Penthouse Needs Women...Behind The Camera.
The Female CEO of Penthouse Wants More Women...Behind The Camera
Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to ever win an Oscar for Best Director. Eight years after taking home the statue for “The Hurt Locker,” there hasn’t been much progress putting women in directors’ chairs.
So over the hill in the San Fernando Valley, the CEO of Penthouse is encouraging women to come work in porn.
“It suited my politics, it suited my renegade nature,” Kelly Holland said of her move from documentary filmmaking into the adult film world. In an interview with me on KFI radio in Los Angeles, Holland explained how she first came to work in porn over 20 ago.
“I was a war zone journalist, I was covering Central America during the Reagan wars,” she said. Holland eventually had post production facilities in Los Angeles, and she started renting out edit bays to adult filmmakers.
A self-described feminist, Holland looked down on her tenants. “I was probably contemptuous of their filmmaking and talking about, ‘Oh my God, you have scripts?’ You know, this is a big revelation,” she joked. Eventually, one adult film director said, “You think it’s so easy, why don’t you come direct a movie?”
She took the dare
Holland said the people she met on set immediately caught her by surprise. “The women were so self possessed, articulate, thoughtful—not everyone one of them, not every single one, there are broken toys,” she said. However, she found the majority of women were very clear-eyed and knew exactly what they were doing. “These were women that just refused to apologize for nudity, they refused to apologize for their sexuality, for being hypersexual in their behavior...I thought, ‘This is really the face of new feminism, this is the front line of feminism.’”
She rose through the ranks at Penthouse and finally bought the troubled company in 2016 for an undisclosed amount. “I embarked on this crazy quixotic adventure of trying to buy a company which I didn’t understand how to do that at all.”
Holland trimmed staff and began outsourcing much of the work. These days, Penthouse is mostly made up of about a dozen video channels in over 100 countries, and almost all of the production is done outside of the United States. Holland even recently relaunched the legendary magazine and claims it’s now profitable.
She thinks women have more opportunities to succeed behind the camera in her business than in mainstream show business. Holland points to several women nominated for directing and cinematography awards handed out at the annual AVN ceremony, porn’s Oscar equivalent.
When pressed if women in Hollywood might hesitate to work in the adult industry because they believe it exploits women rather than empowers them, Holland said that she believes mainstream Hollywood is hypocritical in its treatment of women in a way that porn is not. “You can bring your art, but you don't need to shy away and have an irrational fear of genitals.”
That’s not to say the business doesn’t hurt some people. Holland said she counsels newcomers about the potential effects of working in her industry. “I think men are the ones that walk out of the business with a lot more baggage,” she said, though she added that while many men think being a porn star a dream job, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
By the way, one of Holland's most embarrassing moments was her first time on set. A “well-known male star” had just finished a scene and had only a few minutes to, er, prepare himself to perform again.
“So he walked up and he was introduced to me,” Holland said. At the end of a brief conversation, the actor reached out with his hand “which had been otherwise occupied” to shake hers. “I, just being a very nice person, started to reach out and just got to his fingertips and went ‘Ahhhh!’”
Turns out it was all a joke. “He said, ‘Gotcha, that’s how we test to see if you’ve ever been on a set before.’”
Listen To The Podcast
Hear more of Holland’s interview here, including her thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Grey.”