Lovelace: Behind the Porn Star Biopic of Linda Lovelace

From the Oscar-winning COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT, which made Americans understand that there was no such thing as a deserving AIDS victim; to adapting Vito Russo’s groundbreaking study of the evolution of gay stereotypes in Hollywood movies in THE CELLULOID CLOSET; to examining the lives of homosexuals in Germany before and during the Third Reich in PARAGRAPH 175, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have always illustrated a keen understanding of riveting characters, cascading revelations and momentous breakthroughs, and in doing so changed the face of documentary filmmaking.

Their insightful approach was applied to the making of their first scripted narrative feature film HOWL, the Allen Ginsberg biopic, starring James Franco, Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm and Mary-Louise Parker.

Epstein and Friedman’s compassionate storytelling in depicting complex lives made the captivating life story of Linda Lovelace a perfect subject for their second feature. “Linda had an amazing life, and she was a pivotal cultural figure at a time when society’s sexual awareness was really blossoming,” says Epstein. “Linda was at once an important part of both the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism.”

Long before the director duo came on board, Lovelace’s story piqued the interest of producer Laura Rister and Jason Weinberg of Untitled Entertainment and Jim Young of Animus Films. In 2006, they originated the project with writer Merritt Johnson who developed and oversaw the first drafts of the script.

In 2008, during the Ischia Film Festival, Weinberg and Johnson pitched the project to Heidi Jo Markel of Eclectic Pictures and Avi Lerner of Millennium Films. When Rister learned that Millennium was no longer financing INFERNO – another project about Linda Lovelace – she suggested that Young contact Markel to fund LOVELACE through Eclectic’s output deal with Millennium. “It was a fortuitous switch to an artistically and commercially viable project,” says Markel.

The producers shared the same interest in telling Linda’s story and exploring a film about the sexual revolution of the time.

Producer Rister thinks that Linda was “an icon for an era”, and even sees her as one of the very first reality stars –seeking fame, affection and love. “She was an insecure woman who had a sheltered background, but she thought that what she did would feed her in some way. She was not a legitimate actress or dancer or singer, but known for something very specific. Yet she achieved this incredible notoriety, and to this day is identified with that moment in time though on both sides of the fence – as an icon of the porn industry but also as an empowered woman who came to speak out against the objectification of women.”
In order to portray this snapshot of Lovelace’s life on screen, the producers needed filmmakers who would not shoot a conventional biopic. Fans of Epstein and Friedman’s documentary work, the producers thought their probing, journalistic approach to their subjects would be a good fit for this film. “The idea that they could take a journalist’s eye towards the material, and to investigate who this person, this enigma, is, really resonated with us,” says Jim Young.

After watching HOWL in Epstein and Friedman’s editing bay in San Francisco, the producers were won over by their approach to the material and their structural departure from the typical biopic. Their vision for LOVELACE was to use Linda’s psychology to tell the story of her life from Linda’s different perspectives that evolved as she did.

Markel brought in Andy Bellin, with whom she had previously worked on TRUST. Bellin reconstructed and rewrote the original script, tailoring it to Epstein and Friedman’s vision.

The directors’ starting point was to figure out what of the many parts of Linda’s story seemed the truest to them. “They were all very connected, but seemed contradictory in many ways,” said Epstein. The team decided to start with Linda living at home with a very domineering religious mother; then breaking away from her by falling into the hands of Chuck Traynor who then took over her life and coaxed her into doing porn. At the age of 22, she became a worldwide porn superstar; and only a few years later she had completely walked away from that world and denied having done any of it by choice. “We wanted to find a structure that reflected her psychological state at each of these significant moments in her life,” adds Friedman.

In addition to the extensive resources used for their research–autobiographies, archive footage and interviews, as well as conversations with Catherine MacKinnon and Gloria Steinem, who were helpful in giving them a personal picture of who Linda was – the filmmakers also spent a day on a porn set just before production started. “We wanted to get a sense of that world and what the dynamics are like on set especially when they weren’t filming,” says Friedman.