XBIZ Conference '09: The Evolution of the Porn Star

Bob Preston
WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. — What exactly is a porn star these days?

The responsibilities conferred on long-term performers in today's industry can include a lot more than just daily scene work. To become (and remain) a viable porn star, a performer can expect to make countless appearances at parties and events, all while promoting themselves through a personal website, blog, vlog or podcast — and more.

The XBIZ State of the Industry Conference called on industry veteran Lisa Ann to moderate the seminar, The Evolution of the Porn Star. The panel included her fellow performers Alyssah Simone, Wicked contract star Jessica Drake, Joanna Angel, Nina Hartley, Sasha Grey and Channel 1 exclusive performer Jeremy Bilders. Traffic Dude and Video Secrets were the sponsors.

The advent of the Internet marked the greatest sea-change that the panel had seen over the last decade. Although most of the panelists had always known the Internet, Lisa Ann and Hartley both remembered the days of snail mail fondly.

But the porn star who could build an empire on snail mail is long gone, and in its place has emerged a new kind of performer who must construct an entire brand and persona from scratch.

Angel said that she's poured a lot of time into her flagship website, BurningAngel.com. For example, Angel said that she's parlayed her site's punk-rock image into booths at tattoo-themed expositions and deals cut with bands to wear her site's logo onstage.

Bilders got into adult about 10 months ago as a "gay for pay" performer. Since then, he said his career has "exploded." Because of this, he's launched a popular Facebook profile for his adult persona and started going out to events at bars and other public places to keep his face fresh in fans' minds.

Simone has eschewed the conventional wisdom against brand dilution by creating two entirely different personas. Simone is her cleaner, more traditional porn look, while "Maitresse Madeline" explores the fetish and BDSM world.

A commitment to online promotion was a consistent theme. Although Grey noted that a hacker launched her nascent website ahead of time, most of the other panelists agreed that fans made online are the most loyal.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my website," Angel said. "It helps you have loyal fans and make you not so expandable. They can't just trade you in. It really breaks down a barrier. The Internet has made porn stars a little more human."

According to the stars, the fans can connect with them through several avenues. Some of the most popular include MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. On the downside, Angel said that traffic acquired through MySpace seldom converts well.

As always, the specter of the mainstream entertainment industry reared its head, and the stars agreed that mainstream is coming to embrace adult, albeit very, very slowly. Hartley said that Grey's appearance in Steven Soderbergh's upcoming movie "The Girlfriend Experience" will help this process along, though she bluntly added that Grey isn't likely have a long mainstream career because of her past in adult.

Grey nodded in accord.

"Being on camera in porn made me comfortable on set," Grey said in reference to her time doing "The Girlfriend Experience." "I've been acting since I was 12, but once you have sex on camera, people will judge you."

Despite that sentiment, the panelists also said that the general public is starting to treat adult performers with more tolerance.

"The people who have always hated it will keep hating it, but there are more middle-of-the-road types today who might occasionally watch it," Hartley said, later adding that porn stars still will never be able to work with minors, run for public office or do any number of other activities.

But more than anything else, the stars all pointed toward a pair of qualities that all performers must have in order to be stars: commitment and longevity. In other words, doing one scene doesn't make you a star.

"I'll get some girls who do one scene and think they're a star, and then they want to work again, and I just don't have anything for them," Lisa Ann said.

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