Q&A with NakedSword's Tim Valenti
The explosion of free content online might have been the death knell for another gay porn company, but San Francisco’s NakedSword.com is seizing it as an opportunity. Last year, NakedSword released Travis Mathews’ “I Want Your Love,” the studio’s first foray into independent film. Now, they’re following it up with another film by Mathews — and this time they’re giving it away free.
“In Their Room: Berlin,” an exploration of love and sex through the lives of gay Berliners, is quasi-documentary, rather than narrative, the studio says.
But the studio hopes that — like “I Want Your Love,” which traced a gay artist on his last weekend in San Francisco and featured scenes of explicit gay sex — this film will draw a new kind of audience.
NakedSword.com founder Tim Valenti says that he hopes that “In Their Room: Berlin” helps to draw attention to “I Want Your Love,” and to NakedSword’s growing role as an independent film producer.
XBIZ World chatted with Tim Valenti last month to learn more about his beginnings in the gay adult entertainment arena, as well as the brand’s focus on original features.
XBIZ: What sparked your interest in gay porn filmmaking?
VALENTI: Being one of the top aggregators of gay adult film for over a decade, NakedSword was in a pretty good position to understand how to produce and market compelling content. We are a very creative bunch and have for years initiated original concepts for productions that we ended up co-producing with established Studios. The first gay porn soap opera series called “Wet Palms,” was co- produced with Jet Set, our very successful Golden Gate franchise started out as a co- production with Falcon/RSS Studios, and on and on .… I just thought it was time to take the plunge and offer stand-alone NakedSword Originals brand and product. I am very glad we did. It has not only been fun to do, it has become successful quickly and it has added to the luster of the NakedSword brand.
XBIZ: NakedSword is like the Netflix for gay porn, offering a diverse array of theme-based, compelling content at users fingertips. Was this your dream from the very beginning and how did you get NakedSword off the ground?
VALENTI: Our goal from the beginning was to not be a slot-machine type of video-on-demand site. We wanted to have a distinct personality and brand. We did that by exposing ourselves to our audience through a lot of special productions like behind-the-scenes specials, “The Tim and Roma Show,” “Wet Palms,” our gay porn soap opera and our blogs, TheSword and GayPornBlog.com. Our audience knows us and relates to us and expects that we will grow the brand and what it stands for. An example that I am very proud of is our NakedSword Presents indy hit “I Want Your Love,” written and directed by Travis Matthews.
We’ve never thought of gay porn as separate from gay culture, because sex isn’t separate from culture. One of the things that appealed to us about working with Travis was that he was bridging those gaps in a thoughtful, artistic way. He wasn’t afraid to be explicit when it served the story, where it made it more real.
What we realized early on was porn companies have a direct line to gay men — something that can be hard to find anywhere else in media. I read a stat that only like one-third of gay men visit any gay news site, because not everyone identifies with the community. But most of us love sex, so gay porn has the eyeballs. We wanted to use that to our advantage with “I Want Your Love,” and now “In Their Room: Berlin.”
And we will continue to do so as we broaden our base and the types of gay adult entertainment we offer.
XBIZ: Seven years ago, AEBN merged with NakedSword. What did the deal mean for both companies in terms of decision-making and control?
VALENTI: In terms of decision-making and control, not much. They knew a good thing when they saw it and have been nothing but supportive of our brand and the direction we have chosen to take.
I think that we were instrumental in bridging a gap between AEBN and some of the bigger name producers in gay porn and who at the time were a bit leery of straight owned and operated porn operations. In fact we were able to successfully bring in to the family legendary Falcon Studios and the very popular Raging Stallion Studios. And I would say today AEBN has great relationships with all of the gay producers and brands.
XBIZ: How important is social media — including TheSword blog — when it comes to getting the word out about your films?
VALENTI: We saw the cultural landscape changing, and decided we could either stick our heads in the stand or move with it. I think it helps that the roots of NakedSword are in mainstream media — we got our start designing interactive websites for companies like Eidos Interactive, which created the Tomb Raider franchise, and E-trade. And so our expectations were always geared toward mainstream. Early in our business, we launched the first gay porn soap opera (“Wet Palms”), and talk show about gay porn called “The Tim and Roma Show.” In terms of social media it’s incredibly important to us.
Our blog network consisting of TheSword and Gay Porn Blog is one of the most trafficked and successful in the business. This is partly due to the fact that I decided to invest in these properties early on and make sure that they had a distinct voice that wasn’t completely tied to NakedSword but that represented the industry.
As far as Twitter, etc those outlets are a priority for us and we are very active on all the social networks and use them as a way to communicate directly with our customers.
XBIZ: Recently, Australian censors banned “I Want Your Love.” Why did censors ban it and what does that mean for the future of gay films in Australia?
VALENTI: “I Want Your Love” was banned from screening in Australia due to the fact it contained a gay sex scene. The Australian Classification Board wouldn’t give it the exemption it needed to be shown at the film festivals over there. A couple years prior they did however allow a film called “Donkey Love” about beastiality in Columbia and others that are far more graphic than “I Want Your Love.”
So you can see why many in the media, including myself in a piece for Huffington Post, called out the obvious and perhaps homophobic double standard. Regardless the film did very well in the U.S. I mean, we packed the Castro Theater in San Francisco during Frameline Festival and Lincoln Center during New York’s NewFest. In general, I think the response was pretty positive. We had very few problems, and even played places like Arkansas, which surprised me. And honestly, when it was banned it helped get us more attention because James Franco came out to say what an important film this was and how people were being small minded.
XBIZ: What’s your take on the current social and political climates of the U.S. and U.K. when it comes to pornography — gay and straight?
VALENTI: Well, what’s going on in the U.K. in banning “extreme porn” really troublesome. Basically, they’re criminalizing the mere possession of certain types of material, regardless of how they were produced. So the BDSM community is treated as criminals, and the audience is treated like kids — not only do they have to ask permission to see porn at all, they are told they can’t tell the difference between a fictional movie fantasy and reality.
But ultimately, what’s going on in the U.S. is even more insidious, because it’s disguised as science. It’s dangerous, particularly for gay men. They’re saying we can’t make decisions about our sex lives, and that we’re dangerous to the population at large.
We use condoms in our production arm, but we respect the rights of others to make that decision for themselves. Sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s part of our culture. As gay men, we know there are different ways to protect yourself, and different risks that each of us is willing to take in different situations. What we should be striving for is to create a work environment where those discussions are had openly, and where people are free to make consensual decisions. Instead, we’re getting a government which treats gay sex like it’s 1985 and gay men should be quarantined as public health hazards.
XBIZ: What’s a typical work day like?
VALENTI: In by 7 a.m., out by 5 p.m. — hopefully. Everything in between is a state secret.
XBIZ: When not thinking about the biz, what do you like to do?
VALENTI: I love to be with my family, my partner Gene, our dog Gandolf, my nephews and nieces and of course Kitty and Eagle Sun (Gene’s parents).
I love to plan adventures, like a trip to Italy to wander or home to Hawaii with the kids for surfing camp. I went to school in China in 1977, and I am planning a trip back there for the first time.
I watch a lot of College football. Go Ducks! I can live at AT&T Park and get lost in a Giants game anytime. Hanging out with my friends. My friends are fun!