"They're not porn stars: They're filmmakers as far as I'm concerned."
On the "Reverse Peephole" episode of Seinfeld, Kramer and Newman ask for Jerry's pliers so they can reverse the peepholes on their apartment doors. "But then anyone can just look in and see you," cries Jerry. "Our policy is we're comfortable with our bodies," Kramer replies. "If somebody wants to help themselves to an eyeful, we say enjoy the show."
This sentiment is now echoed by the entire industry of "camming," a hybrid of chat room, peep show, and strip club that offers viewers a webcam-enabled glimpse into the personal and often very naked spaces of women from across the web. Director Sean Dunne (of American Juggalo, which Noisey featured, and Florida Man, which we've covered here) illuminates the many different personalities and motivations of these women, layering emotionally personal interviews over footage of their daily shows. Based on the subjects he talked to, Dunne came away understanding the profession as a place where cammers get gratification from their work, finding confidence amid the orgasms.
We caught up with Dunne to talk about the future of porn and what the deal is with all that spanking and to bring you an exclusive teaser for the film.
VICE: What was your knowledge of camming before this?
Sean Dunne: I actually didn't have a lot of ideas about cam girls before. I thought of it as something maybe wilder than what's going on, and if I had any preconceived notions in my head, I think it probably had to do with some antiquated values. Like, "Oh no, they shouldn't be doing this—somebody's got to save these girls. What's gone wrong?" The further I dug around, the further from the truth that sentiment could've been, because they don't need help—they are empowered through this work and are gaining independence. My mind has changed about what these girls are up to.
What sparked the idea then? Did you think you were entering a seedier world?
Actually, the exact opposite. We had just made a film called Oxyana, which was very seedy. It was about a town that is hooked on Oxycontin, and it was pretty dark. The idea with this one was to kind of come out of it and explore some people on the fringes that weren't so dangerous but were still threatening to societal values. So when I first went to take it on, it was as a reprieve from the darkness of my last subject. Just thinking maybe we could tell some stories about women and, more specifically, women who are challenging the establishment.
What was your relationship with porn growing up? Did this world feel very foreign to you?
It did a little bit because I'm 33, and I remember the time before the internet when you had to figure out how to get a Playboy, Penthouse, or a Sports Illustrated
Swimsuit Edition even. Then, all of a sudden, it became very easy to locate and find porn for free. And what it's evolved to since then is this highly interactive, highly emotional thing that would really surprise people who don't have a lot of experience with this stuff.
An exclusive clip of 'Cam Girlz'
Well, it's so different. You could never have a connection with a magazine or porno video, but people can have conversations with these cam girls.
Yeah, that interactivity is really what the game changer was with camming. You're turning the corner now into something that is really hard to define and almost transcends porn.
With the film, were you aware of how much sexual content you were showing? What prevented it from becoming artful pornography?
We had this balance the whole time with these audio-only interviews, which serve as the audio for the entire film—those were done off-camera in intimate settings. We allowed their real voices to come out. Then the idea was to juxtapose [the interviews] with these visuals of them doing this amazing, creative, and entertaining work, and leaving it to the audience to decide how they feel about this—if they want to update their values or judgments toward these types of people.
How did you discover the women you featured?
We found a lot of them through Twitter. We got a really good connection with the community. A woman named Sophia Locke runs an event in Vegas called Cam Mansion, where she just has a whole bunch of cam girls get together a couple times a year and cam in this big rental house. She got us in with the community and said, "Come out to Cam Mansion. I'll have a whole bunch of girls here. You can interview them and kind of get a sense of things." So we took that opportunity to shoot a week's worth of footage, which we used to make a trailer and raise money on Kickstarter. Once we had the Kickstarter out there, girls were lining up. Basically, we cast it through our Twitter.
It seems like a broad extension of social media and the culture of "likes" in that a lot of the girls featured enjoy the instant validation it provides.
I definitely think there were elements of that all throughout the film, and that's the kind of stuff I really hope the audience picks up on. These little gems that are hidden in there that are commentary on where we're going with all this technology—with this ability to connect, with this need for attention. Men seeking attention from the women, women seeking attention from them; there's a very strange and modern dynamic that goes on there. It's very mature. It's much more mature than you'd think. It doesn't dissolve into the types of conversations that you would assume hanging around in any of these rooms and seeing what goes on. The dynamic between the members and the cam girls is very fascinating. I saw the movie Her come out right when we were at the beginning of shooting this, and I thought, Man, there's so many similar qualities that are in our film that I feel like it's a prequel. We're watching a whole bunch of people staring at their devices, but they're getting something truly fulfilling out of it. I'm curious to see where it's all going, maybe we're turning a corner with how we interact.
Did you see camming confusing people's perception of reality and fantasy?
I think it does, and I'm basing that solely on the interviews. I spoke to a handful of the guys who were on the other end of this, and I know more beyond the people we spoke to in the film. And I spoke to a lot of the women in the film and their one concern would be that rare circumstance where somebody gets the wrong idea and thinks that they're actually going to have a real-life relationship with them. What these girls are doing isn't necessarily what a stripper does, they're doing what a girlfriend does. They remember your dog's name, they are friendly with you, they're excited to see you. I could see how it could get very confusing for the members. It's not like they're inept or couldn't get girls otherwise; a lot of them work weird hours or are in long-distance relationships. There's so many reasons that people are on there doing this. But a lot of the time you could see how these guys could get ahead of themselves.
One girl in the film does mention being pursued beyond the camera. Did you encounter many stories like this or feel it was safer culture?
It's the safest form of sex work you could possibly do, and when I hear anyone speaking out against it I'm so confused—like, who's getting hurt here? It's people sitting in a room by themselves looking at a 2-D image. But there are a lot of emotions flying around. I think every girl we spoke to has a story like that, of an overzealous fan or an overzealous member who took it too far or misinterpreted it. I don't think it's something that controls these girls' world, though. Part of what makes it so safe is the fact that they can control it, they can do regional blocking, they can block the whole town or the whole state that they're in. You can block members on the fly. A lot of girls are very empowered by this work, and I think it's because those tools are at their disposal and they don't have to put it up with it.
Did you look into male camming at all?
No, the only thing I've ever heard about it is it's less of a cottage industry and it's a little bit more niche. The guys can't make nearly as much money as women can on there. I'm not really sure why, if there's not much of a demand for it. Maybe in the gay community there is, but I don't know any straight women who want to go online and watch a guy jack off in their room. I think if I were making a film called Cam Boyz, the tone would be more different and decidedly more seedy.
What is with all the spanking?
[Laughs] It's something I realized too, no matter what background and how different every girl's show was. Every girl seems to incorporate spanks. I think it just says something about us as a culture, that it's a lot more ubiquitous than anyone expected. At least for me. I'm not big into it, but every cam girl was doing spanks, and had evidence that they'd been going hard! They just treated it like getting a cup of coffee while you're at work. The other things the guys really like is when girls are doing shows in public, and that goes along the same lines where you can't fake it, you're in a vulnerable position. That's real. That's what drew me to this whole community in the first place: the idea that this is really what we've been sold our whole lives, this idea of the girl next door, not Playboy. They're not porn stars: They're filmmakers as far as I'm concerned.
How do you see camming evolving?
A lot of the girls started to tell me that they think holograms are going to be a part of it, so you won't just be staring at your laptop, you'll actually be looking at this girl in your physical space. There are also devices you can hook up to your computer being tested where you can fuck your computer and feel like you're fucking one of these cam girls. With sexuality, if it can be done, it will be done. I think of it as the beginning of something—it's the democratization of pornography. It's a beautiful thing.
There's no concern about widening the gap between physical connectivity?
No, I'm an optimist when it comes to the future, I like embracing anything that's new and might be scary to people. I think it's inevitable, we're merging with the machines and I'm fine with it, we've been doing it for a long time and we're only going to be doing it more.