Evil Angel at 25: Interview With John Stagliano

The list of unique accomplishments that Evil Angel Productions, through owner John Stagliano, has brought to the adult industry is a long one. Since this year marks the company’s 25th anniversary, it’s an opportune time to give the Evil Angel crew the respect and appreciation they’re due. Stagliano provided a little history lesson, as well as optimistic words about the future.

Evil Angel’s first year as an official entity was 1989. “I did 11 movies in ’89; that’s the most I’ve done in any year, ever,” Stagliano recalled. “I might have done five or six another year, but I don’t shoot like anybody else has been shooting. Almost any other director in the business, they could do 11 movies in three months; that was pretty common for some people.”

Of course, those other directors probably didn’t edit their own work, and most of their product would probably be described as “wall-to-wall,” a type of video for which Stagliano had little interest.

But the truth is, “Evil Angel,” at least as a concept, had been around since 1982, when Stagliano used the name on “little porno newspapers that I published and sold myself, that I created—my entrepreneurial project. It was fictional porn stories with photos that I had purchased from some guy who had been doing this for years, and there were a few pictures in the six issues that I did, that I had taken myself; not much, but mostly it was hardcore pictures I had purchased from other people very cheaply and with questionable rights.

“In those days, I had multiple part-time jobs,” he said. “I was a male stripper, I did work for Strippergram, and I worked part time at a market research company doing economic research and a little bit of writing and stuff like that. I got my degree in economics and I managed to have good part-time jobs in that business because I had friends that worked for these small research companies that worked with savings and loans and banks, and consulting work. ...

“In fact,” he added, “the first porno newspaper was done on their equipment, to the dismay of the owner when he found out what I was doing. ‘What are you doing with these girls? She’s got dick in her mouth and pussy!’ It was not a good moment for him. I was not able to do any more on there after that on their word processor.”

Stagliano himself had been performing in XXX movies since the summer of 1974, when he did his first loop for director Jack Green and a partner, shot in San Francisco. Stagliano appeared in about 15 movies for companies like VCA and AVC before he took his savings and teamed up with then-new director Bruce Seven and talent agent/photographer David House to create Bouncing Buns, the first video with the “Evil Angel” imprint, though the company itself was still six years in the future.

“This was not an Evil Angel release; this was a movie I sold to VCA,” Stagliano cautioned. “Evil Angel as a production company, as a d/b/a, was started in ’82.”

Indeed, Stagliano had directed (and largely self-financed) more than 40 features for various companies (and producer/talent agent Jim South) before opening Evil Angel (EA) Productions, though a couple of those early works carried an Evil Angel logo.

“Nobody gave me any money that first year [of EA Productions’ existence] to make a movie,” he noted. “I did this all with my own money. The first movie that came out from Evil Angel as a manufacturer, not a movie sold to another company, was called Dance Fire, which I shot in the fall of ’88, along with another feature, Bare Essence, and I wound up shooting a fifth movie in December of ’88. So when I released my movie Dance Fire in January of ’89, I was at the CES show at the time, with my own booth, doing that premiere. I had five movies in the can, so that helped, because it was difficult to maintain customers and keep them coming back, so I sold one movie a month then.

“It was a lot easier to make money back then,” Stagliano said. “I was able to generate enough sales so that I could keep going. The average price was considerably higher, though it had dropped a bit since I started in ’83; it was down to like 17, 18 bucks, something like that, but that was still relatively high compared to today. But I sold enough pieces that I could keep going. The money was coming in good enough so that I was able to continue to do what were features, which nobody was shooting anything else but. If you shot something that wasn’t a feature in 1989, it was considered worth a whole lot less money.”

And if there’s one thing Stagliano is familiar with, it’s how long it takes to complete a feature.

“The first year at Evil Angel, I remember there were eight times I had to stay up all night and into the next day finishing some product on deadline, and I often look back on that and say, ‘I could never do that again,’” he recalled.

“The standard back then was six scenes, minimum, or seven, and the scenes were 10 minutes long, something like that, or 12; 14 was pushing it. I shot a scene that was 17 minutes long, and everybody went ‘Aaagh!’ It was Rocco’s first scene, really long, 17 minutes.”

Of course, the first of those 11 Evil Angel movies to become legendary was The Adventures of Buttman.

“Really, I had no idea how big Buttman would become,” Stagliano said. “It combined two new things. It was the first-person POV thing that nobody else was doing or had done, and it was done in the true sense of what the word ‘gonzo’ meant in terms of the writings of Hunter Thompson; it was me videographing instead of writing about my experiences and my reactions in relation to a subject which was a girl who could look straight into the camera, combined with a bun fetish thing, which I had always wanted to do.”

Indeed, it was The Adventures of Buttman, along with some other unclassifiable releases from Ed Powers 4-Play Video and Moonlight Entertainment, that impelled AVN to apply the term “gonzo” to adult movies—a genre that has accounted for the lion’s share of adult releases.

But though Stagliano’s work is at the heart of the Evil Angel story, it’s also a tale of other directors. Throughout its history, Evil Angel has offered a different business model for directors: It distributes their movies while the directors themselves retained ownership.

Bruce Seven was the first “outside” director to be distributed by Evil Angel. “I financed Bruce to do his first movie for us,” Stagliano said, probably referring to Challenge, released in 1989. Another director initially financed by Stagliano was John Leslie, in 1995. Both paid him back, and Stagliano gave them ownership of their movies.

“There were a bunch of people I didn’t finance at first, like Joey Silvera; they already had their own money. I kept a higher percentage from the people I had originally financed, like Greg Dark, people like that. They took a long time to pay back their advance; like a year or something like that, because they continued to shoot higher budget things. Greg Dark certainly did.”

But Evil Angel’s roster of directors continued to grow.

“I believe Joey Silvera’s first movie with us was in ’96 or early ’97, and Greg was around the same time,” Stagliano recalled. “Rocco [Siffredi] started in ’95, right after John Leslie. Rocco had done a couple of movies, which were pretty good but not great. He sold them to David Sturman’s company, Sin City. I took Rocco to Houston; we shot a few scenes; we sat down and talked and decided to make a deal, and in retrospect, it should have been something I should have jumped on much sooner, but I didn’t realize at the time what a driven person Rocco was to do a good job at just about everything he does. To this day, he’s the most organized director I have at Evil Angel, in terms of getting his materials in and all that stuff. He’s a unique individual.”

Other well-known directors who have released under the Evil Angel banner include Belladonna, Bobbi Starr, Dana Vespoli, Sean Michaels, Manuel Ferrara, Nacho Vidal, Lexington Steele, James Deen, Christoph Clark, the late Jake Malone, Kevin Moore, Jonni Darkko, Glenn King, Mike Adriano, Jay Sin, the team of Francesca Lé and Mark Wood (LeWood Productions), and Jules Jordan. In many cases, Evil Angel provided the financing for the directors’ initial offerings; once the company recouped the advances, it would turn ownership of the movies over to their directors—a business model that Stagliano continues to employ to this day.

“I’ve just allowed people to best utilize their talents, which is directing movies,” he stated. “Most of the directors at my company aren’t good businessmen but we help them with the business side and we put them in a position to do the best movies they can and find the best type of movies to do.

“Somebody like Jonni Darkko is a phenomenon,” Stagliano said. “Lots of different ideas; great photographer, great stuff that he does. ... If he’s working for another company and getting paid $3,000 or $1,000 a movie, that’s one thing. If he’s working for me with the potential to make lots more if he’s being creative and inventive, that really proves that my structure was a good idea.”

“We really didn’t operate the same way as other companies,” Stagliano said. “I branded my directors from the beginning. Before the word ‘branded’ was in the vocabulary of anybody, in ’89, ’90, ’91, I talked about building the reputations of the directors because [they] were the ones making the movies and controlling them. I don’t really think it was innovative; people did it anyway, they just didn’t have a name for it.”

He explained, “People would do a movie; then they’d do a sequel that was always not as good because they’d save money on it and build on the past reputation. That was done a lot—but they knew they were fucking themselves over. There are so many examples of companies in American business that worked on their reputation before the word ‘branding’ came along. I was simply taking something from other businesses and applying it to this really rich new business, which was porno sales, and exploiting a little bit of a business idea that didn’t really need to be exploited because there was so much money to be made at the time.”

In fact, it was Evil Angel’s phenomenal success that allowed Stagliano to indulge a couple of his other passions.

Buttman Magazine was my fetish-oriented magazine, started in 1997, where I was able to take pictures from my movies and make them into photo and text galleries,” he said. “The last issue only came out two months ago. I’d be working on the new one right now, except I decided not to do it anymore because I decided to put my efforts and time into other things.”

Among the other things that Stagliano has put time into in the past was his Las Vegas dance revue, "The Fashionistas," which the Las Vegas Leisure Guide described as “an erotically charged tale of fetish and fantasy” with “the best choreography of any Las Vegas show.”

“That was four years of my life, or a little more, total, and besides that, I don’t know,” Stagliano sighed. “It lost money every single month it was open—huge amounts. It was very expensive to do and we never figured out how to market it, and I could only do it because the porn business was so good in that time frame, and when it started going bad in 2007, it just became impossible. But I have no regrets. I’m glad I did it.”

The show was inspired by Evil Angel’s 2002 release, Fashionistas, a movie and a concept that’s dear to Stagliano’s heart—and the company’s best-selling title to date, whose “sequel” is the 520-minute-long, two-part Fashionistas Safado.

“The first Fashionistas sold over 100,000 DVDs and another seven or eight thousand VHS packages; it’s by far my best seller,” Stagliano stated. “Fashionistas was a cult. And most of those were sold at full double price, not just a single price for one movie; they were sold for $38 or $40, something like that.”

Fashionistas Safado is way far better than anything else at the company—way better than Fashionistas, just from a technical standpoint,” he added. “Just watch the first 20 minutes; it’s not like anything else out there. These were two movies that were supposed to be one movie, eight hours and 40 minutes, which is crazy, just from a quality point of view: the quality of the sex, and mainly the production values, just how much work and the music and all that stuff; it’s on another level. The vampire movies are comparable, maybe better in terms of editing and storytelling, but way lower budget because I didn’t have the money to spend on them.”

“The vampire movies,” of course, refers to Evil Angel’s multi-part epic Voracious, the first season of which debuted on Valentine’s Day 2012 and is now in its second season on both EvilAngel.com and the company’s new broadcast division, Evil Angel Television.

“We have four people just working on that. We don’t have a linear channel yet,” Stagliano said, but he explains that is no longer significant because of TVOD—an innovation in the way VOD works with cable television. “If you have a cable system, instead of having the choice of looking at three different linear channels, you have the choice of looking at page after page of movies that you can buy individually. That is far more profitable for the cable companies, and it’s an innovation and a technology that’s being introduced all over the place. Because of [TVOD], it’s easier to get into cable companies, so we’re able to compete and start this business without the need to compete with a linear channel, to try to compete with the Playboys and Hustlers.”

At present, Stagliano figures that there are “20 or 25” people working for the company, including its first general manager, Christian Mann, who joined Evil Angel in July of 2008, and “Jack-and-Jill-of-all-trades” Glenn and Lia Baren.

“The world is very different now,” Stagliano summarized. “We have managed a very significant thing in the business with Evil Angel right now, which is that we’ve survived the big problems of the crashing DVD sales to become a content-producing company in this new age that’s organized differently, that’s organized significantly different than Manwin, and perhaps because of that may survive longer than Manwin. I don’t know, but we’ve outlasted a lot of our competitors, and because of that, we’re now in a better position, because they’re not out there selling their stuff for 50 cents anymore; they’re gone. There are still some hanging around, but the thing we’ve been doing, the way we run our company, has worked.”

As part of the coverage of Evil Angel's 25th anniversary in the June 2014 issue of AVN magazine, various directors contributed their thoughts to commemorate the occasion:

Rocco Siffredi
“This year is going to be the 20th anniversary that I am an Evil Angel director and I am very proud to be the part of it, always working with great passion and lots of involvements and I am able to deliver the best products on the planet to my fans. John always makes every director bring out the best by motivating and treating them always with his experience on the best positive way. Evil Angel has been I think the biggest real family, which has so many family members—the only real family in this business.”

Christoph Clark
"I worked for so many studios before Evil Angel, but never had as much pleasure. John is so cool, but also very serious and professional. After many years I am always proud to have my name as part of this gorgeous team. Between us, without Evil I'd be dead. Thank you to Evil for always giving me possibilities to do my DVDs."

Glenn King
“I became a big fan of porn back in 1989 when I watched a movie called Adventures of Buttman, by John Stagliano. It was about a guy who was obsessed with butts. I thought. “Finally, I have found someone in this world who is like me!” Evil Angel is a company that encourages its directors to use their deviant, filthy, fetish-driven minds to the fullest of their abilities. For people like me who are obsessed with asses, it has been the perfect place for the last 25 years. I look forward to another 25 years of ass-obsession and perversion!”

Jay Sin
"Evil Angel is a dream come true company for directors that put their hard work in to their movies. Christian Mann and all Evil Angel employees are family to me and wish everyone good health and happiness."

Lexington Steele
"EA has always been the benchmark, representing the highest caliber of gonzo production. As a fan and consumer, I have always identified John Stagliano as the creator of the genre. His pervasive influence has cultivated the landscape of adult media for 25 years. As a top performer, director, and producer, I have sought to emulate the Evil Angel brand. Assuredly, my association with Evil has played a large part in my development and I am confident many others share a similar perspective."

Jonni Darkko
"It's been a pleasure and an honor to work with John Stagliano. And the entire Evil Angel family! Cheers to the Silver Anniversary."

LeWood (Francesca Lé and Mark Wood)
"To be a part of Evil Angel’s 25th anniversary is really special. The list of legendary directors that are there to be a part of is not only an honor but inspiring at the same time. A place that gives you the freedom to make the kind of movies that you want to make and are truly your own. John encourages you to push your own creative and sexual boundaries. From the first time we started directing we always wanted to be there, and we can't imagine being anywhere else."

David Perry
"HAPPY 25 ANNIVERSARY, EVIL ANGEL. It was always my wish to work for Evil Angel, what is for me the best company in the world. Thanks to all of you for your support."

Uncle D
"Evil Angel knows no boundary nor borders when it comes to the appreciation of ASS, even when it's grade-A Canadian “rump roast” smothering their favorite Uncle D, the Canadian assman of TouchYourToes.com."

James Deen
“I was three 25 years ago. ... Woooo porno.”