Rhyme And Reason
James Avalon and Axel Braun are two names that continually pop up in discussions of upper-echelon adult filmmakers. Avalon's foray into feature filmmaking started even before his movie, "Les Vampyres," won multiple awards in 2001 - "and that one's still selling good numbers," remarks Avalon.
This seemingly casual comment reveals one of the important business considerations relating to return on investment (ROI) for different film genres: shelf life. "Gonzo movies sell big on release and go down quickly," Avalon says. "Features have longer legs." After release, a strong feature will "settle into the inventory" as a long-term seller. "It might take a company 8 to 10 months to recoup their money" on a feature, relates Avalon. "Long legs" are important, he emphasizes, because "feature budgets are way above gonzo."
It's a fact that Braun knew from an earlier age than most, having grown up in the industry. "My father, Lasse, started directing in 1962," Braun recalls, "and I've been successfully shooting adult for almost 20 years." His own career trajectory so convinced Braun of the artistic and financial rationales for the adult feature that he divides his career into Before "Compulsion" - his 2002 big-budget bestseller - and "After Compulsion."
Shot in 2002 on film with a $200,000 budget, "Compulsion" gave Braun "the chance to show off my directing skills and win a couple dozen awards at shows all around the world. That made my stock as a director rise dramatically."
It rose sufficiently enough to keep him working, nonexclusively, with Sin City, Mayhem, Hustler, VCA, EXP and Liquid, and he has learned to navigate the political, aesthetic and financial issues of being a director.
"I typically shoot 4 to 6 gonzo products in a month," Braun explains, "and my director's fee is the same as for features." He estimates that producing, shooting and editing a big-budget film takes "at least a month, so it needs to be the right kind of project" to make economic sense.
Avalon also has cultivated a knack for number crunching to complement an innate grasp of moviemaking economics. "Five pages of dialogue [in a feature script] takes a big chunk of time," he says. "You have to plot it out, block out the action and have enough time in the day to finish." Clearly, one bottom-line calculation in the larger feature film equation harks back to the old saw, "time is money."
Time, money, marketing - Braun knows that a feature is always a gamble, and most companies are not willing to risk $100,000-$200,000 on some rookie. Gonzo, of course, is a pretty safe bet, he says, and with budgets of $15,000-$20,000 it's difficult to lose money. Having been around a while, Braun adds, "I have built enough credentials to get a feature green-lighted pretty easily, but in the end it's still a financial decision."
For his part, Avalon balances art and commerce. He says the feedback from his website, JamesAvalon.com, suggests that, for many people, "gonzo has pretty much run its course." For Avalon the auteur, it makes sense that folks "want the action, the sex, within a feature context. It needs to be believable, there needs to be some rhyme and reason to it."
From Cachet To Cash
Scott Taylor, owner of New Sensations, takes pride in the feature movies his company has produced and keeps doing them even when the need to make gonzo, gangbang or "Asian vacation" movies forces him to reallocate production dollars. "As the market changes," Taylor explains, "we adapt, but we never lose sight of the importance of feature movies."
Echoing Avalon's observation about how a feature's shelf life offsets the initial larger outlay, Taylor is upbeat. "These types of movies cost many times what normal wall-to-wall movies do, but the return is calculated in years rather than weeks." As solid reviews and strong word-of-mouth create ongoing sales of a feature, it becomes clear that cachet often translates, over time, into cash.
"Nothing makes a statement or creates interest like an epic motion picture," Taylor says. "In fact, we made our biggest feature movie ever this year, 'Dark Angels 2: Bloodline,' directed by Nic Andrews."
An industry veteran, Andrews has a similarly balanced view of the corporate role for features. On the one hand, he is candid about the excitement he feels when working on a "huge undertaking" like "Bloodline" and admits getting "totally consumed when I am green-lighted to direct a major feature movie." On the other hand, Andrews realizes that such movies are still few and far between and that the "Bloodline" project required a big commitment from New Sensations.
"The overall attention that these projects receive is immeasurable," notes Andrews about the PR benefits of higher-brow productions. "They also do quite well over a long period of time. The original 'Dark Angels' still ships a nice number of units every quarter, and it came out five years ago."
The Bottom Line
Despite the compelling case for adding a line of feature movies, some firms' fortunes are tied to exceptionally strong brand ID. There may not be a feature film with the Extreme Associates logo on it yet, but the company seems to be doing just fine in the genres it has staked out and may have strong economic arguments against such diversification (for now).