Q&A: Joanna Angel Lights the Status Quo on Fire
LOS ANGELES — Establishment be damned, Joanna Angel has inked an indelible legacy by rebelling against “the way things are done.”
She sauntered into the adult industry a decade ago, when untouchable titans ruled the roost, and thrust a tattooed dagger in their midst, single-handedly spawning “alt porn” — a term she now happily trods underfoot as a bygone category.
With a shrewdly applied devil-may-care attitude, the Burning Angel founder adapts to the zigzagging seams of a mercurial marketplace, riding them like lightning rather than trying to correct the stitching.
Innovation ultimately trumps experience in the multi XBIZ Award-winning filmmaker’s playbook, especially in an internet-driven social media age, where everyone from cam models to amateur players can rise skyward to rival old guard royalty.
Whether she’s in front of the camera (with performer credits in more than 240 titles), directing the action (230 times according to IAFD.com) or promoting her novelty toys via Stockroom and Fleshlight, Angel has demonstrated kaleidoscopic versatility.
XBIZ waltzed into the punk porno princess’ tattoo parlor to talk parodies, sex toys, virtual reality and industry trends. She delivered her trademark blend of insight and humor.
XBIZ: As the queen of alt porn, tell us how this niche genre has evolved since your early days in the business?
JOANNA ANGEL: I don’t think that this “niche” is a niche anymore. It’s kind of funny to think about how people were like “oh my god, you did something crazy, you thought tattooed girls were sexy.” To think that was innovative in porn is kind of funny. Porn used to be just a few big companies and if you shot porn, you were working for like… Hustler, Vivid, Wicked... and that was it, all porn coming from 4-10 places. And that was the only way to do porn. In the past 15 years, though, there are now 100,000 different ways to do porn. You could be a porn star and never even come to Los Angeles. You could be a porn star and not even leave your house. You can be a porn star and just have a website with your husband where you have threesomes. You can be a porn star and just do webcam type of stuff. Or you can be a porn star and have a big-time agent in L.A. and win all kinds of awards and do it like that.
There’s lots of different ways to do porn. So I think the term “alt porn” got coined when there just wasn’t much diversity in porn. All porn kind of looked the same. I don’t think “alt porn” is really much of a category anymore. I don’t see it pop up the way it used to. It’s very rare that I walk into a store and see a section for it, I think people just use that term because they really weren’t sure what else to call it. They were like, well, this isn’t regular porn. It’s not kink and it’s not BDSM and it’s not this or that, so people just didn’t know what to call it. So, I don’t really think the niche is much of a niche.
I hope that the Burning Angel and Joanna Angel brands are strong enough to stand on their own. I mean, Hustler is not a niche. Brazzers is not a niche. Everybody stands apart on their own and I’m hoping that even though we still shoot the same style girl — we always have and we champion girls with tattoos and we like to show there is an alternative side of beauty that I think is beautiful — whether it’s alternative or not doesn’t really matter. I hope that we’re more than our movies, our content. And, my style of directing has its own charm to it that’s beyond just the “aesthetic of the tattooed girl.” And I’ve had a lot of fun putting my own twist on sort of typical porno niches. Like, we’ve done the family taboo movies, some cheating movies, whatever. I’ve done some of those porno niches. On our tent — on our Burning Angel booth that we bring to conventions —the top says “the original home of tattooed sluts.” That’s a good tagline for us. I prefer to use that over “alt porn.”
XBIZ: Now that we’re in a post “Fifty Shades of Grey” era, with BDSM firmly established in the mainstream and fauxcest the latest fad, what do you foresee as the next taboo to be toppled?
ANGEL: I don’t even know. I mean, porn is in a really bizarre place right now. The family roleplaying stuff is popular — people seem to like that. And, the more that genre becomes popular, the more that people want specific, bizarrely twisted things. I think right now, because almost every extreme sex act has been done, people want to see really twisted fantasies. Like cuckolding and cheating with very specific plots. So, I think the intro to the sex is more important now. I think there’s just enough out there that it’s just impossible to top a sex act.
I’m not sure what the next one is, I think in the past year, for some reason — I don’t really know why — creampies have made this bizarre comeback. Fans of mine keep asking for it and I’m like, why? That’s what husbands and wives do. Don’t you want to see jizz on faces? Isn’t that why you want to watch porn? And they’re hard to shoot because getting cum to drip out in this, like, specific way — you have to cum inside the girl and pull out a little. It’s stressful! Beyond just shooting creampies, it seems people really want to hear a girl talk about how she might get pregnant. And I’m not saying this happens on my website necessarily, just in general — you just read things on message boards or look around at stats and what’s popular. It seems like they don’t just want to see a creampie… they want to see a bunch of jizz dripping out of a girl and hear her talk about getting pregnant.
So, I just put my own spin on things, because I just can’t find it in me to not find this a little bit funny. I always put a comedic twist on everything, which is why I’m not quite as wealthy as everyone else. So, it seems like people are looking for very specific twisted fantasies, and I think that is more exciting right now than seeing a girl get tied up. I don’t really know why, but you can’t really figure out why. Everybody likes to jerk off to something. You can just spot trends, but you don’t have to jerk off to something everyone else is jerking off to, you know? Jerk off to your own thing!
XBIZ: Tell us about your line of Stockroom BDSM sex toys. What led to the collaboration and what do you hope to achieve within the pleasure products space?
ANGEL: I really love my line with Stockroom. It’s a very unique boutique toy line. I’m very happy I’m partnered up with two of the very best people in the novelty world — one being Fleshlight and one being Stockroom. And I’ve always loved Stockroom as a company. I’ve always respected them. I’ve always loved their products. I just approached them when I was looking for a new toy deal — because I had a toy deal that was over — and I said, “Hey, how I can make something a little bit different?”
Since I noticed everything had dark colors. I thought maybe it would be cool if Stockroom had something a little more colorful, something they could market to BDSM beginners, even though my stuff is very high quality — an advanced BDSM person would enjoy them — it’s just… changing the colors can open up products to a new audience and they loved the idea. The quality is just so high on all the products and they never did a licensing deal with an adult star before, so it’s been fun working together, and we’ve got some new things coming up in the future. We’re going to release a couple new things to the line.
It’s gotten great feedback. It’s quite a difference because I used to have a toy line with a different company, and even though the stuff was cool looking, it was very cheaply made. And people didn’t really understand that I wasn’t really making the toys, because my name was on them, so we would get customer service calls saying, “Hey, we bought this and it broke, what do we do?” And we’d be like, you have to go to the store where you bought that and talk to them. Now, people are very pleased with the product. You know, the price point is higher and I think people are willing to spend that when it comes to novelties. So, I’m really happy with it and it’s a very pretty, happy looking BDSM line. It’s hot pink. Who doesn’t want to get flogged by something hot pink?
XBIZ: You’ve been outspoken on the issues of consent. Do you believe we’re now in a better place as a result of last year’s media-fueled dialogue?
ANGEL: I don’t consent to the consent question!
XBIZ: You’ve had a lot of success with porn parodies. How do you decide whether a parody idea is worth producing?
ANGEL: It’s very hard to explain. I think anything is worth producing when I start getting excited about it. People tell me ideas all the time. “You should do a parody of this” and “you should do a parody of this.” If it just doesn’t get that fire inside me, it starts to feel forced. I think it’s like my blessing and my curse that I can’t ever just do anything because I think it’ll make money. I’ve got to feel it and get excited about it somehow. I haven’t been doing as many parodies as I used to, and what I’ve actually been doing instead of entire parody movies — like five-scene movies — is I’ve just been doing scenes.
Like last year, we did a “Nightmare Before Christmas” scene and I don’t think the fans even noticed it was a scene and not a movie, because it got so much PR and so much attention, it got like a zillion hits on YouTube. Everybody sees the pictures, we made a little box cover and I was like — you know “Nightmare Before Christmas” — we’re just going to do a really cool scene, where Jack and Sally are having sex. I mean, what more do you really need? You don’t need Santa Claus. You don’t need all the little gnomes. Everything else just seemed unnecessary to me and I liked it because I was able to take all day and just focus on one scene and really do something awesome with it.
And really… in parodies, everybody’s looking for that one awesome scene anyways, for that one character that they like and want to watch them have sex. They want to have that five-minute bit where porn stars are cosplaying or whatever. You don’t need two hours to do that. And then, we also recently did a scene on the website called “Moms of Anarchy” and it’s more of an homage and not a parody. When I was first experimenting with taboo relations porn, when I was first making a stepmom movie with different vignettes, it just kind of came to me — what’s the most popular stepmom taboo relationship in the world? The one on “Sons of Anarchy” between Jax and his fucking mom! I’m like, that is the most sexual mom/son relationship ever and you know I have to do something with this. So, I basically just had Lolly Ink and she played the stepmom of Jax (Small Hands). I was his girlfriend and we just parodied the “Sons of Anarchy” intro credits. We wrote a song and it’s really funny, sounds exactly like that intro.
Then, in the beginning, I’m just like “I’m so nervous to meet your stepmom.” I mean, I would’ve loved for her to be his actual mom but we can’t do that in porn. I was like “she seems really intimidating, but I’m excited to meet her” and he’s like “oh, don’t worry about her, she’s just really overprotective of me and my friends and the club,” this and that, and then Lolly Ink just walks in and stabs me with a fork. I basically parodied seven seasons of TV in like… two minutes. She stabs me with a fork and I die and he was like “why did you do that?” and she’s like “oh, I got a bad feeling about her, I didn’t trust her” and then he’s like “I’m starting to notice a pattern, why do you keep killing my girlfriends?” And then, they start kissing and having sex right next to my dead body and it’s super funny, and then we start playing the music again.
I pretty much managed to accomplish hitting the taboo category and make a funny little homage/parody, and I didn’t need a whole bicycle club and an elaborate plot to get that joke in. So, I’ve been having a lot of fun with these one-scene things. And when I have an idea, I can just kind of do it very quickly and it’s like the joke doesn’t die. It’s not like “two hours later and these people are still boning?” Anyways, it’s both the stressful thing and the fun thing about being the boss — I just kind of do what I do, when it comes to me, and then if I don’t want to do it… I don’t do it! If it seems to work and people like it, I do it again. I’m not sure if, or when, I’ll do like a real five-scene parody parody again. But, if I feel like it, then I will! I don’t know, we’ll see.
XBIZ: You have so much going on. How do you split your time between filmmaking, running websites, dancing and promoting your product line?
ANGEL: Yah, and going to XBIZ and doing interviews? Haha. I don’t know. I use a calendar. I schedule out my day and try to fit everything in. I also have a really great team — not a large team, but a small team — of people that help keep things going. Google Calendar and a good assistant! I only shoot about four days every month. I’d like to shoot more — I’m just kind of tapped out on what we can afford, how much content we can produce. So that’s it, and I have a radio show at Vivid Radio that I do once a week. And then, I’m constantly doing press. Some weekends I dance, some weekends I don’t. Sometimes there’s a convention, sometimes not.
I definitely touch base with Stockroom and I try to touch base with Fleshlight as much as I can, but on my end I just have to promote it. I’m not in the factory, making anything. What’s coming up in the near future? I’ve been collaborating with Stockroom on making a really cool movie that I shot. I’m probably going to aim to put it out in September. But, they made all custom latex outfits for the movie and I used all custom Stockroom products in the movie. It’s been really special and a little bit different than what Burning Angel usually does. It’s not a comedy, it’s more serious — this is a serious porno. It’s a very sexy, kinky movie and I’m excited to release this to the world. I don’t have a title for it. I don’t know what I’m going to call it yet.
XBIZ: Talk about your foray into VR following the release of your first VR scene through HoloFilm. What’s your prediction for VR porn?
ANGEL: VR is still very new and I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen with it, but all I know is it’s really cool and I think this is the type of technology that was made for porn. It’s just so perfect for it and I think that in porn you really have the ability to just use this to your advantage and I don’t really know what mainstream Hollywood can use VR for that’ll be that interesting. I really think this is a medium that is just meant for porn and I think HoloFilm is just the best at it. They have really amazing technology and I’ve shot with them a couple times now and every time I’ve come back, they have more and more stuff, like camera rigs — they’re perfecting it every time and it’s very impressive. I’m proud to be working with the team that I think is the absolute best at doing this.
But, in terms of actual filmmaking, it’s definitely different shooting VR porn. You don’t have that storyline thing! Because, there’s really only one angle — you’re not like shooting wides and close-ups and this/that. A lot of what makes dialogue, comedy or whatever interesting is having a lot of angles, cutaways, close-ups and this/that — you eliminate that and it’s really just a very visual ride. You need to focus on interesting, visual things like… tits and ass! I think for a lot of it, the girl needs to really have chemistry with the camera. It’s kind of like POV porn, but on steroids. There’s not so much importance on the chemistry with the performer — in a lot of scenes, they just kind of have to lie there. It was funny, because I did my first VR scene with Manuel Ferrara and I was like “this is pretty funny to have Manuel just lay there — Manuel never just lays there.” Like, what a waste of Manuel’s talent!
And that’s me as a director… that’s something that we think. “Well, Manuel’s here, we need to have him do something crazy, let’s fuck all over this room!” And the people at HoloFilm are like “no, he just has to lay right here.” Like, really? That’s crazy! Actually, the girl has to do most of the work in VR porn. The guys just have to be very good at lying there and having a boner, which is a skill, you know? I think in porn, we’re used to everything being kind of big — we want to show big houses, big swimming pools, very big stripteases up big stairs and fucking on one couch, then fucking on another couch. I think all the high-end porn just looks very… big, if that makes any sense. When you’re shooting VR porn, everything has to be done in a very small box and if you step outside that box, you’re going to have half an arm or half a leg, or no nose, or one ear or something.
So, it’s very different and as a director it’s very fascinating, and it’s really been fun to experiment with a new medium. It’s just so cool. And it’s good to do new things. So I hope it goes far! You know, I definitely want to create a VR site for myself and I think being able to put my little touch on the HoloFilm website has been very exciting for me. I was able to watch some of the scenes I made with the glasses and I was like “this is so much Joanna!” It’s like the next step to somebody downloading porn and having a porn star show up at their door to have sex with them. It’s one step away from that.
XBIZ: What are your plans for the remainder of 2016?
ANGEL: Just going to be shooting more VR stuff with Holo. I’m actually launching — before the end of the year — I should have my whiskey. So hopefully I’ll be getting really drunk on my own whiskey! You’ll see when it comes out. But it’s 100-proof, so it’ll get you really drunk. So, hopefully that’ll be out soon. It’ll be nice to have a really tangible product. But, I just want to keep doing more movies, making more stuff and getting the best content I possibly can. And keep getting people to pay for it! I’m just going to cross my fingers.
XBIZ: What are your long-term aspirations?
ANGEL: Yah, I don’t know, it’s weird. Years go by in porn and I’m like, what happened? And I got inducted into two different hall of fames this year and I’m like god, I’m old, what’s going on? How am I the older girl in porn? When did this happen? I still feel like the new girl in porn. So, I don’t know, I really love what I do. I just want to make what I’m doing bigger and better. So, that’s the long-term plan, figure out how to do that. Do everything bigger and better. Follow me on Twitter, follow me on Instagram. Listen to me on Vivid Radio every Tuesday from 1 to 2 p.m. (PST). Buy my Fleshlight and go visit my Stockroom line!