I knew exactly what he wanted — his script never changed, there wouldn’t be surprises. Didn’t matter. I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to do this session or any session, and I felt I had no choice. Fear + Anger + Feeling Trapped = Panic Attack. I started to break down minutes into the session… I don’t remember if I had even collected the money.
But I do remember something very clearly. Marathon Man broke character and asked me if I was okay. Marathon Man behaved like a normal person and had a normal human interaction.
Can you imagine the end credits being as is, but the final moment being Marathon Man’s well-rehearsed act just falling apart from a moment of concern? That’s a human moment in between two people who both know Remedy needs to go home, not just a moment in a bathroom where Remedy is crumbling by herself. To me, much more powerful, and much less tragic.
Why didn’t I do that… well, I didn’t even remember that this was my last session until we were probably done shooting the epilogue. The epilogue scenes, by the way, were written and shot in 2012 as a way of providing aftercare for the viewer, to show that Remedy’s okay but without her being “redeemed” because fuck that. There are too many stories out there where the worker isn’t okay at the end, and too many stories where they are saved. Remedy is dark, but no one is saved or punished. She gets out, she goes on. The End.
One day I was screening the film for a couple of independent dommes who had both at some point in their lives worked in houses, just so get an insider reaction. While I expected them to have an informed critical analysis, I did not expect one of them to invite me to start actively working again, only this time with clients who had been (gasp) well-screened.
The conversation when something like this.
Her: Do you want to come work with me?
Me: Did you not just watch the two hour movie where I was really bad at this…
Her: I doubt you were bad at it. And I think you’d be fantastic at it now.
Here’s a great way to determine personal growth over a decade. Domme a little in your mid-twenties, stop domming, beat yourself up for a while, make a feature film, and then return to the work in your mid-thirties. Realize that the only reason you stopped was because you lacked a requisite amount of self-knowledge and because your safety was not the dungeon’s first priority. Realize that under ideal conditions — and with full acceptance that until decriminalization is a reality and stigmatization a memory, a totally safe workplace isn’t an option — YOU NEVER WOULD HAVE STOPPED. (Although you still would have been a filmmaker, only your first feature would have been a madcap-musical-theater-dramedic-extravaganza starring a kinky dance troupe and Chris Pratt. Or something.)
So it’s been about three years since I’ve been working again. It’s not my only income or even the majority of my income, but it is a welcome source of grocery money for an indie filmmaker. I don’t publicize my work name because, honestly, if you were a client would you want to session with the woman who made a two hour tell all where the clients don’t exactly get a 100% glowing portrayal? Me neither. Also how’s that for a switch… my work name is the secret. 😉
Anyway, if you thought I condemned the industry, nope. I don’t. I do condemn the politics and bullshit that make the work less safe than it should be, and hope that being as out as possible will do some good.
▶ Why did you give your film an unhappy ending? Don’t we have enough sex worker stories with unhappy endings?
The happy ending is that a sex worker made a movie about sex work without anyone interfering or censoring her, and that film made it into theaters because people wanted to see it.
– the production sound, especially in the first third of the film
– making sure the lighting and the camera were best buddies instead of bitter rivals
– the ending
The sound was tricky, in that we shot the majority of the sessions in my father’s refurbished barn, which was already wired to be a music studio. While we didn’t always nail mic placement — the only criteria to be a boom operator was ability to fit in the room — the overall sound of the sessions themselves were fantastic, especially for a $200,000 film. But when we shot on location in NYC, we had almost no control. I didn’t even have a mixing board until halfway through the week of shooting. We had no on-site audio engineer, and the windows faced a busy cross-street. As a result, we had to ADR a significant portion of those scenes, almost all of which are at the beginning of the film.
The lighting and the camera often didn’t get along. I was used to shooting in low light personally, but only in club situations where the primary light sources were literally balls of flame coming out of a performers mouth. The camera was the best tech available from the MFA Photo/Video cage at SVA. If only I had known what kind of DSLRs were coming down the pike. Can you imagine REMEDY shot on a Sony A7s?! Oddly enough, I think the digital noise and occasional artifacts ultimately worked in our favor. Would “clean” really suit this movie? Would Cassavettes shoot 4k?
The ending. Ohhhhh, the ending. I struggled with that like you wouldn’t believe. First off, there was a lot more to my story at the dungeon that I didn’t feel comfortable including. I stayed on for months after doing the session shown in the film, mostly answering phones. But there was, in fact, one more session. I was managing a shoestring shift that night, and the dental fetishist the film refers to as “Marathon Man” — NY dommes know him by a different pseudonym — calls in. There’s no one available. So I decided to take it myself. I get dressed, completely unsure of myself, and I enter the room to begin the session. But I’m barely a minute in before I feel the panic attack coming on. I start crying as I feel the invisible hands start closing around my neck.
And you know what? Mighty Marathon Man, who always pretends he’s in some twisted medical office from the moment he walks into a dungeon until the moment he walks out, breaks character. He breaks character , possibly for the first time in his kinky career, and asks if I’m okay. “No,” I say. And I completely lose it and leave the room.
I didn’t think of this until a year after we wrapped shooting. Now that would have been the ending from hell. Excuse me while I kick myself a few more times.
▶ The “job” seemed to include everything, from spiritual advisor to doctor, conversational partner or slave. Are the scenes in the movie really the “daily routine” in that job or did the director choose them because they fit most for a filmic representation of that topic, especially in a depressing or funny way?
Picture one of those cartoons where a character has to make a difficult decision. Suddenly, an angel appears on one of her shoulders and a devil on the other, each offering contradictory advice. Now picture me as the Director but with a Writer on one shoulder and an Editor on the other. Writer and Editor didn’t always get along. Writer was obsessed with presenting the daily routine, note for note, and Editor didn’t want the audience to fall asleep. So, as the director, I compromised.
For every alteration of “the way it actually happened,” I kept details and imposed structures that would preserve authenticity. I strung together sessions that would give a really wide range of what went on in the dungeon, including all of the elements you mentioned, because all of those things do happen. Maybe not every day, but they happen.
Then in production and post I made decisions that would keep REMEDY true to the profession, while engaging the audience. I kept the sessions as episodic as I could, including the before and after, the walks to the room, the cleanup, the commute, etc. Pacing was especially important; I wanted viewers to feel the length of an hour long session and how it feels endure (or fill) the time. I let the tone of the film shift drastically from sequence to sequence. The style modulated from stagey to verité to “documentary” to experimental. And I only chose the sessions that would advance Remedy’s character arc.
So no, the sessions don’t represent the daily routine because I didn’t want to show parts of the industry that I had seen portrayed in other media or something that wouldn’t, as they say in film school, advance the story. I skipped foot worship sessions, tickling and wrestling sessions, outcalls, ass worship sessions, cross-dressing sessions, fat-jiggling sessions (yes, I’m serious), and many more not because I thought they were boring, but because I couldn’t figure out a way for the audience to learn more about Remedy by watching them. And I left out other things because I was chicken-shit, worried about what “America was ready to see.” If I had to do it all over again, I would have made it clear how many times Remedy saw her clients masturbate to orgasm, for example.
At any rate, I don’t think one film can adequately capture professional BDSM completely. REMEDY is just an attempt to put my story, which elapsed over the course of one and a half years, into a digestible two hours. Don’t think I haven’t thought of turning it something larger, say a television show, so I could really capture the daily grind and include other workers’ stories — I would run through my production budget long before I’d run out of material.
(This question was paraphrased from a comment submitted by an audience member after a screening in Kiel, Germany.)
▶ Is the situation for a pro-sub more dangerous than for a dominatrix concerning security/customers crossing the lines? Does it happen regularly that non-consensual things happen, and if yes, what would be the best way to prevent such things?
That said, YES. I strongly believe that pro-sub is inherently more risky (especially with sex work being criminalized, stigmatized, and [insert more scary words here] in the USA and elsewhere) than pro-dom. I think doing pro-sub when you *are* a submissive IRL might add to the risk. However, rather than speak in generalities, I will keep it personal. Here goes.
1. I only had three kinds of dominant clients. The first type wanted anonymity due to fame or position or simply were the type to “pay the girl to go away.” Kink without fuss. I used to refer to them as the Charlie Sheens, but that was before that name accumulated a different kind of baggage. #winning The second type usually had a lack of confidence preventing them from seeking D/s relationships, much like someone afraid of dating *period* but peppered with fear of rejection or mischaracterization. Some of them also seemed to be afraid of their own proclivities, and paying for the privilege made it a little less real for them, I think. The third type were the Psycho Fuckheads. I hate to say it, but I feel that the majority fell into this group — at least the ones I encountered. Again, I didn’t do my own screening or security.
2. I’ve had enough trouble getting people in my personal life to adhere to boundaries and pre-negotiations as a submissive woman, so I’m hardly surprised that I encountered dangerous situations once the kink was commodified. That’s not sex work’s fault, nor is it kink’s fault. That’s something else entirely, and a whole ‘nuther post.
3. I am a competitive, prideful bottom. THAT IS BAD FOR PRO SUB. It is in my nature to push my limits to save face, to never let the client see me break, to never use a safe word — not that people appeared to ever use them where I worked — even if it was utterly ludicrous for me to continue the scene. I know that about myself now, and that is why I will never sub for money again.
How do we make it safer? Decriminalize sex work so women can call the cops if something goes wrong. Until that happens, the only thing ultimately protecting a sex worker from harm is the client’s conscience.
▶ The “rape fantasy” session with the famous person: did this really happen? Was this a famous actor, and if yes, can you tell us his name?
▶ From Germany: The dungeon you depict seems like a very dangerous place to work. Are dungeons in the United States really that unsafe?
The inspiration for the REMEDY dungeon set was a establishment in a commercial building in midtown Manhattan. It was sprawling and shabby, and you really couldn’t hear what was going on more than a room or two away. That said, the danger of working there was systemic, not isolated to one establishment or another, and I wouldn’t even say the owner or management was ultimately to blame. Unlike some parts of Europe, America is not only sex-negative, it’s sex-worker-toxic. Whether you’re a call girl or a cam girl, if you call the police to report danger you are every bit as likely, if not more likely, to face repercussions and stigma than any client or subscriber is. Hell, I figured this out when I was in single digits watching episodes of Night Court, seeing Judge Harold T. Stone sentencing one street hooker after another to “$50 and time served” while Dan Fielding pelted them with clever sexual slurs and simultaneously tried to cop a feel. Women here are taught, both directly and through observation, that if we go into sex work and end up in an unsafe situation, there is nowhere we can turn and it’s our fault if anything happens to us. Is it any wonder then that dungeon security would only be as good as the manager working that shift, who’s probably just as afraid to be sent up the river as anyone else in the place? And, if I may extrapolate, is it any wonder that the occasional client may choose to take advantage of his apparent carte blanche?
I never intended to use REMEDY as a political tool. I just wanted to tell a story. But after talking with heros of sex worker rights and champions of all aspects of sexual freedom, from Sabrina Morgan to Nina Hartley, I’m starting to see how my story is evidence of how unnecessary, systemic, sexual stigmatization almost guarantees that women get hurt, whether they do sex work or just exist. In other words, if I had been taught as a child that the law would protect me against violence no matter what, my film may have had a happier ending.
▶ The session with the client narrating an imagined rape was perhaps the most powerful and erotic in the movie. Dealing with anything related to rape play often causes controversy, even within the SM scene, so I was surprised to see it shown in such a positive light. Did you choose to include a scene depicting an often maligned kink to challenge unfortunately popular notions of how SM play *should* be, or did you experience it first hand?
The session scenes are all based on first hand experience, and I can only think of one detail which I completely fabricated for the sake of the narrative, and it wasn’t in this scene. (This will be addressed in a different question soon enough, as I’m often asked which elements of the film were true and which were fictional.) The session on which this episode — casually referred to, for better or worse, as “The Gang Rape Scene” — is based unfolded pretty much as depicted in the film. The client was extremely well spoken, far more attractive than the average customer, young, and commanding. There was no embarrassment or malice on his part. He had a job to do, and an hour in which to take me on the psychological ride of a lifetime. His kink was watching his sub mentally surrender to the fantasy while remaining physically safe. And it was my first experience, personally or professionally, with someone dominating me exclusively with a monologue and some intentionally non-erotic choreography. Honestly, it didn’t matter what the narrative he told was; I was completely immersed in the world he created. He really impressed me.
Now, when I put this in the film, I had an notion that it would be controversial. Certainly out of context it probably sounds horrifying. But I also know that peoples’ private fantasies are often taboo, things they would never want played out in real life. But aware that a session alluding to rape could be triggering, I did what I could to invite audiences into Remedy’s perspective so, hopefully, it wouldn’t matter if the viewer thought it was sexy. Meaning, they wouldn’t leave the theater wondering, “What does it say about me that I’m turned on by this?” Remedy thought it was sexy, and that’s what matters here. So I include pulsing, repetitive musical motifs and use a split screen. The intention was to allow the viewer access to Remedy’s subjectivity while ever-so-slightly distancing them from the harshness of the text. In other scenes they would not be so protected.
I also was very interested in depicting a positive session born of a violent fantasy and juxtaposing that with a session that seems safe but very much isn’t. REMEDY shows scenes unfamiliar to people who don’t work or play in the industry, subverting assumptions wherever possible.
It shouldn’t work for a number of reasons. It’s a queer anthem. Its potency results exclusively from fucking with the gender binary. The song cannot function with a female vocalist. It’s a crap one-hit-wonder from 1997.
Indeed, White Town was not my first choice. That distinction goes to The Zombies’ classic “Time of the Season,” a song that I figured would well suit a 007-inspired title sequence while also containing lyrics that seemed rooted in the pageantry of a banal power exchange fantasy: “What’s your name? / Who’s your daddy? / Is he rich like me?”
Furthermore, this song was to be included in a soundtrack composed entirely of karaoke music sung by the cast and crew. Yeah. It all made perfect sense to me at the time, mostly because karaoke was the thing I did after work — dungeon row was a suburb of Koreatown — to prevent a quick descent into hereditary alcoholism. Instead of drinking Old Grandad, I’d weep my sober way through “One More Try” accompanied by a half dozen cruelly attractive gay men. (Yes, this happened.)
If the theme of REMEDY is pride, then the sub-theme of the film is catharsis. I was seeking post-shift release through other people’s poetry and bad synthesizers. The clients were seeking the outlet for their nagging dark urges, and their drug of choice was sexual cliche and stereotyping. Both solutions are valid and oddly parallel.
So at one point, I shot a prototype of this concept at my favorite karaoke joint Baby Grand. One friend, a cis-gendered female (!) no less, decided to sing “Your Woman.” I was stunned. First, I had completely forgotten about White Town. Second, every word seemed to reflect a perversion of The-Stripper-Really-Likes-Me Syndrome, performed in the style of the jaded sex-worker. More specifically, the jilted pro is serving her sour grapes to her “master-for-an-hour” with a bitter reduction of sarcasm. Because the truth of the matter is she could never be his woman — because she’s paid to be his woman.
I never even considered “Time of the Season” after that.
* I figured I should provide this disclaimer, just in case the licensing gods are reading.
Sorry, I just snarfed my ADD-drug laced coffee. The actual question should be have I had time to read or watch anything for pleasure since I started filming. The answer is, not really. Pretty much the only reading I’ve done is non-fiction, and the only watching I’ve done is at other people’s homes, on other people’s cable. I’m the girl who doesn’t know what Justin Bieber is or what Katy Perry looks like. In fact, I actually made a rule that I wouldn’t watch any movies in theaters I haven’t already seen so that I wouldn’t be swayed by anything too contemporary. I made an exception for A Dangerous Method and Jackass 3D, as Cronenberg is already a huge influence… and I’m really interested in the capabilities of the Phantom camera’s frame-rate capabilities.
But I digress and geek out.
It’s strange to have mixed feelings about a book I’ve never read. Obviously I’m aware of it, aware of the reactions to it on both sides of the thin grey chalk line between the kinky and the vanilla. I’m thrilled that so many people are coming out about their personal fantasies and exploring new ones as a result.
But this shit ain’t new. Kink has been present in variety of literature and media since time immemorial — I dare you to find a sexy song lyric that doesn’t somehow incorporate power exchange. Ever listen to the lyrics to “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by The Police?
But I have never seen such a massive CONSCIOUS and ACCOUNTABLE response to kinky literature like I’ve seen with the 50 Shades audience. Unlike Anaïs Nin or the Marquis de Sade or The Story of O or even certain parts of The Decameron, this book is in people’s beach bags, not suffering from a broken spine in some remote closet corner, pages stuck to the handle of a Hitachi magic wand.
One of the major critiques of the book I’ve heard, however, is that it presents an unrealistic situation. I’m proud to say that’s one area Remedy has strived to avoid. My mission statement doesn’t prioritize titilation in the same way this novel seems to. It’s a side effect, certainly, but not the POINT of the movie. Rather, I wanted to figure out a way to SHOW how BDSM feels, but in the context of a service industry. It was a balancing act, for sure, to figure out how to include the subtleties of a “civilian” kinky relationship in the film, since we never see Remedy in those situations out of session. I will address this in another Q&A question soon regarding the level of fictionalization required to turn my year and a half story into a two hour film.
Anyway, that’s my long winded answer. The short one is, I’m looking foward to reading it on the subway when Remedy is completed. But I’ll probably borrow someone else’s copy.
▶ I just watched the investor trailer and I have few questions: is this film intended to be done as a documentary, or is there a continuous plot? Is it supposed to be illuminating to the new folks or preaching to the choir, or doing something I’m missing altogether?
Overall it’s supposed to tell a story more than illuminate things that people don’t understand. I mean, Six Feet Under isn’t a show about being an undertaker. The undertaking is incidental. Really Remedy is about getting involved in something that seems manageable, only to find out that it isn’t — yet pride won’t let you run from it. A moderately universal concept I think.
Along the way it does give you insight into what this world is like, but only as fast as Remedy herself gets the information, and no faster.
▶ Before you became a dominatrix, what influenced you in other forms of media as far as your knowledge of BDSM?
As far as my media influences, I was a film studies major at Columbia University and I was particularly attracted to the work of Carl Dreyer (Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr) and the German Expressionists. The films featured a lot of subjective explorations of torture and violent sexual imagery. The more modern filmmakers Kubrick, Cronenberg, and Lynch, devote themselves to these themes. Cronenberg’s Videodrome was especially intriguing — the character Nikki Brand is absolutely driven to experience the furthest fringes of masochism. Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Inland Empire were terrifying and fascinating looks into the nature of power exchange, manipulation, and fetishism.
But I found realistic portrayals of kink in non-pornographic film a bit troubling. Even the best examples draw problematic correlations. Secretary, while nailing the pleasures of being a bottom, associates masochism and self-mutiliation and strays into the surreal. Quills identifies the kinky with the crazy. A Dangerous Method corrupts the relationship between teacher and student. However, these films contain stunning examples of how intertwining sex and pain can be intensely erotic and enjoyable — even theraputic.
Oddly enough, the bright shining examples of sex-positive kink have appeared in bizarre places. Sick – The Life And Death Of Super Masochist Bob Flanagan is a documentary of how a man with cystic fibrosis is able to reclaim control of his life and is sexuality through extreme acts of masochisism, at his own hands and at those of others. Henry and June honestly may be the best existing example of self-conscious and sensitive exploration of this subject matter.
All of these films influenced me heavily.