isenfranchised young consumers of dirty movies have an unlikely Orson Welles in twenty-four-year-old Eon McKai. Last year, the former film student signed with major porn studio VCA to produce triple-X flicks aimed at the fans of indie rock and all of its variations. Since, according to McKai, "the only groundbreaking things to happen [in the industry] in the last few years were on the internet" — specifically the pierced and tattooed bad-girls-next-door of suicidegirls.com — his new porn required a website (www.eonmckai.com) and a cast who look more like emo fans and less like, well, porn stars.
McKai’s debut, Art School Sluts (2004), is perhaps the only porn film to be inspired by Daniel Clowes. With her numerous tattoos and jet-black shag cut, the film’s breakout starlet (named, appropriately, Brooklyn) and her male counterpart, the gangly James Deen, look as comfortable having sex on tape as they would strap-hanging their way back to Williamsburg. The rest of the movie isn’t flawless — the storyline doesn’t exactly improve on porn’s reputation for narrative, and when it comes to male talent, McKai relied a little too heavily on the San Fernando sausage factory — but it marks a moment.
We talked with McKai as he prepped for the April release of his second film, the darker but equally tattoo-friendly Kill Girl Kill.— Grant Stoddard
Give us a timeline of your relationship with porn.
I’m not unique in that my first exposure to it was at an age when I probably wasn’t mature enough to see it. I always had a computer as a kid, so I was on the early Internet, like 1994, 1995, before AOL. There was some wild freaky shit going on even back then.
Why the career choice?
My decision was partly economic and partly out of passion. I’ve always been into film. I studied it as an art form. I sensed a huge void in mass-produced porn. I was already involved in a lot of the indie porn that came out a few years ago. Raverporn.net was really the first place for that, then Suicide Girls became this massive, massive brand. Porn movies have yet to go that route.
With so many alt-porn sites springing up, why not just go online? Isn’t video porn a dinosaur?
I think alt-porn on the web is happening in a good way, and all the big players are in place in that game. I got a shot at doing films and felt it was important to bring that forward. I’m getting the alt-porn film market going for all of us. In 2006 we want a spot of our own on the shelves.
How did you become involved with VCA?
VCA have traditionally been a filmmakers’ porn company, and they really needed a new line of product. They had the Dark Brothers, Antonio Pasolini and Veronica Hart, who was a big mentor of mine; I spent a lot of time on her sets. So it was a good match. I’m not sure if they have a full understanding of what I’m bringing them yet. Basically, I’m really making movies for me and my friends. People who like Suicide Girls, people who like Burning Angel. VCA are shooting for hardcore raincoaters, whereas I really know who my audience is. I’m actually in contact with them from my website.
Did you show up at VCA with a script for Art School Sluts?
No. I turned up with six pages of Daniel Clowes’ Art School Confidential, which is now being made into a feature starring John Malkovich. I loved the idea of lecherous teachers. At the time, I didn’t know if I would get to make a second movie, so I tried to stuff everything into the first: a Goth girl, a real producer from New York working the music, a real clothing designer from here in Los Angeles helping with wardrobe. I wanted to present a cross-section of indie subcultures, as many authentic people as possible. That’s not something that really happens in the Valley.
How do they take to that?
The porn industry is very staid. Everyone seems to think they have the perfect formula for making money: cheerleaders, nurses, a little sun, a pool in someone’s yard in the Valley and some buffed-out dude with a huge cock — that’s the golden ticket. Sticking to that formula has prohibited growth. The people with the money are like, "why should we spend money on making it look good"? That’s why I want to make people talk about Art School Sluts long enough that the distributors realize there’s a new market. I really wanna do a movie that’s just Lolita Goth girls. Or one of just sad emo kids wearing Dickies, Converse and glasses. Within this new market there are going to be a lot of sub-genres. But that’s a long way off; we barely got one movie made in this style.
Your stuff looks a lot like Suicide Girls.
I took a lot of the early pictures for their website and knew a lot of the first Suicide Girls. I think, early on, we informed each other’s style. How they chose their models was inspiring. It was the first time that the girls that I was dating were being seen as the hot girls. And this is like that: we’re saying, this is our aesthetic and it’s hot. These are hot, beautiful, strong, powerful women who are invested in their subculture.
If you were committed to getting rid of old-school porn trimmings, why not chuck out tired descriptors like "sluts"?
I wanted to call the movie Art School Girls are Easy. The company thought that was too low-key and too vague. That’s how ridiculous this has been.
I have to take issue with the male talent — they aren’t nearly as unconventional as the women.
Listen, finding male talent to match my movies is very nearly impossible. That’s my biggest headache right now. I knew going in that I would have to write in an older, more seasoned actor. Otherwise, I’d go way over budget. Having a guy who can’t stay hard or can’t finish will often push you into another day, which means thousands more dollars.
Why do you think so many young men are hesitant to perform?
People learn very quickly how difficult performing in front of a crew can be. Also to be a male porn star your demeanor has to allow the girls to feel at ease and let them know that you respect them. A lot of the guys who are too eager don’t always have that.
How did you not end up casting yourself in the movie?
I’m not that kind of director.
Did you have sex with any of your cast off camera?
I’m not going to comment on that. The most important thing is that the girls know that I am on the level with them. They are all very friendly and flirty, but I need to let them know that I am putting them into a safe situation. I do fine outside of porn. I didn’t get into porn to get laid.
What kind of budget were you working with?
Less than forty thousand dollars.You know everyone talks about how much money porn makes? It’s spread over so many releases. With the exception of a few blockbusters, each movie really doesn’t see that many copies.
After the recent HIV scare, the porn industry seems to be moving toward mandatory condom use. There are no condoms in your movie. Why?
First, condoms are not mandatory. They never have been. I think that at Vivid they’re mandatory, and maybe Wicked too. I think at VCA, it’s still condom optional. If a performer insists on using a condom, that’s up to them. That said, if performers are left to their own devices, they almost always prefer not to.
And what do you prefer to see?
I prefer to see no condoms. Plus, movies sell more when there are no condoms, so it’s partly a sales thing. I do believe that the performers are each others’ friends and family — these people love each other and don’t want to put anybody else at risk. Statistically it’s much safer to have sex with a porn star than with somebody you meet at a bar. We are really hardcore about testing. So performers can have the confidence to perform without a condom if they choose.
The enigmatic Eon McKai
What non-porn movies were influential in making Art School Sluts?
Liquid Sky, Harmony Korine’s stuff. Early Warhol, when he would just put people in a room, give ‘em a little bit of setup, then just let the camera roll. I did that a lot in Art School Sluts.
How has the movie been received?
We’ve gotten a lot of good online reviews. I get so many emails every day from people who are finding the movie in the stores. I get a lot of mixed reviews from porn critics, but all of them say they can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
Do you consider Art School Sluts an artistic launching pad?
Well, as of this interview, it’s screening in an academic setting next weekend, in a art gallery. So I’m exited about that crossover. Also I’m getting offered a lot of interesting non-adult stuff I can’t talk about at the moment. I’ll be directing a few music videos next. This should be a great year for the alt-porn scene.
So you feel that you have been welcomed into the porn community?
So far, yeah. People can tell that it’s a new direction. Since the introduction of gonzo, not much formally has changed in the business. I’m hoping that my movies will be part of the rebirth of the adult feature. The idea being that there might be something to look at in between the sex.
Was becoming accepted part of your plan?
I still feel like the underdog, and I am. I think the industry doesn’t understand my sex completely. They don’t understand the "faux pas" I left in the movie. For instance, in one scene, the guy nearly comes; he pinches his dick and we have to stop. The fact is that he wasn’t supposed to come, but he was really turned on by Brooklyn and she got the better of him. To me, that’s great. That’s real. I think showing things as less than perfect is great. It’s really the basis of punk rock. n°
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Grant Stoddard has written for British GQ, Glamour, Black Book and New York magazine.