Cultural Appropriation (Again)

A few days ago I was somewhat taken aback to find a judgemental, authoritarian attack, a racially-motivated anti-sex-worker post appear on my Twitter timeline, re-tweeted by a friend.

The retweeted post was this:

Hey white sex workers.

Dreads are not your urban, hippie, or punk accessory.

It’s cultural appropriation. And for you to be making coin of your stolen look while actual black sex workers are fetishized/ignored/devalued for the same thing makes you fucking worthless.

I don’t habitually jump into arguments like this, but it behooves us to try to call out this sort of hateful invective when it pops up on our timelines.

So I replied as follows:

Hey human beings.
Wear your hair any way you fucking want.
It’s your hair.

By so doing I was deliberately echoing the aggressive and hateful language of the original tweet, trying to make a counter-argument in a pithy way.

This post is my attempt to advance that counter-argument in detail, and a challenge to the whole “cultural appropriation” idea.

First, let’s look a bit more at the original tweet.

“Hey white sex workers” – a hail to a group who the poster is then going to address as homogeneous on the basis of their career and skin colour. That’s not an especially promising start. There is no such thing as a “typical” white sex worker- every single human being is different, with different circumstances, and fall more or less closely into a huge number of overlapping groups. It’s a bit of a sticky wicket to start ascribing motives for behaviour to a large number of heterogeneous people on the basis of one or two groups they happen to fall into to a greater or larger extent.

“Dreads are not your urban, hippie or punk accessory’ – factually speaking that seems dubious. They could be exactly that. Or they could be any number of other things. A practical response to their family spending three years in Nepal, which they’ve grown used to now. A way to fit in for an inner-city kid whose social group mostly has them. An attempt to recreate a favourite character from a roleplaying game. A tribute to the way grandfather (who came from the Caribbean) wore his hair. A loving thing done for them by their black partner. One can think of many, many reasons why a person might choose a particular hairstyle. So far, I’m not seeing why that’s anyone’s business but their own.

“It’s cultural appropriation.” – I’ll deal with this at length below, let’s move on for now.

“And for you to be making coin of your stolen look while actual black sex workers are fetishized/ignored/devalued for the same thing makes you fucking worthless”.

The poster is now making accusations to a whole heterogenous group of human beings – specifically a group of human beings who share one circle in the Venn diagram of human beings (making a living as a sex worker) but who fail to fall inside a second circle in the Venn diagram that the OP falls into (being black; from context in this case I suspect specifically African-American in the USA) and instead fall into another one: being white, presumably in this case white Americans. The failure to qualify this latter point is an interesting symptom I noticed the last time the whole cultural appropriation thing cropped up on my timelines. There’s an unstated assumption that the local situation is universal. There’s more than one cultural gradient in the world, and anyone who lives in America and is tweeting and posting video clips is right up an one end of a pretty huge one. In fact there are millions upon millions of cultural gradients, privileges and disadvantages, all co-existing all of the time. It’s fine to pick on prominent ones for your own situation- but appreciate your own position on other gradients too. In short, have a bit of empathy and be kind.

I may be wrong- the poster may be Canadian, say. I’m not that closely attuned to accents. But the point stands. The situation for British or Irish or Spanish or Lithuanian sex workers might be entirely different. Many cultural gradients. The whole thing is hugely multi-dimensional and every individual sits in their own place on every one of the relevant cultural scales.

They are accusing that group of making coin off their stolen look – i.e. making money as a sex worker. Of course they are making money as a sex worker, by definition. They’re in that circle because you’re drawn it to include them. All sex workers make money at least in part from how they look, it doesn’t mean that they’ve stolen the look in order to make coin. There are as many reasons for an individual to choose their hairstyle as there are individuals in the circle.

That’s not to say there isn’t an issue here. There is, and it is huge and structural and a massive, massive problem for humanity which we need to sort out as one of the most pressing issues of this or any other age. The discriminatory treatment of black women in the USA for wearing their hair in certain ways is vile and needs to be tackled.

But the issue is one of racist discrimination against people with a certain skin colour (in general) being forced to change their hairstyles (in specific).

I fail to see how we solve that by forcing people of a certain skin colour to change their hairstyles.

Culture as Stealing?

The only way a look can be stolen is if a specific individual starts a genuinely new fashion and lots of other people copy them against their wishes, and even then I’d argue that it is swimming against the whole existence of culture – all culture has been appropriated, appropriation is what creates culture.

Seeing something someone else does and doing it too, or taking inspiration from it and putting your own twist on it. Language, cuisine, art, science, fashion, commerce, farming, sewers, internal combustion and the days of the week. All culturally appropriated, all the time, all around the world, by all human beings in every single aspect of their existence. You might as well forbid English people from using the word “British” because it is culturally appropriated from the p-Celtic language (Brythonic) that was spoken in these islands when the Angles and Saxons first arrived.

There are only so many ways to create a hairdo, and dreadlocks are a recurring theme in multiple cultures spanning the globe and dating back to antiquity, at least to circa 1000 BCE. It is a moot point whether this represents independent invention or cultural transmission of the idea; the point is that human beings have been doing this to their hair across many cultures since before the founding of Rome. We’d be foolish to assume that they don’t predate that- absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

That’s reaching back to the sort of era where all humans share a common ancestor (The exact dates of which are model-dependent, but a reasonable estimate is circa 1400 BCE: It’s not outrageous to trace back to the time of identical ancestors, when the refolding and recombination of family trees that happens as you go back through the generations means that amongst all individuals living at least that long ago, each present-day human has exactly the same of ancestors. (The IA point, which simulations put at circa 5500 BCE). I’d hazard a guess that some people somewhere in the world probably had dreads in 5500 BCE, despite the lack of archaeological evidence (hair doesn’t get preserved all that well in a lot of climates). And if they did so… the ancestors of the person making the complaint wore dreads, and the ancestors of the persons being complained about wore dreads, because they were THE SAME PEOPLE. So who has culturally appropriated from whom, exactly?

So what is actually meant here is that on the basis of skin colour, the original poster and those in similar circumstances in one particular culture in the modern world are being discriminated against. Absolutely vile, and something I again say we need to make every effort to remove.

But the tweet is itself guilty of all the things that are worst about the thought patterns which created that discrimination in the first place. Stereotyping human beings on the basis of skin colour. Requiring different behaviour from human beings on the basis of skin colour. Castigating other human beings for sex work, “making coin” from the way they look. The unspoken assumption on universality, in this case that the American situation is universal. (Maybe there’s a group somewhere where black people and white people are trying to get along and encouraging each other to adopt each other’s cool hairstyles. Let’s hope so, it sounds like a better place to live.)

But all of this I would probably have let flow by me – gently disagreeing with the specifics whilst sympathising with and doing my best to work towards an improvement in the discriminatory situation that lead to the tweet in the first place… were it not for those last few words.

“makes you fucking worthless”. If there’s any group under persistent attack for being worthless right now, it’s sex workers. That sex workers with one skin colour have it less bad than sex workers with a different skin colour is piss-poor, but it doesn’t make it OK to decide that the people involved are worthless. That’s just vile. No human being is worthless, especially not on the basis that they are of a certain skin colour, that they make money from sex work, and they happen to wear their hair a certain way.

The OP is presumably disgusted at the lack of awareness and solidarity from white sex workers for the plight of POC sex workers, on the basis that if anyone ought to understand the struggle, it is people with a fair degree of overlap on the Venn diagram. Which is probably entirely true. But to then attack those people in such dehumanising terms is not OK.

It represents is a victory for the sort of us-and-them, race-is-a-real-thing*, stay-in-your-box, authoritarian othering that got us into this whole damn mess in the first place. It’s saying that the bigots are right- there’s a significant difference between human beings on the basis of their skin colour, and human beings should act differently and expect to be treated differently on that basis.

(* ref: short version- there isn’t a scientifically-defensible definition of race amongst human beings; the bigots are wrong. )

The Cultural Appropriation Distopia

Let’s move on to the broader point. Let’s say we accept that cultural appropriation is a real thing, that it is an undesirable thing, and that by great concerted effort we manage to reduce or eliminate it slowly, nation-by-nation, across the globe.

A few years hence; North America. It is unacceptable for a white sex worker in Detroit to wear her hair in dreads. The cultural appropriation authority assess that her degree of racial purity is inadequate to be allowed to adopt that style. Her friend, whose father has white skin and whose mother has black skin, is allowed to do so, but if she had a white great-grandfather that would tip the scales into nope.

Their friend whose grandparents were Japanese-American, African-American, Chinese-American and European-American is not allowed to adopt dreads, nor to wear a kimono. She is insufficiently racially pure. But nor is she allowed to bleach her hair blonde, or watch Chinese action movies- oh, pity for her! She is not racially pure enough to belong in any category! She’s not even allowed to eat German sausages. She’s allowed Cantonese food (the cultural authorities have decreed that her racial purity is adequate for that) but not Sichuan, because her grandfather came from the wrong part of China.

However, Canada has been very progressive and forward thinking, and has managed to reduce structural inequality to the point where white girls are now allowed to wear dreads. Hooray! World-wide celebration! But oh no! There’s still structural inequalities between the French-speaking Quebecois and the English speaking majority! No Parisian fashions for you, English-speaking Candian sex worker! No meeting up for a culturally-insensitive “rendezvous”! No matter what the colour of your skin, your personal circumstances or your personal preferences. There’s a cultural gradient, and you’re at the high end of it, no matter what other cultural gradients you happen to be experiencing. Black sex worker? White sex worker? Doesn’t matter- English-speaking, you’re at the wrong end of the gradient. Eating French food? Exploitation! Shame on you! You’re fucking worthless!

It’s an authoritarian, distopian, racist nightmare. Who decides on another human being’s entitlement to a certain style of dress or hairdo? What degree of racial purity is required? How disadvantaged do you have to be for it no longer to apply? How finely-balanced do the scales of cultural inequality have to slide before you allow free transfer of ideas? What do you do when multiple competing groups claim a single cultural idea? Are people of Indian descent in the USA allowed to wear dreads? How long ago before a particular thing is allowed as part of “your” culture? What determines what is “your” culture in the first place? Sex? Gender? Skin Colour? Place of birth? Does a person who was born in Africa have a greater claim to dreads than someone born in Carolina? What if they moved when they were six months old?

There are many huge problems in the world, and many of them are the result of endless in-group/out-group othering. Doing more of that, however well intentioned, is not likely to help. It’s perpetuating the thinking that led to the problem in the first place. And as demonstrated by this thread it most frequently manifests in exactly those contact areas of shared experience where one would most hope for building bridges – and slams down a wall. A metaphor I choose with care.

So, by avoiding wearing dreadlocks is a white person combating racism? No. They are subscribing to exactly the thinking that leads to racism- that there’s a them and us, and what’s for them isn’t for us, or for me. Wear dreadlocks and kick up fucking hell about black sex workers being discriminated against for that or for any other reason.

The “Not-Being-An-Arse” Corollary

There is a corollary here, which I call the “not-being-an-arse” principle.

We should strive to be kind to one another. Part of that is not to ignore discrimination being poured down on people and to do our best to address it. Part of it, for sure, is to be sensitive to the feelings of others.

Buying a piece of mass-produced plastic tourist tat patterned on Native American designs being made and marketed by a non-Native-American person and treating something that one culture has regarded as something of reverence as a disposable children’s toy could very well run the risk being an arse.

Buying a piece of hand-crafted Native American art sold to you by a Native American person. Is that being a bit of an arse? It entirely depends, doesn’t it? On the one hand, it might be that the huge structural inequality towards Native Americans means that that person has no other way of making a living and finds it demeaning… but is it helping NOT to buy it? If they are happy to sell it to you and you are happy to buy it, can it just be as simple as two human being conducting an exchange for mutual benefit, whatever the larger picture may be? By all means do whatever is in your power to help reduce the structural inequality. But whether or not to buy this piece of art, today, from this person- that’s surely not a matter for anyone but the two of you, and your personal tastes?

What if the buyer had a Native American great-grandfather? Does that suddenly make it OK? What if the seller had a European great-grandfather? Is that suddenly not OK? Who decides?

This applies to both sides of the equation. Attacking the person buying your art for buying your art because it is cultural appropriation is being an arse, too. By all means gently explain to a fellow human being what the situation is, what the circumstances are, the shape of the structural inequalities. Suggest what they can do to help. But having a go at the people who are interested enough to have stopped at your place to look at your art in the first place is slamming down the wall exactly where you should both be building a bridge. And with exactly the sort of person who is interested enough that have taken the first step across the bridge, to boot. Othering, us-and-them.

As Reginald D. Hunter opined “you can’t always make people come to where you at. Sometimes you have to go to where they at.” I’d say we should strive to do that.

Culture is Cultural Appropriation AND IT IS GLORIOUS

Culture is GLORIOUS. It is the amazing feat made possible by human language and the transmission of ideas from one person to another person, greatly assisted by leaps forward like writing, commerce, the printing press and the internet.

Culture is one human being learning something from another human being and storing it away, making use of it in their own way, in their own terms.

ALL languages are an amazing, ever-changing, always evolving collection of grammatical structures, verbal fashions, words taken from here and there and everywhere, ideas folded and changed and subtly shading in meaning over the years. Wherever humans come into contact, new language and new culture and change springs into being. It’s unstoppable. We can’t stop it. We shouldn’t even be trying to.


If we’re to stop cultural appropriation, this sort of thing has to stop. High status humans in positions of power shouldn’t adopt the vernacular- that’s failing to take account of the cultural gradient and appropriating from those at the bottom of the scale. The English aristocracy should still speak French. Pure, unchanging 1066-era French. The Angles and Saxons should get their hands off words yn Gymraeg, and stop using our “I did do” constructions all over the place. We certainly shouldn’t wear pyjamas (

More prosaically, the British kid who is a fan of Hong Kong Action movies should stop wanting to be Jackie Chan, and absolutely shouldn’t pinch the cool bits of Mr. Vampire to make their own first film when the inspiration has carried them through film school to their first directing role. They should take artistic inspiration only from the same sources as their fathers, and their fathers before them. (Except that you only need to go back a few thousands years before that’s the same set of ancestors as every human being on the planet).

I’m Welsh. I was born in Wales. I’m learning to speak Welsh. It’s glorious. Should English people be allowed to do so? What if they start competing in the Eisteddfod and start winning prizes (they do, by the way). That’s cultural appropriation in the existence of a long-standing structural inequality. (Reference the treachery of the blue books: )

Actually I have q guilty secret: despite being born in Wales, with Welsh ancestry on my Father’s side, my Mother is English. And a great-grandfather was Scottish. Am I Welsh enough to partake of Welsh culture? Should my English wife be allowed to do so too, given that she’s a colonialist?

Of course she should. And I should. And anyone else who wants to should. Welsh language and literature is enlivened by contributions from anyone, whatever their country of origin or native tongue or colour of their skin or whatever other dubious basis we are using to decide upon us-and-themness today.

Share! Revel! Tell you story! Make friends! Treat them as equals! Fellow human beings, hello! Have this! I’ll have your video games and your telescope! (“Your?” did you invent them? In what way are they yours?)

So hold up. By what reasoning can Welsh possibly be “my” language? I didn’t invent it. I wasn’t born able to speak it. I picked up some of it from where I happened to live by an accident of birth. Should that have any bearing on whether or not I should be able to learn it? If I’d been born somewhere else, I’d probably not be interested in it. If I’d been born in a city in the USA, I might be interested in some of the other cultural stuff bubbling around me every day. Like… hairstyles I think are cool. That my friends have. That someone picked up from somewhere. Maybe their black neighbours. Maybe their mother’s trip to India. Maybe their friend.

Lucas, the kid with black skin in Stranger Things shouldn’t be messing around with a white person’s game like Dungeons and Dragons. Even though he likes it. That stuff is the tool of the colonialist oppressor, yo. It’s not for you! (He’s a fictional human being living in America. He’d have every bit as much right to purchase and enjoy Dungeons and Dragons as his school-friends were he real… wouldn’t he? Shouldn’t he?).

British chefs should absolutely not have bastardised Indian cuisine to make Chicken Tikka Marsala, no matter how nice it tastes. Fusion cuisine is cultural appropriation to its very core- shut that down, or at least conduct racial purity tests to see which human beings are allowed to create it. Or eat it.

These are not really reductio-ad-absurdam arguments, because this is exactly the argument being advanced. It is the same argument as “white sex workers shouldn’t wear dreads”. It’s taking your own parochial world view and your own parochial situation and trying to extend it to other human beings against their will, in ignorance of their own personal situation. White sex workers in Russia, say? White sex workers in Poland, who might even be doing it in tribute to or solidarity with their own tradition of exploitation ( There may be exactly no Polish white sex workers doing this. But they’d have every bit as much right to do so if they wanted to.

Dreads may be associated specifically with black people in one particular culture, at one particular time, with one particular structural inequality looming large and crying to be put right.

But claiming any sort of exclusiveness of culture to one sub-group of humanity is meaningless, authoritarian, othering, unkind and furthermore vastly ignorant of the glorious history of the whole of the rest of humanity outside the parochial bubble.

What about the entire Indian sub-continent, where dreads have been a thing for a very long time?

Maybe taking a step back and challenging the idea that any cultural thing really truly belongs to any group of human beings would be a better idea.

Yes, it is bloody annoying when yet another white artist grabs inspiration wholesale from a black sub-culture and makes a million from it. But the problem is structural inequality that prevents the black artists from being commerically successful. Make it possible for them to do so on a level playing field! Absolutely, we should strive for that! But at it’s basic level, at least there’s some cultural contact. Some way of starting a conversation between the multiple groups, the different overlapping circles on the Venn diagram. Ways to start realising the commonalities, and the horrible differences, and ways to start addressing them together.

Would you rather than white kids were forbidden from listening to rap because it is “black music”? Or would you rather they listened to and started to think about the lyrics, about how life might be like on the streets of Compton? Watch movies about it. Learn about each other. Think “Man, that’s fucked up. We’d better do better than that”. Maybe the white kids and black kids in Detroit might realise that they have more in common with each other than either of them have with the billionaires who run the country.

No idea, no culture, no fashion has sprung into existence by immaculate conception. All of it comes from the unceasing churn and mish-mash of ideas across the whole of humanity, across the whole of human existence. NONE of it is exclusive to one human being, not even in cases of “invention” or discovery. All of it rests of the huge shining palace of human cultural achievement.

Einstein created the theory of relativity- in an environment constructed by other scientists. That’s why Newton didn’t create the theory of relativity. The necessary fore-runners to the idea simply hadn’t bubbled up through the hundreds and thousands of minds exchanging ideas; he didn’t have enough culture to appropriate. Instead he had to synthesise what was around him to create his theory, which was subsequently revised and extended by Einstein is a grand act of culture-in-all-its-finery at work.

Emmy Noether came up with possibly the single most profound theorem underlying all of modern physics. ( She did so on the basis of the previous work by hundreds of scientists, and mathematicians, mostly men. Should we not use her theorem because she was a woman, and women are still shockingly, horribly discriminated against in STEM in many (maybe all) countries?

Or should we glory in it, revel in it, spread the word, celebrate her and it and simultaneously try to address the structural inequality?

The whole idea of cultural appropriation falls apart the moment you begin to examine it and think through the consequences.

Like- Emmy Noether could only do mathematical research because of innovations in farming in the Middle East which allowed people to shift from nomadic to sedentary living, and an increase in efficiency which left some people free to pursue activities other than simply finding enough to eat. The benefits of culture. Let’s celebrate it, not try to stop it.

We’re all human beings, and we share a single culture- human culture. It was created by all of us, we share common ancestors much more recently than one might think, and none of it came into being in isolation- it was ALL informed by other culture, all of the time, all of the ways. By any meaningful measure, every single human being on the planet has as much right to grab some bit of culture and run with it as any other human being. We should encourage it, revel in it, celebrate it! Invent stuff! New stuff! Old stuff with a fresh twists! Love stuff because it makes us happy, whether you’re a black kid who loves Anime and Manga, a Russian kid who loves Oceanic fairytales, an American kid who loves Tolkien and gets led to do a PhD in Celtic studies and come to Aberystwyth to learn to speak Welsh, a seamstress drawing inspiration from Han court clothes via Japanese cultural appropriation, or whatever the hell you like.

Let’s work together to remove the inequalities that prevent some human beings taking full advantage of it, especially when that’s done on as spurious a basis as skin colour or geography of birth. Let’s not reinforce the endless division of human beings into ever-smaller sub-groups of us-and-them, bickering over who is the most persecuted and who should be allowed access to which bits of human knowledge.

By all means choose not to wear dreads if you want to. Bleach your hair. Cut it, shave it, curl it, and work against people who discriminate against human beings on the basis of hairstyle and skin colour and everything else.

Be rightfully pissed off that people with brown skin get treated differently from people with white skin if they wear their hair that way- be angry, and to try to change that, and to use many means to get that point across.

But don’t call other people “fucking worthless” because they’ve made a different decision about their own hair. You don’t actually “own” dreads. You don’t own the style personally in any meaningful way. You don’t even own the style in any broader cultural sense that stands up to a moment’s examination in the broader context. You are making unwarranted judgements about fellow human beings on the basis of their job and their skin colour and their personal fashion choices.

Which I thought we pretty much agreed was a bad thing.

Custom shoots- the good and the bad

Hi All,

Last week we shot four custom videos. Taking on these shoots is always a big responsibility- the customer is entrusting us with a fair chunk of cash for a leisure luxury purchase like a video.

Mostly, we do a good job. We like to under-promise and over-deliver (who doesn’t). I’ve heard back from three of the customers so far. Two were delighted.

One said “It is fantastic. Thank you.”

The second said “I’m really really happy with it! I appreciate you got everything I had detailed. It was of immensely high quality. Hannah and Ariel were great and I love Hannah’s costume, she looked fantastic… thanks again for another great job. I know other websites may offer to do customs, but the key reasons I prefer you and Ariel is the clear passion you have and your commitment to producing high quality product in in both content and video/image quality.”

The third was politely and quietly a little disappointed in some aspects of what we’d shot. We knew on shoot day that we were likely to disappoint, and tried our best with the resources we had available. I thought it might be interesting to look at what happens when a custom shoot is booked, how we price and allocate resources, and how developments on set or the practicalities of shooting can force us down certain paths on shoot days.

And why what sounds like a lot of money often doesn’t even cover the actual cost of production, let alone make any profit for the producer.

I’m not trying to moan – we LOVE shooting customs, and it is AWESOME when we can deliver something that genuinely delights and exceeds expectations. I just want to explain why it’s pretty much miraculous that these things are possible at all. It’s a real juggling act shooting these things, sometimes.

I also wanted to gently explain why the answer to “why isn’t it exactly right?”, is almost always “Because you won’t pay what it would cost to make sure it is right. It’s not your fault, no-one will pay that. Which is why this is a custom, not a TV show on Prime Time TV or a Hollywood blockbuster. If this stuff could be sold for millions, it could be shot that way. But it can’t, so it has to be shot on a tiny budget.”

Development Hell

It is unfortunate that the development path for this particular video (which will appear in due course as VID0466: Hannah Ariel Paracord Kidnap) was already a bit bumpy.

It took nine months to go from first contact to finished film, which is unusual.

Nothing in any of this is in any way the customer’s fault. I must emphasise that. He has been polite, kind, reasonable, sensible and a pleasure to deal with throughout. We enjoyed making his film, we had a good day in fun company on the shoot and I hope you’ll all enjoy it when it comes out. It’s pretty good. It just doesn’t quite hit all the points from the script as hard as we’d have liked it to.

I felt guilty because I knew when I sent him the link to the finished video that we’d not managed to make it be everything he’d asked for. It couldn’t be, within the constraints we had on shoot day.

My reply to his email got to monster length, and I decided to turn in into this post because I thought it might be of interest to follow a custom shoot from start to finish. And being as “we filmed it, it was great” is a bit of a dull story, I thought it would be more interesting to follow one of the (thankfully rare) cases where rather underperformed compared with what we’d hoped to achieve.

First Contact

First contact was an inquiry about a kidnapping video with two models being tied up and carried away by an intruder. He wanted a house/bedroom setting with a vehicle they would be carried to. He mentioned four choices of model, of whom only two were possibilities (one retired, one living in Siberia and also retired).

There wasn’t enough detail for me to price it (there almost never is in first contact emails, we need a final script to quote for the job).

The custom arrived just as we were finishing off a long run of shoots and about to take a few months off to catch up on editing, so we had a one-off chance to shoot something for them right away, otherwise it would be months until it could be scheduled (nine months, as it transpired).

I offered them a slot with the last shoot we had booked that still had some uncommitted shoot time, dependent on the script. They duly produced a more detailed script so I could quote a price.

I quoted 1000 UK pounds because it was a two-girl video with multiple scenes, and I estimated it would take a day to shoot. But we didn’t have all the props he wanted, we didn’t have time to source them because the shoot was literally tomorrow by this point. I didn’t even have time to check the detailed script with the models to make sure it was in their limits.

I offered them the choice- the “proper” version, filmed some months hence, with the two models they wanted, the props as they wanted, the extra crew person it would take to shoot because the kidnapper had to be on screen with both the victims at the same time, which meant that we needed a camera operator. Price 1000 UK pounds.

Or the chance at a discount price with what we had available, with the model we were shooting tomorrow if she was OK with it, half a day to do the closest we could to the storyline. 400 UK pounds. He said go for it.

No joy, first go

On the day, we couldn’t shoot it. The model wasn’t happy appearing on-screen with a man, and had a temporary minor injury to boot which meant that much of the story as written wouldn’t work. I decided this would likely be several compromises too far for the customer – not the gag he wanted, not the tie he wanted, missing out a whole scene, and nothing on-screen with one of the models and the kidnapper. I took the executive decision not to shoot it.

Email Exchanges

I don’t want to list all the ins and outs- as typically happens there was some to and fro discussions about the details. The script got more and more complicated, with more and more details accumulating. I sent 21 emails in total for that (excluding the long debrief one). Total cost in my time maybe half a day, 150 UK pounds.

My day rate of 300 Uk pounds per day is calculated including the expenses of running the house as a studio, website hosting, upkeep of photo and computer gear and all the other overheads. It sounds like a lot, but that’s what I have to make daily to keep in business. 250 pounds goes straight back out; my actual daily profit is 50 pounds, roughly.

As he wanted two of the busiest and most popular models in the country, it was nine months until we could get both of them here. I offered him two choices again- the 400 UK pounds version with us doing our best to interpet the script with what we have, rather than buying in and organising a lot of extra detail, the cost for which would have been at least 1000 UK pounds, and in retrospect should have been more like 2000 UK pounds, as we’d ideally have shot it on location, too.

He’d originally asked for an inflatable gag. The old one we had had perished and no longer worked. I decided that Restrained Elegance would probably get value out of replacing that, so from my own pocket I ordered two inflatable gags and didn’t charge it to the customer directly. Cost to me: 150 UK pounds. (I’m rounding the figures just to illustrate). Thus far, cost to me to shoot this 400 UK pounds video is 300 UK pounds. I’m relying on being able to re-sell the end product to bring in enough money to make this worthwhile, and thinking that the investment in the bondage gear will hopefully pay off if we can use them for future RE shoots.

A month before the shoot I contact them to confirm everything is OK.

Revised Script. No revised budget

They come back asking if they can send me a revised script.

At this sort of notice, it would be possible to make some changes. Thus far, I’ve invested time in emails, committed to spending money on the two models by booking the shoot, and spend 150 pounds of my own cash to buy gags.

I have no problem with some minor revisions; it’s a little inconvenient but often these fine tuning things are just specifying the details of the existing script more precisely.

The new script was partially that, and partially some extensions.

The first was that they wanted the tie done with paracord, as they like thin rope. As luck would have it, I’d bought a reel of paracord to go with the medieval and fantasy outfits I bought for a location shoot. I’d only needed a few metres for the outfits, but thought I might as well buy a roll. 50 UK pounds of my own money, but I already had it here. Win!

Second detail was they wanted black paracord for one model, white for the other. With a month to go- totally do-able, at a cost of 50 pounds to buy the white.

Third detail was the request for an extra scene at the end: driving the van away, dropping off one model with the kidnappers, the other model tied in the van and various other details.

One of the things people don’t realise when writing customs is that a scene change is the second most expensive thing you can include in the script. (The most expensive is adding another person). Each scene change incurs at least 15 minutes change-around time- we have to move a heavy camera and tripod, microphone, microphone boom arm, stand, sandbags, actors, lights and crew. Some change-overs are more like 30 minutes.

The script we had already had four locations- a bedroom, a living room and front door, a place for the victims to be kidnapped and carried through, and a van. When you’ve only got 240 minutes to shoot an entire film, you’re now talking about 45 minutes just spent moving and carrying kit around. Down to 200 minutes to actually film it.

Our house could provide all of those locations, and I could be clever with not needing all the lights in all the rooms, which is why I could quote a price of 400 UK pounds for the quick and dirty version of the script in the first place. We could shoot the carrying and van scenes in available light, probably with a GoPro on a gimbal, and save 20 minutes of moving time, giving us that time to film.

In the new version of the script thought we’re talking about driving the van, with tied up girls, one of whom is nude.

There’s no way for the customer to really imagine how many new issues that presents. It sounds easy on paper. But my insurance doesn’t cover us filming in the van. I’m happy to do it when the van is static on our drive- it’s not going to crash there. But driving on a public road? Probably not. So now we’re looking at either changing insurance or hiring a van. Call it 200 UK pounds to the budget.

If we’re driving with the models not in seat-belts, we’re breaking the law. And I’m not putting my wife’s life at risk if there’s traffic around. Doing on a private road on a farm location we’ve hired? I’d risk it, for a few minutes to get a few cool shots, with the van going at five miles per hour and no other traffic around. On the public road? Not going to happen.

Shooting the scene on the roadside with public model? Mid-Wales is a sparsely-populated part of the UK, but it’s still crowded compared with parts of the US, for example. If we shoot by the side of the road, there’s a very good chance someone will see us. We might contemplate it with models in a blacked-out van, but not in my camper van. Again, we’re talking hire of a vehicle at minimum, and more realistically hire of a vehicle AND a location.

Let’s say 400 UK pounds for a decent location, 200 UK pounds for the van. But it’s more complex than that- everything about this shoot is predicated on being able to shoot it in half a day at our house. Locations are only available cost effectively if we hire by the week- we either hire an actual for-hire-film location for the day (cost more like 2000 UK pounds) or shoot this as part of a longer location shoot, which means rescheduling and booking something probably in December by the time we get a window in the models’ diaries again.

Everything is doable. Nothing is affordable.

Notice at this point that everything is doable, but every decision has an impact on the budget.

And almost always that impact is to blow the budget up from 400 UK pounds to several thousand pounds. “Several thousand pounds” appears to be the natural cost of a custom video on this sort of scale.

In fact several thousand pounds would be the bargain of the century if you hired a mainstream film production company to do this for you.

They’d take a look at the script, realise they needed multiple people for multiple days of pre-production, a reasonable crew, probably multiple days to shoot. There’s a reason why a 45 minute TV show takes two weeks to shoot and costs a couple of million pounds. That’s what it costs to get what’s on the script onto the screen in a proper professional setting. If you can sell the show for hundreds of millions, that makes sense. Bondage videos do not ever ever ever make that sort of money.

Cut a long story short I figured we could maybe cheat on the end scenes a bit to get the sense of what was wanted by taking longer to shoot and hiring a van, using the few remaining bits of our house not already on screen as the interior location, and faking the van moving along with sound in post production and us physically rocking it around as it was parked on the drive to simulate motion.

I quoted 400 pounds for the script with black paracord for both models, 450 with white paracord as requested, or 900 UK pounds to shoot with the extra scenes.

The ONLY reason we can ever film customs for several hundreds of pounds rather than several thousand pounds is by being clever and making cunning use of resources we already happen to have- like my camper van and Ariel and my house, bought as a studio space for our businesses as well as a place for us to live.

Naturally enough, the customer opted for the 400 pound version.

Which gave us half a day to do our best, and finally produced a locked script (which in case you are interested I reproduce below).

The Script

This is the shooting script we finally arrived at for shoot day.

Hannah Ariel Custom


I would like Ariel and Hannah to be in different rooms preparing to go out for the night while a masked intruder quietly comes from outside and makes his way to Ariel's room first carrying a bag which contains all of his bondage gear.  

Ariel will be nude getting ready to put her clothes on and he will come from behind and immediately shove an inflatable gag in her mouth holding it there with his hand as he bring her down to the bed pinning arms behind back with knees and straps the gag as she tries yell through It.

He will pump it until she is silent as you can see the panick and distress in her eyes he begins tying her up. As for the rope I would like it to be a thin black cord. 

He starts with the arms and works his way down to the feet last I prefer.  As he is tying her up I would like Ariel to be trying to struggle and calling for help often but the gag will be too much for her and all that comes out are very quiet noises that no one can hear and making it realistic as possible while the intruder is calm and overpowering for her to do anything.  

As the intruder is tying her up I want him to softly tell her throughout that he’s been watching her and been waiting for the right time to take her to be his slave shushing her quietly as well etc.  

As the intruder is getting close to be done tying her up we will hear Hannah out in the house talking to someone on the phone letting them know they are coming out and that the person she is talking can stop by in case they need a ride. 

The intruder continues binding Ariel during the phone call while  overhearing what she was saying.  

Just as the intruder finishes with Ariel, Hannah (wearing a skimpy night gown) will open Ariel's door to see if she’s about ready only to see what is happening she begins to run away for help to go outside.  

The intruder will grab one long piece of string and a cloth quickly and chases after Hannah catching her right as she’s opening the door to run outside he slams the cloth in her mouth and holds his hand over it as he drags her back inside and brings her to the ground in living room and uses the one rope to quickly subdue her wrapping the rope around her mouth once  to hold the cloth in then to her hands behind her back and then to her feet in a hogtie style.  
(The cloth muffles her screams but its still loud enough for someone to hear). 

The intruder goes back to Ariel's room and grabs his bag and brings it back to Hannah and begins tying her up starting by undoing her cloth gag and putting a pump gag in her mouth quieting her down a lot but still hear some sound from her he then begins binding Hannah (right picture) starting with hands and upper body first. 

Once he’s finished and starting to begin with her feet someone starts knocking at the door.  

Hannah starts trying to scream even louder but right as she does the intruder grabs the pump and inflates the gag until she is absolutely silent and you can see the panic in her face as she pathetically struggles and can make a sound.  

After the intruder pumps her gag he immediately continues finishing up tying her legs and feet while whoevers at the door knocks a few more times then leaves assuming the girls had already left and no-one's home.  

The intruder then carries each girl out to his vehicle (van preferably) and ties them down to the seats lying down and then drives away. Hopefully I told you enough that you can make it work.  

I’d like if the kidnapper could drive away then make a call to someone telling them he got a good one for them that they’ll like and should bring good money etc. and makes arrangement for drop off

If you need any more details or anything just let me know!! thank you

I've seen in some of your work you have used them before I was just curious.  If you do I'd prefer one of those instead with the ball style or cock style panel gag makes no difference. I'd definitely prefer the pump gag for Ariel if you are willing to try yours out and then a panel for Hannah.  

My main goal is to have the suspense of silence for them while being helpless so even if it loses its air a little maybe she could keep the effect going or randomly just pump it back up. If that doesn't work for you then id like a ball gag used. As for the onscreen tying yes id like to see it all as much as possible so whatever you can do will be fine. My favorite parts will be the rigging of legs and feet and the over the shoulder carry to vehicle just to give you an idea

I want both of them tied the same way arms to the side legs/feet together

As for the pump gag I’m not a huge fan big bulky ones. If you can use one that’s the style of a panel gag or I've seen belt/strap style ones that look thin and neat and fit snuggly around mouth I’d prefer that. 

Script Decomposition

So we have the script and budget: 400 UK pounds, which pays for half a day with two models.

I schedule a second half-day custom for the rest of the day. Together, the two customs pay the two models’ fees, cover lunch and a few extra expenses (like kicking in towards the electric bill for running the lights and cameras and all the rest of it).

Note at this point that I am already 300 UK pounds down on this custom, taking into account my emails and the gag purchase. I’ll have to make that money back by selling the final films.

On a mainstream show, they’d get the script months in advance and start breaking it down to analyse all the stuff they will need: actors, locations, props, costumes, lights, crew, timings, everything.

The budget does not allow for this. The best I can do is underline all the bondage gear, props and details and make sure we have them all, from bags to paracord (I spent half an hour that morning cutting it to lengths) to gags and I’ve made sure to ask Hannah to bring an appropriate night-dress.

Any other production issues will have to be figured out on the day, as we go along, in our already-tight 240 minutes allocated for this film. There’s just no time to do otherwise, because there’s no budget to cover it.

I’ve read through the script a few times and I think I know the main challenges we’re going to face. I’ve been very lucky in that Steve shot with us again for the first time a while recently, remembered how much he loves being involved in these shoots, and has kindly volunteered to help out as crew at his own expense.

That deals with main challenge number one – filming a three person film with no crew. It is doable with static wide camera angles, but the result is never as polished as having a camera operator. Audio, as always, has to look after itself with a mic on a fixed stand and boom. There’s NEVER the budget for a sound recordist, something which is a bare minimum even on TV newcasts.

(Everything is doable. Nothing is affordable.)

To date I’ve saved the customer 300 pounds by putting in my own money and time, 50 for the paracord I happened to already have bought, 50 by not buying the white paracord on top, 300 or so pounds by having Steve kindly help out instead of me having to hire crew, 200 pounds for using my camper van, maybe 500 pounds by shooting at our house, 400 pounds by trying to shoot the film in half a day rather than the full day I obviously know in my heart it probably requires, looking back at the emails. Hence, 400 pounds not several thousand pounds.

It’s just so easy for the budget to blow up!


Right, we’ve got everybody on set. Hannah was caught in traffic, but made good time- maybe we’ve lost 30 mins of shooting time, but she’s staying over, we can recover at the end of the day. Steve’s here, hooray.

What are the other big challenges in the script?

Read through it and see if you can spot them.

Ariel in bondage

The next biggie is that the script calls for Ariel to remain in the same bondage throughout. I have to tie her onscreen in the first scene. Then there’s an on-screen tie with Hannah, the carrying scene, and the van scene. We can’t shoot it out of sequence, because both Hannah and Ariel need to be in the bondage for the carrying scene and the van scene.

So now we’re looking at Ariel needing to remain tied up for probably three hours.

Doing a tie is slow. 45 minutes for a moderately complex rope tie, and if you need to untie and retire in the same way, you’re looking at more like an hour to make sure it matches.

We only have four hours total. We can’t untie her and retie her (it’s SO EASY for the budget to blow up- if we untied and retied we’d need a full day to shoot this). So she’s going to have to be in a tie which she can be left in safely for a long time- at least three hours- while the three other people go off to a different floor to tie and shoot the sequence with Hannah.

Furthermore, Ariel gets tied up upstairs, but the carrying and van scenes are downstairs. Our house is old and the ceiling on the stairs means I cannot carry her down- pretty much physically impossible, and certainly can’t be done on camera. Realistically, to get downstairs safely, she’s going to have to have her legs free.

So I had to work backwards from the suggested ideal wish tie the customer sent me a picture of, to something which could be tied, untied and retied in budget. I also had a limited amount of paracord, since I had to tie both girls up.

The leg tie ended up being simpler than the ideal request. It was the only sensible choice in the circumstances. The only way to make the film with all requested scenes was to make it so we could untie and retie Ariel’s legs quickly, whilst leaving her upper body in the bondage. That way she could get downstairs safely and sit out of the way while we tied and shot Hannah.

I decided for aesthetic reasons to match that tie on Hannah, because I thought it would look better overall and because we still had the problem that Hannah was going to be in the tie for at least two hours and had to get from living room to the carrying scene and van safely with minimal untying.

A TV show would probably have untied and retied the girls, and would have realised the necessity for that in pre-production. They’d either then have cut the scene or made time elsewhere in the schedule for the show. We had a little wriggle room- the other custom we were shooting that day only required a single metal bondage rig, not two girls in complex rope. But of course I didn’t want to short-change the other customer.

The Carrying Scene

Going in to shoot day, that had been my main concern: could Ariel stay tied up long enough, safely enough and comfortable enough that we could avoid an untie-and-retie?

My second concern was the carrying, which I knew was important to the customer. In an old house where the doorways are five foot 8” high (low enough that I need to duck to get through the front door, for example) there was no way we could go out the front door safely- I’m not ducking with 75 kg of Ariel on my shoulder to get through a door. The chances of cracking my head, her butt, or dropping her were just too high.

So we had to go out of the back door (which is more modern and therefore taller). There’s a corridor leading to that, but that’s too low and constricted to be able to carry anyone, too. So the only available space we had was the room with the murals on it, out of the door to the conservatory, through the garden to the side gate. I figured I could park the camper van so its side door was by the side gate and do it that way. And the best we could do for carrying would be to film it in slow mo so at least it took up a decent amount of screen time.

Could we have solved this issue in other ways? Yes, but not on the budget. The proper fix would have been a hired location- but then the changes snowball, and the cost instantly blows up to several thousand pounds. (It is SO EASY for the budget to blow up!)

On the day, we needed to make three additional compromises that I hadn’t thought of in advance, which is what resulted in not having the girls’ feet tied during the carry, as the customer rightly in their polite reaction afterwards.

I had intended to untie their legs, get them to the mural room to start the carry, then carry them out to the van tied up.

On the day, it turned out that both Ariel and Hannah were quite scared of the carrying. Game to give it a go, but I had to be mindful of this and minimise the number of takes and different shots. Not fair to them to do it twenty times each, we were likely to be able to get one or two takes each, tops.

Worse, our drive is not entirely private- you can see into it from the street.

And as bad luck would have it, the shoot was on a Saturday, it was really sunny, and there was a parade in the centre of town. There were far more people walking past the drive than on a usual day, and a lot of them had kids. We’d already seen several kids come onto our drive and look around earlier in the day. We had to be careful – if we had a naked Ariel on view of kids, we’d have the police called out.

I’d opened the front door of the camper van to block as much of the view to the side door and the side gate as possible, but it became obvious that while we might get away with me carrying Hannah across the gap and into the van, I was not going to be able to do so with a naked Ariel. So… Ariel, at least, would have to walk across the gap, and would have to be covered with a dressing gown or something.

Which means she’d need her legs untied.

Which meant we didn’t have time to retie her legs for the carry, untie her legs for her to walk across the gap into the camper, then retie her legs again in the camper for the final scene. And given the number of people on the street, I took the decision to do the same with Hannah.

So this ended up compromising the already-compromised carrying scene still further.

If we’d had an extra hour of shoot time we would have tied their feet, done several takes of the carry to intercut dramatic angles, untied their feet, got them dressed, walked them across the short gap to the camper van, retired their feet, and carried on. But we flat-out didn’t have enough time, and it was clear that both the models wanted the carrying kept as short as possible because of the concern of being dropped. (I have been trained in doing fireman’s lift carries as a diving instructor, but I also admit my training is a bit rusty- so I didn’t want to do the scene too often for my sake too!)

We shot one take with Ariel, with me carrying, legs untied, and Steve following me with a camera on a gimbal for as smooth as possible a shot. He said it was too obvious that her legs weren’t tied. So we did another take, which resulted in the final “top of head” hair and gag swishing shot we finally got.

Even so, the customer noticed that her legs weren’t tied.

An unsuccessful compromise, which we totally realised at the time but which there just wasn’t time to rectify. Especially not as the clock was ticking, both Hannah and Ariel had already been tied up for a long time, and we had to get the carrying sequence of Hannah and then shoot the scene in the van.

We could have reshot it, potentially, but lost the scene in the van.

We went for the same, unsatisfactory, compromise for Hannah’s carry, knowing that it was the only thing we could think of to try to get something for the customer which still had the carrying scene.

By this stage we were already at the end of our shoot time, so we did the best we could and shot the van footage in two or three takes on the GoPro too.

We could have shot the carry and the van scenes it with the RED, a better microphone, more angles… but not for 400 UK pounds.

That would have blown up the budget; we’d have needed a full-day shoot.

And really a location.

Back to thousands of pounds territory again.

The Unexpected

Those were the problems I knew we were going to have.

As always happens on every shoot day, there were a bunch of other minor problems to deal with.

We couldn’t do the “depositing the girl in van” shots as I’d envisaged it- too public, too much chance of someone seeing, and the girl’s legs weren’t tied which would have been impossible to conceal.

The van is old, and on this particular day decided not to start when I turned they key. It did start later on, so I had to grab some of the sound of the motor running and the girls struggling and slide it around in editing to make that bit of the sequence make sense.

The whole van scene was just a few lines at the end of the script, and I knew we’d done a good and comprehensive job of the tying up sequences. So I was fairly comfortable with the compromise on the van stuff, especially as we needed to get the girls untied.

Gag Trouble

The other thing I remember going wrong was potentially much more serious: the gag was not a good one to use on Hannah. It was a bit too big to use in its intended configuration as a butterfly gag, but we discovered that Hannah could be gagged with the inner part of it, if we inflated it just one puff.

In retrospect we could possibly have swapped over to the inflatable cock-gag we’d used on Ariel, and had Ariel wear the butterfly gag, but we just didn’t think of it at the time. (I don’t know whether Hannah’s OK with cock gags, which is probably why it didn’t occur at the time).

It meant we couldn’t get the inflating shots with Hannah.

In editing I realised we could have shot a closeup of my hand inflating the gag, and reaction shots of Hannah’s face as if the gag was inflating- but we didn’t think to get those shots on the day. If we’d actually done more inflating the butterfly gag would just have pushed away from her face, which would have looked stupid.

Worse, about half way through tying her up, she said that the gag was causing her lips to tingle. We’ve had this before once or twice with gags- we had a ball-gag that always caused that reaction on Ariel – we had to throw it away. And it can happen with models with latex allergies. Hannah didn’t THINK she had a latex allergy- but as she said, she didn’t usually have latex in her mouth.

By this point, we were more than half-way through the shooting time. Ariel was still tied up off-set, Hannah was half-way tied up. The only alternative would have been to switch to a panel gag- but that would have meant rewinding, untying Hannah, and starting again with the bondage sequence, but this time with a panel gag.

This was just not going to happen, we didn’t have the extra hour or so of shoot time it would have taken to do that, and Ariel might not have been able to stay tied for an additional hour either.

So we had to make a quick decision- could Hannah cope with the gag for long enough to get the shots we needed to finish the film? If we’d had to change gags we’d have lost a lot of time- maybe so much that we couldn’t get the carrying and van scenes. If we carried on, we ran the risk of an actual allergic reaction- on the less-serious end, that might have made it hard to complete the scene or left her with a puffed-up face. On the more-serious end, it could have triggered a trip to hospital or something I guess.

This is the sort of go/no-go decision I hate with custom videos. If we’re shooting for RE, we change stuff all the time to react to things on shoot day. If a gag doesn’t fit, we use another or the kidnapper comes and takes the gag out. Following a custom script means we don’t have those options available.

Obviously, the only person who could make the call about the gag was Hannah.

So we asked her what to do. Whatever the decision, we’d have had to figure out on the fly which of the necessary compromises to the film we’d have to to make to get in finished in the time we had available. Ditch the van scene? Lose the carry? Lose the tying montage of Hannah and just cut to her fully tied with a new gag, and bin the footage with the current gag?

She decided that the best bet was to power through but to keep the gag out of her mouth except when absolutely necessary for filming. If she’d been wrong and the reaction had got worse, we might have ended up having to cut her part of the filming very short or even omit it entirely in the edit. Fortunately, it didn’t get worse so we could complete the film. But it meant that anything to do with Hannah and the gag had be cut a bit short.

She did her best to act according to the script direction for the mmmphing, of course. But it didn’t turn out quite the way the customer had hoped.

This is the sort of compromise you have to make when the time is too tight to go back and reshoot any substantial part of a scene. We could allow for it – but then everyone’s customs would double in cost and I don’t think the market would stand it.

Is this usual?

Taken individually, none of these things are particularly unusual.

The customer was unlucky in having multiple things crop up on the same script.

The other one we shot that day had a problem or two as well, like costuming not quite allowing the action as scripted to go exactly right, and us finding that the film we ended up with was long on dialogue and set-up but rather short on actual bondage, which is the thing which makes it re-sellable. So we had to shoot some extra bondage at the end of that to make sure we got enough.

We finished just about on time and went out to the pub for a meal and a drink, because Ariel and I were far too knackered to cook. Steve drove home- another four hours, on top of the four hours he drove that morning to get to us for the shoot.

It’s all about the budget

In retrospect, I should have trusted to my first instinct and priced this as a full-day shoot, possibly with location. I don’t like disappointing customers, and although they were very kind and polite, I know full well that the final film doesn’t have all the elements hit as hard as we’d have liked.

To put it into context, typing this blog post and email to explain the decisions we made on shoot day
has taken four hours (which I’m effectively doing unpaid, although I hope that people find my blog gives an interesting insight into bondage production).

The whole shoot only had four hours allocated to it on shoot day.

The budget didn’t even cover the expenses.

If I make any money from the film myself at all, it will be because people buy it and like it- and those customers’ tastes may not be identical to those of the person who commissioned it. So in the back of my mind I also have the competing desires to get the custom exactly right for the person who wrote it, but also make it have wide enough appeal for me to be able to make some money on it in the end. If I get this wrong too often, I’ll go out of business. I spent three to four of my own working days roughly on this film, and my only hope of seeing some pay for myself is good sales at the end.

We have to move fast and make these decisions fast in order to be able to deliver any sort of film at all on the budgets people have for custom videos. It is a fair chunk of money- but when you’ve got multiple professionals on set it doesn’t go very far at all. What looks simple on paper rarely turns out that way on set, so we always just have to do the best we can with what we have. Doing it properly invariably means the budget jumping up to several thousand pounds, and only a handful of custom video customers have been willing to underwrite that sort of expense.

I hope that explains why the shortcomings in this customer’s film ended up the way they are.

I hope that if we can shoot something for you, we don’t have as many minor crises to deal with on shoot day and can therefore produce something closer to the script as written, with fewer compromises.

That’s a bit about luck (Hannah having a reaction to the gag was bad luck) a bit about limited planning time (me not realising that there would be lots of people on the street on shoot day was due to that), but mostly it’s about trying to make a film on a budget which doesn’t even cover costs and where most of the obvious solutions (hire a location for the carrying sequence, untie and retie, re-shoot the sequence of Hannah getting tied up with a different gag) are not possible or practical given the budget and time we have to work with.

I don’t like to disappoint, but sometimes it becomes a matter of filming something rather than nothing and doing the best we can whilst knowing we will be falling short. Other times, we
manage to over-deliver because we discover that we can do a better job with more shots, more drama, more good stuff on camera than the bare script suggested we might.

Obviously, I like the second sort of custom better. Feedback from customers suggests we exceed expectations much more often than we disappoint. Even the customer for this video was very generous and kind in their feedback, just letting us know which things didn’t look as they had hoped, and not really criticising us for the shortcomings which we knew were there.

I’d love to be able to exceed expectations every time. I’m not clever enough to figure out how to do that infallibly.

I just wanted to run through this experience to explain the process, in case you thought it was interesting, and I thought the one custom where I demonstrably underquoted in order to attempt to make something rather than nothing, and where the shoot turned out more eventful than usual, was maybe a good one to follow. I emphasise that this is unusual- by far the trickiest shoot we’ve had in the last few years (through no particular fault of anyone, except possibly me for trying to shoot it in a half day rather than a full day).

It turned out to be worth my while writing all of this up, because it crystallised the thought that the natural price for a custom video shot to these standards is several thousand pounds. I bet if I went to a commercial video maker who shoots corporate videos, they would charge at least 5,000 pounds for the script above- and very likely it would be closer to 10,000 pounds.

It’s therefore a miracle of organisation and compromise and making use of the resources we already have to be able to deliver a custom video for 5% of the natural cost. It explains why any significant deviation from the clever house of cards plan for the shoot results in an instant explosion of costs.

It isn’t that the cost of thousands of pounds is unreasonable. It’s that several thousand pounds is the natural cost for one of these videos.

That’s the commercial reality, that’s what it should cost to shoot a 30 minute video with stunt performers, locations, vans, crew, editors, props, costumes, camera operators, and the rest. If clever house of cards collapses, the natural cost reasserts itself.

That’s a valuable realisation for me.

I don’t know how typical this thought process is of customs – fellow models and producers, do you go through this every time you get commission? How do you estimate costs, and do you always feel that the budget is just a sentence or two from blowing up to thousands of pounds?

Best regards!


Crux Points

P.S. In case you are thinking of commissioning a video yourself, here are some of the “crux points” I look for in scripts. These are things which cause the costs to blow up, which are maybe not obvious to someone writing the script.

  1. Another actor. If it is a model, immediately double the cost of the shoot. If if is a kidnapper, add in the cost for a crew person for a day. We can use tricks and cheats for a few shots in an otherwise simpler film – I can be the delivery boy if it is one 30 second wide shot out of a 30 minute movie. But anything beyond that requires an extra person and the cost blows up.
  2. Scene change. Every time we move room, we potentially move lights, cameras, stands, sandbags, microphone, boom pole, actors, crew. We will need to light the new room. Even the slickest turnover probably takes 30 minutes, which is a lot in a four hour shoot slot. We can cheat by doing set-up shots in daylight on a GoPro or camera on a gimbal- fine for answering the door to the delivery boy. For anything else, the cost blows up.
  3. Location. If we can’t shoot it in our house, we have to hire somewhere. Locations are generally only cost-effective by the week, which means a long lead-time and lots of organisational work for me. Then I need to try to get other customs to make us of it, or have ideas to shoot RE stuff there. It’s easy to blow a couple of thousand pounds this way.
  4. Untie and retie. Tying a complex rope bondage is slow to start with- up to an hour, which is a big chunk of a four hour shoot slot. Untying and replicating it is a nightmare of epic proportions. It’s so easy to get it a bit wrong, and it is physically hard on the model and rigger too. If the script calls for scene changes, this can easily explode the budget. But having too much happen, especially in a demanding position, can cause problems too. Bear in mind the practicalities of shooting- I’ll warn you if I think it will blow the budget.
  5. Pre-production chores. Ordering one pair of gloves for your custom only takes half an hour. But it’s cheaper and easier for you to do it than to pay me to do it. Order the stuff yourself and get it sent here. That way we avoid email tennis “is this one OK?” “yes buy it” “oh no, that’s sold out in that size, what about this one” etc.. In theory I could bill all this to the customer- a lawyer or accountant would- but in practice the budget won’t stand it. So I’ll ask you to do as much of the pre-production for us as possible, as you aren’t billing anyone for your time and I have to manage at least a dozen of these things in parallel (which is a nightmare sometimes).
  6. Script changes. Each time you change a detail, you run the risk of the collapse of the carefully-constructed house of cards that makes it possible to shoot your custom for hundreds of pounds. As I’ve explained, it is SO EASY for the budget to blow up to the point it really wants to be- several thousand pounds- instead of the point where the market can just about afford to have these things made. By all means, run your more detailed ideas and refinements past the producer- it might make life easier on shoot day, and it is always helpful to know what you have in mind. But don’t be surprised if they come back with “Yes, we can, but it’ll blow up the budget to cost you several thousand pounds”.

Restrained Elegance On Location!

Dear Friends,

Hello from sunny Wales!

We just got back from our most exciting adventure – a big Restrained Elegance location trip! These trips are always a bit nerve-wracking for me. Will the location be suitable? Will some irate land-owner come and kick us off? Will the models all get on? Will the crew all work well together and have fun? Will we get any good stuff? How will I pay for it all… and will I make the money back?

This trip started on a high from the kindness of people joining or re-joining Restrained Elegance to celebrate our 17th birthday with us in April. This makes a massive difference to us and the support meant that we could be a bit more ambitious with what we shot on this trip. So thank you everyone!

If you missed out on the birthday offers, I’ve decided to keep the “buy two months, get one month free” $69.95 (Renews at $69.95) offer going for now. So if you enjoyed a month at, why not come back, enjoy a great deal, and get ready to see the results of all our hard work on location with Ariel Anderssen, Ayla Rose, Sophia Smith, Temptress Kate and Zoe Page?

Here are a few samples to whet your appetite – the full sets and videos will start going up for members very soon!

Massive thanks to Steve, Kate, Ariel, Ayla, Sophia and Zoe for making the absolute best of a cracking trip!


What To Do When You Are Censored

Hi Everyone

A few years ago I posted this: about the censorship encroaching upon adult expression online.

Sorry to have been a prophet of doom, but a lot of this is now coming to pass. The latest wheeze is FOSTA/SESTA in the USA which has the big platforms running scared. Craigslist closed their personals section down, because people were using it to hook up for sex (sometimes involving money).

On the pretext of stopping trafficking, a nasty thing which is already criminal, and which happens in all sorts of industries, a resource for people to find each other for stuff they want to do, entirely consensually, has been taken away.

Amazon just started delisting and pushing romance down in the ratings- something they did five years ago for erotica, but which apparently someone decided now had to include anything with a sex scene. Romance writers were highly alarmed. Erotica writers were alarmed but hardly surprised.

We should protest, for sure. But are there any steps we can take to mitigate our risk? It looks like the censors are too canny to try outright bans on erotica or romance or sex scenes, they are sidling up on it and using not-so-subtle commercial pressures to do the job for them. They don’t need to ban it, just make it economically unfeasible for us to make it. (See age verification, UK).

As producers of erotica we’re a bit further along this road, so do we have any lessons learned to pass on?

Precious few, but what I have is here. I haven’t got all that far with all of these myself, it all takes time, which is a precious commodity for the self-employed creative. But at least this is my action plan.

  1. Have a diverse range of income from multiple platforms, in multiple countries. Even if 95% of your money comes through Amazon, take the time to set up sales via as many other platforms as you have time for. They aren’t for making money now. They are fallbacks for when your main supplier suddenly cuts off your whole revenue stream.
  2. Gather your fanbase yourself, and get their contact details in a place that can’t be taken away from you easily. Run a mailing list somewhere, on a server you pay for. Create your own Mastodon instance and ask them to sign up there. Run your own WordPress site and blog (NOT a WordPress hosted one! They’ve already started nuking the sites of sex workers). Get customers create accounts at your own site. You need to have a way of notifying your customers and fans when your main sales channel dies.
  3. Diversify your payment methods. Paypal can and will nuke you (it happened to website producers 15 years ago or so). Visa and Mastercard can and will nuke you if the political climate makes that happen. Even the banks will cut off your account (just ask sex workers and adult performers in the USA). Not to go all tin-foil hat, but don’t have all your eggs in one basket. Bank transfers are great for direct payment in Europe (the US banking system is much more fragmented). You need to have a fallback solution in place, ready to spin up when your main service provider cuts you off.
  4. Look for providers whose interests are aligned with your own. Amazon couldn’t care less about erotica or romance authors. (Except the big ones- you can bet Fifty Shades didn’t get this treatment). For erotic film-makers, Clips4Sale is a good example. C4S may be big and blundering and a bit rubbish, but they make their money out of you selling your adult clips. If they don’t protect that basic transaction, they are out of business. Their interests align more broadly with yours that say Craigslist or Paypal.
  5. Band together with other creatives, pool resources and start making platforms together, This is hard work, will be fraught with failures, but is ultimately the only way to generate enough commercial clout to survive. Basically I’m saying unionise? Ha, ha, good luck with the herding of cats. Co-operatives or creative-led platforms are the way forward, though. In the wake of the US sex worker censorship, new Mastodon instance generated 7600 users in less that 48 hours, instantly catapulting them into the top leagues of Mastodon instances. This might not come to anything long-term, and it is an example of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. But it shows that these initiatives can work in the right circumstances.

In my opinion those circumstances are right. The big platforms have proved themselves untrustworthy, and are so big and powerful as to tilt this way and that with the political climate rather than stand up for any slice of the creatives who are working away at the base, making the whole edifice work. Amazon wouldn’t exist without book authors, but it is now so big in so many spheres that it can afford to treat them with cavalier disregard.

Make your own platforms. Sell everywhere, even places that are barely cost-effective for you now. Draw your customer base to you directly.

Good luck!

Five Minutes To Save Your Twitter Following: Why you should be on Mastodon, Too

If you are reading this, I’m going to assume that you are interested in adult entertainment. You’re a model, a photographer, a website producer, a cam-performer, a sex worker, a fan or a devotee of kinkiness and erotica.

The chances are you are already on Twitter, and you’re probably using it to keep in touch with your customers and fans, network with other adult industry people and kinksters, promote your website, OnlyFans or Clips4Sale or because you’re a fan and you like to meet up with the people who make your favourite porn.

Twitter is pretty good for this. Pithy tweets, actual conversations, and the ability to post pictures and videos for people to share and enjoy. And up until now, Twitter has been pretty good at sticking to their “free speech means adult entertainment is OK on our platform” principles.

Unfortunately, if you’ve been around a while, you’ll know that any monolithic platform run by one company is one CEO decision away from the Pornocalypse. First they mark everything as “sensitive” or “NSFW”. Then they silently censor it or move it down in search rankings. Then, when they’ve got erotica all corralled in a nice little area, they can just cut it completely.

Now I don’t KNOW if Twitter will do this. But I’ve been on enough platforms that have done it in the past that I’d rather not trust to luck. Paypal, Google AdWords, Patreon… I’d like to be a little bit more prepared this time around.

Which is why I started looking around for alternatives. I think I’ve found a decent one, and I think you should be on it too. It’s called Mastodon and it is like Twitter but based on open-source code and is distributed.


It’ll take five minutes, tops.

  1. Sign up to a Mastodon instance. Ours is at The big one,, is fine so long as you flag adult content. is a sex-work friendly one (again community-run). There are other free ones, or you can host your own for 5 EUR a month.
  2. Set up cross-posting on Your Mastodon can automatically echo what you tweet. You can set content warnings here, worth doing for maximum reach (see below).
  3. If you want a phone app, install Amaroq (iOs) or Tusky (Android).
  4. Encourage your followers to sign up and follow you.
  5. Be smug when Twitter bans you but you are already up and running and have lots of followers on a new platform with almost zero effort.

OK, five minutes is just to set up your Mastodon feed, echoing your Twitter feed. It’s getting followers to sign on and follow us to assemble a critical mass that will be the hard bit. That’s why I’m posting this in the first place. The sooner we start, the better chance we have of staying ahead of the curve.

NOTE: When you sign in after verifying your email, you need to log in with email address, not the username you chose for the instance. This is annoying.

In more detail

Mastodon is Distributed. What that means is that you can run your own server, called an “instance” which communicates with other instances (“federated”, in the jargon). They company can’t shut you down, because there’s no one central company in control of the servers. With enough people running instances which talk to each other, you get a look-and-feel very like Twitter, but without the “CEO decides to cut porn today” risk. It runs on open-source protocols. Each instance talks to other instances to build up a social network, rather than having Big Brother at the top snooping down. Privacy is better protected, more under user control, up to and including running your own single-user instance with no-one else having ANY privileged admin access to your private data.

There’s got to be a catch, and there is. Right now it is tiny. The main instance, run by the dev who is developing the system, has only got 136,000 people. Some of you may have that many followers on Twitter. Right now, you probably won’t get NEW customers from Mastodon.

But we can bring them. As producers of adult entertainment we do have pulling power. People have always followed the porn, and as porn gets harder and harder to access on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, they’ll follow us wherever a critical mass of erotic artists and performers ends up. They followed us from Usenet newsgroups to websites to Yahoo groups and they will do so again.

Prepared For Losing Your Twitter Account?

If one day you lose your twitter account for one nipple slip too many in your profile, how will your fans be able to reconnect?

If you’ve started posting on Mastodon, and encouraged your fans and followers to come with you, you’ve got a ready-made fallback. The platform isn’t perfect and this may not work. But it’s better than sitting around waiting for the axe to fall on us AGAIN from social media companies.

I figure it is worth five minutes.


It’s super-easy. The first thing you need to do is to sign up to some Mastodon instance. Which one?

  1. Easiest option: Adult stuff is allowed so long as it is tagged. You can see the full terms and conditions here. Tagging is just like twitter- set a flag in your profile to mark your media posts as sensitive. If you’re a fan, reading rather than posting, this is a no-brainer. As a content provider, I’d say sign up on there too as a first step. You can always have another account on another instance and it’ll help if you do create your own somewhere down the line.
  2. Middling option: Find another public instance which supports the stuff you want to post, via Here are two examples:
  3. Friendly kinkster option: I’ve made an instance myself, which you are welcome to join. Email or message me for an invite. I intend to make this a resource for BDSM and Fetish producers, photographers, models and fans.
  4. Sex-work friendly option:
  5. Harder option: Make your own instance, hosted via That’s what I did. Basic plan costs 5 EUR a month for unlimited space and max 100 users, and you’ll be in control. Hugo had it up and running for me in a couple of hours.
  6. Hard techie option: or you can go the full monty and install an instance on your own hardware if you know what you are doing. If you are worried about “who pays for it, am I the product?” this is your answer. YOU can pay for it, directly, and have control over your instance and all the code on it. This way you’re not even beholden to a hosting company.

STEP TWO: Cross Post with Twitter

If like me your main publicity tool on social media right now is Twitter, you may not want to curate another feed on another platform. Fortunately, you can set up automatic cross-posts between your Twitter feed and your Mastodon.

Go to Log in with your Twitter and with your Mastodon. Set to cross post. You can do it so tweets appear on your Mastodon, or vice versa, or both. Set it to ignore retweets, replies, etc. for a clean feed.

Mastodon has a content warning system, one for text and one for pics.

For pics, the easiest thing is just to set Preferences -> Always mark media as sensitive in your Mastodon control panel.

Supplement that with text saying what the warning is about. When posting you can click the “CW” button as you compose and flag it with words: NSFW, Nudity, BDSM in my case.

You can set the cross-poster to add these automatically on stuff from your Twitter feed: scroll down to “Twitter content warning” and add a few words (I have NSFW, Nudity, BDSM on mine as that covers 99% of what comes up on my twitter reposts).

I gather that will make it more likely that our posts will be widely shared and our instance happily federated by other admins.


The most common recommendations seem to be Amaroq (iOs) or Tusky (Android).

Of course you can just use it in a browser, which is what I do. (So I can’t speak for the above apps personally).

STEP FOUR: Tell Your Followers

Now get your current followers to sign up to a Mastodon instance and follow you.

This will grow the network and get us towards a critical mass. But more importantly, it means if and when Twitter gives you the chop, you’ll already have at least SOME of your followers up and running and ready to keep in contact on a new platform.

Follow a few admins and other producers. Post with hashtags (because that’s how search works on there).

STEP FIVE: See What Happens

I got all this set up from scratch in about 24 hours, including my own instance and a bit of reading around to understand how it works. I put this post together so the most important info is in one place so you don’t have to go looking.

I have no idea if this platform will have any longevity, but it has got a lot to recommend it and I figure it is worth a go. Especially since getting an “echo feed” of your Twitter onto Mastodon is literally a few minutes work, tops.


You find other people by their handle, which is (@)Username(@)instance. So I am
for example.

When you get in, the interface is Twitter-like. (And even more TweetDeck like, if you’ve used that).

If you are on your own instance, you need to start following people on other instances to get “federated up”. Google it- basically follow a few admins of other instances, and tell your fans. If they sign up and follow you from a big public instance, job done.

Use hashtags, that’s the only way to search. We need to establish stuff like #BDSM #bondage #adult #erotic #footfetish etc. so new people can find us if this does all take off.

Annoyingly, right now there’s very limited scheduling facilities for queued posts. There’s one in beta but it doesn’t allow pics yet. But while we’re still allowed on Twitter we can use their queued tweets to schedule stuff via cross-posting which is a workable solution while we build followings. But at least they’re working on it.