Recently there has been a lot of discussion about authenticity in porn, at the Feminist Porn Conference in Toronto, in the papers and online. What is authentic? Is it important to show authentic sex? Is it possible? Is it relevant or ridiculous to strive to show “authentic” sex and orgasms?
My background is in TV – I have shot over 50 documentaries, many of them on sexuality, for German TV before I ventured into shooting erotica. Even though I always felt that I had a responsibility to unbiased journalism, I was always aware that my films were highly subjective and my perspective of events: who did I interview? What parts of the interview did I choose to publish? What aspects of the story did I shoot? What music did I use as the score and what was the final sound bite or shot of a film? Every documentary I created told a story and had a message that I wanted to get across and was in that way highly subjective and personal.
As an erotic filmmaker I make decisions on how I present (female) sexuality all the time – Which fantasies do I choose to shoot? Which performers do I cast to play with each other? How do I show the sex? Where do I position my cameras? And most importantly if I condense a two hour live play session into a 20 minute sequence through the editing process, which practices do I possibly extend by using multiple camera angles on the same action? And which bits do I shorten or delete by dropping them on the cutting room floor by simply not showing them? I always like to show as much of the curve or arousal as possible: undressing, caressing, getting wet, getting hard, putting a condom on, sensual sex, hard sex, orgasm and afterglow… but sometimes things happen that do not help to tell the story or just look clumsy, so I do not show them because I am not committed to showing everything that happens in real time. I also like to mix things up and sometimes do not show things in their chronological order – this is the artistic license I take.
I enjoy shooting with individual performers of all shapes and sizes and do not cast by cock length or breast cup size but by personality and compatability. I am however not a fan of the brutal realism of ‘warts and all’ gonzo porn (that become even more prominent in high definition) – and have for example used concealer on spotty bums.
What matters most to me is that the scenarios I decide to shoot match with the fantasies of the performers I have cast. So in a threesome in which I want to feature two bi guys and a girl, I will only cast guys who are genuinely bisexual and will enjoy playing with each other as well as focusing on her pleasure, for example by giving her double cunnilingus. And I would only cast a woman in that scene who will get a kick out of watching the guys interact or has always fantasised about receiving double cunnilingus. This might seem obvious but it is not the norm – a lot of mainstream porn features for example bi or lesbian women who in real life are anything but.
My motto always has been “feeling it, not faking it” because I neither enjoy watching nor shooting porn where I feel the sex and especially the orgasms are “faked”. I encourage the performers to express their lust as they would in real life. So for example Tiffany Doll who shot some mainstream porn before she shot with me for The Female Voyeur told me how in the mainstream production she was continuously being told by the (male) director to “show her pussy, make lots of noise and look into the camera”. Tiffany is naturally quiet during sex and that is fine by me – she did not have to crank up the volume just for me and my audience on set.
Some pornographers are so hung up on the (male) cum shot that they use “stunt cocks” if the leading man can’t stay hard or come and apply hair conditioner mixed with water for fake cum shots and cream pies – I know it sounds ridiculous but it does happen a lot in commercial porn land. Personally I just don’t see the point of faking orgasms like that – the audience is not stupid and can usually tell.
I am also not a fan of “opening up” during sex – a standard rule in mainstream porn, enabling the camera crew to get better hard core shots of the genitals, sometimes resulting in unnatural and uncomfortable positions just for the sake of getting those hard-core shots. I am always hoping the performers will forget the camera and get lost in each other rather than being aware of the camera, playing to it and looking straight into it. Once the sex is passionate and flowing I do not shout “cut” in order to get better angles for my camera. I see it as my responsibility to get the best and most intimate shots I can by moving quietly around the performers rather than asking them to change positions for me just as they are getting into it or even worse just before they are about to come.
The adult performer Siouxsie Q wrote recently in her critique of authentic feminist porn as created by Ms Naughty on a shoot with her and Micky Mod: “I would like to see more emphasis placed on fair labour practices than on whether or not I have a “real” orgasm.”
To me both of these things are equally as important and tend to go hand in hand. A “fair-trade” or “ethical” approach to porn production might lead to more authentic results. The more respectful, relaxed and happy the atmosphere on set is, the more likely it is that the performers will genuinely enjoy the sex and might be able to really let go and experience lots of pleasure and sometimes earth-shattering orgasms.
I feel that a lot of my work as a director – especially with first-time performers – actually happens before the cameras roll, by spending a long time on casting and match-making the performers with the right scenarios and with each other, making sure that they are comfortable with the crew, have chosen their favourite toys and props, and trust me sufficiently to tell me any of their concerns or wishes.
A lot of porn productions do not allow performers to shoot with condoms, but unless the lovers are a couple and want to shoot bare-backing, I support the use of condoms during penetrative sex as it is an added safety net on top of the current tests for STDs for the all performers. (I also like to show how condoms can be sensually integrated into the sex play, otherwise sex without the condoms becomes the norm which I find problematic as so many kids these days get their sex-ed through porn – because no one tells them at home or school how to give and receive pleasure responsibly).
I pay female and male performers equally and pay guys even if they cannot get hard or can’t come during a shoot – in mainstream porn the rule is “no wood-no money” for guys and often guys on fetish film sets don’t get paid at all.
It is crucial for me that everyone’s boundaries are respected at all times. Mia Magic, a German performer who has a cameo role in my film Feeling it and had done some mainstream porn before we shot together, told me that on most shoots she previously worked on, the directors tried to talk her into doing things she had made clear before the shoot she did not want to do on camera. She said “no anal” but was offered more money on set to do anal or (and this really upset her), was just put on the spot in front of the rolling camera by the male performer trying to shove his cock up her ass, assuming she would not dare to speak up for herself mid-shoot. Boundaries were bent and sometimes broken – usually by the director or producer.
I would never ever expect performers to do something that does not turn them on but on the other hand performers might enjoy some sexual practices that I choose to either not shoot or not show on film – either because it does not fit a scenario or it is simply illegal to show on film in the UK (such as fisting). I feel for Ms. Naughty who did not want to feature the female performer being slapped in the face at the beginning of a soft BDSM role play and was subsequently questioned in her aspiration to show “authentic sex” by the female lead, Siouxsie Q. As far as I understand the couple got to have sex that was uninterrupted, pleasurable and very real later on – even though they did not do some BDSM play that might have alienated Ms. Naughty’s more straight audience. What is a mundane act for one person is extreme to another and all directors choose to a degree what they want to show and how they show it in their films.
One way to get an as authentic as possible representation of what actually happened in a sexual encounter on film would be for the filmmaker to set up just one camera on a tripod and leave the room and then publish the complete rushes, unedited. But even by basic decisions such as where the camera was positioned, how the shot was framed and how the performers were briefed, the director gives us her or his perspective of the performers’ sexual experience. There is also the argument that as long as the performers know a camera is there and the sex is filmed to be published; they might behave differently than if they were having unobserved sex in private. This might be true even if the performer and director is one and the same person. Of course, sometimes some very hot sex gets created by performer-directors – I am thinking of Liandra Dahl filming herself fucking Matisse, a guy from Amsterdam for the very first time, shot from the tripod with one locked off camera and also of the exciting clip Justify my Jiz that Jiz Lee and Wolf Hudson created together. It is a shame that Siouxsie Q. and Mickey Mod did not shoot their play session that they enjoyed after the shoot with Ms. Naughty.
However I do believe that the only way to get an accurate, completely realistic reflection of a sexual encounter would be to film this with a hidden camera without the performers knowledge but this kind of footage would not only be illegal but also of course unethical to publish.
The dictionary defines authentic as an adjective for something that was done “in a way that faithfully resembles an original” – that is all authentic porn can ever do – resemble what really happened sexually through the eyes of the director and the audience.
In existentialist philosophy “authentic” means a “responsible mode of human life” This is what I sign up for – being responsible in how I work with the performers and how I represent them within the erotic scenarios that I want to share with all on set as well as my audience.
For me it is not just enough to shoot hot sex, I always like to challenge gender stereotypes and break porn taboos. In that sense my porn is political but then again I believe all porn is political by either copying or challenging gender roles.
I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as “apolitical” entertainment. We live in a visual day and age. From magazines to TV- mainstream media just as much as porn define what is “beautiful”, “sexy” and the “norm”. At different ends of the spectrum – it is just as political to show a female porn performer who apparently has her clit in her throat as it is to show a woman coming from receiving a double cunnilingus or fucking her male lover up the ass. Beyond all the hard-core images is always a message, sometimes hidden but often all too clear. To assume something is “just entertainment” and that it does not matter how we represent gender in (sexual) entertainment is just naive.
Many other independent porn producers and performers are committed to “shooting porn responsibly”. Check out the ethical porn alliance that was founded by Nichi Hodgson: http://ethicalporn.org.
Their motto is: Quality. Transparency. Consent. Many feminist filmmakers who are shooting alternative porn right now have chosen to work in this kind of framework.
What saddens me is that feminist women are criticising each other’s work rather than applauding each other and our many valid approaches to shooting porn, including the striving for authenticity that some of us care about. We have a lot of catching up to do creating hot visuals from a female perspective and should support each other in doing just that.