Director John Chalk made his debut on The Life Erotic in March with “Mirror,” a fascinating and original movie that stars sultry beauty Paula Shy in a dual role, playing both demure and vampish characters. It’s clever and challenging, and certainly whetted viewers’ appetites to see more of his artistry.
He may be new to TLE, but Chalk is an industry veteran best known for his ground-breaking work for our sister site Viv Thomas back when independent video production was just beginning to take off. I’ve known him for several years, and I adore the way his laidback demeanor contrasts with the sexual intensity he brings to his movies. You’ll be seeing much more from him on TLE, and I think you’re going to enjoy it! Meanwhile, here’s a chance to learn more about him…
John, where are you from?
JC: I’m originally from the East End of London, but early in my TV career I moved to West London. Most of the big facilities and film houses were based there. All my family are Arsenal fans and I’m the only one who supports Chelsea Football Club. Makes for some interesting family dinners with my sister.
What is your background in photography and film?
JC: I’m old enough to remember at film school being taught to splice film together, in fact magnetic tape was only used to record sound and we spliced that together as well. Very long and very tedious work. As soon as I could, I jumped at the chance of using the new 3/4 tape edit machines. To me it was like flying the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, all flashing lights and levers, very cool. I made a short film for a competition run by IBM to imagine the year 2000. Of course in my film we had moving walkways, flying cars, robots, where technology allowed us a life of freedom and leisure – how wrong was I? I won that competition and was approached by Trillion TV to crew as work experience for their music videos and concerts shown on a small, totally unknown little outfit called Sky! The rest is history – I loved it and there was no shortage of work. I worked as an editor in Soho, daytime programming for Yorkshire TV. Working on location and also studios, gaining as much experience as possible. Now that we are in the digital age I think it’s even more exciting, to be able to be the director, cameraman, editor, sound design and visual effects person all on your own computer. It allows you the freedom to create straight from your mind, nothing is impossible if you have the time and the imagination. Definitely not tedious work any more.
Please tell us about your history with Viv Thomas. How long have you been creating erotic movies, and what inspired you to start?
JC: How I started in the erotic business was probably more by accident than any effort on my side. I was asked to help out with some lighting and post production work, so I went along and basically walked right into a porn shoot. I really didn’t know where to put my face. Anyway, after the initial shock, I started getting to know the people and realized everybody was really cool. That’s when I started to watch and over time I thought, you know I can improve that a little, I’m sure I could make that more sexy. I realized if you can make the process of filmmaking sink into the background, then the performers are free to express themselves. Sometimes it can be just one shot, lit perfectly, that raises the whole level of the film. That’s why I think Playboy snapped me up to produce peepshows for them, shot the old glamor way. I think Viv and I were destined to meet then, his pictures and my style of filming matched perfectly, and the more we talked and hung out the more we realized we could produce wonderful erotic films together. It also helped that we liked the same models; he was more into their feet though! We had some great years building the Viv Thomas brand into a huge enterprise, but unfortunately the company grew too big for me. I missed shooting and creating my own things. At the end of the day I suppose I get bored if I’m not trying something new or using a new bit of kit to create a new effect. I got the chance for that when I worked on the Lovers Guide 3D with a cinema release in Piccadilly, London. The last few years I’ve been shooting again for smaller studios, and I’ve been uncredited for some years now for all the work I’ve produced for them. That’s why I’m so happy to work for TLE now.
Are you influenced by mainstream art, film and photography?
JC: I did go to art school for a year, but film was calling, I think I could create more on the screen than on a piece of paper. I’m a chronic TV and film watcher. It doesn’t matter what it is, any genre, though I find the stories in Sci-Fi a lot more interesting, it can go in so many different directions with more freedom than other genres where the plots are more constrained. Just like erotic and fetish desires are free. Again this is why I love erotic filming, not being tied down when filming, telling a story from someone else’s perspective. It’s really rewarding when you watch something you’ve created some weeks later and feel yes that works, it’s sexy. Of course when it doesn’t work it’s a real bummer! Life’s ups and downs I suppose.
Now you have started shooting for The Life Erotic, do you like shooting the kinky scenarios?
JC: I’ve been trying to find my fit for some years now, the industry as a whole I think has been producing factory line porn. All roughly the same robotic filler. Same sets and story, just with a different color on the wall. Just a different marketing spin. I’m not really happy to be a cog in a bland machine. That’s why I’m soooo happy to be filming for TLE, their philosophy is completely different. They allow me to film in my own style and let the models express themselves. After many years it’s a pleasure to be part of the industry again. I like to tell a story through images, sometimes dialogue is not even needed to get the message across, and kinky scenarios are perfect for that. They are not only enjoyable for the viewer, but also the girl. Since I’ve been filming for TLE I’ve not had one model who was bored. They love the scenarios and I find that they tell others they had a good time, and now I get calls daily from models wanting to film. Best job in the world.
Do you prefer studio or location shoots?
JC: Double edged sword for me. Location shoots take less setting up time and can be much more natural. It’s easier for a model to relax and slip into her role, in a real bathroom, for example, rather than a fake one. But a studio allows me to control everything perfectly from lighting to sound and create my perfect image. A studio can have special cutouts for lights creating wonderful effects, but a location also can give you inspiration while filming to create an awesome shot. I think it really depends on the story you’re telling, in fact I would say that also goes for the camera and equipment you use, best one for the job.
Is there a model who inspires you the most?
JC: I think all models inspire me, when I was 18 I did not have the confidence in my body that they do, they know their bodies and sexual desires so well and are comfortable to show this, far more completely than I did. I think I just like women. But seriously, I always start out with a casting pic. To me the model is everything, then I choose the story that fits her, and everything stems from there. So from the story to the look of the film, she is always the inspiration.
Do you plan your shoots in great detail, or see how it evolves on the day?
JC: I plan my shoots to every little detail, I think I’m obsessive like that and it was how I was trained all those years ago. But I learned very quickly that if you can’t adapt on the day, evolve the story if necessary, than you can quickly turn everything into a disaster. I try everything to make sure the model is comfortable, her performance is key, and the planning does help with this, prepping everyone beforehand. Normally we have a model who is really into the idea for the film, picking someone who is excited about the shoot is half the battle.
What are your ambitions for your work with TLE?
JC: More story based scenarios, rather than the abstract; there are a lot of talented directors already on TLE doing that so well. I’ve started getting really into erotic fiction at the moment, and I’m excited about adapting some short stories to the screen. What you read and interpret in your mind and what you watch on the screen can have a completely different reaction. Even though they are the same thing, one will be sexy, the other not. Adapting the written word and making it just as sexy on the screen is a nice challenge.
What do you hope the viewers get from your movies?
JC: Basically I hope they are entertained and enjoy the films as much as me, it’s always difficult to know if the viewers will respond to something you’ve worked on, you just hope they like it as much as you do.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
JC: It’s just the beginning here of course. I hope that we can create some really erotic moments as time goes by, because basically that’s why we are all here.