LONDON — Justin Ribeiro dos Santos tells XBIZ that Joy Bear Pictures built its brand through careful marketing and methodical selling rather than churning out movies like a factory.
It’s a formula that continues to work for the London-based studio that has steadily raised its profile in Europe and beyond with the simple tagline, “Raunchy Films for Her and for Him.”
“We are releasing a film every few months,” dos Santos says. “My strategy has always been to focus on selling. We aren’t then stuck in a schedule just for the sake of fulfilling a schedule.”
Dos Santos personally sells his stylish couples films to the 300-something adult retail shops in the U.K. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I quite enjoyed building up that network,” he says. “My strategy was, well if I can do that here in the U.K. then I can do that elsewhere. And from my perspective that’s been the right strategy.”
His approach has generated high-profile media coverage and created opportunities to license Joy Bear movies worldwide across multiple formats since the company's inception in 2003. Dos Santos’ U.S. distribution deal with Wicked Pictures came about after an introduction by Kelly Holland, the president of Penthouse Studios, in January 2009 during the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, where Holland suggested that he meet Wicked’s VP of Special Projects, Joy King.
“So I presented to [Joy] and she got it immediately and loved it, and the rest is history,” dos Santos says, noting that he officially began his deal with Wicked in July of that year.
“It’s been excellent. It’s one thing to be doing deals in different territories and extending our reach month by month, but to suddenly be in bed with a powerhouse like Wicked and [president] Steve Orenstein, it’s been such a lesson.”
Dos Santos says he and Orenstein have detailed conversations about creative points.
“I try to learn from him. He is almost like a distant uncle,” explains dos Santos, who brought his background in photography and filmmaking to the company. Dos Santos won the Playboy "Double Entry" competition in January 2003. Not long after he started exploring his own vision of erotica, filling what he saw as a void in the market in porn for women, especially in the 23-to-35 age range.
Joy Bear’s movies feature a mixture of talent from the U.K. and other parts of Eastern Europe with some Americans mixed in.
Dos Santos says he trusted his instincts along the way.
“Originally I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I knew for sure what I didn’t want to do. And that was what everyone else is doing,” he notes.
When it comes to the box covers, dos Santos places significant emphasis on “appealing, good-looking guys” that share the spotlight with the women.
“Not grossly overweight, hairy, chauvinistic or masochistic,” he says.
Dos Santos lists his top titles thus far as “Street Heat 3,” and “The London Sex Project 2: Experimentation” in terms of sales.
“In terms of online recognition, ‘London Sex Project 2’ has definitely been a star. We put some soft trailers on YouTube and some of them got up to 60,000 or 70,000 views, per scene, times that by six scenes,” he says.
“London Sex Project 2” entails what the company called a “never-before-seen perspective” on some of the players in London’s underground “party scene” as captured through the eyes of well-known filmmaker Oliver McDowell. It also features the “godfather of fetish” DJ Rubber Ron and uncensored footage from one of his after-parties.
“Personally speaking, I’m really proud of ‘London Sex Project 2,’” dos Santos says. “It has a very styled, reality look and feel. It does have the feel of a mainstream, high-production reality TV program infused with a club scene which we shot over six hours.”
Nowadays one of dos Santos’s ongoing projects is recruiting talented filmmakers to carry on what he has built.
“Joy Bear cannot grow if I’m too entrenched in the details of production, so the last one, two, three productions I’ve taken a step back,” he reasons. “It’s been a central part of the strategy to find mini Justin’s and Justine’s.”
Joy Bear’s next title to hit the streets in the U.S. is called “Chloe’s Column, Fuck Fame,” which is the first offering from its new “Chloe’s Column” series. Loosely based on the Emmy-winning series, “Sex in the City,” the movie is billed as “an exploration of the murky world of celebrity as seen through the eyes of a British journalist.” It follows Chloe (Paige Ashley), a strong, independent woman and her investigative adventures both in and out of the bedroom.
To help generate buzz about the film, the film’s leading lady started her own blog titled Creative Chloe (http://creativechloe.wordpress/com), which introduced her and gave real-time accounts of her meetings with people throughout the filming.
Dos Santos describes his in-house team at Joy Bear as “small but formidable.”
“We’ve grown very, very organically since it started and I was doing everything and had 10,000 DVDs in my apartment,” he says. “I literally had to carve out a part of the fridge and part of my bedroom. I had wall-to-wall DVDs.”
With each new release — the company has done eight movies so far — Joy Bear’s reach has extended further.
Now Joy Bear’s distribution is worldwide with penetration in Germany, Turkey and Switzerland, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The founder is thankful he didn’t try to get too big too fast.
“It’s been fairly steady compared to our initial growth in the first two years,” he says. “I’m very pleased that I kept it organic, so the strategy is always to make the film and sell it in more places than before.”
He says Joy Bear movies run on cable networks throughout Western Europe and the company also has an output deal with Playboy.
Joy Bear undoubtedly has benefited from mainstream media coverage from major outlets such as CNN, Esquire U.K. and the London Sunday Times.
“I think it all started from the Esquire article,” dos Santos reasons, pointing to the feature story published in the February 2010 edition. “We found a journalist [Kate Spicer] who was pretty open-minded and had done a series of reality shows here in the U.K. She’s a mainstream journalist, writes for The Guardian and other mainstream publications and had a bit of an edge.”
Dos Santos asked his female production manager to reach out to Spicer and ask if she’d be interested in being a part of a Joy Bear movie.
“She then came on set, wrote a super nice article and the next thing I know I’m sitting in front of Margaret Driscoll, the features editor for the London Sunday Times and we got to talking,” dos Santos continues.
Dos Santos has been outspoken about informing and educating the public about the pitfalls of having porn too easily accessible to minors, and shared his views with Driscoll. The theme struck a chord and became the focus of the paper’s article about the filmmaker, who purposely did not want Joy Bear to be mentioned in association with his message.
“CNN then picked that up and then invited me to have a guest appearance,” he says.
The attention and requests that followed were unexpected, dos Santos says.
“Though I’m outspoken, I’m not a politician and I’m not about to lobby the government to try to get porno in with the current syllabus,” he says.
“It was a really interesting journey to learn about the power of the press, and how quickly things can spread. I’m really glad I did it. Where it’s been most valuable is in a B2B context. It helps paint a picture of who we are. I couldn’t ask for more than that.”