Sundance 2013: James Franco and Christina Voros on Porn, 'Fifty Shades' and New Doc 'kink' (Q&A)

Christina Voros James Franco - H 2013

Christina Voros James Franco - H 2013

The documentary is screening in the Midnight section and premieres Jan. 19.

Producer James Franco and director Christina Voros offer a no-holds-barred, inside look at the Internet's biggest producer of bondage, discipline, dominance/submission (BDSM) content in their new documentary kink.

The film, which centers on San Francisco-based, premieres at Sundance on Jan. 19. It is screening in the Midnight section.

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The documentary, which includes plenty of male and female full-frontal nudity, uses interviews with performers and directors to examine such issues as authenticity and innovation in the world of BDSM pornography. Franco executive produced the project; Voros, Miles Levy and Vince Jolivette were producers. The screenplay was written by Voros and Ian Olds

Franco tells The Hollywood Reporter that he learned of in 2011 while filming the big-screen adaptation of Stephen Elliott's book Cherry at the San Francisco Armory, the sprawling facility that serves as's headquarters. Intrigued by the idea of making a documentary about the company, he approached Voros, but she was reluctant at first.  

"It was weird being resistant to the idea -- looking back on it now," Voros tells THR. "I think it had to do with the fact that it seemed like such a foreign universe to me that I didn't know if I was going to be able to find a story there, if I could relate enough."  

The film isn't Franco's only sexually charged Sundance title: He also co-directed and appears in Interior. Leather Bar., the narrative film that reimagines the gay leather bar scene that was cut from the 1980 Al Pacino film Cruising at the behest of the MPAA.

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"These kinds of subjects have been an interest of mine for a while," says Franco, who next stars in Disney's big-budget Oz: The Great and Powerful and was nominated for an Oscar for best actor for his performance in 127 Hours (2010). "I am an actor in mainstream films so my involvement also just frames the subject matter in a slightly different way."

(Franco, of course, is no stranger to quirky Sundance-related projects. During the 2011 festival, he unveiled an art installation at the Playboy Lounge on Main Street in Park City that re-created the living room set from the sitcom Three's Company. The installation was used for an elaborate -- and raucous -- party.)  

Franco and Voros recently chatted with THR about kink in a lengthy phone interview, discussing everything from the origins of the project to Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Hollywood Reporter: Why did interest you as a subject?

Franco: I got to watch the making of one of their videos while I was doing this other film and it was just fascinating. I felt like there was just a great vibe in the place and they do extreme kinds of work but it sort of defied all my expectations of what a place like that would feel like. In fact I felt really comfortable there so I thought it was just a place that was waiting to be explored and documented.

THR: Christina, how comfortable were you with the subject matter?

Voros: When I first went into the armory [I did so] with a certain amount of trepidation -- thinking, is this place going to freak me out, am I going to have anything to relate to? I sat in the green room with a bunch of directors over the course of the afternoon and I very rapidly began to understand that I was fascinated by how much I could relate. People love working there; there is this really refreshing attitude about sexuality that is sort of shocking at first because we are so indoctrinated for it to be this thing that hypocritically is taboo to be talked about even though we are all a product of it.

THR: A lot of your focus in the film is on the directors of the pornography.

Voros: I think that as a director myself I was obviously really interested in the directors' identity as a director and it was interesting to watch them watching things and to watch them directing and the precision in which they did that and the intensity in which they did that. Because I honestly never thought about how in its own way there is a three-act structure to pornography and there are certain things you need to do to make it good. There is an authenticity that I think the directors are striving for.

THR: Was it always your plan to debut the film at Sundance?

Franco: Yeah it was the place I always imagined it would go. We have already gotten great feedback from the programmers there; I think they really appreciate movies and documentaries that are pushing new ground. I’m excited that it is premiering at a festival that is not just devoted to fringe or specialized film -- that it is premiering at a mainstream festival or an independent mainstream festival.

THR: Do you think that the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, which explores the world of BDSM, means that people are more open to this subject matter?

Franco: I haven't read it. Maybe. Maybe it just says it's time. Maybe I was just feeling what was in the air -- that people are interested in this.

Voros: I also admittedly haven't read it. I think it is the time for a film like this. The success of that book is maybe because it took what makes pornography so sort of ubiquitous and used it to its advantage -- which was that it came out as an e-book and allowed people to read it without having to own up to buying it and having to go to Barnes and Nobles and picking it up. It allowed them to explore the material much in the same way people explore pornography, which is in the comfort of their own home for the most part. It sort of started trending and people started taking about it.

THR: James, between kink and Interior. Leather Bar., you have two provocative, sex-centric films at Sundance. Was it a coincidence that they both are being premiered at the same time?

Franco: These kinds of subjects -- sexuality and anti-normativity -- this kind of thing has been a big interest of mine for a while. I think it is important that they are both at Sundance. Now these films will cross over, they won’t just be this niche kind of thing. I guess you could say it is sort of a coincidence, it wasn't like I thought – oh, give them the one-two-punch. I just work on projects that I’m interested in, so I just ended up doing these projects close to each other. 


Twitter: @DanielNMiller