Keith Miller is focused on the future. The prolific director and producer is busily expanding his Helix Studios, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary — many of his current marquee stars were still in elementary school when the site first came online — but Miller’s history in adult entertainment stretches back to the mid-’90s as the co-founder of a progenitor of CCBill.
Miller also brings a firsthand perspective as a model with his appearances on venerable spanking fetish site SpankThis, “a site I started in 2002 on a lark,” he recalls. “We gradually expanded it. Customers started asking for sex, so we turned it into twink site 8Teenboy. And from there we added more lines and more production and this and that. We changed a few things over the years,” he says with a chuckle. The various lines had been consolidated under the Helix umbrella in recent years.
The new crowd — they’re totally savvy to the social media market and how to find their fans.
“Now we’re breaking it back out again into various lines and expanding Helix.” Miller says he started SpankThis, and later Helix, largely due to a lack of competition.
“There weren’t a lot of major players. So we just gradually moved through the ranks to where we are today.”
Miller says an expansion into twink films was a natural transition from the spanking fetish market.
“There’s just something about it that lends itself to the twink market, where you have more of an authority figure,” he says. “And so we were using a lot of models that were 18-21 (years old).” Miller purchased 8TeenBoy from a local photographer to feature some of the performers in more explicit scenarios.
“Over the years then we started to film additional lines like Fratboy and LatinStuds, all geared toward other things.”
About a decade ago, however, business took a painful downturn.
“When the recession hit, we merged them all [under the] Helix [brand] order to survive. We made it through that. Now we’re starting to break them back out into their own individualized production studios with their sets of exclusive models and their own production teams.”
“I have known a lot of producers over the past decade. Keith was the first one that I knew with the business savvy and instincts to ride out the big decline on gay porn the past decade,” says industry blogger and Helix consultant DeWayne Helms. “With his move to Las Vegas, he is very well-placed for 2018.”
He notes the company recently shuttered its San Diego studio in early January after an 11-year run and will be fully relocated in Vegas by late winter.
Helms says Helix’s growth “exploded” over the past half-decade due to the growth of social media platforms whose users included “straight women [who] discovered gay porn. And they love accessible twinks who talked and interacted with them on Twitter.”
Virtually all Helix Studios exclusives maintain a robust social media presence and all of them regularly post gossip, photos and other teasing tidbits alongside affiliate linkage. Marquee performer Kyle Ross boasts 115,000 Twitter followers. Stablemates include Max Carter (123,000), Joey Mills (120,000 — “in less than a year,” Miller enthuses) and Blake Mitchell (117,000) while Tyler Hill, Alex Roman and Ashton Summers currently fall between 75,000-95,000 followers and counting. And that’s just one social media platform. And he counts between 35 and 40 performers, both exclusives and others, who regularly tweet and post to Instagram and elsewhere.
Helms recalls a 2010 conversation in which he and Miller discussed turning Helix performers into “triple-X reality stars. Stop thinking about DVDs,” Helms says. “That time has passed. Helix had to be a streaming company. Fans want a connection to the models. Embrace social media.”
Miller describes a production strategy that closely follows the template of a mainstream TV show or film franchise in order to maintain a steady stream of content. “We have a recurring cast of characters — the industry calls them ‘exclusive models’ — that appear on an ongoing basis. We have some that have been filming with us for over six years. Everyone falls in love with the characters over time and that’s what’s propelled us.”
The Helix casting process that introduces new characters is in continuous operation.
“The response is quite overwhelming,” Miller says. “We have more people applying than we can handle. It’s a matter of being selective and choosy.”
Encouraging Helix performers to embrace social media requires virtually no convincing. All of them have grown up with a phone in their hands. He notes there is little or no stigma attached to showing themselves off online.
“Years ago, the prevailing theory was you do porn because you had to make money to pay off a car and pay for college and that was it. That’s not the model these days. Our new guys coming in have seen the social media success of our big models, and they come to us with an existing Twitter [base] and ideas about what they do and how they fit in and how they can help market themselves. The new crowd, they’re totally savvy to the social media market and how to find their fans.”
The self-marketing juggernaut does pay off for the performers.
“We have a very nice program for our models to continually generate revenue through their social media. And we reward them for that. We work with them to build their social media presence,” Miller says. “It’s something that just naturally comes from these boys. And by filming them slowly and maintaining regular releases, they turn into a social media brand and there’s no need to stop. We’re building a community of individuals who are fans of our models, who interact with them on social media, and who savor every new release that they have.”
Miller jokes that the Helix model “is not revolutionary” and merely tweaks the existing industry standard.
“The affiliate model has been established in the adult industry forever and ever. And we simply bring them into it. They are the most important marketing tools that we have. If [a top model] has 100,000 Twitter followers, who better to tell them to come to the website to see him perform? Well, then, I would really be remiss in not rewarding him for doing all of that. And the fans are even happier because [affiliate links] bring the actor revenue. Not only is the actor making money filming, he is making money on the back end. Some of them can make thousands of dollars a month. They make more money with affiliate sharing than they do in production.”
He says the key ingredient in the success of their program is allowing each model to express their individuality.
“These guys are actors. For too long, the industry has portrayed them as simply sex workers that they pay to perform an act and then disappear. That’s not what they are. That’s not what they are! They are actors in Hollywood. They can be proud of their work, stand up and say ‘I’m the one who did this’ and have hundreds of thousands of fans around the world. It’s a new world. It’s a new age.”
With the recent move to Las Vegas, Miller is looking to add new and different types of content to the Helix network. The short film “Flower” from German filmmaker Matt Lambert is a recent example. The director approached Miller with the concept and asked to use Helix performers. “’Flower” recently won Best Short Film honors at the Porn Film Festival Berlin. (The film “finds intimacy in sex and friendship,” notes an Out.com review.)
“We lent him our models and production equipment and he produced this wonderful little short film that’s winning awards,” Miller says. “It’s designed as a different method of expressing sexuality, not just something to jack off to. We’re looking forward to doing another one with him.”
As he reflects on 15 years of operating Helix and over two decades in the adult sector, Miller finds he still has passion for his work.
“What I enjoy is that what we do is new every day. It’s new every time,” he says. “What people want to see is what you come up with next. That’s what I concentrate on every single day. What’s exciting is what we’re going to do next, what we’re going to change. What we’re going to do tomorrow. That’s the part that’s exciting.”