LFF 18: ‘Cam’ Writer Isa Mazzei Talks Sex Work, Madeline Brewer And Couples Therapy

Ahead of the film’s screening at the BFI London Film Festival, we return to our interview with Cam co-director and writer Isa Mazzei.

CAM writer Isa Mazzei joins us on Close-up Culture to reveal how her own experiences as a sex worker informed this incredible psychological thriller and why she needed couples therapy with the film’s director Daniel Goldhaber.

Q: When did the idea for this story first start formulating in your head? Did you ever think about making a film while you were a sex worker?

A: I WAS always looking for new areas of performance to explore, new types of videos I could make, new types of shows I could do. The porn that I worked on with Daniel Goldhaber was part of that artistic exploration and the movie itself grew out of our work on that porn. So on some level, it was all part of a single artistic trajectory.

Q: I found it enlightening and refreshing that Cam shows the creative side of the cam world as well as the ways it can creep into exploitation. How important was it for you to show both sides of the industry?

A: THANK you. It was important for me to show both sides and to try as much as possible to create a balanced perspective within the confines of the genre. Camming, like any other profession, is both a positive and negative experience for performers – for a variety of different reasons. We wanted to illustrate all of the dualities, contrasts and conflicts inherent in that spectrum.


Q: Given that this industry is largely underrepresented on the big-screen, did you feel any added responsibility or pressure to get every aspect of your portrayal of the cam world ‘right’?

A: ABSOLUTELY. I felt a lot of responsibility to represent the industry not only as accurately as possible, but also compassionately and empathetically.

Q: There is a wonderful montage scene in Cam that shows the different women that work on the website. How important for you was it to show the diversity of women in this profession and the diversity of ways these women express themselves and interact with their audiences?

A: THE montages and the scenes at Camgirl Clubhouse are some of my favourite parts of the movie. I loved being able to incorporate as many different types of women as possible, especially in the montage sequences.

For both Daniel and myself, it was important to demonstrate that there is not one ideal woman and there is not one ideal camgirl. In the montages, we are not just showing an array of body types and races, but also performance types. The montages are full of actors, camgirls, other kinds of sex workers, friends – even Daniel’s sister.

Q: Obviously you brought your own experiences to this film. Did you also tap the experiences of the people you had interacted with during your time as a sex worker?

A: I DID. I think Barney and Tinker serve as good examples of composite characters drawn from many interactions I have had with several men from my site. The scripted chats, and the characters in those, are all inspired by my actual viewers. They each have their own personality, their own way of talking, their own font colour – much like it is in real life.

Q: Although this is a film about the cam world, there are elements that anyone who has been sucked into social media can relate to – online personas, the pursuit of followers and like. Do you see the cam world as a useful place to explore our relationship with technology? What can it reveal that a film about Twitter or other social medias might not?

A: ABSOLUTELY. In fact, I wanted it to feel that perhaps you could replace camming with any other form of social media and still tell the same story. We all create digital identities every day in many different formats. I think what is so fascinating about camming is that it is the furthest you can push this expression of your online self: it is your social media, it is your friends, but it is also your career, your sexuality, your body.

Q: You know Daniel from a past relationship and as you mentioned work you did together on a porn project. How has your understanding of each other evolved during this collaboration?

A: WE actually have a couple of therapists we work with. We are not dating, but it has been a necessary part of the collaboration. When we have worked together in the past, we have had a definite director-performer relationship. To move from that to director-writer, and to co-author and co-author, was difficult at times. That said, not only have we learned a lot about each other, but our trust for each other has deepened. We are creatively aligned and that is a pretty cool feeling.

Q: There is an outstanding and versatile central performance from Madeline Brewer. I cannot praise it highly enough. Can you talk about working with Madeline and helping her feel comfortable not only as Lola but as Alice?

A: MADELINE impressed me so much. It was really important to both Daniel and I that the process be collaborative.

We never required any nudity. We wanted every bit of nudity to be a discussion and ultimately be Madeline’s decision. Did Alice need to be naked in the scene? Why? What thematic purpose did it serve? It was important to us to have no gratuitous nudity and no gratuitous violence. Madeline was an incredible collaborator at engaging in those conversations.


Q: There are some many brilliantly written and casted characters in this film – from Tinkerboy (Patch Darragh) to PrincessX (Samantha Robinson). Which character outside of Alice did you enjoy writing and watching in action the most?

A: ALL of the other camgirls were such fun to write. I loved that they could be a bit more exaggerated than Alice, especially in the case of PrincessX. As soon as we saw Samantha I was thrilled. Watching her bring PrincessX to life was amazing. She brings this campy edge to the character without losing the her humanity.

Q: I believe you were involved in many aspects of the film including some oversight of the editing process. How has this experience been and what have you learnt?

A: I WAS involved in every aspect of the film – from casting to pre-production to post. I even directed some of the more sensitive scenes. For example, during Vibratron, I was in the room with the actors while Daniel was outside on the monitor. I have learned so much.

Q: Has Cam given you the bug for filmmaking? If so, what can we expect from you in the future?

A: HAHA, absolutely. Yes. It is funny because I always swore I would never get into it and yet here I am. I am currently working on another feature film with Daniel and we are also developing a TV show.

Q: On a final note Cam is a film I will be strongly encouraging people to see and discuss. What do you hope people will take away from this film?

A: WHEN I was camming, people would often say to me: “But you’re so normal.” I would respond by saying: ‘Of course.’ Camming is normal. Sex work is work.

If there is one thing I hope for, it is that people walk away from this film with a little more empathy. I want them to have fun, I want them to go on this crazy ride and I want some part of Alice to stick with them so that down the road, when they encounter a sex worker, or vote on legislation that affects sex workers, they can maybe respond with an understanding they did not have before.

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