people in the audience laughed—some out of feeling uncomfortable watching graphic material seated next to strangers in a dark theater. So it may be that the film, which receives a theatrical release in select cinemas, may have an unusual effect on audiences before the theatrical release of 50 Shades of Grey.
"I remember thinking when 50 Shades [book] came out, OK, maybe more people will want to see this movie," Voros explains. "I think it’s a film that will have two different lives: the experience of seeing it in a cinema is very different than watching it at home. Not better or worse: We are only recently coming into a time of seeing this content in a room full of strangers in a mainstream way. It’s not like Times Square in '70s, where you could see movies with lots of graphic content. My mom has seen this movie, god bless her. She thinks all the people seem very nice and would like to have them over for dinner."
So can you handle Kink? We asked the film's producer what made him think this film needed to be made. And here's what James Franco told Out.
Franco on the inspiration behind making a film about Kink.com:
I just knew that one of Christina's particular skills is being able to capture life as it happens with a camera. If given the chance, she, like the Maysles, can disappear and people are really relaxed in front of her. I had done this movie, About Cherry, directed by the writer Stephen Elliott. I shot a day, but I’m the second lead in the story. They really milked it. We shot a day at the Kink Armory facility. I was so struck by it and thought, This place is just asking for a documentary to be made about it.
They are making such intense material in front of camera—the dynamic is sadomasochistic and submissive or dominant—and behind the scenes, people are working as a team. In some ways, the way, it's similar to when I work on movies with actors and crews on mainstream films.
Franco's relationship between Interior. Leather Bar. and Kink:
They were around the same time. I guess the connection is that I was interested in these worlds. Leather Bar. came out of my interest in the film Cruising, for various reasons, and recapturing that world. But they were projects that were originated independently of each other. We made them at the same time, and they both premiered at Sundance at the same time.
How this film doesn't relate to Fifty Shades of Grey:
I don’t think [the film news about] Fifty Shades of Grey was out when Christina filmed it. And then, the year we showed it at Sundance, they called it the “sex year" or something, since there were lots of films about sex workers and sexual content; the two films I was involved in. And Deep Throat, I played Hugh Hefner. And Don Jon and a few other films were out that year. HBO, they were pushing boundaries with their shows, full frontal and stuff. It seemed like it was in the air. We just caught a similar wave. It wasn’t that we thought: Fifty Shades is coming out, let’s go do the ‘real’ version of it.
How SNL sketch comedy is similar to porn actors and directors:
In a weird way, talking about the SNL documentary, it was another version of that. It's about people in entertainment business—obviously very different wings of it—doing their thing and how they do it. In a way, it's interesting how a sketch comedy show and hardcore BDSM pornography had a lot of crossover—in the way they work together and depend on each other. Even though the products are so different. For me, that’s what was so interesting. Obviously, a lot of other things were invoked, but it’s just as much about that as the hardcore porn.
The social responsibility of Instagram power:
I guess what I’ve learned is the funny or ironic or weird thing about the Internet is that everything is available. I can just as easily watch free porn as I can watch some cartoons. So can anybody. They are right there on my desktop next to each other. If I put them on my Instagram page in a specific way, next to each other, it’s horrible. I’ve learned you have to be careful how you present things, but if I contextual Kink in the right way, it’s all good.
Why he reads reviews in The New York Times:
The New York Times is usually the only one I read because I feel, it’s The New York Times. I usually don’t read reviews, it doesn’t really help me much anymore. There are different agendas and reasons and they bring in other things than the movie they are reviewing. I can’t get a clear, clean review almost anywhere. They’re not that helpful. I have other filmmaking and writing friends that I can go to for criticism.
Kink opens in select theaters Aug. 22. Watch the trailer below: