How Porn’s Most Visible Genre Drives the DVD Market
In mid-2007 a musician and a hairdresser who had been cranking out gonzos for hire put their profits into a parody of a beloved TV series. “Not the Bradys XXX,” released by Hustler Video, was an instant sensation. Not only did it put X-Play and its owners Jeff Mullen (aka Will Ryder) and Scott David on the porn-players map, it crossed over to mainstream media fame, roping in hordes of first-time adult buyers.
Its explosive success brought the porn parody, a venerable genre, back into prominence — and then some. Instead of peaking, as crazes usually do, this one just kept growing. Four years later the parody has become, if not the predominant XXX genre, at least the most high-profile. The DVD market, even more depressed now than in 2007, is getting what little juice it has left from the proliferation of parodies.
What would the market look like today without them?
“Grim,” laughs director Axel Braun, who established himself in 2009 as one of the foremost parodists with his first movies for Hustler, most notably “This Ain’t Star Trek XXX,” and a year later hit the ball out of the park with his own production, “Batman XXX: A Porn Parody,” released by Vivid.
Jerry, owner of Exquisite Films, one of the newer entries in the high-end parody market, with its Extreme Comixxx releases (“Justice League of Pornstar Heroes,” “Supergirl”), agrees. “Gonzo is pretty much dead. I mean, why pay for it when it’s free everywhere? Not that I wanted it to die, but when something doesn’t sell anymore you gotta try something else.”
Porn without parodies would be “pretty dismal,” echoes Howard Levine, the former Vivid and Pulse sales ace who now heads Exile Distribution.
In addition to Extreme Comixx it distributes Pleasure Dynasty whose first release is “Taxi Driver: The Porn Parody,” as well as Paul Thomas Presents. PT, once the king of feature directors, is about to shoot his first big-budget (“over $100,000” according to Levine) parody, an explicit rendition of “The Graduate.”
The real surprise is not that parodies proliferated — that was to be expected in a copycat industry — but that they actually got better. Bigger budgets and savvy directors have increased the quality quotient in high-end parody product to where it equals and often surpasses that of big-budget features.
Scott Taylor raised the bar with his early releases from New Sensations/Digital Sin. He not only poured up to $120,000 into his budgets but he brought in an imaginative new director, Lee Roy Myers. Myers not only helmed most of Taylor’s parodies, including the 2011 XBIZ Award-winning Parody Release of the Year, “The Big Lebowski: An XXX Parody,” but is bringing his winning touch to other companies like Tom Byron Pictures (“Wet Dream on Elm Street”) and DreamZone Entertainment (“The Honeymoaners”).
Taylor also helped broaden the genre’s scope to include dramas — with the Sam Hain-directed “The Sex Files: A Dark XXX Parody,” which he produced through Revolution X — as well as comedies. Movies like “Taxi Driver” and Gary Orona’s hit horror-themed series for Zero Tolerance (“The Official Halloween Parody,” “The Official Psycho Parody”) are in essence low-budget remakes of classic dramatic movies fitted out with explicit sex.
Other studios looked elsewhere for inspiration. Vivid turned to action comics, with sensational market results. Its Super Heroes line, under Braun’s direction, had huge returns from “Superman XXX,” with a similar yield expected on the early Fall release of “Spider-Man XXX.”
Hustler, emboldened by the success of X-Play’s “Not the Bradys,” launched its own string of sitcom parodies, which grew into a wellbudgeted line that, along with political satires like the endless “Who’s Nailin’ Paylin” series, rapidly outstripped their gonzo and wall-to-wall.
And they added a new element — 3D — with a parody of “Avatar.” According to Creative Director Drew Rosenfeld, they have improved the process by buying their own 3D camera system — the results are on view in Braun’s “This Ain’t Ghostbusters XXX.” And Braun recently wrapped a 3D version of “Dracula.”
Even Wicked Pictures, one of the last feature studios standing, took the plunge with “Rocki Whore Picture Show.” First-time parody director Brad Armstrong wanted “to do something that a little outside the box. So I decided to go with one of the iconic movies. ‘Rocky Horror’ fans are among the [most loyal] of the bunch.”
Fan fidelity is one of the things that make parodies so attractive to producers. “The audience is potentially massive,” says X-Play’s Mullen. “We’re not creating the audience, the audience exists, with fans of TV shows and movies and celebrities that we’re creating parodies about.”
Science fiction and action comics, which seem to have the largest and most active fan bases, are the demographic that filmmakers like Braun specifically target.
Taylor, who once called parodies the “salvation” of DVD sales, now sees them “not selling as well as they did” because of the glut and varying quality of parody productions. But he still makes them, scoring in particular with takeoffs on classic cartoon series like X-Play’s “The Flintstones,” Eddie Powell’s “Scooby Doo” and, upcoming, “The Jetsons.”
He’s placing more emphasis now on his romance features, and yet, he says his parodies “absolutely” sell better than other genres. “They can fail and they’ll sell better than gonzo,” Taylor said. “By fail I mean they just don’t meet their budget. In terms of just pure sales, they’re outstanding.”
Exquisite’s Jerry says his parodies outsell his gonzo product “by a mile.” Greg Alves, president of Zero Tolerance, agrees that, “all in all, for us, parodies have performed better.”
But for how much longer?
“I think the market will start clearing things out fast, as far as how many are made,” says director Myers. “But I still think that a good parody will sell. I think it’ll last as long as adult lasts.”
“The markets will over-saturate,” Braun says. “There’s so many people on the bandwagon. As opposed to the people who jumped on it and put more attention to detail and more marketing into it, there’s a bunch of people who put in very little money and fork out low-end product, which still will sell, for a little bit, until people get sick of it.”
Business is certainly not slowing down for Braun, whose shooting schedule is full until March 2013. He predicts the return of high-end features within the next few years. “I see it already, like New Sensations with their Romance features. They target couples with high-end product, a good storyline, very well shot.”
Hustler’s Rosenfeld cautions, “At some point it’s all going to be done. Every TV show will be parodied, every movie out there, and maybe it will open up some room for original ideas. I’d love to shoot some original stuff. But we’re still doing well with the parody thing so I think we’re going to stay with it a little longer and see where things go.”
According to X-Play’s Mullen, around 750 parody titles have hit the street in the last four years. His latest addition to that number is “Not Rocky XXX,” which will be released by Adam & Eve in September. Like Rocky Balboa, Mullen’s “Not the Bradys” was an unlikely winner.
“Who would have thought,” he muses, “that one little movie could revolutionize an industry? But it did.”