A Conversation With ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ Filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus

The two documentarians shared their thoughts on filmmaking, technology, and telling stories about relationships.
By  · Published on June 20th, 2017

The two documentarians shared their thoughts on filmmaking, technology, and telling stories about relationships.

On Friday, June 2nd, I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus on the phone, and to ask them some questions about their new documentary series Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On. I recently wrote an article on the series, and while I was writing I realized just how truly rich the series is. Therefore it was a great experience to get to chat in-depth about the show with its two brilliant creators.

Ronna Gradus, Jill Bauer, and Rashida Jones/

We began our discussion by the two filmmakers noting that they came to the Toronto Hot Docs Film Festival with their first movie, Sexy Baby (2012), as Jill notes — “where it all began.” Bauer and Gradus met while working for the Miami Herald — as a journalist and a photographer, respectively. Their skills in research, writing, composing images, and engaging with the media and culture are a perfect combination for documentary filmmaking. Sexy Baby follows three women of different ages as they navigate their way through our hypersexualized world where the media and technology put incredible pressure on women and girls to look and act in certain ways. The film serves as a wake-up call to think deeper about what children are exposed to, and how the media and pornography influence our views on sex and our own sexual expressions.

Jill and Ronna tell me that after Sexy Baby, they spent a lot of time on college campuses because they knew there were lots of stories to tell about students’ experiences. They had planned to follow male college students for their next film, but then stumbled upon the story that would become Hot Girls Wanted (2015). The documentary, produced by Rashida Jones, premiered at Sundance in 2015, and follows a group of young women (teenagers) in Florida who are entering the pornography industry for the first time. The film does not take on a judgmental tone towards these women, but instead shows the rollercoaster of emotions they experience: empowerment, confidence, independence, exhaustion, heartbreak, and frustration.

The two filmmakers followed up Hot Girls Wanted with their new Netflix series, which was released in April 2017. I asked the two women if they hoped for a second season of the show, to which they responding with a resounding “yes, definitely!” Jill pointed out that there are infinite stories to be told regarding the subject matter of sex, pornography, technology, and relationships. There will never be a shortage of material for a follow-up series, and the two filmmakers are always on the lookout for new and interesting stories to research. Jill also noted that the project was especially ambitious — she said that “it was as though we made six movies in one year, whereas usually you would make one movie over six years.”


I asked Jill and Ronna if they began with specific ideas about the kinds of stories they wanted to follow, or if they had a more general idea about topics they were interested in and then decided on specific stories once they approached their subjects. Jill noted that through their research they became aware of an overwhelming number of stories to be told. She told me that they tend to shoot so much material that “some of it inevitably ends up on the cutting room floor.” What makes these two filmmakers particularly skilled is what they choose to include in the final versions of their works — their films are coherent and detailed, indicating how discerning the directors are about what belongs in the final cut.

We then got into a discussion about the style in which Jill and Ronna shoot their films. Ronna told me that they “prefer a more personal, vérité style” wherein people speak directly to the camera and share their stories without any apparent directorial intervention. The vérité style of documentary usually involves the camera being placed in front of the subjects, who then share their stories in as much detail as possible. The style also involves following subjects through their daily lives, with events unfolding in “real time” in front of the camera, which is evident in Sexy Baby, and the two Hot Girls Wanted works. Jill noted that they hadn’t watched Sexy Baby in a long time, but “last time we watched it, we were like ‘this is so vérité!’” The filmmakers also shared with me that it was a conscious decision on their part to shoot in this style, as it gives their subjects a better chance to share their stories naturally.


After speaking with the directors, it became clear to me that they have carved out a specific place for themselves in the world of documentary filmmaking. The two women have become committed to telling stories about real peoples’ experiences with sex and relationships in current-day North America, filming their subjects in an intimate vérité style in which they feel comfortable sharing deeply personal details about their lives. The filmmakers bring our attention to the way in which technology has affected mainstream society’s views on sex and relationships, as well as how it has affected sex workers within the adult entertainment industry. For example, in Sexy Baby, the filmmakers observe how Winnnifred, a 12 year-old from New York, discovers new ways to express herself via sharing selfies on Facebook. Another story within the same film follows Nichole (also known as Nakita Kash), a former porn star whose experiences help her attract young women to her pole dancing classes.

It became clear to me that there is a balance between stories taking place inside and outside of the adult entertainment industry in the filmmakers’ works. I asked whether they found a big difference between these kinds of stories, and they noted that they do not differentiate. Technology affects everyone’s relationships differently, whether they work in the adult entertainment industry or not. The filmmakers are interested in telling stories about real people, and do not differentiate between people based on their profession – for example, they noted that in Turned On, they followed James Rhine as he interacted with women on dating apps, and in other episodes, followed porn directors and producers. They all have important and interesting stories to tell, and Jill and Ronna work hard to get to the heart of these stories and how they reflect bigger patterns within our culture.

Sexy Baby

I asked the filmmakers if they would be interested in expanding their research outside of North America and to different countries all around the world. Ronna pointed out that “Netflix has such a wide viewership of people in all different countries,” so that would definitely be an option for a follow-up season of Turned On. Both filmmakers also reminded me that they told stories from Barcelona (Erika Lust’s feminist pornography) and Australia (with Alice and Approximate), and focused on the different ways people view relationships and sex in these different locations. Ronna also noted that the filmmakers “talk a lot about our culture, technology and how it affects our relationships,” and Jill added that “there is still so much to be said on the topic of sex education.” Not only are there tons of stories to be told within North America, but many unique perspectives to explore in countries all over the world, which could potentially be an exciting opportunity for the filmmakers, who both clearly understand the importance of sharing these stories.

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Actual film school graduate from Toronto. Always thinking and writing about queerness, feminism, camp, melodrama, and popular culture.