XBIZ 360 Adult Film Sessions Entertain, Spark Debate

Jared Rutter

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- The XBIZ 360 Adult Film Conference got off to a rousing start Thursday at the W Hotel, near the fabled corner of Hollywood & Vine, with a packed day of seminars climaxed by a rousing keynote speech by New Sensations founder Scott Taylor. 

A standing room only crowd of attendees—producers, distributors, retailers, talent—responded enthusiastically to his challenging, optimistic, expletive-laced, often inspiring presentation.

Taylor said being named keynote speaker was “the biggest honor of my career,” and detailed his early days: “Army brat, college drop-out, drummer,” got into the industry at age 21, started the National one-stop in his apartment, then created New Sensations. More recently he started NS Novelties, he said frankly, to counter the decline in DVD sales.

That decline over the last four years—“25 percent each year”—was driven, he feels, by online piracy. “But this year there was a bounce. It was significantly up.” He concluded this showed that “people want to consume the right content.” As an example he cited his successful Romance Series.

“Do not lose sight of the man: he is your customer. But so is the woman. A woman’s attitude toward sex is changing. Movies,” he stressed, “have to speak to both.”

Emphasizing the importance of innovation, he gave props to audience member Will Ryder for thinking outside the box and creating the lucrative parody craze. He stressed the importance of story films—besides their appeal to women, piracy sites concentrate on individual scenes, not (as yet) features.

The talking points came thick and fast. “Do not go after the market that everyone else is in. Do what no one else is doing—or try to do it better.” He cited Girlfriends Films as a winning example.

“Take a look at what hasn’t been done… See how the consumer base is changing… The mainstream press is key to driving your brand to success… Do not send unqualified people to make a movie… What’s around the corner? Be there first.

“We have to build the market back up.”

Earlier in the day, the opening seminar, “Porn and Condoms: The Great Debate,” also drew a crowd. Moderator Kelly Holland, managing director of Penthouse Entertainment, lobbed sharp questions at a panel of industry heavyweights: Evil Angel general manager Christian Mann, Wicked Pictures contract star Jessica Drake, performer and activist Nina Hartley, Immoral Productions’ Dan Leal, Exile Distribution’s Howard Levine and X-Play co-owner Will Ryder.

Holland said that the condom conundrum, brought about largely by the passage of Measure B in 2012, is “the most profound issue because it involves fundamental changes to the way we do business.” The debate, she said, is “whether condoms should be mandatory as opposed to a policy formed by the industry that allows choice.”

Hartley said that there was “industry resistance” to condom use but insisted that she have the right to make her own choice. Leal recommended compliance, detailing his own interaction with federal OSHA and warning that performers do not have to be “caught in the act” without condoms, that a complaint can be filed up to six months after the fact.

Drake said that although Wicked has been condom-only since 1998, she had already decided to work with condoms after entering the industry in 2000. Hartley protested that she, as a woman and a performer, had the right to choose for herself. She called Measure B “paternalistic, patronizing and slut-shaming.” Ryder admitted to “mixed emotions” on the issue but felt that “performers have the right to make their own decisions.”

Also discussed was the controversial issue of whether porn actors are employees or independent contractors. Mann, who is vice-president of the Free Speech Coalition Board of Directors, called an appeals court ruling that actors are salaried employees “ridiculous” and said that it will be challenged.

Everyone faulted the industry’s “weak messaging” on the condom issue and agreed that it had to be beefed up. Holland seemed to speak for the panel when she concluded emphatically, “The message I want to putout is that testing works and it works well.”

Performer and feminist Jiz Lee led a discussion called “Porn Disrupted: The Politics of Changing Sexual Attitudes.” The panel included sex educator Carol Queen, sociologist Chauntelle Tibbals, Wasteland Inc. CEO/founder Colin Rowntree, queer filmmaker Shine Louise Houston and Internet entrepreneur Ben Tao, of the crowd-funding site Offbeatr.com.

Though the theme was “real world sex vs. perceptions created by porn,” the wide-ranging discussion covered quite a few topics—everything for crowd-funding of porn projects to queer porn to BDSM and alternate lifestyles to the actual reality of porn representations of “real lesbian sex.”

As a wrap-up Lee asked each panelist to name the “most inspirational porn disrupter” in their lives—the person or company who upended commonly held ideas of porn. Tibbals said her inspiration was Girlfriends Films, whose founder, Dan O’Connell, was sitting in the first row. Queen named author/sexologist Susie Bright, whose film presentations in the '80s took “the Golden Age of porn and tried to re-read it, to put a different lens in front of it.”

The day’s crowd-pleaser was “Tomorrow’s Entertainment Celebrity,” featuring five popular porn stars: Asa Akira, Christy Mack, Vicky Vette, James Deen, Keiran Lee, and two successful agents, Mark Spiegler (Spiegler Girls) and Mark Schechter (ATMLA). A packed Great Room 2 laughed and cheered as industry blogger Gram Ponante often playfully questioned the panel about how they deal with being porn celebs.

Akira, one of the industry’s few current superstars, said she loves to Google herself and read every comment she can find on the Internet, both positive and negative. Deen said, “People have pretty low expectations of me. Like, ‘He’s weird.’”

Mack, tanned, tattooed and mohawked, spoke of the crucial importance of social media to the current crop of stars. She herself has a big Twitter following and “my Instagram following is twice as large.”

Super-MILF Vette made the point that back in porn’s VHS-DVD heyday—she began her career in2003 at age 38—the major studios took the lead in building the star’s image, through box cover shoots and p.o.p. items for stores. That, everyone agreed, is a thing of the past. Image-building and branding “is all up to us now.”

Discussing porn longevity, Spiegler placed the career-span of the majority of new girls at six months. There was some disagreement on that. But Akira decreed, “The days of a contract girl becoming the next big star—those days are over. What matters more today is that girls seem to be enjoying their scenes.”

Finally Ponante asked how they deal with the public’s attention. Akira said that when she started working, “I definitely knew I’d be successful—not famous. I love when people recognize me. That’s one of the perks.”

Deen’s reaction to rabid fans? “I don’t leave the house.”

The only other one-man event besides Taylor’s keynoter came from Douglas Richter of AWEmpire.com, the operator of LiveJasmin.com. He made a power-point presentation on how to build a white-label cam site, with the aid of their new White Label 3.0 program. He explained everything with visuals, from how to “customize the site down to your particular niche” to choosing appropriate color schemes.

“As long as you can afford a $10 domain name,” he concluded, “you can be in the cam business, making money.”