Michael: David [Sturman] gives Chuck the money and Chuck disperses the checks, and that's the extent of his role. He was the executive producer [of Michael's productions]... He no longer casts... We had some creative differences. Chuck and I are still friends and we refer talent to each other. He's still with Sin City and he has to be involved to a degree because he writes the checks."
Luke: "Is he still head of production at Sin City?"
Michael: "I don't know. You'd have to ask David [Sturman] that question. I submit my budgets to Chuck who submits them to David and David approves or disapproves through Chuck."
A swinger from Dallas, Raven entered porn at the end of 1997. "I've always been a big fan of porno. I was working on music videos and saw that there was probably a market for me to put my twist on things."
Michael began shooting for Sin City in the summer of 1998 and went under contract for the 50-employee company in November. "I try to tell more of a story, and for the shows not story-driven, I try to create beautiful visuals. I've always been a fan of the visuals of Andrew Blake and Michael Ninn. I'm trying to merge nice visuals and hot sex. It is easier said than done. It seems that you often have to give up one to get the other. You either have hot sex but average visuals or cool visuals and blah sex. Someone in there is a happy medium where you can accomplish both and I'm still looking for that.
"I gravitate to quick [editing] cuts, an MTV style...
"A director can have some control over a sex scene but its heat really depends on the people cast. If they're into each other, you're usually going to have a hot scene. I don't script the sex scenes. I script the scenarios and the setups."
Raven's best features include Rage (Sin City), Penitent Flesh (Fallen Angel), and White Rabbit (Sin City) which appears in a week.
Michael produces two features a month for Sin City and one gonzo every other month. He recruits talent at strip clubs and restaurants across the country. "I'm not afraid to approach anybody. Sometimes they take the bait and talk with me... It's a number game." Raven's leading discoveries include his busty brunette wife Sydney Steele (with Bryan since 1990), Julie Meadows and Mia Divine.
"I've watched these movies for years and always had these images in my mind about what went on on a set... I bought the same misconceptions [about porn] that most people have. That it is a big party. I was pleasantly surprised by how business-like it is. People work hard and play hard."
Frank Rich writes in the 5/20/01 New York Times Sunday Magazine:
Since I've rarely found actors to be the most insightful observers of the movie business, I wasn't eager to sample the wisdom of porn stars. But I did seek out Sydnee Steele, a newly signed Wicked contract girl who is by many accounts a rarity in the business -- she's happily married. Her husband is Michael Raven, 36, a top adult director. They met in Dallas in the early 90's, when she was a jewelry saleswoman in a shopping mall and he was a car salesman who sold her a mariner blue Miata. Eventually they drifted into the local swingers' scene. (One porn worker would later tell me, "Texas, Florida and Arizona are where all the swingers and strippers come from, though no one knows why.")
"The industry looks up to our relationship," Raven says when I meet the couple, now married nine years, at Sin City, another production company in Chatsworth. Avid porn fans in Texas, they migrated to the Valley to turn their avocation into a livelihood. Like many of the directors and male performers in the business, Raven is a somewhat lumpy everyman, heading toward baldness and sporting a meticulous goatee. A Kandinsky poster decorates the Sin City office. "I've gotten jealous on occasion," Raven allows. "I'm not jealous of her because of sex in movies; I'm jealous when her work takes her away from me. I get lonely if she's gone two weeks on the road."
"Sometimes I'm too tired for my husband," Steele says. "We love what we do, but it's hard work -- lots of 12-hour days." By now, I've watched some of what she does and find it hard to square the rapacious star of "Hell on Heels" with the woman before me, who is softer-spoken, prettier and considerably less animated than her screen persona. Maybe she can act.
The daughter of a college professor, Steele comes from what she calls a "Leave It to Beaver' nuclear family," Raven from a religious one. "I've leaned toward the right in my politics," he says, "but I'm bothered by the Republicans' association with the religious right. I know from my experience of religious people that those who protest and scream the loudest usually have the biggest collection of adult under their bed." He wishes they'd protest violent entertainment instead: "In video games, you're supposed to destroy, maim and dismember an opponent. But if one person is giving pleasure to another in adult, that's evil. Sex on TV is more destructive than hard core. You can depict a rape on TV -- we don't touch that subject."
Like his wife, Raven is increasingly recognized by strangers -- largely because "Behind the Scenes" documentaries about his movies appear on DVD's and on cable erotic networks, much like Backstory features on American Movie Classics. But Raven no longer stays in contact with his own family. And Steele's parents, she says, "don't totally know what I'm doing and don't ask. We don't lie, but they've never really been told."