The Movie Director Who Sold Videos of Himself Farting
In order to research his new film “Vanilla,” available on-demand now, filmmaker Will Dennis went deep into the camming world—and wound up selling videos of himself farting.
While I was doing research for my first feature film, Vanilla, I accidentally stumbled upon what looked like a strange yet fun and potentially lucrative way to finance the film.
Vanilla is a romantic comedy about an uptight entrepreneur, Elliot, falling for a comedian, Kimmie, who he finds out moonlights as a cam girl—meaning, she takes her clothes off online for money. While I’ve had a fair amount of experience in both start-ups and stand-up comedy to draw on, I didn’t have any experience with camming to draw on for the character of Kimmie.
I didn’t want camming to be the subject of the film; I wanted instead to raise some thought-provoking questions for audiences, including how those that consider themselves progressive and open-minded would deal with and react to being presented with a gray area in their personal life. Camming was a worthy catalyst for this conversation because it’s both quite risqué to some, and quite tame to others. I had hoped that the audience would be split.
In order to ensure that camming was treated evenhandedly and without unnecessary dramatization, I wanted to do some thorough research. I had no interest in passing judgement about camming through this film or presenting a particular opinion on the matter. I just wanted it to be an accurate portrayal of this modern profession that could lead to complicated and interesting conversations between the protagonists. Wrapped up in camming are the ideas of performance, gender roles, sexuality, open-mindedness, livelihood, and technology—those were themes I wanted to lean into throughout the film.
My first step in researching the camming world was reading, watching documentaries, going on camming sites myself, and speaking to/interviewing cam girls. After I felt like I had a sense of the camming world from a media perspective, I thought it might be fun and educational to do some camming myself. The thought process, nuances, and details of an experience—whether it’s baking bread or exposing yourself to strangers on the internet—can provide details that make a movie feel grounded and real.
So, I opened my browser, went into incognito mode, and went to Chaturbate to sign up to stream.
Staring at the sign-up box, I already started to feel both anxious and excited. Should I use my real name? Definitely not. Should I use my real email? I opted to create a fake one through another Google account and sign up with that one. Should I scan my ID so they can verify my identify and I can collect payments? Maybe later.
After signing up with a fake name and email address, I spent some time browsing the site. Lots of cams to choose from; most cammers in various forms of undress. I knew browsing and chatting was good research, but I also knew I wasn’t really rolling up my sleeves with the research until I livestreamed myself to strangers.
So, after a few more visits to the site—and as a productive excuse to take a break from writing early drafts—I decided to go live. I wasn’t ready to do anything explicit, but I also felt that sitting there fully clothed didn’t feel quite right either. I decided to take my shirt off and keep the camera waist-up. That felt like the right balance. Before I went live, a whole new slew of concerns went through my head: Am I going to get berated, taunted, or critiqued? Is my decidedly average chest going to be mocked by faceless strangers? Will someone I know see me? On that thought, I adjusted my streaming settings to exclude New York, California, and Colorado—three places I’ve spent significant time (and have relatives in). They don’t need to see this.
I was ready. I was shirtless. I had my dangerous locations excluded. I had braced myself for being critiqued and humiliated. I took a breath and pressed the “stream now” button. And… Nothing really happened.
I went live, but there was no one in my room. Just me. Streaming myself live. Shirtless. To no one. I started reading and answering my emails, waiting for someone to show up.
After a few lonely minutes, I heard a chime and looked back to my livestream. I had a viewer! I couldn’t see them, but they could see me. I was in a little self-built zoo. They sent me a chat, we exchanged hellos. I braced myself for a sexual question. But the stranger just asked me how my day was going. I answered good. He said cool. Then he said bye.
Huh. First interaction. Not bad, kind of nice. Felt like meeting someone in a waiting room at the dentist. No agenda, said hello, and went on their merry way.
Most of my interactions were more in this ballpark than anything aggressive or explicitly sexual—nice, kind, and friendly interactions. Some were more explicit requests, and some were indeed more interesting. The most interesting conversation came from a guy who triggered a months-long negotiation around selling videos of myself farting. My 13-year-old self would be so proud.
The stranger asked me if I knew what “FinDom” was, explaining that it was short for Financial Domination, and said that he enjoyed a specific type of FinDom: He paid straight, masculine men to record videos of themselves farting, and he paid per video.
I was intrigued but, as you might expect, very skeptical of such a financial boon for something so strange yet effortless. Intrigued, I agreed to privately message and hash out the details.
Once chatting privately, not only were screenshots of payments provided, but other example videos of men farting into their phone cameras. Most of these videos involved the men narrating the videos. “Here comes a big one.” Some were in their kitchen, some were in cabs, but each followed a similar trajectory: men, farting on video.
I decided to accept this stranger’s request. I set a few conditions: first, I would not put my face in the video; second, no nudity. After a few days of waiting, the stranger agreed to my terms.
Thinking that this could be a unique way to help finance the film, I adjusted my diet, and, over the course of the next few weeks, collected my farts on video.
After I had a collection of videos as requested, I sent the stranger the videos on Skype and… no response. Ghosted. The FinDom financier who I had thought might be a goldmine? Turns out, it was just a bunch of hot air.
Was I catfished? Was it an elaborate prank? Was it part of a FinDom fart ponzi scheme? Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised by the humanity of the camming exchanges I had. It definitely informed my perspective on camming and made my perspective on sex work generally more curious, open-minded, and, while I don’t actively participate, supportive. It’s an interesting part of the internet, where a bunch of people often ask you how your day is going when you’re sitting alone, shirtless in your room. And sometimes, especially during the stay-at-home order, that can feel kind of nice.