Although the topics of innovation and technology are often intermingled, they are not the same: one is more a matter of technique and presentation, while the other centers on the processes and tools.
Within the adult entertainment industry (and among many mainstream observers) the business of bawdiness has always been on the cutting edge of technology and current consumer demand — but this popular notion frequently stems from modern-day developments such as Beta vs. VHS, Blu-ray vs. DVD, downloading vs. streaming, Flash vs. HTML5, and other purely technical considerations.
Innovation and technology, while perhaps two similar sides of the same coin, both play a vital role in today’s diverse adult entertainment ecosystem.
What about innovation in content, however?
Imagine being part of a conversation along the lines of “Hey, instead of a van, why not cruise around in a motor home and pick up unsuspecting girls for anonymous sex — won’t that be different enough? OK — then how about a boat, or maybe a bike?”
This level of “creative thinking” is one reason that sales are down for many adult website operators, but it may seem uncomfortably familiar to many within the industry. Looking at some of today’s most popular themes and titles, derivative works and parodies are what pass for “innovative” and “unique,” despite being neither — but this does not mean that inspiration could not be found in culturally significant mainstream works.
One recent XBIZ.net discussion explored the question of developing a breakout porn equivalent of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon, which brought explicit adult entertainment to a predominantly female, mainstream audience. This discussion was initiated by XBIZ’ Alec Helmy, who notes that he has personally reviewed the vast majority of the more than one thousand adult video releases received each year at the company’s Hollywood offices; stating that the bulk of this material is so-called “gonzo porn,” which is created for folks who want nothing but hardcore sex.
“That’s fine and all and will likely remain the biggest slice of the adult consumer market ... but given the state of porn (fierce competition, free content, declining DVDs, etc.), I wonder why more producers are not pursuing progressive projects,” Helmy offered.
“Specifically, experimenting with ideas that could create a whole new consumer base on a mass scale — that’s what the book did and eventually someone will do the same with porn. I hope it’s one of us.”
Shortly after this insight, XBIZ reported about Universal Pictures’ upcoming mainstream feature film adaptation of the novel, which features a unique twist — a sexy adult version. According to the film’s producer, Dana Brunetti, an X-rated version of the highly anticipated movie is in production alongside of the R-rated version, in response to fan demands to keep the movie as close to the book as possible — and the dirtier the better.
“‘I always thought it would be really cool if we released the R-version and then we had an NC-17 version that we released a few weeks later,” Brunetti stated. “Everybody could go and enjoy the R-version and then if they really wanted to see it again and get a little bit [grittier] with it, then have that NC-17 version out there as well.”
“We do not want this film to be seen as mommy porn,” Brunetti added. “We want to keep it elevated, but also give the fans what they want.”
The movie will debut in February of 2015, when we get to see how faithful it remained to its vision.
While Helmy’s point transcended the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon, the XBIZ.net community seized on a literal discussion of the porn potential of this popular literary juggernaut — underscoring some of the most important factors when it comes to creating innovative adult entertainment.
Kelli Roberts of Kelli Internet Services believes that cost plays a significant role.
“It would be great to have a ‘real’ movie made that was truly erotic and hardcore, but it’s just not cost effective, at least not in today’s market,” Roberts stated. “Those ‘Fifty Shades’ guys are going to make their money from the softer version and then use the harder version as simply a marketing gimmick to push further sales of their normal version — the one that can be shown in theaters.”
Roberts explains that in the past, a company making a movie could expect a certain amount of return on the investment from DVD sales and from cable distribution deals, as well as foreign and hotel distribution rights, etc.
“We all know that DVD sales are down, so that money is reduced, but so is the amount of money companies are paying for cable, and foreign rights,” Roberts told XBIZ. “What a company used to make with a movie is greatly reduced so instead they seemed to be producing movies for their biggest money making markets — online sales — and those seem to be sold off as ‘scenes’ instead of a whole movie.”
Producer/Director Max Candy agreed that it would cost to do it right, because “fetish stuff is especially expensive to do right and nobody wants to provide a good enough budget.”
“Sooner or later, quality will count again,” Max Candy told XBIZ, “but for now it’s about following traffic and numbers, with no one leading the market.”
“I don’t think it’s a cost issue, but rather the right mix of talent, because the book certainly wasn’t ‘big budget,’” Helmy offered, pointing to the other factors that influence innovation in adult content.
Ben Yates of Pervlens Media opined that SexArt does a good job of bringing something different to the market and appeals to people who may want a little more substance to their porn. Yates cites the example of SexArt’s erotic soap opera, Kamikaze Love, made by renowned erotic feature film director Zalman King.
One thing the approaches cited by Yates share is a sense of style, with a softer edge.
Master Ryan of PKS Consulting notes that rather than an issue of softversus hardcore content the issue is that the “Fifty Shades” audience primarily consists of women who are not usually aroused visually, making erotica the best choice of medium.
“Romance novels are porn to women, as they are much less visual than men,” Master Ryan told XBIZ. “The question I wonder about is why erotica isn’t as big this year? There should be ‘Fifty Shades’ style erotica blogs and sites popping up everywhere.”
Other approaches to innovation in adult content are possible, but some may cause quite a stir.
For example, John C of Animation Art believes big budget films featuring controversial interracial, underage, or gay themed content could work well towards innovating adult content offerings.
“Look no further than ‘Blue is the Warmest Color,’ a hardcore lesbian film about underage lovers now showing in art houses,” John C offered. “Those producers have tapped into current attitudes and questions about gay sex and are going to make a bundle.”
John C says this approach will take a good writer that understands the audience.
“I don’t think that it’s innovation as much as just keeping up with current trends,” John C told XBIZ. “Fifty Shades appealed to a growing, underserved audience of horny, repressed female professionals who gave up the career track for the baby track and their guilt about it.”
Kelli Roberts notes that there are ways that the adult industry could tap into that “fast girl” audience which is buying up “Fifty Shades” in droves.
“We could run membership sites like we do for men, but instead of videos which the boys love to watch, we offer high quality stories,” Kelli Roberts told XBIZ. “Every day they could log into the naughty book club website and get a new story. As long as the stories were high quality and there were enough of them that the girl felt like she was getting her monies worth (because value is a big deal with women) then there is no reason a venture like this couldn’t be a success.”
Kelli Roberts says that it is common knowledge that women will spend money on romance novels.
“We know this market is huge. We have just never aggressively pursued it as an industry,” Roberts added, “Which really doesn’t make sense, especially considering the cost to produce content for such a site would be drastically cheaper than it is to produce unique video content for a male version.”
Master Ryan points to Amazon’s new “Add to Kindle” plugin button as ideal for such applications and wonders if there might even be a way to automatically send a daily story to a member’s Kindle, since “All of these ladies have Kindles, iPads and iPhones, etc.” — mobile friendliness being another factor for content.
As we have seen, the financial aspects of the content equation are not the only considerations, and there are substantial legal risks to filming the type of fantasies revealed in today’s steamy sex stories.
PR firm Black and Blue Media cautions that anyone wanting to depict a video version of “Fifty Shades” themes in a porn movie would see their chances of becoming the next John Stagliano, Max Hardcore or Rob Black, grow exponentially — so they too could sit in a courtroom and spend half a million dollars to defend themselves against obscenity charges.
“Adult producers need to figure out just how much money they are leaving on the table when they are not shooting for ALL of the six or seven revenue streams in adult. When they are just shooting cheap, crappy gonzo and wall-to-wall porn, they limit themselves to selling on their sites, clips stores and DVD,” Black and Blue Media explains. “Until more adult producers learn what the real revenue streams are, (something Wicked, Vivid and DP know well), they don’t comprehend putting money and creativity into shooting for broadcast, IPTV, etc.”
“Add in the fact that so many adult producers have no creativity and no skill (let alone budget) and it’s hard to expect someone to pull off something of quality,” Black and Blue Media added.
Dixon Mason of Intersec Studios cites the saucy book’s non-consensual content and warns of the danger of censorship in regards to this edgy material, echoing Black and Blue Media’s concerns.
Kelli Roberts says that there is much of what folks call “the point of no return” going on in girl porn, forming one of the crazy differences between girl and boy porn.
“In the adult industry, if a girl says no and a guy throws her down and takes her anyway, we all go to jail,” Kelli Roberts told XBIZ. “But in romance novels, it does happen and it’s no big deal.”
As for whether or not “Fifty Shades” was an isolated phenomenon, while the author was preparing this article, Christmas music playing on the radio in the background, an ad came on promoting what it called “The country’s #1 ladies’ night out” — “Spank! Harder,” the sequel to last year’s “Spank!”
This hit stage parody of “Fifty Shades” has provided a night of naughty and hilarious fun to women in more than 150 cities across the globe, and shows no sign of letting up, as it goes into a series of sequels.
“‘Spank! Harder’ picks up where the original left off, parodying not only Fifty Shades but also taking aim at women’s pop culture,” states the play’s promoters. “Our ‘author,’ E.B. Janet, pens her next novel and takes the audience on her newest wild adventure fantasy in the sexy, satirical style that audiences have come to love.”
This is the type of market traction that savvy salesmen salivate over and shows that the “Fifty Shades” success and the carnal cravings of its target audience is far from a fluke — but can adult producers stuck in their ways embrace a new paradigm?
Barry from MB Entertainment notes the similarity to erotic gaming where the grand majority of successful titles are games with sexual elements added or addressed — not sex turned into a game.
“People seeing those movies are going to watch a movie that happens to have or deal with sexual elements. It may be titillating, but the primary goal isn’t getting off — it is the movie experience,” Barry explains. “Do ‘Fifty Shades’ as a porn movie and the focus has shifted to the sex aspect — on top of the general gender differences in preferences for porn (visual vs. concept porn vs. erotica).”
Others within the industry doubt that a porn rendition of the erotic novel would be successful.
According to 2Muchmark of 2Much.net, an honest analysis would reveal that 99 percent of porn movies are pure garbage; littered with bad acting, bad writing, bad photography, bad sound, bad music — the list goes on.
“I doubt that any porn movie based on (stolen from) ‘Fifty Shades’ would have 1/100th the quality required to even come close to being called ‘Fifty Shades’ except by whatever hacks might write a for-pay fake review of it,” 2Muchmark told XBIZ. “Next, porn movies are clearly made for men, the way low budget monster movies are. Cut the BS / cut to the chase / fake monsters in cheap costumes (or lowgrade computer graphics). [It is the same as] cutting to the big fake tits and spitting — most guys love it, most women do not.”
“My girlfriend Tracy, who read the ‘Fifty Shades’ series, never once called it porn. She calls it erotica,” 2Muchmark added. “She has been reading IMDB every week for updates on the new ‘Fifty Shades’ movie that she will definitely want to see because she is expecting the movie to capture the book in as much detail as possible. She knows a porn version would be laughable.”
Laughable or not, a porn version of “Fifty Shades” did make a stir; with Evil Empire’s GonZo pointing to Smash Pictures’ adaptation of “Fifty Shades” by Jim Powers, which made headlines before being the subject of a high-profile legal action.
“My understanding [of the problem] was not that [Smash] made it (and did a nice job of it, casting Ryan Driller as Christian Grey), but that the PR and packaging pretty much indicated it was an authentic treatment of the novel,” Wasteland’s Colin Rowntree told XBIZ. “Universal pulled the plug as it was not made as a parody and had no safe haven from copyright infringement.”
For his part, Rowntree and company dabble in the “Fifty Shades” realm a bit, but are very mindful to keep it in the fantasy, fan fiction sort of niche, with its virtual reality based offering at virtual.sssh.com.
Ruby Goodnight of Ruby Goodnight Media says the Smash parody of “Fifty Shades” was the best selling porn DVD the company sells, but is not surprised, given his sites that tap into “Fifty Shades” fans.
“The mainstream movie won’t be able to do it justice unless it’s rated NC17 or older. I would love to see an unrated version where they get all the sex scenes and BDSM in there,” Ruby Goodnight stated. “But, if I was looking at the ‘big picture’ and trying to make waves in the porn world just as ‘Fifty Shades’ did in the literary world, then the gonzo style ‘suck, fuck and facial,’ porn needs to take a back seat.”
With this perspective, it is clear that mainstream may have no better success by embracing porn.
Cyntertainment, admitting to not being the audience for this kind of venture, citing the prevalence of short clips from films on video websites, told XBIZ “I can only think of one person I know that would watch something like this, and he’s got a bit of a question mark over him.”
“I am in the group of people that tends to skip through DVD’s looking for the ‘good’ bit. Even the ‘knocking on the door’ part is boring [to me],” Cyntertainment says, asking, “Aren’t the majority of porn users saying ‘just stick your f**king cock up her arse and let’s get on with it’?”
Sure, that may work for the majority, but new customers are needed today and they require a new and more innovative approach to adult content that can compete with free fare — a competition that is not easy for an up and comer to breach.
For example, Naughty Tinkerbell from Naughty Tinkerbell.com, who made a film called ‘Fifty Shades of Pink,’ expressed frustration over a lack of recognition for her creative films that are edgy and unique.
“I produce the most unique films, but I’m frustratingly unknown by the rest of the porn world,” NaughtyTinkerbell told XBIZ. “There is nothing standard about any of my films and I try to be as sexy, genuine and creative as possible.”
NaughtyTinkerbell shows innovation in adult content does not have to be expensive, just creative.
According to Exile Dist’ howardd1955, sinking money into any big production is a risky business these days, especially when the project is a parody.
“What ever happened to original thoughts that turned into original movies,” howardd1955 asks. “The truth is the parody train has pulled out of the station and you are now beating a dead horse.”
“Vivid poured a ton of money into the remake of ‘Behind the Green Door.’ It was a great idea [but] it was on the top of the charts for one week, two at the most, and then poof it was gone — and forget the charts, the sales were much less than expected — the glory days are gone,” howardd1955 told XBIZ. “When ‘The Devil in Miss Jones 2’ came out with Jenna, I sold 65,000 copies out the door the first week. That is what is referred to now as ‘The Golden Era.’”
As a solution, howardd1955 would like to see something different that encompasses great eroticism with a decent storyline, but warns producers that spending more than $15,000 will kill their profitability.
That level of budget, while not supporting the next “Pirates,” still offers potential for producers.
David J. Baron of neuFleisch Produktions sees an evolving the market for high-quality BDSM focused fetish films, telling XBIZ that “I believe that there’s a growing customer base looking for BDSM and fetish films that explores the sensual and almost artistic aspects of this sexual practice.”
While this is likely true, it is still just a new coat of paint on an old house, and not an innovative new approach opening new audiences for adult content.
Even though some of the industry’s best and brightest took part in this discussion, the thread focused more on copying the “Fifty Shades” concept than on developing a unique and innovative offering that would capture the attention of new audiences in the way that “Fifty Shades” unlocked the purses of its target market. Given this, perhaps very little change from the status quo may happen anytime soon — although those that can rise above the pack while remaining under budget may make bank.
On the other hand, it is not difficult to read between the lines to develop your own content strategy.
Innovation and technology, while perhaps two similar sides of the same coin, both play a vital role in today’s diverse adult entertainment ecosystem. While it might be understandable that online porn’s technical (some say “nerdy”) operators may focus on those areas where they feel the most comfortable, creative innovation in content development and presentation is needed for the industry to move ahead — not just a new video playback format, billing metaphor or tube site template, but a truly unique idea.
To paraphrase Helmy, “I hope it’s from one of us.”