The Storytellers: Interview With Joanna Angel

For a feature on storytelling in the adult industry that ran in the April 2014 issue of AVN magazine, reporter Jason Lyon interviewed a dozen big names in the business, including BurningAngel Entertainment founder Joanna Angel. AVN is posting longer versions of the interviews as separate stories online. Click here to see the digital print edition; see bottom of article for links to individual interviews online.

It’s late afternoon on Friday of AEE 2014, and Joanna Angel and I sit down at a table at in the Fuel Café for a spur-of-the-moment interview. Discussing the challenge of integrating sex with a story, it isn’t long before we touch on my favorite aspect of Angel’s extraordinary work: humor.

“You know, sometimes the sex fucks up the story. I do love writing scripts … but sometimes it is a real big challenge. ‘How do I get these two characters that don’t know each other, that have never met each other to go from meeting to having sex in four lines or so, logically?’ And nine times out of ten, you can’t. So I usually embrace the joke in it, and I’ll have two people talking about something and then someone will be like, ‘OK, well, shut up and let’s make out’ and it will make no sense at all! Sometimes I shoot things where the sex really does work into the story, but you really don’t have the budget or the time to really develop characters in a porno the way you do in mainstream film. But you know, you’ve got to work with what you have. So I try to make the best porno I can possibly make instead of fooling myself in thinking that I’m making a movie with sex in it.”

When I ask Angel whether writing her stories is difficult or flows fairly easily, she answers right away.

“No, no, it’s hard! I struggle over my scripts the same way any other writer would struggle over their scripts,” she replies. “And then you’re dealing with a small budget in addition to it. So I’ll be writing a part, and then [think]: ‘Oh no, if these three people are in a room they have to be on set on the same day, and that’s going to be extra money because he was already on set the other day, so maybe I should take this character out of this scene.’ It’s a lot thinking about the budget and writing the movie. And I want to make something good. I want to be happy with it. And I want it to be affordable. So I spend several weeks on my scripts, you know? Most of the time, though, I write a very solid outline, and then I write the movie. I have other people help me write the scripts too at this point, because it got kind of exhausting to do it all on my own. So sometimes I’ll just write out the outline and then I’ll have somebody else write like the first draft for me, because sometimes that will be the hardest thing to do, to write a first draft. Sometimes I’ll just sit with like one line and I’m like: ‘Oh, what the fuck do I do?’

“I struggle just like any other writer struggles. It’s hard to be creative! It’s not easy, you know? And especially shooting porn, I shoot 20 movies a year, they all have five scenes in them. That’s not like a mainstream director. They shoot one movie every couple years. They don’t have to direct a new thing every other week.”

I bring up two of her comedies I enjoyed: Band Sluts and Bad Principal.

“I love both those movies, and I’m really glad you like them, because those are hilarious. Those are, I think, two of the funniest movies I’ve ever made, and we had so much fun on set making them. It actually like pains me to think that some people watch those movies and fast-forward through the plot, because the plots of those movies I think are great! I think [they] are the equivalent to some comedy you see on TV. And people don’t take it seriously because there’s sex in it, and they just assume they have to laugh at it and not laugh with it, which is what most people want to do with porn.

“I’ve just always been attracted to humor and comedy,” adds Angel. “I’m a Jew from the East Coast, you know, I’ve always dealt with the pains in life through comedy and that’s just me. And it’s hard to be funny! Not everyone’s funny, and you can’t force it.”

I ask Angel what it feels like to see her work progress from the writing stage to a story-well-told on the screen.

“It’s a great feeling,” Angel replies with a smile. “It’s a great, great, great feeling. It’s awesome. It makes all the time and the energy and the money and the stress all worth it in the end when you have something that you can be proud of.

“Once there was a place in New York and they did a screening of one of my movies. I shortened the sex scenes to like one minute each … It’s a store called Shag in New York … So they got a projector and showed my movies, and to have a room full of people and see everyone laugh at the parts that were funny in the movie and clap at the end and get excited like it was a real movie—that brought a tear to my eye, because I’d never seen that before. Everybody watches my movies in the privacy of their own home, and having a room full of people where I got to see them really enjoy one of my pornos as a real movie with very little sex in it—it made me very happy.”

Links to other interviews:

Wicked Pictures directors Brad Armstrong, Stormy Daniels and Jessica Drake

Actresses Jesse Jane and Veronica Hart

New Sensations director Jacky St. James

Girlfriends Films founder Dan O'Connell

Skow for Girlfriends Films director B. Skow