“Cherry”: Lorelei Lee writes about porn for a bigger screen

Writer, porn actress, and MFA candidate Lorelei Lee is home for the summer, booking talent for a scene at Kink.com’s site “Wired Pussy.”

“You’ve done this before, so you know what to expect,” she is saying on the phone. “Just give yourself time to breathe.”

With the completion of the movie “Cherry,” a story about the porn industry that she co-wrote with “Adderall Diaries” author Stephen Elliot, Lee is poised to quietly overtake Sasha Grey, Tera Patrick, and Jenna Jameson in bringing an adult industry narrative to the general public. The movie stars James Franco, Heather Graham, Ashley Hinshaw, and Lili Taylor.

“And I was in a scene for it just downstairs,” Lee says.

Lee is a Master’s candidate in the Creative Writing program at New York University, but she has also worked for Kink.com, as well as dozens of L.A.-based porn companies, for nearly a decade (it is for this reason I have her pose by a calculator). She and Elliot wrote “Cherry” in the Fall of 2010.

“It’s one girl’s story who happens to be a porn performer,” Lee says.

“Is Cherry’s character based on you?” I ask.

“People are going to think that this is a story of my life,” Lee says, “but it’s not. Tiny bits are similar, but Cherry is a different person.”

I met Lee several years ago. She had been working for Kink and other fetish sites for a few years, but had only recently signed with L.A. porn agent Mark Spiegler. She quickly got work in some of Porn Valley’s most hardcore productions. In the waning days of MySpace blogs, she would write about her porn experiences beautifully, and eventually became a sought-after speaker at universities before earning a spot at grad school, where her professors include Jonathen Lethem and “Secretary” author Mary Gaitskill.

Lee describes co-writer Elliot as a “San Francisco fixture,” which I interpret as someone who is not unfamiliar with the inside of Kink.com’s Armory building. Lee has starred in and/or directed for several of Kink.com’s sites, including Pissing.com, Wired Pussy, Device Bondage, Fucking Machines, and Hogtied.

“What is your writing partnership like?” I ask.

“I found myself wanting to fight about small nuances of language,” Lee says. “But my mother told me I was doing that since I was 2 or 3. Stephen claims he can’t write stories, and was better with dialogue. And I don’t want to write all the stories. I hadn’t tried this collaboration on such a scale before, and it’s funny to find out where your priorities are.”

Lee and Elliot would meet occasionally, but they also wrote much of the script by email.

“There’s a precision to it that I didn’t expect, and it was thrilling and obsessive,” Lee says about scriptwriting. “You can get caught up in the exactitude like writing a poem, which a script is definitely not.”

Elliot had scored a hit with his hybrid true crime/memoir “The Adderall Diaries” in 2009 and was in talks with Academy Award nominee James Franco (“127 Hours”) to direct and star in a film adaptation (the film is still officially “in development,” with a tentative release date of 2013). In the meantime, Elliot could co-write and direct the lower-budgeted “Cherry” much faster.

Franco (last seen on the street of San Francisco as Harvey Milk’s boyfriend in “Milk”), plays a coke-addicted lawyer with whom the “troubled 18-year-old” lead (Ashley Hinshaw of Abercrombie & Fitch fame) gets involved. Lili Taylor plays Hinshaw’s alcoholic mother, and Heather Graham co-stars as a porn director.

“Does she play it as a grown up version of Rollergirl from ‘Boogie Nights’?” I ask.

“If so, it’s a big leap,” Lorelei says. “(Graham’s character) is really a third-wave feminist.”

Lee is very happy with the way the scenes at the Armory played out.

“We filmed for about three weeks,” she says, “and I found myself very detached from the production sometimes. It’s so much bigger than me.”

The Kink.com building is pretty big itself, at 220,000 square feet over five floors, and has been used for an increasing number of mainstream shoots recently, with the screams of Hollywood Second Unit Directors comingling with those of Public Disgrace participants.

Lee’s career trajectory in and out of porn has been fascinating—just as has that of Sasha Grey—and I ask her if her classmates or students at NYU connected the dots.

“Oh, they knew long before I knew they knew,” Lee says. “I feel like I’m the least interesting person at my school. But I was at a party and it came up and everyone was a little sheepish but said, ‘Of course we knew you’re a porn star.’ Still, they were very respectful. But one person said, ‘If we had a prince in our class we’d want to know about that, too.’ I liked that they put ‘porn star’ up there with ‘prince.’”

Back for the summer, Lee works a few days a week booking models. “I wrangle talent. It’s easy for me to explain how the scenes go. I can tell a director what it’s reasonable to ask of the models. I still talk with Spiegler occasionally, which is a treat. And then I go back to school in the fall, where I’ll be studying with Mary Gaitskill.”

With Lee, like a lot of people (including myself), a career is something that is less orchestrated than it is something to be considered and made sense of in retrospect. So it’s not useful for me to ask what her “plan” is.

“I haven’t had the luxury of just doing one thing at a time for a living,” she says when I ask her, regardless of the previous paragraph, what she wants to “do.” “My ideal world is that I’m writing so much that I forget about everything else.

“Still, I have a genuine affection for this place when I walk in here.”

“Cherry” is scheduled for release in 2012.

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: So long for now, Lorelei or: Lorelei Lee’s shocking departure; “An Open Invitation” or: How to stop worrying and learn to love swinging; Mark Spiegler—The Last Man Working in Porn
See also: Kink.com

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