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Why Indie Film Isn't Like the Porn Industry: The Top 5 Fallacies

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik June 28, 2012 at 9:53AM

Parallels between the porn industry and indie film are widespread on the Internet; the story makes for easy link-bait, and there are several points of contact that appear obvious. Recently, on the Raindance website, for instance, an article called "Porn: 6 Lessons from Filmmakers" has drawn plenty of readers and discussion. But the common misconception isn't that porn can be instructive for legit filmmakers; it's that porn is so like indies in the first place.
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Parallels between the porn industry and indie film are widespread on the Internet; the story makes for easy link-bait, and there are several points of contact that appear obvious. Recently, on the Raindance website, for instance, an article called "Porn: 6 Lessons from Filmmakers" has drawn plenty of readers and discussion. But the common misconception isn't that porn can be instructive for legit filmmakers; it's that porn is so like indies in the first place.

Pornstar Sasha Grey at the Tribeca Film Festival
Pornstar Sasha Grey at the Tribeca Film Festival

1. Porn Is Better at Aggregating Audiences

Porn consumers seek out content in far different ways than indie-film audiences, who normally find out about films through the recommendations of family, friends and critics. I could be wrong about this, but an avid porn consumer isn't going out to his social or work community and ask them whether "The New Devil in Miss Jones" or "Island Fever 3" are worth buying. Porn is private; indie film is public. And for that reason, independent filmmakers can reach out to major organizations to mobilize support for a particular film or target niche groups to help spread the word about a movie that fits their interests.

2. Pornstars Know the Web Better than Indie Filmmakers

Sure, porn starlets striving for mainstream acceptance like Sasha Grey, Kayden Kross and Jesse Jane have turned to Twitter to draw in fans and make for a more interactive fantasy experience. But indie filmmakers like Kevin Smith were well aware of Twitter and Facebook long before pornstars. So this isn't a case of indies learning from porn, but rather porn following every entertainment industry onto the social media bandwagon. The same goes for websites. Porn websites are just as old as film websites. When the Internet was just getting going, filmmakers were just as ahead of the curve as the porn industry as far as maintaining a presence on the web. See a little new media sensation from 1998 called "The Blair Witch Project."

3. Porn Can Survive Piracy Where Indies Have Struggled

One of the biggest threats to the entertainment industry, the theory goes, is piracy. And no industry has suffered more greatly than porn. According to one report, DVD sales once accounted for 80% of the business. In 2007, that number dropped to 30%. And sales have preciptiously dropping every year since then. But DVD sales for indie films are not falling nearly as fast as for major Hollywood and porn titles, which are obviously a bigger target for illegal downloaders. Netflix continues to help the higher end of the speciality industry generate revenue, and special DVD and Blu-ray editions of prestigious and classic movies probably have a far better chance of making sales than "Pee Wee's XXX Adventure."

4. Porn Made Video-on-Demand a Viable Business for Indies

It's long been viewed than the porn industry has been a major driver of technological innovation, helping to popularize the consumption of VHS tapes and then DVDs and then Video-On-Demand. While that may be true, Video-on-Demand has also not been the kind of widespread gamechanger for independent films that has been touted. Yes, it's created a new segment of the business, and yes, it's created gobs of money for certain films, but let's not overstate the link between single men watching porn in hotel rooms in the 1990s and the number of people who may stream "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

5. Porn is Better at Pimping its Projects

Not true. From Spike Lee to Michael Moore to Harvey Weinstein, every major figure from the independent film world could market their wares as well as Jenna Jameson. Independent film has always been about publicity, marketing and creating buzz around a movie. For someone to suggest that pornstars are better at promotion has never witnessed a Weinstein Oscar campaign.

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