Diaries, ex-husbands, and mowing the lawn in high-heel boots: Inside the making of Netflix's Pamela Anderson documentary, 'Pamela, a Love Story'
- Director Ryan White spoke to Insider about the making of "Pamela, a Love Story."
- He explained how they used a cargo van to transport Pamela Anderson's diaries to their offices in LA.
Ryan White will be the first to admit that making a documentary about Pamela Anderson wasn't on his career vision board.
The filmmaker recently made "Good Night Oppy," a look at the Mars Rover that explored the planet for nearly 15 years. Before that, he made the Emmy-nominated docs "The Case Against 8" and "The Keepers."
But like most who cross paths with Anderson, White quickly realized she's nothing like the sex-symbol persona that's been placed on her — and that intrigued the heck out of him.
In his upcoming Netflix documentary, "Pamela, a Love Story" (available Tuesday), we see Anderson reflective, self-deprecating, and vulnerable as she looks back on her incredible career in which she was one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to Playboy and "Baywatch," she became a modern-day Marilyn Monroe. And in that time, she essentially inadvertently launched the internet craze when intimate home videos of her and then-husband Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee were stolen and made into a sex tape that went viral before that phrase even existed.
Beyond exploring the headline-grabbing aspects of her life, what White does with his movie is show Anderson, 55, away from the spotlight. What we are presented with is an independent woman who lives on her own and is content with no longer being the obsession of the public.
But then that damn sex tape came back into her life.
Anderson's home movies and diaries became the lifeblood of the documentary
White was first brought into the super-select Anderson bubble a few years ago when he was asked to consider making a doc about her and if he would meet with her son, Brandon.
"She wasn't someone I thought a lot about going into my adult life, especially as I became a documentary filmmaker," White admitted to Insider over a recent video chat, revealing he was reluctant to do the project.
But after a good meeting with Brandon in which the filmmaker learned Anderson no longer had an agent, manager, or any type of "team," White was intrigued and had a Zoom chat with Anderson that the director said went on for hours. It was then that White made a discovery.
"She told me, 'There's this loft in my boat house that I never go up to but I'm pretty sure there's shit tons of home videos,'" White recalled her telling him. "I said, 'Whatever you do, please don't go up there before I come.' And she said, 'Okay, I wouldn't go up there anyway.'"
White and a small production crew were on the next flight to Vancouver Island, Canada, where Anderson has lived since 2020 on a property near the sea that she bought for her grandmother decades ago.
Anderson was right, there was a treasure-trove of VHS tapes of everything from her kids' birthdays to sweet anniversaries with her ex, Tommy Lee. White rushed into town, got a TV set with a VCR from a pawn shop, sat Anderson in front of it, and filmed her as she reacted to footage she saw as she popped in tapes.
"I just said to my cameraperson, 'Stay on her face the entire time,'" White told Insider.
Anderson's reactions to the footage she comes across are some of the most touching moments of the documentary.
But that's not all White found.
"She took me up to this safe she had in a bedroom and in the safe were just stacks of yellow legal pads," White recalled. "I asked 'What are these?' and she said, 'I have no idea, I've just written my entire life; I've taken bubble baths and I write on yellow legal pads.'"
The legal pads and crates of diaries found near the VHS tapes would become the foundation for White's Pamela Anderson documentary. Every thought Anderson ever had through her life was chronicled within those pages. They had to be guarded at all costs.
So White rented a cargo van, packed all the tapes and diaries up, and enlisted associate producer Dominique Hessert Owens, with her husband tagging along, to drive all the materials from Vancouver Island back to White's production office in L.A.
"Because you don't just FedEx Pamela Anderson's life-long personal diaries and archival tapes," White said with a chuckle.
White said he and his team were so paranoid something would happen to the precious cargo on the trip that Owens and her husband would unpack everything out of the van whenever they stopped for the night and kept it all in their hotel room.
The next morning, they would reload it back in the van and get back on the road.
Anderson was 'willing to talk about anything,' says White
Over the year and a half in which White shot Anderson for the movie, he learned that there would be no conventional shooting schedule. Camped out in the only hotel in town, White and his all-female crew would wait patiently on word from Anderson's assistant, Jonathan, for when it was a good time to come to the house and film her.
"It was very unplanned, which I love," White said. "That's why I'm a documentary filmmaker, I hate planning. We might shoot her for an hour, we might shoot her for 10 hours."
Regardless of the length, time with Anderson was always memorable.
For an interview on her couch, Anderson wore no makeup and a white negligee covered with a long sweater. What White thought would be a 30-minute conversation turned into six hours with Anderson revealing everything from her first trip out to the Playboy Mansion to being molested by her babysitter.
Then there were the ideas White would come up with that Anderson would dismiss and instead introduce something infinitely better — like White's idea for Anderson to read her own diaries for the movie.
"We would just shoot Pamela in a studio somewhere with a microphone reading her diaries and seeing how she reacted to them, and when I told her this, she was like, 'Really? I don't think that's a good idea.'"
Anderson told White she wanted to stay distanced from the actual making of the documentary, noting she wouldn't watch it once it's finished.
Instead, Dominique Hessert Owens, who by this point knew Anderson's life intimately as she was transcribing all the diaries, was asked to do the voiceover.
"She has the lightest most feathery Pamela voice," White said of Owens.
White also recalled an idea he had of shooting Anderson by the rocky beach near her home.
"She said, 'That sounds dumb,' so I asked, 'What do you want to do?' And she said, 'Well, I was going to mow the lawn. Want to film me doing that?'" White remembered Anderson saying. "So we waited an hour and she came out in her high-heel boots and mowed the lawn and I was like, 'This is great!'"
Most shocking, however, was how open Anderson was when it came to talking about her five ex-husbands, especially Tommy Lee. (She separated from her last husband, Dan Hayhurst, while filming the documentary.)
Anderson makes clear that Lee, who she married on a beach in Cancun after knowing him for just four days, was the love of her life. Though she also admits it's best they are no longer together (Lee spent six months in jail after kicking Anderson, and they divorced soon after in 1998).
"I realized very early that this woman was willing to talk about anything and nothing was off limits," White said.
But by the end of filming, things did get challenging when the trailer for the Hulu series "Pam & Tommy" was released and opened old scars for Anderson.
'Pam & Tommy' traumatized Anderson 'for months'
Though Anderson and White were both aware a series on Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's sex tape was in production at Hulu, it wasn't until the show's first trailer came out in late 2021 that it became a reality.
"You never know with Pamela how she's going to take things," White said. "She took that so hard and so emotionally. It was awful."
He said the sex tape being thrust back into Anderson's life "traumatized her for months."
"It was the elephant in the room that we would try to avoid if we were shooting with her," said White, who by that time was filming Anderson in New York City as she was preparing for her Broadway debut in "Chicago."
"We made sure our crew knew never to bring it up," White continued. "I remember we were with her when she got a text message from a friend of hers saying, 'Hey, I saw the trailer for that show, it's going to be awesome,' thinking she was involved in it. She would then try to get the trailer off of her phone that was sent to her."
As she always has, Anderson powered through adversity and once more put the sex tape behind her. But for White, seeing the love and affection people have for Anderson since "Pam & Tommy" confirmed to him that it was right move to do the documentary — because it shows the true Pamela.
"The Pamela Anderson I know is very different from the Pamela Anderson in the show," White said. "So I think the documentary is going to surprise people."
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