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The ‘Susan Lucci of Porn’ Steps Out of the Shadows

Catching up with Ivan, one of adult entertainment’s most colorful directors

Ivan is a popular, prolific director of horror, documentary and porn films like Roadside Killer and Texas Asshole Massacre, and the co-owner of Puba.com. Born in Russia as Slava Siderman, today he’s almost as well-known for sporting brightly colored hat, jersey and sneaker combos on adult industry red carpets as for his gonzo porn-shooting style.

After years of directing films to what he felt was inadequate official acclaim, Ivan took to calling himself the Susan Lucci of porn—referring to the All My Children actress who received an Emmy Award only after 20 years of nominations had passed her by. This year, after 14 years in the industry (and three straight years of being nominated), Ivan was recognized with an AVN Award for Best Web Director.

MEL caught up with Ivan to chat about filmmaking, serial killers and, naturally, Donald Trump.

You’ve been making porn for over a decade, but your filmmaking background goes back much further than that. You used to make horror films, right?
I’m a workaholic, so when I was at film school I didn’t party; I worked. Some independent films, some regular movies, commercials, things like that. So I made a lot of connections when I was in school. I’d worked with this guy on a couple of short films, and he was a DP [director of photography] on a couple of features. You know those Cinemax movies? Upon my graduation, the guy fired another crew member and hired me. So right out of film school, I was working on a couple of T&A movies, which was funny because it eventually led to me doing adult [film].

I also worked with a couple of independent filmmakers while I was in film school, and they were horror guys. So as soon as I graduated, we decided to start doing independent films. Basically, we worked five days a week, and on nights and weekends we worked on our projects.

The one that did the best was a short film about Y2K called Y2K Shutdown Detected. Basically, it was a zombie movie. We shot it on weekends and at night on 16mm — it took us two and a half years to get this short film done. It was a nightmare!

With all this work under your belt, you went into porn. Why?
The reason I went into adult is because I got a chance to shoot behind-the-scenes for adult movies. It wasn’t because I was like, “Oh, I get to do porn! All right!” To me, it was because I got to hold the camera and be creative with it. Because when I worked in TV and film, I was never the guy who was holding the camera or being creative or editing.

I shot a lot of behind-the-scenes [footage], and then I realized that back then, people just put the camera on auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto-everything, and just shot. And I was like, “Do you guys even know how to light? Do you even know what you’re doing?” That’s when I asked my boss if they would let me shoot, and once I started shooting, they gave me free rein. So I did that movie, Texas Asshole Massacre. That did really well for me.

What do you look for in film? In horror, or adult, or anything else?
I adore great lighting and great camera work. I think with both, you can really dial up a story or a mood. I love that part of storytelling with lighting and camera work, and sometimes even when I’m shooting adult stuff, I’ll try to get certain angles that can tell a story… I’m a very visual person, so for me, I love that part of it. I think that’s why I got into filmmaking.

I was going to art school to be a cartoonist, to be a graphic designer, things like that. And we had to take a video production class. And as soon as I picked up the video camera, I was like, “Oh. My. God. This is amazing! The stuff you could do with this thing! This is all I want to do. I just want to shoot light, create and tell stories.”

What if you had been born in 1730? What would you have done as a filmmaker with no access to filmmaking?
You know, a lot of creative people are crazy. So I guess back then, if you were crazy and you didn’t have much to do, you’d probably become, like, a serial killer. Maybe Jack the Ripper would have been a filmmaker if he’d been born in modern times! Because, like, a lot of the creative people I know — they’re very emotional. I know I’m emotional. I’ll watch certain shows and I’ll cry. I’m very insecure about certain things, and I’m very passionate about the art that I do.

So, I guess, if I was born in [the past], I’d probably be Jack the Ripper. You know what I would probably do? I’d create something really cool with the guts and blood.

When you make horror movies, you’re already working with blood and guts in a way, right?
And in a way, you could say that I already work with [sex workers], so Jack the Ripper isn’t that far off.

The funny thing is, when we were coming from Russia to the United States, I was eight and a half. We lived in Austria, above a whorehouse, for a month and a half. I didn’t know it was whorehouse, I just saw a lot of really pretty girls. And then later in life I asked my family, “How come there were all those women in bikinis with posters of them outside of the building?” And my mom was like, “Oh, it was a hostess house.” That’s the way she put it.

And then in 1984, I was in Playboy magazine. I got hired to play basketball with a few of my friends and a Playboy Playmate. We got paid $25 for three hours.

So: whorehouse, Playboy, pornography. I think that it’s just meant to be.

You’ve been making films for over two decades now, and you’ve been in adult films for 13 years, right?
I thought it was going on 13, but it’s going on 14 years, and my brain just kind of shut down for a year.

I mean, it’s good and bad in the [adult] industry. The context of the industry has changed. Back when I first got in it, all the people were perverts who loved porn, and they were in it for reasons besides money. Now, it’s just money, and everybody thinks they’re a porn star.

What you should be is a businesswoman. I think the most successful women in our industry are businesswomen, not porn stars who live the lifestyle.

You once said that you were known as “Captain Save-A-Ho” because you would befriend girls who had just gotten into porn and make sure they were treated well. Are you too jaded to do that now?
No, I still do the same thing, but I’m more on guard. When new girls come in, I sit and talk to them, and every time we shoot, I tell them a similar story. I’m like, “Just stay grounded. Just be yourself. But don’t change. Just because you make extra money now, that does not make you a different person.”

Today I’m just more guarded. That’s all it is. What’s changed isn’t the crew, it’s the on-camera talent. These days there are a lot of people flaking, no-showing, lying. Now, when I shoot content for girls’ sites, I overbook the day because I know at least one or two people will cancel. Years ago, I knew everybody would show up because, when we first started Puba, girls never no-showed.

It sucks that people are being jerks while the porn industry itself is getting so much flak from outside, like legislation trying to force performers to wear condoms on set, which pornographers don’t want to do.
Well, the problem is also the industry. We blame the government, but the industry doesn’t police itself. It’s a hard thing because this industry is so, like, wild, wild west that everything is up in the air and people will use performers or directors that they shouldn’t. My mindset’s always been, if you know someone isn’t a good person, don’t use them. I put so many people on my “no” list. I actually had, when I worked for Extreme Associates, a certain male performer that I couldn’t stand because he used to beat women. They booked a shoot with him and the morning of, I canceled the shoot because he’s a bad human being. I’m not putting money in his pocket. I think if more people in the industry did that, it would… take out a lot of people that shouldn’t be in, because they put us all in a bad light.

We’re lucky that California is broke, or the government would come down hard on the industry.

It’s kind of funny because, California, being broke, is trying to hound pornographers. But if pornography leaves California, that’s a whole lot of tax dollars leaving with it.
I know! It doesn’t make any sense! But it’s government, right? Have they ever made sense? I mean, look what’s happening now.

What do you make of all this election craziness?
Have you ever seen the movie Idiocracy?

Yes.
It’s like we’re living in Idiocracy now. There’s a potential that a reality show businessman who’s a bully could run this country. It’s crazy! And you know, most of the time a lot of the country just sits around and watch reality shows all day. People love reality shows. They love the Kardashians. Trump is like the Kardashian of politics. He probably never expected to get this far. So he was just saying things, running his mouth, but now you can see he’s backtracking on a lot of the stuff he said. Before, he was like, “Lalala, I’m going to say whatever!” And now that he’s so close, he’s like, “Oh, wow. How did I get here?”

It’s like the girl who’s going to do her first anal scene, but as it gets close, she’s like, “I don’t wanna do it!” And then all of a sudden she’s on set, and she’s like, “Oh. I guess I’m doing it.”

Same thing with Trump! Go stick an enema in your butt and get ready to go! It’s game time!

Lynsey G. writes about sexuality, feminism and porn for outlets like Bust, McSweeney’s, and Nerve. She blogs, runs a publishing company, and is finishing a memoir.