In the adult realm, award-winning directors like John Stagliano can transport you into a world of haute couture fetish sex, or Digital Playground's Joone can set booty-laden galleons sailing the Seven Seas.
Often, directors get all the credit for bringing their vision to the screen.
Director Michael Ninn can take you through heaven and hell in pursuit of a cinematic climax, but his concepts are captured on tape by one of the industry's most unsung heroes — the cameraman.
"You know, I can tell, when a shooter picks up the camera, within three minutes whether or not he has an eye for composition," Ninn said. "It's about looking through that camera and finding connecting space from one shot to the next. Is he willing to get on his belly to get the shot? Is he willing to go the distance to get the shot?"
In adult production, the director, cameraman and performers are part of a three-pronged unit, creating material that will become movie magic in the hands of an editor. And for the product to be any good, each contributor to the process must have a highly developed skill set, to result in the movie being a seamless visual experience for the viewer.
"With the films that I make, it's important that they show some talent as a cameraman," Ninn said. "You have skill and then you have talent, which is God-given. When you are a talented cameraman, you automatically go for the sweet spot on the set and shoot. It's not a learning process."
Over the years, Ninn and many other directors have tapped the natural talent of cameraman Barry Wood — an AVN Hall of Famer who has won eight out of the last 11 years for Best Videography (several shared with second cameraman Chris Ward); most recently for titles like Ninn Worx's "Sacred Sin" in 2007 and "In the Garden of Shadows" in 2005, and going back to VCA's "Forever Night" in 1999, which was directed also by Ninn.
"You need to know how exactly something is made, and before you shoot you need to know what has to happen in that scene. Your best directors have a very good sense," Wood said, describing the qualities of a good director. "In the old days, directors never saw anything until they got their film developed, so they had to have a very good eye for what the camera [sees]."
"I've worked for about 65 different directors," he said, in his laidback British accent.
His short list of directorial colleagues reads like an adult who's who: Jim Holliday, Mitchell Spinelli, Henri Pachard, Fred Lincoln, Bud Lee, Antonio Passolini, Andre Madness, Greg Dark, Bobby Rinaldi, Red Ezra, Nina Hartley, Jim Malibu, Jonathan Morgan, Rob Black, Matt Zane, Chi Chi LaRue and Clive McLean, to name a few.
Wood, who was a drummer and hairdresser to stars like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards during the heyday of late '60s London, entered the adult business as the manager of a stage set in Los Angeles that sometimes rented out to adult productions in the mid-'80s.
Married to '80s adult starlet Trinity Loren, Wood also took a turn at performing under the name Shane Hunter, but as their marriage broke up, he started looking for other adult career choices.
"I watched all the lighting people. I was a [production assistant] in the beginning, like every one else, and then I started lighting," Wood said. "Eventually my mother died and left me some money, and I wanted to put it to good use. I spent some of it on a camera package and started renting it. I started watching camera people shoot — then I started shooting camera."
Over time, Wood's skill as a shooter has allowed him membership to a tight-knit group of cameramen that works on big-budget features and every other type of professional production, sometimes using cameras that are worth $80,000-plus, experimenting with advanced camera techniques and CGI effects.
"I love them, if they're done right — special effects are fantastic," Wood said. "In 1996, I shot a movie called 'Latex' and its follow-up, called 'Shock.' It was on blue screen and we built the top of a skyscraper on a stage and had blue screen all around that. Then after, Michael Ninn put the top of the skyscraper on a skyscraper, in a city, and they computer animated it, and it was amazing, especially for back then. 'Shock' was like one of those big movies done for the big screen in a theatre, but it still sells to video shops today."
Currently, Wood is set to beginning filming of Ninn Worx_SR's next mega-budget title, "The Four," which he anticipates will be one of the biggest movies he's ever shot.
At a point in his career when he can choose to work on projects that he prefers, big features with occasional gonzo work and a little Web content thrown in for good measure, Wood is also currently pursuing freelance directing gigs.
As a matter of fact, most shooters will tell you that 75 percent of the time, they become the de facto directors, just by virtue of being the one who has to get in there and shoot it and tell the performers what he needs to capture the scene.
"The cameraman is almost like a third person in the scene — you're that close and into it. You speak to them and tell them what you need — 'Do this again' or 'Open this' or 'Cover that' — that's pretty much done in real time and that's what makes our industry different than the mainstream," said Jake Jacobs, another shooter with a long history in adult. "In adult, they're sitting at the monitor watching this event unfold and you're pretty much — with the guidance that the director already gave you — orchestrating the sex as it happens."
Jacobs is an award-winning videographer for titles like Wicked's "Euphoria" in 2002, as well as for New Sensations' "Dark Angels" in 2001, and a Best Cinematography award for Wicked's "Dreamquest" in the same year.
In 1984, Jacobs entered the industry while working for a small production/rental house in Arizona. Delivering equipment to an adult set, it wasn't long before he was approached to shoot camera and eventually to perform.
"It was one of those things where I was one of the original stunt cocks," Jacobs said, pointing out that he still performs under his screen name Jay Crew. "I represent all the crew men in the industry, when I stand in front of the camera."
His list of credits goes back to the days when shooting adult films was illegal in California, prior to the Freeman vs. California decision, which allowed production of adult films. Many of the studios that he worked for, including Hollywood Video and Cinderella Video, are long gone after producing many classic titles of that era.
"The video market just started exploding; I came in right about then," Jacobs said. "There was a lot of traveling around California. We did a lot of stuff down in Orange County in all the swing clubs. We were running-n-gunning, guerilla shooting from the '80s, up until '89. From San Diego to San Francisco, we would be just traveling back and forth shooting adult film."
Trained by the Air Force in TV broadcast and production, Jacobs is one of few formally trained camera operators in the adult industry, though he also takes mainstream gigs when he can. He also owns and operates a camera jib, which he rents out for productions.
So, when viewers wonder why a blockbuster adult movie still has a different look and feel than a mainstream Hollywood movie, Jacobs points out camera technique as being a factor. "In porno, we make the shots. We move and push in, or do whatever we want and that's much, much more creative than if you're in the [mainstream] industry," he said.
"The straight industry, they really are camera operators — they operate the camera and do exactly what they're told to do. In our industry, we have to catch it on the fly, immediately, and we have shot it in 30 minutes, because we don't have a whole day like in the straight industry, so you have a lot more freedom," Jacobs said.
"I've always said that what we do is a combination of being a fashion videographer, documentary videographer and sports videographer — because it's happening in front of you very fast," he said. "In fashion, you have to find the best angle and maintain the best angle on these people at all times, to enhance what they're doing. Because it's documentation, you don't know when it's going to end, so you have to catch it all in that moment; really you try to let it unfold in real time in front of you."
Jacobs has worked at all the major production houses, especially for Wicked and at Penthouse, where he and Kelly Holland have maintained a 12-year working relationship. Currently, Jacobs is producing Brazilian lines for Penthouse and Nectar.
"I actually own a couple of my own sites, and I see where the future is going," Jacobs speculates.
Just as he watched the industry transition from video to digital formats, he said that the industry is in transition again, as DVD sales decline and Internet seems to be the way of the future.
The life-on-the-fly attitude of the adult industry isn't wasted on another popular cameraman, James Digiorgio, otherwise known as Jimmy D.
Digiorgio, a native of New Jersey, has been shooting camera since he was 12 when his father bought him his first 35mm still camera. With college experience in TV production, he tried several careers including stints as a mainstream producer/director, working as a cameraman for several aerospace companies and finally, in L.A. doing standup at local comedy clubs.
It was the early '90s and he was in his early 40s when Digiorgio met someone at a comedy gig who referred him to an editing gig, and — long story short — he ended up running post-production for Sin City Entertainment, eventually directing his first title for them, called "Boob Watch."
"'Boob Watch'" was a parody of Buck Adams' 'Babe Watch' that was a parody of the TV show, 'Baywatch.' A parody of a parody — you don't see that much," Digiorgio said. "I've been shooting porn ever since … amongst other things."
A practical and pragmatic personality, Digiorgio has worked on hundreds of adult sets for companies like Avalon, Legend, New Vision, as well as directing "The Sopornos 1-3" for VCA Pictures, which he said was his favorite project.
With a relatively shorter career than Wood or Jacobs, Digiorgio has still seen many changes in the way adult movies are made and finds that advancing technology is not a substitute for the skill of a craftsperson.
"The biggest changes have occurred because of technology. There was a time when shooting a suitable video camera required more skill as the cameras themselves required more skill and experience and know-how to operate," Digiorgio said. "Today, the vast majority of porn is shot with cameras that cost a fraction of what a broadcast-quality camera once cost and with the camera settings set to record in the auto-everything modes. It's point-and-shoot video production on most sets these days.
"This also holds true for editing: I purchased two AVID editing systems in the'90s. They cost nearly $100,000 each," he said.
"Today, a Final Cut Pro system costs a fraction of that and most producers care less about the editing being seamless and invisible, which is the mark of great editing. Instead, they utilize every cheesy effect the new editing systems are capable of producing, requiring little in terms of the craft of editing or the editorial skills. Interestingly, shooting high-definition requires more skills to capture great imagery," he said.