How to write about the adult movie industry
Lately, a Guardian story offering “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” has been making the rounds online. “Write,” Neil Gaiman advises. “Do back exercises,” Margaret Atwood nods sympathetically. “Pain is distracting.” And Richard Ford decrees: “Don’t have children.” But what if what you’re writing isn’t fiction, and what if what you’re writing about is the adult movie industry? I spent a good portion of my journalism career covering the adult movie industry for mainstream outlets, and it is an undeniably unique beat. Access is complicated and getting the truth is like pulling teeth. Most recently, I wrote about the adult movie industry and the recession: “They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?” (True/Slant’s J. Maureen Henderson interviewed me about why I self-published the piece: “Dirty DIY: Self Publishing A Treatise On Porn Valley, USA.”) These days, I’m refocusing on other subjects, but I thought I’d impart a few words of, er, wisdom for anyone who follows in my footsteps.
1. Don’t be a guy. If you’re a guy looking to cover the adult movie industry, you’re screwed. And I don’t mean that literally. You may get on sets, you may interview starlets, but it’s rare you’ll get at what lies behind the velvet curtain. Your motives are suspect. Everyone there will think you’re looking to get laid. Maybe you are.
2. Go in the side door. Everyone and their mother has already covered the big production companies and the actresses who’ve crossed over to the mainstream, but that’s only one, very small, piece of the porn industry. Instead, visit the smaller companies, talk to the renegade directors, and interview the uncoached performers. That’s where the truth lies.
3. Show some respect. As is the case with any other quasi-clandestine line of business, the best way to get sources to open up is by earning their trust. If you’re on a set, stand on the sidelines, stay out of the way, and shut the fuck up. Making porn isn’t an easy business, and if you take it seriously, you’ll get the respect you want and the quotes you need.
4. Think before you write. If you’re doing a hit-and-run piece on the adult industry, congratulations, you’re like everyone else who came before you. On the other hand, if you’re interested in doing some deep hanging out, you may want to ensure that you can return. If you spend enough time in Porn Valley, you will see things. People will smoke crack in front of you. You will meet performer’s children. You will hear things that you have been instructed not to repeat. Know when to draw the line. If you want to go back, you may want to think twice before throwing your subjects under the bus.
5. Don’t underestimate porn. What most people don’t understand is that the adult movie industry is a pretty fascinating world within our world. It’s like a Petri dish in which secrets grow like mold, a microcosm for our screwed up macrocosm, and if you look close enough, you might just bear witness to the dark side of the American dream. It’s not some punchline. It’s a testimony. And if you can write, and write well, about the adult movie industry, you can write well about, well, anything.
Photo: Adult performer Tori Black fixes her makeup in the mirror, April 9, 2009.