“CAM” the movie — Working In-Between Cultures

Photo of CAM Screenwriter Isa Mazzei and Director Daniel Goldhaber. Photo Courtesy of Filmmaker Magazine.
Photo of Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber at the 2018, Denver Film Festival
Photo of “CAM” Screenwriter Isa Mazzei and Director Daniel Goldhaber at the 2018 Denver Film Festival. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

Netflix recently released — the film “CAM.” It bravely tackles the subject of sex-work, working in-between cultures, and code switching at work. It does so in a thought-provoking and chilling way.

In her real-life “CAM” writer Isa Mazzei straddled cultures as an independent American-born woman living in a patriarchal culture in Italy.

Her sex-positive views were in stark contrast to the idea of the virgin-mother so prominent in Italian culture and religion.

Yet Mazzei bravely followed her own heart in the life choices she made. It seems that society is now benefiting from the courageous perspective Mazzei brings to filmmaking.

And to the idea that sex-work is just a job like any other.

Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK) Pasha Ripley who is the descendant of Korean refugees who fled religious persecution echoed this sentiment in an interview with Culturs Magazine.

Code switching at work

Ripley discussed how sex-workers need to code switch at work for safety, cultural, social, and religious reasons.

YouTube Interview with Pasha Ripley – Code Switching at Work. Click to view video. Video Courtesy of Antoinette Lee Toscano

Today Ripley is the executive director of “Red Light Resources International” (RLRI). A Denver, Colorado, USA service-based organization that educates on the differences between human trafficking victims who are forced into sex-work and consenting sex-workers who chose the profession.

RLRI also advocates for the destigmatization of sex-work to bring both workers and consumers of sex services into the mainstream.

Ripley said bringing sex-work out of the shadows and into the mainstream would provide much needed protection for sex-workers and customers.

Ripley discussed the impact of having to code switch at work in a video interview.

This message was also depicted in the movie “CAM.”

The idea is this. The perceived “dishonor” of sex-work means that sex-workers and patrons of their services are forced to hide what they do from friends and family. And in many cases they cannot expect law enforcement to show compassion when a crime is committed against the sex-worker or patron.

“I have to watch every single word I say, especially with the people that I feel I should be able to trust.” Pasha Ripley

In the movie Alice — a camgirl, and Barnacle Bob — a patron are both challenged with hiding their involvement in the legal, sex-work industry.

The film — “CAM” is the feature debut from writer Isa Mazzei and director Daniel Goldhaber. The film was heavily inspired by Mazzei’s real-life story of working as a “camgirl.”

CAM is a rare film about sex-work

“CAM” is openly written by a former sex-worker — Isa Mazzei. This is a rare event in filmmaking. Most movies about sex-workers are written about women and by men.

It also addresses shame around sex-work and the kinky sexual needs of ordinary people.

But “CAM” does not accomplish this by happenstance. This psychological techno-thriller subtly addresses a number of social issues surrounding:

  • Sex-work.
  • Sex-workers and subscribers, customers, or end-users.
  • Acceptance.
  • Unconditional love.
  • Agency.
  • Sexual boundaries.
  • Sex shaming.
  • And more.

Taking the shame out of sex-work

If you are a nerd you can geek-out on the inner workings of webcam porn. While also enjoying a rollercoaster thrill-ride as “CAM’s” subject evokes fear, empathy, anger and a bit of eroticism.

But if you think this movie is all about sex — you would be mistaken.

Photo of Isa Mazzei and Patch Darragh
Isa Mazzei and Patch Darragh as Tinker on the “CAM” film set. Photo Courtesy of “CAM” production team.

“The fundamental idea behind the film was to tell a story in which an audience would empathize with a sex-worker.” — Isa Mazzei

“I was a CAM-girl and I found that … people often demand of sex-workers that they are either glamorizing and exotifying their work.

Or were saying it’s degrading and shameful … they must be victims … no one seems to be allowed to just exist as just like a sex-worker. And so often people would say to me, ‘oh, but you’re so normal,’ ‘oh but you went to college,’ or ‘do you need money that badly?’ … I found those comments really hurtful and also really indicative of the way that as a society we treat people who choose to engage in sex-work. And so for me it was really important to tell a story that was accessible to a mainstream audience that was fun.

People might go in and not know exactly what they’re going to get and then have them walk out having rooted for a sex-worker to return to sex-work for ninety-minutes.”

Mainstreaming sex-work

A webcam is a video camera attached to the Internet. Real-time images are streamed from a webcam onto a server and viewed by Internet users.

The movie — “CAM ” brilliantly portrays the webcam or web porn experience from the point of view of the sex-worker and that of the webcam subscriber or fan.

“CAM” is an incredibly timely film. It tells a story by two of the most impressive emerging voices in filmmaking currently hitting the genre film scene — Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber.

How genre tells a story in a familiar way

Photo of CAM Screenwriter Isa Mazzei and Director Daniel Goldhaber.
Photo of “CAM” Screenwriter Isa Mazzei and Director Daniel Goldhaber. Photo Courtesy of Filmmaker Magazine.

Mazzei said this about the film.

“When you’re telling a story that’s subversive and especially something that’s subversive politically it’s a lot easier to tell that story within genre. Because an audience is not fully processing the politics of the film.”

“They’re just so on the edge of their seat, they’re terrified, they’re laughing, they’re scared, they’re excited …. At the end of the day they don’t necessarily realize that they’re empathizing with a sex-worker. Which is pretty huge for mainstream media.

So all of the creepiness and the intensity was very intentional for that purpose. Also because we just love genre-films and we think that some of the themes that we are dealing with are pretty terrifying like these digital identities and these personas that we create. So we absolutely wanted it to be scary and intense.”

Daniel Goldhaber on CAM

CAM movie trailer. Courtesy of Netflix
“CAM” movie trailer. Courtesy of Netflix.

Goldhaber said this about using genre to tell this story.

“ One of the other things about genre that’s really powerful as a tool is genre is really familiar.” — Daniel Goldhaber

“If you’re talking about something that’s unfamiliar [like sex-work] and you’re using a really familiar structure and kind of aesthetic to talk about it, genre becomes this really powerful doorway that anybody can walk into.

I think that one of the other things when you’re telling a genre movie and there is that kind of familiarity it’s a real question of … where are your stakes coming from? And one of the things that we were really conscious about in the movie is that the stakes from the film fundamentally are Alice’s loss of agency over herself, and over her body, and over her representation online.

But the kind of trick that plays for the audience is that that only works if they recognize that she had agency in the first twenty-five minutes.

All of a sudden they’ve identified with somebody who feels like they have agency as a sex-worker in their work and now the horror is coming from that loss. So it was something that … also as much as we love genre we try to use it as a tool for kind of the larger political purpose behind the film.”

About the movie “CAM”

CAM is about Alice an ambitious camgirl — a girl or woman who poses or performs in front of a webcam.

First Alice was replaced on her own internet show.

Isa Mazzei, Daniel Goldhaber and Katelin Arizmendi on the “CAM” film set. Photo Courtesy of the “CAM” Production Company

We see what we think is Alice’s doppelganger beginning to push the boundaries of Alice’s internet identity, professional integrity, and personal boundaries.

Alice then loses control of her life.

Next Alice’s agency over herself, her image, and professional brand, the men in her life, and her ability to work begins to suffer.

On Netflix’s “CAM”

Photo from the movie "CAM"
A graphic from the movie “CAM”

Finally there was a lot of conflicts that unfolded in this movie.

There was woman versus woman, Woman versus society, woman versus man and more.

Alice’s mother’s reaction to learning that her daughter is a sex-worker was a huge surprise.

I didn’t expect what would transpire next between the mother and daughter characters.

I asked Mazzei if this multi-dimensional conflict was intentional and this is what Mazzei had to say.

“Yeah I wanted it to be a surprise. And I wanted it to be realistic …. Often for parents accepting anything about their children that they’re maybe not okay with is more nuanced and more complicated than that.”

“Because you know you do love your children. And of course I know my parents love me. But of course they are accepting now that I am a very public former sex-worker. That has to be difficult to accept because they’re dealing with their own issues around the subject-matter. And they have to process that.

So for Lynn [the mother in the film] she does love her daughter and she wants to support her.

She does admire the work that she’s doing to some extent but it’s tricky. And it’s not going to be so clean-cut as disowning her or being fully supportive.

We all exist in these … nuanced experiences and I really wanted to kind of tap into how tricky that was for Lynn.”

“CAM” at film festivals

“CAM” premiered at the 2018, Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Canada and features actors that you may recognize like:

  • Madeline Brewer — “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  • Patch Darragh — The First “Purge” movie
  • Melora Walters — “Venom”
  • Devin Druid — “13 Reasons Why”

At Fantasia “CAM” took home the “best first feature” and “best screenplay” awards.

Recently “CAM” won “best actress”, a “special jury prize” for production design, and the “audience award” at the “Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.”

“CAM” is a project from the producers of “Get Out” and “Whiplash.”

“CAM” was also written by Isa Mazzei and directed by Daniel Goldhaber.

“Blumhouse Productions” and “Gunpowder and Sky” co-financed the film. “Divide/Conquer,” Isabelle Link-Levy, Adam Hendricks, John Lang, and Greg Gilreath produced the film.

You can watch the film — “CAM” on “Netflix” now.

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