It was only 10 years ago that interactive sex movies made their stand as a viable idea thanks to a CD-ROM released by Digital Playground starring a girl with the last name Jameson. "Virtual Sex With Jenna Jameson," the creation of then-partners Scott Taylor and Joone (the former would later leave the company to form New Sensations), set the early standard for the fledgling concept.
The concept was there, but then, as today, it has been reigned in by the limitations of the technology at hand. Still, the genre has a rabid fan base and several companies have created highly successful lines. Digital Playground's "Virtual Sex With…," Digital Sin's "My Plaything," Zero Tolerance's "Interactive Sex with …," Chris Streams and Jules Jordan Video came out with "The Interactive Gina Lynn" last year — and that's only the tip of the iceberg.
But putting out an interactive isn't as easy as pumping out gonzo releases or features. They are significantly more difficult and more expensive to shoot. Because of these factors they are reserved for a handful of A-listers who are both dependable and have a solid following, ensuring production companies don't lose money on the shoots.
In the beginning
Taylor, who is now the owner of New Sensations/Digital Sin, said he got the idea for shooting an interactive after viewing "Virtual Vixens," a 1997 CD-ROM game from Pixis, which featured the first level of interactivity that he had seen.
"It was very primitive, guys reaching up to touch the boobs, things of that nature," he recalled.
Not long after, he saw a show on Playboy that featured a guy who "programmed what kind of sexual experience he wanted, donned some suit with many wires, laid down on the bed, put his little DVD in, and the next thing you know he was having this completely virtual experience — having sex where he wanted, with who he wanted, how he wanted — and it was completely virtual. I thought that was cool, that was the future."
Taylor's big ideas had to be trimmed down because the disc wouldn't hold all the information. Soon interactive titles made the transition to DVD, losing some of the interactivity, but looking better.
"When we went from CD-ROM to DVD we gained resolution and really good sound and full screen and playing on your TV, but at the same time we had to compromise on some of the interactivity," Joone said. "Now with Blu-ray that's all changed. Now we can get great image quality and the interactivity we had."
Maintaining sales, making advancements
At a time when DVD sales are dropping, interactive titles are maintaining strong sales thanks to the difficulty in bootlegging and the ineffectiveness of stealing them via online torrent sites. It also helps that there isn't a glut of product thanks to the prohibitive cost of creating interactive content.
"Whenever you create any product that is different from stuff on the Internet you'll have better sales," Joone said. "Gonzo is the most inexpensive stuff to produce, that's why there's so much of it out there. The second you start creating something that's unique and different, it becomes compelling for people to pay for it."
Director Mike Quasar, who helms the "Interactive Sex" series for Zero Tolerance, said the production cost is probably more than twice that for a typical title, making producers cautious about who they feature and preventing the market from getting flooded.
"It's very difficult to pirate an interactive title and you can't really put it on a tube site," Quasar said. "Even after the eventual demise of DVD, people will still be buying those on physical media instead of watching them online. They're huge because there is a very dedicated fan base for the girl as well as the genre and there aren't studios knocking them out every week. We only do two a year at most."
While Taylor sees DVDs sticking around for a long time, he doesn't think they'll remain the main form of delivery.
"I think you're going to see more and more things go directly into the television with these new LG televisions that have built-in hard drives," he said. "It's the beginning of really using the television as an online media center. Along the way people have said that "My Plaything" could be developed for use interactively online; I've never seen anyone actually do it, but people keep telling me that it can be done."
Joone is optimistic in what Blu-ray has to offer and believes that eventually the Internet will have the capability to offer interactive content. When that time comes, the space limitations of DVDs and Blu-ray will no longer be the drawback they have thus far been.
"It will be much more seamless with Blu-ray because it has a buffer in it, but the main thing is that you have only X amount of space on the disc, so if you want to try to get as many positions in there as you can, it ends up being almost two hours of footage, so you have to kind of budget," he said. "It can definitely happen on the Internet. The technology is finally getting to that point and bandwidth is finally getting to that point that we'll be able to do that."
Performers for interactive releases must be selected very carefully. The star must have a strong name since she is the only person truly seen by the viewer. She must be established enough to generate sales. On the other side, the male performers need to be exceptionally strong. They are forced to have sex in unusual positions in order to stay out of view of the camera and must maintain erections and even pop in those positions.
"You really get to work with the top girls," Quasar said. "It wouldn't be worth doing one with someone who doesn't have a built-in fan base, because that's all there is in the movie. You're going to see that girl over and over again for many hours, and if she's not an established name, you're taking a very big chance."
Taylor said he draws on a very small pool of male talent, using Erik Everhard — "He's not human!" — exclusively for most of the "My Plaything" titles.
"It's really taxing," Taylor said. "I had one guy walk off in the last segment and I had to have somebody else jump in and do the pop. I've had to extend two-day shoots into three-day shoots because the guy couldn't get it done. It just hurt because he's leaning so far back."
Quasar said he works with three or four guys because the job is "impossible."
"The guy's in an uncomfortable position, he can't touch the girl at all, so it's an immense amount of concentration on their part," he explained. "We made it a little easier on the last one because I shot it with a jib and I was actually able to have the guys standing up for most of the positions as opposed to on their knees leaning uncomfortably backwards as I hover over them like some sort of bird of prey with a camera on."
Things aren't a lot easier for the ladies. There's a lot of stopping and starting and anytime something moves into range of the camera or the microphone, the segment must be restarted from the top.
"You're asking an awful lot of a girl, and if you're trying to cram — pardon the pun — if you're trying cram that much stuff into one day, by the end of day three she's needing help out of her chair," Quasar said. "We try to finish everything in a reasonable amount of time. We basically did eight-hour days for four days. By day four they're starting to come apart like a Kmart shotgun. They're not happy, I gotta be honest."
Taylor, who earlier took home the trophy for Best Interactive DVD for "My Plaything: Ashlynn Brooke" at the AVN Awards, said that the most important elements for a successful interactive are the length of the segments, the variation in outfits and real pop shots (something he resisted in early interactives), as well as the right angles and relatively seamless programming.
"I'm trying to make a product that I want," Taylor said. "I want it to seem real. I want to provide that experience that she looks right in your eye and it's like she's really talking to you. I still have not made the interactive — due to format, on some level — that looks like that program that I saw on Playboy TV. That's what I envision. I keep trying to get to that. I'm not sure what the format's going to be, but it's going to be one hell of a project to take on."