Veteran Producers Stay True to Vision, Adapt to Today’s Trends
After surviving the unforgiving reign of web-based market dynamics, which scythed through the chaff and left only leanly muscled players in its wake, content has risen from the ashes. It has clawed its way back, forged into a hardened revenant bedecked as much in cutting-edge cinematography as in glittering creativity.
Now, as visionaries and veterans reclaim the porn kingdom with all the zealotry of the Spanish Reconquista, the industry must tread cautiously to truly secure the borderlands. For that downward valuation did not steal into the throne room like a midnight assassin, striking from billowing curtains with shocking suddenness. Rather, it crept forth slowly from untended canals and dusty byways, a plague constricting market gluttony with python inevitability.
Discerning the means by which adult industry elite thrived in spite of a war-torn landscape, proactively bulwarking themselves amidst fiercely evolving content standards, XBIZ reached out to steadfast mainstays such as Penthouse president and owner Kelly Holland.
She believes all producers are subject to the same market forces any business sector experiences, especially during seismic upheavals. “It’s the fundamental principle of supply and demand,” Holland said. “Over the last few years, so much of the content production has focused on internet distribution, that there is now a shortage of good, quality soft erotic content. That’s great for Penthouse, which has continued to produce soft erotic, because it’s part of our brand identity and we have several soft broadcast channels around the world.”
On the same topic, Wicked Pictures founder Steve Orenstein remarked that his company maintained consistently high standards throughout the trials and tribulations. “The company was formed with a commitment to producing high-end adult movies for women and couples, and we’ve remained true to that goal, even when it seemed at odds with the prevailing economic trends,” he said. “To remain relevant and competitive in the last 10 years, we’ve diversified and expanded our range of products and services. Our romance-driven Wicked Passions label, our Wicked Comix and Wicked Fairy Tales franchises, the educational series jessica drake’s ‘Guide to Wicked Sex’ and the Wicked Sensual Care line of luxurious lubricants and enhancers are diverse offerings which all adhere to our consistent standard of beauty and excellence.”
Adam & Eve’s general manager Bob Christian said the biggest change over the past decade is the use of HD cameras for virtually everything. “The pixel density and color saturation are generally terrific, whether for amateur, phone shot videos or professionally produced movies,” he said. “DVDs remain mostly SD (not often on Blu-ray), but still are so much better for being shot with HD cameras.
Lighting is another area that has greatly improved in quality over the past 10 years. Again, this is because of the greater availability of lower cost and technologically improved solutions.”
Holly Randall, famed photographer and director, credited new technology as a factor that has allowed filmmakers to dramatically improve the cinematic quality of production for much less. “The cost of cameras versus the quality they output has dramatically improved from 10 years ago,” she said. “As far as the rest of the production, budget cuts have forced us to eliminate some of the little details that I think could really make a production stand out. There’s often not enough money for a stylist or a set designer, when 10 years ago those things were pretty much standard on everything I shot.”
Writer and director Jacky St. James observed that standards have only improved over time and that there is a very healthy level of competition among the top companies and directors in the business. “You’re seeing the emergence of some exceptional new directors and you’re seeing seasoned vets really step up their game,” she said. “There’s a lot more creativity as a whole. When I began in the business five years ago, there were only a handful of directors I really considered delivering high quality content — now, there’s a lot more out there paying more attention to overall production value. It’s as if the lone wolves producing the great stuff years ago have inspired others to follow suit. It’s a nice change.”
Hustler founder Larry Flynt commented that the primary force behind quality improvement has been the marketplace. “Only quality porn will survive in the future — good photographers, good models and good marketing,” he said.
When asked to define a high quality production, Bob Christian maintained that Adam & Eve Pictures defines a high quality production as one which has “a good story line, a great cast, a meaningful script that engages the viewer mentally (and ‘physically!’), along with a good budget which affords multiple mood-evoking settings, a strong director and crew, plus good equipment, of course. We do strive to make all of our movies ‘high quality’ and ‘really good’ etc. but I don’t think you want to hear that pitch. Our big movies are the high quality productions that we put the most time and money into, to make them somehow special and stand out from other adult movies.”
Steve Orenstein said Wicked’s definition of a high-quality production is best exemplified by looking at their current blockbusters. “Stormy Daniels’ ‘Wanted,’ for example, is a great movie with fantastic performances and mainstream quality production design,” he said. “We were once again thrilled to collaborate with Adam & Eve, who co-produced the movie with us. Brad Armstrong’s ‘Magic Mike XXXL,’ ‘The J.O.B.’ and ‘Starmaker’ are all excellent productions with fantastic acting.
Axel Braun’s productions for his Wicked Fairy Tales and Wicked Comix lines, including ‘Batman v Superman XXX,’ ‘Supergirl XXX’ and ‘Peter Pan XXX’ are all equally strong in their genres and show the respect for the source material our fans demand. The audience has many options at their fingertips and we value their loyalty.”
Holly Randall opined that a quality production is “when you hire top tier talent, get spectacular locations, beautiful wardrobe and good camera work. Not to mention a decent script!”
As for Jacky St. James, she suggested that for her, having just one great standout does not necessarily make a great film. “I always look at the quality of sound, the composition of shots, motivated camera (Eddie Powell has been doing this from the beginning) great story-telling, great acting, soundtrack and color grading,” she said.
When it comes to employing key strategies to maintain a lead position in the adult industry long-term, Bob Christian emphasized, “The key strategies we have employed are the basics — good cast having great sex, good titles, good boxes and visuals, and good production value (getting the most quality we can for our production dollars). But further, I would like to believe that part of the key for Adam & Eve is to maintain a good feeling on set for all the people there — to care for the cast, the crew and believing that helps ‘lift’ attitudes to provide us great performances. And I must say that another key strategy is to be consistent and persistent, while open and flexible. Meaning, we have kept making movies while some have not, and that we continually try to learn and evolve with different formats and genres. Adam & Eve serves a wide variety of tastes in a wide variety of ways.”
Kelly Holland believes there is a misperception that the evolution of the industry is a straight line to increasingly harder and harder images. “This is not true, because there’s a large part of our consumer base that likes more sophisticated images,” she said. “That’s evidenced by us, by MetArt and all of the ‘MetArt-ish’ styles that have followed.”
Steve Orenstein identified a key strategy has been to nurture and support the vision of their performers and filmmakers. “Brad Armstrong has been with us for about twenty years at this point, and has won more awards than we can count over that time for his standout movies,” he said. “Stormy Daniels has evolved over the last dozen years as a performer, writer and blockbuster filmmaker. Axel Braun created the Wicked Fairy Tales and Wicked Comix lines, and consistently wins awards with his innovative productions. jessica drake continues to develop her instructional series and expand her outreach as a sex educator in fresh and exciting ways. Asa has proven herself time and again to be a phenomenal performer and is bringing her unique perspective to the world as a successful author. These forward-thinking people allow Wicked to explore new ground while staying true to our core vision of producing quality adult entertainment and strengthening our appeal to women and couples.”
Holly Randall insisted she always brings 100 percent to the table. “I am incapable of phoning it in,” she said. “With the budgets we have to work with these days, I’ve seen a lot of producers give up all creativity and inspiration and just go through the motions, turning out material that all looks the same. I am constantly trying to find new places to shoot, new girls to work with and new concepts to try. Even though I too have to work with smaller budgets these days, my team and I try to get creative in ways that we can still produce top quality content for less. But it’s definitely a challenge! I call in a lot of favors these days.”
Jacky St. James affirmed she never sacrifices her work. “I’ve never had the mentality ‘it’s just porn,’” she said. “I want to be proud of what I do. Because I’m a perfectionist it takes a lot to make me feel proud. I want to know that when I’m done with a film I gave all of my creativity and energy to it. If I don’t — it was a failure.”
Larry Flynt treats porn like any other product. “It would be no different if I was selling toothpaste or peanut butter,” he said.
Regardless of budgetary concerns, market forces and changing seasons, these veterans have adhered to rigorous standards of excellence. They have withstood volley after volley of internet-based onslaughts, pushing back with uncompromising visions and well-trained resources. That is why they stand shoulder to shoulder with the innovative vanguard, pulling content back from the brink to don its royal crown anew.