Cohen: Not a Happy Little Conformist
He released “Assraelis” a couple of years ago under his TightFit Productions imprint, delivering a boatload of Jewish and Middle Eastern babes with an impressive disregard for the censorious attitudes of the perpetually offended.
His “Low Art” DVD line is going great guns, and his five-year arrangement with Spice Digital Network continues to spread Cohen’s wares to homes and hotel rooms around the world, cementing his firm’s elite status.
Oren Cohen is enjoying life and building a nice, manageable little empire. As he does, he is also building an archive of diverse and potent porn, with first-rate production values, creative camerawork and an unabashed love for women. He is passionate, articulate, engaging and liable to be pulled over for DWT [Driving While Tattooed] at any time.
So, does he dress in all black, wear a beret and display Art in America and back issues of Lingua Franca on his coffee table? He does consider himself an artist, right?
“I really hate that term [artist], at least when people apply it to themselves,” said Cohen, “and especially in this business. That’s just plain narcissistic. You should only have that term applied to you by others.” People actually have applied the term to him, along with plenty of others, as XBIZ discovered when it cornered the warpspeed wunderkind in mid-February.
XBIZ: You are third generation in the industry, right?
OC: That’s true. At 32 I’m the third generation in porn, but the only one in the family in production. The family was in magazine distribution, and my grandfather on my mother’s side spawned many other companies from his original one, CPLC. Video Team is one of the many operations that grew out of his business.
XBIZ: How did you come to be directing?
OC: Down a winding road, for sure. I’ve been a chef, a painter, an artist and a musician. And I am still playing music, of course. Like music, or anything else, if it’s got a heart, if it comes from someplace real and invites me in, then I can relate to it, respect it and do it. The process of creation is all the fucking same, no matter what the medium is.
XBIZ: Jews built Hollywood. Jews built the porn business. How is it they lose their sense of humor when you do “Assraelis” and talk about Kosher porn?
OC: Not all of them have lost the humor. I saw Jackie Mason recently, doing 90 straight minutes of brilliant shtick without so much as a sip of water. He’s still got it, that’s for sure, the same, sharp, quick delivery. I think some Jews have a real need to relieve the existential angst left from the Holocaust. Hell, from longer ago than that, even, look at the Egyptian experience. Others turn it inside out and laugh about it.
XBIZ: The images you capture range from dreamlike to natural, always with a rich, film-like look. How do you manage that?
OC: Personally, I love the look of film, and have shot film before. I’ve taken digital as close as possible to looking like film. My lighting is learned from the film look, with a soft falling off on the highlights, not that steep “cliff” with digital. I am always perfecting the craft, but the art comes naturally since it’s not something you can practice. I guess you get better at getting out of your own way as time goes on.
XBIZ: Much of today’s product is as alluring as watching the alien autopsy video, don’t you think?
OC: That’s the polar extreme from the look I go for. A lot of stuff is lit like the sales aisles at K-Mart. “Let’s see how flat and bright we can make it look.” It’s like the music business where the mastering engineer just compresses the shit out of everything. Compression just smothers the life out of the music, like going overboard with digital does to porn.
XBIZ: Do you “direct” or do you “capture” performances?
OC: Good way to put it. I don’t direct porn stars, I want them to shut their brains off. I want them to forget any planning and just “become” the process of making porn. I love the ladies, I must say, almost as if I am a big fucking lesbian, avoiding boy-girl shoots as much as possible.
XBIZ: So you don’t plan out every move like some directors do?
OC: It’s not my job to tell anyone how to look or act sexy. Where do porn directors get the idea they’re experts at that? I tell the girls that it’s not my job to tell them how to open up, or plan out their passion and playfulness. I just let them be themselves, which is way better than hammering a circular peg into a square hole. Anyway, who am I to tell people how they should fuck?
XBIZ: How do you get what you need?
OC: Making porn means having the responsibility to the viewer to suck every ounce of passion and beauty out of the woman in front of me. I don’t care about logic, I don’t wonder who will like what, I don’t care about anything but finding that one lady’s inner sexual strength, and giving her a safe, welcoming place to let it happen.
XBIZ: You’re responsible for your part, but what is the girl’s part?
OC: Directing is done backwards a lot. I don’t want the girls to move to me. I want them not to think. It’s just sex, but directors have overcomplicated it, when their job is to preserve the best elements of the experience. So I let performers do what they do best and capture their beauty and passion in action.
XBIZ:Why are you and some others ascending while so many are crashing and burning?
OC: I know what I want from porn, and I think I know what the viewers want. I think people want a reprieve from the contrived bullshit they’ve been force-fed for 15 years now.
XBIZ: How is life on an Oren Cohen set?
OC: Everyone on my set is there because they want to be there. I want them there, too, and I want them to enjoy it. I cook lunch every day for the cast and crew. It’s a family kind of thing. You put your camera down and throw together a leek salad and some fresh pasta. Nice!
XBIZ: You have been in and out and up and down in this business. What changed recently and got you focused?
OC: I’ve struggled for the last four years to care about this industry again, to find my role in it, and I am on my path now. People have called me a lunatic and the more criticism I get, the firmer I am with what I want to do.
XBIZ: Succeeding in this business is difficult at the best of times, yet here you are in a transitional phase, to put it mildly, and you are kicking serious ass. Why?
OC: Frankly, I love the creative destruction going on in the business now. And there is now a two-tiered market for everything, whether it’s music, fashion or porn. You have the best stuff, the top of the line, and it’s that or the free crap since there’s no middle ground anymore. For porn you either pay top dollar for top material, or get the crap for free on the Web, because you might as well save your money if you aren’t willing to get the best.
XBIZ: As a businessman, shouldn’t you be cutting costs, “just in case”?
OC: Nope. I stick with high-quality production because I think that when people have less, it’s good to offer more. If there’s a way to do something better I want to find it. In any field, if you’re doing good work and producing stuff leaps and bounds above your competitors, people will find you. The people that want to find you, of course, are less numerous than those who want free clips, but they are out there.
XBIZ: Is there any precedent for this current porn slump?
OC: It’s not just the financial crisis hitting porn, there’s a natural cycle going on, too, like leaves falling off trees. People will always buy porn, but change is constant. Gonzo is done, for all the reasons we’ve talked about. Somewhere along the line we lost the true vision of what porn is, and tried to be Hollywood. I don’t know about you, but a CGI pirate ship just doesn’t get it for me. I don’t get hot thinking about walking the plank.
XBIZ: How do you read the attitudes of other producers and studios?
OC: As far as the studios now, big or little, no one has cash, and people are singing the blues. But it’s time for an honesty check. Maybe they’re singing the blues because they make crap, you know? Crap used to sell, like everything else. Magazines used to sell. Now look. You have to face reality and grow up. Being an adult is not having your cake and not thinking about it anymore.
XBIZ: Great slogan. Got any others?
OC: I am an open book that no one wants to read.
XBIZ: How about, “Success is powered by passion”?
OC: That’s it. I don’t care what your talent or your gig is, you shouldn’t do it if you’re not passionate about it. I have two kids and I tell them this: If you love something, are passionate about it and want to devote yourself to it, you will be all right. If I can teach them that, I’ve succeeded as a parent. When performers learn the same thing from me, I’ve succeeded as a director, too.
XBIZ: Final thoughts on the stock market, the TV season or the government?
OC: My definition of good government is gridlock. If they are stuck in committees and filibusters and all, then they can’t be passing laws to further control or censor us. The “Powers That Be” have people focusing on the little screens in front of them and not looking at the world around them. Government, schools, TV and advertising keep people pacified. Not me. I am just not a happy little conformist, you know?