Foreign Imports

John Scura
Once upon a time, importing adult movies from Eastern Europe was a no-brainer. They were made for a tiny fraction of what production costs in the U.S., and there was a definite market for the overseas lines.

While foreign imports are no longer a sure thing, there is still plenty of money to be made from Euro porn, according to distributors, as long as you know what you're doing.

The cost-profit advantage still exists with the overseas product, although by most accounts, it's not what it used to be.

"The costs of shooting overseas have skyrocketed in the last five years," Jeff Mullen, president of All Media Play, tells XBiz. "It's not as big of a bargain as it used to be, but it's still a bargain compared to shooting in America.

Ric Williams, president of Black Widow Productions, agrees, pointing out that the going rate for a full day's work overseas is about 300 Euros.

"That's like $400," Williams adds. "Here you have to pay on the average of $4,000 to $5,000 for a day."

And there is still a definite demand for overseas product in the U.S. A solid cadre of consumers prefer "Euro Porn" because it is different from the American product in several ways.

Anal Sensibility?
"Europe has a certain sensibility about porn that is very aggressive," Mullen explains. "It seems like European girls grew up doing anal sex, whereas American girls generally don't like to do it. For the most part, it seems like every European girl does anal." Williams agrees that the tone of the European product is much rougher, and adds that this could occasionally become a problem for American distributors.

"I screen every European movie before we bring it in," he says, "because their standards are a lot lower over there. Their stuff is a lot harder, so if you just take a movie without looking at it, you can get yourself in trouble."

Overseas product also provides the one key ingredient that domestic consumers demand of adult entertainment — fresh new faces.

"Everybody loves young girls and fresh faces," Mullen points out. "With the imports, you get a whole group of new girls that nobody has ever seen — all varieties."

It's reached the point where overseas-based performers are becoming stars in the domestic market. Hungary's Brigitta Bulgari is a prime example. The former Playboy Playmate of the Year and Penthouse Model of the Year has garnered awards for her performance in Pleasure Productions' import line, Sins Pictures.

"We connected with her through Penthouse," Michele R. of Pleasure Productions' domestic sales department tells XBiz. "Larry Flynt is basically in love with her. She's a great person and has her own talk show in Italy. When we asked her in an interview why she switched from modeling to porn, she said, 'I'm up for anything.'"

Bulgari joins a growing group of overseas performers who have become famous in the domestic marketplace, including Claudia Ferrari, Cristina Bella and Mandy Bright. The emergence of foreign stars gives domestic distributors a new promotional hook for their imported product, but otherwise their promotional strategies remain the same.

"We don't do anything different with the imported product," Williams says. "We run full-page ads, just like we do for the U.S. product."

"You promote the foreign imports just the same as you promote the lines shot in the U.S.," Mullen agrees. "You might make recommendations to the retailers, saying, 'Stock this on your Euro shelf.' And if it comes from the Far East, 'Stock this with your Asian material.' The big battle nowadays is just finding shelf space, because there are way too many producers out there."

Which brings us to the key question: Are imported lines assured of turning a profit? "In this business, nothing is assured of turning a profit," Mullen asserts. "But the bigger companies are able to move enough units to make a profit on foreign-produced lines. H-2 Video, an offshoot of Hustler Video, is all shot in Europe and they were nominated for a number of awards this year in different categories. Hustler's 'White Hot Nurses' was a series entirely shot in Europe, and of course there's 'Euro Sluts', which is now in its 10th volume. And Metro is doing very well with the "Legal Pink" series, which is produced in Europe, because it is continually offering up fresh new girls and the deal is very clean."

Michele R. of Pleasure Productions feels that the Sins Pictures line, produced by a European company called Pinko, is destined to be a financial hit. "We're sure of making a profit on these. They're a little bit more expensive, but there's definitely a demand for them," she says, but adds that Sins Pictures is the only European line remaining from the company's formerly large catalog of foreign-produced product.

One concern is that European producers do not always have their fingers on the pulse of U.S. fans.

"They're three or four years behind the U.S.," reveals Ric Williams, president of Black Widow Productions, which handles the "German Goo Girls" line out of Munich, the MSSInteractive line from London, Pink Press from Poland and BGMInternational from Italy. "Right now, over in Europe, gonzo is the big thing, whereas here gonzo seems to be dying out and we're starting to shift back into features."

As a result, Black Widow operates strictly on a revenue- share basis. "I don't pay them [the foreign producers] any money until I sell their product," Williams says. "They've already got their schedule, and I just get what they give me, with the exception of BGM, which is the only company that shoots what I ask them to shoot.

"I don't buy or license movies," he adds. "That's the way it always used to be, but now that's courting disaster. Since we do everything revenue-share, we automatically make a profit. The guys that are buying the foreign stuff just want to see fresh talent and that's what we give them — new faces they've never seen before."

Another nagging issue for U.S. distributors is making the right contacts in Eastern Europe, where business people often are skeptical of dealing with Americans.

Williams met most of his overseas contacts while he was president of Private North America, the Barcelona-based company which is one of the world's largest distributors of adult entertainment. His frequent overseas junkets helped him to establish trust from the foreign producers, which carried over to his creation of Black Widow — although it wasn't all that easy.

Building Relationships
"They have to trust me that I'm going to pay them," Williams explains of his revenue- sharing policy. "There have been a lot of instances where people in the U.S. say they're going to sell foreign stuff for people, and they sell them, but the people in Europe never get the money. I can get their business because I do, in fact, pay them. They're all apprehensive at first, though, until they see the wire transfers come in. Once they see that, then everything gets better, although they often complain about the sales numbers. They think the U.S. market is a lot larger for DVDs than it really is. They see that America is so big, but they don't appreciate that we have 830 new releases every week in this country."

The lack of trust goes the other way, as well. When doing business in the former Soviet Bloc, where people often operate according to a different code of ethics than Americans are used to, it's wise to be cautious.

"It's often difficult to do business overseas, especially since you usually only see these people maybe once or twice a year, at best, and often never at all," Mullen says. "However, that doesn't stop companies like Digital Sin and New Sensations from doing great business with a number of producers, such as Jean-Yves LeCastel and Joachim Kessef. There's also an Italian performer/producer/ director named Dennis Marti who shoots the majority of his lines in Prague and does great business with Hustler Video."

To protect Black Widow against any worst-case scenarios, Williams insists that overseas producers sign a 12-page contract drafted for the American company by an international lawyer. "When I present that to the producers, they kind of choke a little bit," Williams says. "But it's a pretty solid contract, so everyone knows what their obligations are."

So, while there's no guarantee of profits from distributing Eastern European porn and there are potential pitfalls, it remains a cost-effective product with a substantial market. All of the distributors XBiz spoke with agreed — there is money to be made from foreign imports. Like anything else in the adult entertainment industry, finding the profits depends more on your own business acumen than it does on the product itself.