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Cinematic Visionaries Push the Envelope of Adult Filmmaking

Cinematic Visionaries Push the Envelope of Adult Filmmaking

August 23, 2016
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" For decades, that high bar of quality was enough to guarantee financial success and make us look like brilliant businessmen. But the reality nowadays is we have to make the best content and also be the smartest suits. That’s the daily toil here at Evil Angel. —Adam Grayson, Evil Angel "

Atop the battlements stands a vanguard of brilliantly brash luminaries, a cadre of adult industry renegades who helped thwart the very death knell sounded by rampant piracy.

When an internet-fueled tide swept ruinously over the ripened fruits of hard working studios, like a locust swarm threatening kingdom-wide famine, these artisans stepped forth fearlessly to conjure great wonders.

Transcending the limits imposed by entitled consumers and rogue content dispensaries, this innovative coterie catered to a quietly growing community of moneyed connoisseurs. They cast erotic sorceries with every well-timed cutaway and background blurred shot, hiring top talent and enforcing a visual fidelity reserved only for those with a ready purse.

Soon enough, even the most miserly of viewers found their fingers inching towards premium material to partake in the revelry, lest they be denied a courtesan’s touch of purchased lust. To witness the supernatural, to walk among the divinely inspired, consumers knew they had to pay tribute.

XBIZ sought out the reclusive magicians responsible for this renaissance, whose boldness redeemed a dying industry by virtue of unflinching willpower. It is they who have helped usher in the return of content as king.

Greg Lansky, the chief creative officer of Blacked.com and Tushy.com, was arguably the first through the breach, hoisting a victorious banner above the melee and encouraging others to follow suit. “We created disruptive innovations with our brands,” he stated. “It opened up new markets and value networks. We also disrupted existing markets by offering a product that was more in touch with what viewers are looking for. We wanted to displace established market leaders by beating them on quality and it worked.

“We found strategic and innovative white space through the power of disruption, it was risky, scary and actually counterintuitive but it worked,” he continued. “We operated under the radar for a while until it was too late for the competition to react. I genuinely wanted to bring real value to customers and the adult industry as a whole.

“For us, there’s no balance between innovative artistry and good business sense,” Lansky elucidated. “We like to consider everything we do as art… it’s a huge part of our company culture and film productions. Our team pushes themselves to constantly innovate. We never settle and always push forward to deliver better quality to our audience. Our ideal is to change the consumer’s viewpoint of adult films.

“I think ultimately the art is being able to see and put things together in a way no one else has before,” he concluded. “It’s also about finding a way to really touch people with your content and also inspire the adult stars that work on the projects with you. Make them feel something. I think our team has a unique ability to do that.”

Another forward-thinking creator is MimeFreak, lead director and general manager of ArchAngel, who credits his predecessors for giving him knowledge right from the beginning. “It’s an honor to have been a student of Chris Streams, Pat Myne, Mick Blue, Jay Sin and Richard Avery’s careers,” he said. “These guys always focused on their core strengths to give to the fans, while taking on multiple positions. But, I can never take the credit alone. ArchAngel has a hell of a team and we come together to make business decisions and come up with ways to keep things basic, yet innovative, for the fans to enjoy. You never want to assume what you can’t control. Lastly, I also give credit to the fans. When it came time to start something new, I went right to social media to find the answer.”

Adam Grayson, the chief financial officer of Evil Angel, offered his own perspective on the importance of cutting-edge evolution. “When Evil Angel and the broader ‘gonzo revolution’ came in the early 90s, we have to remember John Stagliano, Chris Alexander, Rocco Siffredi, etc. were competing against content that was frankly terrible,” he pointed out. “Fans had that ‘OMG!’ moment when they saw how good this new content was. We have basically ridden that energy for the past 27 years, focusing on giving fans a steady diet of those ‘OMG!’ moments. Evil Angel is a brand synonymous with quality, and we’re always focusing on living up to that.

“I think we’ve fulfilled those brand promises as consistently as anyone, and that is the bedrock of our relationship with our fans,” Grayson stated. “For decades, that high bar of quality was enough to guarantee financial success and make us look like brilliant businessmen. But the reality nowadays is we have to make the best content and also be the smartest suits. That’s the daily toil here at Evil Angel.”

Performer and director Ryan Madison, co-founder of Kelly Madison Media, has likewise advanced the cause of content as king. “It is important for me to be passionate, artistic and to show real emotions and real pleasure — anything fake winds up on the cutting room floor,” he said. “I keep it simple in every aspect, spending money on equipment and the talent and keeping within budget by creating all of our own sets, plus we do everything in house.

Bree Mills, head of production for Gamma Films and producer of Girlsway, believes that enthusiasm and passion are contagious. “It’s not that what we are doing at Girlsway or PrettyDirty is particularly revolutionary — we just truly love what we do and throw everything we have into our work,” she said. “It’s a mission (not a job) and that’s a level of dedication that is not easy to replicate. And it’s not just me... it’s our directors, production crews, staff, fans and models. We’ve built this collective movement that keeps growing month over month and, honestly, this is what inspires us to reach further creatively,”

“Personally, I never think of my work as ‘business,’” she remarked. “I’m fortunate enough to be backed by extremely experienced and knowledgeable people at Gamma who allow me to focus on creating great content and not just worry about impression counts or ROI metrics. I can be an artist who uses data and good business logic to inspire me, but not to choke or constrain me. It’s all of this positive energy and creative freedom that results in the final content we release.”

In the realm of gay adult films, CockyBoys kingpin Jake Jaxson has a firm grasp on quality. “At its core, I believe our content is authentic, dedicated to capturing a real sexual experience that is also creative and entertaining,” he said. “Business-wise, our number one principle is mutual respect — both to our customers and our performers, and that informs our decision process.”

Director and performer Angela White, founder of Angela White Entertainment, reflected on why her content is such a resounding success. “A number of factors have contributed to my content being received positively,” she shared. “However, based on my correspondence with fans and adult film critics, my passionate performances and coherent branding have contributed most significantly to my success. I pride myself on creating content that showcases genuine sexual pleasure and chemistry, with as high a production value as I can achieve. I am also a perfectionist. I micro-manage every aspect of my content’s creation and delivery, from casting, location and wardrobe, to website design, DVD packaging and marketing. I firmly believe that this attention to detail is appreciated by consumers and reviewers.”

“Balancing ‘innovative artistry’ with ‘good business sense’ can be difficult to achieve,” she admitted. “Nevertheless, the ongoing profitability of AGW Entertainment and AngelaWhite.com is essential to the ongoing exploration of my sexuality on film. When you run a small business like myself, you are required to be creative while fiscally responsible; you have to be the CEO and COO simultaneously. Both jobs require distinct skill sets and vastly different instincts. As my business has grown, I have managed these demands using traditional economic practices.

Andrew Sullivan, the screenwriter behind the groundbreaking “Marriage 2.0,” had this to say about his approach. “Our industry produces an incredibly monolithic body of content,” he said. “What we did with ‘Marriage 2.0’ was demonstrate what’s possible within the adult genre. We set a new bar and people responded.”

On the “porn for women” end of the spectrum, Sssh.com founder and director Angie Rowntree said, “I think women have always been intrigued and tantalized by the idea of porn. Many of them just didn’t like the porn that is available on the market. I want to give them an alternative. My success boils down to a nice coincidence between what I wanted to do anyways (creating movies which appeal to and resonate with women), and an opportunity created by a massive gap in the market because so few people are even trying to appeal to a female audience.

“The other key is I’ve always taken the approach of asking women what they want to see, instead of assuming I already knew,” she recounted. “I try to be as true to their fantasies and desires as I can, while still maintaining my own creative paradigm. My movies are based on stories submitted by our members, and within that, I infuse them with emotional content and imagery that appeals to me as a film-maker. My films approach sex from a different angle than you typically find in most porn these days. They are positive and celebrate sexuality. I also try to use real couples, which brings a unique dynamic and chemistry to the screen.”

Filming technology has also progressed substantially over the years, impacting production and stagecraft by opening up new opportunities. On this subject, Greg Lansky stated, “Our focus on all our productions is achieving a cinematic look. For that reason we work with all the mainstream industry standards tools available. The resolution that cameras offer today is incredible and it offers you amazing latitude on post-production. It allows you to create Hollywood-like images. Ten years ago, access to this level of technology would have been a way bigger investment in time and money.”

MimeFreak concurred that producers have all benefited from cameras becoming smaller and more powerful. “There are so many options from the digital world that help all of us display our craft in true HD and even 4K,” he said. “Whoever thought you could actually use a smartphone or a camera the same width as a credit card to shoot amazing content with? I’m using a few different cameras myself and I’m really excited about it. But, by the time you finish reading this, I will be looking to purchase or already have bought another camera.”

Ryan Madison believes 4K Ultra HD video has by far been the most revolutionary in changing how he shoots, edits and markets content. “At first, we did this by hijacking our DSLRs and making our existing equipment do far beyond what it should have, and then a few years ago investing in really good 4K cameras and upgrading all our computers,” he said. “I love doing color correction and with the video so rich with data, the possibilities are now endless.”

Bree Mills has invested in a lot of equipment over the past year to improve her overall production value. “These have helped us pull off much more elaborate cinematography sequences and also baked some much-needed efficiency into our production days,” she said. “We’ve also tried to align our production and editing teams so that investments in technology can have positive effects on both the filming and the editing of our content.”

Jake Jaxson demurred somewhat, underlining that while the adult industry is often on the cutting-edge of new technology, as a filmmaker he is first and foremost a storyteller. “And to that degree I try not to get tripped up in using the newest technology for the sake of it,” he said. “I will say that what I find most exciting is the ease and accessibility of shooting something. I recently shot an entire feature, ‘Meeting Liam,’ entirely on an iPhone, and that was pure bliss!”

Angela White delved deeply into her grab bag of high-tech gear. “Filmmaking technology has advanced significantly over the past decade,” she said. “But it must be noted that each preceding decade also witnessed its own powerful innovations. In my opinion, the most substantial impact on production and stagecraft over the past few years has been the democratization of filmmaking, both in adult and non-adult genres. The explosion of camera systems in recent years that are affordable, dynamic, possess large sensors and thus excellent lowlight performance, has unlocked a suite of creative potentials for myself as a producer and director.

“They have reduced the need for expensive lighting and grip, and in turn, allowed me to invest in other aspects of the filmmaking process required to bring about my creative vision,” White delineated. “Secondly, the fall in price, and increased power, of post-production software has unlocked new creative vistas while significantly reducing the cost of editing and effects work. Finally, the proliferation of freely available information on how to use these new, more powerful and more affordable forms of filmmaking hardware and software has empowered my filmmaking.”

Andrew Sullivan sees technology as just one aspect of the solution studios need to consider when trying to increase the added value of content. “The fixation with technology conveniently deflects the conversation from the real problems with adult: lack of vision from major studios, budgets that don’t approach those of minor independent movies and a serious lack of skill in directing, styling, scoring and editing movies,” he declared. “We do all-sex scenes well, but we don’t make what any legitimate film critic would identify as a good movie.”

Angie Rowntree believes the most significant advance in filming technology is the move to shooting in 4K to 6K. “We have upgraded our cameras to REDs,” she said. “With its 6K capabilities and dynamic range, our footage is stunning. We have the ability to shoot in Redcode raw format, which maximizes post-production capabilities. Textures and colors are rich and allow for truly cinematic quality. Of course, we also had to upgrade our editing machines and storage capacity. Producers beware!

“Another useful aspect of filming in 4K-6K is that it ‘future-proofs’ our films,” Rowntree observed. “When broadband capacity and consumer devices catch up in terms of the resolution they can support and deliver, I will be able to re-release existing films at the higher resolutions.”

Many of these innovators remain on the frontlines by never resting on their laurels. They scout unfamiliar territory aggressively to stay ahead of the curve both technologically and creatively. To this end, Greg Lansky asserted, “Technologically, we have an amazing team always pushing to innovate to deliver a better customer experience. We are extremely close to our audience and through constant interactions we learn from them how to improve. Creatively, it’s a different story… I find inspiration from my team, meditation and overcoming the fear of failure.

“I don’t want to be outrageous just to be different, but I believe the art is to push it far enough that it’s original, but not too far that it’s just not marketable,” he argued. “In other words, understanding where the line between ridiculous and boring is. I will never settle for a knockoff of something. When other companies do it, they think it is safe, but it is not. All they do is make an echo. I would rather risk being wrong than being boring.

“I’m also very passionate about creating a working environment for my team where they will feel the freedom to create and a sense of self-expression and fun while working,” Lansky assured. “I think the experience of working should be a liberating journey and I strive to achieve that state of mind daily, because when I do, I’m able to create free from the constraints of expectations.”

For MimeFreak, it’s all about absorbing the lessons from diverse media. “I read a bunch and watch a lot of different things to gather ideas, whether it be documentaries or anime,” he said. “If anyone is familiar with my work or how I work, I always go right to the source… the fans. The fans are full of ideas on how they want their favorite performers paired and shot. If it makes sense, why not? Technologically, I have a circle of friends that I depend on that I will ask if the moves I make are ones they’re willing to make as well.”

Adam Grayson admits that one of the great things about the structure at Evil Angel, is they do not have to worry about cameras or new ideas as much, because the directors take care of that for them. “They have the creative sparks and it’s our job to market the products and provide feedback to them,” he said. “We’ve really focused on tightening the feedback loop between revenue and our directors, and it’s an area of the company we hope to strengthen in the future.”

Ryan Madison confided it is difficult when new technology arrives to know if he has chosen the right path or if in six months from now, something much better and cheaper comes along. “Being cutting-edge and not making the wrong choices involves a bit of luck and doing a ton of research,” he said. “We are always reaching, technologically and artistically, along with having an eye on the consumer while not letting them dictate what we do — but giving them something they didn’t know they wanted.”

Bree Mills advised industry creatives to keep their eyes and ears open, constantly staying tuned in to new developments. “The easiest way to let something slip past you is to remain uneducated,” she said. “I spend a lot of time observing what our industry puts out and paying attention to the various trendsetters — both out of artistic respect and to see what they’re up to. If I see something that I feel we should either emulate or, at the very least, learn about, I’ll put my team on the case to become fast experts. This has really helped us at least keep up with the curve.”

Jake Jaxson affirmed he is fortunate that most of his staff and creative team “are a few decades younger” than him, and that they keep him up to speed on trends and technology. “But creatively, I pretty much draw from my life experiences for my work,” he said. “I also firmly believe that porn has a purpose in helping us to better understand and connect to our sexual self. That is the starting point for all of the work we create at CockyBoys.”

Angela White concurred that technology can allow producers and directors to be more creative with powerful new tools, so they can fulfill their visions more completely. “However, I firmly believe that one must never allow technological development to substitute itself for creativity,” she said. “I don’t actively try and stay ahead of the proverbial technological curve. Rather, I stay abreast of technological developments and implement them if and when they are a means to my creative ends. Furthermore, I try and avoid technological determinism. 4K Ultra HD, for example, is obviously a great development, not only for future-proofing one’s content and meeting the demands of enthusiastic fans who want the sharpest and most detailed imagery possible, but particularly when it comes to special effects and composition corrections in post-production.

“Akin to my approach to the technologically curve, I do not actively try and stay ahead of the creative curve,” White divulged. “But, I am always looking towards fashion, art and mainstream film for visual elements that I can adapt to my adult film aesthetic.”

With a commitment to provocative and visually potent content, these innovative players have elevated the game. Their risk-taking audacity is as grounded in research as it is in pure imagination, ensuring that others can follow in their footsteps to rally against web-based market considerations. As the vanguard, they have expanded the pornographic empire to newfound horizons, securing the reign of content once again.


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