Seven Directors Focus on the Current Condition of Porn
LOS ANGELES — These are the guys — and, more and more, the gals — who, literally call the shots. And that, of course, includes the pop shots. They pick the girls. Orchestrate the sex, story, scenery. It’s really not unlike directing traffic in the streets. But instead of directing automobiles, these guys/dolls are directing flesh upon the screen.
It’s also not as easy as boy meats girl. In the midst of two basically different camps of porn — gonzo versus glam — there are battles over budgets determining how good a porn flick looks. Yep, it’s definitely not all buns and roses. That is, you can reap just as many bad things as you can good things from the biz: from struggles over power and currency, to infighting among stars. And let’s not forget the joy, confusion, and growing pains of new technology as it rears its miraculous but, sometimes, similarly ugly head.
And with all of this chaos, you have the porn directors, deep in the trenches, dealing first hand with all of these bumps ’n’ humps, hoops ’n’ loops, takes ’n’ breaks, as porn content inevitably evolves.
We recently spoke with seven directors discussing how they see the current state of the industry as it factors as a relatively legitimate business, just like any other profit-reaping enterprise out there in the real world —while some of these same auteurs inevitably recounted XXX’s past … and look towards its future.
GLAMOUR VERSUS GRUNGE
Content in adult movies over the years has become more and more diversified. It’s not simply about sticking it in, bouncing around on a bed (or sofa, kitchen counter, car hood), pulling it out, and spraying it around.
Although that really is the basic idea.
“Now there are specific niches catering to people's specific interests,” says Miles Long, who’s been directing for more than 10 years now, these days shooting for Devil’s Film (Angelic Asses), while sometimes shooting for Third Degree (Busty Office MILFs, Nylons 3-9). “It's less about raunchy/conservative and more about specific niches that are all performing well. Companies like Met-Art and X-Art show that upscale and beautiful content sells just as well as more intense gonzo and bondage and fetish.”
Russian-born Ivan — in the business since 2004, and having directed for Evolution Erotica (Youth ’n Asia 1 & 2, Texas Asshole Massacre) and Anabolic (Sweet Cheeks, Cougars), before shooting mainly for Porn Star Empire (I Am Asa, I Am Alison Tyler, etc.) and Puba.com (Naughty or Nice) — curiously but logically looks towards the past to understand the present state of porn’s content.
“When I first got into the porn industry,” Ivan recalls, “the companies dictated what came out, so the viewer was force-fed what the companies chose to shoot. It was like the wild, wild west. Who can shoot the weirdest, grossest scenes? Then Internet companies made it a bit cleaner and (ushered in) a friendly style of porn. A lot had to do with billing companies’ approval of certain content. Then DVD companies tamed their content because of distribution companies not willing to risk releasing ‘raunchy’ movies.
“I also believe we’re heading for content that caters to a majority not a minority of viewers with unique fetishes. With our porno paychecks getting smaller, most pornographers will cater to what will help them pay bills.”
Making adult titles since 2004, and quite an enormous splash with his parodies of mainstream movies (everything from Not Charlie’s Angels XXX to American Hustle XXX), director Will Ryder believes the rough ’n’ ready scenario of the past which Ivan describes, is still taking place. But in a different form.
“I think the wild west scenario is actually the private camming that girls are doing these days that has steered revenue directly to them,” says Ryder. “With free porn available on the big tube sites comes less production and fewer opportunities for talent to make money in movies. These girls hit upon something quite simple yet brilliant and are supplementing their income by camming. I say ‘bravo!’”
BBW/girl-girl performer and director Courtney Trouble — shooting GLBT porn since 2007 (Lesbian Curves, Queer Porn TV, Trans Grrrls: Revolution Porn Style Now) — sees the adult landscape, like Miles Long, as being a wide open canvas, waiting for auteurs to paint their own unique vision.
“There’s room for both conservative and raunchy porn to continue,” says Trouble. “Some of my favorite directors and performers are full-on disgusting, and there's still a lot of room for that kind of expression. I think what matters is, whether it's sweet or super dirty, that content moves in a direction that feels less disposable. People get disposable porn for free, and pay for the special stuff. I try to make every scene I shoot and perform in special enough to be worth the dollars. That's why making queer porn and trans-positive porn has been super successful for me — I make it special and people are paying for it.”
James Avalon — delivering adult titles since 1986, while focusing mostly on features (Cyberanal, Darkside) and these days shooting couples-friendly titles for Sweetheart Video (Asa Loves Girls) and Mile High (the Masseuse series) — sees more tasteful content as taking the lead.
“Right now,” says Avalon, “I think the art sites are outselling the raunchy side; maybe because people are willing to pay for quality. And I think that, since the creators put effort and artistic value into this kind of product, with stunningly beautiful girls, it naturally garners more respect from the viewers. Looking at amateurish, raunchy videos, I don’t think the consumer even considers the creator has any artistic merit, although they probably do, to some extent. Coming up with unusual, creative raunchy acts takes some imagination. But if it doesn’t ‘look’ great, then the viewer feels cheated.”
And like Ivan, Avalon also looks towards the past to understand the present in porn.
“I think porn today has become less formalized than it was 10 years ago. When I shot for VCA, we had to have hardcore within two minutes, or they’d want it re-edited. We all know how sex works. But seduction, betrayal, cheating, those can be very erotic (themes) with the right set-ups, while showing less hardcore. Many directors think they have to show so much blowjob, so much pussy eating, then three sex scenes, showing hardcore 100 percent of the time, three-and-a-half minutes each position, etc. Real sex isn’t like that. It’s spontaneous and messy. No guy fucks a woman for real with his right hand behind his back, while holding up his shirt.
Kevin Moore has been directing porn since 2004, and has really made his mark with Evil Angel through various fetish and POV series like “Inked Angels,” “Panty Pops,” “Spandex Loads,” and “Titty Creampies.” And Moore sees today’s adult environment as, like mainstream, almost naturally existing with a sort of copycat mentality.
“The industry tends to shift to whatever is ‘in’ and beat it to the proverbial dead horse,” explains Moore. “After [Will Ryder] became very successful with the parody of the ‘Brady Bunch,’ many jumped in the parody market. Then the romance market seemed to take off. You also have certain styles that other companies seem to try and replicate, for example you see the look of X-Art being replicated and that being mixed with the romance lines. However, those core producers/companies that are good at what they do, I imagine would continue doing what they do best.
“I've never shot with that process in mind of ‘what will be the next big trend’. Perhaps that makes me a bad businessperson. At Evil Angel I have the luxury of owning my product, and I tend to shoot what simply interests me. I do, however, believe what makes certain producers successful (Jules Jordan, Mason, X Art) is they’re making movies from the heart, if you will. You can't fake a Jay Sin or a Joey Silvera movie. Only those guys can make the titles they make. You have to go with what interests you because then it’s genuine.”
FUCKS AND BUCKS: WHICH OUTWEIGHS THE OTHER?
Sex movies, of course, don’t just appear out of nowhere, although they seem to do so on the Internet. They cost money to make. And it’s not hard for fans over the past four years or more to notice, during these trying economic times, that there are fewer and fewer actual SCENES in movies. Today you don’t just get the usual five scenes per titles. Now, on the average, the viewer receives four scenes. Doesn’t seem fair? Seems a bit cheap? Perhaps. But, for the most part, it IS an unfortunate reality.
“Most companies simply can't afford to shoot more then four scenes at full prices,” admits Ivan. “DVD sales are dying and majority of companies have gone out of business or stopped production. And the ones who throw money around at productions are living in 2005 La-La Pornland. Its basically people flexing their ‘money’ muscles to show off what they supposedly have. It’s like a person driving a BMW while living in a tiny apartment. You can shine up fake gold all you want, but eventually it will turn your neck green.
“For me, I love the state of porn in my situation. We do about 30 porn-star websites, where the girls and me can get as creative as we want. We are our own bosses, shooting the weirdest and coolest content we can. Pirates, aliens, zombies ... we do it all! Then that content goes on their sites and their own DVDs and then cable deals. Our movies have won awards because the freedom we have translates to the screen and the DVDs. Its definitely the most creative time in my life as a filmmaker in and out of porn.”
Porn-star-turned-director Barrett Blade — shooting everything from gonzo (Cum Drinkers, Angelic Asses) to features (Bikini Outlaws, Mean Girls) over the last 10 years — actually thinks the four-scene formula works.
“Unfortunately, budgets have gone down due to the (free) tube site,” he says. “But quality has gone up; giving four scenes allows directors to pay more attention and resources to those scenes.”
Yet Will Ryder does not consider himself part of the four-scene syndrome.
“Our X-Play movies have always had more than the standard five scenes and never ever only four scenes. But, it’s true, the reason why many lesser companies have gone to four is simply to save money.”
PROS & CONS
Let’s face it: You think that porn would be a dream-come-true job for most people, right? But just as there are upsides to something, there are invariably as many downsides. Even in porn.
“The biggest positive for me is that we get to work in a business that is still fun and filled with beautiful young ladies,” Ryder is quick to admit. “(But) the pros no longer easily outweigh the cons. This business used to be a lot easier and money was made quickly and often. Now it takes a lot more planning, exploitation and thought to stay above the water line. And even when you create something great, nothing is guaranteed. And it gets more difficult to keep funding grand productions.”
Courtney Trouble likes the camaraderie the current business seems to bolster — but she also sees distance, literal and figurative, being created within the ranks, as well.
“Social media has been a huge pro for my business, and I think the companies that continue to connect with fans and performers online create a larger sense of inclusion and involvement. The customers love my on-set stories and behind-the-scenes filmmaking bits.
“But what is making porn very hard,” continues Trouble, “is a lot of infighting. I feel like indie pornographers/performers, and individuals who rely a lot on the mainstream LA/LV companies to get work, are starting to butt heads and fight about what it means to be ethical, what it means to be inclusive, what it means to be queer, what it means to be a sex worker. They are important conversations, and I do wish that there was more of a forum for us to educate, relate to each other, and build bridges (between performers in particular) instead of watching these poorly managed micro-dramas play out over Twitter.
“In a sense,” she adds, “we’re starting to spread out as an industry, and as a community of porn makers. That’s why events like the XBIZ 360 panels on feminist and indie porn are essential to keeping our connections in tact and productive.”
Miles Long agrees with both Ryder and Trouble, while adding his own unique perspective on the positive and negative aspects of XXX.
“The cons are that, yes, our market is a much more difficult one to monetize than in years gone by, and profit margins are slimmer for even the bigger companies. This compounded by the current political climate in California — that has driven companies and producers to other states and other countries — has decentralized the business, and that makes things more challenging for both the industry and the overall health and welfare of our performers.
“But,” notes Long, “the pros are that superior people are still around shooting, and there is less competition, because there are less companies still shooting. Additionally, well-rounded people who have multiple revenue streams have been able to still make their way in this market where others are no longer competitive.”
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE OF S-E-X
Lastly, whether the mainstream world wants to admit it or not, the facts are there: Porn has always been on the cutting edge of entertainment technology. From video, to DVDs, to streaming, the adult industry has been a testing ground for the machinery and software that keep entertainment technology new, fresh, innovative, and profitable.
And the directors are there, in the front lines, working with/testing the new technology as it appears on the horizon. The excitement is there, as well — as are the overall growing pains.
“New technology,” notes Barrett Blade, “is scary for most anything when it’s first introduced. But ultimately it’ll be for the better. A great example is the move from DVD to VOD. It's just the transition period that sucks.”
Miles Long elaborates a bit more on the subject.
“In reality, porn is headed into a multi-platform base, which is mostly web-based. This is because the old business model of selling hard merchandise is no longer a primary revenue stream. Adult content has always spearheaded new technology. So, as cameras evolve and, more importantly, consumer delivery improves, as TVs and broadcast begin to deliver UHD content, we’ll continue to evolve with them. In that respect, technology will always be for the better.”
Interestingly, Ivan, who resents directors/producer living in the past with their big budgets for features, actually pines somewhat for technological days gone by in XXX.
“I would love technology go back towards some film projects,” he confesses. “I love the texture of film and what you can do as a cinematographer with it. But I’m an old film snob of sorts. To me, less sharpness the better. We put makeup on these ladies for a reason. Still, being a co-owner of an Internet company, I’m a huge fan of this new inter-web thingy!”
On the other hand, both James Avalon and Kevin Moore really like to dig their teeth into the latest toys available for directors.
“Cameras, for the most part, have become way better and much cheaper than they have in the past,” chimes Avalon. “I shoot with the Canon 5Dmiii, and get very close to what I got when I was shooting 16mm film in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but without the extra cost and grain from the film processing. Some directors have moved on to Canon’s Cinema version of the 5D — great look, but ergonomically better suited for video shooting. The (newer) cameras also allow me to shoot more with available light, yet it still looks greater than before. Consequently, I can shoot better-looking shows at a lower cost—and producers love to hear that!
“If I had to sum up where porn and technology is headed, it would be: better and cheaper.”
Kevin Moore, however, is not too terribly impressed with the emergence of the outrageously sharp resolution offered by 4K cameras and monitors.
“The problem with 4K,” notes Moore, “is that, unless the consumer has a 4K television or computer monitor, they can't even experience the increase in resolution. On top of that, 4K isn't distributed on physical media. Sony does seem to have a method in the future of releasing Blu-Ray's that support 4K, but how many companies in the industry are putting out movies on Blu-Ray to even begin with?
“Forget 4K. The future is 8K — and that’s roughly the resolution of the naked eye. Japan is starting to move to the 8K market already. The future is 8K and High Dynamic Range. 4K is a pit stop on the road. If the industry wants to stay competitive, we need to really understand these emerging technologies. It’s really an exciting time for video professionals because the cameras ARE going to be able to capture video almost as good as the naked eye in the next several years.”
And speaking of resolution, Will Ryder is hoping that the on-going problem posed by the free sites will eventually be resolved — a problem that, to Ryder, seems to outweigh directors tackling with newfangled electronic toys and gizmos.
“Technology always moves forward and brings us better accessibility, picture quality, and ease of use,” Ryder states, “but it really has no bearing on the current state of the porn production business. No bells or whistles can compete with free, and it's about time that the content thieves — and, yes, I called them thieves because that’s what they are — get brought to the table, either willingly or kicking and screaming, and pay out a proper royalty to the copyright owners upon whom they infringe. The free porn model is not going away, but we have to demand to monetize it and not allow these assholes to merely steal bread from our table.
“I long for the days when the mob financed the porn industry. Can you imagine how this situation would have gone back then?”
This feature originally apppeared on page 50 of the August issue of XBIZ Premiere.