Today, one of the fastest-growing niches for adult movies is the plot-driven feature that, aesthetically, is as far removed from the industry mainstay gonzo genre as the North Pole is from the South Pole.
Although there have always been adult features that tried to integrate ribald sex scenes with an actual plot ("Deep Throat" anyone?), today's steadily diversifying adult production companies, and a growing circle of progressive directors, are now strengthening and expanding the feature genre to serve a market whose size is only now becoming apparent through demographic analysis, marketing research - and old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
These moviemakers are driving the evolution of adult movies from simplistic, sequenced sex scenes to elaborately produced, artfully staged features - movies that are increasingly difficult to dismiss as one-dimensional, X-rated masturbatory aids.
Joe "J.P." Stevens worked in the adult industry for more than 40 years, retiring in 1995. He worked a camera, developed film and designed packaging for everything from 8mm to DVD. "There weren't a lot of different approaches in 1960," Stevens says, but the point the filmmakers were trying to make wasn't dramatic: "We'd shoot movies so guys could shoot their loads. Simple, but pretty boring, I guess."
It's not that there was no thought given to product development; it just seemed, in the late 1950s through the 1970s, when low-cost 8mm equipment became available that having any sexual entertainment at all outside of the red light districts, with their seedy peepshows and slightly foreboding bookstores, was a major advance.
Fast-forward to the new millennium. Adult entertainment has gone from boring and foreboding to exciting and inviting in a generation or two - with directors striving for excellence and production companies encouraging them to raise the bar.
Take Red Light District. The company calls itself "the No. 1 name in hardcore gonzo video," but RLD has wholly owned affiliate companies, Platinum X and Red Light District Films, with their own directors, corporate styles and, in the case of the latter, a growing inventory of high-budget feature films from leading-edge director James Avalon. The company also recently gained exclusive distribution rights for movies from acclaimed director Michael Ninn, who is known for breaking new ground within the adult arena with stunning visuals and cinematography.
One telling sign that the work of such directors is getting noticed by fans: their bios and credits scroll across multiple pages at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com), and IMDb makes no distinction between their listings and those for "mainstream" Tinseltown directors.
"I totally respect and equally promote all our genres, regardless of my own tastes, since my job is to promote our products to a world of people with many different preferences," RLD Public Relations Director Larry Schwarz tells XBiz. Although Schwartz says that most of RLD's earnings derive from "more edgy, hardcore sex genres," he adds that "feature films have been recently added and are doing extremely well." This simple fact alone indicates that there are many tastes to be accommodated, and it's the very definition of "business" to find a need - then fill it.
"If there are 900 million [adult video] rentals in a year," Schwarz says, "it's probably not 900 weirdos renting a million each. It's more like 20 or 40 million regular folks renting a few each month." Although no one has the complete demographic picture yet, RLD and other firms are ready to supply as many different kinds of product as there are different kinds of buyers. That's the primary impetus behind the recent crop of adult features: People want them.
In part two, we'll take a look at the work of some top producers, as well as the bottom line.