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Cinepornographers: Porn’s Producers Get Technical

Cinepornographers: Porn’s Producers Get Technical

December 29, 2010
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" I’ve been playing with this camera for about two years now. There’s a definite learning curve, but you can shoot realistic sex with the 5D. — Eddie Powell on the Canon 5D camera. "

Say the words “porn director” and most people chuckle at the high-falutin title. Don’t they just pick up a camcorder, point it at a naked couple and tell them to do it “doggy-style?” How hard is that? Even industry folk know it’s the rare porn director who’s seen the inside of a film school — or even completed a workshop in cinematography. In other words, if you can shoot home video at your family reunion you’ve probably got enough technical skill to be a “porn director.”

But the golden age of the amateur director may now be coming to an end. Shooters that once made bank by picking up a Sony HVR-ZIU and pressing “record” are finding themselves in a struggle for high ground in the suddenly rising waters of adult entertainment. Storyline-driven features and vignettes have come into vogue, and fans have taken to message boards and forums to critique the “production values” of their favorite studios — and to demand better stories, steadier camera work, and better cinematography.

Directors like Reality Junkies’ Kevin Moore are listening. The self-proclaimed “technology geek” has been working as an adult photographer and director for nearly a decade, but his keen eye for cinematography had held little currency in the world of porn — until now. In a quest to survive porn’s current paradigm shift, Moore and other technically savvy directors, including Mike Quasar of Zero Tolerance and New Sensations’ Eddie Powell, are setting a new standard in adult entertainment by adopting technology too complex for many amateurs to master.

“Now that a lot of the amateur studios have disappeared, the rest of us are scrambling to create quality product again,” Moore explains. “And the best way to show that is by using better cameras and skilled operators.”

And like a new lover he can’t get out of his mind, there is one name Moore keeps coming back to: the Canon 5D.

“This is the camera that’s turning everything upside down,” Quasar says. “It’s a $2,500 still-camera that shoots video better than any camera out there.”

The buzz surrounding the 5D is the loudest to hit the adult industry since the excitement generated by the Red One, the latter proving a bit too expensive and weighty for the average porn shooter (the Red weighs in at approximately 10 pounds). While mainstream filmmakers quickly adopted the Red as their camera of choice, adult producers opted for more practical cameras they could afford — and lift.

Now that’s about to change. While the lightweight 5D works best in low light and remains the second choice for mainstream filmmakers, its reasonable price tag is tailored to the producer who wants a highend look to his low-budget film. At a time when porn is striving more than ever to be taken seriously, the 5D is being hailed by some as a godsend.

BUT IS IT?

One notable caveat, Quasar says, is “you need a shitload of after-market accessories to make the 5D practical to shoot with.”

With no auto-focus feature, the 5D requires constant manual focusing; a feat best accomplished by purchasing a “focus follow” to attach to the camera. This device braces the camera onto the operator’s shoulder and allows him to turn a small handle to focus the shot. Also necessary is an external audio recording device or “boom mic” running on a separate system, as the 5D “has no time code built in and the audio sucks,” Quasar laments.

Nobody thought to add those features because the 5D was intended to shoot stills, not video.

“Canon threw in the video capability as an afterthought,” Quasar explains of the 5D.

“They had no idea they were starting a revolution.”

Still, Quasar is clear that he finds the 5D worth the extra effort.

“I will never go back to my old camera now,” he admits.

But some filmmakers have yet to find their groove with the small but powerful camera.

“The 5D is a huge price/performance breakthrough for filmmakers,” says lesbian erotica producer Bellezza. “You can get a very cinematic looking, narrow ‘depth of field,’ a very narrow frame in focus.”

While this feature is the main cause of “5D fever,” Bellezza claims that it also renders gonzo shoots “practically impossible. You need to shoot in a far more disciplined style with the tripod and external monitor to get the focus right.”

“Video cameras auto focus,” Moore explains. “They’re very forgiving of user-error. But the 5D doesn’t [auto focus], so you have to manually focus every time you move.” A nightmare for the amateur shooter accustomed to moving freely in search of the best angle.

Ironically, amateur porn’s saving grace may be the realistic sex that made it popular in the first place. Every director interviewed for this story admits to varying degrees of difficulty in shooting “authentic sex scenes” with the Red and the 5D.

“When you have a very technical set of rules you have to follow it hampers the performers from being able to ‘naturally’ go at it,” Moore says. “I spend a lot more time setting up shots and explaining to the performers where they need to be and what they need to be doing.”

Still, Moore regards these challenges as no more than small bumps on the road to better-quality adult films.

“It comes down to talented people putting their heads together and finding a way to meld realistic sex and cinematic quality,” Moore says.

Eddie Powell may have already found a way. The New Sensations’ director of photography has recently emerged as one of porn’s hottest — and most technically proficient — directors. Powell’s praise of the Canon 5D echoes those offered by Quasar and Moore, but he stops short of bestowing the camera with savior status. Good porn, Powell insists, starts with the director, not the technology.

“If you’re passionate about your movie, it doesn’t really matter what [camera] you’re using,” Powell says. “If a director can put together someone’s fantasy and give them the imagery they’re looking for, he can shoot it on an I-phone and the audience will still respond to it.”

That said, Powell insists realistic sex can be shot with the Canon 5D.

“I’ve been playing with this camera for about two years now,” Powell says. “There’s a definite learning curve, but you can shoot realistic sex with the 5D. Hell, I’ve even run down the hallways with the Red, shot sex scenes with the Red.”

He admits, “It’s pretty back-breaking [due to the camera’s weight], but it can be done.”

But the cinematic look of movies shot with a Red or 5D may soon be eclipsed by an “older” technology poised for what some predict will be a monster comeback: 3D cameras.

“I believe 3D is the future,” Moore says.

Arguably deserving of its long-held association with cheesy B-movies, recent developments have presented 3D technology in a new light. Perhaps most intriguing is a camera that will allow 3D footage to be captured in one simple step, rather than through a lengthy post-production process.

“What makes 3D more than just a novelty is we’ve developed 3D televisions and they’re legitimately decent televisions,” Moore explains.

“And then Panasonic is putting out a ‘prosumer’ camera that can natively shoot 3D, so I think that kind of changes things, too.” (This camera is the highly anticipated Panasonic 1080p twin-lens P2 camcorder).

But Powell is reluctant to embrace 3D technology — at least for now.

“To me, the 3D stuff still looks like crap,” Powell says. “I think a lot of people are jumping on it because it’s the new thing and everyone wants to be the first one to put it out, so they’re doing it without thinking.” He recalls viewing a recent video where candy was thrown at the lens in an effort to show off the 3D effect.

“Hey, I like candy as much as the next guy,” Powell says with a laugh, “but don’t throw it at me in some lame attempt to be sexy.”

Powell also cites the “range restrictions” inherent to 3D filming, which he finds prohibitive to even basic artistic expression.

“And let’s not forget that you still have to wear the [3D] glasses,” he adds. “Listen, I’m sure the technology will continue to improve, but in my opinion 3D has yet to offer the best possible visual experience.”

So where does all this leave producers like Paul R. who can’t, or simply lack the know-how to adapt to new technologies? Quasar jokes they’ll soon be “working at Home Depot,” but upon deeper thought he softens his stance.

“The amateur genre will always have a place in adult entertainment,” Quasar says. “It’s not a business model with a lot of profit built in, but there will always be a demand for a homemade video of you banging the 20-year-old drunk slut across the hall.”

“I don’t think technology necessarily dictates the direction of porn,” Powell says. “But if you’re trying to sell your movies to VOD or to cable and they’re turned down for looking ‘too amateurish,’ by all means pick up the [5D] camera.”

Moore agrees there’s a limit to what even the best technology can accomplish.

“No matter how fancy your camera may be,” he says, “if you’re shooting lame porn, it’s still lame porn. So until they make a camera that can take a bad movie and turn it into a good one, we’ll always need skilled, creative people behind the lens.”


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