First, apologies for not posting anything since last November.
With no shows going out in the last four months, as much as I wanted to write something for the website or “make an announcement”, it was tricky because there wasn’t anything to actually announce. Short of announcing that I was “working on” an unspecified “something” which is a bit lame; or actually saying what I’m working on, which I don’t like to do because I worry I might put a jinx on the project – maybe I’m superstitious?
Anyway, I’ve been hard at work filming and editing three new documentaries, one of which is close to seeing the light of day, being 95 percent finished – they tell me it should be airing in
March. (Now scheduled for June 10th – 10pm BBC”)
The doc is a look at porn performers in Los Angeles, specifically the San Fernando Valley. It’s both a bit of a follow-up to a show I made in 1997 (an episode of my series Weird Weekends which looked at male performers) and also a wholly new documentary with new characters, examining the state of the industry in 2012.
The show actually started life as a replacement for an idea which fell through – a look at the extreme wing of the Tea Party in Ameirica’s North West. I’d read that there had been an influx of white nationalists and self-styled “constitutionalists” into Kalispell, Montana.
That story turned out to be a bit less exciting than you might have thought from reading the print coverage – not so much a flood of secessionist nation-builders, barely even a trickle.
Casting around for ideas, I called a friend who I’d featured in the first porn doc I made, JJ Michaels. He mentioned two things that intrigued me.
One was that one of the other performers we’d featured, an established male star named Jon Dough, had killed himself a few years previously, possibly due to the pressures of the business.
The other was that the porn industry overall was in crisis, its profits slashed due to competition from free pirated porn on the web.
The idea of an industry downturn struck me as an interesting backdrop for a story about performers in 2012. Porn had been enjoying a kind of gold rush for a while. But now the gold was all mined out, the miners all wandering around with shovels bought and paid for but nothing to dig (have I milked this metaphor enough?)
I also liked the idea of following up with the characters from the first film. I’ve always enjoyed “Where are they now?” stories – and with porn especially, I’ve wondered what happens to the legions of performers who do time in the business: What do they do with the rest of their lives? How do they feel about what they’ve done? Do they have kids and if so, how do they explain about their past?
We went out and shot the story in December. The director was Jason Massot, who’d also directed and shot a doc we made about Lagos. The assistant producer was Sam Farmar, who’s made some Unreported Worlds for Channel 4.
We had certain time constraints but it was one of those shoots where we got lucky. Jason and Sam did a great job of making contacts in the business, from a standing start, and then various industry people were helpful to us.
In the end it only took a little over a week to shoot.
One of the highlights was catching up with Rob Black, who’d been responsible for some of the most outre and shocking productions back during my first trip. In the interim he’s been to prison for obscenity, as has his wife, Janet Romano, aka Lizzie Borden. Now he’s back in the business, but – if not exactly “chastened”, still, a somewhat changed character, and making much more mainstream erotic fare, like superhero parodies.
I also spent a fascinating couple of days with the industry stalwart Tommy Gunn, a male performer with a vulnerable and sensitive side which he talks about with great eloquence. Tommy showed me around his customized “zombie van”, a paramilitary vehicle that’s been adapted for dealing with an invasion on the undead. It started out as a prop for a hypothetical movie, but is now a kind of toy-for-men and art project.
Unlike last time, when I focused on the perspective of male performers, I decided to feature a female performer, a rising star called Kagney Linn Karter. The consummate professional, though still young, Kagney is willing to put herself through outlandish physical acts if she feels it will advance her career and please her fans. She reminded me of a Lars von Trier heroine in her selfless and considered devotion to the idea of her own profanation and her porn career.
In addition to the Rob Black catch-up, there is also a revisit with JJ Michaels. He’d been a young rising star when we made the first doc. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what he’s up to now.
And we also pick up the trail of Jon Dough to find out what happened to drive him to kill himself.
What emerged strongly to me was that yes, the industry is very much in crisis-mode. Consumers have no compunction about illegally downloading pirated porn – in a way they might hesitate to do with more “respectable” content like music or films. And so the porn business model doesn’t really work anymore. As one contributor put it to me, the job of paid porn performer will no longer exist in five years.
As I say, there’s still a couple more days’ work to be done – it’s being edited by Joe Carey, who edited the recent America’s Most Dangerous Pets – but it’s looking really good. Funny, but also touching and occasionally very sad. The time lapse of 15 years gives the documentary a feel that’s very different to anything else I’ve done.
I’ll post more about it as we get closer to the airdate (which is as yet unknown.)