Five Questions for Tony Comstock

Tony Comstock is a documentary filmmaker. His subjects have included love, sex, 9/11, indigenous fisheries, hurricanes, refugees, HIV/AIDS orphans, and visualization of God. He is best known for the “Real People, Real Life, Real Sex” series of documentaries that simultaneously explore the vital role of sexual pleasure in committed relationships and the problematic place of explicit sexuality in cinema.

  1. Sex-positive pundit and blogger Violet Blue told O: The Oprah Magazine that your films show “what it looks like when two people who are in love have sex.” Is there a secret to filming compelling, realistic sex scenes?
    I could go on and on about technical or theoretical aspects to our approach, but when you got to the heart of it, I think the “secret ingredient” is right there in Violet’s quote: “what it looks like when two people who are in love have sex”.

    Think about how rare that is! In pornography you get very explicit depictions of sexual activity, but you don’t get very much filmmaking, and you certainly don’t get love. And in a mainstream Hollywood movie you get a lot of filmmaking prowess, but in the end it’s only simulated sex, and maybe more importantly, simulated love.

    But when you watch one of our films, you see two people who are very much in love and very much love having sex with one another—they’d still be making love, whether or not we were there to see it, whether or not we were making a movie about them.

    That makes what we’re doing unlike anything else in cinema. Our films are love, uncensored, and I find that incredibly compelling.
  2. Your latest film, Brett and Melanie, is billed on your Website as “[a] classic story of: boi meets high femme girl.” Past subjects of films in your “Real People, Real Life, Real Sex” series have been diverse: you’ve had a married couple that works in adult film and an older couple whose story “starts in the second half of life.” Where do you find your subjects? How do you convince them to let you film these intimate moments of their lives?
    It’s really more the other way around. Couples come to us saying things like “we really like what you’re doing and think our love affair would make a great story and contribute to your project.” From that starting point it’s more of a mutual exploration of whether or not making the film is the right thing to do for everyone involved. Once I’m convinced we’re all on the same page, we start talking about making a movie.
  3. It’s easy enough to find free mainstream or mainstream-ish porn on the Web, but where do people go when they are more interested in your brand of explicit documentary? Are there other examples of real sex on the Web that you would point people towards? Are there other champions of quality sex-positive filmmaking we should be keeping our eyes on?
    One of the things that makes creating beautiful, realistic depictions of sexuality so hard is that there’s so little to look at, learn from, be inspired by. My earliest inspiration came from the underground exhibitionism that sprang up in the early days of the Internet. As someone who had always been interested in the intersection of cinema and sexuality I saw these very raw, joyful, unmediated expressions of sexuality and thought, “Wow, just imagine what this would look like if it were handled with just a little more professional polish, just enough to take off the roughest edges, but still communicate the authentic heat and joy.”

    Having had that thought, my wife and I spent about five years working with couples privately, trying to apply my skills as a documentary filmmaker to that sort of joyful, lusty lovemaking before we ever made anything that was intended for public viewing.

    Which is all a very long way of saying that there’s virtually no commercially produced, sexually explicit work that I’m inspired by, or even look at. I’m still looking at home-produced, camera on the nightstand clips and thinking about if/how I could transliterate those raw recordings into something more fully realized.
  4. When Google unveiled Google Instant Search, you seemed to have a pretty strong reaction to it. If I’m recalling the tweets you were sending out correctly, Google was censoring results in a completely unpredictable and unacceptable way. Could you describe what they were doing wrong? And has the situation improved at all?
    I suppose the easiest example would be for readers to pop open another browser window and start typing out the names of the seven films we currently have available. Some of them get the full Google Instant treatment, and some get the white page of death.

    What I’d want people to understand from that exercise is that the Internet has the appearance of giving everyone equal access to everything, when in fact, the way information is made accessible is controlled in ways that affect what you see and more importantly, what you don’t see.
  5. Hypothetically speaking, if you were told you could only make five more films in your life, what would the subjects of those films be?
    At the pace I work, I wonder if I will even complete five more films, hypothetical or not! But it’s a good quesiton, so I’ll do my best.

    I have and the film is more or less finished (in my head). It would basically take everything I’ve learned about cinema, sexuality, censorship, marketing, distribution, and use the sex act of fisting as a foil.

    I’d like to work with a Spanish speaking couple, and then have them do their own translation voice-overs for the interview.

    I’d like to do a Paskowitz meets Mosquito Coast meet Swiss Family Robinson film. Not sure if it would be a narrative feature, a doc, or a how-to project.

    Partly to honor my uncle and partly because it would be hot and beautiful, I’d like to make a film about a gay couple that had been together 20+ years.

    And lastly I’d like to make an ultra-violent slasher movie just to see firsthand if it’s easier to market and promote a film with violence, blood, and death than one with true love.