India Summer and Ryan Driller in "Marriage 2.0" (Adam & Eve Pictures)

Would you watch porn for the plot?

The makers of "Marriage 2.0" say all that it takes to fight online porn theft is a great story -- but does it work?

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Tracy Clark-Flory
April 12, 2015 3:59AM (UTC)

From mass lawsuits to threats of public humiliation, the adult film industry has taken desperate moves in recent years to fight widespread piracy. Last year saw the launch of the “#PayForYourPorn” campaign, in which adult stars begged fans to not steal their smut. Digital fingerprinting technology is also helping adult filmmakers track down stolen content. But a new film, “Marriage 2.0,” attempts to tackle the problem in a new way: by creating a high-quality, story-driven movie with explicit sex scenes that are in the service of the plot. Imagine that! The idea is that if the sex scenes are made sexy by the larger, complex narrative at hand -- rather than the shorthand of X-rated clichés, like the naughty schoolgirl or the MILF next door -- they won’t end up as free jerk-off material on PornHub. The creators of "Marriage 2.0" are serious about the film being taken seriously: In a highly unusual move, an edited version of the film was submitted to the MPAA and received an NC-17 rating.

The storyline itself is ambitious, too. It begins with India, played by India Summer, interviewing Christopher Ryan, author of the New York Times bestseller "Sex at Dawn," for a documentary, presumably on the topic of monogamy. We soon discover that she's struggling with jealousy in her open relationship with Eric, played by Ryan Driller. Throughout the film, there are tough conversations about the battling desires of security and adventure. Set in the San Francisco Bay Area -- with some of the most sensual footage being of the Northern California coast -- the movie introduces us to progressive brunch conversations between pals about monogamy and sophisticated swingers parties filled with real-life sex experts like Emily Morse and Reid Mihalko. There's a cameo by Good Vibrations sexologist Carol Queen as a neighbor who walks in on the leading couple having sex. And, right, sex! There is plenty of it in all sorts of configurations -- between India and Eric, Eric and his other girlfriend (Dylan Ryan), India's mom (Nina Hartley) and her boy toy, and so on. Spoiler alert: India ends up finding her own side piece and then all is gravy.


In general, it's a far more attractive and better-acted porn film than most. But it's the focus on incorporating the explicit sex scenes into a well-developed narrative that really makes it stand out. Some industry insiders, like Nate Glass, a digital piracy expert and owner of Takedown Piracy, say this is part of a larger shift in the industry. “Piracy also forces adult studios to reexamine the movies they create, both from a production and quality standpoint, and also in regards to the story,” he says. Studios like Adam & Eve, Wicked, New Sensations and Girlfriends are producing "story-driven feature films where the sex supports the movie," he says. “While there will still be people who are only interested in the sex scenes, the hope is that the film as a whole will attract people to watch from beginning to end, which they have to do legally, since it's much harder to get away with pirating a two- or three-hour movie in its entirety,” he explained.

Can a porn film really be piracy-proofed? Do porn viewers really want feature-length movies? And, more importantly, is it economically feasible for the adult industry to make them? I spoke with Magnus Sullivan, the screenwriter and producer of "Marriage 2.0" to try to find out.

What exactly makes this movie piracy-proof? And is it truly piracy-proof or just less likely to be pirated?

Nothing is completely piracy-proof, but this movie deviates from the type of content that has become a free commodity on a number of different levels. First of all, all current porn -- yes, all of it, including alt, feminist and queer variations -- follows very strict rulesets. One of the most basic formulas is that all "scenes" are self-contained. That is, they complete a sexual arc within the context of the one scene. Now, that scene may be related to others via some loosely strewn narrative, but the scenes have a standard sexual build-up, climax and release. There is no sexual arc to the erotic underpinnings in porn that build on each other to create the need to see the next scene because you know that the sex will reveal something about the story and the characters that you must know. Rather, there is a little foreplay, going down, penetration, climax. Then it repeats with some variation.

But the idea of using the sex to achieve other goals, such as layering textures onto the personality or backstory of a character, or establishing an emotional tenor that you will later counter, or to build trust and ease the viewer into a story in a way that gives you permission to lead them into what would otherwise be a very uncomfortable sexual place -- these are things that are not happening in porn for the most part -- though we tried to change that with "Marriage 2.0." The industry doesn't typically use sex as a narrative tool, and up until "Marriage 2.0," there was not a good example of how that is accomplished. So with this movie, the sex in the first scene is used to set a tone for how the sex might or might not develop. You are left wanting more, and wondering where it's going. The sex is used to captivate and elevate and suspend. It's a device in telling the story. Because of this, you cannot watch one scene of this movie and feel "satisfied," because it's all connected and everything refers to what has passed and suggests what is to come. Most free and pirated porn is watched in three- to five-minute increments. You cannot watch three to five minutes of "The Deer Hunter."

Secondly, this movie is not intended for the current market that is happily using free content on tube sites for the sole purpose of masturbation. This movie is a movie meant for people who have no shame around sex and want to see sex positively portrayed in a genuine cinematic context. People watch "Marriage 2.0" and experience what I call "full body eroticism" -- their heart, their mind and their loins are all engaged. In all of the screenings we've done so far, everyone who was in the theater at the beginning of the screening was still there when the movie ended. This is not a movie you will want to fast-forward. As sex educator Reid Mihalko said, "'Marriage 2.0' is to porn what 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' is to martial arts films; the narrative is not a poor excuse to get to the next sex scene."

Was avoiding piracy the driving force behind making this film?

The state of content in adult is at a pathetic all-time low. The budgets, for various reasons, are collapsing along with sales and the result is that the adult industry is stuck in an accelerating downward spiral. Just look at the "big features" coming out of the industry; there is nothing truly compelling or innovative that comes close to challenging mainstream's increasing dominance of the erotic entertainment market -- and mainstream is doing this without showing hardcore sex. With "Marriage 2.0," we wanted to demonstrate a few critical points: One, that the use of hardcore sex in film -- which is the only market barrier the adult industry has against mainstream -- can be elegantly woven into a complex, controversial and relevant narrative to create a cinematic experience that is unique to adult; two, that there is a large market that will pay for quality programming from the adult industry; and three, that the adult actor is capable of delivering a compelling performance that, when combined with their willingness to have sex before the camera, places them in a category altogether different from their mainstream counterparts. They are navigating new terrain and mapping the territory that I believe James Franco and others will one day follow.


Do you expect people to sit through the entire movie in one sitting? Or is it the kind of thing that someone watches bits and pieces of for masturbatory purposes?

When we screened the movie in New York at the CineKink Film Festival, there were 150 people in the theater when we started at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. When we finished at 12:15 a.m., there were still 150 people in the theater. This is the first adult movie ever made that demands your attention at every moment and engages so many different emotions as it traverses the narrative arc.

Is it economically feasible for the adult industry to make movies like this that are thoughtful about content, storyline and quality?

Not now, no. That is what this movie is about: demonstrating that a huge market has been ignored. People want to see real sex artfully and meaningfully integrated into film. It's extremely hard to do and attempts have largely failed. But I believe "Marriage 2.0" sets a new bar and establishes that even within the budget and talent confines of the current adult industry, it can be done. Just imagine where it will go from here. But the challenge and the opportunity is the same -- that market is not yet defined. There is no clear distribution channel to reach them. So that is what we're doing: creating the awareness on both sides of the fence that the adult industry has just done something incredible and there's a market out there that will support the kinds of effort it takes to make compelling cinema.


What does it take to get viewers to actually buy a porn film? What differentiates the porn that they're willing to steal from the porn they're willing to buy?

You can say this about all digital media, of course, and some will always revel in theft, but we believe people will support quality and innovation. We believe that people pay for a unique experience -- a moving experience. This is the first adult movie in the modern era to do that.

Why the focus on monogamy and open relationships? What inspired that storyline?

There are some powerful shifts in our culture happening at unprecedented speed around the issues of sexual identity and rights, drug use and relationship structures. I want to be in the middle of the dialogue about our changing perspective on what "successful" relationships look like. I want to be part of broadening the spectrum for others so they're not faced with a binary and the idea that sexual desire for others somehow lessens the love we feel for our partner. That's absurd and the cause of great unnecessary suffering. So many relationships end due to this misconception, and countless others are scarred by cheating and resentment. It's one of the most important topics in our lives -- how do we live an honest and adventurous life within the context of a long-term relationship? Why not address this topic?

It's also somewhat of an autobiographical story, so I know about these issues and I have personally experienced -- as have most of the cast -- the paradigm shift of moving from monogamy into ethical non-monogamy. One of the great ironies about this whole thing is that people get caught up on the sex and think that ethical non-monogamy is all about the sex with others ... and, yes, that's part of it. But the real gem you unearth is the intimacy you find with others. I think we all know that as you age it gets increasingly difficult to forge the types of bonds that were commonplace in childhood, high school and college. We're too fragmented and, often, scared of that level of vulnerability. But when you're lying in bed after an amazing physical connection that has been developing and growing over years, you connect in a way that is profound. You share and listen in ways that are almost forgotten to most adults.


On the other hand, I have also experienced the social shame that can accompany pursuing a different model. When our liberal friends in Berkeley found out that my wife and I have an open relationship, one friend called and asked if I was "trying to fuck his wife" -- is there a right answer to that question? -- and another said he didn't want his kids at our place because "there might be sex parties and porn playing on the TV." Now these are good people, people who communicate well and care about the world. But when it comes to sex, they, like most people, freak out. I want to help take the "freak" out of talking about sex and relationships.

What have profits looked like for the film so far?

By adult standards, the movie is selling incredibly well. Our current sales are more than double the standard "big release," but we're not comparing ourselves to the standard adult market -- we're after a completely different level of sales and reach, and we're still working hard to achieve that.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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