Matrix of Norman Bentley
Hundreds, maybe thousands of those will be 18 U.S.C. § 2257 compliance listings for websites featuring content from Bentley's company, Matrix Content. Look harder and you'll find a link that goes to his MySpace blog. Unlike other porner's pages, no throbbing techno music has been uploaded, and there are no provocative photos to speak of — no flaming, hot pink wallpaper or animated stick-figure avatars doing it doggy-style.
There's a nice photo of Bentley and his fiancée Jackie, with Jack Johnson sounding folksy on the song "Upside Down." In one lyric, Johnson sings: "Who's to say I can't do everything? Well, I can try..."
Bentley's "About Me" section reads:
"Hi! My goal in life is to be happy and do everything to the best of my abilities. I work in the adult industry, where I run a major production company and direct high-quality adult movies. Check out MatrixContent.com and DefianceFilms.com. What I really love is spending time with my angel Jackie. Finding the right person to live your life with is the most amazing feeling. I hope everyone can be as happy as we are."
Like Bentley, his blog is understated. Even the background color seems a little... vanilla.
Not one to pass up on a business opportunity, in the slot that suggests "Who I'd Like to Meet," he adds, "If you're a beautiful girl who is comfortable being naked, we would love to shoot you."
It's a sunny day in Encino, Calif., and Bentley is getting ready to shoot two beautiful girls, Ashley Roberts and Chloe Martin, for Matrix Content. The bedroom is set up for video, and the pool outside looks inviting in the warm summer weather.
When Matrix was founded in 1999, Bentley says, it wasn't always easy to find girls to shoot.
"Content for the Internet had a really bad name to it," he recalls. "The Internet was still new, so it was a challenge getting the big-name girls to come in and work."
With former wife Robbye, Bentley set out to change the perception of adult web content as grainy pictures shot with poor lighting by amateur photographers. Her skill as a shooter and his talent for computer technology resulted in innovations that would raise the bar for content and, consequently, set an online standard.
"We took it to a really high level of value of production — you know, full makeup and professional lighting, and the girls really liked the look. So they were happy to work for us," Bentley says. "We also let them use the content for their own sites."
Prior to working in adult, Bentley's resume consisted of mainstream production credits for HBO and several other companies, including commercials and feature films. Working with celebrities like Bette Midler, Snoop Dogg and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, he found himself on an adult set almost by accident.
"Someone offered me a job on a 'B' titty movie, kind of a 'skin-a-max,'" Bentley says. "So I did that and it was cool and from there just jumped from one to another, and that kept me busy. Then I started doing stuff for Penthouse. It was the same money, and the days were a lot less hectic."
A stint working with erotic glamour photographer David Lace took Bentley's adult ambitions to the next level.
"Even before David, I was producing content for different people," he explains. "But that's where I learned the content business and just thought it could be done better, so I went off on my own."
With noses to the grindstone, at a pace that sometimes had Bentley working 24-48 hours at a shot, he and Robbye built the company by offering product and services that left other content producers in the dust.
"We sold content a lot differently than other people did," Bentley says. "When I started Matrix, I made it that you bought by the photo set and not by the disc. We had an automated robot that would burn orders on the fly," enabling webmasters to refine their specifications down to the individual model or exact characteristic, like breast size or eye color.
'Slow Forming' Growth
Although he says the growth of Matrix was "slow forming," initial response was immediate, and within six months, most adult sites carried Matrix product. Sales steadily doubled, month after month, with production continuously geared up to meet the demand.
In 2001, Matrix added video to its catalog. By 2002, the Matrix brand was pervasive to the point of overexposure. Bentley feels any unwanted proliferation of Matrix product was due, in part, to theft of content, a problem he still sees today.
The company's trademark look — glamorous models shot against a stark background — was dictated by practicality as much as style. Concerned with compression and delivery that was economical for webmasters and efficient for surfers, elaborate backgrounds required too much file size.
"Back in the day, when we first started doing video, a 250Kbps stream was heavy bandwidth," he recalls. "So it was always a challenge, as far as video was concerned, being able to match bandwidth with quality and give a good product.
"Now, I have clients that say, 'Give me a 2MB stream,' which is huge, and the quality is great, so that's changed a lot. The way I shoot has changed a lot."
Change can be a nightmarish process, and by 2004, Bentley faced some overwhelming difficulties. A divorce from Robbye coincided with a split from Matrix business partner John Berg. Controversy over Matrix's ability to comply with 2257 regulations, and accusations that Bentley had released personal client information to Acacia Technologies, added to increasing pressures.
Then, at 31, Bentley suffered a heart attack.
"Norman always worked hard and pushed himself to the limit," his fiancée, Jackie, says. "The experience made him slow down a little. I think the heart attack made him question whether or not he was working for the right things."
"I've always been very much of a micro-manager," Bentley admits. "I have to have control over everything, which can be my downfall because I can't spread myself too thin and do too many things."
In retrospect, he sees changes he would have made sooner.
"I know Matrix got very pigeonholed with its look," he says. "Everything started looking the same. I think what I'm doing now, I would have done a lot earlier, and that is vary the photographers I work with, just to get different looks."
Redefining Matrix's style in response to changing industry trends and new technologies, Bentley is currently concentrating on widening his company.
"Just the business model changes; Matrix still does well," he says. "People still buy content, but it's nowhere on the scale it used to be. There are so many hosted galleries now, and a lot of programs are providing the content for the webmasters. Beforehand, that wasn't there, so that's a major change."
The softcore, mainstream appeal of Matrix product sells well to mobile — a market they've been actively pursuing for the past two years.
"We're in bed with everybody," he laughs.
Shooting five days a week, more than half of the content Bentley produces now is exclusively for various larger programs.
"One thing I see Matrix possibly doing is shortening the time we spend on stills and bringing in more talent, maybe getting two scenes out of a day, as video becomes more prominent on the web," he says.
As far as style of content, he adds, "We're getting a lot edgier, a lot harder, per what the market wants."
Adapting on personal and professional fronts has brought Bentley a renewed sense of creativity, not only with his work for Matrix but also in his collaboration with Defiance Films, which launched in May 2005. One of three principals at Defiance, including former Metro Vice President Anthony Simone and Metro Interactive production manager/webmaster Keith O'Connor, Bentley has crossed over into a new role as a feature director.
Back to the Roots?
"What I'd like to do with Defiance is shoot the features," he says. "Which goes back to my roots of what I originally got into the industry to do — be a filmmaker."
"He's been in the business for a long time, obviously, with Matrix," Simone says from the offices that Defiance and Matrix share in Chatsworth, Calif. "It's a little bit different than what he's used to doing, and I think he gets really excited about directing, so he puts a lot into it."
Bentley's first Defiance title, "Deviant Tits," released in August, was his introduction to the gonzo genre, earning solid reviews and sales.
His scheduled second title, "Runway," will be Defiance's first feature offering and more in line with Bentley's mainstream erotic vision — a vision with a $100,000-plus budget.
"He's meticulous, I guess, if I had to pick a word," Simone says. "Norman will actually go and pick out what the girls are going to wear and dress them. You know, 'I want her hair this way' and 'I want her makeup that way.' He brought in people to do every aspect of the shoot, mostly mainstream people. We rented a nightclub and did an actual runway scene with real runway models and porn stars mixed in, like Lauren Phoenix and Monica Mayhem. Not your typical $10-$15 porn budget. It's really something."
Bentley praises his own work. "I think it should be beautiful, with hard sex. That's what 'Runway' is about. It's a beautiful title... a great story. Right now, I have it edited only to the dialogue, and you can just watch it as a show, which is really cool. They say money makes the world go around, but I think it's sex."