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directing from the bottom

Posted at 23:46 on 16 Mar 2009 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: J, learning curves, porn production, shoot writeups, Thomas Cameron

Friday was the first film shoot for my new site.

I'm starting small. The site will be pay-per-download when it first goes live, since I don't have time to commit to a regular update schedule. I don't have a massive budget, so for the time being I'm paying my friends in trade for their time, and borrowing a camera and lights. (Well, light, as it happened; one of the bulbs blew and we decided to press on rather than replace it.)

I've been writing scenes all year. I want to concentrate on stand-alone films of varying lengths. There'll be some photostories as well, but I think I want to do films and photostories separately rather than as versions of each other, if you see what I mean. If I don't have a daily update schedule I can hopefully avoid having to break films down into short clips, or produce any 'filler' material. I'd like to make each film, whether it's a five-minute short or a full-length feature, a complete story in its own right. Some of my ideas are ongoing series, and they all vary in complexity, but I want to strive, even in the short simple clips, for a richness in the characterisation and details.

I'm possibly being horribly over-ambitious, but that's my starting point, anyway.

I've already written far more scenes than I can possibly film this year. Each of them represents a real fantasy of mine. I'm not interested in producing empty action: the idea is that even if the only glimpse you get into a story is the punishment scene, I want it to be contextualised, to be part of a longer narrative. Trying to limit my imagination to scenes I can feasibly film is a challenge, and I was even more limited for this first shoot.

We were filming at a friend's beautiful London flat, with one spankee (me) and one top (Tom). No multi-actor scenes, then, and no period pieces (which, unsurprisingly, a considerable proportion of my ideas are). So, preparing a callsheet for a domestic location, one camera and two actors, well aware that I'd be learning on the job and everything would take longer than I expected, I picked out three short domestic discipline scenes. This isn't just going to be a DD site, but when you're shooting with your boyfriend in a friend's flat it's definitely the easiest type of scene to produce.

Our cameraman for the day was my dear friend J, whom I've already written about as a top and play partner. He's also a photographer and techie, and I was lucky to get him on board. We hadn't worked together on a spanking shoot before, so we started with some stills to get a feel for the lighting, and get used to interacting in this new context.

I wanted some photos for the site design, and had specific ideas about what I wanted. It was slightly odd directing from in front of the camera much like topping from the bottom and I didn't feel very confident, but when we stopped and looked through the photos I thought they'd come out well. I'm getting copies from him tomorrow so I should be able to post a sneak preview.

Then it was the first film, which went without a hitch. We only had a single camera but we put it to good use, getting a variety of shots and cutaways, spurred on by J's confidence and my recent crash course in film editing. The clip came out short and sweet. I was anxious that the spanking itself wasn't long enough to please people, and wondered if Tom should have padded it out a bit, but he was right that the scenario I'd written called for a 'short sharp shock' type of punishment.

Afterwards we sat down and reviewed the footage. It takes up valuable shooting time, but while I'm starting out I want to review as I go so I can correct any mistakes as we go along. This turned out to be the right decision. A mic problem in the first clip had generated irregular low-level noise, enough that we were seriously worried about having to start again from scratch. We couldn't work out what was causing it. It sounded like physical interference perhaps the manual adjustment of the focus, since the mic was mounted on the camera?

So, for the next clip, we set up the mic on a separate tripod. We were going to monitor the sound through headphones, but plugging them in seemed to make the background rumbling worse. J ran a test that seemed to be clear of the noise, and we went ahead.

Technical issues aside, halfway through the punishment for the second scene, I was really struggling. My head was full of storyboarding, camera angles, working out how things looked so far and what we were doing next. I couldn't process the pain when my head was busy directing. After the first twelve strokes I was yelling indignantly and angrily twisting away from Tom. When we cut to move the camera Tom asked if I was okay, and I burst into tears.

He was cross with me for not calling cut and letting him know I was having difficulty he'd had to assume my reactions were in character. Truth be told, I hadn't quite realised they weren't. Of course I should have cut, but it didn't even occur to me. The punishment was minor by my standards. I thought I just needed to push through, to deal with it. I remember thinking, if I just hung in there, then soon the endorphines would kick in and it'd get easier. Maybe they would have, after the next couple of strokes. But I couldn't explain why I was so upset to Tom's satisfaction, and he was frustrated, not knowing if he'd done something wrong.

The main reason, I think is simply that I was tired. The last three weeks I've been working the hardest I think I ever have in my life. Long days, tight deadlines and juggling a ridiculous number of balls. I'm working in two different offices on different days of the week, and I'm not used to commuting. Most of my leisure time is being spent on the site. So I was exhausted and overwrought, and probably closer to my limits emotionally than I'd taken into account.

Directing and subbing at the same time is really, really hard.

The thing is that I've known this for ages. I've asked Tom to direct the next film I'm producing for Roué, because I know I won't want to work on anything out of character on the day. Amelia Jane-Rutherford has written about this before, and we had a long chat about it over lunch last summer. Creative control over a project is all very well, but I can't have creative control over a scene, working out the gritty technical details and taking responsibility for what happens next, and also submit to my top, to the pain, stay in character and not freak out. However much executive control I have off-camera, once we're shooting a scene I have to trust my top to move things at their own pace. I can't micro-manage my own discipline and relax into it at the same time.

I knew all this, but I couldn't see how I could get round it this time. It's my own material for my own site. I have a specific vision, I've done all this work, it's my baby I knew I couldn't let go of that, so it seemed pointless to try. It worked for the first clip, a light-hearted, erotic discipline spanking. But the next two stories were edgier. Most of my fantasies are emotionally difficult. The CP I was writing for myself was emotionally tough.

Looking back, it's easy to see that I didn't really think this through.

I was absolutely determined to carry on, however. Once we'd finished arguing about whether I should have cut or not, I managed to collect myself and we picked up where we'd left off. This time the pain was easier. Once I'd had my outburst and got myself back under control, I found the headspace I needed. And the shots for the second film looked pretty good when we sat down and reviewed them.

Unfortunately the sound issue had persisted throughout, despite our efforts. J eventually managed to fix the problem by adjusting the settings on the mic, a miracle which continues to impress me. He also applied a low-level filter to the footage from the first two clips that removed most of the noise. Genius! I was immensely relieved, but after all that we still had to move furniture and lights for the third clip and work out our shooting angles, and we disagreed about the best position for the punishment, and it was almost dark by the time we started.

The third story of the day was the longest, and the nastiest. Based on a real life event, it involved me being disciplined unjustly by my over-strict guardian. My character strongly believes she's in the right, the mistreated victim of a man abusing his authority. Her reaction to the punishment is righteous anger and acute frustration at her own physical helplessness.

I find the idea of unjust punishments immensely hot, but they're emotionally draining to film. 'Relaxing' into the pain isn't an option. But genuinely suffering on camera won't work either. I have to let part of me resist the pain, fight and rage against it, and carefully channel that resistance into my acting. With the rest of me I need to wholly consent to what's happening, trust that I'm in safe hands, so I can focus my energy on doing good work rather than feeling hard done by.

Yet again, the scene was fine right up until the actual CP. We got the intro and cutaways, and then the opening interaction between my character and her guardian was filmed in a single take the dialogue flowed really well. He continued to scold as he bent me over the arm of a chair and started strapping me over my short skirt, an unspecified number of 'warm up strokes' before the punishment proper. I was shocked by how much they hurt, and suddenly all of me was resisting. When my panties were yanked down I sat up, and said I didn't think that was appropriate for these characters.

I hadn't actually called cut, but the scene had been broken. "Okay," said Tom patiently. "Do you want to keep your underwear on for this scene, then?"

"I don't know," I said.

I felt miserable. I didn't want to make a decision. I didn't want the responsibility. I was frightened of the strapping I was about to get and my head wasn't doing what I wanted it to. I was tired and I couldn't work out if I was just wimping out or if I had a point, and a strict uncle would leave his niece's knickers up. But even if it was more realistic, would keeping my knickers on ruin the scene for all the viewers who wanted to see punishment on the bare? I was reluctant to make the judgement call. I couldn't think straight.

Which, of course, is exactly why I should have left the decision to Tom. It didn't matter either way in the scheme of things; as long as someone made a decision, either way would probably have been fine. If I'd wanted to change my mind because knickers-on was more realistic, I could have done that. But I couldn't make my mind up. I wasn't letting the top pace the scene, but I wasn't taking control of things either.

By the time I'd worked all this out I was in floods of tears. Mostly exhaustion, and the silly recursive upset of thinking I'd ruined the shoot and it had all gone wrong and it was all my fault. Tom suggested we abandon this clip and move on there was an extra scenario on the callsheet in case we had time for a fourth. Stubbornly, I refused. The film I'd interrupted was edgy and interesting and we'd done too much work already for me to want to stop now. If only I could stop crying and get my breath back we could just finish the damn thing and be done with it. If only it was that easy!

Eventually I calmed down enough to make a decision. We'd fix the punishment at twelve hard strokes, shorter and simpler than the scene I'd scripted, and we'd take them slowly, cutting after every four to give me a breather. Tom poured me a glass of cold wine, gave me a cuddle, and installed me on J's lap while he went out for a well-earned cigarette. This was a good thing to do. Tom and I both have tempers on us and things can flare up quickly, but J is very soothing. I curled up with my arms around his neck, and whimpered that I was rubbish and unprofessional, and he held me and told me I was doing fine. Before long I was ready to carry on, and we finished the filming with no further problems. I was close to tears throughout the punishment, through tiredness if nothing else, but it looked good on camera and I wasn't frightened any more. I even ended up extending the punishment to sixteen strokes so I could get the facial reaction shots I wanted.

We abandoned my plan to take some more stills at the end of the day. I'd wanted some shots of the marks for promo materials, but it wasn't important. We put all the furniture back in its place and copied the files to my laptop, and stayed for another glass of wine before heading home. I was so exhausted my legs barely held me up on the tube home. But by the time we went to bed that night, I'd gained enough distance from my 'failure' to feel pleased with what we'd achieved. And when Tom and I were cuddling in the dark, our memories of the day seemed far more erotic than stressful.

I don't know if I can learn to sub and direct simultneously, given time. I don't know if it'll get easier with practice, once I'm used to running shoots and things aren't so new and tense. I don't know if subbing for my own projects will be easier when the site is earning money, when I'm not going out on a limb, taking financial risks and giving my time for free. I don't know if it'll be easier when I've adjusted to my gruelling new work schedule and caught up on my sleep. Maybe it will, eventually.

But in the meantime, I'm making an executive decision. I'll have complete creative control of everything to do with this site, except when the cameras are rolling. I'm working with close friends, and Tom in particular I can trust to be faithful to my vision. He's an experienced director and I know me and my ideas will be safe in his hands. If it's not going the direction I envisioned, I can always cut. But while we're in character, I need to completely put down all the stress and responsibility and perfectionism that lets me be so ambitious the rest of the time. I've written a script, and I need to follow it, and trust my top to follow it. That's why I've hired him, after all.

I don't know if it'll be easier or harder when I'm not working with my real life Dom. I struggle to combine my personal ambition with my submission, even though they aren't contradictory. Perhaps I'm just tripping over that. Or perhaps subbing to Tom on-camera and being in charge off it is the balance that will make this possible. But I don't think I can be in control of the shoot and accept punishment at the same time, especially when the scene is an edgy one, written to push me.

To endure the pain, I need to not be in control; I need to half-believe I have no choice. Give me a choice, and I'll vacillate. I'm not a toppy masochist demanding to be spanked: I'm a sub, and to enjoy pain I need to be enduring it for someone other than myself.

So, future shoots will have a Designated Director, and I will hopefully be able to get into character and enjoy my sub headspace. I hope it works, because I'm totally in love with the site concept and really, really don't want to give up the idea yet.


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