LOS ANGELES — The first day of the XBIZ 360 Adult Film Conference started strong with a diverse range of panel discussions at the Andaz Hotel and it reached a climax with a rousing keynote address by Axel Braun.
The three-time XBIZ Director of the Year said the occasion was special in more ways than one as he spoke to the crowd Wednesday evening inside the Panorama Ballroom at the historic property on Sunset Blvd.
“Twenty five years ago to this day, I officially entered the adult film industry,” Braun said. “I was fresh out of film school and I drove up to San Francisco to begin working on a feature that I had written called ‘Fantasy Nights.’
“It was directed by the late, great Henri Pachard; the director of photography was the late, great Alex DeRenzy; and the producer was my father, Lasse Braun."
He added, “So you can say that I was born into this industry because my father started directing and distributing adult movies in 1961 and that’s way before there even was an industry.”
Braun went on to recount his father’s pioneering path in Europe, where he fought and won a precedent-setting obscenity case in Denmark in 1969 that led to porn becoming legal in the country. Two years later, Lasse Braun came to the U.S. and partnered with fellow porn pioneer Reuben Sturman on what became known as peepshow machines that showed his 8mm loops.
“At the height of their success there were over 60,000 of them in the United States,” Axel Braun said. “It was an incredible, incredible business. Obviously the industry has changed a lot since those days."
Braun closed his keynote with a controversial topic—condoms in porn. Already an industry leader with his on-set policies of a seven-day STI test, a minimum performer age of 21 and mandatory condoms, Braun pointed to the latest attempt to by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to push through the statewide “California Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act.” The proposed measure was sent to the Attorney General's office last week for approval prior to a likely signature drive for a spot on the 2016 ballot.
"If you read the text of the proposed law, you probably figured out that it is not meant to protect performers, but to destroy the industry. It’s not about condoms, it’s about politics," Braun told the audience. "It’s full of booby traps and will allow people to sue producers left and right, and it will cripple us. Now we can fight it…but do we have a loud enough voice to convince the general public that we are still safer than most workplaces?
"All that people are gonna read on the ballot is 'Safer Sex Act,' and they’ll vote for it. So here’s a thought…how about self-regulating before that happens? How about going full-condom so that [AHF President Michael] Weinstein cannot use the condom excuse to pass this law? Think your movies won’t sell anymore? What about Dorcel, a French company that shoots all-condom and outsells most companies here?
"What about Wicked, one of the most successful companies in the business that's been condom-only for 15 years? And in my first year shooting with condoms I’ve sold more movies and got more award nominations than ever in my life."
Braun added, "Look, I’m not here to do a pro-condom speech, or to level the playing field, I’m just trying to tell you what I foresee in the future of the industry. And in this case the possibility of this law passing makes me think that volunteering might be a better option than being mandated. Whatever the case, our strength as an industry has always been in adapting. We adapt, we survive."
Indeed, adapting and surviving was a theme during some of the seminars leading up to Braun’s keynote.
The day kicked off with a lively, high-profile panel called "Women in Porn: Shattering the Myths.” The interactive discussion, presented by MindBrowse.com and produced by Sssh.com’s Angie Rowntree, featured Penthouse Managing Director Kelly Holland, director/performer Courtney Trouble, sex educator, writer and coach, Elle Chase; and attorney Karen Tynan. Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, whose fields of study include gender, sexuality, work and organizations, new media and popular culture, moderated the talk that was live streamed on Sssh.com.
During the discussion, the panel also had “celebrity tweeters” positioned on stage behind the panelists to lead the interactivity online. Producer Jacky St. James, performer Alex Chance and social media expert Lauren MacEwen engaged Twitter users who were following the discussion with their live commentary.
The panel discussed bans on certain sex acts, consent and various attempts at regulating the industry. Penthouse’s Holland said that a lot of government intrusion is based on “false premises that women don’t like sex.”
Tynan added, “We don’t need to be taken care of. We need a safe place to work and we need to be respected. The idea that we need society and our legislature to take care of these women is preposterous to me.”
The “Primetime Performers” session featured an all-star panel consisting of accomplished performers Lisa Ann, Chanel Preston, Samantha Saint, Steven St. Croix and James Deen, who moderated.
Deen scarfed down a turkey wrap as the panel was about to begin before he began a broad series of questions, many of which centered on how performers can achieve career longevity.
“Performers need to take initiative, take charge of themselves and not leave it up to other people,” said Saint, a former contract girl for Wicked Pictures who has since gone independent.
Deen asked the panelists, “How could the ‘porn star’ rise again?”
“By starting a business, a brand,” said the recently retired Lisa Ann, noting that building multiple revenue streams is key.
“Make a list of eight things, from your scenes, to your website to web-camming, to your [merchandise] store, feature dancing. … There’s 30 days in a month, set aside four to five days to get that wheel going. Manage your time.”
St. Croix, a 21-year veteran of porn films, added, “Don’t lose your humanity.”
The “Free Porn” panel explored how savvy producers are dealing with free tube sites giving away content, a reality of today’s industry that appears here to stay. The speakers included: Colin Rowntree from Wasteland.com; Dan Leal from Immoral Productions; Lewis Adams from Pulse Distribution; Ivan from Puba.com network; Vicky Vette of the Vette Nation Army; and the moderator Steve Volponi of Devil’s Film.
Regarding free porn, Vette, who runs 17 websites, said simply, “This is the world we live in. We can’t bury our heads in the sand.”
All agreed that even though DVD sales are now consistently down, the format is far from dead.
Adams, a director of sales at Pulse who represents dozens of manufacturers, reasoned that consumers are “creatures of habit” that are loyal to their preferred format, whether that is DVD, VOD or a tube site.
“The customers are still there,” he said.
Wednesday's Adult Film sessions also included two performer-based workshops: one focused on the initiatives of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) and was presided over by officers Conner Habib, Deen and Preston; and the other featured Lisa Ann and Jayden Jaymes introducing their Porn Star Bootcamp program designed to mentor up-and-coming talent.