What Makes a Good Porn Script?

I shadowed Kayden Kross and Manuel Ferrara to learn the ins and outs of writing and shooting a pornographic film.

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Oct 24 2014, 3:30pm

All photos by Julian Lucas

As much as we enjoy it, we take porn for granted. Most of us use it often enough, but we never think about the work that goes into making a good piece of pornography—the camera angles, the lighting, the acting, and yes, even the script. But there is an art to writing a porn screenplay, as I learned when Kayden Kross and her fiancé, Manuel Ferrara, invited me along to shadow and observe the porn script-writing and production process from start to finish.

I met Kayden and Manuel at a hookah bar in Los Angeles, their location of choice for brainstorming. Porn is the family business, and it was easy to see why they’ve had such continued success: They bounced off each other with a mixture of shared ideas and compromise, and their adoration for one another was evident.

On this particular evening they were working on an assignment for Jules Jordan Video: Manuel was set to direct and star in a DP film, a co-production with Manuel Ferrara Productions. That stands for “double penetration,” in case you didn't already know, which means a single female performer would be getting simultaneously anally and vaginally penetrated. (It doesn't sound sexy when you say it like that, I know.) A whole lot of coordination is required to execute a DP scene, and Manuel is known for having done a lot of them with a 53-year-old German porn star called Steve Holmes (who, in his own words, is best known "for being old and creepy and having a big dick"). The choreography is complicated, Kayden explained—the guy on top is responsible for working around the “anchor” on the bottom. But Manuel and Steve have a good handle on it, which is why they’d been invited to do another, three years after their last movie together.

Kayden and Manuel began the writing process by setting “parameters,” or outlining the type of sex they'd have to include. In this instance, they were tasked with plotting out four DP scenes with four different girls, which would take place over the course of two and a half or three hours. They mentioned that the story is not normally of consequence, nor is the dialogue. As Kayden told me, “At the end of the day they want what makes them aroused—so if the dialogue contributes to that, great, but 70 percent fast-forward through it.”

But viewers do want some backbone of a story. “It’s important that they can jerk off with what’s around the sex, as well as just the act itself,” Manuel said.

For the DP project with Manuel and Steve, they wanted something lighthearted. “I’m thinking Dude, Where’s My Car? meets Cinderella,” Kayden suggested. Basically, two guys wake up after a big night of DPing a really hot girl. Eager to track her down for a repeat, they head out and trial-DP a couple of other girls. Unable to pinpoint who the elusive girl is, they return home only to find she’s been at home fucking their roommate the whole time.

“A twist!” I shouted, prompting Manuel to make a joke about being “the M. Night Shyamalan of porn.”

But Manuel ultimately didn't like the idea, so the brainstorming continued—they wanted a decent storyline, but needed to take into account the average porn consumer's relative disinterest in the plot. Then this conversation happened:

Manuel: What about Cinderella meets Unbreakable?
Kayden: So, you and Steve are superheroes?
Manuel: Yeah, but every time he does it, he breaks his penis.
Kayden: How about we do Groundhog Day meets—
Manuel: No, no.
Kayden: Let’s do The Taming of the Shrew, where there are four shrews!

They were in hysterics at this point.

“The thing is that every story has already been told," Kayden said to me. "There are only so many archetypes—everything kicks back to another previously told story.” She rattled off a few narratives she’d like to bring in, including a porn rendition of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Adapting a classic wouldn’t be simple, though, since you usually have just four weeks from a film's conception to its completion—spending any more time on production is simply a waste of money thanks to the economics of the porn industry.

“The moment your content hits the internet, it’s stolen,” she told me, referencing the various free tube sites that pilfer their work. “There’s such high consumption. We’re dealing with tiny budgets largely because of this.”

Perhaps it’s because of this that Manuel’s idea of pulling it back to realism ended up winning out. “I’d like to come up with our own stuff," he said. "It’s not supposed to be this hugely complex thing where people get to the end and go, Oh, I didn’t see that coming.” And with that, they landed on a simple idea: a celebratory DP to welcome Steve Holmes (who is based in Europe) back to America.

The story wasn't far from what would have been a reality for Manuel and Steve some 15 years ago.

“It makes it more lively and more realistic,” he said, going off of an earlier suggestion of Kayden’s that they make something that doesn't seem overly acted. ("Realistic" for porn actors may not be realistic to you and me, however—like the time when Steve had just finished shooting a DP scene and walked outside to find Manuel recreationally DPing his makeup artist.)

Having settled on the idea, Kayden and Manuel scribbled down a few ideas for DP sequences and a scene that would serve as "the tease," a necessary element in every porn movie, where the girl instigates the arousal by stripping, flirting with the camera, playing with herself, and whatever else works. “It’s an art to build a tease in there without looking like we just slapped it on,” Manuel explained.

Just hours later, Manuel DPs Them All was written. They planned to shoot this in a matter of days; pre-production was already almost done. 

“What’s backwards about porn versus Hollywood is that we already have our locations booked for three out of the four days,” Kayden said. “We have a really nice house booked, then another one with eighties furniture. We know for the most part that we can only really shoot in a studio or a house. We can’t exactly shut down Hollywood Boulevard.”

They'd booked ahead of time in order to snag the best locations. These spots would set a production company back around $100 to $300 per hour. For the homeowner, it’s not a bad way to simultaneously pay off a mortgage and have something fun to talk about at your next dinner party.

A few days later, I met up with them on set, where Manuel DPs Them All would come to life. The script was basically what they'd come up with at the hookah spot, with just one scene tweaked. When Manuel wasn't on screen, he was operating the camera because (a) he’s very good at it and (b) this was a gonzo film—a style that attempts to situate the viewer in the scene with the performers. In lieu of formally constructed dialogue and direction, the performers largely improvised—sort of like a Christopher Guest film, only not quite as funny and with a lot of sex. 

As far as the actual DPing goes, there was a vague plan—they knew which positions they wanted to showcase, and in which order—but the actual fucking is an art. It's difficult when you have two penises attempting to penetrate two orifices in one girl with limited space for the attached bodies to maneuver. I pressed Manuel on the logistics.

“It can be very easy or very difficult, depending on who you work with,” he told me. “Steve and I have been doing this for so many years that it’s almost natural. Usually it works better to put him underneath, and he likes to be underneath. But if you work with inexperienced guys it can be a nightmare.” Later, when I was sitting with the editor (whom we’ll call “Tom”), he pointed out the imperative of “creating the piston motion” and praised Manuel and Steve for their perfect execution.

I sat for a while with Tom, staring at a screen filled with Manuel, Steve, a bunch of girls, and a whole lot of sex. My mind was fuzzy and full of genitals, but Tom walked me through his process like he was showing me different tiles I could use to line my kitchen. “I mean, I’ve done around a thousand of these,” he said. “I’m very detached. I have to be.”

Manuel DPs Them All is now on JulesJordan.com, so go ahead and buy it if you like.

Follow Shanrah Wakefield on Twitter.

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