Girlfriends Films owner Dan O’Connell recalls that “when I started this business, for every hundred feet of shelf space in an adult store, VHS and DVDs, you might have five feet of lesbian content.”
What a change 10 years have brought. Lesbian product is now a thriving niche, even in the salesdownturned porn industry — thanks largely to Girlfriends. Their releases alone — 340 catalogue titles, all available — would consume way more than 5% of shelf space, not to mention the wall and floor displays they command in many stores.
When we got into the lesbian market we really tried to listen to the consumers and hear what they wanted: real sex, sensuality. They didn’t want it glossy and pretty like the girl-girl movies of old. — Graham Travis, General Manager, Elegant Angel / Club 59
Joining Girlfriends on the shelf would be product from Mile High Media’s Sweetheart Video and AEBN’s Girl Candy, as well as lesbian releases marketed by companies that do mostly boy-girl.
In the VoD market, Girlfriends’ constant perch atop the HotMovies chart is the envy of the industry. “We’ve been the top selling studio on HotMovies.com for the past six years,” O’Connell says. “This is a huge accomplishment, one that makes us extremely proud.”
A dozen years ago O’Connell was planning a mid-life career change from real estate appraiser to documentary filmmaker. A film school project on lesbian sex evolved into his shooting girl-girl videos part-time, and Girlfriends Films was born. It grew slowly but surely from a one-man startup to the largest single purveyor of all-girl porn.
“Being the first to enter the genre in a serious fashion put us ahead,” he says. But there was more to it: interesting storylines and characters, and sex scenes that stressed sensuality, intimacy, chemistry, performed by gay or bisexual women who really got off on having sex with other.
Creatively, Girlfriends is still essentially one man — Dan still handles the better part of writing and shooting. Distribution and marketing are the purview of Moose — “the best sales guy around. We’re still doing well with DVDs — about 80% of our income comes from DVD sales — and I’m very proud of that.”
O’Connell comes up with the characters and plots for both vignette movies and series with continuing stories. Girlfriends’ signature line, “Women Seeking Women” — a perennial award winner, now well past Vol. 80 — is all vignettes.
Fan favorite “Road Queen,” starring lusty Texan Deauxma, along with “Lesbian Triangles” and “Please Make Me a Lesbian,” have storylines that go “from one DVD to the next. It makes the writing easier — I don’t have to invent all these characters.”
O’Connell explores the older women-young girls theme — a common one with girl-girl producers across the board — in “Mother-Daughter Exchange Club” and “Lesbian Seductions: Older-Younger.” “Our fans want the girl who is 18 to 20 and somebody her mom’s age — for our fans the definition of a MILF is 40 to 50. The fans really want incest — they want that girl with her mom. But we don’t do that, of course. The stepmother is the way to get around that.”
He and popular actress-director Elexis Monroe make an annual jaunt to Hungary to shoot scenes for the series “Budapest.” Back home he does “about 35 three-camera shoots a month.” Working at his side are Candy Girl and Sabrina, both lesbians. “Now that B. Skow is here we’ll add that to the mix — he’s doing two or three girl-girls for us each month.”
B. Skow joined the Girlfriends team last spring, on the expiration of his contract with Vivid, where he was on staff first as a photographer and then as a hyper-productive director. He’s eager to work in girl-girl, having missed out on it during his almost 20-year Vivid tenure. They did girl-girl scenes in boy-girl movies but no girl-girl line, except for the long-gone “Where the Boys Aren’t.”
“I love that every Girlfriends movie is sort of a story,” he says. “I’d rather shoot original stories.” He compares their formula to that of a reality TV show. “It’s like watching two girls have a conversation that leads to sex. Organic sex: that’s part of its appeal. Everything’s going to happen for a reason — as much as you can in porn.”
Skow has so far turned out episodes for three ongoing series and is about to shoot a new line, “Lesbian Love Stories,” “more of a romantic, fun lesbian movie.”
Nica Noelle directed a few titles for Girlfriends before hooking up with Mile High Media four years ago to create Sweetheart Video, which followed the pattern of storylines and chemistry-heavy sex pioneered by Girlfriends. Noelle now produces her own girl-girl line, Girl Candy (as well as the boygirl Hard Candy), in conjunction with VoD giant AEBN.
She has strong feelings about girl-girl’s appeal. “At a time when hardcore gonzo was starting to wear on viewers’ sensibilities, the softer, more sensual nature of girlgirl porn… was probably a welcome respite from the cold, often angry depictions of sex that had become standard.
“One reason lesbian porn is considered more ‘authentic’ is because girls have a limited number of things they can do with each other (notwithstanding use of toys and strap-ons). They can kiss, caress, perform and receive oral, rub their bodies together … all intimate acts. When you subtract the aggression and dominance of male sexuality what you’re left with is two women doing things most of us consider more consistent with ‘real lovemaking.’”
Another reason, she says, is that “lesbian sex is one of the few porn genres that equally excite both men and women.”
Noelle’s experience with Sweetheart Video fans showed her that “they get understandably annoyed when they have to buy an entire movie to get one scene they’re looking for.” So she breaks up her vignette movies (like the recently released “Lesbian Masseuse”) and offers the scenes separately on AEBN. “That way, fans can choose which episode they want to see and pass on those they don’t.”
Sweetheart Video was born when Mile High Media’s Jon Blitt, who’d been looking to create a “lesbian erotica project” for several years, met Noelle. “We shared a vision and created a brand that is going strong today,” he says, “even after her recent departure. The intrinsic elements of real passion and authentic lesbian sex that elevate our films will continue with new Sweetheart directors.”
Foremost among those is Dana Vespoli (who has also helmed girl-girl for Filly Films). “She really gets what we’re going for with this brand.” New series to be released before the end of the year include “Lesbians in Charge” and “Lesbian Analingus.”
Mile High also brought on board veteran filmmaker James Avalon to oversee things. He has directed some movies himself (including “Lesbian Sorority 2,” “Lesbian Babysitter 7,” “Asa Loves Girls”) and serves as director of photography for Vespoli.
Avalon says he’s given Sweetheart’s product a somewhat higher gloss — “it used to have an almost pro-am look, not quite as polished as it could have been. We keep the dialogue and sex very realistic — that hasn’t changed a bit. Basically, it’s the same idea of realistic sex, very natural ….”
Smash Pictures, according to VP Stuart Wall, always tried to include a lesbian scene in its features and parodies. “Then we decided to go in the direction for true lesbians: no toys, passionate kissing, as well as incorporating sexual positions one would only see between two women.”
The results can be seen in “Finger-Lickin Girlfriends 1&2” and “Cougar Lesbians 1&2” (the essential older woman teaching younger woman theme). “In our ‘true lesbian’ series like these, it’s all natural women, passionate kissing and true making love the way two women would.” He says that he’s “noticed for broadcast sales, VoD and DVD sales, our ‘true lesbian’ films are outselling some of our straight titles.”
Lesbian video, says Graham Travis, Elegant Angel’s general manager, “does seem to be one of the most vibrant niches in the industry right now.” Their lesbian lines, on the Club 59 label, are “Girl Crush” and “Teach Me,” the latter in the ever-popular older/younger vein. “We’ve also done a few focusing on one particular star who only does girl-girl,” including Dani Daniels and Celeste Star.
Club 59, according to Travis, is “lesbian slang for the 69 position, just missing a digit, or something.” The line’s aim is “to depict real sex and real emotions, real orgasms. The chemistry is the most important aspect. When we got into the lesbian market we really tried to listen to the consumers and hear what they wanted: real sex, sensuality. They didn’t want it glossy and pretty like the girl-girl movies of old.”
Travis says that Mason, Club 59’s main director, has done “a pretty amazing job. She really understands the girls’ sexuality and they appreciate that. It allows them to express themselves.”
For Evil Angel girl-girl is a sub-niche. None of their directors do all-girl exclusively, but when they do, says General Manager Christian Mann, it conforms to their own special niche. “Our directors are doing niche all-girl videos that are specific to what they are known for.”
Case in point is Jay Sin, whose series “Lil’ Gaping Lesbians” is “all-girl from the point of view of what he does: the enema play, the milk stuff, the gaping stuff.” Ditto for Christoph Clark’s “Top Wet Girls,” which spotlights “European girls, all-natural, somewhat statuesque, lingerie-heavy, and clearly directed from the Clark point of view.”
Belladonna’s lesbian titles range from the “Evil Pink” series to “Heavy Petting,” “Cabin Fever” and “Belladonna’s Fucking Girls.” According to Mann, her “Strapped Dykes” earned her cred in the actual lesbian community for its inclusion of “real” San Francisco lesbians. Bobbi Starr, the latest addition to Evil’s director roster, “has been spending a lot of time at Kink.com in San Francisco,” and brings to her allgirl “Gape Gang,” “a lot of the domination-submission themes that have been part and parcel of her work.”
Hustler Video, like most other high-profile studios, has always shot girl-girl scenes “as part of our existing series,” says creative director Drew Rosenfeld. But they recently added a new line, “Hustler Girl on Girl,” that “fully capitalizes on the models available for girl-girl.” The initial releases, “My First Lesbian Experience 1&2,” “have performed well.”
Wicked Pictures does not have its own girl-girl line but maintains a market presence by distributing Abby Winters videos, about one a month. The pro-am, all-girl company, relocated from Australia to Holland, repurposes content from its thriving website.
New Sensations’ The Sappho Series has so far as released only two titles, “The Interns 1&2,” a storyline lesbian series helmed by director Eddie Powell with the same professional finish he brings to his Romance features. The company also releases the Lesbian Provocateur line that features European talent.
Adam & Eve has a series called “A Girl’s Best Friend,” which is now up to Vol. 7. Director of Public Relations Katy Zvolerin notes, “It is nicely filling that niche for our customers.”
Clearly, lesbian video is a niche worth keeping filled.