Shooting Stars

Bob Johnson

They don’t have the pull of a Spielberg, Coppola, or Scorcese of course, but some of the new breed of adult directors has created a following of fans that video companies are now using as an integral part of their marketing strategies. Porn stars, long the primary sales tool for most studios, have given up some ground to these new filmmakers who are embracing technology and good ol’ fashioned self-promotion to go along with tried and true T&A.

Directors such as Rocco Siffredi, who helped raise the profile of Evil Angel and its founder John “Buttman” Stagliano (another trailblazer himself), with his balls-to-the-wall manhandling of girls; and Max Hardcore, whose name said it all as the king of extreme, hardcore sex, are examples of shooters whose video products have long benefited from their name recognition alone.

The new breed is on their game 100 percent — they know how to deliver engaging content that the consumer seeks out and wants. —Carlos Cavero, owner PD Films/Pleasure Dynasty

There are more of course, from the likes of more epic-minded filmmakers like Michael Ninn and Paul Thomas. But the advent of technology, parodies and an Internet generation hungry for more has opened new doors for today’s filmmakers and studios looking for a new marketing angle.

Today, “marquee directors” — the names that sell the movies despite the subject matter or porn star, include an A-list of names familiar to most porn fans.

With the success of the landmark “Not the Bradys XXX” franchise, producer and director Will Ryder (aka Jeff Mullen) is an example of the branding potential of directors in adult. Ryder’s idea was to take a more realistic approach to porn parodies (that have been around porn for decades) and not simply lampoon a title for the sake of being “clever.”

Ryder, who also owns production company X-Play, said he is the studio’s only director and is in effect the company’s “brand” as far as wholesale purchasers are concerned.

“Just about every buyer for the various distributors nationwide knows that a Will Ryder movie will be of the best quality and probably sell well, be nominated and might win awards,” he says.

This is the kind of marketing that can make or break a studio during these tough times in adult. Ryder notes that “the re-introduction and complete modernization of the porn parody” helped market his name.

“Without that one single movie it is doubtful that the entire parody revolution would have taken place let alone anybody ever hearing the name Will Ryder,” he said.

He recounts how when the film was introduced at the AEE shows in 2008 people saw the familiar “Brady Bunch” checkerboard graphic and recognizable music and were stopped in their tracks.

The film spawned mainstream media coverage including a Newsweek Magazine Q&A with the director — marketing that’s extremely hard to come by.

Although he admits he’s not sure if the Ryder name influences the average porn consumer, stressing the quality of his parodies first, he does attribute it to X-Play’s overall success.

“I think there are some big-name directors that are more important than the stars in the movie but that is a small list and I am not on it,” Ryder says. “I was never bigger than the movie we put out so we had to promote a bit differently than say Evil Angel who has been very successful being a ‘director-driven’ company. Over there, directors are also the stars but I guess it really is comparing apples to grapes since we don’t market that way on purpose yet we’ve certainly had a huge run of success as a company.

“As for the brand name ‘Will Ryder’ in particular, I guess the most important thing is sales and we consistently beat the competition so the name must mean something to somebody.”

Another company that has embraced the parody craze and also the proliferation of 3D and with its name “marquee” directors is Hustler Video with its shining directorial star, industry veteran Axel Braun, whose YouTube and mainstream buzz has made him a household name among the horny.

Hustler creative director Drew Rosenfeld says Braun is probably the most well-known director in the business today. He believes Hustler’s marketing savvy has helped to cultivate Braun’s career that has benefited both the filmmaker and the company with him at the helm of giant films including “This Aint’ Avatar XXX’ and “This Aint’ Ghostbusters XXX.”

“Axel’s been able to take on large-scale projects and deliver award-winning features for the last several years,” Rosenfeld says. “He not only directs, but he’s also an excellent editor. He really understands and enhances each film through his editing.

“He also has great communication with the actors/models. Many of his movies require a lot of dialogue and he works hard with each actor to get great performances from them.”

Hustler’s recent introduction of mainstream special effects and 3D into adult has allowed Braun to add even more marketable panache to his portfolio. Hustler says Braun’s worth as a name director has been improved because he not only embraced the technologies but expanded on the genre.

“Earlier this year he came to us with ‘This Ain’t Ghostbusters XXX.’ It was as challenging, as it was a large-scale project shot in 3D, with numerous effects. We sat down with both Braun’s FX team and 3D camera team mapping out every shot. We think it’s another award-winning project for both Hustler and Braun,” Rosenfeld notes.

Hustler has always included its directors in its marketing campaigns, according to Rosenfeld, through press announcements, viral marketing, social networks, websites, and print. And adding a fan-favorite like Braun to the mix only bolsters a movie’s success.

Although Hustler doesn’t believe that directors are a bigger, or for that matter an equal draw over porn stars when it comes to selling a film — simply because Hustler itself is such a huge global brand — Braun’s reputation helps.

Rosenfeld says, “I think that any director would have a tough time overshadowing our brand regardless of their popularity. If you are a fan of Axel Braun, than you are a fan of Hustler first. In our case, we’re pretty sure the consumer is buying the movie because they trust in the brand. However they might be big fans of the director too. It’s always a plus to have both.”

The versatile Braun has also greatly increased his presence in the marketplace through his continued work for Vivid Entertainment. The acclaimed Vivid Superhero line was inspired by Braun’s “Batman XXX” parody in 2010 and he’s got several more titles in the pipeline.

Less known, but still popular adult brands are also savvy to the marketing draw of the new breed of marketable director.

Dreamzone Entertainment is hanging its marketing hat on the creative and often offbeat flair of director Lee Roy Myers.

Company vice president Adam Hasner says Myers is without a doubt is their top director and a major draw because of his “creative magic and master storyteller” abilities. Hasner believes that Myers’ talents and popularity have allowed Dreamzone to reach new “cinematic heights” and that translates to sales.

“Although we’d never choose to typecast him, we currently look to Lee Roy for our big story-based features like our upcoming ‘The Honeymoaners’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ We have a very forward- thinking team that works hard to leverage Lee Roy’s popularity. Through social media and industry outlets we’re able to present his work to a wide demographic — especially when working with titles that have built-in mainstream appeal,” Hasner notes.

Dreamzone believes that’s it’s not possible to compare “star” directors to porn stars themselves when it comes to what makes a movie sell, but he stresses that without the right director a movie can easily fall short.

Myers himself thinks he and his adult colleagues are a marketing boon because they give consumers another choice in their options.

“I guess that there is so much product in the marketplace, that studios are giving consumers and viewers another set of options to choose the type of movie or scene that they are in the mood for. I mean, the Internet generation picks their porn by category; HD or SD, big butt and big boob, or small butt, small boob, MILF or co-ed, gonzo or feature, big budget or amateur, Sasha Grey or Alexis Texas. So, why wouldn’t director recognition be next?” he asks.

The reigning XBIZ Director of the Year for a Body of Work believes that anything that can attract more interest in a film is good.

“We all have our different styles and different types of scenes and movies that we shoot,” Myers says. “And our styles give consumers another option to find what it is that they like. It is nice to have your work appreciated. When I started watching porn I knew John Stagliano’s work. And, it made me buy Evil Angel movies. If that’s happening now but on a wider scale, it can only be good.”

Myers also thinks the idea of directors being a marquee draw keeps them from being lazy and making inferior product. “It’s good for the industry. It means that when consumers pay for porn, there is a good chance that they will get a quality product. And that means they will come back for more. How could that be a bad thing?”

Myers continued, “The new breed of adult directors that will make the industry last are directors that give a shit about what they put out, and never say ‘it’s only porn.’ I think that Sam Hain, Bobbi Starr, Spock Buckton and Brian Bangs, Kimberly Kane, Ivan, Eddie Powell, Paul Woodcrest, Rocco Reed are the best examples of porn directors that are trying to do something different, something they can be proud of, something that people can be entertained by and get off to,” Myers says.

And getting viewers off with “raw, artistic prowess and filthy hot sex” is the watchword at Pleasure Dynasty and a hallmark of one the studio’s top directors, JacktheZipper who’s helming the upcoming “True Grit: A Pleasure Dynasty Parody.”

Carlos Cavero, owner of PD Films, LLC/Pleasure Dynasty, says a known director is pivotal to marketing and overall success, not simply because of his name — which is important — but because of a director’s skills that ultimately translate to great movies.

“New releases often ride on the shoulders of the previous movies they’ve helmed, as well as their unique fan base and social networking,” Cavero notes. “It’s not [only] because of the brand name, but in their eye for spotting and developing talent, and their myriad connections to the other top-notch technical artists and craftsmen they collaborate with on every production. All those creative relationships stem from the experience and imagination of a great director.”

A big consumer draw, Cavero says, is when the audience discovers all the things it relates to and loves about a movie from the director’s singular vision. “It’s a time honored, organic process that doesn’t really change with the times.”

And the good news is that the industry itself is adding to the call for marquee directors. Cavero says adult is flooded with directors seeking to get funded for projects in both adult and mainstream Hollywood that’s creating an ideal situation for producers.

“The new breed is on their game 100 percent — they know how to deliver engaging content that the consumer seeks out and wants,” Cavero reasons. “They are consummate craftsmen — there’s no margin for error in the new marketplace. They are dependable and adhere to timetables. They create positive work environments and are good communicators... available for consultation on every facet of a production. Directors like ‘Zipper’ bring all these qualities to the table.”

Smash Pictures vice president Stuart Wall agrees, noting that a director’s value over time becomes evident more for what he’s created rather than his name alone.

He says that the company’s award-winning “go-to” director Jim Powers brings valuable experience and creativity to each film and over the years that ultimately translates to consumer awareness.

And it’s not only studios that see directors’ gold. Broadcast brokers also laud the benefit of a top name.

Cable Entertainment Distribution’s (CED) Marc Bruder agrees that studios are actively promoting directors in order to get a marketing leg up on competition by sending press releases and having them do interviews.

“Jeff Mullen (aka Will Ryder) at X-Play is one of our best clients and a gem at ‘putting the word out’ regarding his parodies,” Bruder says. “Jeff is now the star of the titles and we do have broadcasters like PlayboyTV/Spice Networks that request Jeff’s newest epic. This is also true with our broadcast-licensing programmers in Latin America, Europe and parts of Asia.”

Bruder also notes that Vivid directors B.Skow and Braun appeared on his PeeperzRadio.com show recently and talked about the need to be closely associated with the marketing and promotional work once his movie is ready for release.

And it’s not only the new breed that realizes the need for director marketing muscle. Bruder says his most recent client, esteemed director Paul Thomas (who is soon to release “The Graduate XXX”) is now finding himself in the roll of “marketing man” of his own movies.

“Scott [Taylor] at New Sensations has his directors push their titles more than in the past where the starlets were the face and front spokesperson for a new studio release,” Bruder says, but quips, “As Bo D said, the times they are a changing … but I would still rather see Jesse Jane than Joone tell me about ‘Top Guns.’”

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