SAN FRANCISCO — When an Academy Award-winning actor has your back, you know you’re doing something right. It all started when young filmmaker Travis Mathews was looking to direct his first feature — one that centered on gay life in San Francisco called “I Want Your Love.” He went to NakedSword President Tim Valenti for help as a financial backer — and ultimately the company ended up financing, producing and distributing the film.
“It was risky because it was a lot of money to put up with no hope for a return on the investment for about a year until the project was completed and released,” Valenti says. “A six-figure budget in the adult space is all but non-existent these days, so I had to really believe in the project to take the risk.”
Looks like the risk paid off. “The feedback has been unprecedented. Major mainstream news outlets have reviewed and covered the ‘I Want Your Love’ project. Outlets like Variety, the New York Times, the UK’s Guardian, IndieWire, The Huffington Post and literally dozens more mainstream outlets that never touch our industry unless there is a scandal or it's something negative. This non-typical reaction and coverage has expanded the viewing audience in a big way beyond the typical adult film-buying audience.”
The film casts Jesse Metzger as a broke twenty-something who spends one last night with friends and lovers in San Francisco before moving back home to Ohio. It premiered last year at the San Francisco Frameline Festival, and sold-out screenings were also held at Lincoln Center in New York, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival and Los Angeles’ Outfest. And last month, NakedSword released the film on VOD and DVD.
“For this project, it has been a breeze because the film took on a life of its own and we have the best publicists in the business working on the project,” Valenti says. “Due to the success of IWYL out of the gate, we have the ability to green-light more projects like this in the future. We are already looking at a huge project that we might take on which would change everything and be the perfect follow-up.”
The movie’s coverage has been amplified by one key aspect: “I Want Your Love” includes real, un-simulated sex. That got it banned in Australia, prompting extra publicity through Oscar-nominated actor James Franco — who went to YouTube to voice his support of the film. The star built a friendship with Mathews during the making of “Interior. Leather Bar.” — a gay short based on lost footage from William Friedkin's controversial 1980 film “Cruising.” The short is produced by Franco and directed by Mathews.
“James Franco is a true artist and he saw what was happening with the Australian ban,” Valenti says. “He felt it wasn't right, so he graciously did a video in support of the cause. Yes, it was very cool…you couldn't buy that kind of publicity. Thank you, James Franco!”
The project has also helped push NakedSword to the next level after a huge step early last year — when the company enlisted accomplished director Mr. Pam as director of production for NakedSword Originals. The site releases a new series every month, with new episodes from the series released every week.
“It's like what we did with ‘Golden Gate,’ but more intense and on a regular basis,” Valenti says. “The series strategy, along with creative storytelling, has very much set us apart. NakedSword Originals is one of the most watched studios on the entire website, consistently in the top three every week and it has given our partners fresh new content to use to promote NakedSword.com. We just celebrated our first year anniversary in January, and we are stronger than ever.”
The label is the logical progression from “The Tim & Roma Show,” “Wet Palms” and “Golden Gate,” original efforts that the company has tackled through the years, sometimes with another studio on board as a partner. NakedSword Originals has produced 12 films since last year, starting with “Stalker” — which the director notes was very symbolic about her move from New York City to San Francisco. While the scenes of each film are initially released individually, the finished product is always a cohesive work that blends together — all built around a theme or inspiration.
"I have had so much fun creating movies for NakedSword," Mr. Pam says. "It’s a brand new studio with no rules! I'm able to explore gay-life concepts that other studios would be too timid to touch — ‘Hooker Stories’ was about real escort tales; ‘Stalker’ about obsessive ex’s; ‘Boyfriends’ tackled cheating, fighting and love; ‘Grindhouse’ touched on my love for live sex shows and the Nob Hill Theatre; and now the politically charged film ‘The Cover Up,’ which is hardcore political commentary about the San Francisco ban on public nudity. Of course there are ridiculously hot guys and steamy orgasmic sex in everything we produce, but it’s refreshing to go beyond traditional porn and create something more meaningful, current and stir up some controversy.”
Valenti praises his muse (“Mr. Pam is a star in her own right. She's an amazing director and a great asset”) and notes that, from the beginning, NakedSword has been about taking consumers beyond the adult film.
”Over the years we have worked hard to make sure that besides offering all the studios and all the hits, that we also did our own creative projects to entertain our large membership audience with diverse tastes,” he says. “We have always been about injecting creativity and freshness into the content we produce. IWYL is the ultimate expansion of that… and now that we produce our own original adult content in-house via NakedSword Originals, releasing a new series every month all year long, we truly are the HBO of the gay porn space — offering consumers exclusive, one-of-kind premium original content plus all the studios and all the hits 24/7.”
Over the past 14 months, the company has also built its own affiliate program, NakedSword Cash (powered by NATS affiliate tracking software); redesigned NakedSword.com; and launched its global DVD line with Media Partners in New York (“We sold thousands of units last year from our own NakedSword Originals releases, so I don't see DVD as being over just yet,” Valenti says). Up next is the release of ‘The Cover Up,’ the fifth installment in the ‘Golden Gate’ series, in April.
“The project gained national mainstream press a few weeks ago when we were filming scenes from the nude ban protest for the movie and caused quite a stir, which landed us in several mainstream media outlets,” Valenti says. “But that is what we want, for the conversation about NakedSword and our projects to be everywhere in both the adult media and the gay mainstream media.”
It’s just another way the company has positioned itself as an industry leader, and Valenti couldn’t be more excited about the door their latest project has opened. “What we are doing as a company and with IWYL has been unprecedented. I believe IWYL helps shine the light on gay love and relationships while getting people talking, which is only a positive thing. James Franco supporting our movie opens a huge conversation that many would never be having otherwise. Further to that, I think it's important to portray gay relationships and gay sex in a positive fashion with emotional depth and not just as purely sexual.”