Spreading Joybear: U.K. Studio Celebrates 15th Anniversary

Pictured above, Julie Roca (photo courtesy Joybear Pictures)

Porn for women—it’s a trending topic these days. But for some producers, making female-friendly content is not a matter of jumping on a trend—it’s a core part of their mission.

One of these is Joybear Pictures, a British adult entertainment company that marked its 15th birthday this year. AVN got a chance to meet the man behind the brand—founder and CEO Justin Santos—when he visited the United States this fall on the heels of signing a new deal with Pulse Distribution.

Joybear content has been available in the U.S. but Santos is looking to make a bigger impact now that he sees a growing popularity in female-focused content, which he said “really started to take off in the last two to four years.”

Santos elaborated, “Women and couples fit our product well, but there are lots of men out there who are sort of sick and tired of very, very male-centric content and are looking for something different.”

Through Pulse, Joybear will release an original feature every other month—either with a storyline that runs all the way through, or broken down to vignettes. “Or somewhere in the middle,” Santos said. “But definitely not all-sex.”

In between will come volumes from the Joy Collection, a 15th anniversary series created to introduce Joybear content to new fans. “Joybear films don’t really fit into any one category, because we feel we’ve sort of created our own category,” Santos said. The Joybear Collection will feature scenes from past movies organized around themes that will be more accessible to consumers. “For example, Women Love Women, which is obviously lesbian. We have Fuck Me on the Desk, which is obviously office based. We have Curvalicious, which is natural, more curvaceous performers. And we have Dominate Me, for customers who really like BDSM. … This would be a really good way to get into the brand.”


Photo courtesy Joybear Pictures

Once they’re into the brand, those consumers can take in adult entertainment produced by a studio with a very particular mission statement, as described by Santos: “I see a world where sex is positive and not taboo, and Joybear is really working to create that world. And that’s why we make sex-positive films with loads and loads of kissing. I’m feeling the most excited about that as I’ve felt since I embarked on this journey.”

That journey toward couples-oriented adult entertainment got its start thanks to a reality TV show. Specifically, a Playboy TV show shot in the United Kingdom that was framed as a competition to make an adult movie. “I had done a film degree at university in the U.K. and was working in sales because I loved selling, but thinking all the time I wanted to get into the film industry. And I applied to go on this show,” Santos recalled. “A camera crew was following us around and we had three weeks to make a porn film. And I won the competition.”

After that, he sought out an investor: “a friend of mine from school who had done really well.” Santos asked him for 30,000 pounds. His friend said, “You’ve got two choices. Option one, I’m your partner and anything you make you split with me 50/50, but if it goes tits up, I got it, it’s on me. Option two, take the 30 grand and I want it back, with interest.” Santos chose the second, and his friend replied that was a good choice: “If you’d chosen Option 1, I would have known you didn’t know what you were doing.” Santos laughed and said, “I looked him clean in the eye and said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ And that was it. Never looked back.”

But first, Santos had to get his content to consumers—and it wasn’t like anything else on the market. He got a meeting with a “quasi gangster type” distributor who dismissed Santos’ “sophisticated and sexy box cover,” waving toward a wall of hardcore titles his company was selling. “I plunked my black-and-white cover in the middle of his pink wall and said, ‘What do you see now?’ And he said, ‘I’ll take 500.’ And that was the point when I thought, ‘Maybe you’re on to something.’

Santos has been figuring out what that “something” is ever since. “Originally it was me doing everything on my own. Guerrilla filmmaking in the early days. And then I got a second camera operator who went with me. And then, I think maybe around 2012, I said, ‘Look, somebody else needs to do this.’ I wanted someone who was better than me. I had my ideas, but I wanted someone better.”

Santos said he has two in-house directors (“both men—one straight, one gay”) and a female script developer who works with the writers and directors and ensures, among other things, that the sex positions match the narrative—for example, if it’s a romantic scene, the performers don’t jump straight into reverse cowgirl. “So then when you watch it, you buy into it. And if you buy into it, we have a better chance of turning you on,” Santos said.

Asked about his favorite Joybear movie ever, Santos called out Housemates 2, released in 2015 and featuring a European cast plus American performer Tyler Nixon. (“We’re a big fan of Tyler Nixon.”) “I just think the team did a brilliant job on that. It feels British, it feels contemporary, there’s a nice little element of drama in there. But loads of sexiness and some beautiful shots, lovely buildup, some really nice sex scenes. The performers just did a super job.”

Nowadays he concentrates on sales and licensing, as well as managing the entire team. “I’m still very involved in the creative direction the business is going in, so I will liaise with writes, directors, script editors, marketing, growth, to make sure we’re going in the direction I think we should be going in. And I’m constantly looking and reevaluating our mission statement, our vision.”

One thing that has helped him crystallize that vision is his experience as a father of two very young daughters. “Since my girls have come along, it’s helped me understand my position in the marketplace. Naturally, lots of people you meet ask you, ‘How are you going to tell your daughters what you do—how are you feeling about that whole journey?’ … When they come of age I’m certainly not going to hide what I do. I’m going to get involved in explaining to them what pornography is all about and the place it should have in their lives.”

And whether or not his daughters choose to make erotica a part of their adult lives or not, he takes pride in the movies his company has created.

“When I first started this business I just got a bit bored by all the films I saw where people didn’t look like they were having fun. And when the moment comes when my daughters will hold me to account, the first thing I will do is say, ‘Go and check out one of my films.” And the biggest thing I hope they will see is that everyone is having fun. Because if you get that right, everything else will follow.”

Asked about the impending rules in the United Kingdom that will require adult producers to take stronger measures to prevent minors from accessing their content, Santos admits it’s “a bit annoying” not knowing when exactly the regulations will be in place. But he’s prepared to make the necessary changes. “Our site is already soft until you hit the payment gateway. Even still, we’re going to have to make our tour even softer. We are kind of prepared for that. We’re just waiting for the call,” he said.

Even though “it will be a challenge commercially,” Santos isn’t complaining. “When I grew up and was trying to find pornography, you had to be tall enough to reach the top shelf,” Santos mused. “It was a rite of passage … this thing that would have an amazing and profound effect on you. You had to work for it. Now it’s, ‘I’ll just turn my iPhone on and see what I can see.’ … I think bringing back those natural barriers to accessing the content is a good thing.”