A virtual sit-down with Jacky St. James
Jacky St. James is a woman who needs no introduction — her long list of of accolades and accomplishments speak volumes for themselves. In the decade since her first foray into the world of adult films, this award-winning writer, director and producer has solidified herself as a veritable trailblazer, making waves as the ultimate purveyor of erotic storytelling media.
Today, she is the woman behind the curtain at Bellesa Films, bringing her special magic to every scene we produce. For International Women’s Day, we had a virtual sit-down with her to talk to about how things started, how things are going, and what she’s got her sights on for the future of sex-positive erotic media.
1. How did you get your start in porn?
I used to watch a lot of porn and was always frustrated how little focus there was on female pleasure (not just for the women on camera but also those of us masturbating to what was available for our consumption). One of my biggest frustrations was how the male performer was basically a headless torso thrusting a gigantic penis into a woman. There was zero connection, no eye contact, nothing. It was all very robotic. When my friend sent me a link to a film that actually did show a level of connection between the performers and something a little more female-friendly, I immediately investigated further and discovered this studio was doing a writing contest looking for females to write porn. As a joke, I submitted a script, ended up winning the contest, was invited to set to watch it be produced, a year later I won my first AVN and was directing vignettes and features. That was 10 years ago.
2. What was the catalyst that made you want to empower women and focus on ethical/female focused porn?
As a woman and seeing a gap in the market where women’s needs weren’t being met and where “porn for women” was still being shot and produced by men just felt – wrong. That’s not to undermine my male counterparts but their desires and gaze is very different than my own. When the opportunity for Bellesa came around, I was very eager to work with them. Bellesa focuses on female pleasure and they hired me so there could be a woman behind the lens producing, directing, and writing content for their studio.
If you don’t understand why having a woman behind the camera is so important in the production of female-driven porn, I’ll share with you a story. One time, while I was shooting a lesbian scene I was so impressed by how naturally things were unfolding between the two performers. The women were so into kissing, dry humping, touching each other over their clothes that it truly felt like real life. But - just five minutes into their foreplay, the male camera guy turned to me and said, “get her tits out.” That to me is a defining moment of why we need more women behind the scenes.
Needless to say, I didn’t get her “tits out.” I let the women go right on enjoying themselves because this was about THEM not HIM.
3. What is your favorite part of your job?
Oh wow. So much. I would say being on set and working with the performers on creating something so unique to the marketplace. Hearing performers tell me how GOOD the sex felt because they didn’t have to go through all the requirements of most standard porn scenes.
4. What is your favourite Bellesa scene you’ve worked on?
Gosh. I feel so bad picking ONE, but I will if you’re forcing me! Probably AJ Applegate and Damon Dice. It was early in Bellesa’s inception. We were still getting our legs and figuring out how to create the magic on screen. I spent a lot of time going over things with the performers. Do’s and don’ts and going over what kinds of things they might do that isn’t innate to their own pleasure (things like eating the cum after, asking for a facial, gagging on a penis) and to really focus on what IS innate to their pleasure. Authenticity is always key to these scenes and often it involves some deprogramming beforehand because the majority of scenes have the same shooting requirements, “make sure to see the penis”, “open up”, “look backward during cowgirl so I can see your face.” All of these programmed actions disconnect the performers from each other. And given that these things have been required in so many porn scenes, most performers have a hard time breaking the habits. The AJ and Damon scene was the first time where ALL those behaviors were out the window. They were SO in the moment, so connected. AJ, being true to her own character (who was having sex with her friend for the first time) even covered up her breasts when Damon removed her shirt – as if to convey she was feeling shy. It was such a rich, real moment that felt so truthful to the characters I almost cried. It’s sad when a porn director cries because people are being authentic. Shouldn’t everyone be authentic? Isn’t authenticity so much hotter than an act?
5. What is something you wish more people knew or understood about porn/working in porn?
It’s a job and we work very hard, most of us with very small crews. It’s not like Boogie Nights. It’s not a party on set. To put it in perspective, I am not just a director. I cast, I produce, I do accounting, I do production management, I write scripts, I edit, I buy food and props. I wear a million different hats. Just because someone works in porn doesn’t mean they had “no other options.” Many performers and crew are college graduates that worked in the corporate space before porn. We’re human. We’re just like everyone else, we just have bizarre job requirements!
6. What is it like being ~a woman~ in a heavily male-dominated industry? How has being a woman both helped and hurt your career?
I have never let my gender get in the way of my success. I entered during a time when female directors were starting to gain more focus. Being a woman helped because it got me a lot of media attention and buzz early on – which allowed me to speak out about women’s issues and become a trusted member of the adult community. As far as hurt my career – I would say I faced some misogyny from some crew members who didn’t want to take direction from me because of my gender. How I handled that was getting rid of them. Currently, I have incredible men and women surrounding me at Bellesa and all of them have the same goal in mind – creating ethical pornography that focuses on what women truly want.
7. What are some major hurdles you deal with working in the adult space (professionally and personally)?
Professionally – managing a lot of new requirements in the age of Covid. I’m already wearing a lot of hats and complying with new Covid testing protocol is just another job I have to do. Mind you, it’s critical, but it’s time consuming -- going and getting tested before every day we shoot, making sure the talent are tested, making sure the tests come back in time, making sure everyone’s tests are paid for. It takes a lot of time out of my day. You’d be surprised. Professionally, I also am always dealing with hiccups – cancelations, etc. There is no such thing as a “smooth” porn shoot. That just doesn’t happen. You’re always juggling and solving many issues at any given time.
Personally - working in porn can be isolating. I don’t tell my neighbors what I do and my parents don’t support what I do. It’s hard having a successful career and your parents not being able to applaud you for it. When I say porn is isolating what I mean is that – while so many people consume porn, they still judge those of us working in it. I have tap dance around questions like “what do you do for a living” because I know my answer will come with either judgment or an intense line of questioning. People either want to vilify you for your decision or brag about you to their friends. It’s hard having a sense of normalcy with anyone new in my life, which is why I haven’t gained many new friendships since working in friends. My friends are people I’ve known most of my life.
8. Tell our audience about your work with Bellesa House (for which we just won AVN new production banner of the year!!!!)
Bellesa House has been a gift not just for the talent but the crew. It’s really magical watching performers show their vulnerable sides and being honest. Where they can just be REAL and share stories that those watching can relate to. Because the line allows performers to have sex their way, for however long they want, to end when they want, to do whatever positions they want – we’re getting to see genuine enjoyment. When performers have control – we get to see what brings them pleasure and how they navigate their scene with their scene partner the way one might navigate a sexual experience in real life. The public needs to see performers as humans and there is no line out there doing it better than Bellesa House. I simply cannot express what a game changer it is.
9. What can people (the general public) do to help empower sex workers and help the porn industry move in the right direction?
To consume ethical porn. To understand that if you have ever masturbated to pornography you have absolutely no right to judge anyone in the business who has had sex on camera for your pleasure. Did I mention CONSUME ETHICAL PORN!?
10. On International Women’s Day, what message do you want to get across to our audience?
That women’s sexuality is every bit as important as men’s and that Bellesa and myself are striving to bridge that gap. That porn can show true and genuine pleasure and still be arousing. Connection and authenticity are the future of porn – not the extreme, face slapping, acrobatic sex acts made popular in the 90’s.