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Fantasia 2018 Interview: Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber Talk “CAM” – The Year’s Most Shocking Movie So Far


© Blumhouse Productions

© Blumhouse Productions

There are not many films that would literally make me watch it standing up instead of sitting calmly with great patience. Not like I did not have it at all, but it quickly disappeared in the beginning of the film where my conscience and the same patience were nowhere to be found. And it’s all because of the brilliantly written “CAM” by Isa Mazzei and directed by the equally talented Daniel Goldhaber.

To describe what “CAM” is about you need to ask one question: “Has it ever happened to you that all of a sudden while browsing the internet a screen popped up with a live cam of young women inviting you to join them in a “private room”? If yes, then perhaps you will have some idea of what you are about to see in this psychological horror-thriller that is not far from our even more terrifying real world.

Isa Mazzei as a former cam girl was able to describe subtle details only her real-life experience could do. This is why having her and director Daniel Goldhaber interviewed for “Let the Movie Move Us” was crucial and important, which my dear reader, I am certain you will feel the same.

Before I let you read the entire interview coverage, there’s one thing that’s important to know about “CAM”, that there are certain things in life that happens around us which we don’t know and sometimes it’s better to not know about it. Because not always our mind, brain or even common sense can fit into what the other side of society hides from us. It’s like you go underground and have no way out of it. In most cases, we better be unaware of things that may disturb us. And this is why “CAM” appears to be so frighteningly realistic. Because it’s the other side of people we wish to never know about, which was CAM’s mission, which I must admit, was fully accomplished.

MOVIEMOVESME: As a male director panning out this story, what is it that fascinated you about the world of online sex workers and how did you try to translate it into the film?

Daniel Goldhaber: Yeah, well, so and basically my original introduction to this world was when Isa Mazzei started camming. She contacted me because she wanted to make some kind of promotional pornography for her sight and for her show that she would sell, and reached out because she thought I was a good film maker and thought that we could maybe make something cool and interesting or maybe a little bit different together. And that was really exciting to me and so we did this shoot that was really cool and again, really exciting and fun. And then after that, I started spending a lot of time with her, not while she was camming, but maybe in the other room or hanging out with her as she was getting ready. And seeing the ways that she was kind of this performer and this artist and seeing all the relationships that she’d built with these guys, and it was really really fascinating.

And so we started talking about, “Hey, maybe we should do something in this space together.” We originally thought about doing a documentary, but we kind of hit this problem of there being just both documentary and porn have this idea that you’re giving the audience this authentic experience. And so it just felt like doing justice to this story as a doc was something that I couldn’t do as somebody who’s predominantly a narrative film maker. And so we also both love genre movies, we really wanted to make a movie that was kind of fun and commercial, and accessible, and poppy. And so we were like, “Let’s do a genre movie in this space.” And then we kind of just started doing it from there.

In terms of, I guess maybe being a man, I think that that whole idea came at a similar time that I was trying to kind of confront some notions that I felt like I’d developed that were problematic about my relationship to women. And this project seemed like a really amazing opportunity to kind of educate myself. And so that was kind of my way in.

CAM_STILL1b

© Blumhouse Productions

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about how you ended up writing the script about a real life experience and what made you to tell it? It’s really powerful and super scary!

Isa Mazzei: Thank you. Thank you, yeah. For me, it was really important not only to tell a story where an audience would empathize with a sex worker, but I wanted to kind of explore this fracturing of identity that I felt within myself as a performer. I felt oftentimes, the longer that I worked, the more and more distance there was growing between my online persona and who I actually felt like I was inside. And while that distance was growing, at the same time, I wasn’t necessarily sure which one was real and which one was not real, and which aspects of my personality were actually myself or which ones were performative.

And so I felt this weird sort of fracturing, is really the only way to say it, of this identity and so that was kind of the point of entry for me for the story. Was to want to explore that more, explore those anxieties, and how scary that felt to feel like there was a version of me in the world that maybe wasn’t fully myself and how to reconcile that.

MOVIEMOVESME: There’s one particular scene where her brother was sitting with his friend while watching the video and that was the scene I really wanted to leave. I couldn’t take it anymore. I would like you to talk about exploring that part more, off the screen, off that camera to the real life.

Isa Mazzei: Yeah. I mean, as a sex worker, you have to decide what you’re going to keep secret, what you’re going to reveal, who you’re gonna reveal it to. Protecting your personal identity is obviously important, but obviously protecting yourself from maybe the stigma, or judgment, or shame that others in your community and your family might put on you. And so I really, as someone who was pretty open with my social circles about what I was doing, I really tried to stay true to some of the anxieties I felt about what if other people in my community found out, like my old teachers, my doctor, my dentist. How would that feel to have them find a video of me online without me knowing, necessarily? And kind of pulling that fear into that scene was really important.

And again it’s, for me, that scene is not only about being outed as a sex worker, but also about a lack of control. Because that video gets out there because Alice does not have control over her show anymore. She doesn’t do public shows and Lola does a public show and so it goes viral on the internet and these kids do find it; and so more than just the violation of kind of being found out, it’s also about the fact that she has no control anymore. And that’s what’s so scary, I think, about that moment.

MOVIEMOVESME: But that’s the digital world.

Isa Mazzei: Exactly.

MOVIEMOVESME: I want you both to talk about how she (Madeline Brewer`s Alice or Lola_Lola) calls the customer support, gives the identification number and the guy says, “Sorry. It’s locked out and no longer exists.” How was it to just jump into that, dive into that world? Because that’s where the film can go so many ways.

Daniel Goldhaber: Well, yeah. I think that that was one of the other things that I think compelled us both so much about this material, is that yes the movie is about camming and it’s about sex working; but more than that it’s about digital identity. And I think that if there’s kind of a political message behind the film it’s that sex workers are people, sex workers work, and that along those same lines work is moving online. And so sex work is moving online, and we all kind of identify with the idea of having an online identity. And I think that what makes sex work, or camming in particular, such a rich well of subject matter for this film is that if you’re a cam girl, you’re online identity is not just kind of your social life or your creativity, it’s your body. It’s your sexuality, it’s your work. It’s so vulnerable.

And so the thing is is that all digital identity is all really corruptible. We’re all putting these versions of ourselves out in the world and saying, “This is me, but it’s not quite me.” And I also don’t have complete control over it. And so I think that that’s part of the idea that we’re trying to explore. Is what happens when all these versions of ourselves that are out there develop a mind of their own and kind of run away without me?

CAM_STILL2

© Blumhouse Productions

MOVIEMOVESME: Isa, did you have to act as a consultant as well?

Isa Mazzei: I mean, we actually view the film as a co-authorship. So it’s 100% his film, 100% my film. I was involved ever step of the way from obviously the writing, to the casting, pre-production, I was on set, I was working directly with the actors. Definitely consulting on all of the camming aspects of the film and also consulting on all the website parts of the film; but more than that is was really a shared vision from the beginning and we really worked together to kind of bring it to life. Bring the world to life, the aesthetic to life, the colors to life.

Daniel Goldhaber: Yeah, I think that it’s not even the kind of thing where I think Isa Mazzei’s involvement is that of a consultant. And it’s actually, I think that what it really is is that, yeah, we had this shared idea of what we wanted the movie to be. We divided the craftsmanship duties. Isa Mazzei was in charge of the way of what I see a screenplay as, which is the what a movie is about. What is the kind of thing, and I was kind of more in charge from, again a craftsmanship standpoint, of the directing. The kind of, how is it gonna be about that. But ultimately the movie itself, that was something that we both fully believed in.

And so one thing that I think is really interesting about this film, and really interesting about the process of having made this film, is that we exist in a critical system where directors are assumed to be the sole authors of their movies. And I think that more often than not, that’s not fully accurate. And so something that we were very open about in this process, not just as filmmakers, but not just in critical conversations, but with the entire crew was that there’s more than one author to this movie. Isa Mazzei and I have different kinds of responsibilities on the set, in pre-production, and in post, but ultimately the finished thing is something that we’re both presenting to the world as authors.

And I think that that structure led to a lot of incredibly exciting collaboration opportunities on set and in post-production. You don’t normally have in a film when people are kind of looking to just the director to be the only voice in the film.

MOVIEMOVESME: Madeline Brewer was phenomenal. I wonder what part of the script you gave to her so that she came into casting, performed it and then you said, “This. That’s her.”

Isa Mazzei:  Yes. I mean, that is how it was. We met with her actually before we cast her, had a conversation about what the story, what we wanted to do with it, and she immediately understood and resonated with that. And when she came in to read, she just totally nailed the audition. And we knew right away because she understood really brilliantly how to engage with all the different aspects of the character that she’s playing. Because essentially, she’s playing four or even four or even five versions of herself. It’s Alice as Lola online, Alice as Lola in the real world. And so because she has to play all these different characters and really differentiate them, she just had an incredible instinct how to do that, and also did a lot of research for the part.

Daniel Goldhaber: Yeah, and just to answer the other part of your question, the two scenes that we read with her were the kind of the second half of the opening suicide scene and then the scene where her mother reveals that she’s been watching the show. Because we really wanted to see in the character somebody who was going to be able to kind of modulate between the very performative aspects of Alice and who kind of had a natural affinity for kind of playing somebody who is a performer and then kind of the more emotional, vulnerable aspects of the character. And we wanted to kind of see what the actor’s approach to both of those ideas was. And that’s what makes Madeline such an extraordinary actor and such an extraordinary collaborator is that she is somebody who’s very quickly able to go to those really vulnerable places on camera.

But she also has such a technical ability and process in how she approached the material that it was very very easy to kind of work on this insanely complicated performance where you’re shooting out of order. So one moment, she’s a late stage Lola and then two hours later she has to be Alice talking to her mother and she has to be able to be in those different places but also know exactly where those characters are in the movie. Which is really really hard when you’re juggling literal different character story lines. And so I think that that was also just something that I think that we saw in the audition, was just her ability to really latch on to those aspects of what we were talking about in the movie.

MOVIEMOVESME: Cam is not only about Alice or Lola; it’s also about the users and even though it was just a stunt, how they were willing to see her cut her own throat. How was it to explore that?

Isa Mazzei: Yeah, absolutely. I think, for that scene, that scene is actually based on a show that I wanted to do that [Demi 00:15:03] and I had discussed maybe doing in my cam room. And it was kind of based on wanting to engage with the part of the internet that does want you to hurt yourself. And not only hurt yourself in a safe, consensual, kinky way, but actually hurt yourself. And there’s absolutely a wide variety of users on these sites and for me, it was really important to try as much as possible to bring a large spectrum of them into the film.

So if you actually spend time reading the chats that Alice engages with, you’ll notice that she has all the characters that are in her room all have their own personalities, their own way of speaking, their own favorite emojis and gifs, inside jokes with each other. And so I actually spent several weeks actually scripting those shows, so that Madeline would have something to directly engage with on the screen and also to try to give the world the feeling that I had when I was camming. Which is it’s a very vast, broad range of cam viewers. There are men, women, very different personality types, different styles of humor, and so I tried to bring that in as much as I could.

MOVIEMOVESME: Isa Mazzei, why did you want this story to be told? 

Isa Mazzei: Well, I think for me it was really important to make this film for two reasons. The first is, it was important for me to tell the story, to create a film where audiences would empathize. Not only just empathize with a sex worker, but actually be rooting for a sex worker to return to sex work. Which is a pretty subversive idea that I feel like is very lacking in mainstream media. And so I wanted to create a fun, exciting genre film where maybe an audience doesn’t even realize how subversive it is what they’re feeling. Which is they want Alice to get her show back. They want her to return to sex work.

The other thing that was important for me is that as a cam girl, I was often met with surprise that I was a cam girl. “Oh, but you’re smart. Oh, but you’re educated. Oh, but you went to college. Oh, but you’re so normal. Oh, what are you gonna do next?” Kind of almost a skepticism at the ambition that I had within my career, at the passion that I had at the amount of hours I dedicated to it. And so when we look at films like Black Swan, or Whiplash, these really engaging sports films where we see the protagonist engage fully with their passion and they might encounter negative things, they encounter positive things, but we never doubt that passion. And I think with sex work, sometimes, people view it as a less than a form of art like that. Or less than a passion like that, and so it was important to tell the story of a protagonist who feels about her work and her sex work, the same way that Miles Teller feels about drumming in Whiplash. And I really wanted to bring that to a mainstream audience.

MOVIEMOVESME: How is it for you, as a man, to see that you made a film about the sexual exploitation of women online?

Daniel Goldhaber: I think in terms of, for me, maybe I think the way I understood your question is, “How do I fit in as a man, telling this story?” I think that it’s a couple of things. One, it’s important to recognize that not all porn consumers are men, and not all consumers of cam, not all participants in camming are men. But that yes, the gaze that we kind of recognize that porn is often seen through is a male gaze. And again, there’s plenty of non-male gaze pornography out there, but predominantly what we encounter is pornography made from a male point of view and for male viewers.

And so I think that for me, and for kind of the way that we were approaching this collaboration, was that we wanted the film to be a blend of a male gaze and a female gaze. We wanted the film to kind of have this perspective of a female performer, and I think that that was something that, when we were on set, was a place where Isa Mazzei was extremely … She directed the suicide scene, I wasn’t in the room working with the actors for that. We wanted Alice’s performance there to be felt from a non-gazey point of view. But I was the one working with the camera. And so I think that in that way, we wanted the movie to kind of be a blend of both of those perspectives so that it could be empathetic to both the men viewers, and it could kind of understand, okay.

And you see that when we cut to the webcam. Because when you’re in the Alexa view, when you’re in the main camera, you’re kind of with Alice in her world where she is an empowered performer. But when you cut inside the webcam, you see the way that she is performing for men. And so that’s just an example of the way that, for both of us, we wanted to kind of acknowledge both of our view points and have the film kind of be a scene which blended both of those ideas. Because when you’re making a movie about sex work, when you’re making a movie about camming, you have to kind of acknowledge both halves of the situation.

 

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