Interview: Greg Lansky on the Passions That Drive Him

This article originally ran in the December 2015 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the online edition.

The chief creative officer behind and does things differently from his Porn Valley colleagues. Like arranging to conduct this interview at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge. Sitting on a shady patio surrounded by the beautiful people and serenaded by a pianist playing on a Steinway grand, we talked about porn.

Tell me a little about your background. How far back do you go in the business?

I started 11 years back in the TV business, working with this company that was doing all the reality shows. It taught you to be creative and fast, and it taught you to get that “wow factor” out of people. It taught you how to get people’s attention. I was working with this Dutch company—they were affiliated with Endemol, I worked with Endemol a lot—and I was part of the team that created a lot of the formats: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Fear Factor, Temptation Island. It was a revolution in the TV business at the time. It was really shocking to people.

As much as I was having fun, I didn’t see myself making a career out of it. I was an associate producer there, I was doing really well, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I always loved the adult industry and I always wanted to be part of it.

It was harder to be part of the adult industry at the time. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, you couldn’t just contact a company, or girls, or people. So I went to see a friend in Spain and said, “We should just put our money in together and make an adult movie and see if we can sell it at the Venus show.”

When I think of it, it was a stupid idea, y’know? [Laughs] I was a photographer by training, but had no experience directing, much less porn. I had watched a lot of it; I guess that qualified me at the time. I went from one friend to another, and I wound up with Steve Holmes and a bunch of girls in England. Steve was my first mentor. He taught me a lot, and after a week and a half of shooting this movie, with its challenges and my lack of experience altogether, I wonder how the hell did I ever finish that movie. A few months later we were at the Venus show. I had spent every single dollar we had and I barely had enough money to get to Berlin but I had to sell this movie. So I show up at Venus and Steve was, as usual, very gracious, he offered to help me out and introduce me to a few people. About 20 minutes into the show I sold it to a German company. I was surprised. I made almost no money on it, but I was happy that I made my money back. That weekend I met Scott Taylor from New Sensations and we hit it off. He told me, “If you ever come to L.A., I’ll give you a movie to try.” That was enough of a promise for me to move my entire life to L.A. Just that verbal promise. It was the best decision I ever made.

I made a movie, and then a second one, and a third one. I think I stayed a year and a half but I was very interested in the web business. I felt it was really taking off at the time. Not just the financial aspect of it—that was part of it, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the case—but it was an interesting way of reaching people. It reminded me of the TV business. Through a mutual friend I met the owners of Reality Kings, which was taking off insane at the time, this was about 2007, and I got a great connection with them. They wanted somebody to handle their operation in Los Angeles and launch new sites, and I became a creator and supervisor of a lot of the sites, and vice president of production. It was wonderful. We had a mastermind group of guys, and it reminded me of the TV business. I got into the creative process of creating websites or rebranding websites. About seven years went by there, with sites like We Live Together—I wasn’t part of the launch but I revamped it—we rebranded and revamped and created and stuff like that. It was really an interesting ride.

Then two and a half years ago, I wanted to create my own company. I had quite a different vision from what I had been used to. I had been studying cinematography and photography all along, more as a passion than anything else, and I wanted to create an adult company that is a reflection of the memory I had of my golden era of porn in the ‘80s. The Private, the Marc Dorcel. I thought I could disrupt the market and create something new. I took advantage of what I had learned, but not let it limit what I could dream of. It was a very scary process. Like anything, it could fail. You never know ahead of time, no one does. I launched this company, and we started with Blacked, and we created a site within that niche, and I thought “You know what? It doesn’t matter what niche we come in.” It could have been lesbian or any other niche. I would have kept the same approach. It’s the same with Tushy. I like to deliver quality. Period. That’s it.

How do you define quality?

I grew up watching porn at a time when porn was doing really well. It was Private and Marc Dorcel doing really big movies. They even had the Hot d’Or show in Cannes, during the Cannes Film Festival. It would be unheard of today. All the paparazzi were there, and it was incredible. For once, the adult industry was elevated. If you ask me about quality—“You paid too much for this girl; you paid too much for that”—no, I don’t agree. I like elevating my art, I like elevating my industry. I think that bringing bigger productions, paying the girls more, paying the actors more, making them feel like they are real fucking artists—because in my opinion they are—is a step toward bringing a bit of Hollywood glamour into the adult industry. It was there, but we lost it. Obviously I’ll never be that person by myself, but that’s the hope and the dream that I have.

I have a 10-plus crew, I spend some time on the lighting. I have pre-production meetings where I talk about the girl, we talk about a vision, we write a computer storyboard with photos and computer-generated images, and we do our best to come up with the best production value. I leave some room for improvisation, because sometimes the talent brings more than you think. Or less. And you deal with it. That’s the beauty of porn, there’s a bit of cinéma vérité to it, and you’re able to capture something in the moment.

Our [members] are extremely sensitive for stories. Another bullshit belief is that people skip the stories. No, they fucking don’t. I don’t. if you’re wasting my patience with 20 minutes, then yes, I’m going to skip forward. But if it’s a really good concept, and you’re making me believe it, yeah, I can really get into it. I never liked gonzo porn. Nothing wrong with it, just not my thing. I like content. We storyboard the story, not the sex. I work with a couple of cinematographers; most of my crew are people I brought in from the mainstream business, the fashion business. When we opened this company, I recruited everyone and they never did porn. It came with its challenges, because they knew nothing about it, but we benefitted because they had a fresh outlook and no preconceived notions of what can or cannot be done. My cinematographer didn’t think, “We need to have four positions, and a pop shot, and the scene needs to be 30 minutes long.” He didn’t think like that, and it created so much more room to create good stuff. Cinematography is such a tough art. I’m very passionate about it. I started as a photographer, and I started shooting as a photographer. When I started I went shot-to-shot, like stills. It was too literal and it didn’t flow. Collaborating with other artists is the best part of everything I’ve ever done.

I’m a fan of guys like Roger Deakins. He told the story of shooting Skyfall and he said that the first day everybody was shocked that he was ready to go. He said, “My philosophy is ‘less light, more grip.’” That’s always been my vision. It takes a lot of time and effort and measurement, but Roger Deakins’ cinematography is great. Flag this light. Blow out this. Put a pattern in there. Reflection, bounce and flags. He doesn’t bring an enormous lighting kit—just have a grip guy lying in the floor with a silver reflector. It’ll reflect a little bit of the light. Very little light, all grip. It’s fucking fantastic. There’s not enough time in my day. If I could just read about cinematography I would. It’s fantastic what you can do. Roger Deakins is one of my favorite cinematographers. What he did with James Bond was incredible.

A lot of people who make movies make what they wanted to see. What did you want to see that you weren’t seeing?

I think that’s very true. I love porn and I love the adult industry. When I say I love it, I really love it. I would be doing something else if I didn’t love it. I’m very protective of the industry and I take it personally when other people don’t. I get very vocal and very upset. I consider adult stars artists. Everyone can have a definition of “art”; My simplistic definition is if you touch people in any way, that is art. I created those two sites to meet a niche for high-end product, but the “experts” told me that wasn’t what people wanted to see. I learned that experts don’t know shit, and people don’t know what they want. I don’t know what I want. What movie should Tarantino make next? Or Scorsese? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you if I like it when you show it to me. I didn’t have a particular interest in the stock market in the ’90s but I enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street. I looked at the market and I decided we can make something really hot and really beautiful and really artistic doing a high-end interracial website. And we created Blacked, and it was kind of against the popular belief. The white décor is my vision of the aesthetic: I like the color white for clothing, for lingerie. I like backlighting. I like anything that’s soft on the skin. I’m not a director who’s into moody, contrasty stuff. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just not my thing. I would not shoot something that doesn’t turn me on. That I don’t find beautiful.  That I don’t find attractive. I did shoot Blacked, and I did shoot Tushy, and I will shoot for my third site because I want to enjoy it, and I find it beautiful and hot. No other reason.

I try not to judge, but I don’t like violence. It’s not my thing. I don’t like choking, I don’t like women being slapped in the face. I don’t find that attractive. So I don’t shoot that. If some bullshit expert says, “Greg, people want to see that,” I say, “Well, good for them.” I will cater to the audience of my choosing. That’s the vision I have. The process of creating something has to be genuine. You really have to like it. If not, it’s not a genuine artistic process. If you don’t consider that pornography is a form of art, you shouldn’t be doing it. That’s my vision of it, at least.

I have very strong views about porn. I shoot interracial the same way I shoot an anal scene, the same way I shoot a boy/girl scene. To me it’s just a scene. Going back to the creative process, my main driving factor is I love beauty. It’s a subjective definition, obviously, but my own definition. Any time I can see it, I can recognize it, I can shape it, I will. Fortunately, we live in a day and age where you can see it a lot, and not just in porn. Interracial is a popular niche, is doing well, people want to copy it. Some people’s business model is “Let’s sit on our asses, wait until someone does well with something, and copy it.” I would never want to be one of these people. If you do that, you’ve lost already. The original always wins. Always. In porn, people have more room to copy than in mainstream because in mainstream you get sued. …

If I had to knock off someone I know I would fail at it. I don’t like violence but I look at and I can appreciate the passion. They’re really into that leather-S-and-M stuff. It’s a lifestyle for them. There’s a heart behind it. There’s a passion behind it. I can respect that as an artist: These people have this vision. I can look at a foot fetish site. It turns me on as much as this table. But I can look at a good amateur video and it doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with money: Look at the passion. The person is really driven. The money and the production is just a tool to elevate the art. It’s like having a bigger canvas to paint on.

What are you proudest of? If somebody reads this and wants to check you out, where should they go?

I would say Being Riley is the best movie I’ve done. A fantastic collaboration with a wonderful artist. Riley Reid is just, overall, a star. I think we accomplished something really cool. The story was good, the scenes were fantastic. We really consciously tried to do some good cinematography with it. I’m very proud of that movie. The Kendra Lust scene in Miss Tushy. Sometimes when you go to the studio you think, “It’s just a scene,” but I look at it more like a short film. It was her first anal.

There were two mainstream movies that I impressed me when I was younger. The first one was True Lies, and there’s a scene where Jamie Lee Curtis does a little striptease for Schwarzenegger, but he doesn’t know it because there’s a backlight with the rain outside. I wanted to re-create that scene. We had a rain machine and she was dancing and I was very proud of what we did. In Black & White 4, I did another homage, to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where Phoebe Cates comes out of the pool and takes her top off. I had my wardrobe stylist custom-make a bikini with a front clip because we couldn’t find one. All the bikinis we found, they open at the back. We did it with Abigail Mac for in a scene with Flash Brown. Kind of an homage to that scene, which really impressed me as a teenager. She comes out of the pool in slow motion with the rain pouring, and she walks toward the camera. Abigail Mac looked like the woman, too. I think Carter Cruise Obsession for Blacked was also a good movie. These are the projects I’m most proud of this year.

It’s nice when you do something and you’re fuckin’ exhausted at the end of the day, but then the actress and the actor and the crew come up to you and say, “Wow, we really feel like we accomplished something cool today. Thank you.” To me that’s the best reward. The best. When your crew and your actress and your actors come to you, or when the scene comes out and they say, “I’m proud to be part of this.” I always feel upset that adult stars have to hide what they do, or be shamed online. It really upsets and angers me. It’s unfair. It’s just fucking. I’d rather my children watch porn than a violent movie. It’s okay for a 14-year-old kid playing a video game with a head being blown off and a body torn apart to pieces. Where the fuck is the logic in that?

Porn gets upset by mainstream, but we shouldn’t. We get more attention than mainstream most of the time. They just use the adult industry—or abuse it—and they turn it into a sensational type of way because it serves their agenda, and we’re happy to provide it. It upsets me. I’ve turned down at least 15 interviews, whether to come on my set or just talk. I’m not afraid of tough questions, but I’m not going to control the final product. I ask them, “What do you want to get out of it?” That stupid fuckin’ documentary Hot Girls Wanted, this little rich girl, the daughter of Quincy Jones, grew up in Beverly Hills, she thinks she can patronize and take three marginal stories in the adult industry and make a fuckin’ documentary about it? What a joke. It’s the story of three girls that get taken advantage of. You could put it in any industry. I’m sure three girls have been taken advantage of in the water industry. But every time you put the word “porn” in mainstream you know you’re going to sell papers. They know they’re going to get traction. No attempt was made to actually getting some truth to it, and there was no respect to the documentary from people that reviewed it. Boogie Nights shows the dark side of porn—drugs, violence—but to me it’s more accurate than any documentary I’ve seen. It shows real people. Jack Horner believed in his stuff, he wants to make quality stuff, he wants to make beautiful pictures. The actors and actresses are not monsters or rapists, they’re real people with real feelings, and real emotions. I thought it had fantastic cinematography. The shots are fantastic. I was asked on Twitter if there was one movie that as an adult industry member, I thought was representative of our industry. I haven’t.

I once said that being in the adult industry was like being a drug dealer, but paying taxes. It’s all the problems of drug dealing: You have law enforcement constantly looking at you, everybody in the world thinks you’re a criminal, but you don’t have the advantage of dealing in cash and avoiding taxes and not having to pay worker’s comp. No. You gotta pay it, and you gotta be treated like a criminal.

This is the way I feel most of the time. I’m cut off from Netflix; they have a monopoly. Ten years ago it was, “Everybody can have DVD but the porn industry has to stay VHS.” Now Apple doesn’t want the adult industry in their stores, so we can’t do apps. We have great developers in-house, but we can’t go there. We can’t go on Facebook, even though we could do wonderful adult games. Can’t go on the iTunes store, even though I have wonderful movies, with great actors, with people who put their heart into it. But for some reason, it’s okay to show zombies ripping the guts out of humans, alive, but a beautiful woman having sex in a beautiful setting is unacceptable to Apple. I don’t understand the logic and Apple has successfully created a citadel where everybody who has an iPhone and an Apple TV can only buy through them, but I can’t sell through them. It’s like a giant supermarket where they refuse to let me sell my product, but it’s the only market in town. It’s really upsetting. If they allowed adult, everybody would have a chance to sell their product.

Quality is something I’m very, very passionate about. We put a lot more money and budget into our movies than a lot of the adult productions. It was definitely an artistic choice. I wanted a cinematic approach. Blacked really took off faster than I had expected. It blew up. And then when it was time to launch a second site I was even more worried: Can I do it a second time? Then Tushy took off faster than Blacked did. It’s been a fantastic ride. There’s obviously a lot of people behind it besides me, It’s a team effort. But it’s been heartwarming to see that people appreciate the quality. To read the feedback of paying customers saying “I can see this is expensive lingerie. I watch it with my wife and we like the cinematography, we like the story, we like the attention to detail. We like your vision.” It’s been a very rewarding ride so far. I have hopes to grow it as big as I can.

Playboy started this groundbreaking magazine that changed American history. When you create a project—a magazine, a movie, a website, anything—and the actor, actress, performers, artists that are in it feel proud to be part of it, you get something unique into it. On social media we have so many performers that are promoting Blacked or Tushy, and they’re doing it because they’re proud of being part of the project. I would never want to do any type of adult movies or photography where performers would just do it for the money and they wouldn’t be proud of it. It’s so gratifying when a girl like Kendra Lust says, “I wasn’t planning on doing anal, but Tushy studio is so incredible and the brand is so great, I’m going to do it for you.” We used to hear girls all the time say, “I would never pose nude, but for Playboy I would do it.” That’s been my vision all along. That is the essence of my vision: Creating something where girls would say, “I’m not necessarily going to do that, but this studio does it better than others.” That is a huge part of the vision that I have. It’s super important to ma that the people who are part of the projects that I do be proud of it. That’s been important my whole career.

I am notoriously selective with casting. People say, “You only cast the same type of woman.” Of course I do. I don’t cast somebody because of how many Twitter followers they have or how popular they are in the adult industry. I cast based on my own definition of beauty. I just cast on beauty. Nothing else. Some performers are more talented than others, but that’s my choice. If I don’t know the girls I’ll meet them before, I’ll have a short interview with them in our office, and if I don’t feel it’s a good fit we won’t work together. Being selective gives you leverage. I look for beauty first, and talent. Some of these girls are able to make you believe. They take you on a trip. That’s what I look for.

The message I want to come across is I love beauty, I love the adult industry, I love porn. I do think it’s a form of art and I do think that expressing yourself through the adult industry is the same thing as expressing yourself through painting or mainstream film or singing. I have a very strong opinion about that, and I’m proud of it.