Tricks of the Trade: Just Compensation
Didn’t you shoot a scene with her? When’s the video going to come out?” Whenever the topic comes up, my porno candle dims a little. This summer marks the second anniversary of one of the hottest performances of my career, and I’m beginning to think the video will never be released. Even worse, I have no one to blame but myself.
Don’t get me wrong; despite that sloppy mistake, I have had success. With all great things, there was definitely a learning curve. “Justify My Jiz” (with Wolf Hudson) is one positive example that taught me the long-term financial benefits of shared content. Where a paid shoot only offers a one-time check, owning the rights and revenue of the video on PinkLabel.tv has brought me a steady stream, month after month. I also witnessed how trades can equally benefit new producers. (Our shoot was one of many to help him establish WolfHudsonIsBad.com.)
These days, porn performers don’t have to depend solely on being booked with established companies. As the effects of Measure B and online piracy impede major studio productions, some industry trends see performers subsidizing their careers with cam shows, custom videos, Clips4Sale.com studios, and launching their own member sites. Equipment and web technology is becoming increasingly accessible. Performers of any notoriety can grab a camera and do it themselves. You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours.
Looking to learn from my embarrassing mistakes and gain “best-practice” knowledge for the next time, I did what I should have done years ago: I decided to ask around.
Trade Vs. Share
Producer, director, and performer, Jimmy Broadway details three types of non-paid content deals: Shared (“where both parties have full and equal use of the content”); Trade or “one-for-one” (“where I shoot a scene for you and you shoot a scene for me”); and, Barter for Services (“where I provide camera, lighting, or location for your scene in exchange for getting you as talent for mine”).
With each option, it helps to think outside the box, creating deals that fit individual needs. Multi-talented (and upcoming 2015 XBIZ Awards host) James Deen points out “that compensation can come in many forms other than monitory value.” On the other end of the “James-spectrum,” indie porn star James Darling informs me that he’s done trades in exchange for expensive toys and fetish gear. And while not a trade, per se, beloved porn star and sapient author Stoya notes a performer tie-in to commercial royalties from her Fleshlight masturbation sleeve (aptly named “Stoya Destroya”). With many different ways to compensate participants, there seems to be a potential for fair deals for every one within the industry.
A Question Of Ethics
Siri opened her Clip4Sale store in 2012, before launching SiriPornstar.com last year, primarily working with content shares. She’ll occasionally do a content trade when it’s a unique shoot that she wants to own exclusively. She brings up one of the big ethical concerns I have when watching emerging performers trade with producers of established sites.
“I don’t share or trade content with people who have much larger methods of distribution than my own — that would create a really wide gap between our profit margins, which I believe is unfair,” says Siri. “That’s why even though I’ve been approached for content share/trade by directors before, I’ve never agreed to any content sharing/trading with producers who regularly can afford to hire talent for a scene — they would profit from the scene exponentially more than I would.”
Siri also warns performers to beware of signs that they could be taken advantage of, and advocates for their autonomy in doing the scenes they want to do. Deals should be equally beneficial to both parties. “Look out for anyone who seems like they’re trying to convince you that you should share content with them, because if they have to do any convincing they’re probably aware that they’re kind of taking advantage of you, or that they will benefit more from it in some way.” As with paid scenes, performers should be comfortable declining a shoot for any reason. “You’re working for free, because you hope to profit from the content, so you should be 100 percent sure that you will love doing the work!”
When I asked Stoya about trade ethics, she was quick to point out that “even paid work can be imbalanced with the worker getting the short end of the stick.” Perhaps trade opportunities can offer the potential for a more level playing field.
The Game Plan
Across the board, the most repeated advice I heard was to always come prepared. Performer Mickey Mod paints the big picture: “Never underestimate the value of pre-production. Have a plan not just for the content, but also for the delivery of the finished product.” Seems simple enough, yet this is often overlooked, as many performers may not have what it takes to shine on both sides of the camera.
Performer Danny Wylde didn’t enter the porn industry with a desire to become a producer. He says that although the thought of expanding a market and making income upfront can be tempting, it’s not for everyone. He’s witnessed new performers with loose plans to start their own website or line of films fail because they didn’t realize how much work goes into producing content. “It seems to fall apart more often than not,” he notices. “I don’t think many young performers understand that producing content is a full-time job, and not just something you do on the side for extra money. Of course, there are webmasters who will supply services for you at no upfront cost. But they typically take such a large percentage that it’s not worth the effort.” It’s important to keep in mind that even working for free comes with a price, including paying third party help, hosting, and other hidden costs.
Perhaps some can balance the difference, if they have a clear trajectory. Arabelle Raphael got her start modeling by doing trade for content to build a portfolio, began performing for companies like Burning Angel, and has recently begun performs with other models doing both shares and trades for her Clips4Sale studio, Arabelle’s Busty Playground. I was visiting Raphael’s home the day she got her first studio check in the mail. “It’s a great way for individual performers to make and distribute their own content,” she says, adding that if given the option to do a trade or paid shoot she would not do trade unless the content was special.
“There’s something to be said for just accumulating content for the sake of accumulating content,” reasons burlesque dancer and porn performer Andre Shakti. “Maybe you have a ‘five year plan’ of starting a membership site, or a vague idea that you’ll want this material for ‘something’ in the future, you’re just not sure what — but if that’s the case, then make sure you’re prepared to put out a lot of money while you’re in limbo.” Shakti recently launched her website AndreShaktixxx.com, and is strategizing to see returns.
To call Kimberly Kane an “established” porn star is an understatement. The multi-award-winning adult actress and director has taken hold of her own content by storm. While she sees a lot of value in other big names trading content, she cautions new performers who are just starting out and suggests they do trades only when they are close to launching a website or Clips4Sale studio. “An established performer will already have many ways to distribute the content quickly.” She strives to get her content everywhere and advises others do the same: “Try to eventually have a personal website, Clips4Sale studio, VOD and DVD distribution deal.” Be ready to hit the ground running.
The advice comes from lessons learned. Kane readily shares her past hurdles including “having a website but not shooting enough to keep my members happy. And not having enough ways to distribute my content to get it to the maximum amount of potential buyers.”
Other pitfalls? Another common piece of advice is to always keep things professional. A clearly written contract, even among close friends, trumps a casual attitude of assumed agreements. BBW star Kelly Shibari stressed that things be kept strictly business. “I think the most important thing is to make sure you’re working with a reputable producer or other model, and to make sure that everyone involved understands the trade shoot as a non-personal, business-only transaction.” Mickey Mod nails it: “Bad trades can ruin friendships.”
Five Steps To Prepare Before The Shoot
1) Pick your partners wisely. Do thorough research on your scene partner to ensure the trade is worth your while. A passionate and intimate performer, Owen Gray admits it can be difficult to find a co-star willing to open up in the same way. He laments, “I wish that I had spent more time researching people’s work who I considered doing content trade with and talked with them to understand their sexuality more before doing a scene with them.” Broadway recommends researching MyFreeOnes.com and checking out their Clips4Sale, website, or prior scenes to get a sense of what kind of performance they can provide.
Alt porn star Bella Vendetta champions the notion that small investments spent on the opportunity to work with great artists will pay off down the road. “Paying for one excellent shoot that will get you noticed can lead to so much other work.”
2) Get on the same page. “Always make sure you know all of the details for a content share or trade, before you arrive to set. Don’t leave anything undiscussed, because you don’t want to find yourself in the midst of a miscommunication while on set.” Siri lays it out, offering helpful considerations: “If you’re not shooting at your own home or the other performers’ home, make sure you understand the location arrangement — whether the location owner is letting you use their space for free, for a fee that the performers will split, or for a traded scene. And clarify beforehand, who is shooting the scene. Will there be one camera or two? Are you bringing your own videographer? Is another performer bringing a videographer, and if so how is that person going to be paid? Will there be a still photographer on set and is that person being paid, and how? Who is editing the scene, and are you going home with the raw footage?” Don’t be shy to ask questions and talk it through.
3) Paperwork and IDs. Whenever possible, get your paperwork and ID photos squared away ahead of time. “Nothing takes away the sexy like many pages of paperwork and ID photos,” says Mickey Mod. While it may not be sexy, it’s a necessity. “Don’t neglect your record-keeping,” warns performer Andre Shakti. “It’ll bite you in the ass.”
Shares and trades still must obey the law. “I would recommend using the same model release and treat everything the same as a standard scene,” says Deen. He also recommends contacting an attorney to finalize the forms, which detail exclusive content licenses.
Siri reminds us “that under 2257 law, anyone you share or trade content with has the right to sell that content to a third party, thereby disclosing your legal name and IDs. I like to add a clause to my release stating that the content may not be sold to a third party, or any of my personal information disclosed, without my prior written approval; and I also verbally confirm that with whomever I’m sharing content.”
4) Deliverables. Decide when and how you will get your content. If you’re taking home raw footage, bring equipment (memory cards/laptop/external hard drive) with you to store the files. Make sure your media requirement is compatible!
Broadway advises those who outsource the technical aspects of production: “Don’t be afraid to have your editor or webmaster get involved in the discussion. I would much rather answer questions before the shoot than have to reformat and resend content because what was asked for was not what was really needed.”
Being clear about the footage is important, as everyone has a different process. “We actually had a girl refuse to do trade with us because she couldn’t walk away from the shoot with her footage (we shoot most scenes with three broadcast standard cameras, and the raw footage runs a gigabyte a minute per camera, so we usually have raw footage ready the next day). We thought that it was funny that she would refuse content that’s of a higher quality that she normally gets, but understood that she had probably been burned by missed promises in the past.” Whether the files can be taken home that day, or a future date is agreed, make arrangements ahead of time.
Depending on the set up, you may simply choose to bring your own camera. “If you’ll be shooting on tripod with no videographer, try to have each model’s own video camera on two tripods, side-by-side,” advises bondage producer Lorelei Mission. “This way you’ll have your footage to take home right away, instead of having to rely on anyone else to make copies for you.”
5) A satisfying release. Especially with shares, it’s best to set a general timeline for releasing the content. “I try to make sure we’re releasing our shared content within a week or two of each other, or at most a month — that way one of us isn’t getting too much of a ‘head start’ on sales of the shared content,” says Siri.
James Darling notes that two separate shoots can also eliminate the issue around releasing identical, shared content. With completely different shoots, they can be released as desired.
All of these should be considered and discussed before picking up the camera or stepping foot on set.
• Missed connections. Lorelei addressed the issue of working with performers in terms of location and timing. “If your peer keeps canceling and rescheduling, schedule the next one to be where they live. Some performers are simply more likely to go through with a shoot if they don’t have to drive anywhere. If your peer keeps canceling and rescheduling, evaluate the start-times you’ve been requesting. Instead of a morning start, try an after-lunch start time. If even that doesn’t work, try a mid-afternoon start time, with a pizza-break for dinner and then resuming shooting in the evening.”
Without the incentive of a paycheck, and even among friends, planning a shoot can mean going the extra mile. “Be extra organized and on top of the shoot — often times if people aren’t getting paid, they’re more apt to cancel at the last minute, be late, be unresponsive (communication-wise), and just generally not take it as seriously,” advises Shakti. “Constantly check in with your crew, and it will set you up for success.”
• Film screenings and promotion. Ms. Naughty has learned through doing content shares for BrightDesire.com with Zahra Stardust and Pandora Blake, she brings up issues that may arise for the film’s future when working with other, such as promotional materials for affiliates, trailers, and for erotic films, issues regarding who is in charge of festival submissions and premieres.
Plan to discuss promotion all the way down to the watermark. “You’ll always want to watermark your content with your logo,” says Vendetta. “When you are shooting for content trade it’s really common to have two different watermarks on images or video. But make sure you talk about this first!”
• Going global? It’s a small world, with growing number of collaborative opportunities for performers and producers overseas. Being literally on new terrain, it is now imperative that you know your laws. Start by asking the locals. “It’s helpful to talk to other producers to learn about the legalities of porn production and distribution especially with working with people from other countries,” shares Gray. Remember that when shooting in the U.S., U.S. government-issued IDs are required for 2257 forms. When filming abroad, the laws surrounding pornography will depend on the country.
• To share or trade? Trades tend to work best if both parties have similar level of distribution, or, says Broadway, “if they each have different but specific needs, like one needs an adult baby scene and the other needs a forced orgasm scene.”
“Consider doing two separate shoots to focus on what each performer wants rather than trying to fit everything in to one if the ideas don’t work naturally from the beginning,” says Gray.
“Sharing a scene with the other performer(s) in that scene never dilutes my own sales, as far as I’ve been able to observe,” notices Siri. “Part of that is because when I do content share, I generally do it with other performers whose markets don’t overlap too much with my own. And when there is market overlap, like when I share content with another naturally busty performer, even then my sales stay the same. I like to keep the ‘pool’ of content sharers as small as possible, ideally so that only me and the other performer(s) on camera own rights to the scene.”
Expanding a brand is also an opportunity for growth within the industry. A number of performers highlight the positive outcomes of working with trades and shares.
For some, it’s a chance to get familiar with the inner workings of the genre and get in touch with their passions for the industry. “My curiosity in learning how to film, edit, do paperwork, and hopefully put out something positive into the world of porn is mostly what fueled making content for me,” says Gray.
Kane highlights an often overlooked incentive to be gained from content shares and trades: cross-promotion. “There is also value in shooting content with established performers from a social media aspect. You two can Tweet and cross-promote each other to generate more sales for yourself, and also gain new followers.”
And Vendetta reminds us that content trades and shares can also propel a career.
“I always tell people to make a dream list of people they’d like to work with. And work your way up the list. You can do it if you bust your ass!” By building a portfolio, you’ll also be establishing relationships with other models, performers, and producers.
I wish I’d had all this advice two years ago. Though now I’m better suited for the next opportunity to come. Never again will I so obliviously forgo paperwork, and take such a risk on my best performances — I love what I do and want my videos to see the light of day! I’ve learned that for the right performer, someone dedicated and organized, the act of collaborating with other industry professionals in either trades, shares, or barter for services can create unique content that has the potential to elevate careers, provide income, and birth new production studios with new, inspired filmmakers. With careful planning and clear organization, trades can be a win-win. (Or if you prefer: a win for you, then a win for me.)
I would like to thank Andre Shakti, Arabelle Raphael, Bella Vendetta, Danny Wylde, James Darling, James Deen, Jimmy Broadway, Kelly Shibari, Kimberly Kane, Lorelei Mission, Mickey Mod, Ms. Naughty, Owen Gray, Siri, and Stoya. Now go buy their shit.
Jiz Lee is a porn performer, an “outsider insider” and a wearer of many hats.