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Exclusive Interview: Michael Raven
Michael, thanks for taking time for this today. We’re definitely going to talk about your recent projects, namely “Black Widow,” but I wanna know a little more about you. Did you know early on in your life that you wanted to make movies?
It’s kinda funny ‘cuz growing up as a kid I always wanted to be a spy. Even then I was making movies. My parents had one of those old Super 8 movie cameras and I inherited the camera. I was always shooting some kind of movie. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that it would be in the Adult arena.
I was never formally trained as a photographer but it graduated from a Super 8 to my first camera. I think it was a little Instamatic camera and then a 35mm. Next thing you know I’m taking pictures for a living. I spent seven and a half years doing glamour and editorial and a lot of commercial print work. It was a natural progression, actually. I was always a fan of Adult. I remember in 1995 seeing a movie by Michael Ninn. It was one of his first big movies called “Sex.” I’d never seen anything like that. Shortly after that I saw Andrew Blake’s “Night Trips” and I thought that’s the way people should be making Adult movies. Then I saw a few Golden Age movies and I realized they were actually telling stories and there are reasons why those people are having sex. It wasn’t a scene with two good looking people having sex for no reason. I have no problem with gonzo whatsoever. It just always seemed sexier to me if you knew why those people were engaging each other.
A lot of the stuff Ninn does is very artistic and I guess coming from a photographer’s point of view it was right up your alley.
All he’s trying to do is make the girls look good. That was my job as a photographer. I didn’t see why we couldn’t do the same thing. There’s no one way of doing it but in my opinion it’s always about making the girl look her best. There’s a way to do that even in hardcore sex. I’m not fond of the two-minute genital close-ups. I like to see their face and the reaction that goes along with the hardcore.
Do you remember the first time you were exposed to porn?
The first movie I saw was actually in a theater. It was called “Bodies In Heat” with Herschel Savage and Annette Haven. That was my first time seeing Annette Haven. Wow! This chick is beautiful and she’s in porn! I grew up in a very strict and religious environment. It was very taboo. There was a high degree of curiosity. I knew such a thing existed but I’d never seen it. My first experience was in a theater hunched down in the back row so nobody could see me!
That could be a little dangerous territory…
It could be but I was so mesmerized by what I was seeing on the screen that I was oblivious to anything going on around me. From that point it was always in the back of my mind that “I could do that.”
How did you approach entering the Adult industry?
I had been doing some photographic layout for some national magazines. I was living in the Dallas area at the time. I met a woman who was the publisher of a magazine that covered everything Adult related. Through her I met Tera Heart. She had this script that had been written for her by George Kaplan and it had never been made. We sat down and figured out how much money it was going to take and together with a friend of mine and a business partner, we put the money together to make this movie. We did it in a three-day period in Dallas in an empty warehouse. I’m a trained Avid editor, so I was editing at that time, too. The company I had did a lot of post-production and commercials so we had the facilities to edit the movie. We edited the movie and came out to California on a plane in early 1997. We shopped the movie around and it was eventually picked up by Sin City. I met David, the owner of Sin City, and he offered me a deal at that time to shoot two movies a month for a year. That’s what started it all. Over the course of that year it turned into Head of Production and I was with them for almost four years.
With your career in Adult lasting this long, is there anything that stands out as the biggest lesson learned? Is there something you’d like to go back and re-shoot knowing what you know now?
Yeah. The biggest advantage to any director that’s given the opportunity to make movies in Adult is it affords them a film school education that they might otherwise not been able to have. Although I did have a background in film and photography that helped, I was given the opportunity to work on media that a lot of people don’t get a chance to. In ‘99 I was able to talk David into reviving productions shot on film. At that time almost everything was done on video. There was only a couple of other companies shooting on film, Wicked Pictures and Vivid. We started making films at Sin City. We started doing six films a year. It was during that time that I shot a film called “The Watchers” which was my first AVN Award in 2000 for “Best Film.” I was very grateful for the opportunity to shoot films. Since that time I’ve shot 26 films. A lot of directors don’t shoot that many in their life. I was able to learn a lot. Knowing what I know now I would love to go back and remake some of those movies. I doubt that will happen!
What are you doing that separates your from a lot of the other guys making movies?
There’s not a lot of them telling stories. We get teased a lot because people always say, “They’ll just fast-forward through the dialogue.” That may be true but the reality is somebody’s buying them because we’re still being asked to make them. I don’t think it’s just an exercise we’re given to satisfy somebody’s ego. We have a lot of fans that email me and say they like the stories. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve made some bad movies, man. Every director has made a movie where they think “Oh God, how did I do that?” A director is only as good as his last movie.
When I signed with Wicked my initial deal with them was 12 pictures a year. It gets hard to come up with creative ways of telling stories. Especially if you’re given restrictions of things you can and can’t shoot. It then becomes increasingly difficult.
I think more people than ever are watching porn and I think the demand for a real story is higher than ever.
I think so. It probably has a lot to do with the popularity of gonzo that took off around 2000. Everybody with a camera suddenly became a filmmaker. You jumped from 1000 titles released a year to upwards of 18,000 to 20,000 titles released a year. It’s an oversaturation. Everything has it’s place. Gonzo certainly has it’s place. There are some good gonzo makers out there. They know how to make it look nice and nasty at the same time. Jules Jordan is one of them. He’s probably the best at what he does. You watch his movies and there’s no fluff or artistic elements. What he shoots, he shoots well. He understands lighting and he knows how to make the girls look good. He pays attention. It’s not just some guy with a camera and a tripod.
Can there be too much porn? Do you think the market is saturated with bad quality material?
Sure, I think there’s such a thing as too much. I tend to believe that the marketplace has a tendency to correct itself. If people get tired of watching something they’ll stop buying it. As a filmmaker in Adult, it’s an increasing pressure to not fall in a rut where you become identified with one certain type of movie.
What do you keep going to for inspiration and story ideas so you won’t make the same movie over and over again?
I look for stories that have interesting characters. If it’s something that’s character driven I want to create a character that people can either A) identify with, or B) be entertained by. That also adds to the chemistry in the sex scenes for the performers and the viewers.
Sometimes I’ll pick a theme. I just finished one that’s based on different styles of rock music. Each scene is like a music video set up with a little solo girl sequence and then I go into the sex. I try not to incorporate all the editing tricks in the sex to disctract from it. I reserve that for the opening to catch the viewer’s attention.
There’s got to be a lot of humor on the set, especially when you combine porn chicks and dialogue!
This is putting it mildly: Sometimes it’s brutal! Take after take after take and they can’t even deliver the simplest line! That’s OK. I’ve had that happen on many occassions. If it’s a role where the girl will actually have to deliver some believable dialogue, I’ll go over it with her first and do a couple of readings. I know that sounds crazy, but when you have a guy like Steve Orenstein at Wicked spending the kind of money he does on a movie, he expects us to take some time in casting the rolls. You’re right, though. It does generate a lot of humorous things on set. Man, the stories! There are times where we’re laughing so hard that we have to take a break. It’s tough. In between that you’re waiting around for an hour at three in the morning for some guy to shoot a pop shot! That’s when you stop and you look at the crew and say, “This is our life?”
Tell me about some of your movies that are out this year or will be released soon.
I’ve had three movies that I’ve been proud of. I’d be interested in having people watch ‘em and get some feedback on. I always encourage feedback. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I have no problem with people emailing me. I did a movie with Kirsten Price entitled “Supernatural.” It’s a very interesting story about a woman’s husband that dies and he still remains to haunt the house. We had a lot of fun with that one and Kirsten Price was great.
We shot a movie with Jessica Drake called “Delilah” which is a contemporary retelling of the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah. The sex scenes were great and it had probably the best acting I’ve seen in Adult ever. The cast was Herschel Savage, Randy Spears, Jessica Drake, Hillary Scott and Keylani Lei. All of those were incredibly believable. That’s what made it work.
That brings us to “Black Widow.” I thought “Delilah” was going to be the best movie of the year until we got into the editing of “Black Widow” and I realized we had something a little bit better that what we’d originally anticipated. The performances of Stormy and Randy Spears are absolutely mesmerizing. One of my editors said we could pull all of the hardcore sex out of it and make a really good R-rated movie. It worked because they delivered stellar performances. Everything worked in this movie. From the editing to the music to the sex. The story is tight and the ending is interesting and entertaining. “Black Widow” is about a girl, played by Stormy, who grew up under less-than-fortunate circumstances. We refer to her as “trailer trash” in the movie. She develops a plan to pull herself out of her circumstances and marries for wealth. She ends up marrying a wealthy older man and devises a scheme where she is going to poison him and inherit all of his money. There’s an interesting twist in the end, but I won’t give it away.
What would you like to say to your fans and porn fans in general?
Keep the channels of communication open. Don’t hesitate to contact me or whoever your favorite or least favorite director is and let them know why. Don’t just say “you suck” – give us reasons why. Maybe you will help us make better movies. If you like us, tell us why. I can only stay in this business as long as people are buying the movies. I’d kinda like to know what the viewers want. I definitely take feedback seriously if it’s serious feedback.
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