XCritic Interview: Photographer/Director Holly Randall on Her "Holly Randall Unfiltered" Podcast and More
Holly Randall was literally born into the adult business. The daughter of legendary industry photographer Suze Randall and erotic film writer and mainstream author Humphry Knipe, Holly would follow in her mother’s pictorial-producing footsteps before transitioning into directing adult scenes in 2004. Over the past dozen-plus years, Randall has established herself as one of the most talented and respected director/photographers in the industry.
Last summer, Randall launched her newest endeavor, the Holly Randall Unfiltered podcast. Featuring prominent on-camera and behind-the-scenes personalities of the adult industry, the show offers an insider’s glimpse into the world of erotic entertainment.
Holly kindly spoke with XCritic on the afternoon of January 19 to discuss the Randall family’s illustrious and celebrated history in the adult industry, the origin of her podcast and more.
You can visit Holly online at her official website, HollyRandall.com, follow her on Twitter under the handle @HollyRandall and check out Holly’s FreeOnes page here. Holly Randall is also the principal photographer for Playboy Plus.
Holly Randall Unfiltered is available for listening at this link. You can support the podcast on Patreon here.
(Interview conducted by Cass Ashlen)
Thanks for taking some time out to interview with me today, I appreciate it.
Yeah, no problem!
First off, how was the XBIZ Awards ceremony last night?
It was good. It was really fun. It seemed like it was shorter and more efficient than previous awards shows, which was appreciated, because as usual, the red carpet took far too long and they ended up starting later than usual. But, it was good. It was nice.
I understand as well that you participated in one of the XBIZ 2018 panels the other day focusing on content production. Can you tell us about that?
Sure. I did a panel with Aiden Starr and Mike Quasar. We all kind of represent different niches in the industry, which is why I think it was a really well-rounded panel. Aiden Starr shoots a lot of fetish content, Mike Quasar is the king of gonzo and also shoots some features for Wicked, and I do more of the glam, girl/girl, feature and softcore stuff. I shoot for Playboy as well, so I felt we all had our own areas of expertise. I felt it was a good combination.
We talked about our process - what we look for when we are shooting in terms of what’s really important to us. For Aiden, it was very much about consent and the talent understanding the fetish that they are shooting because fetish is very specific and it’s more of a cerebral kind of performance than, say, a typical gonzo, which shows simply cowgirl, reverse cowgirl, missionary, doggie. There’s a lot more intellectually stimulating foreplay and that kind of stuff involved and hitting different fetishes. So for her, communication with the model was very important and making sure they understood the fetish. She would have to train them sometimes on specifics of that fetish.
For me, it was casting the right girl, finding the right location is a really big thing for me - I’m very much about shooting in different interesting places. I don’t like to shoot in the same house all the time. I’m always looking for new places and building a storyline around that. Also, getting the best hair and makeup and getting the styling right.
And for Mike, because he shoots so frequently and has to churn out so much content in such a short amount of time, his is kind of how he can be the most efficient on set. He does his own editing, so he has a very specific formula where he knows exactly how much content he needs to shoot - he needs this much of this position, this much of that shot, this much of this angle. So, he kind of edits it in his head as he’s shooting, and that’s how he’s able to shoot sometimes up to five scenes a day. Which to me would be impossible because I’m not editing, so I probably shoot far too much footage because I want to make sure my editors have a lot of options. But, I think he’s far more efficient in the way that he works.
We all have our own specific strengths and needs that we cater to. So, I think it was a good panel.
Very nice. As many people are aware, you are a second-generation adult industry veteran. Can you tell us about your family’s history in the business as well as your own entry into adult entertainment?
Sure. My mother is Suze Randall, who was very much considered a pioneer for her time for women behind the camera in the adult industry. She started off as a fashion model in London, then she bought a camera and started shooting her girlfriends behind the scenes at fashion shows. She started submitting photos of her girlfriends to Page 3 in The Sun, which is a big deal over in the U.K.
She was friends with this woman named Lillian Muller, who was really exceptional, and she thought that she had a chance with Playboy. So, she sent her photos to Playboy, and Hefner fell in love with Lillian and just wanted to bring Lillian out and have his photographers shoot her. He didn’t know who my mom was. And my mom, being the kind of ballsy woman that she is, said, “I’m shooting Lillian - she’s my girl - and if you don’t fly me out to shoot her, then I’m sending her to Penthouse.” So, he agreed and he flew my mom and Lillian out for a shoot. Lillian became Playmate of the Year and my mom became the first female staff photographer at Playboy. She was there for about three years, then she left and went on to work at Hustler for a couple of years and then became freelance - becoming one of the main photographers for Penthouse, Club, High Society and all that.
Once the Internet came along, she had this massive personal library of content because she was very smart: She always owned her own photos and then would sell them for first or second print rights to magazines. A lot of photographers would shoot for a publication and wouldn’t own any of their rights. My mom was always very particular about keeping the rights to her images. So, my mom had this massive library of content - like thousands and thousands of sets. Suddenly, she had this new media platform in which to showcase her work. At the time, the Internet was new and bandwidth wasn’t so great, so you didn’t really have video. Pictures were the thing. So, it was this perfect storm where there was this demand for adult photos, and my mom had more adult photos of the top girls than anybody, and so her website just blew up immediately. Crazy. People were joining left and right. It was actually kind of a shock. (Laughs) They didn’t really know what to do. They weren’t expecting that to happen.
I was at Brooks Institute of Photography at the time and my mom asked me to help them with the website because they were just so overwhelmed. So, I did. I left Brooks and moved back down to L.A. and I started helping them out with their website. At first, I just worked in the office and did administration stuff. Then, I started shooting girls here and there. My mom would selectively hand-feed me models who were more experienced and could kind of carry the shoot on their own so I didn’t have to offer too much input - because I didn’t really know what I was doing. (Laughs)
As time went on, I assisted my mom and shot more and more and learned as I went. Here I am, almost twenty years later, doing kind of the same thing.
You transitioned into directing scenes in 2004, is that right?
Yeah. (Laughs) That was another thing where I started and had no idea what I was doing. I was just a photographer who learned video because I had to. Again, I kind of just learned as I went along and self-taught. I asked other directors questions, looked at other people’s stuff, did research and tried to observe as much information as I could. Of course, it’s changed because the bandwidth is better now and video has taken over. It’s more and more in demand and I had to shoot more and more video, so I had to kind of up my game. I guess I have, because I got nominated for Best Director for a Feature at AVN this year, my first time ever being nominated as a director at any awards show.
Yeah. So, that was exciting. And that’s sort of how I got to where I am now. I started shooting features a couple of years ago. Now I’m doing that kind of frequently.
Would you say that photography is still where your heart is and what you enjoy doing most?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ll always be a photographer at heart. It will always be my main love. There is something about capturing an image … it’s kind of like capturing a moment in time and freezing it forever. There’s something about that which really appeals to me. Video is more fluid. There’s something about freezing that moment in time with photography that I really love. It’s that one still image that is different for me. But I enjoy shooting video and as I get better at it, cameras get better and technology gets better.
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But I’ll always be a photographer at heart. And there’s still a big part of me that feels like I’m a photographer who shoots video as opposed to being a director, specifically.
Seeing as you essentially grew up around the adult industry, many people may think, “Wow, your childhood must have been so much different than other kids’.” Would you say that is the case or really not so much?
Yeah, I guess it was different, but different in a way that people don’t expect. I had a very normal childhood. I had a great childhood. My parents were very attentive and very loving. We always had Sunday lunches - every Sunday, we would have these big roasts, it’s a British tradition in England. We would go to the beach every weekend, my parents would read a story to me when I went to bed, and we would always have dinner together.
They were very strict about school. I went to a private school, I rode horses. They did everything that they could to raise a well-rounded, educated daughter. My mom always used to say to me, “You never know when you are going to dine with the President,” when I would ask her about why I had to learn how to play tennis or why I had to have these impeccable table manners. I used to say, “Mom, you’re a pornographer. I don’t ever see myself in a position where I’m going to be dining with the President.” But, look who our President is now, so (Laughs) … you never know.
(Laughs) In light of recent events, I suppose, too.
Yeah! (Laughs) So, maybe, you know? Maybe I will.
This past summer, you launched your own podcast titled Holly Randall Unfiltered. Can you tell us about the show and what was behind your decision to create it?
I always thought about doing a podcast. I like talking to people and I’m very comfortable doing public speaking. After I did my Playboy TV show, I got a lot of media training there, so I learned a lot about how to interview people and how to speak for media.
I had a company approach me and say, “We would love for you to do a podcast. We want you to do it on our network and our idea is to get you up there to where you get some sponsors, and then we’ll split the money fifty-fifty. We’ll provide the studio and the editing and you provide the guests. You bring your social media numbers into it, we’ll make some money and we’ll take half of it.” That didn’t sound like the best deal to me because I can very easily find a studio and get someone to edit it. Let’s be honest: Podcasts don’t require that much editing. It’s not like a video. So, why am going to give you half of these profits which may never materialize when it seems like I’m the person doing all the work?
So, I met a podcast producer - I did a podcast for my boxing gym, I’ve actually done two of their podcasts. And the guy who was doing the podcast, I asked him, “I’m thinking about starting a podcast. Would you be interested in basically recording and editing it for me?” And he said, “Yeah, absolutely.”
So, I did. And I was really surprised about how well it did. Almost instantly, I got really positive feedback, people were really excited about it and the numbers just kept growing and growing. I thought, “Wow, I guess I’m on to something now.” I’ve had 125,000 downloads so far, which is pretty good for the early days of a podcast. They usually say you don’t expect to hit any significant numbers until about a year in.
I’ve already got my first sponsor and people seem to love it. A lot of people talked to me yesterday at XBIZ and said they love my podcast and listen to it all the time. It still surprises me - I don’t know who wants to listen to me for an hour. (Laughs)
But honestly, I get great guests. I’m very picky about who I have on. And I’m lucky because I work in the industry, so I have a pretty good idea of who is interesting, who can carry a conversation, who is going to have good stories - who is going to be the perfect guest. This is radio, so it’s not necessarily how you look. I’ve shot some girls who are incredibly beautiful and popular, and fans will ask, “Get this girl on your podcast.” And it’s like, “Yeah, but she’s got no personality.” (Laughs) We would be so boring. So, I try to be very selective about the people I have on.
So far, it’s been really great and I love learning more about these people. Angela White is to be my next interview - she’s coming out next Wednesday. I always knew she was a very smart girl - she runs her own brand, she’s very specific about what she wants and she’s very focused - but when I sat down with her, I had no idea how intelligent she was. I have a pretty expansive vocabulary, but she was busting some words out where I was like, “What the fuck was that word?” (Laughs) And I didn’t know that she had written a whole thesis about women in pornography. She was just so interesting.
I love stuff like that. I love learning more about these girls. And other people, too - I also interview directors and I have my set people, I’m going to be interviewing them next week.
But from the feedback that I’ve gotten, what people seem to really like is that I’m not trying to do this salacious kind of sexy podcast with stupid mic drops, getting the girls topless and trying to make this like Vivid Radio, taking callers and talking dirty to people - like, creepy old men. It’s really just about sitting down and having a conversation with somebody who happens to work in porn, getting to know them in person, talking about industry stuff and stories.
I think that we forget, working in the industry, how strange our jobs are. Things that seem normal to us, the public is fascinated by. It’s kind of a secretive industry. A lot of people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, so, I think for them, learning all of this day-to-day stuff that most of us take for granted as a typical day at work, people are just riveted by. And that seems to be why it has been so successful so far.
Sure, absolutely. And I understand there is a lot of time, money and effort that goes into the podcast. For one thing, you pay for studio time and there is just so much else that goes into the show.
Yeah, it’s definitely been a labor of love so far. It definitely costs me a significant amount of money every month to put it out because it’s not free to get the studio time, editing and all of that. I also release my podcasts on video on my YouTube page because we film it as well. There were people who told me, “Just get a mic. You can just do it yourself in your living room, it’s no big deal.” But I’ve always believed that whatever I put out, I’m going to do it well and I’m going to do it in high-quality. Otherwise, I just don’t want to do it at all.
It was really important for me to work with a professional sound engineer who knows what he’s doing, has the right equipment and is going to make it sound good. He adds a base to my voice that actually makes it sound kind of richer than it does normally. I’ll listen to myself on this podcast and go, “I sound good!” He’s great at editing, too, so sometimes if I need to take something out, he can do that seamlessly and you can’t even tell.
Also, it’s nice to have a studio, so that it looks professional and people feel like they are doing a real show, as opposed to coming to my house and sitting in my living room. There is a different feel to it - it feels more official. I think people appreciate that and it’s more attractive to my guests. I remember when I was going around doing various podcasts to try and get my name out there, I did this one that was in this girl’s dad’s garage. (Laughs) I just felt incredibly uncomfortable. It felt very disorganized, very unprofessional. I was like, “What am I doing here?” I just want to make it feel like people are coming to a professional set, like with my productions. I want it to have that same kind of feeling, that same kind of reputability.
Sure. What are some of your standout memories from your career - perhaps things you look back on fondly or are particularly proud of?
I shot in an airplane graveyard once in the Mojave Desert. One of the shots I got was of Renee Perez in front of this old bomber plane. It’s still one of my favorite shots - it’s actually in my house.
I remember back in the day - I always say this - but, back in the day, when you made more money on the Internet and you could be more artistic and had more creative freedom to do what you wanted. I remember I would be really excited to drive two hours out to the Mojave Desert to shoot some beautiful naked photos and just how cool the place was - these broken airplane skeletons scattered all over the yard. Just how cool it was, how different it was. I love the juxtaposition of a beautiful, naked girl in a gritty, decaying environment.
I also took Kayden Kross to the Salton Sea and we shot out there for my website when I first launched it. (Laughs) That was definitely an adventure. We got busted by the ranger for shooting in this one little half-broken down building. Fortunately, he couldn’t see Kayden because she was in the house behind this wall. He asked us what we were doing and I told him I was doing a student project, like some fashion stuff. I remember he specifically asked me, “You’re not shooting porn back there?” And I put on this whole act like I was so offended that he would ask me such a thing - “How dare you suggest that I’m shooting pornography. What kind of person do you think I am?” He kind of apologized and let us finish up. (Laughs) And then, of course, I ended up selling that set to Hustler. And I always wonder if he ever saw that magazine and was like, “Aw, that girl - I knew she was lying to me!” (Laughs)
And then we got my car stuck in the sand - you know, the Salton Sea, so we were really parked out. We ended up finding a Border Patrol Station, so I had to go in there to get people to tow us out. It was such a nightmare. But it was an adventure, and I liked having adventures.
We had the time and the finances to go out to the middle of nowhere and shoot maybe four sets with maybe some behind-the-scenes video. And that was over a two-day period. Now, I have to shoot four sets, plus video, plus an interview in one day, and it has to be full sets. It feels more like a factory now - just churning out content that I don’t feel is artistically satisfying.
So, I’m hoping to get back to those roots and spend more time shooting stuff that I love as opposed to just shooting content. There’s not as much effort being put into content these days. We’re on this assembly line just putting out constant crap all the time. It kind of wears me down a little bit.
You have established close friendships with many of the models that you shoot. Do you feel having that rapport carries over and contributes to the high quality of your work?
I think so, because a lot of the girls are quite fond of me. I’m a girl, so especially if they are new, they feel a little more comfortable with me. When I was younger, I used to feel like these girls were my contemporaries. They were the same age as me. Now that they’re not (Laughs), I guess I have more of a motherly kind of feel towards them.
I can kind of pull favors more easily from people. People are more willing to go out of their way to do stuff that they wouldn’t do for other people. So, I’m able to get more out of girls. They come to set happy knowing that they are going to be treated well, knowing that they are going to look good, knowing that they are going to have a good time. I take my job seriously, but I also don’t take my job that seriously. I joke around a lot on set and I’m very particular about my crew, people that I will allow to work with me. We’re all really laid back and we just try to have a good time. You spend most of your life working, and if you are not loving your job, then you are spending most of your life doing something that you don’t enjoy, which is a bummer. So, I just try to make it fun and enjoyable for everybody.
Earlier, you used the term, “Back in the day.” Can you talk about the differences in the adult industry today as opposed to years past and contrast the changes, both positive and negative?
Sure. Obviously, back in the day, we used to make a lot more money for the content that we produced because it wasn’t all for free everywhere and people weren’t just consuming product without paying for it. So, you were actually able to make money out of what you do.
Also, the industry was much smaller because it was harder to get into. Because there was more money in it, there were less people and it wasn’t as inflated as it is now. It wasn’t as easy to start a business as it was once the Internet came along. You had to know somebody. If you were shooting movies, you had to have a distributor that was distributing your movies - you couldn’t just put it on the Internet and anybody could download it. So, it’s definitely been more financially difficult. That’s on the negative end.
On the positive end, it’s become easier to produce content. You have a much quicker response in terms of seeing if what you are doing is working or not. You can more easily pinpoint exactly what people are looking for with analytics, so you can tailor your business to your now limited audience, because most people aren’t paying for it.
Another thing that I think has been positive is the amount of control it’s given to the models. It’s enabled the models to have a direct connection with their fans, so they’ve been able to have more control over their own career, because before that, as a model, you had to get hired by a director who was hired by a producer, who was hired by a distributor. So, you really didn’t have control over your career - you were at the mercy of the people hiring you.
Now, you can cam and talk directly to your fans, you can have your own website, you can sell your own content, you can sell your own video clips. You really don’t need to rely on anybody else to have a career and I think that has been really empowering for women. I think it’s been really great and it’s given them a platform to have more of a voice and do things the way they want to do them and take the power back. I think that’s been really positive.
Sure. As someone who has been around the adult industry your whole life, is there one misconception about the business from those outside of it that still particularly bothers you?
Yeah. The way they treat the girls - like they are all broken, they are all stupid, they are all victims and they are all just these sex objects. Especially in the cyberbullying that happens on social media. The things that I see people saying to these girls … the fact that these anonymous, random people from all over the world now have this platform to say whatever they want to say is really unfortunate and a lot of these girls - especially these young girls - they have a more skewed version of reality than I did. I was fortunate enough to not grow up in the Internet age, so I didn’t get my personal validation through the Internet. I didn’t spend all my time on Twitter when I was a teenager.
I just think that people … I don’t know, sometimes they just don’t live in the real world. They live in this virtual world where they think the opinions of strangers halfway across the world actually matter. Then the strangers, with the anonymity of the Internet, don’t have to face any consequences for the things that they say. So, they say really horrible things and it’s just really unhealthy. I just think that’s really unfortunate and I feel that people just kind of need to step back from that and live in the real world. Put your phones down and don’t spend all your time on social media.
I’m on social media to sell a product. I’m there to run a business because that’s a way I can directly connect with my fans. But I’m not on social media for validation. I’m not there because I’m hoping people will tell me I’m pretty or smart or funny, and therefore, I feel good about myself. I get my validation from the people who surround me in real life. I have self-esteem through doing estimable acts.
It’s kind of like an addiction. And I see it with myself as well, where I’m picking up my phone way more than I need to, I’m checking Instagram way more than I need to. I don’t need to know if anybody commented on that photo I just posted right now. I can check later. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change anything. But it becomes kind of this habitual little addiction, so I’ve been trying to step back from that.
I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who grew up in that world. I still feel fortunate enough to have a little bit of separation from that because that wasn’t my reality growing up. But, it does worry me about the next generation because I think people are not interacting with each other the way human beings are meant to.
Absolutely - I agree with all of that. Do you have any current or upcoming projects in the works that you would like to mention?
Yes. Obviously, I’m continuing on with my podcast. I’m very excited - I’m having on New York Times Best-Selling author Chris Ryan, who wrote Sex at Dawn. He’s going to do my podcast on the 31st. I’m really excited about that because I’m kind of branching out from just people in the sex industry to authors. It’s really exciting to be expanding my guest list in that way because it makes me feel like my podcast could be going in another direction.
I’m hopefully going to start producing some more feminist-minded porn for females. But that’s still in talks, we haven’t really gotten anywhere with that. But I don’t want to talk too much about that because I don’t like to talk about things unless they are for sure happening.
I also teach workshops. My next workshop is March 10 with Emily Bloom. I’m also looking to design an online workshop course because I know a lot of people can’t make my workshops because they are on the other side of the world, or it’s not affordable to them, or whatever the case may be. So, I definitely want to be able to offer that to people online. So, that’s probably my next big step is doing an online workshop.
Well, I just want to thank you again for speaking with me today. I have always held you and your work in very high regard and consider people like you to be the heart and soul of the adult industry. So, it’s really cool to talk to you.
Oh, thank you! That’s a lovely compliment and I really appreciate that.
The podcast is excellent and I recommend that everyone check it out. I wish you well with everything upcoming also. Have a terrific day.
Thank you! You, too.