On Set: a recollection

This morning I fell into a hole of depression and inner whining about how none of my projects ever reach fruition, and how those that do actually limp across the finish line before collapsing in an exhausted heap instead of landing on anything like acclaim (or I guess the winner’s circle, etc. if I’m extending the metaphor… but fuck it). My internal über-Monday-monologue consisted of little gems like, “I should just give up.” And, “Nobody even cares about my porn writing. If anybody cared I’d have made it onto at least one porn set after almost six years of writing about porn! I’ve never been on set. Everybody hates me.” (I know, I know. But dude, it was Monday morning and I was so packed into the subway car I couldn’t move, and everything was horrible, OK? Don’t act like you don’t have these moments! Hypocrites!)

But then I remembered. I have been to a porn set. And it was intensely weird.

It’s not surprising, I suppose, that visiting a porn shoot was awkward for me, an onlooker and general poking-my-nose-in type. But I think when I had my petulant moment of self-pity earlier today, I was envisioning myself at one of Courtney Trouble’s shoots, or in Barcelona for the taping of Cabaret Desire (at which, as the only member of The Poetry Brothel on which the movie is based who has a side-career in the porn industry, I really should have been present, goddammit), or watching a Tristan Taormino orgy from the sidelines, or something. I’d pretty much pay my way to any of the above if I got the invitation, and I’d salivate to be on set at any number of other porn shoots at which I’d know most of the participants and feel good about the work that was going to be done around me. I’d probably write some glowing, self-congratulating pat-on-the-back piece while lauding everyone involved, and never stop talking about my awesome experience.

But, actually, even though I haven’t thought about my one on set visit to a porn shoot more or less since it happened, now that I’m reflecting on it… It was probably much more valuable to me than a dreamy Wolf-Hudson-Dylan-Ryan-Sophia-St-James threeway would have been. It’s easy for me to focus entirely on the porn I approve of: the indie, queer, feminist stuff that I’m constantly writing about. But while all that stuff is hugely important and totally badass, the rest of the pornosphere continues to circle the sun without my approbation. It’s still out there. The vast majority of porn is still very much like the scene on the set I visited: as awkward as a middle school dance that happens to end in fucking, just with more lights and way fewer pimples, and a bunch of dudes with electronic equipment trying to look cool while smooshed into a way-too-small space behind the lights.

The women they were filming had clearly never met before. I interviewed them both before the shoot began, between makeup application and scene set-up. They were friendly but not inviting, in that way that you feel like you’re supposed to be at the outset of a blind date with someone who seems totally fine but who doesn’t really interest you. We were in a tiny hotel room somewhere in Brooklyn. It was freezing outside, but inside it was an oven, with the lights blazing and at least eight people crammed into the bedroom area, trying not to trip over each other or any of the billion wires on the ground. The women showed me their tattoos and chatted about their (very short at this point) careers in the industry. When I asked if they were nervous, they said no, they were really excited to be here. Which may have been true. But I couldn’t help noticing that they didn’t seem to have any interest in one another.

Meanwhile, in the background, the still photographer and videographer and sound guy and lighting guy busily set up their equipment. After the interviews, while the women did some final prep for the scene, they eagerly showed me their websites and personal photography projects, eager to impress me as if I, as the interviewer for a small industry trade online magazine, could somehow help their side projects. As if I would be writing a glowing review of this totally bizarre-o experience and include short bios of the sound tech sitting quietly in the corner on his iPhone.

When they started shooting stills, I could hardly even watch what was going on. I must declare here that I am as avid an appreciator of the female form as any red-blooded queer, and these two were both stunningly beautiful. But watching them carefully and tentatively placing their hands on one another, sticking their tongues out at just-the-right angle while avoiding eye contact, posing and primping and smiling with their mouths but not their eyes, while everyone watched them… I felt so embarrassed, like a chaperone at that middle school dance, except instead of separating bodies that get too close in the corner, I was supposed to be encouraging them to get closer. And naked-er. I couldn’t do it. But the guys with the cameras could, and did.

I really want to think that if the two women on the bed had been more interested in one another, if they had been absolutely chomping at the bit to get each other naked, that I’d have had a much more difficult time slipping away quietly between shutter clicks, before the video recording even began. I like to think I might have felt good about the experience. But it’s  hard to say. Maybe I’m just brainwashed into thinking that these things should always be private, even if everyone involved is getting paid and consenting to it. Maybe I’m just timid about it. Even after all these years of watching it from afar, maybe being on set is too close, too much for me.

Or maybe I’m even more of a hypocrite for wanting to be present only when there’s more than consent–when there’s actual eagerness. Maybe I can’t actually deal with the workaday reality of a porn set–the reality that it’s not always the best job ever in the whole world for everyone involved. The reality that sometimes it’s awkward and unpleasant and you kind of expect “Kiss from a Rose” to be playing too loud and for everyone to have sweaty palms.

Maybe I should just shut the hell up and let people do what they want to do, and quit complaining. But hey, it was worth a think.


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