If this setup — followed by the obligatory interview, intercourse and cash disbursement — sounds familiar, it’s because that is the quintessential scene for programs like Bang Bros, Brazzers, Reality Kings and dozens more that trade on the so-called “reality style.”
But much like its Hollywood counterpart, reality porn is actually defined by an over-the-top, outrageous concept that bears a kernel of resemblance to real life. Women don’t wait in strip mall, looking to bang strangers in a van. At least, women who look like porn stars don’t do that.
So what’s real about reality porn? Nothing, says Dirty D, owner of HowIGotRich.com, a program that specializes in what some might call “real reality” and what others simply refer to as amateur.
“I think it insults the consumer to call that stuff reality,” Dirty D told XBIZ. “Consumers can tell if it’s real or if it’s fake, and they know that you don’t just find porn stars hanging around willing to fuck some guy on camera for cash. That’s not how it works.”
Dirty D should know. For years, he’s been producing content in Tampa, Florida, an area rich with the kind of amateur talent pornographers like him rely on to deliver what he calls the real deal.
But the “real deal” is often in the eye of the beholder, and for each company, “reality” means something a little bit different. However, if there’s one common denominator among amateur porn producers, it is this: the reality label is seldom self applied. Instead, the purveyors of what many call the most realistic and pure form of pornography — actual couples having sex on camera — prefer the label of “amateur” or nothing at all.
Any discussion of amateur pornography has to begin at the source, and that source, as many know, is Homegrown Video. For more than two decades, Homegrown has been capitalizing on the amateur market. U.S. News & World Report once called Homegrown’s content “made by people for people.”
“That’s the essence of what Homegrown has always been about,” company founder Farrell Timlake told XBIZ. “At our core, our videos are about real couples sharing intimate moments on camera.”
Capturing those intimate moments often means using minimal production value. According to Timlake, couples that worry about lighting, audio and makeup really aren’t what Homegrown is looking for.
“If you’re worried about those things, you’ve got a bona fide production on your hands,” Timlake explains. “Our shooters have come a long way, and cameras have improved, but the best videos are still a man, a woman and the camera — that’s it.”
Platinum Media, which uses the tagline “The Cure For The Common Porn,” takes a similar approach, according to Margaret, the company’s vice-president.
“We license content from real couples, but we also use regular shooters, and we try to guide them in particular direction,” Margaret said.
But those “regular shooters” shouldn’t be confused with the professional pornographers of Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. They are men who shoot porn as a hobby. Yes, they make some money, but the “producing fee” pays for little more than their time and that of their talent. Production values are still lean and mean, and the focus is on real women.
But where Homegrown strives is to get real couples to send in authentic sex tapes and Platinum aims to guide those who make porn as a hobby, companies like HowIGotRich and ATKingdom take a slightly more hands-on approach.
“Are we true amateur? I don’t know,” Gunner, ATKingdom’s director of marketing tells XBIZ. “We are a professional company, but we shoot with amateur girls and we keep the sets and lighting to a minimum to give it that real feel. We’re sort of in between Homegrown and the stuff that gets labeled as reality.”
But the authenticity isn’t just about using unknown girls, according to Mark Kulkis, whose Kick Ass Pictures distributes ATKingdom.
“One of the things that helps ATKingdom with that authentic feel is that they own the hairy niche,” Kulkis tells XBIZ. “The hairy muff is just an obvious sign that the girl is not a professional because these days you just don’t find unshaved porn stars.”
But where ATKingdom focuses on the type of girl (they also target the teen niche heavily), Dirty D’s HowIGotRich (also distributed through Kick Ass Pictures) takes aim at the lifestyle of an amateur pornographer with lines like Glory Hole Girlz, Tampa Bukkake, Theater Sluts, Slut Wife Training, Crack Whore Confessions and Real Orgasm Videos.
“These scenes are about as real as you can get and still have a camera there,” Dirty D explains. “We don’t fake the funk.” For Dirty D, that means shooting in real adult bookstores or home parties, staying clear of porn stars, and using men who are strangers or members of one of his paysites.
“What we’re capturing is the experience,” Dirty D explains. “In Glory Hole Girlz, for example, it’s about having a girl who is really blowing strangers. She has no idea who’s on the other side of that hole, and that gives us the ability to portray a genuine experience.”
But What About The Money?
Although it may seem perplexing to some, no pornographer specializing in amateur content believes that a paid model automatically forfeits their amateur status.
“You have to pay people, you have to get releases and all that stuff,” Dirty D explains. “That’s just part of doing business. But there’s a big difference between a porn star and a girl who is just doing this once or twice.”
According to Dirty D, it’s the latter, what one might call the casual porn star, who draws that crowd. The idea of building your brand around a particular girl won’t fly in amateur porn. And that’s a good thing, Timlake says, because amateur specialists aren’t burdened by the demand for fresh content that plagues studios.
“You can’t build it around the girl,” Timlake says. “That’s going to get old real quick. We still need new content, and it’s always a struggle to find it, but that new thing comes from a different, fresh couple sharing a genuine encounter.”
But finding that genuine encounter has become increasingly difficult. Homegrown and ATKingdom have begun shooting their own content, and while each company believes those scenes hold true to their brand’s core principles, each acknowledges that customers demand the genuine article, and that usually means “produced” amateur content is at best filler for the insatiable demand for the real McCoy.
So what’s put studio porn on a collision course with amateur purveyors, with each seeking to stage authenticity? According to Gunner at ATKingdom, “professional” porn is becoming a little passé.
“It’s just not that taboo anymore,” Gunner explains. “There’s so much content out there and it’s such a big industry, that porn has lost that rebel status to some extent, so we’re all trying to find ways to give you something naughty.”
Unfortunately, the definition of naughty keeps getting harder to put your finger on. But according to Timlake, the scarcity of genuine homemade content on the market does mean that those who control amateur footage have their arms wrapped around material that isn’t in danger of commoditization.
Of course, that market principal only holds water if the producer doesn’t face piracy, and these days, amateurs and professionals are coping with a flood of unlicensed content streaming across the countless tube sites proliferating across the web.
In Tubes We Trust?
There are two distinct views among pornographers when it comes to tube sites. On the one side, are the studios that loathe the tubes and dispatch lawyers armed with DMCA takedown notices to literally put the ketchup back in the bottle.
But that’s a shortsighted tactic, according to Timlake, who says Homegrown prefers to see tubes as powerful advertising platforms.
“We convert very well on tubes, and as long as those sites are willing to work with us (most do), then it’s actually a great way to promote.”
Platinum Media and Dirty D take similar positions. But over at ATKingdom, tube sites are seen as a disaster for porn.
“How do you compete with free?” Gunner asks. “Paysites are dropping like flies.”
The answer to that question may depend on who’s watching.
“We get a lot of female customers, and we hear that women like amateur because they can relate to the women they see on screen,” Gunner said. “But we also get guys who have seen so much porn that they’re just done with the polished stuff.”
Platinum reports a similar demographic, while Dirty D says his viewers are mostly voyeurs who want a peek into his wild lifestyle. But for companies moving higher up the production food chain, the target consumer becomes less defined.
According to ATKingdom’s Gunner, the company’s product appeals to a mixed bag. While hirsute and teen devotees are obvious customers, the general category of amateur is more amorphous, and that could be why the company worries so much about the tubes.
Because Homegrown appeals to women who aren’t as likely to visit tubes and porn aficionados who may not get all they want from tubes, the company isn’t as concerned about piracy. Ditto for HowIGotRich, which only needs to keep its product off the tubes to stay competitive.
By contrast, ATKingdom, which casts a less focused net, must worry about the proliferation of content similar to its own on the tubes. There may be a limited amount of Tampa-based lifestyle content or footage of the couple next door, but there’s no shortage of broader categories featuring hair or teens, and that means the amateur label alone won’t be enough to remain competitive.
Instead, amateur producers, like any other niche, will need to find their own unique angle if they are to thrive. But if that angle advertises the portrayal of a genuine sexual encounter, it likely won’t be called reality, which has become synonymous with reality-based setups and name brand porn stars.