Made in Maine
It snows a lot in Waterville. It starts snowing in October and doesn't stop until summer — which lasts a few weeks. Then it starts snowing again.
You can get a good sense of life in Waterville from checking out its official website. There's a weekly farmer's market ("every Thursday until Halloween" — that's when it gets too damn cold for the fruits and veggies to survive outdoors). The community calendar for July lists a computer camp, an arts fest and the annual Maine International Film Festival.
The town also recently was named one of the 100 best communities for young people by the National Alliance for Youth. It's quaint, friendly, decidedly old-fashioned.
What most of Waterville's 15,000 residents don't know is that their quiet little burg also is quickly becoming a nexus for East Coast amateur porn, thanks to Mandi Michaels and Margaret Morgan, two enterprising ladies who happened to have a large network of friends who were open to getting naked on camera. Along with Margaret's Husband, Scott, they launched Platinum Media in 1999 and soon began accepting submissions from amateurs throughout New England.
From its inception, the company has used only real couples for female-friendly films that still offer hardcore sex. Today, Platinum Media ships internationally and even distributes lines for other companies. XBIZ spoke with Michaels about her fast-growing porn enterprise 3,000 miles from the heart of Porn Valley.
Mandi Michaels: Do you know how hard it is, talking about yourself? I think it's easier getting naked in front of the camera.
XBIZ: Don't worry, I'll be gentle. First of all, could you give me the three-sentence explanation of how Platinum Media was born?
MM: This is easy: I love sex and really enjoy watching it, but the only company I supported was Homegrown. Commercial porn is just not real, and to me, seeing the buff guy next door is far more a turn-on than some Hollywood "wood" guy. In 1998, Scotty and Margaret were already running the first and biggest mpeg site using amateur talent, and we saw this as a great way to introduce our films. I knew a lot of couples that were not afraid to get in front of a camera. It started off just being something for fun, which turned into what Platinum Media is today.
XBIZ: I think it's safe to say that, thanks to Platinum Media, Waterville is now the porn capital of Maine. Why on Earth did you decide to base a porn company in Maine? And how did you pull it off?
MM: Well you're right about one thing — Waterville is the porn capital of Maine, but that's not saying much since we are the only ones producing adult films in Maine! But we started here because we all lived here. Maine fits the exact feel of our company — it's natural, real, not made up. The people here are from all walks of life, and for the most part, everyone is the sweetest to be around. How did we pull it off? Well, that wasn't so easy. We sure don't have an overabundance of talent available here, but we found we can "ship" talent in from the New England area. And with the Internet, we can conduct business just as well from here as we could in California.
XBIZ: What was the moment that made you realize, "Holy shit — I'm working in porn! I'm actually working in porn!"
MM: When my boyfriend's mother called me up and said, "I just saw you naked on a website." She was not impressed, by the way.
XBIZ: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being located so far from Porn Valley?
MM: Well, the biggest advantage is that I don't have to pretend I'm something other then who I really am. The West Coast really doesn't [offer] what we are looking for [in terms of talent]. Since we only use real-life couples, we aren't faced with all the "I wanna be a porn star" types so common in Porn Valley. The biggest disadvantage is that 70 percent of all the businesses we need to deal with are [in California]; and unfortunately most of them think that because we are in Maine, we don't know what we are doing. You know — the stereotype of "if you're not in Porn Valley, you don't know what you're doing."
XBIZ: Does Platinum Media shoot all the scenes on your DVDs, or are they mostly compiled from footage submitted by amateurs around the country?
MM: We shoot most of the content we produce right here in the New England area. We also have videographers under contract in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and one even in Russia. These people work directly for us contracting and shooting couples in their areas. We always look for new talent and we have, on occasion, purchased footage from couples shooting on their own.
XBIZ: How many titles do you put out each month?
MM: Well, as long as Margaret and I both titty-flash Scotty each day, he manages to finish four new releases each month.
XBIZ: What are your distribution channels?
MM: We currently have most of the major wholesalers on our customer list, including Metro, GVA, IVD, Empire Video and VWOA, and we distribute our product directly to several larger retail chains. We also opened Select Distributors last year, which will begin distributing other amateur production titles. There are a lot of great amateur filmmakers out there who just don't have the volume or contacts to get their product out, and some are a great complement to our line.
XBIZ: You have a progressive service policy for retailers. Tell me a little about that.
MM: We offer free replacements for rental DVDs damaged during the first two months, even if a customer damaged the product. It doesn't do the retailer or us any good seeing the product go into the trash. We also have a 100 percent buy back program for titles that aren't moving or selling within the first 60 days. Even though we might think we put out a great product, in some areas, customers might not take to it. The store shouldn't pay the price for that. So we give the stores something that will sell. Most importantly, we always listen to our customers' ideas. They know what they want more then we do. We are a company that wants to grow with our customer base, and sometimes our customers see things we don't. So it's not just our ideas that make our company great, but the help we received from outside contacts like Mike from Northstar and Joe from GVA.
XBIZ: Are you going through any growing pains?
MM: Our biggest problem is keeping up with all the orders. We are a self-financed company, meaning "cash in ... cash out," and sometimes it's really hard to run ads, make payroll, buy product and pay models all at the same time. Unfortunately, some of our "I want it ASAP" customers practice "net never" terms, which really puts a pinch on a small company like ours.
XBIZ: What's your long-term vision?
MM: With the way things are changing every day? Try to keep our heads above water! Competition is becoming more and more fierce, so it is imperative for us to always remember our customers and to keep our product from changing over to the "dark side of the Force." In other words, we don't ever want to change our product direction from real amateur sex over to some of the raunchy shock video we're seeing. We may not grow as big, but we'll sleep better at night knowing that our movies will always have that special "pixie touch." Some might think seeing a guy cum in a girl's ear while another licks it out is hot, but it is not the direction we will ever take just so we can increase our sales.