Filmmaker Andi Avery Challenges Mainstream Media’s Idea of Sex Work [Interview]

Filmmaker Andi Avery Challenges Mainstream Media’s Idea of Sex Work [Interview] cover

Filmmaker Andi Avery wants to confess a terrible secret. “I don’t really like watching movies,” they say when asked to share a favorite. “Living with depression and ADD means that feature-length films are often difficult for me to get through. That said, any film or book that’s a personal story is usually a winner for me.”

Andi’s own story unfolds on screen in the semi-autobiographical short Leaving Charlie (2017), an intimate film that follows queer sex worker Charlie (played by Andi) as she struggles to reassert her boundaries after a client gets too close. “My art really focuses on telling stories about the parts of myself that aren’t understood in society,” Andi tells NOT REAL ART. “Queerness, sex work, chronic illness—it’s all up for grabs. The most important things to me in art-making are truth and radical tenderness.”

Watch the trailer for Andi Avery’s ‘Leaving Charlie.’
Queer artist Andi Avery chats with us about ‘Leaving Charlie,’ a semi-autobiographical short film that explores their decade-long career in erotic labor.
Andi Avery’s story unfolds on screen in the semi-autobiographical short ‘Leaving Charlie.’

Now working predominantly in film and photography, Andi spent the first decade of their adult life bouncing between professions, eventually settling into sex work as a viable career. “I really wanted to share my story because of how much stigma exists around sex work,” they say, denouncing the media’s role in the negative public perception surrounding various forms of erotic labor, including stripping, web-camming, and pornography. “I had a great experience with sex work,” Andi says, explaining that their biggest professional hurdle arrived as they wrote the screenplay for Leaving Charlie. “I’m on the phone with my octogenarian grandmother, telling her that I’ve been a stripper for the last decade. I have to tell her because I’m about to make my first film. I’m about to tell my family, my friends, and the internet.”

There were surprises, some good, some bad. Their grandmother accepted the news with cool-headed aplomb, but surviving the press junkets during the film’s festival run was another story. “Many of the interview questions I was asked were incredibly shortsighted,” Andi says, recalling their experience with the press as an “excellent example” of widespread cultural illiteracy surrounding sex work. Produced with a crew of 40 women and nonbinary individuals, Leaving Charlie paints its titular protagonist as complicated, flawed, and funny (“I told him Charlie was short for Charlotte,” she deadpans as her oblivious client exits the strip club after groping her). Above everything, Leaving Charlie sees sex workers as human, deserving of the same basic rights and respect as anyone else.

“[Sex work] allowed me to travel, to learn, to survive as an artist,” says Andi, who thrives on the radical autonomy their personal choices allow them. “Was every day great and empowering? Of course not. But largely it was a very liberating career move.”

Watch Leaving Charlie here.

In Today’s Q+Art Interview…

Andi Avery discusses film as a collaborative art, their personal screenwriting process, and what it would take to turn Leaving Charlie into a TV series.

Film still from ‘Leaving Charlie’; photo: Michelle Butler Photography.
Queer artist Andi Avery chats with us about ‘Leaving Charlie,’ a semi-autobiographical short film that explores their decade-long career in erotic labor.
Film still from ‘Leaving Charlie’; photo: Michelle Butler Photography.

Can you describe the process of writing the script for Leaving Charlie?

Andi Avery: Leaving Charlie was actually my very first screenplay. I wasn’t sold on the screenplay format (I had originally thought that it might be a book), but the moment I sat down, about 40 pages popped out! I relied heavily on friends to help with the editing process. The best piece of advice I received was to “slash everything that isn’t absolutely needed to tell the simplest version of the story, then see what you really miss and add it back in.” I got it down to about nine pages in the first pass, and then our shooting script ended up being about 14 pages.

How important is the crew to the success of a film?

AA: Film is an incredibly collaborative art. Truly, no one is expendable, and so taking care of your crew is a top priority. For me, that means paying everyone, feeding everyone well and in accordance with their dietary needs and preferences, and working with their safety in mind. On each film I’ve made, I’ve worked with a crew entirely comprised of women and nonbinary folks. I do it for a few reasons, but one of the most important outcomes of that is that our production assistants and folks newer to the industry get to see and network with people that look like them who are further along in their career. Film requires asking a lot of your crew physically, mentally, and emotionally, so it’s important to make sure everyone gets taken care of.

Queer artist Andi Avery chats with us about ‘Leaving Charlie,’ a semi-autobiographical short film that explores their decade-long career in erotic labor.
Film still from ‘Leaving Charlie’; photo: Michelle Butler Photography.
Film still from ‘Leaving Charlie’; photo: Michelle Butler Photography.

How do you view Leaving Charlie now—years after the completion of the project?

AA: In hindsight, there are plenty of things I find cringey and wish I had done differently, but ultimately I’m very proud. Leaving Charlie will always be my baby. If anyone out there is listening, I think it would make an excellent TV show.

What draws you to the camera?

AA: The camera is such a versatile tool—I love that we get to help an audience be voyeurs into other worlds and lives. And in my photography work, I’m often turning the camera back on myself. Image-making is incredibly powerful—when you’re making a photograph or film project about someone, you hold a tool in your hands to tell someone’s story, both honorably and dishonorably.

‘Annie at Home #1’
‘Annie at Home #2’

What does success mean to you as an artist?

AA: Being able to pay my bills. I don’t think it makes anyone less of an artist to have one or many side gigs, but for me, my ultimate happiness is being able to support myself with my art alone.

Do you have any big ideas cooking for your next project?

AA: Always! I have a few feature scripts that are circulating right now that I’ve won a few writing awards for. I’m looking forward to finding a team to get my first full-length [film] made. I’m also an editor for a film journal called Analog Cookbook (@AnalogCookbook) and we’re putting together our seventh issue right now—one I am especially excited for. My most recent short was also just completed and is heading into its festival circuit as I type, and I’m shooting my next short film in March. Never a dull moment.

‘Dressing Room’
‘The Kiss’

What does success mean to you as an artist?

AA: Being able to pay my bills. I don’t think it makes anyone less of an artist to have one or many side gigs, but for me, my ultimate happiness is being able to support myself with my art alone.

Do you have any big ideas cooking for your next project?

AA: Always! I have a few feature scripts that are circulating right now that I’ve won a few writing awards for. I’m looking forward to finding a team to get my first full-length [film] made. I’m also an editor for a film journal called Analog Cookbook (@AnalogCookbook) and we’re putting together our seventh issue right now—one I am especially excited for. My most recent short was also just completed and is heading into its festival circuit as I type, and I’m shooting my next short film in March. Never a dull moment.

‘Chronic Shrillness’

Andi Avery: Website | Instagram | Twitter | Purchase Work

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.

Want to be featured in Q+Art? Email editor@notrealart.com with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.


Tags

artist interview, classic film, erotic labor, film, filmmaker, lgbtq visibility, photography, sex worker rights, short film, storyteller, visual storytelling


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