"The whole 'director' term is just a joke anyway because anybody with a camera directs now," Stefano explains. "It's just a word so that people feel good about themselves because it means absolutely nothing. There's nothing to directing in gonzo."
Yet, if you probe further, you'll find it might be more accurate to say that Stefano just isn't into official titles. After nine years performing and filmmaking and with more than 100 movies to his credit, he has developed a signature style that has earned him a loyal following among fans. And that makes Stefano and his fellow name-brand directors extremely important to the companies that invest in his productions and retailers who stock their products.
When consumers pick up a Red Light District title directed by Stefano, such as "Tease Me, Then Please Me" or "Teenage Peach Fuzz," they can expect "hot girls with very strong sex, yet very passionate and intense," Stefano says. "There are tons of porno movies, but there are very few where you really see a connection between the female and the male, and I think my movies portray that, so... that's what makes my movies different."
Style and consistency, Stefano says, are the elements a director needs to build his reputation as a filmmaker and studios need to brand their product lines.
With the right chemistry, both director and studio can go from unknown to established once that successful symbiotic relationship is formed — the director gains access to production resources and better avenues of distribution. The studio gets a return on its investment and increased potential for further sales by branding itself with recognizable lines of content that appeal to consumers.
Lexington Steele plans on doing just that with his company, Mercenary Pictures, whose roster of directors includes Domina X, Tina Tyler and Mario Rossi.
"One of the ways that I've decided to strategize my growth and finding our place in the market is emulating other strategies that have been successful," Steele says. "If you look at a company like Evil Angel, they promote their directors as the reason you want to buy their titles."
Building Fan Loyalty
"Other companies may base their whole strategy on performers, but the thing about it is that performers are transient," Steele says. "The hot girl this year — next year, she's not hot, while [director] Joey Silvera has been hot for 20 years, and Jules Jordan has run gonzo for the last six or seven years.
"What we are doing is developing our fan-base based on our directorship, and that way it lends itself toward people loving Mercenary for the next 15 years because a director can direct for as long as they want."
With gonzo as the reigning genre of the past several years, there's split opinion as to whether filming straight-up sex scenes requires much direction, as opposed to a feature format where the director must oversee many aspects of production, as well as following a story-line and coaching dramatic performances out of the actors.
While Stefano insists anyone with a camera can call himself a director, Danny Gorman, sales manager at Sin City Productions and Mayhem XXX Pictures, says there's more to it than that, especially coming from a sales perspective. Both imprints have had success with features and gonzo content, showcasing such directors as Jim Powers, Barrett Blade, Ariana Jollee, Hannah Harper and new-comer Sammy Slater.
"Gonzo — it's the way you shoot it. But directors matter in the sense of the style of the sex these girls have," Gorman says. "How hardcore the girls are. How the scenes are set up. Where the cameraman is. Because the more close-ups, it can make it a nastier movie.
"It's very important because when I get on the phone and I talk to my distributors that are going to be selling it, and I tell them who the director is, it's like they know. They know right off what to expect."
In fact, recognition of a director's work can be all important in the super-saturated adult DVD market, as crucial as featuring well-known talent or creating an eye-catching box-cover. As the market is flooded with hardcore content in response to the consumer demand for edgier material, those director/producers with established style and consistency stand out from the gonzo pack.
Daryl Jenkins, owner of A View to Video, has two retail DVD/video outlets in Oxnard, Calif. His stores stock, on average, 21,000 adult DVDs.
"Here's the problem with the adult industry," Jenkins says. "All these people — you and I both know — they're dumping all this stuff off at 85 cents, and it's all shit. It's gonna give the public a bad impression of our business.
"All of these newer companies, they're all a crap shoot. They're not dependable," he says. "All the big companies with the better directors, there's a difference. There's a section of better-quality material [on the market]. I just try and carry better- quality material."
With tens of thousands of titles on display, Jenkins relies heavily on name recognition to be able to make an immediate connection between consumers and the type of content they want. And like all successful retailers, he buys what moves off the shelves and knows what kind of product his clientele will come back for repeatedly.
"There are some guys — Max Hardcore, Rodney Moore — everything they put out people are going to run to," he says. "Erik Everhard, Jules Jordan, Jim Powers — David Luger's stuff is doing really well. Vince Voyeur... I don't care what he puts out; you know his stuff's gonna move. He's probably the best guy out there as far as consistency.
"Like I said, there are certain [directors]... you've got people coming in every week, looking to see if their stuff is out there."
In a fiercely competitive marketplace, taking creativity and production skills to the next level makes the difference between a DVD viewed as a masturbatory tool or as adult entertainment. And, it seems, a large segment of the audience wants to be entertained.
Making sure that happens is the director's job.
"I don't claim to be a director," Stefano says. Whether he is being humble or just pragmatic, he quickly gets to the bottom line. "I just do what I would want to see on tape if I were renting it. And that turns me on, so I do what I like.
"If you make a good product — technically good and the sex is good — the consumer will want the product more than another product."