Interview: Kristen Bjorn and the evolution of the porn industry

Vada Voices

There’s no two ways about it: the internet has changed the porn industry forever. Especially when considering the ubiquity of streaming websites, the time of browsing the adult section of film rental shops is over.

Big bucks, changing habits

According to researchers, the economics of porn is big bucks. It is clear that the world in the 21st Century is still hooked on their voyeuristic kicks, and now they need not spend a penny to get their hands on it. Why would people pay for their erotic kicks when there is a myriad of content online available for free?

Well, it seems that in fact there is a market for paid content that is becoming increasingly popular. Influencers and porn stars are taking matters into their own hands and releasing their content autonomously online. Streaming platforms such as SoSpoilt.com allow content creators to release steamy photographs and videos to eager followers who pay a subscription fee.

These can range from teasing selfies to full-blown intercourse with some performers reporting large incomes as a result. With the advent of this mode of pornographic content, it is clear that the industry is ever-evolving.

We spoke to classic porn director, Kristen Bjorn, to get some perspective how the industry has changed.

Interview with Kristen Bjorn

Do you think there is as much of a demand for the fully directed and curated (perhaps more artistic) films, like the types you make, now as opposed to when your career began?

I think that there has always been a demand for both professional and amateur porn; they are different styles for different tastes. But with internet piracy, it has become much more difficult to produce professional porn. Professional-style porn is expensive to produce, whereas amateur porn can be made cheaply, or at no cost.

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Now that everything released on the internet is immediately stolen by pirate sites and given away for free, it’s much more difficult to find people willing to pay for porn. As a result, there is far more amateur porn being made these days than ever before.

In your experience, do you think people want a bit of a fantasy from porn, as opposed to just sex?

I think that there are people who are more interested in storyline and fantasy in porn, and others who are just interested in the actual sex. But it’s much more expensive to produce porn with acting, locations, storyline, etc. As a result, not much of it is being made anymore; the budgets just aren’t there.

Do you have any thoughts on why some people desire voyeurism (watching films like yours) and some desire a more direct, (pseudo) connection with a performer on sites like SoSpoilt?

I think it’s a question of taste. And like everything, in porn there are tendencies that come and go. Many people are excited to see a new type of porn… Until they get tired of it.

Back in the ‘80s, phone sex became a thriving business for a few years. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine why! But at the time, at least for a while, it was something new.

Do you think that your era of filming could be considered a ‘golden age of adult films’ compared to now?

I guess that’s one way of looking at it. To me, what we are experiencing now is more like the demise of the traditional porn industry.

The entire history of gay porn after it became legal in 1971 is a rather short one. Before my time, there were some porn films made in the 1970s which played at “art cinemas” in large urban centres in the USA. They were allowed to be explicit as long as there was some storyline, or artistic merit. But they were only accessible in certain large cities.

Commercial gay porn films for home use were silent 8mm reels which were usually 15 minutes long. They were called loops, and were played on projectors. They were really quite primitive.

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When VHS players became available in the early 1980s, studios started putting four loops on each VHS tape, because at that time the duration of the tapes was one hour.

Later, with the invention of the camcorder, sound was introduced, and the loops turned into scenes. Starting in the 1990s, gay porn films evolved a lot technically, and as they sold very well, studios were able to afford much larger budgets to make ever more elaborate films.

This tendency increased even more with the invention of the DVD which allowed for even longer films to be made. However, a huge decline started in 2008 with the worldwide financial crisis.

People stopped buying porn like they used to. Also, with the technological advances in telecommunications, internet piracy of films not only became feasible, it suddenly turned into a very lucrative business.

It was like the perfect storm, and it led to the demise of most of the large studios of the time, as well as large budget porn films in general. The names of the large studios might still be around, but they were almost all acquired by huge conglomerates years ago. Most of them were unable to downsize in time to make the transition to the internet.

What do you miss most about your time making adult films?

Well, I am still shooting and directing, but now they are web scenes rather than feature films. During the 90s and until 2010, we used to shoot in remote and exotic locations.

Each scene was filmed over four days, and an entire film was shot over six weeks. That gave us time to create more elaborate stories, with multiple locations. I do miss that.

Do you have any funny/outrageous stories from your directing days?

The most outrageous thing is probably a scandal involving a film of mine. There’s a town in Guatemala called Antigua, which was an important Spanish colonial city from the 16th until the 18th Century, when it was devastated by an earthquake and volcanic eruption.

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The Spaniards abandoned the ruined city, and founded a new capital 40 kilometres away, which is now Guatemala City. Antigua was excavated two centuries later, sort of like a latter day Pompeii. It’s a beautifully restored Spanish colonial town with the remains of cathedrals, convents, monasteries, and other grand buildings all in ruins since the 18th Century.

I shot several films in Antigua in 2002 and 2003 (Dreamers, Crossroads of Desire and Men Amongst the Ruins) inside of private houses, and using the town as a backdrop. In Men Amongst the Ruins, we shot the non-sexual scenes in the ruins of a convent and in the ruins of a couple of different churches, as well as in a present day market place as the plot of the film.

Several years later, in 2006, a local news channel called Guatevisión decided to launch a sensational story claiming that a “homosexual pornographic film” had been filmed inside of “sacred Catholic ruins”, and that Guatemala was on the verge of turning into a “gay Mecca”. They also claimed that the mayor of the city was obviously involved in the defilement of the sacred city of Antigua, the “holiest city in all of Guatemala”, and should be immediately impeached.

The sensationalist story was televised daily in Guatemala for weeks, and caused great dismay amongst the locals, who apparently were expecting a mass invasion of homosexuals parachuting from the sky at any moment. It ultimately culminated when the local bishop, the Guatemalan congress and the president of the country met for a private viewing of the film and later held a press conference about it.

It was then revealed that no obscene acts had actually taken place in any of the “sacred ruins” (some of which are often used by locals as latrines) and no laws had been broken. Meanwhile, to my amazement, the story was picked up by news agencies all over Latin America and Southern Europe for weeks.

In Spain, newspapers claimed that we had shot the film in “sacred Mayan ruins”. I suppose in Spain that sounded more sensational than “Spanish ruins”.