When you think of the legendary porn star Julia Ann, “heart” might not be the quality that initially springs into your mind. Yet, it’s her unrelenting and caring spirit that has driven her to embrace her fans and to use various tools to communicate with them throughout her career (her website, womenbyjuliaann.com, features everything from sexual content to yoga and cooking tips). She has done all this while illegal pirating has whittled down the profit margin of the industry she has dominated for decades. Paste chatted with her about the good and bad of social media, being cursed out on a daily basis, and surviving in an ever-changing media world.
When you entered the adult film world in 1992, how did you and your contemporaries promote yourselves?
Julia Ann: Actually, the company did a lot of that for you, unless you were somebody who got a publicist and went the route of actual publication, like editorials and such or mainstream movies. For the most part, it was the companies you worked for that were pushing their content, and that’s why everybody wanted to be the star of the movies back then. It was a big deal to be on the cover because you got the press… and that was basically the press we got.
Is there more responsibility and stress on your shoulders now to market yourself?
Ann: For me there is. I think for somebody who’s grown up in this day and age, it probably seems simple. It probably seems like it’s not much of a big deal, and they probably wouldn’t understand how we would get our names out otherwise. They are born and raised into it. You just think that’s life. But for me, not having it and now having it, it can be increasingly stressful especially when there is a new platform every day.
I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve just given up on platforms. I can’t keep up. Instagram, Facebook… that already is so much. The email addresses and then your regular everyday life email addresses and everything going on with family. Has social media made it helpful to get your name out there? Sure, but it’s also made it helpful for everybody to get their name out there. So you have a saturation of it.
I tend to think people start to get a little numb to more stuff coming at them. It’s not as special as it used to be when something was put out there, you know one of us could release information and people are like “Oh, that’s so cool”. Now, you release information and they’re like “Oh yah, okay, cool … what’s happening next week?” It’s an over saturation and a little numbing I think.
With illegal streaming becoming more prevalent over the years, It’s generally so much easier to access this stuff. Whether illegal or not. Is that a big part of why you have to now work harder to get out in front of it?
Ann: I think everybody has to work harder. Anybody who’s making their own content certainly has to work harder. It’s a big push to find the new thing, the thing that doesn’t exist. People in the adult industry have always been leaders in that in finding stuff and coming up with stuff that didn’t exist before, being able to promote it. We’ve always been in front of technology when it comes to that.
It’s challenging. It’s sometimes disheartening when you work very hard to create something and then somebody steals it. It’s gotten to the point now that in order to make a living, you almost have to contribute to the site that has been stealing in order to promote yourself. The hypocrisy knows no bounds.
It’s almost like if you don’t then you don’t get anywhere either. Should I nail my right foot to the floor or my left foot to the floor? Which one? Because either way, I’m nailing something to the floor.
You brought up an interesting point about your industry being at the forefront of having that entrepreneurial spirit and revolutionizing new promotional techniques. As someone whom has navigated these waters to a long career, do you feel that someone like you gets your just due as an expert by the mainstream world?
Ann: I don’t know that I am one of those leaders. I think that I have been able to capitalize on the other leaders in the business. I can come up with new ideas, but I’m not the person that executes. I can tell other people and then five years later they’re doing it. I’m like, “Good for you! I knew that would work!”
I tell people that all the time. I got ideas all day. I have no way to execute them. That’s where I get overwhelmed and go, “Oh my God, what a brilliant idea! I hope somebody does it someday.”
I don’t know that I’m a master of it. I think that my strong suit, personally as far as the industry goes, is my passion, my pursuit for truth, and not having a lot of fear when it comes to sticking my neck out for the industry and the people I care about. I think that’s pretty much my strong suit in the industry.
As far as everything else, I’m left to fall under the header of Vicky Vette who runs both my websites. To me, she’s a leader. I might come to her with an idea that she thinks is brilliant. But, you know what? She’s gotta help me execute it because people have ideas all day. It doesn’t mean that they go anywhere.
I’ve heard it mentioned in interviews with many of your peers that illegal streaming has made your industry much less about the movies themselves, and that you have to supplement your income by doing lots of other things. What exactly does your job entail these days?
Ann: We’ve had to get very clever and we’ve had to take on every role. We are now everything. It’s funny how people don’t understand the industry. They see the industry as it was in the 1970’s—that there was the performer, producer, director, company and that’s pretty much where it landed.
We are no longer just the performer… the performer has to have a website. The performer has to produce their own content. They’re doing web camming. Husbands and wives. Your neighbor might be doing this and you’ll never know. This is common place now. You’re a producer … I’m producing some of my own stuff. I’m editing some of my own stuff. I have two websites. I feature in some of my own stuff. I’m still a performer. Sometimes I’m a make-up artist, ‘cause I was a trained make- up artist.
When you start going through it, you realize from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you’re done with your day, you may have fulfilled four job categories. We’re basically a one-man band now.
Have you found any benefit to the interactive nature of social media? I’d imagine that have a fan base that probably feels closer to you because there’s some level of interaction with you. But, do you think that’s a good thing, or do you think it’s better to have a separation?
Ann: It’s half and half. Sometimes it’s incredible. Sometimes you are able to give support back. I enjoy that. I want everybody to be okay. It’s a problem of mine. I’m afflicted with this saving people thing, or saving animals. I want everything to be okay. It’s a very easy way for me to go, “No, you’re wonderful. You’re beautiful. Everything’s going to be okay.” It’s much more simple. I feel like I can help.
At the same time, people expect us to be there and to be able to answer on a whim and it’s very quickly that somebody can go from “I love you, I’m your biggest fan” to “F- you. You’re a …” whatever words they want to use… “I hope you die.” It can go there really quickly because you haven’t answered in X amount of time.
That’s unfortunate. I get ripped apart on a daily basis as well. I can guarantee all of us are getting ripped at least once a week if not more. This is something we deal with constantly.
What about from a marketing perspective? Does the compassionate, approachable Julia Ann have a different type of fan appeal than the iconic, untouchable Julia Ann?
Ann: I think that there are a lot of main shoot stars out there that answer as much as I do. It depends what you want to use your social media for. If you’re just gonna simply put out, “Hey, you know, I released a new movie today.” And that’s it? Then you’ll still probably be in that untouchable, barely spoken to person. ..It’s only advertising.
But if you’re somebody who actually wants to be approachable, who wants to maintain a level of humanity … That’s who I am. I have a really strong sense of wanting people to know me only because I think it’s incredibly educational. Social media can be very educational in the fact that if people got to know us more, they’d realize that being in adult films doesn’t make you subhuman. The more they talk with you, the more they get to know you, the more they go, “Wow. That person’s really cool. I may have had it all wrong.”
That’s a really big deal for me. For me to show people that we all have things we relate to. We’re just people. I like that thought of social media being used for that. Being able to say, “Hey, I’m going to appear at this place. Why don’t you come?” I write that. I go, “I’m gonna be here from here to here. Come get a hug.”
I think that we provoke people at their very core, which is our need for touch, and emotional contact, and for some, the need for sexuality. Why not use that to make people feel not alone, and happy, and connected? I don’t have to have sex with you in order for me to bring a smile to your day. To give you a hug, to tell you, “Hey, everything’s great. We’re the same. You and I are the same. I hope you continue to enjoy my content. It was really great meeting you.”