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.