A Blockbuster for the Ages
Oh, sure, it would be easy to rest on the laurels of “Pirates,” to ride that success through a few more sequels and Digital Playground would probably still make a ton of money doing so. It sure seems to work in the mainstream, not to mention porn. But that’s not the way things work at Digital Playground.
For the two of you still unfamiliar, “Pirates” was released as a Digital Playground/Adam & Eve co-production in 2005 and went on to become unquestionably the biggest adult title in the modern era of adult entertainment. That success is both a curse and a blessing.
The blessing is that it already has a built-in brand name and “Pirates: Stagnetti’s Revenge” will sell like wildfire no matter how good or bad it is. The curse is that, unlike the first one, a standard has been set and viewers have exceptionally high expectations. And Digital Playground has gone to great lengths — and expense — not just to meet them, but to exceed them.
The first question is always about the budget, and like everyone else in the industry, no one wants to talk exact figures. Well-placed contacts estimate that “Pirates” cost upwards of $1 million when the filming, marketing and everything else was accounted for. For the sequel, the company’s owners Joone and Samantha Lewis, both said that the budget went 10 times that of the original. Do the math and we’re looking at an adult movie that, in 2008, a time when features, big-budget movies and DVD sales are all reported to be dying and dying quickly, cost somewhere around $10 million. (Sources say this figure seems perfectly reasonable and could even well exceed that.)
The bottom line is, and everyone from retailers to competitors to distributors says the same thing, “Pirates” continues to rack up robust sales even three years after its release. And now the much-anticipated sequel is finally on shelves.
“When we did ‘Pirates’ we had the luxury of people having no perception or expectation of what they were going to see,” Digital Playground cofounder, ‘Pirates II’ co-writer (with Max Massimo) and director Joone said. “Once they saw it and when it came to number two, we wanted not just to make it a little bit better, we wanted to give that same ‘wow’ factor and kind of feeling that they got when they saw the first one where they go, ‘Wow, this is great!’ That was tremendous pressures all around to get to that point, which meant better story, better characters, better everything.”
Joone, who spent a year and a half working on the second “Pirates,” was in the unusual position of being behind the script and direction as well as producing it, which meant that, while trying to write the best possible script, he was constantly aware of how much each scene was going to cost.
“One thing is, when you’re writing a movie and you’re the producer of it, you’re kind of your own worst enemy,” he said. “You’ll think of an idea and then go, ‘Whoa, that’s going to cost a lot of money.’ You’re constantly battling yourself to try to make a really cool movie but be able to make it practical so that you can actually make it.”
The actual filming took over a month. The film includes the Digital Playground stable of contract stars — Jesse Jane, Katsuni, Stoya, Riley Steele (in her first-ever boy/girl scene), Gabriella Fox, Shay Jordan (her first 2-on-1) — as well as some of the biggest names in the industry: Belladonna, Jenna Haze, Sasha Grey, Brianna Love, Evan Stone, Tommy Gunn, Manuel Ferrara and too many more to list here. There was acting training, sword fight training, countless hours in makeup, a 102-page script and more than 600 special effects.
The special effects were an enormously important to the production and Joone said he had a team preparing sequences a year before shooting began. Once shooting started in March, the CGI staff was as prepared as they could be for such a massive undertaking with such a tight deadline.
“I would say the challenge this time was getting the visual effects even better. That was a big challenge,” Joone said. “The bulk of it really hit the beginning of this year. In March we shot pretty much for a solid month. After that was a heavy, heavy post schedule. The CG guys couldn’t really start until they got the footage and we had to finish in edit. The first edit was done in June, so they were on a crunch, because they had over 600 shots.”
One decision Joone made that turned out to be very smart was to build a boat in a studio where the environment could be controlled. The first volume was shot on an actual ship, which was outside and at the mercy of the elements.
Of all the things involved in the movie, Stoya said the set was the most surprising.
‘The size of the big freakin’ pirate ship, the big boat in the studio!” said Stoya, who joined DP and the industry long after the first “Pirates” was released. “The studio was the size of an aircraft hangar. The entire floor where you shoot on was taken up by this huge deck of a pirate ship and then they had the green screen all around. It was amazing.”
The costuming was another challenge, what with dozens of actors and extras, it was important that everyone not only act but look their character.
“I worked with the same person, Heather Priest, that I did last time,” Joone said. “When you’ve already done a movie with them, and everybody is on the same page, many of the costumes were already done and all the new ones and she knows exactly what I want. It was clockwork.”
That may be an oversimplification of how things went down behind the scenes. According to Lewis there is basically a warehouse dedicated to the costumes (some of which will be given away in marketing promotions) and a team worked long and hard to get everyone looking their character.
“We had two seamstresses and a whole wardrobe department,” Lewis said. “We had a whole room dedicated to wardrobe. It was very impressive.”
She said there were times where someone like Evan Stone would be presented in costume to Joone and time and again it would be rejected based on something as simple as a feather in his hat.
Fact or fiction, there is a perception that features frequently sacrifice the sex for story, and that’s something Joone went out of his way to ensure the second “Pirates” could not be accused of. Step 1: Hiring the best performers in the industry.
“You look at Belladonna, Sasha [Grey] or Jesse [Jane], these are professional, really good performers,” Joone said. “I don’t shoot like, ‘I want missionary now,’ or ‘I want doggie now,’ it’s almost like a controlled gonzo shoot, where the sex is really raw and you let the chemistry go. They know what I want, they know the boundaries I need to work in.”
Hardcore raincoaters may be disappointed by the next statement, but hang in there. In the original “Pirates,” sex scenes were about seven minutes. For Pirates II, the sex has actually been chopped to three to four minutes per scene. Feeling screwed, and not in a good way? Worry not.
There is an additional disc (Pirates II is a 4-disc set, or 2-disc as Blu-ray) that has just the sex scenes and none of that pesky dialogue.
‘To me [the sex] actually slows down the story,” Joone said, “so I actually made the scenes shorter, so the scenes are actually are three to four minutes long depending on the scene, but it goes by so quick for people and it’s so erotic, it’s sort of part of the story that you don’t feel like, ‘Oh, now we’re watching sex.’ The movie clocks in, with the sex, at two hours and 18 minutes, that’s disc 1. Disc 2 is extended sex scenes, plus a bonus scene. This is the sex only, no story, and it clocks in at over two hours and 45 minutes. That sex scene that was three minutes long is now 20 minutes long, so that way the fans can get the best of both worlds.”
For DP contract stunner Stoya, her concern is sex rather than acting, and she was ecstatic about her scenes. She not only took part in an amazing scene with a half-dozen or so other performers, she also managed to talk Joone into shooting a scene with her, Katsuni and Belladonna.
“I had a scene with Charles Dera,” Stoya said, “and Gabriella Fox was maybe two feet over with Marco Banderas, then on the other side of her was Shyla Stylez and Manuel Ferrara, behind us were a couple girls doing their girl/girl thing, so there was all these really hot people all over the place. It was really amazing.
“While we were on set, Katsuni, Belladonna and I wanted to get together. We begged Joone for a scene together, so Joone said, ‘Well, I’ll just write an extra scene into the movie. We were all super excited. I’ve done very few scenes and Katsuni and Belladonna are seasoned professionals so I was in way over my head, but it was one of the best experiences of my life. It was amazing.”
In an age where gonzo productions have spoiled performers by allowing them to get in and out of a set in a matter of as little as a couple hours, Joone and his crew had the challenge of keeping everyone happy through hours of makeup, rehearsal and endless takes.
“It was very much clockwork, no one was sitting around,” he said. “You came in at the time you were scheduled, you were right into makeup, you got dressed and you had like half an hour to rehearse and get ready and we kept it on that pace pretty much throughout the whole shoot. Another luxury we had is that everybody knew how the first one did, so they had a level of respect and they’re also fans, so they wanted to be there. Evan Stone would come to set on his days off and hang out and just be a part of it, and that’s kind of how everybody felt. There was a lot of camaraderie and positive energy.”