Sundance Film Review: ‘Hot Girls Wanted’

Sundance Film Festival Hot Girls Wanted

Documentarians Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus follow young women in the amateur porn biz.

An intimate and ultimately harrowing peek inside the world of amateur porn, “Hot Girls Wanted” will shock and outrage audiences in equal measure. Just maybe not in the numbers some might think, given the staggering statistics on how many people already view the scores of online clips that use naive young women as so much grist for the mill. Filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus adopt a slick but respectful approach, shrewdly playing the subject’s titillating elements to their advantage. That could make the pic one of the year’s hottest doc titles, a position that the film’s considerable substance would duly reward.

Former print journalists making their second feature, Bauer and Gradus follow five different young women active in the bustling Florida porn scene (most are 18 or 19 years old, though one two-year veteran is 25 and already a “MILF”). But it’s 19-year-old former cheerleader Tressa who provides the film’s primary arc. From her excitement at getting into the business all the way through to her disillusioned exit, the co-directors managed to find a perfect representative for so many girls seduced and ultimately exploited by a ruthless and entirely unregulated industry.

The documentary’s revelations will come as an eye-opener for many parents, the kind that hopefully inspire frank and honest conversations with their kids. According to the film, any young woman with an Internet connection and a longing to escape her present situation can get into porn. It may sound extreme, but the filmmakers draw on their reporting backgrounds to build a potent case backing up the claim.

Sleazy opportunists like Riley, the 23-year-old Tampa “talent agent” who reps Tressa during the span of the film, post ads on Craigslist offering free travel and other perks (“hot girls wanted,” natch) and have no trouble finding takers from all over the country. These aren’t just aspiring actresses pretending to be the girl next door; they’re literally the girls next door. The only legal requirement is to prove you’re over 18, and you’re in.

“Hot Girls Wanted” also conveys how much modern technology has changed the porn biz — not just in the ease of both access and production (basically any rube can shoot a sex act on a phone and label it art and therefore “free speech”), but also the self-promotional culture created by social media. At a time when self-esteem is determined by likes, friends and followers, the quickest way to boost a social profile is through sex appeal. As 19-year-old Michelle says of her transition from nude Twitpics to filming hardcore scenes: “I do it anyway, why not?”

In a point the film hits perhaps a bit too hard, when teen girls see celebs like Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj using their bodies to build their careers and “break the Internet,” it sends a pretty clear message. Vapid reality shows and “celebrity” sex tapes only add to the mainstreaming of porn culture.

While the film keeps the background of most of the girls a mystery, the directors follow Tressa home to shoot footage with her parents and understanding boyfriend, Kendall (who enters the film about halfway through). What they find demolishes the cliche of porn stars coming from broken, unsupportive homes.

All the girls interviewed on camera assert their own agency and feelings of empowerment about working in porn, but the directors also capture moments of doubt, discomfort and even fear — especially as the film segues into its most disturbing stretch, exposing the degrading and apparently all-too-common subgenre of staged abuse videos. Throughout the pic, the filmmakers are able to communicate the extreme content without including any X-rated footage (the only nudity is brief and relatively discreet), a decision in keeping with the compassionate treatment of the interviewees.

“Hot Girls Wanted” doesn’t propose any answers or solutions. It’s more about shedding light on something people either prefer to ignore or are all too happy to indulge in without thinking about the human beings behind the fantasy scenarios. The film isn’t stridently anti-porn, but it does make a persuasive case that the girls who choose to enter the industry should do so with their eyes wide open, and deserve more protection than they receive.

While Bauer and Gradus captured all the footage and interviews themselves, Brittany Huckabee’s role as producer, writer and editor suggests she was equally instrumental in shaping the powerful final product. Kinsey researchers Debby Herbenick and Bryant Paul provide welcome context with factual information that appears onscreen at regular intervals. And producer Rashida Jones contributes an original song, “Wanted to Be Loved” (performed with Daniel Ahearn), a rare doc tune that doesn’t feel gratuitous.

Sundance Film Review: 'Hot Girls Wanted'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2015. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production

(Documentary) A Two to Tangle Prods. presentation. (International sales: Submarine Entertainment, New York.) Produced by Rashida Jones, Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus, Brittany Huckabee. Executive producers, Abigail E. Disney, Gini Reticker, Chandra Jessee, Geralyn Dreyfous, Barbara Dobkin, Daniel E. Catullo, Evan Krauss. Co-­producers, Debby Herbenick, Bryant Paul.

Crew

Directed by Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus. Written by Brittany Huckabee. Camera (color, HD), Gradus; editor, Huckabee; music, Daniel Ahearn; sound, Bauer; sound edit, Margaret Crimmins; re-recording mixer, Greg Smith; graphics, Ben Kim; associate producers, Kat Vecchio, Daniel Raiffe.

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  1. Freeman Rabe says:

    America is in deep shit because lawmakers failed to write an appropriate law banning all forms of pornography. Pornography degrades the body, defiles the soul and depraves the mind. It`s an evil society is unwilling to give up, it is like a powerful addictive drug. Pornography proliferatw because lawmakers will not lift a finger to write a law to totally ban it in our systems.

  2. re says:

    PREMOTION OF YOUNG GIRLS WHO ARE TOO YOUNG TO DECIDE IF THEY WANT TO BE IN THE PORN INDUSTRY!?!! this documentary is ridiculous. ” I have fun, I have lots of sex” with girls who are just 18 to 21 trying to make it in the industry, “i make lots of money”. What a tough, succesful man you sound like. im sure you lead a very for-filling life and feel good about yourself and the things you do. I wonder where you would be without the “profession” you have??????? somewhere very dark and lonesome i imagine

  3. MastroXYZ says:

    This movie makes me want to get the 26th amendment repealed. If people are this dumb, they shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

    Frankly the fact that many of these women regret doing porn just makes their scenes that much hotter.

  4. Felicity says:

    I have to say that after watching this documentary the thought that i had was that it may end up doing a lot more harm than any good. While it did describe some abusive porn scenes that the girls were involved in, for the most part it presented a house full of girls having fun together as friends, supporting each other and doing the hair and going shopping all with puppies running around. And while the agent guy is obvi an asshole, i mean who else would post on craigslist with “Free Flight”? but he seems like he is trying to take care of them. My point being that there is no way that is the norm where the girls get along and the agent guy looks out for them. And for girls who are sad and lonely in middle america, the camaradie among the girls has to be as much of a draw as the $$$ or way out. But when arriving they are very likely to not encounter that type of sitation.

  5. erik says:

    Exploitative? Hah. If we REALLY want to pretend sex workers and regular workers are on the same playing field, so to say, how can you compare making $800 an hour for a job where you ‘didn’t know what we were getting into’ to $8 an hour for a job where you ‘didn’t know what we were getting into. If you view sex work and regular work through the same lens (ie just tasks being performed for money) and try to say that because the hot girls in this movie were deceived into doing more extreme shoots than they originally intended to do, why can’t one of the billions of people around the world turn around and say the same when they have to go above and beyond at their job? Office workers who have to help out on the factory floor is exploitative on the part of the owner, factory workers doing more difficult jobs that weren’t in their job description is exploitative, etc.

    NO OTHER industry presents the opportunity to make such high amounts of money for such little actual ‘work.’ That is why this movie fails to shock and awe-the disconnect between the viewer’s emotions and the viewer’s rational assessment of the situation. These people weren’t bound, they weren’t held hostage. They had a bed and a by all accounts very nice and presentable talent agent looking after and helping them. The producer of this movie tries to pretend on some level that regular work and sex work are comparable in any way- they’re not.

    This documentary only works on an emotional level because we feel bad for the girls for selling their bodies, but at the same time they admit to doing it purely for money and ‘turning off’ when filming, but it’s their body, but they shouldn’t have to… It’s a sham. These girls knew the risks, they put themselves on INSTAGRAM saying ‘I am a porn star. Get your urges out by watching me screw.’ But then try to invoke pity for DOING WHAT THEY (the girls) SAID THEY WERE GOING TO DO. Nonsense- don’t pretend you aren’t a specialized commodity (hot young girl who wants to screw on cam) getting paid the big bucks while also being exploited. If you don’t like it, be like Tressa and leave! Tressa was NOT exploited- she did a bondage scene that made her feel uncomfortable. She was PAID for it, knew it was bondage going in, wanted the money and agreed to go, and then left the porn scene forever because it made her feel uncomfortable. That is NOT bondage- being forced to make toys 18 hours a day in some dirty factory in India or Tiawan or any other countless 3rd world nightmare is.

    I’m not saying it’s okay these girls got hurt. It would be better if they weren’t. But don’t make an emotional appeal for girls making $2000 a week to film porn when they knew what they were getting into and still decided to go for the money. The amount doesn’t even matter- if it was $200 a week and they still agree going in that’s perfectly fine.

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      i mean they are not exactly naive country bumpkins coming to the Big City for the first time in their lives!

    • Sal U. Lloyd says:

      Oh, for sure, Erik. The may be naive as far as million-dollar indutstry is concerned, but as far as the sex, they are NOT naive.

      • LEW says:

        Frankly, it is disgusting to hear the justifications that you are making for the scenes being depicted in this movie. In particular, having girls who are subjected to racial slurs, humiliation, and “forced blowjobs” to the point of vomiting. While an 18 year old girl may walk into this situation, it becomes clear that she does not fully understand that being an actress in an emulated rape scene actually comes with the emotional experience of being raped. You can say that these girls understood the ramifications, but it is abundantly clear in the interviews that they did not. Haunted is the word that comes to mind. I work with women who have experienced sexual trauma and on a daily basis see the ways that they try to make sense of what happened. Hearing these girls talk about these scenes is incredibly similar. The fact that there is a market for watching women getting raped and humiliated is disturbing, period. The fact that these girls have created an image that women like to be raped is disturbing, period, and something that they will probably spend a good portion of their adult life trying to understand. To give the message that women enjoy that kind of treatment is not only dangerous to other women, but instills things in male viewers that is a disservice to them. If you stand behind this message because it is simply a “job” then you are looking at life in a superficial bubble. I sincerely hope that one of the women in your life is not subjected to the behavior that you are accepting through your posts.

  6. Gia Paige says:

    its sad that you take a great man who has done so much for his girls and twist it around to make him look like all of the other crummy porn agents out there. I can’t count the amount of times Riley has been there for me. I was stranded out in LA with the worst agent ever, he flew me home and got me work immediately without even knowing who I was. I truly think you all need to look further into this man and you’ll realize how dirty you did him. Shame on the media, shame on all of you. And this isn’t just my opinion, go read the testimonials from all the other girls who WILLINGLY write them.

    • m says:

      amen ! and thank you for being the only sane and reasonable person in here. And to the comments above: what if we don’t want to see ANY workers, sex or otherwise, be exploited? did that ever cross your mind ?

  7. Sal U. Lloyd says:

    Is the amateur brand more detrimental to society than the “professional”???

  8. bsbarnes says:

    Pornography has benefited from technology in terms of volume, but the product itself has remained unchanged. What began in the 1970s as the last gasp of free love is now just another free money scam disguised as free speech to the detriment hot girls everywhere. As long as some of the people can be fooled all of the time, we will always have pornography, and the sooner our young girls figure this out the better we will all be.

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