Let’s talk about porn honestly. Porn is about making money. Despite any pretense to producing beautiful art, hot erotica, or well-crafted portrayals of masculinity at its most intense, money is what makes everybody cum. I’ve dealt with "regular" filmmakers, even fancied myself as one for a while. Yet at the end of the day I don’t believe strongly enough in the power of the movie medium to justify the expense, time, and effort it takes to create a masterful mainstream film. So I’ve ended up, at least for the moment, in porn.
I find myself endlessly justifying my passion for it: making porn is work, and many days are filled with anger and frustration and often a kind of empty feeling in my guts. But I couldn’t imagine another employment opportunity that would offer me as much as porn does. I’ve been at this for three years so far, although it feels like much longer. I’ve been behind the camera for a little more than two years and directing for one. I’ve been to Hawaii and Brazil and spent a few too many days in Palm Springs. I’ve been inches from some of the most famous pricks in the world. (And when I say pricks, I mean it.)
Sex has always been a motivating factor in my life, at least since I discovered it. I remember vividly the blacked-out magazines in the back of bookstores being so appealing and the first time I convinced a straight man to pose naked for my photographs. Our culture prepares us from moment one to objectify beauty; now it’s what I do for a living.
For many gay guys, my job is a dream: getting to see naked men every day with hard-ons having all kinds of sex. Yes, sometimes I even get to touch them. I’ve already reached the point in my career where I’ve been accused a few times of playing casting couch. For those who want to know, I only deny it as much as I have to. I’ve had sex with a few models in my day, I admit it, but never with the purpose of waving around my power as a director and almost always after a shoot, not before.
Men can be beautiful, I promise and porn can produce a kind of beauty. As a director, I get to pick out human objects, place them together in an artificial space, and film them doing hot things. In my mind, making porn and films in general is all about telling lies. I don’t feel bad about lying; it’s what we all do to get by. But porn lies are the best kind. They’re called fantasies.
I won’t deny the downside of these fantasies. Porn creates false expectations of what people should look like. It creates false ideas about class and gender. As a director who has just received a nomination for Best Ethnic (Latin) Movie, I feel especially involved in the issue of race in porn. It’s extremely complicated. I could easily get lost in an academic discussion about representation and its effect on the audience. There’s plenty of theories about the video medium as a one-to-many distribution method, inherently disempowering the viewer and subjugating pretty much everyone involved. All these theories and thoughts may be valid, but I don’t know too much about that kind of stuff. I will say that race in my profession has come up many times in many different situations. There are considerations of who appeals to whom and how to avoid racial stereotypes while dealing with the fact that they often get men hard. I don’t have any answers, but I do have lots of questions and concerns.
Our models come in all shapes and sizes: from PhDs to high school dropouts, hookers to weekend fetishists. There are divas, down-to-earth daddies, and everyone in between. Some may be pumped up on various substances, but most are pumped up on nothing more than having a chance to be the sexual person they are inside for an appreciative audience.
A lot of people consume porn. But it’s not a subject people talk about at the watercooler it’s something more personal. Porn touches people in a different head space, when they are aroused and distracted, when something instinctual is hitting them. Porn is about sex, and sex is why we are all here. *
Ben Leon is an editor-videographer and director for Raging Stallion Studios (www.ragingstallion.com). This year he received five nominations for the GayVN Awards, the Oscars of gay porn, which will be held in San Francisco on Feb. 24.