An interview with Swedish erotic film director Erika Lust
Erika Lust is a filmmaker, mother, writer, blogger, owner and founder of Erika Lust Films where she offers an alternative to the mainstream porn industry. She is also the creator of groundbreaking audiovisual Project XConfessions.com, the first crowdsourced series that brought adult film to cinema screens.
Born in 1977 in Sweden, she studied political sciences, feminism and sexuality at the University of Lund. Tired of chauvinistic and tacky mainstream porn, she moved to Barcelona in 2000 where she took classes in film directing before bursting into the adult industry in 2004, with the indie short film The Good Girl – a humorous statement of principles using the “pizza delivery boy” trope.
How did you get your start in the film and porn industry?
I had always been interested in cinema but when I was studying Political Science and Gender at university I began to develop a strong interest in pornographic discourse. I was a young woman feeling curious about sex and one day a boyfriend showed me a porn video. Watching that, I felt like something wasn’t right. The woman’s role was too much about pleasing the man- it was hardly about her own sexual experience and pleasure. I knew that female sexuality was way more than that! I realised that mainstream porn was mainly shot from the male perspective and wasn’t representing any truth about real sex. I was also bored by the lack of imagination and sexiness in porn’s dialogues and storylines. Porn is clearly made with the purpose to arouse, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t seek the same visual pleasure we seek in other movies! Why can’t we make porn with beautiful images and a captivating plot?
How did your career turn into a career and what did your parents and close friends have to say about it then and now?
With all of this in mind, at some point I realized I wanted to try making my own explicit film according to my vision and taste, so back in 2004 I made ‘The Good Girl’ – a humorous take on the classic pizza delivery boy porn trope – and I posted online for free. I wasn’t really expecting anything, but it was downloaded so many times that I realized I wasn’t the only one craving an alternative to mainstream adult films. I was receiving emails from people all over the world telling me that they loved the film and asking when the next one would be out. That’s how Erika Lust was born!
Of course I had a lot of people laughing at me from the very beginning, saying that my idea was ridiculous. When I tried pitching “The Good Girl” to adult content productions, they used to tell me that it was cool but there was no market for women… Women are not interested in buying anything that has to do with sex. You pay w omen for sex but you don’t do films for them! That made me angry, but also motivated me to keep pushing even harder. And still today there are people who don’t understand what’s behind my work or keep trying to censor my content on social media. On the other hand, there’s also a growing community of people out there craving for more realistic, inclusive and original adult cinema, who support me and my team to always do more and better.
Is there a shot, or creative approach that is intrinsic to your style, that is identifiably yours, and if so what made you pursue that style?
When I’m doing a film with my crew, we do the same work as if we were any other independent film production. From an idea we develop script and storyboards, we consult our art director, we work in interesting locations, and we go through a thorough casting process to make sure everything is faithful to the initial concept. With my movies I want to portray hot, realistic sex, and to do so I take care of every single detail. Well-studied lighting and photography certainly make all the difference in capturing the whole feeling of it – the chemistry between the performers, their bodies touching each other, and the evolution of their sensations during sex.
Directors often feel the need to reinvent themselves. Doesn’t erotica feel limiting/repetitive?
I will never get tired of making erotic films! I want to keep on creating aesthetically pleasing porn, with a cinematic vision, and a female, inclusive gaze to catch the whole pleasure and seduction that’s within sex. I want to make porn that I would want my daughters to engage with as an alternative to the stereotypical porn of the free tube sites that most of the time is just harmful instead of sexy. I want to portray both women and men being masters of their desires in mutually consensual sexual relationships. If there is something that I’ve been learning during all these years is that, as long as you represent diversity and not just the typical porn archetype by taking inspiration from real life, there are actually countless possibilities when making adult movies too! Also, many guest directors that have been collaborating with me for XConfessions are bringing their visions and styles, helping me to create a whole community of daring adult directors.
How do you fight against stigma around sex workers and for their security and rights?
Before shooting, we get to know performers through interviews, we have Skype calls with them and meet them in person if we can. We always make sure the performers are 18+, have had their own sexual experiences already and are sex-positive and 100% enthusiastic to be part of the project. I don’t just ask performers to come on set with their best lingerie on and that’s it. When we’re on set I talk to them before shooting sex, to make sure they’re ok with the scene they’re about to perform, and then I let them go with their own flow, without being pushy in my direction. I have someone from my production team on set to make sure the performers are being taken care of. We ensure healthy food and water are provided on set by a local catering service, good accommodations, and flights paid if necessary. I also created a Performer’s Bill of Rights in order to safeguard sex performers’ in order to protect performers and make sure they have the best experience in our productions, before, during, and after the shoot.
We need to show our support for all kinds of sex workers even more during the uncertain times we are facing right now. While porn views have been increasing dramatically since the social distancing began in many countries in the world, sex performers; the backbone of our industry, are losing jobs and income. The luckiest ones are making their income thanks to platforms like OnlyFans, but many sex workers rely on personal contacts in order to do their job. I recently donated to four organisations who are doing critical effort to support sex workers at this time, and I would encourage those who can afford it to do the same. Sex workers don’t usually have a fixed income nor are they eligible for unemployment benefits when they’re out of work. It’s vital now, more than ever before to support them and help our community.
People are relying heavily upon digital entertainment during lockdown and this has highlighted even more the importance of sex workers’ work in society. This period of isolation has got all of us thinking about how the world will be once back to normal. On June 15th I will release on my YouTube channel ‘Pay for Porn: The New Normal’, a 3-minute video that features 24 performers talking about their lives as professionals and how social distancing has affected them. The video was recorded by the performers themselves in their homes and then edited by our team here in Barcelona. It’s time to listen to their voices and to positively support them. My team and I hope to see a change in how society consumes porn. We want to see pay-for-porn habits as part of our new normal.
Any advice for other women who are looking to get their start in directing and writing porn?
Believe in yourself, in your vision and perspective. Then, just pick up your camera and start shooting! You’ll learn a lot while practising and if you’re not satisfied with the result… try again without overthinking! I’m very well aware of the stigma attached to the relationship between women and porn, both as viewers and as creators, so I understand if the fear of being judged might make you hesitate. But if you feel you want to try writing your own script and shooting your own film, I say just do it, whatever your equipment is. You could also join me in my mission to change the rules of porn by becoming a guest director for XConfessions!
What aspects of the porn industry are bad and need a radical change in the future?
Narratives need to change: we need to stop showing harmful gender stereotypes and starting depicting men and women as equally important sexual collaborators. Consent should be shown clearly and simulations of coercion, pedophilia, or abuse should not be encouraged.
The porn industry highest positions of power are still overwhelmingly dominated by white cisgender men. W e need more diversity in leading roles in the industry as producers, directors and scriptwriters bringing their perspective into the films. All kinds of public can benefit from having women and LGBTQ+ behind the camera as this allows them to re-write the script about their involvement (not only in sex but also in public life) and to do something different to the mass-produced stereotypical porn of the free tube sites. We need to create a more inclusive porn in which all people can identify somehow.
How many people do I need (minimum) in my crew to start making polished erotic films?
I work with a team of around 15 (most porn sets only have around 5). Even though I make explicit films, my sets are not made up of just a bed or a couch. We create the entire scene, as any other non-explicit movie.
The erotic BDSM in films is mostly shown in a pathetic and banal way. How would you manage it better?
We know BDSM is not about blindly dominating one another nor ignoring their boundaries. It is, on the contrary, about consent, constant negotiation, and caring. Unfortunately, in mainstream culture BDSM still has a stigma attached to it and its explorers – people who enjoy kinks are often labeled as perverse, mentally ill, or lacking in any moral code. Moreover, mainstream movies like ’50 Shades of Grey’ or ‘Normal People’ can often encourage misrepresentations of these practices by mainly framing them as a product of past traumas rather than a consensual process of sexual power exchange and liberation.
On June 26th I will release on LustCinema my latest original series ‘Safe Word’ with which I aim to give the public a credible and positive representation of BDSM. ‘Safe Word’ is a full immersion in the BDSM healthy, sexy culture of communication and awareness in sex. The series follows the ruthless and demanding theatre director Christie Alda (Mona Wales) in her initiation to BDSM, encouraged by the meeting with her new neighbour Mickey (Mickey Mod) and mesmerising mistress Madama Opal (Nina Hartley). I am very proud and excited for this huge release for LustCinema, this is going to be fun! To celebrate such a powerful launch, the first of 4 episodes will be available for everyone to watch for free!