Top ten tips from the naked pornographer: how to make great alternative porn

I have been an independent filmmaker all my working life and have produced and directed erotic films over a decade now. Looking back, I feel that I have a wealth of experiences – most of them good, some bad – but all worthwhile as they taught me lessons and made me the person and filmmaker I am today.

I think it is wonderful that more and more (female) independent erotic film directors are emerging all the time, adding their voice and visions to the multi-faceted genre that porn is evolving into right now.

Maybe some of you would find it useful if I shared with you my top ten tips on how I produce my films and found my way as an independent director.

If you find them useful, please do share on Facebook and Twitter, and if you have other experiences to share you can leave a comment below.

1. Trust your vision: If you can dream it, you can do it

This Walt Disney quote continues to inspire me. It might sound cheesy but it really sums up how important it is to believe in and follow your “dream”. Don’t let anybody get you down or fob you off with phrases like “it will never work”, “no one will want to see that”, “it has been done before”. If you see a movie in your head and it is vivid and feels good, then trust that vision and shoot that film. Shoot it any way you can even just on your phone in your home – a great location and fantastic camera kit are the icing on the cake, but the most important element for a fantastic film that has a lasting impact is the idea. And your idea and the way you interpret it might speak to many other people even if it was shot on a shoestring budget. I am thinking of a film like “Duty Bound” by Morgana Muses that won her the “Petra Joy Awards” in 2012, was published on Her Porn volume 4 and has now been shown at many festivals around the world. It established Morgana as a fearless director shooting very personal films about her sexual liberation and experimentation. Now Morgana is a multi-award winning erotica director and it all started with her first little film, which she created on a small budget to get her message heard and vision seen.

2. Expect the unexpected

Filmmaking can be a complex process and things can – and often do – go wrong. What is true for filmmaking in general, is even more so true for shooting erotic films. Performers sometimes pull out (pardon the pun) literally at the last minute. Porn still carries a huge stigma and people (performers and crew) can get cold feet. So as a director and/or producer, you need to be flexible for changes in cast and storyline. If plan A fails, have a plan B and shoot it as if it was your first choice to begin with. If you organized a location and booked the kit and crew, then see what you can salvage from the shoot. Use whatever resources you have, be creative, have fun and shoot! This reminds me of the film from the Spanish porn collective “Toytool Comiteé”, called “Support your local pornographer”. In this film it is one of the directors who ends up masturbating in a broom cupboard because the cast failed to show up to the shoot and they wanted to shoot something, rather than waste a day. It’s a great little film that has won awards and can be seen on Her Porn volume 6.

3. Get your paperwork sorted before you start rolling

If you want to publish an explicit erotic film, you need signed release forms as well as a copy of at least one valid form of ID to prove the performers were over 18 at the time of the shoot. In a professional production that cares about the performers’ wellbeing, you should also keep a copy of the clean STD tests that are no older than three weeks. I have learnt my lessons on taking someone’s word that they forgot their ID and will scan and email it to me “as soon as they get home”. The person was rather flaky and to this day I never have received their passport copy which resulted in me not being able to publish this film. Make sure everyone will bring the relevant paperwork to the shoot and take your time to verify it all, before you start rolling. Don’t just rely on someone’s word but trust in a signed and dated document, so everyone knows exactly where they stand and you don’t waste your money and time.

4. Make sure you know the performers’ desires and boundaries

Just because someone agrees to have sex in front of your camera, does not mean that you can expect them to do whatever you fancy shooting on cue. Make sure you communicate clearly what you would like to shoot before the cameras start rolling and let the performers voice their sexual preferences and boundaries before you cast them for a certain scenario. I have an extensive casting questionnaire that gives me an insight into what makes the potential performers tick and it has proven to be a fantastic casting tool for me. Clarity and honesty are key in building trust and experiencing a great shoot that everyone enjoys and can be proud of.

5. Take your time to create a match made in heaven

I love shooting with real life lovers. But often individuals apply who would like to shoot with me and trust me in matching them up with the right on screen lover(s). I sometimes have to wait a long time before I find the perfect match for them and eventually get to shoot a scene. I match not just by sexual desires but also by personalities and make sure the performers have at least an extensive skype chat before they live out their shared desires in front of my camera. Ideally they get to meet long before a shoot over a coffee to chat face-to-face.
Be patient until you find the right match and trust the performers’ gut feelings. If they do not click first time round when they get to talk, then it is unlikely they will click on set. You just can’t fake chemistry.

6. Attention to detail is important

Unless you want to shoot fly-on-the-wall gonzo-style porn that shows grubby carpets, ripped curtains and spotty bums – attention to detail is key. Sometimes I spend six hours dressing a set so it looks and feels just right. I am always on the lookout for interesting props, beautiful bed linen, and the hottest sex toys, and always bring a large selection to a shoot. I like to give my performers choices in what to wear or play with and enjoy creating a seductive set that they as well as the viewers will enjoy.

7. Communicate clearly to cast and crew

Even if you (like me) prefer a hands-off directing style when it comes to shooting authentic sex scenes, you still need to communicate your vision clearly to the performers – tell them how you imagine the pace of the scene and what you would like to see whilst encouraging them to go with the flow and freestyle within that framework that you provide. Especially first time performers might feel a little vulnerable having sex on a film set, so make sure you provide lots of positive feedback and gentle but clear guidance if things are not going the way you hoped for. If you do not operate one of the cameras yourself but rely on another person to shoot your film, make sure you briefed them before the shoot on how you see the scene. Do you want a cinematic look with static shots and stunning close-ups and a narrow depth of field look or do you want this film to have a documentary feel with lots of handheld footage? Even if you do not intend to do any camera work yourself, it is a great idea to do a shooting course to learn what shooting styles are available and communicate clearly what you want to your camera person. It is also helpful to create a scrapbook with images you can gather way before the shoot that reflect the feel you want your film to have. It is your film, so you need to decide and communicate how you want it to look.

8. Give your performers choices and shield them from stress

I give my performers as many choices as possible – from who they want to play with and what kind of sex they enjoy, to supplying toys they always wanted to try and providing food tailor-made for their dietary preferences. The more choices the performers have, the more at ease will they feel, the happier the vibe on set will be.

Sometime stuff happens on set that is not so happy – one time we were about to be kicked out of the house I hired for everyone to stay, just as everyone was arriving from the airport, settling down for lunch. We made sure the performers knew nothing of this impending crisis. There was nothing they could do to change it, so why burden them with the stress rather than offering them a gentle landing? We managed to avert the crisis and stay at the house without anybody finding out until after the shoot how close we had come to a major disaster.

Only once did I hire a second cameraman who was not part of what I call my “kinky family”. I had laid down some ground rules before the shoot, one of them being that if there was anything either of us was unhappy about, we would discuss this away from the set and in private. Sadly when he was unhappy about the pace the shoot was progressing (I like to take my time to get everything just right and make sure everyone is happy), he ended up shouting at me in front of everyone on set. I tried to move our discussion off set but he was not having any of it. His tirade massively affected the vibe on set. Everyone was treading on eggshells and the shoot lacked the relaxed and happy feel we normally enjoy when filming. Understandably the performers felt uncomfortable and found it hard to let go and enjoy themselves. And it shows. To this day I have not released this scene. Needless to say, I never worked with this cameraman again after this shoot. So the lesson is to choose your crew wisely and make sure you shield your performers from any tensions or conflict should they arise.

9. Be prepared to “kill your darling” in postproduction

To me shooting is like going to a lovely organic market where you pick the most amazing ingredients. Editing is when you use the best of these ingredients to create an amazing visual feast. There are so many different ways to tell a story depending on how the film is edited.

The most important lesson I learnt in editing is that you have to be prepared to sometimes “kill your darling” – sacrifice some of your mots beautiful shots if they add nothing to your film and do not help to tell the story. I just went through this the other day – I ended up not using beautiful shots of a naked girl walking through a bright yellow rapeseed field because the shots were just not relevant for the story.

So I advise you get at least involved in the post-production, even if you do not want to edit yourself. If you can word how you want the finished film to look, chances are your editor will do a better job.

10. Don’t sell out

Last but not least, this is the most important lesson a decade of producing indie erotica has taught me: artistic freedom is everything. I can’t speak for everyone, but to me my artistic freedom is more important than financial security. Sometimes you reach a crossroad in life and you might have to decide between doing what you believe in or making money. I have been twice in this position before and I (maybe foolishly) walked away from some financially very lucrative deals to stay true to what I believe in. In an ideal world we could all make a good living from doing what we want to do and expressing ourselves freely, but sadly that is not the case. Usually what sells best has to be geared towards to mainstream market, to appeal to the majority and not offend anyone. The result is that many films look alike and commercial porn has been created based on a paint-by-numbers formula. Subversive content that pushes the envelope is usually not wanted by the corporate production companies.

Several years ago I had a great deal on the table with one of Europe’s biggest adult companies. At first I was promised “artistic freedom” but when it came to signing the contract there were literally hundreds of pages of small print that took that very freedom away from me. At the end of the day, they wanted to call the shots and pressurise me to conform. Some of their rules were that the sex had to happen within two minutes of a scene, the money shot was the rule for every scenario and guy-on-guy action was banned. They wanted the name “Petra Joy” to brand a DVD that would have been anything but a feminist porn film. I decide to walk away from the deal a week before the shoot and am still glad to this very day that I did. It allowed me to produce my breakthrough film “Female Fantasies” without concessions to the mainstream porn market. As it turned out, breaking all the porn rules was exactly what I enjoyed doing and what my audience wanted to see. Who knows, maybe if I had shot “Fantasies” in the way they wanted me to, it would have most likely been my last film.

Money is not everything. If a deal is too good to be true it probably is. Always read the small print in any contract and believe that your unique vision and talent is worth protecting. Independence means taking risks. In my experience they are worth taking, so you can express yourself freely, say what you want to say and create something that is more than just a product.


Please share these tips if you found them useful – and if you have any questions about how I make alternative porn, add them in the comments!

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