Q&A: Greg Lansky Leads a Porn Renaissance
LOS ANGELES — Greg Lansky sculpts pornography with stained glass reverence, subjecting his artistry to the ruthless crucible of perfectionism… lest he craft anything less than rarefied sexual poetry. And though mediocrity oft conspires against excellence, he has swept aside all doubters and naysayers with the conviction of a lone philosopher, gazing deeply into unseen cinematic dimensions.
He foresaw the rise of internet-driven content, abandoning DVDs in their time of greatest profitability to brave uncharted territories. And when the adult industry was driven to its knees, beggared by banditry and tectonic market shifts, Lansky was already positioned for phoenix transcendence. To the uninitiated, he was naught but a gambler and a madman, until they beheld the glory that is Tushy.com’s anal dominance and Blacked.com’s interracial supremacy.
Now, his uncompromising zealotry has converted such a multitude of faithful crusaders, that Lansky is expanding his empire into a mighty trifecta with the launch of Vixen.com... through which he forges diversely erotic realms of boy/girl, girl/girl and group sex. And, those valiant valkyries who truly prove their mettle are anointed with the blessed rank of Vixen Angel, bejeweled by a Tiffany necklace, fitted with Vixen-themed Louboutins and garbed in bespoke Vixen lingerie regalia. The first among them is Kendra Sunderland, whose wings are unfurling with a flaming majesty fit to challenge solar storms.
At once aggressively passionate and visually sublime, Lansky's works are unmistakably branded by an auteur’s approach to filmmaking. For the only unforgiveable sin in his playbook is delivering a boring product. He would sooner fail in his endeavors than offer up forgettable, formulaic drivel. That he has won numerous XBIZ Awards for his efforts is a testament to his elite stature. Merely gracing the cover of his titles is so coveted an honor, so gilded an achievement, that career trajectories bound higher than ever soon thereafter.
To sketch a more detailed portraiture of so great a master, whose contributions amount to a filmic Sistine Chapel in the adult industry, XBIZ explored the hallowed gallery with Lansky.
XBIZ: You’ve come a long way since your days of directing New Sensations titles in 2006, as evidenced by the meteoric success of Blacked.com and Tushy.com, not to mention the newly released Vixen.com. What lessons from those early forays into adult still resonate strongly for you?
Greg Lansky: When I started in the adult industry 11 years ago, the business was very different. Most of the studios that were around at the time are gone today, but New Sensations is not. Scott Taylor, the owner, always had fantastic leadership and a great attention to quality. At the time, most of the studios were competing on who could deliver the most obscene and ridiculous content, but New Sensations stayed true to their brand and never went that route. I definitely learned that you should not play your competitor’s game and stay true to your vision. Never be defined by other businesses.
I also learned that taking risks was actually the safest thing to do. DVD sales were very strong at the time and web was really considered the secondary market. Some of the bigger name models would even refuse to work for “web companies” — it was sort of viewed as a lesser market. However, I knew that it was only a matter of time before that dynamic was going to be reversed and I knew I had to do something about it. So, I changed my career path and joined a web-only company. A lot of people told me it was career suicide, because no one was taking web companies seriously and they didn’t even credit their directors, so I should stay with DVDs. I was in it for the long run and I knew eventually this would pay off because of the amazing ability of the internet to reach so many people, so fast. I did not think my career was meant to be a limiting factor, but rather an enabler. So at the time, I gave up on credits, prestige, awards and recognition to learn from the best on the web.
XBIZ: For many years, you worked on Reality Kings brands, in what you once described as “a mastermind group” that afforded plenty of creative freedom. Have you fostered a similar environment within your companies?
Lansky: Absolutely. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that boring is invisible! And it’s especially true on the internet. It’s better to risk being wrong than being boring. We’ve actually just moved into a new office that’s a big open floor plan where everyone collaborates and shares ideas. No cubicles, no boundaries between people. Blacked and Tushy… and now Vixen… truly attracted fantastic people who refused to create boring, low quality adult films. I put my team first and I want them to be proud of what they do — I want them to be happy and strive in an environment that encourages innovations and creativity. And yes, our office is pretty awesome and we’re very proud of it!
XBIZ: As a native Parisian and longtime admirer of Marc Dorcel and Joe D’Amato, is there a uniquely “French” approach you draw upon to fashion such a refined aesthetic in your work?
Lansky: I don’t know if it’s a French thing but I have a passion for beauty and cinematic imagery. I consider adult performers as true artists and adult movies as art. Sadly, we live in a society that discriminates against adult workers and adult businesses, but I consider what we collectively do as art. Ultimately, I think that the models — males and females — should be presented in a light that showcases their beauty and personality. I love fashion and modern art. I surround myself with incredible, creative and successful people, because you become whom you hang with. I collaborate with artists and creative individuals who constantly challenge my vision and help the brands achieve something truly impactful. Remarkable products and remarkable people get talked about. Being the best is what we strive for. Customers will pick the market leaders and narrow their options to the top.
XBIZ: Since the genesis of Blacked.com, which was forged by you and industry veteran Steve Matthyssen, how has your collaborative dynamic evolved? Is there a clearly defined system in place for how roles are divvied up across your labels?
Lansky: Steve and I have an incredible collaboration that works. We have very different personalities and it helps the business achieve a perfect balance. We are all about systems in our company but we both also recognize the importance of getting everyone involved in brainstorming discussions. I’ve learned that sometimes the quietest person in the room may have the best ideas. Since I’m never the quietest one in the room I’ve learned to observe. We both believe that bringing people from different departments also brings a fresh outlook and new ideas. Creativity and innovations are the top focus of our company. Everyone in our team is design-driven — that’s part of our core values. We have a total commitment to design and innovations.
XBIZ: You are a voracious reader with a penchant for non-fiction books, especially of the psychological variety. What insights into the human mind have been most helpful in navigating the business side of adult?
Lansky: I try and read a book every week but sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow it. I’ve learned that ultimately you have to be authentic. You cannot fool people. Providing real quality to customers pays off. I see marketing as an investment not an expense. Good branding and good quality together are very powerful. I’ve also learned to never try to “please everyone.” We really focus on listening to our real customers and we do our best to create a connection with them. You can’t figure out what customers “really want” because most of them have no clue what they want! I didn’t know that I wanted green tea or a show about knights and dragons called “Games of Thrones,” but when I was presented with it, I loved it. Customers will not give you a road map to their heart, so if you really want to have an impact, all you can do is lead. Asking won’t work.
XBIZ: Now that you’ve conquered the interracial and hardcore anal niches of the market, what genres will you pursue next?
Lansky: We have many exciting projects to deliver but the important thing is to make sure we keep our commitment to quality and I count on our loyal audience to let us know if we deviate from this mission. The power created by Blacked and Tushy should be used to create more value for fans and more ways for adult performers to make a great living and that’s what we did by creating our new brand Vixen.com. We created Vixen with the same passion as Blacked and Tushy, and with wonderful quality and better value for fans. It’s been an exciting year where my ambitious creativity and borderline-unhealthy level of perfectionism has guided me through this journey. Vixen won’t be focused on a specific niche and will offer diversity. Some customers enjoy watching exclusively a genre and some enjoy diversity — that’s what Vixen stands for. We plan on exploring many different themes, girl-girl being one of them that is highly requested by our customers.
XBIZ: Despite the risky nature of courting a high-end niche consumer base, you have executed on your vision with savvy precision, often in the face of contrary industry strategies. Will you keep sticking to your guns? Do you invest any significant resources in researching the current market landscape?
Lansky: Two years ago, we started Blacked, and then Tushy. We focused on delivering a superior quality of adult films and a wonderful customer experience. People thought we were crazy and that we would fail because no one wanted to “pay” for expensive quality adult films. Instead, we focused our studios on the touches so many fans were looking for: better quality movies, exciting visuals, great photography and real customer service. And we built a very loyal following.
I am so proud that our unique cinematic films and brands have won every major adult award. It’s humbling. We also did something almost unimaginable in times of free porn and rampant piracy — the studios won the hearts and fierce loyalty of fans around the world. People love Blacked and Tushy! Fans who bought memberships and DVDs were offered a product of quality and real customer service in a market that was two years ago completely demoralized. People emailed us saying they were glad they paid for their porn and they did not feel cheated by what we delivered them. It may seem obvious but if you pick a concept or niche you love, you will increase your chances of success. Passion sells. I do not let anything discourage me.
There's no bad niche to pick, just bad execution. I think it’s important to have empathy for your customers and care deeply about how your work will affect them but… it’s important to stick to your vision no matter what. I’ve learned to never do anything in anticipation of what people “may think.” I make it because I believe in it, because I ultimately would pay for it. I believe that if you copy what has been done before just because it feels safe and that “niche” or market seems like it’s doing well, then nothing remarkable has happened. Of course, I don't want to come up with something beyond outrageous or stupid just to be different, but the art is to push it far enough that it's original, but not too far that it's just not marketable. In other words, understanding where the line between ridiculous and boring is.
So yes, I will “stick to my guns” — I’d rather be wrong than boring.
XBIZ: Fan feedback can be a difficult minefield to cross. How do you incorporate the requests of loyal customers into your work, while still marching to the beat of your own drum?
Lansky: We are very close to our members. I personally read some of the comments, feedback and emails. Sometimes I will even reply to comments and support tickets myself because it’s important to stay close to your audience. Like I said earlier, you can’t expect your customers to give you a play by play on what will satisfy them. You must create something fun and exciting and it might not necessarily be something they expected.
However, I would advise all my fellow entrepreneurs and artists to be careful when they read comments and feedback about their work. It can be dangerous. At this point, I do not let reviews or anonymous comments on social media influence my vision. Worrying about unanimous feedback and pleasing everyone will actually paralyze your creativity. Creating anything is a very personal and scary process and most of us will look for validation... we check our Twitter feed, forum comments, Instagram… but you can’t listen to every bit of random feedback because trying to please everyone always fails. If, like me, you read a hundred positive comments and one negative one, and the negative comment is the one sticking in your head, then you need to stop reading anything until your project is where you want it to be.
There's no economic logic here at all. Between these little bits of anonymous feedback and the actual sales you are going to make... it's all about ego — once you can separate that and focus on what you truly think is good, that's when you win and connect. I think that after you create a site or a movie, it's done. What the audience does with it is out of your control. As a team, we figure out whom our brands and movies are for and we get better at connecting with that audience. We ignore the noise.
XBIZ: What is your primary objective for the rest of 2016 and beyond as far as expanding the enterprise?
Lansky: Our primary objective will be to keep innovating and continuing to elevate our standards of quality across all of our brands — Blacked, Tushy and now Vixen. I also want to explore girl-girl on Vixen.com since our loyal audience has clearly requested it and it’s been one of my absolute favorite genres to produce over the years. Our team is greatly expanding and I love hearing from talented people who want to join us, so if anyone who reads this feels like they can contribute, please email me.