Brew Journalist: You mentioned porn star wasn’t a phrase you like to use. Is there any reason for that?
Marcus: Sure. It’s mostly because it’s the cliché phrase you hear people use interchangeably with porn performer or adult performer. Basically, anyone involved in sex work is just a "porn star." It’s the only thing. That speaks to how it’s a job or area that is just—it’s consciously distanced by people, or often unconsciously because it’s the only term they’ve heard and that’s how they assume you should treat the idea of those people. It’s something that’s kind of separate and on a pedestal, almost. There’s kind of no in-between. You’re either a normal person or a porn star if you are in any way involved with these things. You hear stories of this or that actor’s porn star past when they did some topless photos or something. It obviously conjures up these ideas. You think of inevitably female, Pamela Anderson-type figures; the most cliché figures associated with that term. And I guess it comes from a movie star, film star, but it has a completely different resonance.
Do many people know what you do for a living?
Not really. My parents know because I didn’t want to keep it from them anyway. I’m pretty open with them; spend a lot of time with them, but helpfully I sort of had to tell them as we were on holiday together in the summer and I had to do a Skype interview for a job and I didn’t want to make up some story or avoid it, so I told them what it was for. They were pretty supportive. Thankfully, it was for Erika Lust, who is one of the more progressive, feminist, and ethical pornographers, and markets herself that way, so I could sort of break the ice by just showing them a little YouTube intro about her.
So, when did you start acting in porn?
I only started last summer.
There’s been quite a quick progression from actor to production company boss.
I originally wanted to just be a performer. That’s what I preferred rather than making my own work with mainstream acting, which is where I come from in terms of background and experience and training and things. And as a musician, I’ve always preferred gigging and finding projects I like or that pay, a lot of the time, and working for them. With the adult stuff, I was getting a bit impatient with the work I was getting, or not getting, a lot of the time—because generally, as a performer, or in any creative field, you tend to spend a lot of time not working unless you are actually a star. So I just thought well, all the best work I like seems to be made in quite a DIY way and independently, so I could do that too, and I had some ideas and just tried to use my skills from the other fields of performance I’ve been involved with. I thought, I can do a bit of directing, and perform as well: it was more a vehicle for me as a performer more than anything to start with, creating some decent work for me to be in rather than chasing other people to hire me. So I thought I could do a bit of directing and learn camera stuff, and editing and music-wise the same, really. I had to learn a few new skills. Music. I did want to be a big part of that. I’ve loved watching porn that has music as a big element and there’s not a lot of that around. I thought that was a cool thing I could do a bit differently, so I’m using my writing and production skills in music that I have as well to do all that for this first film and hopefully keeping that theme going. It would be easy to just use free soundbank music as there’s a lot of good stuff out there online or in editing programmes, but I wanted it to be a bit different, a bit specialised. This way, I can actually write for the footage, for the material or vice versa, get the music I want with a particular structure I want, and edit it, which is what I did with the first scene. This helped a lot for me with learning how to edit, and to get the montage style I wanted.
I bet it’s been quite a steep learning curve?
Yeah, for sure. Because I’m doing so much of it myself. Luckily I’ve got some great friends who had some more experience in camera and lighting than me. I set it up myself, bought basic lights, hired a camera, and learned how to get the look I wanted, found a venue, hired the venue—luckily the place I got, they do some time bank stuff there, which is amazing because usually, it’s super-expensive to hire. So I figured out a way to do everything on the cheap and kind of make sure the quality was there in the idea and the performances and the music and post-production and stuff, as that’s what I could control and use my skill for, even though it was self-funded.
It doesn’t look that way from the trailer.
Thanks a lot.
Was there anything that was a hard challenge when you first started running a Thousand Faces?
I guess it was just starting the ball rolling. At first, I was convinced I’d need a team to pull it off or at least one other person who knew a lot more than me in terms of lighting and more technical things. I thought they’d have to be doing the bulk of the work, even though I was pretty confident in terms of performing and directing, and even the music. The more I looked, the more I realised it could be really hard to find anyone interested enough and with the style I wanted, and that was available and flexible enough to go with the timescale I wanted, fitting around other performers and the venue etc. That was proving pretty hard. The advice I got was to just do it. Everything starts in a "home video in a bedroom" kind of way, anyway. So I thought, actually, I’ve got a pretty great phone camera, I can hire a camera. I looked into lights and thought, the style I want I don’t need anything super fancy. I can get cheap stuff myself. I can get mates that know enough and that I know will be interested enough and get the style even without the technical expertise and I can learn what I need to, to help them, and end up with something decent. I knew if I got started I could learn on the job. You’re always learning, as they’re big projects.
It wasn’t an issue for you to be performing and then wondering where the camera was going to be, then?
It was a bit. But I guess I know I have to switch off that directing brain if I’m performing, otherwise I’m not present in the moment and not truthful in the performance. In those moments, I have to trust that whoever is behind the camera can do the job and whatever I want for the take is going to come through. Sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it does better than you expected. That’s the way it goes. You learn. It’s hard—the second film I’ve made that isn’t done yet was a bit more stressful in terms of time and things going wrong. And yeah, that’s the main problem, really. I guess it does come back to money. If you’ve got proper funding for a project, then it tends to be set out to cover those eventualities. You have enough time, make sure everyone’s paid up to do more if they need to, etc. I’m really not business minded or money minded so it’s all kind of new to me. That’s the hardest part. I don’t even have an office or anyone to tell me what a budget should be or the best way to get the results I want. There’s no business plan. I’d love to make money off it eventually if I keep it up, but right now it’s just sort of self-funded for the love of it and to get stuff out there and engage with the industry and push the mainstream a bit and get this style more known. There’s plenty of other stuff that mine is inspired by and it would be good if that was in people’s awareness, rather than them just thinking, oh, porn.
Exactly what you think of. I’d love to do more with it in terms of stuff like this. It’s great you asked to interview me, as we need to get more information out there, really, and get people talking. Just—especially with a lot of stuff being written that people are calling a war on porn or a war on sex workers… all these things.
Or they want to pigeonhole it separately and say that isn’t porn then. That’s something I’m conscious of and don’t want to do. I don’t want to make my work an anti-porn thing. Even some great companies risk doing that a little bit by really emphasizing all the time how feminist and ethical their stuff is and that porn is not sex education but fantasy, and doing that almost risks demonizing mainstream porn. I don’t want to do that. Everyone knows the problems with mainstream porn but a lot of those problems exist in lots of industries and media and actually, it’s not, erm…it’s not…bad apples don’t mean the tree is inherently negative. Ethical porn should mean it’s an ethical workplace rather than what’s shown on screen, otherwise you get into moralizing over what you should or shouldn’t show. It’s the censorship thing. So I’m eager to show that and be a part of porn, even though I’m different to a lot of the mainstream. I think that’s important and a lot of people are doing that now. It links to the biggest problems we have at the moment about making money, that payment providers don’t want to work with websites associated with porn. So for a lot of people, the only way around that is de-pornifying themselves on their website or Patreon or Kickstarter. So they say ‘erotic film’ or ‘art’ or whatever, all this stuff — if they’re trying to do new projects like mine. That’s the only way to get around it, annoyingly. A lot of us, we want to do it to try and get a bit more respect for porn, whatever it looks like — and how it can be in many forms but also still be porn, you know?
Has anyone that found out about your profession or what you do — have you ever had negative feedback? Do people think it’s an easy job where you just turn up, take your clothes off, have sex, and away you go?
I think they probably do, and also that it is an easy job in terms of getting work. Like if you decide to, you’re suddenly in that world and making loads of money. I’m partly guilty of thinking that before starting: that not many people want to do it because of the niche and therefore if you are any good you must get loads of work. I suppose it’s bolstered by the myth in hetero porn, that if you’re a man and you can perform, meaning get it up, cum on queue, and all the rest of it, you’ll be in massive demand: you can be hired again and again because there’s plenty of women but there aren’t enough men to work with them. But I haven’t found it to be that way at all. I’ve found that like any creative industry there’s way too little work for the number of people that wanna do it or are involved.
Some of the more negative reactions I’ve had is actually when applying for general modeling jobs. I used to do a bit more mainstream modeling through a site called PurplePort. That’s how I got into more erotic stuff as I’d do nude shoots, then sort of fetish, and finally more adult. Since I’ve had more adult-leaning pictures on there, I’ve had people reply to me when I apply to castings for all sorts, and especially for the more mainstream shoots so like fashion or something — they’ll say sorry, we don’t want anyone who has done adult work. As though me appearing in their pictures screams porn and anyone looking at it is going to know that.
They’d have to have watched it themselves to know you. But that’s a whole different kettle of fish…
Well, exactly. The hypocrisy. They often don’t say it directly, just ‘you’re not quite the style or look,’ even if I do fit the exact look they’re looking for. It can be telling, especially when most people just say they didn’t pick you. It’s just annoying, because you know they’re looking at some of the work you’ve done and think that’s all you are and it’s brought into everything else you do, even if they scroll down the profile a bit and find perfectly mainstream stuff there as well.
Have you thought of almost segregating it, having one profile for one sort and one for the other?
Sort of, but I almost resent that I should have to. It’s like pandering to that sort of thing and it goes back to not wanting to be anti-porn and de-pornifying myself to suit what the industry wants or expects. Part of the point of doing it is to demystify what porn is and show that it’s a lot broader than people think it is, and it doesn’t have to be what they think it is, that they might be surprised to find they like some of it or think it’s beautiful and artistic or even mainstream. That’s the main issue.
A lot of people on PurplePort, even most, are into the art-nude photography stuff. Topless for women or implied nude. So a lot of them say in big capitals they do not do adult if they have a lot of art nude stuff. If they don’t wanna do it, fair enough. But it just seems to be a very deliberate drawing of a line. ‘I may be this, but I am not porn.’ PurplePort doesn’t allow anything they consider to be porn. They don’t define it but literally say ‘we know it when we see it.’ So pretty much all the stuff on there is art nude, or erotic, they would say. It’s that stigma.
So with Thousand Faces, is that the name of a full series of short films which will make one?
No. That’s an interesting idea, but I just wanted to have a porn company/project. It’s mainly just me at the moment, doing traditional length porn scenes that are, what does my blurb say — theatrical, progressive, exploring the apex of artistry, performance, and emotion. Just all these things people tend to not associate with porn but that are definitely there even in the more mainstream stuff, and bringing that to the fore. Every scene will be different, but there’s that theatricality which is my interest and my background. It’s kind of performance-based stuff. A lot of the stuff you’d think of as ethical or progressive goes for what they call authenticity. So real couples, or soft lighting and kind of nice romantic music maybe, almost softcore stuff. Girls will be unshaven as that’s more natural and authentic even though in real life most actually aren’t, now. Things like that. That’s fine, and it’s a style, but I don’t necessarily think that’s any more authentic just because it looks like what you’d think real sex is, or normal sex is. They’re still performers, they’re still in front of a camera, they’re still working. I want to explore the idea of performance in porn that isn’t kind of — it’s not contrived and fake in the cliché way like ‘porn star noises’ and all of that, but it is heightened. It is a performance, specifically and ideally a detailed one, playing roles, rather than showing this idea of not performing, not acting, being ‘real’ and being normal like you would with your partner ‘authentically.’ So I think that’s kind of interesting. I guess it comes from my acting background and knowing you can be performing the most outrageous roles that are hugely over the top and yet still be truthful and authentic just like you can in mainstream film and theatre. People accept that in Shakespeare, but in porn there are these different ideas.
Is there an end date where you’re looking to say, this is now done before my next project?
Not really. Ideally, I want it to be an ongoing thing, more of a company than a project, I guess. I’ve been calling it that. But that implies more of an end date whereas for me it would be nice to have it as a company that’s producing all the time and has a website you can go on to and subscribe to and see our latest films when they come out, like Erika Lust. Or A Four Chambered Heart in the UK; I guess they’re the only other UK company I know of doing similar stuff. I’m still just starting, so I only just got a website up, that’s unfinished, but it’s there. I’ve only just got dedicated social media for it. Before it was just from my performer profile. So I’ve got to push it with that and I’ve sent the first film to some porn film festivals I’m pretty confident I can get it shown at, which is great. They show lot of the kind of stuff that... it’ll be quite at home there. I don’t actually know of many porn festivals which are for the mainstream as a lot of that stuff is just free online anyway. But the ones which are getting bigger are ones like the London Porn Film Festival which just started last year, and Berlin Porn Film Festival which has been going for ages and is awesome. I went last year. They show every conceivable sort of porn film. Some of it is more mainstream, but most of it is experimental, arty, queer focused, feminist, or a hundred other things at once: it’s hugely diverse. That’s the kind of company I want to be in, really.
So you got a lot of ideas when you went over?
Definitely. I first went as a performer to meet people, network, get some contacts and maybe get hired by some of those great companies because lots of them are in Berlin or Barcelona or elsewhere in Europe. Some UK performers live in Berlin and are only occasionally in the UK. There was a lot of talks there about things we’ve mentioned like campaigns against age verification or for the right kind of age verification. The ‘pay for your porn’ campaign which is more like a hashtag really but is so important. That’s the kind of stuff I want to be part of for the political reasons as well as the aesthetic. Making porn ethical is more about the working conditions and it’s about money really, fair pay, fair conditions. But also removing stigma, and exposure and representation. The acts on screen are kind of secondary, or even tertiary. It’s nice to do something different and push the boundaries, that’s the part that spurs me, but the real issues are in the boring activism stuff we’ve been talking about!