Byron started out doing “cumming of age” roles in 1982, made history with Traci Lords and has deliberately changed his look every couple of years, from male ingénue to punk rocker to his current incarnation as the dapper gent. From his days at Elegant Angel, Extreme Associates, Evolution Erotica and now Tom Byron Pictures, Byron has ridden the porn rollercoaster up, down and sideways, reaching iconic status many moons ago. He’s among the mere handful of truly long-term adult industry heavies still working today.
For an industry icon with an astonishing 2,200-plus performing credits, more than 100 directing ones and some three dozen awards, Byron is refreshingly down to earth. If he doesn’t want to talk, he has been known to grunt, grimace and get it over with. Most of the time, however, he’s a charming Southern gentleman, and has no problem whatsoever speaking his mind.
He gave XBIZ a good piece of it in late September.
XBIZ: Some people think you’ve done this forever, but you had to start somewhere. Who helped you out at first?
TOM BYRON: Ron Sullivan was a big mentor. I just can’t make myself call him “Henri Pachard.” He’s just “Ronnie” to me. It’s a damn shame what’s going on with him now. Other mentors were Alex DeRenzy and Bobby Hollander. In fact, my whole “House of Ass” interview thing is a tribute to Bobby. Back in the day, he would interview the actors and it was all sort of experimental, as well as truly groundbreaking. It was like a porno Mike Douglas show, you know?
XBIZ: Any other big influences?
BYRON: I can’t leave out Anthony Spinelli, but his prime came before I got in the business. I missed out on “Nothing to Hide,” “Talk Dirty” and the big epics because I came in at the tail end of the film era and the beginning of the video era. I won a best acting award with Anthony in “Sizzle.”
XBIZ: You took a hiatus from acting for a bit, but you’re back it. Do you prefer acting or directing?
BYRON: I love both acting and directing, if you can call it that. I don’t need to come up with some longwinded treatise about making fine art. As far as most of my screen time lately, a good friend does the shooting when these hot girls come to my house to have sex. You can call it directing and editing, but the bottom line is that I’m a fucker-slash-filmer and a minimalist. See, if you don’t use a lot of lighting because you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re a minimalist.
XBIZ: You certainly seem to know what you’re doing.
BYRON: Yeah, I’m kidding. I have the right Kino Flo Diva-Lites and I pay attention to the look and to set design, like any pro. My films are always appropriately lit for what’s happening. For example, the only thing I do with natural light anymore is get my dick sucked sitting by a window. When it comes to shooting POV I developed a little ring-light apparatus that works great for closeups.
XBIZ: You sound like you’re in a cave or something. What are you doing right now?
BYRON: I am on a set right now as we speak, working for Naughty America.
XBIZ: It seems that Internet outfit found a niche and a style, and stuck to it. What’s the lesson there?
BYRON: I like what they do, and I definitely like the fact that they call me a lot. The lesson? They do what people respond to. It’s good, all-American, straight-ahead porn, fun and exciting at the same time. If it isn’t fun, I probably won’t do it, whatever the gig is.
XBIZ: Time for some tech talk, Tom. Camera of choice?
BYRON: I use a Sony HDRFX7 right now because I got a great deal on it. It works fine but I want to get rid of it and get a new Panasonic that records straight to hard disk or flash memory.
XBIZ: Panasonic has the AGHVX, SDR and HDC lines that cover all those digital-storage bases. So what’s your take on HD? We’re referring to “high definition” and not “hard drive,” of course.
BYRON: Yeah, great, another “HD” acronym to keep everyone confused. What they don’t tell you about HD is that it’s not good to shoot to tape. But look at good footage on a Blu-ray disc. It’s heads and shoulders above everything. Once you see it you’re not satisfied with anything else.
XBIZ: Some say HD shows too many butt pimples and other flaws. Comments?
BYRON: I don’t see it that way. The picture is sharp, and pimples can be fixed a lot of ways. For example, I use upper echelon girls who don’t have those flaws. There are a lot of ways to solve cosmetic issues, so that’s a lame argument against a great technological advance.
XBIZ: What’s your take with the direction of this industry right now?
BYRON: We, the industry people, have lost control over the content that’s out there. There is so much free stuff that people have lowered their standards, based solely on cost. If people want to jerk off to the hottest women, they’ll have to pay for it. But we’re so busy undercutting the other studios that we’ve degraded the market.
XBIZ: Concerning delivery and distribution, will it be all VOD, all the time?
BYRON: People buy DVDs because they’re available and they work. But as streaming video gets getter, and you get HD straight into your computer or television, why do you even need a DVD? You may need a DVD recorder to backup the movies from a hard drive. Some people like liner notes and cover shots, but the future’s here and the message is clear. It’s a “virtual world.”
XBIZ: That world is definitely porn-friendly, right?
BYRON: Absolutely. Digital video gives you access to any scene, any time. That’s called random access in computing, and in video it’s called “nonlinear.” The great thing about the Internet is that it’s nonlinear, too. For gonzo, where it’s all about the sex, it’s perfect. On disc or on the net, the only things you have to watch in a linear fashion anymore are features.
XBIZ: There appears to be some life in the genre, judging from how Michael Ninn and others are doing.
BYRON: Michael Ninn is what you show your new girlfriend so you can score. My stuff is what you take home alone. There’s room for everything but I like to break things down to common denominators. This is jerk-off material we’re making. Sure, I can feel like a big shot doing features and strutting on the set. But if I had to do it every day, I don’t know. Truth is, I dig what I’m doing. Doing what I love and making money at it pretty much defines success.
XBIZ: How did we get into this crisis, and what’s the way out?
BYRON: The industry is simply in another state of transition. We’ve been here before. The old school people who’ve rested on their laurels are being swept away. I’ve lasted 26 years by adapting, which means taking risks. I don’t know what everyone else “should” do, but whatever it is, you won’t accomplish anything if you don’t go for it. Today, my advantage is that I’m 47 and I know which end of the pool to jump in.
XBIZ: What’s keeping the business from pushing the envelope again, reinventing itself and moving forward?
BYRON: It’s because the GOP is in power. It’s that simple. I argue with other industry people all the time who vote Republican because they’ll cut taxes and leave us more of our own money. But they come down on porn, so I hold my nose and vote Democratic as a survival thing. We survived the Reagan and Bush years and we’ll survive whatever’s coming, too.
XBIZ: Some industry watchers thought the first wave of obscenity prosecutions a few years back was just going to hit the margins, like Max Hardcore and Extreme Associates. But John Stagliano? What’s up with that?
BYRON: It has nothing to do with Stag, his personality or even his flicks. It’s his profile, his figurehead status as a representative of mainstream porn. The religious wackadoos that influence the present administration are widening the target.
XBIZ: You’ve given our readers a lot to think about. What’s out right now from Tom Byron, and what are you working on for the near future?
BYRON: I’ve got a Teri Weigel flick just out. And “Seasoned Players 6” with Brittany O’Connell and Rachel Love is the first Blu-ray in that series, also out right now. Then there’s the latest in the “Lord of Asses” line with Sasha Grey. And I’m shooting “POV Cocksuckers 8” this coming Saturday with Jenna Haze. I’m staying busy, just making my rounds.
XBIZ: You’re such a survivor, does it even matter what happens next in the industry or the country?
BYRON: Not really. Whatever’s next, I’m there.