Hitting the Big Time

Anne Winter
Big-budget blockbusters play a more significant role in the adult market today than they ever have. In an age when budgets are shrinking and output is dwindling, it's heartening to see that spending a lot of time, money and post-production effort on big feature blockbusters might be the answer to keeping the DVD business afloat.

High-end features including Digital Playground's famous "Pirates" franchise and Adam & Eve's "The 8th Day" do more than just stock store shelves, and the role they play in marketing, branding, creative exploration and mainstream recognition is as valuable as their surprising ability to entice consumers to open up their wallets — a feat in today's age of free porn and piracy.

"Just like the mainstream market, adult entertainment will always have a place for high-budget special-effects movies," Adam & Eve Pictures Executive Producer Meredith Christopher said. "Owning these movies demonstrates a level of erotic sophistication in the viewer and collector. They aren't really designed for, or best seen on, your computer on the web. They are visually appealing cinematic experiences that are best viewed in high definition."

Digital Playground founder Joone said his company makes movies to own, not to be cut up onto tube sites, and though he knows it's inevitable, he's confident that the studio's growing viewership knows the best way to enjoy one of his films.

"They are most enjoyable when viewed as a whole, which is something the tube sites will never be able to replicate," Joone said. "People also love to watch them on their high-definition big-screen TVs, and the piracy sites can't match the 1080p quality."

X-Play/ President Jeff Mullen, aka director Will Ryder, is quite vocal about his negative opinion of illegal tube sites and content ripping, and though he feels piracy and tubes could be the death of porn, he knows at least for now that the corner of the consumer market still willing to pay for porn demands these kinds of films.

"Although bigger features get ripped off on tube and torrent sites, they do have some extra protection because they play better as complete movies rather than separate sex scenes," Mullen said. "I think there is still an audience — albeit a limited audience — that is willing to pay to watch something of quality."

Producers and directors of these kinds of high-production- value films agree that it's going to cost money to keep making money in porn because the end user won't shell out anything if there's no perceived value.

Features such as Wicked Pictures' "2040," All Media Play's variety of porno parody "sitcoms," and Digital Playground's "Teachers" are best viewed in full-length form, and though Christopher acknowledges that the "juicier bits" will make it onto the tubes, all she can hope for is that they drive sales.

"A good film will keep earning long after it's paid for," she said. "We're still selling plenty of copies of our best work from a decade ago, based upon reputation and notoriety. Adam & Eve will continue to produce big movies — [it's] one of the things we are known for; our customers expect it from us."

Something new that customers have grown to expect from today's big blockbusters are seemingly budget-busting special effects and production elements commonly found in mainstream films. Christopher said these tools have become increasingly available and affordable, allowing for experimentation and creative freedom.

Since the CGI skeletons and special effects of "Pirates" first graced screens with its professionally produced teaser trailer, Digital Playground's brand recognition in the mainstream world has skyrocketed. To the average Joe, it's known as the studio that does it like Hollywood, and Digital Playground didn't get that reputation for releasing just any old porno.

"'Pirates' has helped us to further our brand as a highend adult entertainment company," Joone said. "The level of publicity that generates, as well as mainstream consumership, is amazing."

No one can deny the power of being mentioned on network television news clips, talk shows and high-traffic gossip blogs, and Digital Playground's releasing of MPAA rated R versions of "Pirates" and its sequel got the brand onto rental chain store shelves and in front of a consumer market that normally wouldn't dream of locking eyes on something pornographic.

"They are available in Best Buy, Blockbuster and other everyday retail stores," Joone said. "Our movies show that we are capable of creating entertainment that a larger consumer base will enjoy. People who don't consider themselves porn watchers will watch 'Pirates' and love it because it is an actual movie."

Mullen has made his mark in the industry and mainstream eye most recently with his series of "sitcums," porn parodies of TV favorites including "Bewitched," "The Brady Bunch" and "Married With Children." This concept caught media attention fast, and has helped catapult his work's presence outside of adult.

"Anything that gets reported on mainstream TV, Newsweek magazine, Hollywood Reporter or Daily Variety brings your product in view of a mainstream audience," Mullen said. "Our sitcums have received more mainstream exposure than just about any other porn movie in history other than 'Pirates' and 'Deep Throat' and we've done quite well."

Today's' big-budget adult features have more crossover appeal than ever before, not only with their use of Hollywood-esque effects and props but also with their correlation to events and productions already existent in the mainstream space. This all leads to the kind of attention you can't buy with good PR.

"A lot of studios produce higher-end product and/or parodies because they sell better and gather more money for cable and licensing deals, and they are a lot easier to promote and market," said Anton Slayer, an adult director who just wrapped "The Dukes of Hazzard: A Hardcore Parody" for Vouyer Media.

Slayer said these kinds of films, with higher production value and attention to details other than breast size and sex positions, make it easy to find and secure a wider audience in more than just the traditional porn consumer space.

"The more that you put into a project the more it should attract in the end," Slayer said. "I think couples-friendly companies like Wicked and Vivid have their markets dialed in, and know who their audiences are and try to give them everything they are looking for in a product."

Joone and Christopher echo Slayer's sentiments, and believe the larger-scale features are an ideal introduction to a studio and its cadre of other films, including its lower-scale productions.

Joone said he often hears about people who've never watched adult content until seeing "Pirates," which secured life-long viewers who watch nothing but Digital Playground.

"Now that every film has a potential viewership of millions, the big-budget feature is a great way to introduce our product to those curious about it, but who don't want to rush right out and buy 'Lusty Sluts 88: Anal Edition," Christopher said.