Nice Porn For Nice People: Gay Sex on Mars

Avid reader of Big Shoe Diaries, gay porn actor with brains Colby Keller’s blog, I recently came across this photo featuring his famous kokigami hugging the hard cock of Grim Outlook, 30, one of the two actors in Liverpool-based Studio Adrianus upcoming gay porn film project, Gay Sex on Mars. I’ve always been interested in new ventures into porn, and the previous attempts of sexually explicit English movies I saw, Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs in 2005, and Andrew Haigh’s Weekend in 2011, were pretty good. So I was pretty curious to learn more on Gay Sex on Mars. I then explored their Tumblr and Facebook page and got into chatting with the four men behind this project.

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Long-time friends and Studio Adrianus producers Adrian Turrel-Watts, 40, and Matthew Edward Fox, 43 introduced me to their concept of post porn for nice people. Both have backgrounds in art, Adrian in theatre, performance art and adult modelling, while Matthew already wrote and directed three short films and ran a queer film festival in Liverpool.

Matthew Edward Fox

In terms of the work that the Berlin Porn Festival are doing, you could call our approach porn activism. It’s about non-exploitative porn, porn by women, porn without drugs, safe sex, porn which isn’t made on a factory assembly line. We also have to struggle with the Anglo-Saxon attitudes to porn in this country. People are very hypocritical about porn in the UK, very down on it, but I totally understand why so many feminists here and in the US hate porn – it’s because the porn a lot of straight men buy is horrible. So it’s a big, difficult complex issue for us to show that it can be beautiful, and that our actors can be interviewed too, and people can understand that it’s all about the film we want to make. I don’t like UK porn. Tragic Triga. So underdeveloped and unattractive. But then I don’t really like porn. Peter De Rome’s The Fire Island Kids is one of the most beautiful erotic films I’ve ever seen. Otherwise I get turned on my things in movies I’ve seen – the erotic, I suppose – like that amazing scene in the prison hospital in Papillon, I’ve had a thing about young men with flowers ever since. Also Taxi Zum Clo turned me on something crazy. And some stuff in Derek Jarman’s work – Sebastiane in particular. I like story. And the key thing about story is it does not reduce the characters to bodies. When you’re with someone in real life there are a hundred different emotions swirling round in your head – fear, desire, longing, guilt, nerves – and all those emotions disappear once you get down to the fucking – but they’re there, and navigating that is part of the erotic for me. The touch, the kiss, the hug that takes an emotion and turns it around. And commercial porn is about pretending all those emotions don’t exist because if they had to deal with them, they would realise their actor is on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

Adrian Turrell-Watts

Shortbus, 9 Songs, Taxi Zum Clo, Weekend have all been an inspiration for us purely because they are films we like. What we have learned, from the very early stages, is how to describe what we’re making. None of those films have used the term ‘porn’ to describe themselves. John Cameron Mitchell expressly says that Shortbus isn’t porn and I don’t disagree with him but we really really didn’t want to start describing our work as ‘adult art house’ or ‘the sex film’. We came together to work on this project because we’d been influenced by porn, especially early porn, by Peter de Rome and Wakefield Poole and early William Higgins, Wash West and Cadinot. I like some of the Triga stuff but it has to have a good build up and some of it is much too kinky for me! I am British after all! I’m also a big fan of Ashley Ryder who is making his directorial debut for Bulldog right now… he’s kinky too though and likes a good fisting. When I watch porn, I get turned on by the story and end up hitting fast forward though the drawn out sex parts. A lot of people have said it’s the opposite for them. In that they run through the story to get to the sex but I always liked the story and the build up best. We decided to make porn for people like us. We want it to get people off but not just through the sex. The story is the most important part. But we wanted to be sure that what we were making was still porn, showing sex to get people off or, in our case, post-porn.

Matthew Edward Fox

Post-porn is about making nice porn for nice people, it’s about recognising that porn is an industry like oil, banking, media, fashion – and that the mainstream in all these areas is always going to fall short in terms of its humanity. There’s always going to be the good, the bad and the ugly in these big capitalistic enterprises. So in terms of where we post-porners stand relative to the industry, we’re kind of the free range, fair trade, organic home grown porn. We’re the real thing without all the additives and preservatives and genetically modified boys. Porn does serve a purpose in the same way that buying cheap clothes that have been made in sweatshops in developing countries serves a purpose, but the event is not necessarily consensual, not do we need to give a kind of global license to everybody to do everything that is possible in terms of capitalism. Post-porn was a term coined by my great friend the broadcaster Roger Hill while we were trying to explain to him what we wanted to do. And it fits in that it does have a sense of meta-porn – the porn that crosses the boundaries and reminds us that sex can be smelly, embarrassing, funny, loving, warm, secure, and that our fantasies – such as they are – may be more about power or fetish (in the Marxian sense of a worship of objects rather than people.) And it’s still porn, of course, because it’s real sex, which is ultimately the only definition of porn we will all be able to agree on. Anything else brings in subjective considerations.

Adrian, Grim, Michael and Matthew during workshop - © SCRATCH

Adrian, Grim, Michael and Matthew during workshop – © SCRATCH

In March, the project started as a series of six-hour workshops for four months and then the film was shot during the two first weeks of June for an estimated length of twenty to thirty minutes. Colby Keller gave them pointers from a performer’s perspective and Grim brought in enough rough material for eight scripts and Michael, 22, their second lead.

Gr†m Outlook

Matt suggested I write down the ideas I had. The more I tried to write the more I realised I really wanted to show sexually arousing things in a different way – especially in ways where sex was not the focus. A couple of them were about humiliation, one about sex outdoors… psychological situations. I want to show the truth and reality. The truth is we’re sexual and that manifests in many ways and I see no problem with showing anything as long as we know what we’re saying and why we’re saying it. Matt said he thought the last scenario I’d written was probably the easiest to start with – especially considering we had no budget. And that was the one story I really wanted to be in. For a start, the initial idea was pretty short – it was a guy who’d woken up next to someone he didn’t know and realised that this was all he ever did and so he stops the other guy from leaving – and then we assume they get to know each other. I was really trying to come up with those tiny moments that do/might lead to sex because those are the things that I find really arousing. GSOM was the safest and easiest to tell. There wasn’t anything too extreme… at least I don’t think there was. There is more sex in it than I wrote in to any of my other ideas though.

Adrian Turrell-Watts

The title came from the conversation in the story. The film takes place in the flat of one of the guys. They wake the morning after a one night stand and one of them has real difficulty connecting so they communicate by phone as if they’re on different planets. Over the phone they dissect the events of the previous night and this is played out in flashback… As this happens a connection starts to be possible… The scenario changed based on the actors in the studio and what improvisations they came up with. In fact the whole scenario shifted and changed a few times during the process… At one point, it was going to be slightly supernatural based on Michael’s improv and puckishness…

Michael Benjamin

I’m the one who remembers everything. I wake up in the bed alone and my phone is ringing after Grim wakes up, sees me and leaves the room. At the beginning of the workshops, my character was quite tongue in cheek and enjoyed the fact that he could toy with Grim and keep information from him. That was part of the colder storyline that we had at the beginning where they played more games with each other than getting to know each other. As the storyline developed, it became less about Grim trying to get information out of me and more about the relationship that they were developing together. So the dominance of my character doesn’t feature as heavily in the film, although I’m still the dominant one in the three sex scenes set in flashbacks. Only one contains full penetrative sex and I’m topping Grim. At the end of that scene there is a moment where it seems like it’s going to end on a rather cold note, but then something happens that makes the whole mood of the scene turn around and become a lot more warm and loving.

Matthew Edward Fox

If like me you have trouble remembering what happened after a very alcoholic night, and you barely remember sex, it might as well have happened in a dream, or far away, in the past, on Mars. But the distance in the film is traversed by the two characters through the act of memory. One of them helps the other to remember and in the process unlocks an emotion in the other which he might have forgotten having or experiencing. And it sets them off on a different road at the end of the film – they might be together for a while, we don’t know. In terms of post-porn it’s about traversing that distance, crossing those boundaries, picking up everything that has been forgotten in porn and putting it back in like the memory of the night before when all you can remember is that you fucked and then dimly.

It's not your typical one night stand. Word! © SCRATCH

It’s not your typical one night stand. Word! © SCRATCH

They all insisted throughout their interviews that the most important part of this process was making both actors as much comfortable as possible. I realised that the fact that Grim and Michael hooked up prior to the project must have been a great basis for this film and I wondered if things would have turned out so well if they had not, in regards of the various script changes and the obvious chemistry they shared.

Matthew Edward Fox

As we were shooting it became clear that Grim and Michael were really, really intimate with each other – really gentle, fluffing each other before the scenes, and really wanting to make sure the other had as easy an experience as possible on set. And it came through in the rushes, the warmth – and we had to rewrite the ending of the script to accommodate what we’d got to far. The original script was much colder and downbeat, and we had to warm it up a bit by moving elements around. Now it’s a much more positive story. I hope that when people see it at festivals and online it will turn them on and they’ll want to fuck immediately and intimately and honestly. The rushes turn me on – I can’t look at them coldly. I’ve been hard pretty much all the time during the shoot – aching to experience what our two young actors have been experiencing.

Gr†m Outlook

Even if we hadn’t hooked up before, I think it would still have worked out during the workshopping process. We were looking for actors – so people who would understand how to develop intimacy without needing to actually have been intimate. I think it guided the direction of things in a way. The story became more intimate because Michael and I really got on. I don’t think it does have to be real beforehand – that maybe makes it more interesting for people who know but I think if you choose the right people and have the right creative process you’ll end up with a different dynamic anyway. We might have been comfortable with each other but neither of us had done porn before and that could easily have derailed the whole thing, thankfully, the way we workshopped and filmed meant that that wasn’t a problem.

Michael Benjamin

Yeah I think we still would have been able to do it. We had loads of workshops, told stories at dinners and learned an awful lot about each other. I know it’s terribly corny but we really did all become like a family. Which I think is the same with any cast members of any project you work with. Maybe not to the extent of this particular project, but people do become closer. I think the fact that we all shared so much personal information about ourselves made it possible, there were no judgements or inhibitions with any of us.

2 guys 1 board - © SCRATCH

2 guys 1 board – © SCRATCH

I was still curious to know how one can workshop then film intimacy and asked them to tell me a bit more of this preparation and how they all approached the job.

Matthew Edward Fox

The workshop was a lot of sexual positions and a kind of tease for all of us and a lot of fun but no actual sex. We did a run through without cameras of the scene where Michael puts a condom on with both young men naked and just me and Adrian in the room watching and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life – wish we had had the cameras rolling but then it wouldn’t have been the same… This is the nature of porn, the very act of observing changes what is being observed so you have to go around that and pick up everything that is discarded by porn (the mundane, the emotion, the quotidien) and put is back into the film to make it real. We also did a day workshopping when the actors directed me and Adrian in their roles – changing power relations, albeit in a token, play way – which was one of the funniest days of my life. Also there is an element of not asking an actor to do anything on camera that you wouldn’t do yourself, so Adrian and I had to prove we were willing.

Michael Benjamin

I don’t consider myself a porn actor, I’m just an actor and we all know no actor likes to be typecast. I’d done challenging roles before, including playing a victim of child abuse which as you can imagine is pretty dark material. But this project was challenging in a whole new level. It required a type of acting that is very very rarely seen. Real, honest and believable sex. Obviously when I’m on camera, it’s not myself that I see, it’s the character I’m playing. However during the beginning stages when we were initially workshopping, we drew a lot of our characters history from personal experiences. We discussed whether the characters were long term with a partner or whether they were one night things. I just thought about past sexual experiences alot which in all honesty I hadn’t done in this much detail before. It was quite interesting because I began to see patterns in my sexual behaviour that I otherwise wouldnt have noticed. This is what I think made it so challenging because sex is such a personal thing, it did take quite a while to try and see it as acting. It was a difficult process at first because I think I was too mindful of how everything was going to look on camera. Whether it would look real or not, whether the emotions I was feeling would be reflected in my actions. The thought of having people I’ve never met before being able to witness the most intimate moments between me and another person was a lot to process. But I always say to myself that I’d rather do something and risk regretting it later in life than to regret not doing it at all. It’s a mentality that’s given me a lot of amazing experiences and it most definitely applies to this one. It’s been the most hard work I’ve ever done, both mentally and physically but I knew the second we’d cut our last scene that it was also the most rewarding work I’ve ever done too. And to be able to say that before I’ve even seen the end product really is a special thing.

Gr†m Outlook

I approached the whole thing both as an acting job and an experience. When it came to sex, I knew it was for a film so I would get myself hard, make sure Michael was comfortable, focus and everything – all so that it could be as real as possible… I was telling myself after shooting, that was filmed… people will see it, I was trying to force myself to feel something about it but it was all just fine. It was the same to film a scene having sex as it was to film a scene opening a door or drinking coffee. We certainly learnt to switch off to the camera quickly during the workshops but we only filmed during the last couple of workshops and didn’t actually have sex on camera until the first time we shot it. The whole process made it all very easy. It was very emotional at times and when we were trying out different things, it occasionally unlocked some unexpected emotions – nothing too bad but there were a few workshops where we felt pretty drained after. We were making ourselves very vulnerable, maybe without noticing. Porn can be quite lonely – especially to watch it sometimes but that wasn’t the same on camera. It was a challenge to just do everything as well as possible and hopefully make it seem as real as possible… I can’t wait to have a look at the first edit. It’s funny that so many of the scenarios I wrote were pretty kinky but I wanted to perform in the one that wasn’t… that must have been a subconscious thing. I’ve not experienced a lot of intimacy during sex, sometimes out of choice, sometimes not, but this film was very intimate and I think I was experiencing something very new. It’s certainly something I feel far more open to now. I’m not sure how much it has really changed my perception of myself as a sexual being but it was exploring something I’ve not explored much before, so it has changed me.

Adrian Turrell-Watts

My main learning curve is purely the technicalities of film making… The length of the process once shooting starts. Although we are all learning about the practical approaches to shooting real sex. I’m also most concerned with the actors’ welfare but I’m still not averse to stepping in and saying ‘Great! But can we do that hard please!’… We knew all about the traditional set-ups for porn-porn… But we didn’t ever want to shoot sex in that way. Getting close ups purely for the audience, making sure each sex act was covered, concentrating on penetration was never an issue for us. It’s important to get as much coverage as we could with the three cameras we had but most important was that the actors were enjoying themselves, the sex felt real. We didn’t ever want it to look like directed sex.

Matthew Edward Fox

Strangely it wasn’t that different from a regular shoot because the actors were so professional. There is obviously more preparation time for the actors but once you factor that in, you’re rolling. I guess the main difference is the emotions it draws up in you – it’s real sex and you can never become completely adjusted to that – it is emotional (if it’s not, it’s probably not going to be erotic) and it does make you horny. We’re trying to get away from the typical porn angles, close ups, gynecological details, everything lit from every angle. It’s not attractive, it doesn’t turn me on, it’s reductionist. We went with angles we felt would show the story. There are three cameras in some sequences because obviously you don’t want to have to ask an actor who has given his all to do it again – you have to capture it. The before and after you can do retakes on if you have to. A typical day would be myself and the two amazing camerapeople (one straight woman, one gay man) going non-stop while Adrian entertains the actors between takes. We can hear the laughter from the other room. Then the delicate aspect of what sex scene we’re going to shoot, and as soon as we call for the young men, let’s get it done and have as much fun as we can while we’re doing it. Everything has to work with the grain of what the actors want to do, for you, for us, on screen – and not the other way around. It doesn’t follow the producer and the director. I guess that’s where the drugs come in on other shoots, to keep working, to get the money shot regardless, I don’t know.

Michael Benjamin being cute - © SCRATCH

Michael Benjamin being cute – © SCRATCH

Both actors being described as regular guys, I started to think about gay porn categories and the search for realness in porn, in this ever expanding catalogue of types, those frat boys, dick dorm videos, gay-for-pay broke dudes, twins and brothers, boys next door, and looking at their pictures, Grim’s long hair and scruffy beard, Michael’s ear bling and tattooed body, I asked them if they weren’t just creating new categories.

Adrian Turrell-Watts

It’s important for us that the scenarios come naturally from the actors. The images Michael and Grim portray are their own. They’re not made up or styled to be anything else. This may change… We have some autobiographical scenarios from my past stored for future work and they may have to be cast to a type because they’re from real stories but we’re never going to cast to a porn type or because we want a certain type to get the audience off. The story will always be the most important part. There have always been types used in porn but have these types come from real life or from porn? It varies I guess. For instance, the 70s clone type certainly came through porn of the 70s and the San Francisco scene but it’s funny how the gay scene fetishises certain types, the twink, the skater dude, the bear, the scally… Which came first the porn-clone or the street-clone?

Michael Benjamin

There are genres for everybody these days now so I think everybody would fall under somebody’s sexual preference category. The tattoos on my stomach are shooting stars. All of the others on my arms/wrist and back are animal themed. I’m a massive animal lover.

Gr†m Outlook

Michael is non-judgemental and interesting – there’s a lot going on behind his eyes. Also, he is real… not like someone you’d automatically expect to be in porn (although he’s very handsome) and I think that was very important for the story being believable.

Michael Benjamin

The film does include hints of post sex solitude, but it’s mostly about breaking down the boundaries after that point. There wasn’t any sadness really as there’s an extremely intimate scene at the very end of the film which really highlights all of the good emotions and brings them together to create a very warm and beautiful ending to the story. I think subconsiously the positive ending must have been important to me because if not, then I suppose the story wouldn’t have developed in that particular direction. One night stands are always portrayed as a bad thing where the sex becomes detached from the emotions, and I think this film is unique because it shows that it doesnt always have to be that way. We wanted to create something that hasn’t been explored in film before. In some ways I see it as quite an educational film too. It puts a positive message out to people. It’s okay to let your guard down. Be yourself and allow yourself to be happy.

The film is currently being edited and will probably be released in the fall. And they already are thinking about a sequel.

Matthew Edward Fox

There will be another movie pretty soon – more or less as soon as this is edited which will be calledGay Sex On the Moon. We have another actor raring to go, and would love to work with Grim and Michael again. Where we go with that depends on what gets workshopped – I have some ideas for starting points and know the location I want to use. So yes, we are thinking of a sequel or a series of interlinked stories.

Gr†m Outlook

We wanted to do something to accompany the film that would be unique, so I suggested making a fanzine. It’s good for post porn too, it allows us to expand on the concept. Also, we have been creating quite a collection of stills during the process which would be nice to share some of them – we also have personal collections of pics, some of which might find their way in. I love fanzines, creating a tangible thing that you can hold – it’s more personal and intimate than a website.

Adrian Turrell-Watts

We want to be screened at festivals but we’ll also distribute online as we need to get some revenue too… We’re waiting until we have at least a rough cut and then we’ll be submitting. It’s a very long process but it’s the most fun I’ve had on a project in a long time! When we sure we don’t have any embargoes due to festival rules we’ll release online. Grim will create a fanzine since we wanted a vehicle for other work like the photography and artwork and also for some of the writing we’ve been doing that won’t necessarily make it into a film. It will sit alongside the film/s and the studio. Hopefully one will draw attention to the other. And there’s that series of very short stories I’ve been writing based on my life called Sexcapades… We wanted them to be read because we think they’re real and funny and not all about porn-porn just real and awkward and funny moments. We also just want to talk about ourselves a lot and share recipes and tips! I have a reputation for talking and talking and the gang say: ‘Adrian! It’s not all about you!’ I always say: ‘It is! It is! And it’s about all of us!’ and that’s what Studio Adrianus is all about… It’s about all of us. Real. Sexy. Funny. And desperate to turn people on.

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