After taking Sundance by storm, "Hot Girls Wanted," Ronna Gradus and Jill Bauer’s intimate exposition of young pornography performers, has been attracting audiences nationwide via its release on Netflix.
The documentary, which has been playing on the streaming site since May, won strong reviews from publications such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and it has drawn attention for its frank profiling of the current pornography industry and its (very) young participants.
Back in April, Gradus and Bauer participated in a roundtable panel where they discussed the making of the film and what they hope it achieves. It’s an illuminating, fascinating conversation about the technological age and, more broadly, the world we live in today. Read on below to see 7 of the discussion’s biggest reveals:
They were surprised by the backgrounds of their subjects.
According to Gradus, "If anyone were to confiscate our computers they would probably be like, ‘These dirty girls!’ You see that on all of these sites there are seemingly thousands of girls. We’ve always been aware of that. Who are they? There’s so many of them. Then, when we got into this house, it seemed like this recruiter posts ads on Craigslist. Then small town girls, who want to get out of their towns, graduate high school, go on to Craigslist, click on these ads and then they get a free plane ticket to Miami. A week later, they are on a porn set."
"We thought to ourselves, ‘Wait a minute, this can’t actually be happening because if this were really the story, that thousands of girls are doing this, it would have been told by now.’ It turned out that it really had not been told and we just thought, ‘Whoa! This is the story.’ We put the boy version of ‘Sexy Baby’ on the back-burner and ran with this one."
Premiering the film at Sundance allowed them to make necessary changes.
"We had the great benefit of watching the film five times at Sundance and three times in Miami on a big screen," said Bauer. "The same things drove us crazy every time. For Sundance, you rush for the edit, music and everything. It just drives you crazy. You rush, rush, rush."
After watching the film with an audience and listening to people’s comments in festival Q&As, the duo made one major change. "We clarified cards," continued Bauer. "In the first version for Sundance, we did these cultural montages. We always thought they were excessive. People didn’t need to be hit over the head to know there is a world out there, a sexualized culture. People didn’t have to see it all over the place. We pared that down and it’s really just in the intro. The ending always felt like a two-ending film. We made that tighter. The music is better. It’s much better. We actually love this version."
The initial empowerment felt by the film’s subjects provided a thematic starting point.
As Bauer explained, "We show at the beginning of the film how they come in and feel a tremendous amount of power. They have just been given a free ticket to Miami, which represents freedom to them, freedom out of the small town. They’re probably not going to go to college. They’re not on that track. If they do go to college, they would be first generation college kids. They are from working class families. They get this ticket and they have fire in their bellies. These are girls who want to do something with their lives."
"They see fame and fortune because they get $800 a shoot and five shoots in the first week. That is very attractive. They’ve grown up watching music videos, where money is thrown all over the place, and they get to meet rappers when they go to Miami. At first, it’s very empowering. It’s all over the map. Some girls continue to feel empowered for a while. Some pro-[amateur] girls actually claim that they are empowered. We are not making any judgments. We just show the girls. When they have to tell their parents and they have to face that some of the air is let out, initially, and then they have to make decisions. It gets a little heavier."
The porn community felt threatened by the film.
"There was a bit of a threat to the pornography industry," Bauer explained of the film’s post-Sundance response. "We were getting some tweets. Our producer on the film is Rashida Jones. She was getting tweeted at. There was a conversation that was happening on Twitter. When we went in for the edit, we said we were going to clarify. As Ronna said, we were covering the pro-amateur world and this is what we saw in this world. These were the girls we followed. It is very important that this film is not an anti-pornography film and that it is not a pro-pornography film. It is like, ‘We are taking a look at this.’"
Gradus added, "We were getting tweets from people saying, ‘I run my own porn site,’ and ‘I love having sex and I get paid for it,’ and ‘Don’t judge me!’ We said, ‘We were not judging you and that is why we went back to clarify what we were talking about.’ I think a big difference about this particular type of porn is that the girls are 18. Generally, what these companies are looking for are fresh faces. Do 18 years old have the same agency as a 21 year old? Probably not."
Netflix was the ideal home for the movie.
Gradus was enthusiastic about being picked up by the streaming site, stating, "We have both heard from people that they watch documentaries because of platforms like Netflix. A lot of people who are not the type to go to a movie theater and pay to see a doc will watch it because they figure, ‘Why not?’ It has turned a lot of people onto docs, which is amazing. It is why we were thrilled to get picked up by Netflix, because you cannot ask for a broader audience."
As for why it worked for "Hot Girls Wanted," Bauer explained, "We also really love the Netflix platform for this film. We know what the film is about, and how many people are going to show up and go to a theater to see this film? It just really makes sense. It is a film about technology, the Internet, social media and pornography. It just makes sense, in this context, for viewers to watch it on this platform."
They found older porn stars disdainful of the current culture.
According to Gradus, "In our first film, one of our characters was a veteran, an old school porn star from when porn stars used to exist. When we knew we were making this film, we were very interested in her opinion about today’s porn. Also, her husband works in the porn world. They were very distraught at the direction porn is going. They thought, ‘We used to be professionals.’ They took it seriously and cared about the product. They thought it was a shame. Also, the reason it is harder for people to become porn stars is that you have all these young girls whom are willing to do anything. The competition is fierce."
"Everybody always finds out."
On how the culture influences girls to enter the industry, Gradus said, "They feel a little bit of protection, naively, when they first go in. There are so many girls. ‘Nobody is going to find me.’ But of course, everybody always finds out and their towns find out. And also, they have grown up where famous people have made sex tapes."
Bauer added, "It is not as much of a stigma. But also, they are impulsive. They are 18. They don’t think about it. They don’t think their dad’s friend from work is going to have seen them. These are real stories from our little story. They don’t think about it. We were at the Kinsey Institute a couple of weeks ago. We just got feedback from a woman that we work with. She sent us all the students that were in a class. We were with Rachel, one of our main characters, and she was there. The kids were really struck by it because they saw themselves in her, that they could have made that decision. One of the kids in the class said, ‘I couldn’t believe it because she looked familiar to me because I had actually seen her videos.’ These girls are really seen, and boom, they’re out there."
"Hot Girls Wanted" is now available on Netflix.