Tag Archives: Dan O’Connell

Box Cover

by Rich Moreland, November 2015

Here is the second installment on my visit to a Girlfriends Films shoot. It’s about the box cover, the image that captures the consumer’s eye.

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I’ve been on shoots before, but I’ve never seen a box cover being photographed. Because stills in adult film are routinely shot with few, if any retakes, I am surprised at the time invested in the cover. On the other hand, a well thought out shot sells the movie, so repeated takes make sense.

The equipment waits patiently for the cover takes.

The equipment waits patiently for the cover takes

Dan O’Connell pairs the girls on the cover according to their scenes. What astonishes me is the discussion among Dan and girls that surfaces as Mike Towers clicks away.

This part of movie-making is not solely director dictated, at least for Girlfriends Films‘ founder.

One of many shots taken to find the boxcover.

One of many shots taken to find the boxcover.

In an atmosphere akin to an open forum, Dan asks the performers for input to make this vital shot unique. Among the ideas bandied about is Vanessa’s suggestion that she kneel at Dani’s feet in an act of submission. It takes hold for the moment but we won’t know until the final product comes out if the cover designers liked it.

Try This

After Dan endorses Vanessa’s suggestion, the other two girls, Jorden Kennedy and Aidra Fox, experiment with different poses. They are sensuous with each other which makes for a terrific erotic exchange. Actually, they were getting along very well on the porch (warming up to get the juices flowing, if you know what I mean) while waiting for their scene to be shot, so anything here is simply an extension of that.

Jorden later tells me that Dan encourages input from the girls and she is more than willing to contribute.

Talking with Jorden

Talking with Jorden after the shoot

“What if you did this or tried this. Like with the praying or the kneeling or flipping your hair back or with Dani pulling my hair,” Jorden says as she describes how the cover exchange involved everyone. “That’s very normal of him. He’s very open to suggestions.”

Then she adds for emphasis, “He’s outside the norm as for as taking suggestions.”

What this tells me is that Dan O’Connell invests his performers with a stake in the movie they are creating.

Reinforcing my thought, Jorden summarizes the Girlfriends Films attitude.

“Dan actually cares about the scene looking beautiful and passionate because he cares about the viewers as well as us to make sure that we’re having a good time as well. He wants us to enjoy ourselves as much as the viewers.”

Incidentally, she hits the word “us” with emphasis, the mark of ownership Girlfriends’ performers take in their work.

Hands

Though the cover is actually two pairs of girls that offset or counterbalance each other, blending them together into a cogent artistic expression becomes the dynamic that sells the film. Everything relies on Mike’s talent in catching the right expression at the right moment.

Dan’s chief concern reflects Mike’s: what to do with hands. They have to be placed appropriately to convey sensuality. Of course, no arm behind the back can be completely hidden, it suggests an amputee. So hands cover breasts, then don’t, then go to tummies and arms, then search elsewhere . . . all for just the right pose.

What to do with hands?

What to do with hands?

Many clicks later, Mike has what he needs and I am eager to find out which shot will be the cover winner. It goes without saying the girls are panties only because full frontal nudity carries possible obscenity implications that differ from state to state.

However, there is more to this moment than just a photograph. It brings back memories for me and relates to a conversation Dan and I had a few years ago.

We shared stories of our conservative upbringing, his in Montana, mine in small town Southern Maryland. For both of us in that long ago pre-computer time, lingerie ads were about as erotic as our teen-aged eyes ever got to see, especially if you were trying to survive a religious household.

Unless, of course, the lazy days of summer meant the carnival midway and hanging around the hoochie koochie tent with only your imagination as your friend.

For a moment I am a kid again among the sideshows, listening to barkers lure passersby inside to see real flesh and hoping for a furtive peek at what I wasn’t supposed to see.

A playful look at the box cover babes! Dani, Jorden, Aidra, and Vanessa Photo courtesy of Mike Towers

A playful look at the box cover babes! Dani, Jorden, Aidra, and Vanessa
Photo courtesy of Mike Towers

*          *          *

The third installment in this series looks at the scene between Jorden and Aidra who change the tone of Women Seeking Women from romantic to aggressive.

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After the First Kiss

by Rich Moreland, October 2015

During my recent trip to LA, I was invited to a Girlfriends Films set by Dan O’Connell who founded the company several years ago. My visit with the crew and performers is in four installments, this is the first.

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Dropping in on a Dan O’Connell shoot is to be surrounded by pulchritude and comeliness, or for those who don’t want their vocabulary expanded, hot girls. When my associate (who is quite a looker herself, I might add) and I arrive, Dan is setting up a take staged in the front yard of the house he is using for this 123rd version of Girlfriends’ popular series, Women Seeking Women.

Dan lets me know what the line-up is for today's shoot.

Dan goes over the line-up for today’s shoot.

Vanessa Veracruz’s dark eyes and engaging smile greet us with a “Hi.” The starlet is playfully checking out the faces in the window. My guess is they are part of the story line because Dan likes to spin a plot around the sex. Later we’ll watch Vanessa kneel to pray wearing only her white lingerie for an interesting mixture of sex and religion Dan has in mind for the shoot.

What is striking about this moment (and what follows once we are inside) is how the girls hang around each other as if this were a sorority house. It’s obviously a relaxed atmosphere for everyone.

Dan reviews the general directives with Dani, Jorden, and Aidra. Photo courtesy of Mike Towers

Dan reviews the general directives with Dani Daniels, Jorden Kennedy, and Aidra Fox.
Photo courtesy of Mike Towers

Leaving the heat of day, we go indoors and quickly meet cinematographer Mike Towers and once again offer a “hello” to Girlfriends’ favorite PA, Sabrina. She was with B Skow when we were on his set a couple of days ago.

More Romantic

Before pairing Dani Daniels and Vanessa in the first sex scene, a brief episode involving a phone call is shot. The crew films it with Dani sitting on a toilet and Vanessa on her bed. The set is really the master bath with an open door to the bedroom so communication is easy between Dan and the girls.

A break is called and Dani readies herself while Vanessa kicks back patiently awaiting the action.

Dan and Mike setting up.

Dan and Mike setting up in the bathroom to film Dani.

Sabrina and Mike are setting up the lighting which includes Impact flood lights. They demonstrate for me how the lights can be angled to get the effect they are seeking.

No one is hurried, though everyone works efficiently.

Dan and Sabrina getting set up.

Dan and Sabrina testing the angles for the sex scene.

The girls are all set, we are quiet, and Dani walks into the bedroom.

“After the first kiss, we’re not going back to the dialogue,” Dan announces softly, then follows with more direction.

He tells Dani to be considerate of Vanessa because of the prayer scene filmed just a short time ago. “Be tender with her,” he says. Then he reminds Vanessa that her character is unsure of what she wants “because of this religious thing” and instructs her to resist Dani’s advances.

Mike and Sabrina preparing for the prayer scene.

Mike and Sabrina preparing for the prayer scene.

Vanessa gets into her role with expressions of reluctance laced with conflicting desires. Doubt versus longing fill her eyes while she offers her submission to Dani.

The curvy lass climbs onto the bed and approaches Vanessa with hushed conversation and wanton looks. Kissing, a Dan O’Connell favorite, follows.

The performers’ caressing and mutual pleasure is so believable that I feel like a voyeur rather than a writer visiting porn set. By that I mean, I have willfully suspended my disbelief, the mark of a powerful scene.

Dan reviews what he wants in the shoot.

Dan reviews what he wants when Dani moves on Vanessa.

Dani and Vanessa are established adult actresses who understand the dynamics of a girl/girl scene. Dani smiles sweetly, Vanessa rolls her head in ecstasy and the rest of the shoot moves forward with the gentleness Dan wants in this episode. He later explains that “taboo” drives this scene; it’s an internal struggle for Vanessa with her “inner demons pulling her into sex.”

Dani plays the aggressor to a tee, moving catlike over a shy Vanessa.

The actresses are facing Dan who is beside the bed which allows Mike to keep his position near the foot board. The boom tilts above the girls to pick up subtle dialogue.

Talented performers! Photo courtesy of Mike Towers

Talented performers!
Photo courtesy of Mike Towers

The scene is like a well-rehearsed musical composition, moving to its conclusion with a kind of rhapsody that good porn is capable of producing, but rarely does.

When we’re finished, I corner Mike and Sabrina for a short course in lighting, learning about balance, shadows, and how to emphasize skin tone.

Dan interjects that “lighting is more important than the cameras you use.”

Cool. Makes a non-camera person like me want to take a pic or two.

 

*          *          *

In part two of this day on the set, I get my first look at what sells a porn film, the box cover.

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A Leaner Message

by Rich Moreland, March 2015

A statewide version of L.A. county’s Measure B condom law is likely headed for the 2016 California ballot. As a result, shooting in Nevada and Florida is on the adult industry radar, though opinions are mixed about migrating out of state. Going underground is possible for some producers, especially smaller labels who can’t afford the enforcement fees.

A legal seminar at the recent AVN show and Attorney Clyde DeWitt’s the “sky is not falling” February essay for XBIZ have contributed to the discussion. Obviously, constitutional questions loom should the measure be approved.

A conversation with two of the most respected directors in the business today, Girlfriends Films‘ Dan O’Connell and B Skow, offers a front line perspective on the issue.

Asked about the extra cost of the shooting under the proposal, neither director is overly concerned about the money spent. On the other hand, the restrictions imposed are troublesome.

Dan O'Connell Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Dan O’Connell
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

“I’m not worried about the dollar part of it,” Dan says. “I’m worried about requirements that would be prohibitive for us.” Girlfriends’ founder mentions shooting and location permits, producer cost for talent testing, and the onerous provision he calls “a snitch fee.”

“You slip up and you can get fined. The person who turns you in can get twenty-five percent of whatever your fine is,” and it “doesn’t have to be a performer, could be anyone, anywhere.”

Snitching is troublesome because performers who haven’t been booked for a while might get “vindictive.” To illustrate their concern, Skow mentions that he gets “uncomfortable” when a performer comes up and asks, “‘how come you don’t use me anymore?'”

Adult entertainment is a supply and demand business. Directors have to juggle shoots to keep people working. Too many girls and a limited number of bookings, something performers often fail to realize.

If the proposal gets on the ballot, a recent poll indicates that over seventy percent of California voters would approve it. Should that happen, location becomes the impending issue hovering over everyone.

“I don’t see us shooting in California,” Dan says, but he fears the AIDS Health Foundation, the force behind the referendum, would follow the industry wherever it goes. On the other hand, Skow thinks many studios will go underground and that’s costly for everyone. From the state’s point of view, he adds, the “whole campaign will be a waste,” a loss of jobs and money.

However, there may be a ray of sunshine in this political storm; a needed shake-up might occur, a weeding out process that leads to a more efficient industry. In other words, the number of shoots might drop, but the ones produced would be better.

B Skow Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

B Skow
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Skow asserts the “creativity” put into film making would improve with the added benefit of having “a smaller pool of performers that you know and trust.” In his business utopia, a select group of stars reminiscent of porn’s past would “make most of the movies” like in the old Hollywood system. “People would start following them, just like they follow celebrities,” he says.

Returning to a more intimate talent pool means the business becomes “more corporate, more organized.” Unfortunately the fledgling studios might suffer, but for the industry as a whole, Skow explains, the “big companies” would cultivate a “pool of trust.”

On another matter, the Girlfriends’ director brings up a personal concern: much of the creativity in porn goes unrecognized. He mentions the AVN awards show, but in truth, it could be any similar gala the industry sponsors.

“There should be ten or twelve awards,” Skow says, “then it would mean something. A lot of people in this industry do some pretty cool stuff, but it gets washed away.”

The leaner message is really this. The industry could benefit from downsizing. Keep the best performers regularly employed by the strongest companies and reward movie making for its art and not its quantity.

In the long run, this may be an unanticipated windfall from the current political turmoil. Rather than threaten the industry’s existence, the condom initiative may make it stronger.

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B Skow’s thoughts on a leaner industry are shared by others in the business. In his book, The Unsexpected Story (2012), Darren Roberts examines the state of adult film today and references remarks by Jessica Drake and Barrett Blade that reinforce Skow’s view. Drake is thankful for her early years in adult film. “‘I was lucky to enter [the adult entertainment industry] when I did. There was a very old Hollywood feel about everything, and the glamour and excitement was there.”

The past revisited is always possible. Barrett Blade believes that “an industry-wide movement away from the production of low quality content” will result in a “renewal” for porn and mentions that some studios are focusing on “lean principles” that have “allowed many companies to ‘cut the fat.'” Part of this change could result in a reduced performer pool and higher production values.

Only time will tell.

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A Dog in this Fight

by Rich Moreland, January 2015

Topless bowling and a scantily clad hula hoop contest welcome invited guests into a large suite on the Hard Rock Hotel’s upper floor. The occasion is Girlfriends Films’ (GFFs) after-the-show party on the Adult Entertainment Expo’s second night. Hanging out with yours truly is my photographer Bill and Morgan, our “lovely young assistant” as they say in show biz.gfs logo

This is Vegas, of course, and the forty or so guests mingle around the lounge, bar, hot tub, and pool table that complement the bowling ally. Top agent Mark Spiegler brought some of his starlets—Reily Reid, Lily LaBeau, and Penny Pax among them—while porn heartthrob James Deen circulates among revelers with his sweetie, Stoya. Jessie Andrews, the star of B Skow’s hit, The Gardener, arrives with the dewy nymph-like elegance that is her trademark while GFFs’ hottie Prinzzess shoots a little pool topless, her trademark tresses accentuating her Hollywood glamour.

The affair is an appreciation for the studio’s 2014 successes. It’s no secret that company President Moose and founder Dan O’Connell have built a highly respected and dynamic organization in a time of recession and content piracy. Results are impressive. Their efforts are moving the GFFs brand to the forefront of adult entertainment. Tonight Moose and Dan extend their gratitude to industry supporters while giving the lovely ladies who are the company’s image some downtime after the crush of media demands and signing for fans.

In a brief address to party goers, Dan praises those girls who make a successful go of it in adult film. They are “strong, resourceful, brave and smart,” he says, emphasizing that recognition and achievement blossoms from hard work and responsibility, characteristics GFFs fosters.

For my little team of media hounds, the gathering has another focus. We chat with Moose to get his reflection on the year. Distribution deals have blossomed that include ArchAngel Productions, James Deen Productions, Skow for Girlfriends Films, Tasha Reign’s Reign Productions, and Bonnie Rotten’s Mental Beauty, he tells us before corralling Deen for a quick introduction. And, GFFs continues to donate to charitable organizations its performers list among their favorites. Incidentally, no one has ever retired or resigned from Girlfriends, a rare claim for any company in any industry.

Dan, the girls, and Moose on the Red Carpet. Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Dan, the talent, and Moose on the Red Carpet.
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Be it understood that GFFs is one of adult entertainment’s good guys and its charity work is important. But now another community project has raised the company’s passion: child pornography and sex trafficking in the Long Beach/LA area. “Trafficking hurts people,” Moose says, and combating this evil is a commitment GFFs takes seriously.

“Girls are being pimped out starting at age nine,” he explains. Fortunately there are people willing to push back against the perpetrators and the pimps. Rock Against Trafficking is a worldwide organization that, associated with local groups and the music and entertainment industries, has taken the lead in this endeavor with the goal of outreach and rehabilitation. Girlfriends is proud to contribute to this mission.

Stopping trafficking, rooting out its villains, and getting underage victims through the court system is daunting. Moose insists that supporting local services is perhaps the highest priority and he backs up his voice with visits to facilities on the battle lines against a heart-breaking human tragedy.

Sure, a party sponsored by an adult film company has its “entertainment” and munchies with appropriate libations that settle well in the stomach. Eyes feast on barely dressed professional models sparking up conversation around the room. But there is more to Girlfriends Films, it’s a different breed of porn animal. No doubt the company is an industry leader in making money the right way, but it also cares about its employees, its performers, and now, its commitment to helping others.

For Moose, Dan, and the gang, every newly purchased Girlfriends’ DVD and VOD streaming carries a warning shot across the bough of the trafficker who deals in human flesh. Adult film has a dog in this fight and that’s good news for the powerless whose childhoods are endangered by prostitution, abuse, and lost futures.

Best of all, you help every time you pay for your porn . . .

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Just a Dirty Girl

by Rich Moreland, January 2013

thumb_Bad-Les-front

A reluctant burglar, phone sex, a murder and a girl who prefers to knit sounds like a super plot any Hollywood writer would love.

These explosive elements are part of four vignettes Girlfriends Films (GFF) has turned into a steamy little number called “Bad Lesbian” and it’s worth a good look.

Waiting in the Shadows

In the first narrative, Dillion Harper is the thief who’d rather not and Cassandra Nix is her partner who resorts to cheap tricks to keep the lovely bandit’s body close to hers. Pretending she’s been knocked round after getting nabbed purloining, Cassandra convinces her reluctant pal to soothe her wounds.

In short order, she turns the tables on a surprised and sympathetic Dillion.

Cassandra Nix and Dillion Harper Photo courtesy of Girlfriends Films

Cassandra Nix and Dillion Harper
Photo courtesy of Girlfriends Films

 “If you hadn’t left me there, this wouldn’t have happened,” Cassandra says. It seems Dillion ran and now it’s time for another trip, the one over guilt.

To preserve their mutual thieving agreement, Cassandra waxes tender. After the kiss, the sex is underway.

In classic GFF manner, the predator takes over and “runs the fuck,” as the old saying goes. There is a smidgen of revenge in Cassandra’s plan. She grabs Dillion’s hair and grinds her crotch against the weaker girl’s face and playfully slaps the sweet little brunette, a statement of who is in control. The tatted Cassandra Nix is a veteran of Kink.com. It’s all been done to her and now it’s a lesson in rough love for Dillion.

Crime and dominating sex is also the theme of the fourth and final vignette. Natalie Heart is the abused and desperate daughter; Allie Haze, her new found tomboi friend. Allie’s switchblade dispenses with the inappropriately horny dad while the compliant Natalie waits in the shadows.

Natalie Heart and Allie Haze Photo courtesy of Girlfriends Films

Natalie Heart and Allie Haze
Photo courtesy of Girlfriends Films

“There’s no turning back,” the street tough Allie tells Natalie, who hides her timidity behind a smile. A double meaning is in play here because Allie will possess the meek brunette for her own pleasure. Natalie’s choices are non-existent.

After the carcass is hidden away, Allie toys with Natalie’s sultry body. There’s lots of oral and finger banging, characteristic of each episode in the four-part package. Allie’s macho aggressiveness and Natalie’s natural assets add to the real attraction of this vignette: two emotional loners who have stumbled onto each other. When the scene concludes, the viewer is left wanting more.

Changing Plans

If parts one and four have a somber tone, two and three are lighter. When the predator girl is not at first obvious, the viewer needs only to find the boots. The pleasingly tatted Ash Holloway, the phone sex girl, wears them in the second narrative. This vignette is a charmer of opposites. Ash is the sexually charged college dropout and Kiera Winters the nerdy girl who is studying her life away.

Kiera spots Ash taking a call in her family’s backyard and investigates. The punkish looking blonde explains the walls in her house are “paper thin” and she wants to keep her $30-a-call gig from her mother. Kiera is curious and Ash suggests she change her plans, at least for the day.

“You’re about to spend four to six years of your young adult life buried in books,” Ash declares. “Have you ever done anything crazy?” Then she tells Kiera there is more fun to be had than just talking filthy on the phone.

Kiera Winters and Ash Holloway Photo courtesy of Girlfriends Films

Kiera Winters and Ash Holloway
Photo courtesy of Girlfriends Films

Kiera is game and this petite Bobbi Starr look alike sells this narrative. Girl-on-girl sex has a huge male audience and GFF fans will place themselves into the scene and consume the diminutive brunette. She is that sweet.

The episode has terrific girl/girl chemistry. Their mutual oral is superb. During the sex, Ash finger bangs Kiera and reinforces their dalliance with a smutty “Deep down, you’re just a dirty girl.”

Narrative three between adopted daughters is the hottest of the DVD. For sheer sexiness, Bailey Blue and Casey Calvert are hard to beat (though both take their share of blows at Kink.com, pun intended) Bailey is the aggressor (spot the boots) and the very submissive Casey is the girl who knits.

Casey is trying to maintain a self-imposed celibacy but her “sister” persuades the gorgeous brunette to drop the knitting needle and go out on the town. Later when the sex begins Casey’s facial expressions unveil the hesitancy she feels. Using her eyes to frame her emotions, the AVN nominee for starlet of the year (include Dillion Harper in that elite group, by the way) is outstanding in roles in which she plays the reluctant, unsure girl.

Bailey Blue and Casey Calvert Photo courtesy of Girlfriends Films

Bailey Blue and Casey Calvert
Photo courtesy of Girlfriends Films

Bailey portrays the spunky sibling to a tee. Their sex is hot and mutual without an aggressor, produced by two actresses who are building solid careers.

One more observation on Bailey and Casey, their scene has the highest degree of verisimilitude. In other words, two adopted daughters sexually involved with each other are quite believable in today’s world of blended families. As a result, the acting is carefully crafted to authenticate the situation. Bailey is appropriately petulant and Casey’s frail resistance tells the story. Kudos to both performers.

*          *          *          *          *

In the pairings of each story, the performers create natural connections, a linchpin of Girlfriends Films. The power differences of actual lovers won’t work without real sex and reasons for the girls to dive into each other. In each episode, the girls are opposites of some variety, at first communicating their differences before yielding to the mutual chemistry that brings the contradictions together and initiates their erotic play.

The qualities of a Dan O’Connell production elevate porn to art. He uses three crew people and in most scenes, two major camera angles. Bodies are framed equally from there, minimizing the anatomy lesson of gonzo porn. Effective editing mixes shots that are sexual but not always graphic. The result is a sensuality characteristic of mainstream film with high priced talent.

This kind of movie magic doesn’t happen without planning and a carefully managed on set experience. Few studios do that better than GFF.

 

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Changing Hands

by Rich Moreland, January 2014

gfs logo

The adult film business has its own Fortune 500 movers and shakers. Names like Adam and Eve, Hustler, Vivid, Wicked, Evil Angel, and Digital Playground come immediately to mind.

Powered by a self-created niche it has seen widely imitated, another name is seeking a space in that pantheon. Started over eight years ago, Girlfriends Films (GFF) is the leader in girl/girl erotica, an expanding genre in the industry.

Praised for its innovative film work, Girlfriends’ DVD and VOD (Video on Demand) inventory contains over a thousand scenes representing the best of the industry’s female performers.

As for the company’s ethical business practices, listen to Dan O’Connell creator of GFF. “No one has ever quit or retired from Girlfriends Films.” Now Dan extends that reality to himself because things are changing.

Dan O’Connell is passing from owner to adviser and confidant. Effective January 1, Dan sold the company to his long time Vice-President, Moose. But Dan isn’t going anywhere; he retains ownership of Groundwork Visions, the business that produces all of Girlfriends work.

The new arrangement frees Dan O’Connell to do what motivated him from Girlfriends’ inception, shoot film. He has an “exclusive arrangement” to continue with the company and, along with famed hetero filmmaker B. Skow, provide GFF fans with the high quality product expected of this superbly run enterprise.

For Girlfriends‘ loyal customers, nothing has changed. The varied and iconic GFF series will continue and production schedules will not be affected.

The deal is a win-win for everyone, particularly Dan O’Connell, who is at last putting management issues behind him. Opportunities going forward to improve his “movie-making game” are now on the table, he says. The sixty-something will devote his energies what he loves, filming beautiful women having sex.

As the new owner, Moose will continue with all his current duties. Dan reminds everyone that Moose’s talents are well versed in handling a multiplex business. “Running Girlfriends Films is a very complex operation that includes movie production and post-production, sales and marketing, internet sites, [and] our new GFF cable channel,” Dan says, not to ignore overseeing the company’s 37,000 square foot facility in Valencia.

Moose and Dan Photo courtesy of Bill Knight

Moose and Dan
Photo courtesy of Bill Knight

Their relationship over the years has been close as I can attest from a recent visit with some of the GFF gang (see “The Pornographer’s Heart” November 20, 2013). Everyone looks for the company to maintain and enrich its present course.

“I’m very fortunate to have someone of Moose’s caliber to take over the operation,” Dan O’Connell says, but adds his personal full-time efforts are not quite over. Upcoming is the hectic schedule of the Adult Entertainment Expo in Vegas and GFF’s distribution of other brands that demand his keen eye and industry wisdom. As the company likes to say, Girlfriends Films is “simply the most realistic sex in lesbian adult video.” Such a boast requires hard work and attention to customers and fans, something GFF does well.

For anyone interested in the business, visit girlfriendsfilms.com or contact Moose at moose@girlfriendsfilms.com.

 

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A Poorly Written Play

by Rich Moreland, November 2013

Girlfriends Films’ Homecoming is a well-written and superbly acted story that speaks to the heart of an issue that dominates our culture today: the American family and how we perceive it.

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homecoming boxcoverHomecoming tells the story of a dysfunctional household that transitions from the façade of a “perfect family” into an honest coming together of what they really are.

The oldest daughter of Tony (Steven St. Croix) and Cora (Zoe Holloway) is getting married. Gloria (Casey Calvert) brings home her beau (Michael Vegas) for the expected approval of her parents. Trouble is that gazillionaire Bradley is rude, arrogant, and insensitive. To complicate matters, Gloria is unsure of her sexuality though she is quite certain she doesn’t love Bradley. Admitting to her true feelings is the issue because pleasing her parents is Gloria’s mission.

Homecoming functions on different levels. First, there is Tony’s story. He’s nouveau riche with a secret—an illegitimate daughter. His life is further complicated by a wife who has given up on their marriage. Next is Bitty (Jenna J. Ross) the youngest daughter who has no interest in her voyeur husband, nerdy psychologist Ron (Chris Slater). Bitty’s preferences lean toward girls and she reunites with an old high school friend, Norma (Raven Rockette) in a highly charged sexual encounter of the type Girlfriends’ fans have come to expect. Then there is Jim (Ralph Long), the real anchor in the family and symbolic of all their dysfunctions. He’s an adopted son and a cross-dressing military reject who is fairly useless in his father’s eyes. Because he is not of their linage, Jim is a breath of fresh air and the only family member who refuses to deceive himself.

Gloria, Presley, and the brutish Bradley Photo courtesy of Fleshbot

Bradley, Gloria, and Presley
Photo courtesy of Fleshbot

The sex scenes are built around the narrative. Each is a reflection of the players in it and the situations of their lives. The first involves Bradley, Gloria, and her friend (Presley Hart). Bradley is brutish, dragging his fiancée into the bedroom and throwing her between Presley’s legs. Gloria gets a “taste” of same sex love while Bradley satisfies himself, nailing his wife-to-be as if she were a dog. No matter, Gloria is too busy exploring her friend to care. The scene appears forced and awkward to the viewer but it’s designed that way. Gloria is unsure of what she is finding and is hesitant but apparently eager. If the lovers were fluid and content, the rest of the narrative would be unnecessary.

The second scene involves a girl/girl between Bitty and Norma. It’s a throwback to their teen years, they’ve done this before. Bitty tells Norma to sneak over and “throw rocks at my window.” Very high school, but that’s the point. The sex is top notch because the viewer’s fantasy drifts back to teenagers in a clandestine, surreptitious lust-fest. The girls are carnally authentic (Norma reminds Bitty she’s so wild) and, unlike a lot of lesbian oriented film nowadays, there are no sex toys to distract the viewer.

Fantasy Time Warp

Director B. Skow pushes envelopes in this story. He is helped considerably by some quality acting and the effective use of symbols scattered throughout the narrative that reinforce his message.

Cora talks of pushing the kids to win trophies and how they never really enjoyed their accomplishments. Her family must be like a prom queen’s complexion on the night of the big dance, no doubts and no blemishes. B. Skow contemptuously reminds us that this little brood is second place at best. Twice in the film’s opening are second place trophies and medallions spotted by the camera. In a moving emotional performance toward the film’s end, Cora confronts the family’s impending destruction, a fragile union Gloria was obliged to save with her material marriage. “We’re supposed to be the perfect family,” she tells Gloria with total exasperation. Later when truth can no longer be avoided, Cora laments to her husband, “We’re actors in a poorly written play with curtains I’m afraid to close.”

What is the watchword in any twelve step program? Admission is the first move toward recovery.

The family lives in a fantasy time warp, as B. Skow subtly reveals. Pay close attention to the music, it offers guideposts throughout the drama. Are we really, after all, watching a television show?

Twice in the story, the first time in the sensational sex scene between Gloria and her brother, and the second in the final one between mom and dad, there is a muted sentinel with a blank stare: an old TV with rabbit ears. This relic is a reminder of bygone days of “perfect” families whose triumphs were always guaranteed, but covered in a thin veil of cultural fraud. Did not the Cleavers of Mayfield and the Cunninghams of Milwaukee, fictitiously rooted in the 1950s and 1960s, shape our values?

But what did “perfect” mean in a time when those who were different were silent?

Jim and Gloria just getting started. Photo courtesy of Fleshbot

Jim and Gloria acting out her fantasy.
Photo courtesy of Fleshbot

B. Skow nails this point with Jim and Gloria. Casey Calvert and Ralph Long are the heroes of this drama and both turn in credible acting performances. Ralph is endearing while Casey is a diamond in the rough. She may be known for her hard-hitting on-screen sex, but her range of expression carries the story at crucial moments. Their sex is the best of the film, by the way. He’s in a blonde wig so Casey can fantasize and find her way through a morass of sexual confusion. As for the sex itself, Casey is an oral and anal princess, handling the sometimes dicey ATM as a true professional.

Energizing Vanilla

The last sexual encounter brings the film full circle. Tony admits to his affair with a local waitress and Cora forgives. Their passion for each other is how this family began. The viewer can only imagine these two at work on each other years ago creating the microscopic cell that would become Gloria, their hoped for savior.

Tony and Cora remember how the family started. Photo courtesy of Fleshbot

Tony and Cora remember how they started the family.
Photo courtesy of Fleshbot

Now their mature sexuality captures the screen, a sweaty, energizing vanilla that balances the reminder of Biddy and Norma’s illicit teenaged exploration. In between we have the fetish notion of Jim and Gloria while the first scene puts the stupid frat boy stamp on Bradley’s garish pounding of Gloria who is destined for a revelation of her own. Like families, sex comes in all varieties.

Homecoming is not a family gathering, but a family rebirth with a raucous and joyous ending. Real emotions have eluded this band of relatives for years; the sex in the film is forthright and reminds us that a good dose of self-examination is necessary to maintain happiness however we define it. Our sexual kaleidoscope is waiting to be explored and its’ time we closed the curtain on our culture’s poorly written play of sexual limitations and dishonesty. Homecoming’s cast of characters and their director are willing to show us the way.

*          *          *          *          *

From the Performer’s View

Not often do I get a chance to talk about a film with the leading performer in it. However, Casey Calvert was willing to reflect on some of my thoughts about Homecoming. Here’s a bit of our conversation.

I am interested if the sex was scripted.

“The sex scenes weren’t scripted at all,” Casey says. “They were shot in the standard way Girlfriends likes their sex scenes, with just two people going for it.”

Casey Calvert Photo courtesy of Scott Church

Casey Calvert
Photo courtesy of Scott Church

She goes on to talk about B. Skow and how she enjoys working for him because “of the way he shoots sex.” “He likes natural, genuine sex,” Casey says, and “runs three cameras so it’s easy to always be open to one of them.”

I remember Dan O’Connell talking about his philosophy of having only three crew people to minimize disruptions. I ask Casey about interruptions during her scenes. B. Skow “stays quiet” unless a problem arises, she says. There was only one break during her scene with Ralph Long and that was related to the hot lights and his wig!

I’m curious about the first sex scene with Michael Vegas and Presley Hart. Michael as Bradley is a brute who forces his wife-to-be’s mouth into her friend’s crotch. Casey’s role is built on Gloria’s hesitancy about her possible love for girls. She is uncertain, making the sex awkward. Of all the scenes in the film, this one is the most artistically constructed because it is vital to the story.

Casey mentions that Michael did exactly what B. Skow wanted, “just fuck and pop as quickly as possible.” He did his job really well, she says. Casey comments that she doesn’t personally know Presley Hart that well and that contributed positively to the scene. Gloria’s ambiguity about her sexual preferences  was “what I was trying for,” Casey says.

For viewers who only watch a porn movie for the sex, nuances like those in this scene are sadly lost. Casey remembers an online viewer who commented that he didn’t understand why she works with girls when she doesn’t seem to be turned on by them. His remark was disappointing, Casey says. My advice to that viewer is to watch the scene again and perceive it from the perspective of an artistic statement that moves the the film forward.

Finally Casey compliments Ralph Long for doing a spot on job in the film. She adds he was also “a great PA [production assistant].” A man of many talents in a film of talented people, I might add.

I’m not one to give out ratings or stars for movies. But I highly recommend Homecoming. It’s dramatically refreshing because it is not average porn fare.

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