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Isa Mazzei Camgirl

We chat with writer Isa Mazzei about her new book “Camgirl” — a staggering autobiographical companion piece to her 2018 smash indie horror hit, “Cam”.

The book gives readers an inside look into the world of camming, camgirls, and more. I sat down to interview Mazzei about Cam, Camgirl, and what’s coming next in her multifaceted career.

Cam (2018) was something of an overnight sensation for many horror fans. The sleeper hit, a Netflix original release from Blumhouse Productions, allowed audiences to dive deep into the world of ‘camming’ and the life of Alice (Madeline Brewer), who makes a living as a ‘cam girl.’ The Black Mirror adjacent, technicolor nightmare preyed on fears many exhibit about technology being a threat to our individual identities every time we go online.

Cam dared us to ask the question: are we really safe when we interact with others on the World Wide Web?

For Alice, her livelihood depends on her ability to craft a sensual, empowered, attractive persona that will prompt her loyal fans and viewers to pay money for the privilege of watching her shows, many of which have an erotic edge.

Writer Isa Mazzei drew on her own experiences as a cam girl and sex worker.

And, by the time the credits rolled, she had hypnotized her audience into a deep sense of wonder about an industry that, to many of us, is cloaked in enigma and appeal. I, and likely many others who watched Cam, had a mind full of questions afterward. But the most prevalent was: “how much of that is actually real?”

Mazzei’s newest project, Camgirl, creates a window into the realm of sex work and camming through her own experience. It hits shelves on November 12th.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mazzei about Camgirl, Cam, and what drove her to share her story with the world.

“I was already working on the book while making Cam,” said Mazzei.

“I think, at first, it came from this really practical need to… people are like ‘well how much of this is real?’ and ‘how much of this actually happened?’ And I thought, okay, well, I’ll kind of write the real version. And, as I dug into it more, it really became a lot more therapeutic and a lot more personal and it forced me to go to really vulnerable places and I think that’s kind of how the book came about and how it grew.”

“I like that it exists kind of in relation to the film, but I think that it kind of also exists on its own and I think that hopefully people who like Cam who want to read kind of where some of the things in Cam came from, they’ll be able to get that from it and people who just want to kind of hear my story or get an insight into this industry will be able to read it whether or not they’ve seen the movie or are fans of it.”

As a horror fan, my initial draw to reading Camgirl was born out of a deep love of Mazzei’s film, Cam.

While Mazzei’s book isn’t embedded in the horror genre, Camgirl is drenched in heart, humor, warmth and, at its core, is the story of one person’s journey of self-discovery. Both Mazzei and I agree Camgirl will be relevant to all audiences, but will be especially pertinent to those readers who, like many horror fans, will resonate with the book’s deeper message of feeling marginalized or alone.

 “I hope that it’s just a fun, good book,” Mazzei said.

“I think it’s relatable. I think anyone that’s been ostracized or felt alone or felt different will be able to relate to some of the things in there because, at the end of the day, it is a story about this awkward person growing up and trying to figure out what the hell life is and how to deal with themselves and parts of themselves they don’t like.”

“I do think that’s a very universal story, and I think we got such an incredible amount of support from the horror community when Cam came out, I think not just of CAM as a scary movie, but me as a former sex worker and as someone telling my story and standing behind the film. I was so thankful to the horror community for being so supportive and so vocal about their support at all of the fests that we played at and at all of the outlets. It was really moving.”

“As a horror fan as well, it was really moving to be so accepted by the community. I hope they like the book, and I hope they like the book because they get some cool little Easter eggs about the movie, too. There’s some little nuggets in there that I think are so clearly in CAM, and I think that’s fun for any CAM fan to say ‘Oh, I’ve seen this part!’”

Beyond that, her story digs deep into another phenomenon that many horror fans can appreciate – the ability to find catharsis and work through our own struggles and personal traumas through a genre that is hallmarked by brutality, violence, and darkness.

Sex work, for Mazzei, was a way to safely explore and control her experience, just like how many horror audiences process fear by viewing images on a screen.

“Sex work, for me, was incredibly healing. I did experience sexual abuse as a child and, because of that, it created a lot of trauma and I think a lot of that trauma was linked to this feeling of a lack of agency and a lack of control over my own body. I never really felt safe. That’s kind of what PTSD is… it’s never feeling safe, even when you are safe.”

“I think that camming and sex work in general, for me, was this space and kind of the first space where I could explicitly set my boundaries. I set how much I want… if you’re going to look at my body, you’re going to pay this much. If you’re going to look at photos of my body, you’re going to pay this much. If you want me to touch myself, you’re going to pay me this much,” said Mazzei.

“Not only was I enforcing these boundaries, I also had a community around me of other camgirls and really loyal viewers who also defended those boundaries. That created such a safe feeling space for me to really feel, probably for the first time, like I had complete agency over my body and what happens to it.”

Some cite the rape/revenge sub-genre of horror as their own, cathartic outlet for processing their experiences to find peace and, eventually, acceptance.

Mazzei states that horror, like what she experienced as a sex worker, is a similarly safe space for people to explore not only their experiences, but themselves.

“I think horror, in general, is a really safe place to process our fears and our traumas because they’re externalized from us. And I think a lot of CAM, the movie, for me was about externalizing the paranoia and the anxiety around this persona that I had created that, to some extent, I felt like was getting away from me as my porn was pirated, as my image was kind of taken.”

“I think that in a similar way, the book was a really important process of kind of confronting myself and kind of mapping out for myself what camming meant to me personally – I think was very different from what camming meant to Alice in CAM. It was really important for me to tell this story,” said Mazzei.

However, despite the book’s heavy subject matter in some respects, Mazzei’s writing style blends humor and staggers it throughout the pages in a refreshing way.

She provides levity and pulls moments of unexpected laughter from her readers.

“I was surprised that the book was funny. When I set out to write it, at first, I was taking it very… the tone was very serious, and it just wasn’t working,” said Mazzei.

“I remember, I was in Santa Monica and I was walking down the street and all of a sudden, I remembered something I had heard. I don’t remember where it’s from, but I remember someone in some movie or some TV show or something telling someone ‘maybe it’s supposed to be funny’ and it was like this moment of inspiration where I was like ‘oh my God, maybe my book is supposed to be funny!’ And maybe it’s okay for it to be funny even though the movie is horror and the book’s funny, and I do feel often comedy and horror go hand-in-hand anyway. It just kind of makes sense.”

Comedy seemed to be the perfect fit for Camgirl, allowing the heartbreaking moments to intertwine seamlessly with poignant, intelligent humor that reflects Mazzei’s own style.

However, Cam was always destined to hold a darker edge as a horror film.

“I love horror. I grew up loving horror. I’ve always loved horror and genre in general and I think, for CAM, it was so important for me for an audience to empathize with a sex worker and really be brought into her world,” said Mazzei.

“I think when you’re scared along with the character, it’s really easy to build empathy and not be distracted by, maybe, politics or judgment or anything because you’re just there with this person who’s scared, and you’re scared with them. I think the real power of CAM is, in order for the horror to work, you have to accept that she had agency in the first 30 minutes in order to be scared as she lost that agency.”

“Horror just seemed like the perfect way to kind of tell that story, and Daniel (Goldhaber) and I initially we discussed doing a documentary or some other type of film, but we just found ourselves going into horror and it just really worked for the story.”

Many genre fans wonder if technology is the next frontier for horror. Since technology is such a prevalent marker of our society, it exists with a continued trajectory and is a perpetual talking point in just about every social and sociopolitical conversation.

Films like Cam and books like Camgirl show the light and dark aspects of technology that makes it friend and foe in equal measure, two sides of the same coin all of us carry on a day to day basis.

“I think technology is something we spend our lives on, and that was something that’s important to Daniel, who directed CAM, and I. Going on your phone is an addictive, hyper stimulating experience and we wanted to show that on a screen and get an audience to feel that and I think the digital scape is really good fodder for the next horror evolution because it is the great unknown. It’s terrifying, it’s a place where we do care a lot of ourselves and are also never fully safe. I think there’s something interesting in that,” said Mazzei.

As technology is continually fueling the nightmares of a modern horror audience, Alice, in Cam, is a final girl for the modern age. Similarly, in Camgirl, readers will root for Mazzei in the same fashion as she comes into her own and takes comfort in her sexuality, her blossoming career as a camgirl, and in her own skin. Horror fans love a story with strong, realistic character development where the protagonist overcomes adversity and finds their strength.

Camgirl portrays this incredibly well and makes the subject relatable to audiences who aren’t familiar with or who have never been involved with sex work in any capacity.

“I think that’s the important thing about sex work, that’s the whole message: sex workers are normal people,” said Mazzei.

“We are all different types of people, we have all different types of interests, and we have all different types of experiences and that’s all that it is. It’s just one story of one sex worker and it is relatable because we’re all human and we’re all struggling with very similar things and I think that’s why it’s so important to tell this story.”

Mazzei may have left the cam world behind physically, but it has, in many ways, set a course for her as a writer and filmmaker.

“I don’t keep too close of track on the camming world,” said Mazzei.

“I still have some camgirls that I’m friends with, and I think that, you know, I was… with CAM coming out, just kind of reaching out to the community. We involved a lot of sex workers in the making of CAM and so I was pretty connected then. But I’m definitely not in it the way I was when I was still camming.”

After making a mighty splash in the camming world, Mazzei left abruptly – you’ll have to pick up the book to learn more about that. And, while she still retains some of her connections, it seems she’s left her old life behind for good, extinguishing her alter ego in order to rise anew.

“I know there’s some rumors about me (her alter ego) when I first left. You know, people kind of wondering where I went and what I was up to. I know now that people are excited about CAMand about what I’m doing next. That’s pretty cool, and I’m kind of… I don’t know, just looking to legitimize the field and destigmatize it a little bit and hope it brings people awareness to something that’s not really portrayed that often in mainstream media,” said Mazzei.

With Cam being an explosive success and Camgirl sure to follow, Isa Mazzei is an absolute force to be reckoned with.

There’s no doubt we will see more from her. When asked how fans could keep in touch and support sex workers and Mazzei, she gave the following response:

“I’m super big on social media, which is funny given CAM. I always love hearing from people on Twitter and on Instagram. My handle is @isaiswrong. I have some exciting projects coming up also in the horror sphere that will be coming out soon. I’ll definitely be spamming everyone with that information.

“More than that, just continuing to support projects that are spearheaded by women and continuing to support projects that are spearheaded by marginalized voices be that sex workers or other, I think, is a great way to show support for the community in general.” 


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