The production of Wanted — possibly the first full-length Western-cum-porno — was off to a rough start. The crew was shooting on a remote ranch in Malibu, several miles off the Pacific Coast Highway. There were horse trailers and a small saloon; if you looked toward the west, you could see a sliver of the Pacific Ocean creeping through the mountainscape. Each of the female performers’ costumes had been carefully crafted to both preserve historical accuracy and maximize cleavage. But it was the sixth day of filming and already, there had been fire, flooding, and broken-down vehicles. The film’s producer had sliced his head on the edge of the tin roof on set. Two people were fired, and, as Stormy Daniels — the film’s writer/director/star performer — told me with a half-smirk, she had already made 10 people cry. I asked Daniels, who has been making films with Wicked Pictures since 2002, if that’s because she’s tough. Even just a few moments on set with her gives the impression that she is strict, but fair, and definitely not a woman to be messed with. “Actually,” she said, “I think it has to do with the industry not being tough enough.” The porn industry has its fair share of problems. A controversial 2012 law, known as Measure B, required porn actors in Los Angeles to wear condoms on set after an outbreak of HIV cases among L.A. performers. Before the measure passed, performers were required to get tested every 28 days, which allowed them to promptly identify their STIs, but did not prevent infections (according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, "up to one-fourth of all performers are diagnosed with at least one infection of chlamydia and/or gonorrhea each year"). Wicked Pictures, which is co-producing Wanted along with Adam & Eve Productions, has maintained a condoms-only policy since 2004 — the only makers of heterosexual porn to do so. Measure B was controversial within Los Angeles, in part because the porn industry is so deregulated everywhere else. Some performers argued the condom policy would push legitimate performers out of the county and drive porn productions to cities with more laissez-faire attitudes toward porn, like Miami and Las Vegas. Los Angeles now mandates regular health inspections, charges steep fees for location permits, and requires porn producers to pay dues to the county’s Department of Public Health — but those expenses can all be avoided by moving porn production elsewhere. And while big-budget studios with career performers have dominated Los Angeles and the neighboring San Fernando Valley, cities like Miami and Vegas have created the perfect environments for amateur porn to flourish — often shooting in someone’s house and using young, new-to-the-industry performers.
The recent documentary Hot Girls Wanted, produced by Rashida Jones, painted a picture of the amateur porn industry in Miami as full of exploitation and barely-legal girls who are seduced by the easy money and end up manipulated. The film suggested that these women have little agency or control in the industry and insisted that because porn is ever-growing, the women participants end up interchangeable and expendable.
Plenty of porn performers have a problem with that depiction — and it's not the way Stormy does business. She has 142 IMDB credits to her name (including mainstream films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up) and she treats the porn she makes just like she would any other movie. Stormy, who concedes that there are real problems with the way some porn is made, wishes the whole industry could be taken more seriously by the people working in it. “Most adult films being produced today are low-budget with no script. Talent A shows up to a house — air-conditioned and close to where they live — to do a sex scene with Talent B on a sofa.” “I think [my expectations were] beyond the realm of responsibility and comprehension for many of the performers working today," Stormy continues. "Typically, if they cancel a shoot, they are easily replaced by Talent C. That was not the case in this production. I made that very clear during the casting process. I'm pleased to say that 95% of those in the movie gave it 110% and I could not have asked for more out of them.” If the set of Wanted was more or less like any Hollywood production, the acting was more akin to a high school musical. There were seven horses and a band of stunning women mounted on top of them, their breasts bouncing with every gallop, and when Daniels called “action!” on a scene, the performers were less-than-sparkling. One of the female actors spoke in a put-on accent, though it was impossible to place exactly where this accent was supposed to be from. Another star, Annika Albrite, kept stumbling over a line, and when she finally managed to get all the words out, the effect was still a little flat. Throughout it all, Daniels gently coached them: "Try it this way. Move a little bit over there. Can we take that line one more time?" It all felt more like Hollywood showbiz than a skin flick. This could also be because, unlike the women in Jones’ film, the women on the set of Wanted are industry veterans, many of whom have won awards for the work they do. They are paid well. They are respected by their coworkers (Allie Haze, one of the film’s stars, once joked in an interview that she chose porn as a “fun, safe way to hit on girls without having to go to a bar every night and buy drinks”). And of course, Wanted is being directed by a woman who is herself a performer and really understands what it takes to make this industry better. This is what happens when a woman like Stormy Daniels meets a production company like Wicked Pictures: a conscious decision to take porn seriously.
While the porn industry has become synonymous with instant gratification and the amateur-style porn that can be filmed, edited, and produced in a matter of hours, there’s also been a quiet turn toward the type of feature-length, plot-heavy pornos that were popular in the 1970s — think Mona or Deep Throat. They’re sometimes serious, sometimes funny (Wicked just produced a parody of Magic Mike XXL), and sometimes a mix of both. The films Stormy Daniels makes are often in the latter category, with equal parts romance and sex, and this one is perhaps her magnum opus. The script is full of tough, rootin’-tootin’ women who show up the men at every turn — sort of like Bad Girls, if Drew Barrymore were also a porn star. According to Pew reports, porn viewership among women has been slowly creeping up in the past several years. And when they watch porn, women are more likely to search for things like threesomes or group sex — which, in many cases, require a bit of a backstory. Women are also showing preferences for women-directed films (by names like Jessica Drake, Erika Lust, Kayden Kross, and of course, Stormy Daniels) that they find more approachable. To date, Wicked has earned over 200 AVN awards and over 45 XBIZ awards. So clearly, something is working. The way Stormy runs the show has to do, in part, with her experience as a performer. “She’s got an authoritative way about her, but she cares about people,” said Marc Star, the film’s director of photography. “She works really hard to make sure that everything goes according to schedule, so that everyone’s in their car and driving home by 10 p.m. — which is rare in this business.” From the way her co-workers talk about her, it seems like Stormy’s approach pays off. It’s clear that she treats performers as contributors to the production, rather than the cogs in the porn machine of Hot Girls Wanted. But with porn standards notoriously in flux (and the industry moving to cities with less, not more, regulation), it remains to be seen whether the future of porn will prize valuable performers more than production volume.