Why I Should Pay For My Porn

There are a million blog posts and opinion pieces from industry insiders young and old about how, in this day and age, it is more important than ever to pay for your porn. As much as I totally agree with this viewpoint, hell my livelihood depends on it, there’s not a lot I can add to this discussion. There is one person who I think, more than anybody else, needs to pay for their porn… And that person is me.

Considering I’m not in Southern California or Miami, the talent pool available to me is considerably smaller. That means that, above all else, the talent must be well taken care of. The producers working on the east coast of Australia are few, so many of these performers have other sources of income. They escort, they do cam work, they self-produce their own content and sell it through OnlyFans or ManyVids or through their own sites. Some of them even, like myself, have day jobs. They work in admin or sales or IT or nursing or whatever considerably less interesting civvie job they’ve wrangled. At the end of the day, some of want to do porn full time, some of them probably don’t. But they’ve all gotta eat.

When I first started putting my feelers out into the Twitter world of the sex industry I was shocked by the incredible hustle that these cats were putting on. They pay photographers to shoot pro level portraiture for their ads and their social media; they’re engaging with followers all day every day on Twitter and IG and Snapchat; they’re camming for eight to fourteen hours at a time, hustling for tokens on MyFreeCams or wherever; they’re filming solo and hardcore content, editing and releasing it themselves, then advertising it through every other channel they’ve got for five to fifteen bucks a pop; escorts especially are touring all over the country every other week, booking gigs months in advance; a lot of them are writing or speaking on the issues affecting them and their industry; some of them are getting hell political in the face of draconian measures that put their fellow workers’ safety at risk.

Sex work has a hard-out emphasis on -work-. I’m watching these feeds go by and it’s non-stop.

I’m not saying every single one of them wants to be full time porn star. But I’m of the opinion that if you go to a shoot that takes the whole day, that puts your body through some serious work, you ought to get compensated appropriately; and, it’s not like there’s no upkeep needed to keep a human body porn shoot ready.

That’s not necessarily what has been lost in the age of not paying for porn. Performers turn up, they do their thing, and they get paid to do that job. But the reduced budgets show up in other ways, and you will have noticed it. Smaller budgets are reflected in the loss of the adjacent crew members. You can’t have a dedicated lighting tech, so the lighting rigs have become simpler, down to as simple as just sticking an LED array on top of the camera. Same goes for a sound engineer/recordist/boom operator, so the sound quality drops right off. There’s no gaffer or best boy or second assistant director running around make the set run smoothly. There’s no dedicated costume or hair and make-up, so performers are just wearing what they own and doing their own face and their own hair. There’s no craft services, no samovars of coffee or bags of crisps even. And because there’s no creature comforts on set, nothing beyond the absolute basics, the best thing to do for everybody involved is just to get the footage in the can and let everybody go home.

So that’s why I need to pay for my porn.

I need to pay my talent on the better end of market rates, which is not uncommon; but, I do it because I’m asking them to act and learn a script as well as fuck on camera. I need to shell out for a boom operator and a first assistant director who knows lighting, so the porn I make looks and sounds as good as it possibly can. I need to pay for the talents of a cosmetic generalist and accept the time that adds to the day to make sure the talent looks perfect and their costume has had more than zero thought put into it. Because of the extra time that having those specialists bring their talents to bear on shoot day, I have to pay for craft services, water, coffee, tea and snacks. After the shoot is done, I take time with editing, colour correction, and post processing before putting the product out in the world and, as they say, that time is money. I choose to pay the performers again by offering a generous referral system that allows them to bring their incredible hustle to bear on the movies that they make with Debauched Films and continue to get their piece of the pie after the cameras have long stopped rolling.

When people say you should pay for your porn, their talking about paying someone like me, a producer, or the owner of a site. But doing so means that people like me can pay for their porn in kind; to make the best porn possible and pay talented people what they deserve.

Please, let me pay for my porn.

All The Things I Didn’t Know

When I started this, there were a lot of things I knew, or thought I knew, and a lot of things I didn’t know.

I knew I was going to be up against it handing off a fifteen-page script to people who aren’t trained actors. I knew that would be compounded by trying to shoot said scripts in a single day and in a single location, for an amount of money that would make even the most hardened indie filmmaker sweat. I knew that putting together a film crew would be tricky, considering the subject matter, and the fact that it has been a long time since I have stopped maintaining the network of young, open-minded creatives I once associated with. I knew it was going to be tricky, legally, as the grey area that the porn industry (and the entire sex industry) operates in within Australia keeps getting narrower and closer to black.

I figured it was going to be tricky, or at least expensive, to get a specialist entertainment lawyer to draft, or review, my likeness rights contracts and give me an honest assessment as to my legal rights and risks. I knew that the traditionally shadowy industry of porn might be totally impossible to break into, as other producers, both domestic and international, sought to protect their market share and their talent pool. I knew that the golden heyday of online porn as a license to print money was long dead. I knew that free streaming sites and torrent sites were the first stops for consumers looking to find even the most niche pornography. I knew that people only paid for porn that they couldn’t find on those sites, that it had to be of a quality, or content, or style that could appeal to a world that can get the latest tentpole superhero film for free two weeks before it comes out. I knew that, even without the added challenge of being a rookie producer, I had an extremely uphill battle ahead of me.

What I didn’t know, as it turns out, was that the terms of service of nearly every film industry freelancer website in the country flat out precludes companies in the adult industry from using their services. I didn’t know a large-scale selection of new laws passed in the US were going to aggressively excise the sex industry from its traditional online spaces and send it even deeper underground all across the Western world. I couldn’t have possibly foreseen that right at the time I was looking to court actresses and actors, they would be being “shadow-banned” from Twitter and having their client networks closed off to them; that, rightfully so, their feelings of trust and safety would be at an all-time low as they were backed into a corner by zealous legislators and law enforcement across the globe. I didn’t know that Craigslist would purge its personals section completely, in response to the almost certain future misuse of the just passed FOSTA, and that Backpage.com and Cracker.com would be seized by the FBI, shuttering them globally.

I also didn’t know that porn producers already established in the field, who make content both locally and for large international distributors, would be extremely generous with their time, knowledge and resources to ensure that this greenhorn producer is on the right track. I didn’t know that the producers already working placed such a great value on ensuring that the “ethical porn” industry in Australia. I didn’t know that when I put out my feelers into the broad network of Australian sex workers on social media, that almost immediately my DMs would be lit up with messages of interest, support and excitement. I didn’t know that the avenues for distribution and release were so vast and so global, because I had blinkered myself somewhat by only think about English speaking countries and markets. I didn’t know that the porn industry had moved from talent agents (almost entirely non-existent in Australia) to a social media network where it has become kosher to contact a potential actor or actress directly.

I didn’t know that I could go to Netflix and watch multiple documentaries and series about the modern state of porn and the history of the industry. I didn’t know that women like Michelle Flynn, Madison Young and Erika Lust have written thousands of words and given talks and shared their thoughts and their expertise and their passion on why porn and the porn industry can and should be better.

I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I knew that, for as long as I could remember, I wanted to write and direct thoughtful, contemporary films. I knew, from the moment a friend of mine jokingly suggested it after I finished my film school education, that I should make porn. I knew that there was a place for thoughtful, well lit, beautifully shot and cleanly edited porn. I knew I had to make it; and now I knew that I could.

My Personal Tenets of Pornography

After the last long rant about how ethical pornography should be the only pornography, it has occurred to me that I should probably share my personal rules for the making of good and healthy erotica. I wouldn’t want there to be any doubt that I am ready to walk the walk, after so vigorously talking the talk. So, without further ado, please enjoy my nudey film manifesto.

 

The rules:

Narrative first

A big issue I have with modern, mainstream pornography is the total lack of narrative. I’m not saying every single film has to be two hours long with a standard three act structure, but even a five-minute set up could have more story, more honest narrative motivation than: “One day me and my friend were SO HORNY. It was then that I noticed that my friend’s step-brother was SO HOT. And then I went in the pool and he leered at me so me and my friend double BJ’d him.”

And that’s when they bother to give you a story at all. When you’re watching gonzo POV stuff it’s easy to think ‘Well, this is reality, it doesn’t need a story,’ but you’re actually being sold the laziest story of all. Some Producer/Director/Camera Op/Penis holding a GoPro asks some nineteen-year-old a bunch of tired questions to which she gives fake answers. A fake name, a fake age, a fake sexual history, a fake desire to be a porn star and a fake understanding of just how that experience is going to go. They’re as fake as those fake casting couches and fake “fake” taxi services. So, if even the “real” porn is fake, then we should at least put some time and effort in to quality fakery. Even a decade ago, the only “true” porn was made with handycams and leaked by wounded, vindictive exes. Now the “true” porn is monetised, faux girlfriend experience taking place on MyFreeCams, Snapchat and Onlyfans.

Sex is a messy, complex, complicated act and the motivations for involving yourself in it are, arguably, the most interesting part. When I show people fucking, I want you to believe they earned it, that it changed them, that their lives existed before it and continued after it.

 

Representation matters

If you go into production with the attitude that narrative is the most important thing, then the next thing that must fall by the wayside is the fetishisation of qualities and of individuals, or fetish in the place of genre. The BBWs, the big black cocks, the redheads, the traps, the MILFs, the GILFs, the bears, the twinks and every other tag for quick, optimised searching has to go. If the key to great porn is narrative, as I believe it to be, then the character should be played as written and as directed. It matters not at all that they are big, or small, or massively hung, or old, or young. If the actions and motivations of the character in the script do not preclude the casting of a talent that would have otherwise been a fetishized facsimile, go for it. There’s nothing wrong with fetish, but the commodification of type in porn production is at best reductive, at worst actually harmful. The most obvious example being that ‘Interracial’ is not a genre, it’s a casting choice. Come on.

It makes sense to give people a heads up if they’re getting some hardcore, forced, watersports, scat, BDSM, or other -actual- fetish content. But I think you can absolutely stop there. Making the title of your film ‘BBW MILFs Love Young Black Cock 17’ is an admission that your narrative is so weak that it is less important than your actors respective ages, dong colour and body sizes. And, frankly, there are better ways to goose your Google results.

 

Content awareness is social awareness

Porn’s oft-repeated criticism, that it is the power fantasies of underdeveloped male brains, was at least somewhat credible when we were dealing with the Vivid videos of yesteryear. Where every hot co-ed was only a flat tyre away from an explosion of bisexual nymphomania, and all you had to do was be the lucky soul who swung by with your tyre iron out. Today, the criticism that porn portrays unrealistic and dangerous representations of sexuality… Well… I mean it’s still not -totally- untrue, is it?

When you focus on narrative, you can spend your time creating realistic, healthy depictions of even the most extreme sex acts. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with, or any credible argument against, consenting adults exploring the realms of fetish and fantasy, both light and dark. Out there in the world is a person whose only turn on is the idea of a Eurasian professional golfer in a yellow polo shirt vomiting onto the back of an Italian chef, and I absolutely want that person to find (or better yet, commission) an adult video that can scratch that itch for them.

Where porn has historically misrepresented and warped the reality, the healthy ideal, of sexual relationships comes in the way it handles power dynamics. I choose, as a director, to depict strong, equal interactions between sexual partners, where sex is a positive, healthy experience. This is a personal choice. When I see porn, the sex education of choice for an entire generation, normalising the idea that it is appropriate, even desirable, for a situation where a step-father catches his step-daughter smoking to end in a facial… I just can’t understand it. This is not a condemnation of the industry as a whole. Porn doesn’t -have- to be realistic or responsible in its representation of sex, because at the end of the day it is not reality. It has the same moral deniability as video games and mainstream cinema. But I think there’s no harm in trying to be better.

The idea of sex as punishment, as barter, as a means of social or interpersonal domination could absolutely be seen less in porn. That clear lines of consent should be shown and respected. That socially irresponsible representations of pairings that would tear apart families or communities (step-familial, teacher-student, et al) can probably just be skipped all together without losing much in the way of quality content.

 


 

There’s more to this of course. I feel that ‘porn’ does its best work when it is not the genre, but instead works best as an ad-genre that can be attached to the front of others (porn-horror, porn-drama, porn-comedy, and so on). I think that the porn parody may be porn’s greatest cultural contribution. The porn is one of maybe three film areas where the idea of behind-the-scenes content is even remotely interesting. The list goes on. I managed to bang out a thousand words without getting through half of what I wanted to talk about; but, porn is the industry of the never-ending series, so let’s call this part 1.

Shooting Great Sex

The key, I think, to shooting great sex, is the same as shooting anything else: Time.

Time for your performers and time for you.

Over the course of the day, we might shoot across a couple different locations. We definitely shoot for coverage, first getting our wide shots, any mobile shots, shooting close ups for that emotive touch. In that time, we have to move lights around, make sure we’ve got fill on our actors faces, that continuity remains while taking advantage of the moving frame limits. We’ll put on and remove lavaliere microphones, hang booms inches above actors faces just outside of frame. We’ll run take after take, refining the performance between actors and director until it’s all just… Perfect.

Then, our actors strip down and we shoot the intra-sexual dialogue scenes, usually in close up. This gives us a little more flexibility in terms of lighting and sound, as well as ensuring we get our close-ups and dialogue recorded before everyone gets too sweaty, flushed, dishevelled or otherwise anointed with fluids. It’s not that I’m worried about the photogenic-ness of our actors during a supposedly mid-coitus bit of talking; sometimes, I think it’s got to be way harder for us to get that look using make up and some tactical hair tousling than it would be to interrupt our actors during the act.

Except for one thing.

In a lot of mainstream porn, the actors spend a good amount of their time in positions that are designed to maximise camera and lighting exposure. These contortions, constant interruptions to get a particular shot, a particular angle, to put the talent into a specific body configuration destroy the natural flow of sex. The way I shoot, the way I try to shoot, is to let my actors get going with their sex scene and, once they’ve started, then try to interrupt them as little as possible. I set my lighting in a nice, even, versatile way before the sex actually begins, and move with a reflector if I need a quick fill on a certain angle. I’ll run a boom microphone and throw a shotgun on top of my camera (not how I usually like to capture sound, but this part of the film is a single take kind of deal).

The whole point is I want to interrupt, or distract, the two or three people who are focusing on getting down as little as possible. I want to give the talent the most amount of space possible to work their magic. No long breaks while we reset lighting rigs, no arguments about framing with the DP or lenses being held in front the of the guys face so we can get that POV doggie angle. Hell, the ideal is that the talent legitimately forgets that me and my crew are in the room. I’d love to see them talk to each other, negotiate what they want from each other, worry about each other’s pleasure and their own performance like people actually do when they have sex. I’d edit around a guy having to hold himself back from blowing his wad early fifty times over fighting to get both players back to the level we need them at after a fifteen-minute lighting change break. Every interruption takes the talent further from the moment, from the scene; from the idea that they are two people actually having sex.

It’s a bit like reverse Stanislavski. You’re asking these two people to actually have sex on camera, in character as two people who are having sex. Are they method acting? Two actors in mainstream film wouldn’t have to worry about it. They can pretend to have sex like they pretend to do everything else. In the porn industry, there’s an expectation that we want them to have real sex in a fake story; and, no expectation that we would give them the time or the space to worry about characterisation, about the role, about getting into the mindset of the character or worrying about their backstory. We expect the sex to be real. Real, actual sex between people who have no chance to consider why they are there. It’s almost no wonder that the industry has fallen back on everyone being choked, hair-pulled, spat on, tit slapped and throat fucked. At least, to the average viewer, you’ve added a layer of complexity to these characters who are getting at it.

“Oh,” they say to themselves, “he likes to be a bit rough, and she likes it a bit rough.”

Or she doesn’t. It actually doesn’t matter. It’s not a directorial choice, a character choice, an organic moment that the actress found through her study and work. It’s as fake as a face full of pina colada mix.

My point is that once the lines are shot, once the script is down, and it’s time to put the sex bit on film. I want to give my actors the best possible chance to follow natural, characterised urges and impetus. I want to do that by giving them space and time and a chance to direct themselves and each other. Therein, I think, lies the best sex and, consequently, the absolute best porn.

How To Write a Porno

The average Debauched Films screenplay (for one of our short scenes) is 10 -15 pages long. Of those fifteen pages, approximately half a page is dedicated to actual sex. Which is to say, a vague description of how each character should behave during the act (“X is domineering, bordering on rough” or “Y takes the lead early, but encourages Z to be a bit more aggressive as it goes on”). It may stretch out longer if there is a lot of mid-coital discourse, but never by very much. After all, we don’t want to interrupt the flow of the great sex by bogging it down with too much dialogue. I trust the talent to take those simple directions and, with a little on set guidance from the director, turn it into striking, sexy, sex.

I have been doing a lot of reading about the way a lot of modern porn is shot, and the general consensus is something along the lines of: “the script is one page long, there’s 30 seconds of direction and the rest of the time is spent trying to get the actors to bend their bodies in such a way that they are not blocking the light from each other’s genitals”. Beyond even that, in the gonzo stuff, no script and the direction is all given on camera by the man holding it. I can see how, in that fast-paced industry where performers are going from shoot to shoot, sometimes just in the other rooms of the same California mansion, and when you’re trying to squeeze a scene and a photoset out of one coupling, time spent talking about fucking is time spent not fucking, and time spent not fucking is unprofitably spent time.

Years ago, I was considered an up and coming young playwright. I won a couple of awards, been selected for a few prestigious programs, worked with some real theatre glitterati. I was right in the middle of “emerging”, which is the category of artist above “amateur” but below “professional”. It is also the most elongated step, traditionally. The one where people will happily work with you, put you on programs at festivals and whatnot, but are very reluctant to give you any money. It’s also the step where most people give up. I wasn’t a trust fund kid, so I couldn’t emerge forever.

I come to porn scripts with the writing habits of a contemporary dramatist. I spend way too much time doubling back and moving a single word back a forth within a line. I laser focus on dialogue and spend way too much time thinking about the backstory of my characters. I spend my lunch breaks at work proofing scripts with a red marker. My (non-sexual) stage directions are so needlessly complex, my final draft edits almost always remove around eighty percent of them. The third or fourth script I wrote, I gave the second draft to my wife and her feedback, god bless her, was “It doesn’t really make sense for them to have sex”. I could have cried. I went back and did a near total rewrite, because that was literally the thing I feared most of all. I had to tear the whole thing down and start again to fix it, but it was absolutely worth it.

I have a dream that one day I’ll be able to jump on the Blacklist, pick out any great script with at least three sex scenes in it, option it (by throwing a fat stack of cash at some up-and-coming screenwriter) and Blumhouse the hell out of it with some up and coming actors who are not shy of fucking on camera. I want to make porn so damn good that people just refer to it as a great movie, rather than a great porno. Porn that somehow defeats the odds and picks up a BAFTA or a SAG award. And there’s really only one way to get there. Those lofty and unrealistic goals aside, if I want to make great porn, I’ll focus on starting with a great script.

On Making “Ethical” Porn

The porn industry has a bad reputation. Like it or not, deserved or not, there is the perception that, simmering just below our streets and cities there lies a stagnant pool of filth and degeneracy that laps at the doorways of civilised society. Every news article, every documentary that ventures into the perverse wasteland of San bernadino comes out with something along the lines of the same trite realisation:

‘The porn industry is a slavering beast that devours innocence.’

The porn industry is presented as the kind of place wherein the best possible outcome, the only “success story” to speak of, is to somehow escape with a little money in your pocket and with your sanity, your purity, intact. The media serves us so many stories of the girls who make stacks of money, then immediately blow it all on drugs to cope with the machinations by which that money was made. Who find love, shacking up with some director or agent, only to be ditched when pregnant for some new hot young thing, for which the industry, and its participants, have an unending hunger. Even without the behind the scenes insight, without the stories of the industry’s greatest stars seeing jail time and hopping in and out of rehab, without the stories of young girls going home to Who-gives-a-fuck, Idaho with a selection of STDs and broken dreams of stardom, porn is considered a fundamentally dirty industry; a quality it shares with all industries that commodify sex.

So, as with the great GMO scare, the backlash against sow stalls and caged chickens, and horn-rimmed architects erecting minimalist recycled plastic Scandinavian flat pack houses on land proudly acknowledged to be the property of traditional owners, porn has started to see the commodification of “ethical” production. It’s hard not to laugh at the idea of free-range, barn fed porn stars who fuck freely in the sunlight; safe from the injustices suffered by their caged counterparts in the cramped agent owned share houses of Miami. In the first episode of Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On, Erika Lust compares her ethical porn to free-range eggs; and, as with free-range eggs, some (generally affluent, middle class) sectors of the market have come to prove that they will pay a slight premium to know that the product that they are consuming inflicted no unnecessary suffering.

To speak of ethical porn as other, as separate to the majority of porn, is to codify that term with the message that any porn that does not designate itself “ethical” is in fact “unethical”. This may sit poorly with those who work in the mainstream, for the big companies, who recruit cam girls from the flyover states and bring them out to California to make their big break without false pretences. Who pay their talent a fair rate and hire them only to work as often as can be up-kept by the human body without having to pop four Cialis and shoot a needle full of TriMix into their dick. There must be those in the industry who behave ethically, who are working ethically, but have no interest in or ability to brand themselves as ethical pornographers.

Ethical production, not limited to porn, is a traditionally small business mentality. It comes from the same place as smallholding farmers and artisanal producers. It flies in the face of mass production, outsourcing and ‘efficiency over all’. When we look at the beautifully shot, but clearly low budget work coming from, say, the queer pornographers working out of Europe and Australia. It is so easy to see, and believe, that they are not exploiting their performers, their crew. Their ethics are unlikely to be represented in the cost of labour, but on giving a voice to the traditionally marginalised. I would wager that no individual performer, crew member or director working in the small production houses is making as much per video, or per day, as one of the mainstream multi-site conglomerate crews, but in the world of low budget filmmaking, let alone low budget porn, that is the nature of the beast. Being compensated in line with the budget is not unethical by nature. Low remuneration, as in any industry, is only unethical if it’s used to wield power.

‘Ethical porn’ as a product, as a category, can be as simple as cruelty-free; you can buy this DVD, or subscribe to this site, secure in the knowledge that nobody was mistreated, tortured, drugged, kidnapped, trafficked, coerced or ripped off. It can be representational, ethical because you shine a light or give an opportunity to a subset of people usually pushed to the margins. It can be progressive, negating the fetishisation of age, body, race, gender or ability, normalising what is usually considered “other” in an industry renowned for tag-based search engine optimisation. Ethical can be an ethos, or an agenda; it can be applied as a marketing tool, a hiring policy, in the content you create or your distribution method. It should be proudly held up as a torch against the historical perception of porn as an industry. And it should be clearly indicated and clearly communicated as to what makes your product ethical; how you create within those boundaries and why.

For the consumers, I’ll say this: There should absolutely be a feeling of guilt, deep in your being, when you watch porn where some mid-western rube has been lured to a Miami hotel room only to find, too late, that she’s probably not going to be in Vogue. It should feel like eating a cage egg or sow stall pork; which is to say, totally unnecessary when it’s only the slightest bit more expensive to go with the less cruel option. It’s one thing to use porn fulfil a basic human need, but another to do it at the price of the dehumanization, or exploitation, of somebody else. What is now marketed as ‘ethical pornography’ should be the standard for production, and consumers shouldn’t accept anything less.