Euro Producers Talk About Selling American

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of AVN. Click here to see the online edition of the magazine.

The prevailing sentiment, at least among us egocentric Americans, is that you haven’t truly made it until you make it big here. While that trite saying might just be a piece of chauvinistic puffery, there is no doubt the economic consumer force in this country is the largest in the world. Simply put, the buying power of Americans is unmatched.

While many in this country also believe the U.S. is the be-all, end-all for culture (Jersey Shore, anyone?), that would certainly be a myopic view. In terms of adult entertainment, however, there is no question that the U.S. represents the biggest market—and in many cases the hardest nut to crack for adult producers overseas.

Whether it’s the risk-averse adult retailer hesitant to gamble on new product, or the initial shyness of consumers to plunk down their hard-earned ducats on adult titles starring foreign performers, up until the past decade and a half the foreign market was represented on store shelves by no more than a handful of companies, Private Media Group being the largest.

The gonzo era ushered in powerhouses like Rocco Siffredi, Ben Dover, Pierre Woodman, Viv Thomas, Cristoph Clark and, more recently, Raul Cristian and Gazzman. A far cry from the overly dramatic, cinematic style of their predecessors, whom most associate with Euro porn, these modern auteurs dish out the kink like never before.

Due to the U.S. consumers’ increasing acceptance of other cultures and their insatiable demand for the newest product wherever it may originate from—among other factors, of course—the market has never before been as rife with top-shelf productions from companies based overseas, some of which have since moved stateside.

In keeping with the international, Euro-tinged flavor of this issue, we explored the approaches these companies took to successfully penetrate the American market. Some are still based in their home countries, with products sold here via distribution deals, while others set up shop in the U.S. in order to handle their distribution in-house.

What we’ve learned from speaking to numerous European companies with an American presence is that there is no one conventional way to capture the American consumers’ collective attention, though Marc Dorcel Managing Director Gregory Dorcel noted that the American populace is more susceptible to a slick marketing campaign than the more skeptical Euros. After all, Americans have perfected selling the sizzle without the steak.

Various firsthand distribution and marketing methods will be discussed in these pages, but the bottom line is that superior content will always win out.

DIY Distribution

One such success story is that of Harmony Films, which signed a distribution deal with Evil Angel in 2005, shortly after the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo. Harmony, a large high-end U.K.-based retailer, had recently launched a video production division helmed by director Gazzman, who came to the company from Private, where he directed Scottish Loveknot, the 2004 AVN Award winner for Best Foreign Feature.

An irrepressible Scot, Gazzman (whom you might recognize as the dapper chap who always dons a kilt for the AVN Awards), brought Harmony Films to the U.S. with a bang, producing hard, Euro-style content with an edge that featured Europe’s top performers. In addition to the highly regarded Young Harlots and Slam It! series, Gazzman also discovered Nikki Jayne, the statuesque blonde who went on to become a Vivid Girl.

The company also was on the forefront of bringing American girls to shoot in Europe, as it did with Bobbi Starr for 2008’s America’s Best: Bobbi Starr, which was shot in a haunted Czechoslovakian castle with European talent. The company also regularly brings Euro performers stateside to shoot with talent on this side of the pond.

After close to three successful years partnering with Evil Angel for DVD distribution in the U.S., the company decided to strike out on its own and self-distribute in 2008. Harmony Films co-owner Steve Elvins cited an increased shooting schedule and new creative directions as factors in the company’s decision to leave the Evil Empire.

“[Co-owner] Danny O’Sullivan and I are very grateful for the support that Evil Angel has given Harmony Films over the past couple of years,” Elvins said at the time. “We now would like to expand the brand by taking on a couple more directors so we can start to release three or possibly four films a month. When we released one film a month, it worked fine for both Evil Angel and ourselves—but we would not expect the situation to be mutually beneficial if we increase our releases. Our films will have a different feel and look to Evil Angel’s, so this will create a marketing problem which would be easier resolved if Harmony Films stood on its own two feet.”

So, Harmony utilized Evil Angel’s retail pipeline to gain a foothold in the slippery American market and then struck out on its own, until striking a distro deal with Zero Tolerance Entertainment, which also handles U.K.-based Daring Media Group.

Bluebird Films followed a similar trajectory to Harmony. Arriving from England in 2009, and helmed by English attorney and playboy Paul Chaplin, Bluebird debuted with a bang, constructing a multimillion-dollar sound stage in Los Angeles, and has since gone on to produce numerous AVN Award-winning blockbusters that utilize both European and American talent.

The studio’s contract players, dubbed Glambirds, have gone a long way toward introducing U.S. audiences to the finest British birds in the industry. The company’s exclusives include Gemma Massey, Natasha Marley, Anna Lovato and current U.S. exclusive Dylan Ryder.

Initially distributed by Pure Play Media, then Private Media Group, Bluebird decided to bring its distribution in-house. The company now distributes its own productions in addition to lines from Nicholas Steele and the legendary AVN Hall of Famer Ben Dover.

Old World Eroticism

One interesting story is that of Justin Ribeiro dos Santos, principal and director of London-based boutique producer Joybear Pictures, makers of “stylish films for couples.” After winning the Playboy U.K. reality TV show Double Entry—Making It Big in which participants were given 8,000 pounds to produce an adult film, dos Santos decided to dive headlong in the adult industry in 2003.

Distributed throughout Europe and most prominently in Harmony and Ann Summers shops in the U.K., dos Santos had his eyes on a bigger prize—America.

A chance meeting with Penthouse Studios President Kelly Holland at AEE in 2008 led to an introduction to Wicked Pictures owner Steve Orenstein and Vice President Joy King, who then inked the studio to a U.S. distribution deal. For dos Santos and his company, the meeting was quite fortuitous as he was exploring stateside distro.

“I really thought I could do it myself,” dos Santos said. Through a contact in New York, he started gathering information on retail shops, “but that didn’t last long; it was entirely too cumbersome. So, now, it was a question of finding a good partner. It was better that I stick to production because sales would be entirely too time consuming.”

After working through specifics of the deal, Joybear’s relationship with Wicked commenced in September 2009.

“America is just such a big territory to start with—it’s completely daunting—so we had to trust our partner,” dos Santos said. “Wicked has such a stellar reputation that I thought it would be a privilege to be distributed by them. They know the market and have a great distribution pipeline. They believe in our movies and it shows.”

Similarly, Viv Thomas, the European lesbian glamour king, found entry into the U.S. market quite challenging. The Portugal-based company had gone through a trio of distro deals with U.S. companies beginning in 2003, to finally arrive at SMG Video, which also operates the popular online retail site

“We didn’t have any solid contacts in the U.S. and didn’t entertain the thought of self-distributing,” Viv Thomas director Nick Spillum said. “Partnering up with SMG Video was by far the best thing for us to do. Otherwise we would have to create a much larger, more riskier enterprise. We weren’t familiar at all with the U.S. marketplace and that unknown factor definitely concerned us. Thankfully SMG was great and really helped us out.”

For Viv Thomas the timing was just right for his type of content—lovingly lensed lesbian encounters imbued with a natural eroticism—to enter the marketplace. Spillum said that the U.S. market accounts for approximately 50 percent of the company’s business.

“I think our content was a breath of fresh air to many of the U.S. fans,” Spillum continued. “It’s quite different in many respects and a few short years ago there wasn’t much quality porn on offer that simulated normal, passionate lovemaking. We certainly try and bring that across in our films: that sex is beautiful; women should be respected, worshipped. Adult entertainment should be passionate, made with feeling and genuine intimacy.”

Bicontinental Gonzo

Cruel Media’s Raul Cristian took a decidedly different tack—he wanted to dominate both sides of the world simultaneously. For those preferring harder fare, look no further than Cruel Media, helmed by Budapest’s Cristian, who got his start producing content for the Perfect Gonzo affiliate program in 2000. Cristian’s hardcore internet content on such sites as, and caught the eye of Evil Angel founder John Stagliano in 2007.

Stagliano, recognizing Cristian’s perverted sensibility in addition to his high-end production values, inked a distribution deal with the Romanian-born producer for five of his lines, including My Evil Sluts, a BDSM-inflected all-girl line helmed by the deliciously deviant Clara G. Cruel Media has won AVN awards for the past four years in a row.

In addition to his deal with the Evil Empire, Cristian also has a few of his company’s lines distributed by Jules Jordan Video due to Evil Angel’s “no creampie” policy. All Internal, Give Me Pink and Cum for Cover are all helmed by Cristian under the pseudonym Chris Rolie. 

Cristian now skates back and forth between Los Angeles and Budapest, churning out upwards of 600 scenes per year, and spending weeks at a time in L.A. on marathon production schedules. To wit: Cristian’s second-ever trip to L.A. to shoot was for two and a half weeks to film 35 scenes budgeted at over $200,000 all told. According to him, it was his plan all along and something it took years to achieve.

“I worked hard to become official here,” he said. “Now I have a company here, I pay taxes here, I have a green card, now I can start to shoot. As a green card holder it’s much easier to do anything. That’s the plan I had many, many years ago, even though I was shooting in Europe. I knew I had to at least come to this country to shoot.”

Dorcel and Diversification

No discussion of “coming to America” success stories would be complete without a prominent mention of the venerable Marc Dorcel, a French institution. Founded in 1979, Dorcel is a global giant. Not only a producer of award-winning films, it also operates retail stores, a content licensing business, an active internet presence with 2 million monthly visitors, IPTV, video-on-demand, and a robust satellite and cable distribution business—Dorcel TV—that broadcasts 24 hours a day to more than 800,000 subscribers.

Through its diversification, Dorcel managed to buck the prevailing economic trend as the global economy sunk into the throes of the recession in 2008 and reported sales improved by 26 percent from the previous year.

Dorcel first arrived on these sandy shores through a distribution arrangement with Vivid Entertainment, but has since—for the better part of 10 years—been in partnership with Wicked Pictures for distribution. Dorcel had a previous relationship with Orenstein and Wicked through various content licensing agreements the two companies had for years to bring Wicked content to Europe.

“We believe that Wicked is an ideal partner for us. They believe in producing high-quality, big-budget, exciting movies just like we do,” Gregory Dorcel said. “It has been a great partnership, and I do believe the U.S. customer has responded to our movies because it’s something different; most likely locations, girls and directors they are not familiar with. So it’s the thrill of the unknown that makes it even more erotic.”

Dorcel also believes that a key component to its success was its appearance, alongside Wicked, at AEE.

“We came to Vegas with our girls and used it as an opportunity to directly engage the American fan so they could see us, they could see our product and they could realize the high quality of our productions,” Dorcel said. In subsequent years the company has relied on Wicked’s marketing expertise to determine what types of promotional campaigns it should launch in order to engage the retailer and the consumer.

It’s been a slow trickle of acceptance of foreign content into American DVD players at first, but now, as global markets have opened up for many consumer goods, from the most depraved gonzo to the blockbuster, the consumer has never had a bigger variety when selecting movies to purchase from Europe. The clear winner in this scenario is the American consumer, and that’s great for retailers, too.