While in Austin at Fantastic Fest 2018, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with director Daniel Goldhaber, writer Isa Mazzei, and star Madeline Brewer about their collaborative process on Cam, the erotic tech thriller that follows a cam girl (Brewer) who finds her online identity hacked, and the culprit behind it all seems hellbent on taking things just a little too far. During our chat, the trio discussed the real-life inspirations behind Cam, their close working relationship on the film, breaking down preconceived notions about sex work, and more.

This is a really fantastic story that I think nobody has ever tried to tell this way. I wanted to start with you, Isa, and talk about this story and diving into this world that so many, from the outside in, have already pre-judged, and breaking down those stereotypes. What was the writing process like for you?

Isa Mazzei: The story came twofold. One, I remember a moment that really inspired me and made me realize I needed to tell a story in this space. It was back when I was camming, and I was very open about the fact that I was a cam girl. I would meet people in bars, I would meet people in restaurants, and be like, 'Oh, I'm a cam girl, what do you do?' The reaction that I got most often that I found most disturbing was actually not rejection or shaming but, “Really? You seem so normal.”

I found that really disturbing because of course, I'm normal. So, I think coming from that place made me realize how important it was to do the opposite of what a lot of media does these days, which is to de-exotify and normalize it and say that sex work is something that a lot of people engage in. It's important to let it just be a normal thing and to not judge it and not shame it and to not judge a character or a person for choosing that line of work.

Something else that was important to me with the idea of normalizing sex work was that you could replace the fact that she was a cam girl with almost anything in this movie, if you think about it. She could be a YouTube star, she could be a Twitch star, she could be an Instagram model. She doesn't have to be a cam girl for the story to work, because thematically, what we're dealing with is something that I think is really universal, which are these anxieties of these personas that we create online for ourselves, these completely fabricated digital identities, and that fracturing that we all feel when we are on our Facebook and on our Instagram accounts. That’s not really who we are. So, I just wanted to marry those two ideas, normalizing sex work and then tying it into these universal themes. That fueled my intentions behind the story from the beginning.

Daniel, how did you guys come together to tell this story? And was there something in particular where you knew this was a story that you needed to put out there?

Daniel Goldhaber: The history of the whole thing is that we've been working together for ten years. I have a theater company I ran in high school where Isa stage managed the shows and edited the plays I wrote. When Isa started camming, she actually called me and was like, “I want to make a bunch of really nice, cool-looking porn. Do you want to come make some”' I thought it sounded like a really fun, creative exercise and so I went, and we shot a bunch of videos for her. My relationship to pornography totally changed at that point. Then I started spending a lot of time with Isa while she was camming, and we would talk about the artistic ambitions that she had for her show, the frustrations she had, and the competitions between all the girls.

It was all so incredibly fascinating that I was like, “We have to make a movie about this,” but we couldn't figure out a way in at that point. Then I got hired to write a project, she was camming full time, and a year and a half or so went by. But I just couldn't shake how interested I was in this idea, and then I came up with this idea for an opening scene.

Isa Mazzei: Based on that conversation we had, we planned a show similar to Alice's first show you see with the knife. I was doing very strange shows towards the end of my camming career, and we had been talking about doing a suicide type of show to engage with people that I felt wanted me to hurt myself online. I wanted to rethink that power and confront them by doing a show where they would tempt me to actually kill myself online. So we had a conversation about it, and he drew from that and called me a year later.

Daniel Goldhaber: I had just quit a job and I had a runway to make a movie. I called her and was like, "I have an idea for a thing," and then I basically flew out to Boulder two days later because she was about to leave for a trip. I took her out to dinner and was like, “This is the opening scene. I think that we should do a psychological thriller set in the world of camming, but I have nothing else beyond that.”

Isa Mazzei: But he did come up with that opening scene.

Madeline, from your perspective, you're playing two characters essentially in this movie, even though it's the same woman. There's a duality to Alice and Lola, and I was wondering how much you enjoyed being able to play around with that concept?

Madeline Brewer: My connection with this character and her other persona really came from this idea that anybody who has a presence online, anyone who has a Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or whatever, anybody who puts themselves out there in the digital world, will relate to this movie. That's why Isa said it could be a YouTube star or a Twitch star or an Instagram whatever. It's all the same, it's all just about having a presence on the internet.

I connected with those roles because I have a presence online and I knew nothing about the world of camming. I knew it was a thing, I had heard of it, but I had no idea really what it was. I do now, I've watched more cam than probably anyone else I know. I still once in a while just check in and see how everybody is doing. And while people might have these ideas about it, what camming is really about is connecting with other people.

That was something that I found from watching cam and from talking to Isa about it, so that's why we filmed some scenes where I was just sitting there completely clothed and just talking. There is an intimacy to it, where you make friendships, you establish relationships online, and people really do that in the world.

I have internet friends that I have literally never met. We like all of each other's Instagrams and we comment on them, but I've literally never met them. So, for me, it was an important aspect to me to portray that in the world of camming, there are those super not sexual moments, and there's nothing pornographic about laying on your bed and engaging emotionally with someone who might be on the other side. That's something about camming that I had not known going into this film, and I found it so fascinating.

Because of the nature of this story, Isa, and it is something that you've been through yourself, do you feel like having that personal relationship with Daniel was a central component to being able to make this film and tell this story?  

Isa Mazzei: Absolutely. I would not have been able to have anyone else do this story with me. I think that a lot of people in the initial stages were like, "Well, why don't you have a female director?" It doesn't matter to me that he's not a woman, because what matters to me is that he is not only a trusted collaborator, but someone who came into this saying, “This is our movie.”

It was never his movie, it was always our movie. He fought for that film by credit. He involved me heavily in every single aspect of pre-production, and I was even in the editing room with him and the editor [Daniel Garber]. So, I do think that, yes, having someone that I have absolutely trusted for the last ten years of my life was essential, but more than that, having someone who was such an advocate for me and my involvement in the film was so incredibly special. To be able to share this vision with him from the very beginning, it just wouldn't be the same movie without him, or without us together, and I just don't think it could have been done any other way.

Daniel Goldhaber: If you're coming into material like this, as a straight white man or somebody who doesn't have that immediate experience, I think that there's this notion out there that you shouldn't make movies about experiences outside of yourself because you're going to get it wrong. I think that from my perspective, you can totally get it right, you just have to really be willing to listen and make it not about yourself. It has to come from that other perspective.

And that was something that was a gift for me, to have the experience to learn from Isa and from Maddy and from Katelin [Arizmendi, the cinematographer] and from Emma [Rose Mead, the production designer] and all the other amazing women who worked on this film. I hope that the lessons that I have learned from making this are in the film, and that that's what is being given to an audience.


Keep an eye on our Fantastic Fest 2018 hub to keep up to date on all of our live coverage from Austin!

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.