Sometimes you just know when you’re in the right place. Upon seeing the 2013 title Random Encounters, a film starring a woman named Meghan Markle, clearly presented on the Passionflix homepage, I knew I was in exactly the right spot.
Passionflix is a streaming service dedicated to romance films, which includes a selection of originals that have largely been adapted from romance novels, as well as library titles which include everything from the 1996 version of Jane Eyre to 2014’s Could This Be Love starring Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member Drew Sidora, to films such as the romantic comedies Cuban Fury with Chris O’Dowd and Two Night Stand with Miles Teller.
Perhaps the best thing Passionflix has going for it is that once you log on, you know exactly what you are getting. It wants to service whatever mood you’re in at the time, with categories such as Chutzpah and Hoohah, Love and Laughter, and Thrill Me. And if you’re feeling a little freaky, that’s great too. The BON section rates groups of titles from Oh So Vanilla (one flame emoji) to Toe Curling Yumminess (four flame emojis!). The site boasts tons of holiday films, as well as a Wine and Cheese Lounge section, which includes bloopers and behind the scenes featurettes from their original titles which include Gabriel’s Inferno, Dirty Sexy Saint, the latest paranormal romance film Wicked, and the series Driven which returns for Season 2 on July 22.
Sounds pretty brilliant, right? Well then it should come as no surprise that the site was founded by South African filmmaker Tosca Musk in 2017, who has worn a variety of hats over the course of her career as a director, producer, writer, and executive, and who has really been able to support, promote, and tap into Passionflix’s mission. “We have a very specific mandate, we are a romance channel,” she told me over Zoom last month. “We want you to go through a rollercoaster of emotions and then end with a happier, hopeful ending. You’ve had your busy day, you’ve had whatever crises that you’ve had to deal with, and at the end of the day, you want to sit there with a glass of wine or a cup of tea and you just want to enjoy this emotional ride that you’re going to go through, knowing that everyone’s going to be fine in the end, not murdered or destroyed in some horrible way. But they’re just going to come out in the end, and you’re gonna cry, you’re gonna laugh, and then you’re happy. Okay, great, now I can go to sleep. I feel like my bucket has been filled up again and now I can start my next day. So everything on our platform is for that purpose.”
So if you’ve recently enjoyed the freakiness of Sex/Life, the bodice-ripping of Bridgerton, the calming comfort of Hallmark movies, or even the demure vampires of Twilight, there is something, or really, many things you’ll like on Passionflix. After all, the site is all about pleasing its fans. Many of their original films are adapted from popular novels, and as Musk explained, “I have a great Director of Development who reads a lot of books,” with a laugh. “We’re still very small, so while we are three-and-a-half years old and we have managed to survive so long, which is great, we have to continue surviving. So we do look at how well the book sells. We have a few books that maybe didn’t sell as well as others, but then they have different emotional content to them or they touched us particularly deeply. And for the most part, we just want a variety of authors and we want a variety of genres within our genre. We’ll go from drama to action to comedy and we try to keep it that way.”
Musk is also used to variety in her roles at Passionflix as she regularly jumps behind the camera to direct, estimating the site will produce five or six original films this year now that working conditions are safer. When asked about directing these films, Musk said, “I come off as like, ‘Oh, it’s so fun’, and it is fun. But it’s super high stress, because I am dealing with millions of fans who want exactly what they want and it’s hard to dive into everyone’s head. There are certain books that we look at like, well, that fan base is gonna hunt me down and kill me if I don’t get it, so I better work extra. But there’s only so much a person can do.”
Fan input is considered for these projects like never before; diehards are invited to the set to watch filming and weigh in on whether a scene is staying true to the source material and if it’s just how they pictured it in live-action. For Musk, the secret to adapting the material is, “Loving and respecting the material, so that’s what I have to do. I have to thoroughly enjoy it to really respect the author. I usually communicate with the author, ‘Do you like this T-shirt, do you like this eye color, do you like this hair color, do you like this location?’, and we’re constantly doing it. Bringing in the fans is an icing on the top. If I’m making [something] for me, I feel like I’m making it for a lot of fans.”
Musk is also very sure of the things she is a fan of. “I get very annoyed with any movies that are very male-centric and that have very few females in it, so I tend not to watch them. I also tend not to watch any content that’s about females who are depressed and unhappy and struggling in life, that doesn’t appeal to me. I want to watch things that are going to give me hope and inspire me. Quite honestly, I could watch the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice every single day. So that’s really my jam.”
My jam is the aforementioned extras that the site provides for fans of these projects, of which Musk said, “I love being able to invite our fans to set. I love being able to include fans on some of the things that go on behind the scenes. When you actually can see that we’re all just laughing and having the best time, I think it breaks down a bit of the barrier and humanizes us all a lot more. I have a fantastic DP named Dennis Maloney, and he’s done all the movies that I’ve directed for Passionflix. So if something starts happening and people go a little off the rails, he’ll just keep rolling. He just loves to be able to capture those moments, he thinks it’s great.”
A new addition to filming steamier scenes these days is the intimacy coordinator, which Musk is a big fan of, and has previously sort of acted as one herself with her actors on set. “When we have women and men in some extremely sensitive, intimate moments, not having anyone there to help guide or be able to be there for them to talk to is bad. I think we should definitely have somebody for them to talk to. Passionflix is super small, we’re six people, and I know my actors very, very well. So we have a conversation with them. On Driven season two, we had an intimacy coordinator. On Gabriel’s Inferno, we didn’t, but we’d already gone through the whole thing before the intimacy coordinator situation had become a position really, and I addressed it with my actors. I’m so sensitive to how women’s bodies are portrayed and how men touch women. It’s so specific to me that oftentimes people would consider me more of an intimacy coordinator. Even when our intimacy coordinators are on set, the actors asked that I be there while they coordinate a lot of the movements. So I think it just depends on the type of film that you’re doing and the relationship you have with the director. But yes, I think they’re an important position and if you have a really good and sensitive intimacy coordinator, you’ll have a much more comfortable set.”
Of course, Musk is wise enough to know that it’s just as nice to dole out advice as it is to receive it, and confirms that yes, with a family as intelligent as hers, she’s very open to their advice. Between mom and model Maye Musk, brother Kimbal Musk who is a restauranteur and entrepreneur, and her other brother Elon (perhaps you’ve heard of the SNL host before?), business is sure to come up at family gatherings. “I certainly get a lot of advice, which is really fantastic,” she said. “I don’t know how much advice they need from me. They’ve been doing their particular industries quite a bit longer. But my mother and my brothers are incredible supporters of what I do. The really incredible thing is that I can go to them for advice anytime I need it, so that is wonderful.”
I couldn’t help but get a bit of Musk’s thoughts on another notion, that romantic comedies are “ruining” modern women these days — our expectations, our dating lives (or lack thereof), etc. But Musk isn’t having it. “I say you don’t need men,” she stated bluntly. “I had children by myself, had an anonymous sperm donor and I’m extremely happy, so I’m not making anything for you to get a man.” One of her adorable eight-year-old twins even wandered in during our chat and whispered in her ear, in search of his bagel and cream cheese for breakfast. Once he scampered away, she continued, “Do I think that rom-coms have destroyed the images of men? No, I don’t. I think that anything that shows people in a positive light is going to only make us feel stronger about relationships. Everything that we do is to show how communication, connection and compromise allow you to have good relationships. So, everything I’m passionate about, and certainly all romance novels, are basically two people talking constantly. They’re just constantly talking about every issue that they have and sharing and then breaking up and coming back because they’re sharing their issue and whatever it is. So I’d say I think that we’re helping.”
For future Passionflix projects, Musk says, “I would love to do historical; I think something political would be kind of cool.” But it’s all about goals for the site which focus around the content and subscriber numbers, yes, but mainly subscriber engagement. “We have a very strong engagement and a strong connection with our viewers and the fans of this work. So we want to make sure that we’re not just churning out content to get more subscribers, but are also keeping those subscribers engaged and are providing content for them, because the entire service was built to make content for the fans of these books. And so as long as we’re sticking with that mandate and sticking with our mission, which is to empower men and women through emotional strength, and to remove shame from sexuality, I think that will be fine.”
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