Indie for All
You'd never guess McKai would stir such controversy or be the thought leader of an adult revolution. His detractors accuse him and his tattooed love-girls of being nothing but a self-styled marketing gimmick. But even as they criticize McKai for putting his pretty pretensions all over what is supposed to be pure porn for the meat-stroking masses, more and more companies are jumping on the "alt" bandwagon.
"Ultimately, I brought a different audience to buy this stuff because I was different and I came from a different place," McKai said. "I drew a line from outside this business, into it. I used the materials here to make something for a bunch of people who are somewhere else and that's why my product is sold differently."
He grew up in Los Angeles and has a degree in filmmaking from the California Institute for Art.
"Every other school was miserable to me, being learning disabled. So it's the first school where I could go right to what I wanted to do and totally junk out on it and get good," he said.
When you talk to McKai, he has a tendency to go off on a tangent. It's almost like you can hear his brain whirring and clicking, and especially when he's talking about porn, the ideas are expressed abstractly. Emails come the same way; with spelling that seems like he is writing in his own language, cryptographically hip.
To understand his aesthetic, you need to understand the culture he's coming from. Born in 1980, McKai is part of a generation that has always had Internet access.
His audience crosses over many different scenes: punk, goth, rockabilly, raver, emo or straight edge, each with their own music and fashion. But the one common denominator is the web.
"In alt porn, there's a huge community," McKai said. "That community online is kind of what makes alt porn go. What I'm talking about is where all this comes from, which is websites like Suicide Girls and Fatal Beauty and Goth Girls. They all have communities and they have all these people in there talking all the time. So, porn is a campfire in the alt porn scene."
Being part of a group is key for McKai and his 18-to- 30-year-old demographic. They socialize on chat boards, IM each other, video chat, and pimp their MySpace pages. To a large extent, their personalities develop online.
"You can kind of build your sexuality online, with all the devices and the way we communicate with each other. That's totally changing the way we court and flirt with each other," he said. "I think the chastity with all this electronic equipment between us; it almost gives us permission to be a little more open."
With ready access to online porn and bombarded with sexual imagery from everywhere else, an increasingly open attitude towards sexuality should be no surprise. As McKai points out, it's become typical for girls to post nude pictures of themselves, akin to what appearing in Playboy symbolized 30 years ago.
"If you're this type of girl and you're really hot, you kind of want to have your moment there," he said.
Thirty years ago, having a tattoo seemed dangerous and outside the mainstream. Now, having a tattoo is a badge for connecting with a particular subculture.
Categorized by the adult industry at large, McKai wants people to know there's more to alt than just tattoos and piercings, or girls in Converse and chipped nail polish. He's bringing his artistic sex vision to a market that's more interested in the group experience than the solo masturbatory experience.
While he winces at alt porn being stereotyped, he is also the first to admit he was willing to be labeled.
After convincing Hustler/VCA to produce his first movie, "Art School Sluts" in 2004, McKai was at the 2005 Adult Entertainment Expo when he met Jonno, the voice behind Fleshbot.com.
Realizing that a mention on Fleshbot could crash his server, McKai asked him, "What are we and what are we doing here?"
Jonno responded, "You're alt porn — that's what we're categorizing you as."
"Kill Girl Kill 1, 2 & 3" soon followed, as well as "Neu Wave Hookers," McKai's homage to the Dark Bros.' 1985 classic.
Then a falling out at VCA found McKai in a position to be approached by Vivid.
"Vivid was not the obvious match in my mind," he said. "Until I came here and started operating. I asked for things and everyone has totally kept their word."
At Vivid Alt, McKai has been given creative free rein over almost every aspect of the imprint. Last year, he produced and directed "Girls Lie," which premiered at the First Annual Berlin Porn Film Festival.
The movie follows a fairly typical sequence of sex scenes; four girls conniving their ways through various sexual situations.
But what's not typical is the indie-experimental, music video feel of the movie. And the girls — Dana DeArmond, Riley Mason, Charlotte Stokely and Pixie Pearl — are from McKai's roster of alt muses. They're what the new girls-next-door look like, if your neighbor's daughter happens to be a punk rocker or a skater chick.
"This movie is gonna go down in history," said the ethereal Stokely, who plays the role of a drug-addicted hooker. "Now, we talk about 70s porn; 20 years from now, we're gonna say, 'Remember that Eon McKai with his Converse and druggie sluts?'"
"Girls Lie" is served up in a neat package that includes a music CD of bands McKai hand-picked, with names like Wolves in the Throne Room and SubArachnoid Space. The cardboard DVD cover is non-explicit.
"We make our stuff so you can kind of leave it out on the table and maybe somebody wouldn't even notice it's porn," McKai said. "It's designed to almost intrigue — you know, it's kind of like using sex information to bring people together. It's just different ways you can use pornography."
Since returning from this year's AEE, McKai has been focused on merchandising and marketing.
Borrowing from his own fascination with the indie music scene, he produces a first run of 200 DVDs for each Vivid Alt title that's hand-numbered, like collector's vinyl discs produced by indie bands. There are also plans to add a subscription feature to the Vivid Alt website so users can register to receive new releases automatically. Button packs and stickers are distributed with the product.
McKai has always wanted to have an alt section in every adult bookstore but is also looking at mainstream outlets.
"Basically, when you're making something for your tribe, you need them to see those smoke signals clearly and they can't, if it's not displayed properly. It seems like the last few months have been about seeing how stores work," he said.
After Vivid Alt director Dave Naz was interviewed for a podcast at Book Soup, the independent mainstream bookstore on Sunset Blvd, the store agreed to stock Naz's "Skater Girl Fever."
"To me, that's really cool," McKai said. "That's like going to the record store — remember, you'd go to the record store and bump into somebody and start talking about music? That's why kids get into records – it brings us into the store to have that experience."
Winkytiki's "Rebel Rousers" was the first title from Vivid Alt.
Primarily known as a pinup photographer with a fan-base in the rockabilly scene, Winkytiki worked in the adult industry for years before meeting McKai on the set of Ron Royster's "Atomic Vixens: Escape From the Valley of the Sluts." McKai admired Winkytiki's photography and Winkytiki was really into a music video McKai had produced for indie band Louis XIV.
When he made the jump to Vivid, McKai asked Winkytiki to come on board and develop a project. After meeting with CEO Steven Hirsch for the first time, Winkytiki points out the amount of trust it took for Hirsch to invest in an untried market.
"We were the first Vivid directors that were given 100 percent full control of our movies," Winkytiki said, "which meant we didn't have to use the Vivid girls, we didn't do the condom thing and we didn't have to use their formula."
Maybe what McKai has achieved is tapping into an audience that wouldn't normally give a damn about porn — too distracted by every other technological gadget and gizmo to be interested in gonzo. Whatever ignites their interest, McKai is pushing toward the mainstream by creating alternative markets.
"Anything I would want to do from my voice, I think will be considered alt," he said. "I'm also totally ready – alt can be just an experimental few years and a label that really acts as a vehicle to bring an influx of new ideas and new artists. We're making a change."