02.15.2015

Business as Usual

Management's playbook was on display at this year's Adult Entertainment Expo.

A performer signs autographs at the 2011 Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, NV.

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Las Vegas’ annual Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE) is something of a spectacle. Most any news recap of the event will tell you as much. But behind the throbbing music and opportunity to take a photo with someone while holding a signed replica of their vulva, the AEE is a trade show like any other. While performers do press interviews, sign autographs, and take photos with eager fans in the convention hotel’s ballrooms, business owners and management take to small meeting rooms down the hall to share tips.

Panelists and event organizers reasonably assume that these trade seminars aren’t the primary draw for attendees from outside the industry — they would, indeed, be spectacularly boring were one not operating a business or attending on assignment from a socialist magazine. And so, dialogues within the space of the trade panel are lubricated by an impression of fellow feeling, and panelists’ remarks are remarkably forthcoming.

The management strategies trade panelists map are representative of business as usual in the porn industry (there are, of course, always exceptions), but also in the world of work more broadly. Panelists sound a lot like folks quoted in Forbes, offering pointers for getting the most from your workers that anyone who has held a job will recognize. As in other jobs, porn workers creatively resist these management tactics. Porn’s HR isn’t a brave new world in personnel management; it is unexceptional to the core.

And so here, for your viewing pleasure, are some highlights from the porn boss playbook of business management:

1. “Hire for attitude"

This was the key piece of advice director-producers offered when discussing how to cast a scene. When casting, “I try to put the right puzzle pieces together,” one director-producer explained. “It’s great now, too, because you have social media, you get an idea of the girls’ personalities a little bit. Before you cast someone, you can tell a little bit about their psychological state… How eager they are to do it. How motivated by money they are to do it, as opposed to the fun aspect.”

Social media is indeed great that way — employers have found it a handy resource for personnel management, hiring and firing based on workers’ posts. As Nina Power points out, in contemporary capitalism “you’re like an advert for yourself.” Porn workers are acutely aware of this, and spend hours each day cultivating their online brands. As in other industries, one is rarely off the clock. Being authentically invested in one’s work — or performing such investment — eases the task of ceaseless self-marketing.

2. Authenticity matters

Answering an audience member’s question about whether it’s better to cast performers who are motivated by money rather than fun, the previously quoted producer-director explained, “Well, you have someone who might not put in the best performance, they might not have a great attitude. They might be a little distant to the other talent. It might not work out as well as someone who’s really eager to be there for the experience as opposed to the paycheck.”

Here we’re reminded of a Forbes piece that tells us “transparency and authenticity build a trusting relationship in which people are more likely to bring their full creativity, commitment, and motivation to work.” Management agreed that performers who are working for money are more likely to cause problems. Bosses everywhere no doubt find workers’ preoccupation with getting paid a terrible irritation.

Another producer-director explained the company’s process for filtering performer applications: after selecting applications with photos that indicate the prospective performer might be an aesthetically good fit, they follow up with a few phone calls to determine whether the person’s personality is also up to par. “When you do contact them, if the first thing they say is, ‘How much do I get paid?’ we usually stop talking to them after that because we’ve had experiences in the past — we know that that kind of girl, there’s going to be a problem somewhere down the line.”

Workers’ reasons for wanting to perform matter here too, so you’ll want to get a sense of “what their motivation is.” Why? Because “we do make a lot of money off social media. We want girls that are going to promote their scenes, they’re not just going to come in and do it and we’re never going to hear from them again.”

As mainstream HR tells us, authentically invested workers are more motivated to bring their full commitment to work, even after their pay has ended. As in any number of industries, “I’m here for the check” is the thing a worker can’t say. Instead, porn workers are called upon to embrace a “do what you love” attitude that fuels profits by asking performers to disidentify as workers.

Controlling for attitude and authenticity also ensure that workers are less likely to complain when managers employ the following moneysaving strategies. Don’t you want to be here for twenty hours while doing four people’s jobs?

3. Speed up and downsize

The favorite profit-enhancing strategies of mainstream and adult industries alike. There was some disagreement among managers about the extent to which workplace speedups negatively impact the final product. Half the panel (and significant numbers in industry management more broadly) use the strategy of shooting as many scenes as possible in one day. Most producers pay performers per scene, and crewmembers generally get one rate for the whole day, regardless of how long they’re on set.

So, as one producer-director explained, filming “three, sometimes four scenes in a day” helps to “make the most out of people’s day rates.” “We do the same thing,” another chimed in. “We pay a day rate and try to get as much out of that as we can get away with.”

Asking workers to perform multiple job roles for the price of one is another way to get the most out of a day rate. One producer-director explained that they “mix and match” job roles — performers who film one sex scene will be cast as extras in the next. “Sometimes I’ll make the people from one scene do non-sex roles in another scene,” another offered.

This sort of “mixing and matching” is increasingly common in porn, with companies hiring directors who will also perform in a scene, for example, or film camera operators who will also handle lighting and stills. Performers are now often expected to do their own hair, makeup, and wardrobe, and on smaller “gonzo” and indie shoots are also tasked with what would otherwise be the job of script writers and scene directors.

4. Package value extraction as community building

For their company’s fans, one producer-director explained, “the community is really important, and the girls are a big part of the community” — fans aren’t drawn just to the scene itself, but also to behind-the-scenes footage and a sense that they’re getting to know the performers. In addition to getting the most out of a day rate, combining work roles and compressing filming schedules “just kind of makes everything feel a little more community-like.”

That community-like feeling encourages all sorts of workers to give more for less, or for no pay at all. It’s also a great means of product marketing. Juxtapose Whole Foods’ corporate personality to its labor practices and it becomes clear, again, that porn work is entirely unexceptional.

Personnel management tactics like these are manipulative and pervasive; they’re also incredibly transparent. My friend who works at a call center has found a way to avoid crazy hat day and corporate HR’s other flimsy attempts at enforcing a “do what you love” ethic. Likewise, porn workers see through management’s tactics and find ways to work around them. They understand that their “attitude” is part of management’s calculus in hiring decisions, and manipulate self-presentations accordingly.

No amount of social media stalking will reveal definitively whether someone really did wake up this horny. Workers know too that talking about money at the wrong time is a sure way to avoid getting it, and they handle contract negotiations with this in mind. More powerful than management’s attempts at extraction and control are workers’ strategies for resisting them.