Blake is a director's director, and along with Michael Ninn and Paul Thomas, he is credited with bringing a mature, visually striking, theatrical quality to adult films. In the old Hollywood saying, he "puts the money on the screen."
Director David Stanley, with his own unique aesthetic, is just one of a slew of younger moviemakers who cite Blake as a major influence. "The great Andrew Blake," says Stanley, "is chicken soup for my porno soul in the best possible sense."
Bearded and bespectacled, Blake looks like a professor of English Literature and sounds like one, too. He chooses his words carefully and teases the nuance out of every term that needs it. Blake is a serious fellow, but knows how to have fun. Serious fun.
In mid-February, Blake spoke with XBIZ about his approach to filmmaking.
XBIZ: You recently remade your classic, "Night Trips," after 20 years, but the original is one of the most famous, most influential adult films ever made. How did it come about? What's the behind-the-scenes story?
BLAKE: Early in my career, working for Playboy under my real name, I just got to a point where I didn't know what the girls should be doing with their hands. We couldn't do any sexual stuff, and that became very frustrating. I really wanted to try something different.
XBIZ: Is "Night Trips" the demarcation line between "soft Blake" and "hard Blake"?
BLAKE: It's both. When I had the idea for the original "Night Trips" in 1989, I wanted to combine the vanilla of Playboy with harder sex. I wanted to see where I could go with top production values and shooting on film with beautiful girls, since there was nothing like that at the time, just all kinds of one-day wonders shot on tape. When I was first getting into it, the porn business really didn't look very interesting.
XBIZ: What was your reaction to the success of the film?
BLAKE: It taught me to trust my instincts. My hunch was on target, and the film even won a mainstream award playing the festival circuit. But I could just hear the other porn producers saying, "Oh, shit, here we are making something inexpensive and this guy comes along wanting to change all that." I guess it was my good fortune to enter a business where the product meant nothing to the people making it. And that's exactly how it was.
XBIZ: Since 1992 you've run your own firm, Studio A. What makes it work?
BLAKE: My wife and I run the business. Well, she runs the business side and I run the monkey business side. We have a great industrial space, a large five-story building with shipping and such on the first floor, my wife and the business offices on the second, I have three and four and we live on five.
XBIZ: You've got a website going, of course. What's your involvement there?
BLAKE: I have a membership website, and all my movies are going up on that eventually, but I am not a hands-on Internet guy or anything. I am out there because what I do have going is a brand name, and you have to make sure it rises above all the background noise.
XBIZ: You may be the last director in this business still shooting on film, but you edit it on a Mac. What's the workflow, starting with your camera?
BLAKE: I use a wind-up Bolex Super16 with a great Arri-Zeiss Master Prime lens. Then I have the film developed and color corrected, and take it to a telecine guy I've been using since day one. The thing that has changed most radically is the editing, of course, and I do all of that on my Mac Pro. The film is color corrected when I get it, so the only decisions I have to make are what and where to cut, transitions, titles, all that. And when I say I do everything that means the box covers, too.
XBIZ: You seem to make it work, so why aren't others shooting on film?
BLAKE: It's just a cost consideration for most companies, so film is not an option for most directors. You can shoot video all day, but film is very expensive, even before you get to the processing. I don't think you can get my look on video, though. I would guess Paul Thomas is disappointed because I'm thinking Steve Hirsch won't let him shoot on film much longer.
XBIZ: What's up with this business lately?
BLAKE: Things are not looking too good at the moment. We're doing pretty well, our company, though not as well as in years past. It's a combination of factors, but the whole Internet thing has really taken things down in the past few years and has left a lot of people wondering how it all happened.
XBIZ: Does the Internet mean the future of porn is "all downloads, all the time"?
BLAKE: Not for everyone. Not for me. I like the physical object as part of my appreciation, whatever the art form. I like to sit comfortably to read a book, listen to a CD while reading the liner notes, all that. The whole culture has being corrupted, burned and destroyed by all the instantaneous stuff. I am not being anti-tech or anything, and I love my digital tools, but there is a line to be drawn, and if I am not editing I don't need to be on my computer all the time. I love working on the Mac, but I don't like reading or watching movies on it, sitting in an office chair.
XBIZ: It's also hard to imagine the color palette and the sexual choreography of a Blake film coming through loud and clear on an iPod, you know?
BLAKE: It's okay if people want to look at little images in a box on their monitor, or an iPod, but I try to give them a different viewing experience, a big-scene fantasy world. I create a quality masturbatory experience that's hard to miniaturize.
XBIZ: Quality products at a premium price constitute a niche market, not a mass one. How is the marketing changing?
BLAKE: They will never go away, the niche audiences. Niches are the only markets that make sense anymore. For example, I'm starting a new movie in a few weeks, and have been talking to my sales person about how the marketing would work, what niche we would target. With the tools today we could create a kind of limited edition release, a DVD package including a book with a back-story for the film and some other things. We go out with 2000 pieces, charge a good amount for each, maybe even do a numbered series.
XBIZ: That route has been taken by some designers, painters and even a few novelists, hasn't it?
BLAKE: That high-end niche started with photographer Helmut Newton a few years ago, with those fabulously elaborate books from Taschen. They do limited editions of 100 or 1,000, priced from hundreds to thousands of dollars, collector pieces to be sure. We're talking original art of all kinds, lovingly put into lavish books, with the highest possible quality.
XBIZ: Belladonna told us that the hard times will clear out a lot of the "shitty little companies." She foresees a flock of mid-size boutique firms in the future, with no empires à la Flynt or Hirsch. What do you see?
BLAKE: The herd is going to thin out a bit, she's right about that, and I just don't see how a Hustler or Vivid could start today and get to that size. As for me, I didn't go to the AVN convention this year because by the time it's over you're out 15 grand for hotels, per diems, the booth, the girls, food, all of it. And it's just not worth it.