In X-rated cinema, a conscientious director first proposes a project to a producer, submits a budget and proposes cast list, secures funding and writes a script (if it’s a feature). He then goes on to cast the show, negotiate with agents, scout locations, rent equipment, wrangle a crew, secure a permit, arrange for food and supplies, gather up everything from douches to dildos and finally, after weeks of preparation, sit behind a video monitor for 14 hours at a stretch, telling every single person on the premises exactly what to do next. Even post production often is left to the director.
Given the responsibilities of such a post, you’d think that producers would be eager to retain the best candidates available and reward them handsomely. But noooo. In porn, the tendency to start at the wrong end of the cow is widespread. Rather than pay the cost of hiring the right person to handle the gig in the first place, producers spend a lot of time and money on salvage work and damage control in the wake of having saved a few bucks by using an amateur, a scam artist, a film-school dropout who considers shooting sex beneath him or a rain-coater who intends to take his compensation in trade from the female cast.
The results of these bad decisions are evident in the shoddy work on titles that stagger out the door and drop dead behind the warehouse, in the rotten-egg reviews, in the bad reputations of badly managed companies and, most of all, in the lack of good news on the bottom line at the end of the year. No matter how much you save as a producer by getting directors on the cheap, if they can’t make a hot picture, you lose in the end.
Now this would seem pretty obvious and hardly in need of explaining, but having been both a producer and a director, I’d have to say it ranks right up there with the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa among unsolved mysteries. When it comes to picking directors, most producers are clueless. What they want is a whole lot of work at a very low price, and that hunger grows more intense as the scramble to turn a profit in an increasingly difficult market gets more frantic.
With all other production costs going up — from talent to permits to equipment rental to locations — what’s left to cut in a desperate attempt to deliver some kind of profit margin? Too often, the director’s compensation goes on the chopping block, which merely perpetuates the downward spiral this business has been experiencing during the past few years.
First of all, no matter how many people say it how many ways, it’s simply not true that any schmuck with a video camera can make a picture — or a successful one, in any case. Many skills and gifts are needed to get the kind of heat on mylar that makes for durable hits.
A good porn director has to know something about the technical aspects of video production, something about visual aesthetics, something about unit management and a whole lot about sex. That’s the material here, and directors who don’t understand or care about it won’t be able to make that material happen. They don’t need to be great visionaries of the screen, but they do need to follow the axiom of the late, great Bruce Seven: “Behind every successful video is one guy’s hard-on. The rest is bullshit.” If the director isn’t excited by what’s being shot, why would anyone else be? And if the director is making less for shooting a long, grueling day than a single performer makes for doing a single scene, how much of his own personal inspiration is he going to invest in any given project? There is some relation between what people are paid and how much they care about what they do.
I remember once telling a producer who was shocked at what I wanted to shoot some big, labor-intensive product that in video, as anywhere else, “you get what you pay for.” He jumped up, red-faced, slammed his fist on the desk and shouted, “I refuse to accept that!” Having transcended mere logic, I was left to ponder what he thought he should get — something he didn’t pay for?
Years later, alas, I know the answer. That’s exactly what some producers hope to get from directors: what they don’t pay for. Would they choose a lawyer or dentist with that expectation? I doubt it.
Right now, directors are caught in the great squeeze between rising expenses and declining revenues as the most expendable line item. Considering how much rides on their commitment and good judgment, it’s no wonder that companies are having such problems coming up with titles that sell. The guys making those titles neither know nor care what needs to be done to make them winners.
The result is an ongoing brain drain at the top of the production chain. Genuinely effective directors quickly realize that they’ll have to fight for a decent wage on every project, that the work expected of them won’t expand indefinitely and that their working conditions will never improve for as long as they sell their labors to producers who don’t even know what those labors entail.
Thus, good directors pretty quickly become producers themselves — either finding investors or pooling their cash with other directors or just scraping together the money themselves — and start releasing their own titles. Not surprisingly, if you look at many of the biggest-selling shows of recent years, you’ll see producer-director lines leaving most everything else in the dust.
More and more, especially in the gonzo and niche-market categories, the spoils go to the one-man operations in which a single individual with a strong sense of what needs making corrals the elements, runs the camera, does the cutting, designs the packaging, signs off on everything and builds a sturdy audience for future releases.
The only way anyone is going to work that hard for someone else is to be paid accordingly. Any other approach to securing directing services invites sloth and thievery, which is exactly what most of the X-rated releases on the racks today reflect. Just remember, before you decide to shave that last nickel off the director’s fee, this is the person who will be alone with both your money and your movie. Then think it over again.