I wrote briefly a while back about my involvement with Porn4PrEP – a campaign to promote the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV by using porn stars to carry the message – capitalising on the link between porn actors and sex. PrEP is a preventative measure where a HIV negative person can take daily medication that stops HIV from being able to infect them even if they are exposed. (An analogy would be how women are able to take the contraceptive pill daily to prevent them becoming pregnant even if they have sex without condoms – PrEP is a similar idea.)
I was aware of the project last year – I’d seen a photo of Jason Domino (the founder of Porn4PrEP) at the 2016 Prowler Porn Awards advertising PrEP – but I only became involved myself this year through a mutual acquaintance who casually asked me to help out with filming some interviews one day… he put me in touch with Jason who then started to give me details about what was planned… it turned out that the filming was actually a big shoot planned at Fire nightclub and was the backbone of the first half of the film…
There was a script; dialogue, actors, props, extras, locations… the guy who’d asked me to help out with some interviews clearly didn’t realise this and was way out of his depth. And it was only one day until the shoot. Luckily I did film-making at university for three years, have worked in media my whole life and now also make porn – so I was in the right place at the right time to help out and lend some skills – and in doing so without realising at first – became the film’s director.
Shooting a film is not like shooting porn. With porn you generally keep the camera running, allowing the action to happen at a more or less natural pace and the location is lit in such a way that the camera will always get a clear well-lit image all the time no matter where it is. There’s probably a mic either attached to the camera or on a long pole to capture sound, and the general idea is just to continuously record what is happening as it happens.
When you shoot a film you usually have to light each separate individual shot, as the camera will be moving positions to get different angles of the same moments – and encountering different lighting conditions from each position. You have to think about capturing wide shots of the room that show the location layout and the actors so an audience has a spatial understanding, tight shots that focus on the actors for particular lines of dialogue or actions/reactions… hiding the areas of the location that aren’t set-dressed, lit or meant to be seen… You have to think a lot more about sound; if there’s dialogue the actors will either need to be wearing microphones clipped to their clothing or you’ll need a mic very close to them just out of shot, with no background noise to mess up a clean recording… is there extraneous noise such as traffic in the distance, electric hums from machinery or equipment, props creating too much noise as actors use them etc.
For example – in the nightclub scene we see the DJ playing music and people dancing, then we see Jason order a drink at the bar from the barman. You need all the extras to be dancing to the same beat and tempo, so for shots without dialogue, we had a guide track playing through the club speakers so everyone was dancing in time.. When we shot the dialogue at the bar, we turned the music off so the recording of the actors would be clean and not have music behind it. But I also asked Jason and Rocco to shout their lines, even though there was silence in the club. They felt stupid doing it, until I pointed out that when I added a nightclub soundtrack in the edit, it would look like they were shouting over the music as you’d expect…
Next to Jason in the photo above is Paul who played one of our extras as well as being interviewed. We actually only had a total of 9 other performers besides Jason and Tony – with Rocco Hard, Virginia Wright and Ricardo Prince (interviewed in the film as well) playing featured roles around the club. I got Rocco (the barman) and Ricardo (the go-go dancer) to wear different outfits for some of the wider shots where either of them weren’t needed to fill up the shots and make the club seem busy, and then just carefully repositioned the other people in each shot to keep it full. Adding the ambient noise of a club full of people in the edit helps enormously.
When shooting anything involving actors, extras or stunt performers needing to move to or stand in exact postions take after take, I found long ago the simplest method is to describe everybody’s movements to everyone together so everybody knows what they and the other people are attempting. Then explain where the technical aspects of camera/sound/lighting will be… but then usually I end up going in and physically man-handling people in to position because it’s often a lot quicker than trying to explain. “No, back. A bit to the left, but with your body angled towards- no, my left not your left. Now twist your shoulders towards the camera but keep your head pointing…. Oh look – here!”
The film’s structure breaks down in to a few different sections. There’s a running narrative throughout, interspersed with real interviews with porn actors and others discussing their own experiences, which begins as a fictional meeting of two guys – Jason and Tony – at a nightclub who then go home to have sex – which is then shown as a porn scene. But then we step out of the porn to talk to the real Jason and Tony about the true incident three years previously on a different porn shoot that led Jason to create the Porn4PrEP idea and campaign to bring PrEP awareness to the front of gay culture.
Filming and editing each different style for the film’s sections was at times quite a task…You have to consider the different effect each part is intended to have on the viewer – the interviews with porn actors and medical contributors need to be clear, authoritative, documentary-style short sound bites but still be relatable… the club scene narrative needs to be slick and believable with a slight dramatic will-they/won’t-they suspense and emotional payoff. The porn scene needs to follow the usual porn conventions – usually a kind of ‘constructed reality’ in that whilst we are actually watching these guys have sex – it’s been staged for the camera. And then the interview with Jason and Tony – the heart of the film – needs to allow both guys to tell their story in their own time and words without sensationalising, being intrusive or not respecting the way these guys feel about that moment and each other.
The script for the film, written by the very talented and wonderful Adam Zane, originally called for a few elements that were either technically difficult to achieve or we weren’t able to convincingly pull off for the intended effect. What do I mean? Well originally when Jason goes to the club he walks past guys who are using Grindr on their phones, and we see on the screen that one of the profiles is a porn star… who we would then cut away to an interview with.
Something like that is of course achievable but I only saw the script about 36 hours before the shoot, didn’t know what shots we’d be using (how much of the screen we’d see, from what angle etc) and didn’t know what porn stars were confirmed as involved, so there was no chance of making it happen for the shoot or making it possible to add later (‘green-screening’ the phones display at the shoot so we could add a graphic later).
The other concept that got dropped was that during the porn scene, Jason and Tony would break character and talk directly to the camera, saying things like “How do I know if he’ll like his nipples played with?” or “We’re fucking unprotected – do I know his status?” or “I really want him to cum in my ass – that’s so hot!” – kind of breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience to show that everyone has these kinds of thoughts and concerns and feelings about sex which are all natural, but also showing the artificial constructed nature of porn – alluding to the fact that it’s not real sex as most people have it and therefore just because you don’t usually see porn actors discussing their HIV status in a porn film, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be having the conversations in your real lives. These were all meant to be adlibbed in the moment so the guys didn’t have to worry about learning lines, but it ended up feeling a bit hesitant and self-conscious… when I was editing the scene it became too distracting and so we decided it was perhaps a technique for another film about shedding the ‘myths’ and assumptions about porn, but not right for this project.
Jason had been shooting interviews with people for about eight or nine months I think by the time I came on board the project in April. And then after that shoot at the nightclub, there was material ready to start editing and constructing the film. We carried on shooting various things until mid-June when Jason and I went to Manchester where Tony Parker lives to film the interview with the two of them. All the while though, I was editing.
Editing is where you really make a film. But that – will be covered in part 2!
In the meantime if you haven’t already seen the project – check the following links:
Porn4PrEPUK Movie Page(this link takes you to the main site where you can enter your date of birth then (providing you’re over 18) you can watch the explicit un-cut version with the sex scene included. If underage or if on a public/work computer then you can use the same link but choose to watch the G-rated version – or you could just watch it here!