SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — In an era of industry contraction, venerable VOD membership site NakedSword made a bold move when it recently backed several independent film projects — such as “I Want Your Love,” which is erotic in the mold of John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus,” but not intended as a strictly pornographic film, and “Seed Money,” a documentary about Chuck Holmes, the founder of Falcon Studios.
The goal was to expand NakedSword’s reach beyond the borders of the adult industry as well as cater more specifically to the desires of its existing membership base. Tim Valenti, the site’s founder and now the newly installed President of Falcon Studios Group, solidified those plans with the announcement of a division dedicated to independent film, NakedSword Film Works (note its acronym). The division launched with several new projects, including “100 Boyfriends,” “Catharsis” and “Hattie Goes Cruising.”
XBIZ spoke to Valenti and in-house producer Jack Shamama about the new venture.
XBIZ: NSFW is a great name for a division like this one. How did it first come about?
TIM VALENTI: NakedSword Film Works is an extension of what we have already been doing for years beginning with the short “I Want Your Love” and then the subsequent feature. We decided the time was right to create a separate division devoted specifically to these kinds of projects. As a whole, it fits into the overall vision of NakedSword because the vision is to continue to be the Netflix of gay porn by giving viewers not only the biggest catalog of gay adult content to choose from but also bring members unique and cutting-edge gay film projects. NakedSword has always wanted to offer content that is as unique as it is diverse. This is the perfect vehicle to help facilitate that goal.
JACK SHAMAMA: When I was working full-time as the product manager for NakedSword, I was constantly on the lookout for fresh ideas and perspectives in making adult film. As anyone who works in the adult industry knows, it’s easy for things to get repetitive. I always found this frustrating. We approached a few different artists about collaborating on some projects, but nothing concrete panned out.
A filmmaker named Travis Mathews had produced a series of erotic shorts called “In Their Room,” intimate video portraits of men in their bedrooms. I knew some of the subjects of the films so I was reluctant to watch, despite the fact that everyone kept telling me to watch them. Finally, one day I sat down and watched: despite the length of the clips — around 20 minutes each — they totally drew me in. Later that night, by pure luck, I sat next to Travis at a dinner party. We talked and he (mentioned) a feature script he was interested in producing that mixed sex and story in a real, authentic way like his shorts did. I immediately set up a meeting for Tim to meet Travis. He brought us the script for what would eventually become “I Want Your Love.”
Since we didn’t know how the NakedSword audience would respond to the film, Tim asked us to produce one scene and offer it for free. We posted it in April 2012 and the response was immediate and intense. Within the first two months, the clip had been watched over two million times (and) it seemed to resonate with people in a way that conventional porn didn’t. The short also featured a song by a popular indie band called Girls, which also got us a lot of attention in the music press. The separate division happened organically. With so many changes happening in the industry — so much consolidation, so much stuff being given away for free on tube sites — we couldn’t think of a better time to ramp things up and really start to focus on indie productions in 2016.
XBIZ: What kind of investment is NakedSword making in these projects? Do you own them? Are you investing, distributing or all of the above?
VALENTI: It varies from project to project. With “100 Boyfriends” we produced and financed the production; with “Hattie Goes Cruising” we have a distribution deal. It just depends on the project, if we run across a fantastic script then we will help bring it to life and if we see a great film already made that should be seen then we want to bring it to the biggest audience possible.
SHAMAMA: There are two components to the NSFW brand: the shorts, features and documentaries we produce which we finance, own outright and therefore are responsible for distributing. For the film festival component, we will be offering NakedSword members a curated collection of outstanding queer short films. These films will be by non-adult-studio affiliated and emerging filmmakers, and will consist of provocative, experimental and not-necessarily explicit films that reflect some component of gay life.
XBIZ: How did “100 Boyfriends” come to you? What made it a good fit for NSFW?
VALENTI: It came to us from our in-house producer, Jack Shamama, who knows the director and star Brontez Purnell. The short is entertaining and irreverent and Brontez is a veteran Bay Area artist so I think it was the perfect project for us to launch a division like NSFW.
SHAMAMA: Brontez Purnell is a Bay Area staple. He’s a musician, writer and dancer and I’ve been friends with him for years. He had one of the smaller parts in “I Want Your Love” and a lot of people liked his character the best. It’s really just been a matter of time until we collaborated on something.
XBIZ: How has “I Want Your Love” performed long-term on your site? Do you know how many that came to NakedSword to view it stuck around to become members?
VALENTI: It was a massive success for us online as well as on DVD. We had one of our biggest sales months ever with regard to new memberships in March 2013 when it hit. The film has been widely viewed year after year on NakedSword and is a perennial favorite with our audience. It's not possible to say how many new members came specifically for “I Want Your Love” as their only factor for joining and how many of those stayed members. Currently, we have one of our all-time highest membership numbers at NakedSword so we are doing something right.
SHAMAMA: I do know that the page for “I Want Your Love” continues to be one of the most-visited pages on NakedSword, even three years after it was released.
XBIZ: Can you give a preview of some of the shorts and film projects you have in the works?
VALENTI: We released “100 Boyfriends,” “Hattie Goes Cruising” and “Catharsis” in February, and at the same time filmed a NSFW production titled “Role Play” in New York. Our plan is to film two more NSFW productions this year and to release one to two new shorts or features to our members every month throughout the rest of 2016.
SHAMAMA: NakedSword’s editor, Jessie Garcia, and I just returned from New York City where we wrapped “Role Play” by another first-time director named Sara Sahin. I don’t want to give too much away but it starts as what seems to be a very routine online hookup and quickly moves in a very different direction. It is going to be released on the 2017 film festival circuit, but we’ll be giving members sneak peeks throughout 2016.
For more information about NSFW, click here.