Sunday, May 17, 2009

PART 2: ORIGINS

"Bareback Porn" got its official start in a garage playroom in Phoenix Arizona when director Michael McKey asked a few friends if they would like to be filmed having sex without condoms. It had been nearly a decade since the gay porn industry almost unilaterally decided to adopt a policy of using condoms in each and every video they cranked out. Such an undertaking on the part of McKey and friends would be controversial. Scandalous. Rebellious. And that is exactly what McKey had in mind.

He had worked as a videographer for gay porn studios in the past, filming in the industry’s widely-accepted paint-by-the-numbers style. Apparently he wasn’t satisfied with the way things were being done in the industry. So Michael McKey made a conscious decision to break every rule he knew about making a porn video. And he set out to challenge the idea that there was only one formula to follow to make a successful picture.

Among his radical changes were the following: No condoms. No scripts. No pretense to tell stories. No cameras on tripods. No elaborate sets. No shaved, buff pretty boys. No disco music to drown out the sounds of sex. No costly overhead. No shooting schedules. No chain of command. Instead, McKey did the whole thing himself, on a shoestring, in his garage with its walls and floors draped in blue tarps and black plastic. His "set" consisted of a sling or two and some wrestling mats strewn around the floor. Lighting was provided by overhead fluorescents for the most part. And his actors… the antithesis of the porn stereotype: leather-clad, hairy, bearish, pierced and tattooed men over 35. But the big selling point was not only that the gents performed without condoms… but also that McKey filmed the cumshots in all their glory – perhaps in a way that had never been done in the pre-condom years. He captured unforgettable images of orgasmic juices as they sprayed, oozed, and dribbled out of every orifice, focusing as much loving attention on the money shot as he did the action that was needed to deliver it.

It’s one thing to film taboo. It’s another to wallow in it.

With that one low budget film (titled simply "Bareback – The Video"), McKey tapped a nerve that inspired several other would-be pornographers who quickly followed suit. Bareback had been born as crudely as if he had given it birth behind a dumpster. And that one little 77 minute garage-porn video colored nearly everything that would follow in its footsteps for years to come.
Initially barebacking became synonymous with leather. And what followed was a slew of barebacking leather daddy pictures from various newcomers to the porn industry.

By mid-1999, I was appealing to Hot Desert Knights, with whom I had developed a relationship and who was the most productive studio in the genre at the time, to consider using performers that were of a more universally (and commercially) appealing type – younger, smoother men. My rationale was that the genre had become bogged down in leather and was limiting its appeal to a much smaller segment of the porn-viewing market than it could be reaching. HDK wasn’t interested, citing that they knew their market and what that market was interested in buying. But in 2000 they released a video called "Boys Club" that featured ten smooth-shaved men in their twenties. It was an immediate success, and fostered a handful of other younger-men bareback videos in the HDK line. Other studios took note, and started offering content that moved away from the leather daddy stereotype.

New companies began popping up here and there. Helix studios, Tipo Sesso, and Cobra debuted with offerings of college-age boys having unprotected sex. Puppy Productions featured men in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. Gaslamp Video (now SX) had already begun to find an audience for bareback videos featuring mixed-age performers. SX was all over the map, using twinks, daddies, musclemen, men of color, "str8" men, and college jocks (sometimes in leather drag). The only thing consistent in the SX line was the apartment they used as their studio. Whereas their actors’ performances were by-the-numbers, their creative use of the same space from picture to picture was interesting to note – and inspiring to this porn-director-wannabe.

Even with all of these evolutions one thing didn’t change. The shooting model that Michael McKey set up became the model by which nearly all bareback videos since have followed: no scripts, no storylines, hand-held cameras, and low budgets. McKey amputated the fantasy aspect from porn by bypassing the "set-up" and going directly to the sex. He proved his point. But now there’s such a plethora of point-and-shoot bareback porn that it’s become both redundant and mediocre.

Certainly there are standouts among the studios. Treasure Island Media, for instance, has made an art form out of their gonzo-style productions in which the cameramen are as much a part of the scenery (and sometimes the action) as the tops waiting their turns in the background. And newcomer on the block, Slut Machine has managed to create a hybrid between the action style of Paul Morris (Treasure Island) and the visual production style of Owen Hawk (Dark Alley Media) that breathes a bit of fresh air into a stagnating genre.

Today there are dozens of other gayporn companies producing bareback porn on the cheap by adhering the decade-old McKey filming blueprint. And with venues out there the likes of X-tube, it appears that anyone with access to a video cam these days thinks he’s a pornographer. So while there is a never ending torrent of new bareback porn flooding the marketplace, most of it I dare say is not worth watching – unless your entertainment threshold is very very low.

Next up, the history of gay porn, how technology plays into the current state of affairs, and what it promises for the future.

1 comment: