Portland-Australian filmmaker Julian Shaw's directorial feature debut, Use Me, brilliantly blurs reality and fiction. Shot locally and based on online humiliatrix Ceara Lynch's lucrative career, the docufiction transforms into an erotic thriller centered on financial domination. Showing rarely filmed locations across the city as well as Portland's erotica community, Use Me is a twisting parable about the American dream.
WW spoke with Shaw and Lynch about themes in the movie, which had its Northwest debut last weekend at the Portland Film Festival, including post-truth, sex as a form of storytelling and blending fact with fantasy.
WW: Since Use Me was filmed like a documentary, were you worried audiences might confuse the characters with who you really are?
Julian Shaw: They're exaggerated versions of ourselves. I did consider maybe my character was going to be "Justin" instead of "Julian." But then, because the thing really did start out as a documentary, it just felt truthful that it had to be Julian and Ceara. I turned up the volume on aspects of [Ceara's] work. I was interested in the moral ambiguity. How ethical is this? What would happen if something went wrong? There's a fictional story, but it's inspired by real questions and her work.
Ceara Lynch: In my case, being someone who works in the adult industry, I'm always wary of outsiders coming in and wanting to depict me in their own vision, because they want me to be a victim or a sociopath. Julian always kept me involved, and I think that really helped build trust. I come across as the type of person I want to come across as, so I'm quite happy with it.
How did Use Me become a narrative feature film instead of a documentary?
Shaw: I had gone to film school in Australia to study narrative filmmaking, so it was that combined with being burned out on documentaries. I was looking for something different. But what really happened is that Ceara is so professional and so nice in her real life, I was like, "Man, this is going to be a boring documentary. It needs some conflict."
Lynch: When Julian first approached me, he thought I would be an interesting subject. He flew out to Portland and followed me around with a camera and I think quickly decided that there was a lot more material to work with. As he got to know me, he found out that I'm not the most interesting subject for a documentary, because I'm pretty happy and content. If you want an interesting story, it needs to have an arc and something that person is struggling with.
What role does sex play in the film?
Shaw: I'm really proud of the sex scenes in the movie. They were really hard to edit. Each time the characters have sex, it's moving the story forward in some way. If I want to see sex, honestly, I don't need a feature film for it. I can go to Pornhub on my phone in five seconds. It's got to be more than "Hey, we're trying to titillate the audience," so the scenes have to be realistic, sensual, and they have to tell a story. Otherwise, they shouldn't be in there.
What choices went into how you portrayed Portland?
Shaw: I hope I'm a bona fide Portlander at this point. I've lived here for four years and I love it. You see downtown, picturesque shots, but to show what it's really like by using Southeast Portland locations, places that Ceara and I have actually hung out, that was important. It's such a cliché, but [Portland is] a character in the movie, and Ceara is a very Portland kind of person, because it's such a liberal place, there are so many entrepreneurs, so it's not a coincidence that she's from Portland.
What were your thoughts about using the term "post-truth" in Use Me's marketing, as opposed to something like "based on a true story"?
Shaw: Unfortunately, post-truth is a phrase associated with Trump now, but I think there's more to it than that. It's just a collective, global transformation we've gone through, with how misinformation can spread. Watching my film is a disorienting, slightly unnerving experience, because you're not sure what's real and what isn't, and that felt right to me. It's meant to be unnerving because I feel unnerved by how the world is now.
SEE IT: Use Me is available on Blu-ray and streaming platforms Nov. 26.