Today's Porn Industry Demands More From Performers
LOS ANGELES — Adult industry insiders differ on how to define the new generation of performers, but most agree that professionalism separates the contenders from the pretenders.
Porn talent faces a variety of challenges in order to prosper in a shrinking industry, where consistent bookings are far from a guarantee. Today’s performer must be both responsible and versatile if she wants to make porn a career.
Axel Braun, the 2014 XBIZ Director of the Year, says that the increasing popularity of story-driven adult films weeds out one-dimensional performers.
“There is more of a need for girls who can act than ever before,” Braun tells XBIZ. “Nowadays a girl better bring more to the table than just performing if she wants to have longevity in the business.”
Many of them do, according to Dan O’Connell, the founder of Girlfriends Films who received the 2012 XBIZ Man of the Year Award.
O’Connell, who announced he had sold Girlfriends Films to his VP Moose on Jan. 1 but remains active producing and directing, says that the occupation of female porn star is “becoming more acceptable.” Because of that, he says the talent pool is growing both in numbers and quality.
“I do think the industry has the finest group of talent we’ve ever had,” O’Connell says. “My best performers today are definitely above the level of performers that we’ve had in the past.
“This year I’ve been doing my best movies ever, which is largely attributable to the talent. As society has become more permissive in regard to sex, the performers are more inclined to shed their inhibitions and go all out when in front of the camera.”
O’Connell points out that today’s performer knows more about porn, too.
“An ever increasing number of female performers have long watched porn for their own enjoyment, and those girls are clearly more educated in what makes a good porn scene and the high level of sexual performance that can be achieved,” O’Connell says.
Mark Spiegler, who has been representing talent since 1999 and formed his agency Spiegler Girls in 2003, tells XBIZ the current crop of performers seeks out porn as a career, rather than ends up in the industry.
“The current generation is a generation of professionals,” says Spiegler, whose elite roster of performers is perhaps the most decorated in porn. “In the ’80s they were professional, but they were people who wanted to be actors and fell into porn. In the ’90s it was kind of the same.
“But once the Internet came into existence a lot of people aspired to be in porn. They researched it and this is what they truly wanted to become as a professional. This was not something they did just to make additional money or to make a living while they’re trying to become a [mainstream] actor. The early- to mid-2000s is the first real generation that came into this as a professional.”
Chanel Preston, the 2011 XBIZ Best New Starlet and spokesperson for the year-old Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), says she recently was talking to Christy Canyon, who rose to stardom in the late ’80s, about how complex the industry has become.
“Oh my gosh, it seemed so easy then — in some ways,” Preston tells XBIZ. “Now I feel like it can be really, really hard but it also can be really rewarding. It’s tough. It’s a job.”
Preston says that even when she got into the industry in 2010 she thought it would be a cushy gig.
“I thought it was going to be so easy — I get paid to have sex. I’m a decent-looking girl. But I see this generation working really hard for their careers — which is great — and I also see them being very creative because of piracy and everything else,” Preston says.
“The industry isn’t at its peak. I think performers are starting to branch out and find their niche and see how they can make the most of this career. They have their Clips4Sale sites, their custom videos, all these other avenues that branch out from just doing porn scenes.”
Nina Hartley agrees. The classic star knows all about how to achieve career longevity, seeing several generations come and go through Porn Valley.
“After 30 years in the trenches I'd categorize younger/newer performers as high-caliber individuals,” Hartley tells XBIZ. “Unlike in years past, many young women (I'm not as sure about the young men) enter adult entertainment deliberately, after acquiring real-life skills. This makes them better entrepreneurs, better performers and less susceptible to predation by sleazy hangers-on. More couples enter already having navigated the rough waters of ‘open relationships,’ and I see stronger partnerships between members of said couples.”
Hartley continues, “When I started most performers ‘found’ themselves in adult entertainment. I was the only one I knew, beside Richard Pacheco, who came to adult entertainment on purpose. Few women made it a career, though the caliber of some women (Candida Royalle, Vanessa del Rio, Seka, Hyapatia Lee, Annette Haven, to name a few) was very high, the general attitude of most women was, ‘If something better comes along I'm taking it the hell out of here.’
“ … I also see more college education, self-determination and general competence than before. More are happy to see it as a proper career and treat it as such. All in all, young performers are a group of ambitious, competitive, hard-working people who are living the lives they want and don't much suffer fools who continue to cast them as pathetic victims.
“They're also more able to organize for their own betterment, as evidenced by the creation of the performer group, APAC, which just held its first general election for the board of directors. Never before have so many performers been so ready to work together. The last effort — the doomed Pink Ladies Social Club (1989-1992) — was crushed by the establishment for being a ‘union organizing effort by lesbians.’ I've heard of no one losing work for being part of APAC. This is a huge change and one to be welcomed.”
James Deen, the three-time XBIZ Male Performer of the Year who started his porn career in 2004, tells XBIZ that he has witnessed a decade of change.
“In the past 10 years, the industry has gotten a lot more professional,” Deen says. “Things talent did 10 years ago are not acceptable any longer and that’s a great thing.”
While on-set behavior such as open drug and alcohol use no longer are regular occurrences, what is required of performers in any given sex scene seems to have lessened, according to Deen. Now many internet-based scenes — which make up a sizeable percentage of the average performer’s work — often are shot and processed like “fast food,” Deen suggests. The result is that some of the newer performers who otherwise would not be able to hang as professional studs can get the job done.
"Now the scenes incorporate the males as much as the females into the setup. The lines are getting blurred. Performances aren’t as demanding as they used to be,” Deen says, deferring to his predecessors such as Manuel Ferrara, Rocco Siffredi, Nacho Vidal, Erik Everhard and Toni Ribas that are “much more veteran than I am.”
“I’m on the last page of ‘veterans,’” Deen admits. “Toni, Manuel, Rocco and Erik — versus some of the newer gentlemen — there is a vast difference.”
Mark Schechter, owner of Adult Talent Managers (ATMLA), tells XBIZ that the path to bona fide stardom in 2014 is tougher than ever.
“From my perspective, what comes to mind is an overall diminishing population and a smaller percentage of A-list performers in ratio to the overall performer population,” Schechter says. “In other words, fewer performers in today's generation become huge successes.
Schechter notes that fewer new girls last more than six months to a year.
“I attribute that to various reasons, such as the decrease in production quantity today in comparison to earlier generations,” says Schechter, who has 16 years experience as an adult entertainment executive. “Which means that the average performer’s earnings today is much less than in prior generations, resulting in less girls entering into the industry. And the ones that do are not staying in long enough to become a huge success.”
The former casino executive said that rogue, unlicensed agencies that recruit talent also have had an adverse affect on the quality of the performer pool.
“And unfortunately the result is the performers are quicker to exit the industry after having very unpleasant experiences with types of shoots, and paying extremely high fees and expenses only to realize that they are not making the type of money that they envisioned,” Schechter continues.
“In prior generations, there was enough work to go around many times, and everybody was making great money, which also attributed to a higher caliber of performers wanting to come into the industry due to the lucrative nature of the business.
“With that being said, I feel the industry is stable in the respect that most companies that remain in the industry today are sustaining well enough to maintain profits and in many cases continued growth, which in turn will level out the overall performer population.”
Howard Levine, the president of sales for Exile Distribution who has been one of the top salesmen in porn for 30 years, agrees. He says the days of the “superstar performer” are in the past.
“There’s some great talent out there right now,” Levine tells XBIZ. “Alexis Adams is I think really special and there’s a ton of really good talent out there right now but the big difference between today and yesteryear is there’s no stars. There are 10 or 15 really good girls, and they’re gorgeous and they do great work, but there are no stars. The star system is gone.”
Levine continues, “They are no Christy Canyon’s, no Jenna Jameson’s, no Ginger Lynn’s and Amber Lynn’s. And I can go and on. I don’t know why that is, but those days seem to be gone. There are flash in the pans, but no stars.
“There may a new girl and she’ll be the Flavor of the Month and then it passes and it’s over… The big stars that we used to have, they were like celebrities in their own right. Same thing with the guys, there are no Jamie Gillis’ or Paul Thomas’ or Randy Spears’. Everybody seems to be in the same boat and I hope that doesn’t offend anybody because I think they all do a terrific job and they should be very proud of their work.”
Director/performer Miles Long tells XBIZ that the newer generation is younger and more fragmented than when he started in 1999.
“Back then the talent pool was much smaller and everybody knew each other very well,” Long says. “Everybody lived in LA. They were friends you did business with all the time. Now most of the girls come in from out of town and they’re quite a bit younger and they come from a generation where people want instant gratification.”
Long cites the enormous impact of social media with nearly every porn star now on Twitter or Instagram “showing themselves off.”
“And that’s not a bad thing, except they don’t live here anymore and they’re not used to the income and what we used to make,” Long continues. “They look at the adult business as it is today as a multi-revenue business model where they do not solely do adult films. So your level of comfort isn’t what it once was. It’s a much more decentralized business and it’s harder to keep track of [everyone] and what they may or may not be doing, how often they’re testing and whether they’re being responsible.”
Kayden Kross, the 2011 XBIZ Best Actress who is the only performer to have had exclusive contracts with Vivid, Adam & Eve and Digital Playground, says that since her start in 2006 times clearly have changed.
“Here is what I will say of the current generation of performers, but I want it clearly stated that it was the same thing said of my generation when I was new: They missed the good times,” Kross tells XBIZ.
Without question, the political climate for porn stars in 2014 makes it harder to navigate the industry. The debate over mandatory condom legislation in the state of California has placed performers at odds with each other and elected officials. In addition, the industry-wide moratoriums of the past two years due to the threat of STD outbreaks have repeatedly called testing protocols into question.
Kelly Holland, managing director of Penthouse Entertainment and longtime producer-director, tells XBIZ that all those factors and more have created a complicated environment for today’s performer.
“I don’t know that the character or quality of the performers has fundamentally changed but the circumstances around them and the conditions that support them have changed so radically that it has made a profound change with them,” Holland says. “I’m speaking specifically of Measure B (condom law) and now, the statewide regulations.
“The sense of community that supported them is increasingly fractured as more performers and production companies move out of state.”
Holland continues, “Not surprisingly, many companies and performers have gone underground. People are not as open about their productions.
“Performers, through every generation, are somewhat fragile. They are generally younger. They are facing family pressure. They’re branded as societal renegades and, consequently, they need the support of the community — our community that they’ve chosen to be a part of. It’s harder for them to find that and easier for them to be isolated.
“That means the turnover is higher and the accompanying problems with professionalism and reliability are greater.”
This feature originally appeared on page 50 of the August issue of XBIZ Premiere.