Equipment To Get Started

Every so often people ask me what equipment they need to get started producing their own bondage images or video clips. This has changed (for the better) recently so I thought I’d post about it.

The good news is that pretty much any recent camera can do the job. You could even get started with a smart-phone camera, if you have a relatively recent phone. You’ll probably find that quite limiting, but plenty of models are selling videos shot on their iPhones.

The equipment you need is going to depend on what sort of work you’re aiming to produce. If the aesthetic you like and want to produce is “gritty” point-of-view bondage, an iPhone or a GoPro could be exactly what you need. If you’re planning on shooting video and aiming for a higher-quality aesthetic, more like you see on other BDSM websites, then a video camcorder might be right thing. If you think you would like to try stills and well as video, an interchangeable-lens camera like a dSLR will probably be more suited to your needs.

If you’re interested in my work, I’m going to assume you’d like to produce something a bit glossier than point-of-view kidnap videos. In that case the most versatile option would be an interchangeable-lens camera, because as the name suggests you can swap lenses to get different look-and-feel to the footage.

I started to write a mega-long post but then I realised that this literally needs to be a book. I will try to write one next year. I can give a much shorter answer.

Almost any modern digital camera system with fast lenses which covers moderate wide angle, “normal” (50mm equivalent focal length) and a mild telephoto for close-ups will do the job.

If I were starting today, I’d get a Canon 80D, a Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom, a Canon 50mm f/1.4 prime lens, and a Rode VideoMicPro R. If funds were tight, I’d opt for a second-hand Canon 70D instead.

San-disk Extreme Pro are good SD cards, the 95 MB/s versions are fine for all but the most cutting-edge cameras shooting high bit rate video.

If money allows, a boom mic on a C-stand and a radio transmitter/receiver will give even better audio but the shotgun-mic on camera works well for a lot of people.

Tripod

If you are shooting any video at all, you need one. Even arch-technophobe Ariel Anderssen uses one.

Get a video tripod with a fluid head. Moving camera looks cool on video, but shaky-cam is just annoying. Any tripod will do to get started. You will throw it away and buy a better one within weeks, though. You get what you pay for when it comes to smooth pans and solid footage. Something like this would be a decent starting point, but a proper video tripod from someone like Manfrotto will last you a decade.

Lighting

Yes, you need it. You should spend more money on it than you want to, because it is important and a decent set of lighting gear will outlast your camera for sure.

If money was tight I’d buy Tungsten continuous lighting (something like this: tungsten kit )

If funds allow a decent bi-colour LED set up is much easier to use safely. It’s also more versatile, mixing with available light either in daytime or night-time, dimmable for style, and runs cool so danger of a hot light burning anyone. Something like two of these: Lite Panels bicolour. There are cheaper LED options, but the colour rendition may well be crap. Green skin is not a good look.

If you are AT ALL interested in stills, it is worth investing in some flash lighting. Flash is SOOOO much cheaper for the light output than anything you can get for video, and this will make a considerable difference to the quality of your stills. Something like this Bowens kit would be a bottom-end starter. If you’re really serious, look into Profoto or Hensel. I really like the battery-powered studio flash units that you can use on location away from power sockets.

Can you get away with just continuous lighting?

Changing lighting systems is a pain on set. Buying a second set of flash lighting equipment costs money. Would it be better to just buy a really bright set of continuous lighting and use that?

Until very recently the answer was very simple, even for top-end pros: No. Even Hollywood HMI lights didn’t really compare with what you could carry around on your back with a flash set-up.

With the latest generation of multi-colour dimmable bright LED lights like Arri SkyPanels and L10’s, it’s not so clear-cut for top-end pros, but these lights cost mega-bucks.

If you are sure that your primary interest is video, consider spending a lot more on lighting and you can may be able get away without flash. You’ll need fast lenses and a modern camera with good low-light performance.

Personally, I still love being able to carry a battery-powered system with me that can over-ride direct sunlight, and the only thing which can do that is flash.

Safety

Buy several sets of safety scissors (EMT shears) and a set of bolt cutters if you’re going to be doing metal bondage. Take yourself on a bondage or shibari course if there are any near you. If there aren’t, budget to travel to one. You might be able to combine it with shoots if you find a model and/or rigger with studio space.

Computer

I’m sure you can do this on a PC, but all my pro work is on Macs so that’s what I’m going to recommend.

Get a second-hand iMac or MacBook Pro with three external hard drives to store your footage. Use one as working space, one to back up the working space (copy files across as you pull them off the card) and the third as a back-up in a physically separate place that you update after each shoot so at least the raw shots/footage are safe. Don’t wipe the card until you have copies on all three hard drives.

Edit video in Final Cut Pro. You can start with iMovie (which is free) but FCP is a big step up and is capable of growing with you all the way up to full-blown movies so getting started with it sooner rather than later is a good idea.

Edit photos with Lightroom; personally I don’t like Adobe software or Adobe price plans but it is hard to argue with success. Capture One Pro is a great alternative.

Put the rest of your money on-screen

Spend your money on models, studios, locations, bondage gear, clothes, gags… all the things which will appear on screen.

What To Shoot To Get Started?

Shoot video. Open a store on Clips4Sale. It’s much easier to market that way, C4S handles most of the technical side and all the billing for you, and provide a built-in marketplace. You will find you need to update frequently to get much attention.

Stills are harder to sell; bentbox.co seems to be the best platform at the moment. If your heart is in stills by all means go for it, but be aware that the market seems to be smaller and there isn’t anywhere with the critical mass of customers than Clips4Sale provides for video.

In terms of content, shoot what you love, what you personally want to see. That way you’ll be happy to be doing it even if you make no money, and you’ll do a better job of it too. Don’t chase the market, certainly not while you are getting started. Concentrate on making stuff which you think is of good quality, both in technical terms and in terms of showing on screen something which you think is really hot. If you think it is good, other people might too.

Book professional models and ask them for advice, showing them a small number of shots through the day. Do this DURING the shoot, budgeting them time as part of what you are paying them for. (They can’t afford to give you free advice outside the shoot, they need to be working to earn a living, and they don’t want to be bombarded by hundreds of shots). But working with them to improve shots and lighting during the shoot is a very sound idea.

Book a studio or two with their own lighting so you can play around and see what works for you before buying your own kit.

Promote on Twitter. Other platforms may be OK, depending on what you shoot- Facebook is famously unfriendly to nudity, for example, but I know models who get great results on Instagram.

Good luck and have fun!

The Perfect Custom Video

Hi Everyone!

I’ve just been answering a stack of emails about custom videos. What makes a script a “great” custom for us, and what makes it a “groan”? If you give us a perfect script, we can give you a perfect custom video!

A great custom script is clear about the details which are important to the concept of the film, without going into paralysing detail.

Too Much

An actual screenplay, with stage directions and scripted dialogue is usually too much.

Models aren’t actresses, they don’t budget time for each production to learn lines. Many don’t really have the skill of learning lines (they are models, after all, not actresses). If you want word-perfect dialogue, you need to budget for time for the performers to learn the script by heart.

Furthermore, unless you’re a professional writer, scripted dialogue rarely sounds as natural as letting the performers ad lib around a guideline.

So…

INT CAFE, DAY.
The cafe is busy, with tables laid with white tablecloths and silver cutlery, with Swiss cut glass crystal glasses on every table. 
ARIEL enters, wearing a boho sweater and boots and carrying a red leather book and a 
long thin case.
ZOE is already seated, waiting for her. She's half-way through a plate of fettucini with grated truffle. A WAITER brings them drinks.

      ARIEL
Well I must say you are looking very beautiful this morning if I may so say so Mistress Zoe, very beautiful indeed.

     ZOE
Thank you! And I cannot wait to see what your diary says we will be doing today. And
which implements are coming out of the corporal punishment case you have with you.

…is absolutely overkill. Note the extraneous detail (Swiss cut glass crystal glasses, fettucini with grated truffle). In a Hollywood script, this is standard scene setting level of detail. For us, you’re giving us a problem. Do we need to source Swiss cut glass crystal? Are you going to pay for it? What if we can’t get truffle, or we don’t have fettucini in the house?

Setting all of that up would probably take an hour or more on shoot day, and several hours of pre-production time. Is it critical to the vision for the custom video? Would we be OK to just have our posh glasses on the table, and whatever food we can easily source from last night’s dinner on the plate?

We end up wasting ages on set worrying over what details we are OK to change, or doing our best to slavishly follow directions which the customer doesn’t actually care about.

Just Right, Goldilocks Zone

Focus on the details which matter. Leave the rest as vague as can be so we can fit it in around the resources we have available. But suggest as much as you can, and let us know the intent. If there are details which are vital, spell them out. In this scene, let’s say the important things are that Ariel has to bring the punishment book and CP implements with her to meet Zoe.

Ariel and Zoe meet for coffee. As usual, Ariel has to bring the case of CP implements and 
the punishment book with her so Zoe can go through the week's events with her and decide
punishment. Having to do this sort-of in public is humiliating for Ariel, and Zoe does her 
best to embarrass her.

That hits the sweet spot. It’s nicely non-specific about the details of the place they meet for coffee, but says it is semi-public. Great, got it, we can set that up in a few minutes and tell the story very effectively.

We’d ask for some guidance on what the girls are wearing- a paragraph like this covers it for the whole film, rather than detailed descriptions scene-by-scene:

Ariel is a repressed and hardworking career girl. In public she always wears a white blouse, 
pencil skirt and glasses. 
In private, Mistress Zoe always makes her strip naked.

Zoe is a free spirit, even though she is a domme. She wears loose boho-style outfits like a
loose sweater and beaded skirt, but with a corset over the top.

Again- just right! It even suggests some shots and mini-scenes (like Zoe forcing Ariel to strip) which we will probably be inspired to shoot to improve the film, even if you don’t specifically mention that. Would you like a bonus couple of minutes humiliation and enforced stripping, for free, with your custom video? Most likely yes!

When to spell it out

If there’s something complex to describe like a bondage position, a picture is worth a thousand words. But do emphasise anything which you really like to see (e.g. neat ropework at the back).

If your fetish is for exactly the right sort of black satin blouse and a candle-lit dinner, with tight white rope over the blouse in a box-tie chest harness, please do be as specific as you can. Diagrams! Photos! Cut out any extraneous details (a candle-lit dinner we can do, but leave the rest of the staging to us). And be physically realistic- if you want an elbows-together tie for a film with a 30 minute run-time, be aware that we’ll likely need to shoot that in several different takes, untying the model and retying her each time.

Too Little

At the other end of the spectrum are scripts like this.

I want a 30 minute video of Ariel being caned with different implements by Mistress 
Zoe. At the start she humiliates her in a cafe. Then she beats her hard for 30 minutes 
with hard strokes.

Here we’ve got nothing to get our teeth into, no detail to guide us. We can guess that the customer imagines lots of CP, given the emphasis on hard strokes, and there’s humiliation in there which gives us a bit of a hint. But why? Who are the characters? What’s the story? How do they feel about it?

Ironically, it is the scripts like this which most often result in customers a bit disappointed that we didn’t get it right- they may even complain that we didn’t tie Ariel up or gag her for the beating. Well, if the script didn’t even MENTION it, we have no way of knowing that there was bondage in your head when you commissioned the video.

The “30 minutes of hard beating in a 30 minute video” even though there’s a set-up mentioned is also a warning flag of a customer expecting video filmed by the yard, and in my experience they are the most likely to go off on a rant about stuff they’ve not told you about not being magically right. It doesn’t happen often, but often enough that I’m starting to recognise the signs.

Be aware that a story takes as long to tell on screen as it takes- sometimes it ends up shorter than expected. More often, it ends up longer because we like to underpromise and overdeliver, but we won’t really know until we edit the film together.

Inspire Us

If you’ve given us an inspiring script with lots of evocative story and opportunity for the models to improvise, visual details we can focus on like how the bondage should be, emotional details we can show like how the characters feel about being humiliated in public, you’ll very likely find we end up making you a 25 minute video when we budgeted for 10. And you know what? It’ll be a better film, we’ll have had a blast filming it, and it probably won’t have taken any longer for us to shoot than a tricky 10 minute film would have.

We’ll even go the extra mile for you like filming pick-up and establishing shots in our own time to enhance the storytelling if the film is really fun. Everyone wins!

I’ve probably made it sound scary as hell and like an exam now. Sorry. Just bear in mind:

  • Be careful to distinguish between set dressing you don’t care about, and fetish details you do. This is the most important point.
  • Leave the set dressing to us. A few words of general description “posh/elegant/expensive” are enough.
  • If you really care about a detail, spell it out. Send pictures of bondage, or buy the item.
  • For specific clothes, you sourcing them and send them to us is sooooo helpful!
  • A brief description of the characters- what they are like, what they wear, who they are.
  • Have the characters react to things in the story, give emotion hints to guide the models.
  • For dialogue, let us improvise the exact words, just give us the gist.
  • Whats really important to you? Face? Feet? Boobs? Tight ropes? Where should the camera linger longest?
  • Even fetish films are better with a beginning, a middle and an end. We can establish a character and back story in 30 seconds if you guide us, and we love it best when we can!

Cinematic vs. One Rolling Take Shooting

By the way, I shoot customs in the RestrainedElegance.som/EleganceStudios.com cinematic style. That’s as much like a Hollywood movie or a BBC costume drama as it is possible for me to do on a budget of hundreds instead of millions of pounds.

I know I’m unusual in the fetish world for shooting this way. We ran a video tutorial for @FoToRo a few years ago and at the end he said it had been very interesting, but he couldn’t possibly shoot that way- it was way too slow and therefore far too costly for his business model.

He’s completely right. The way Ariel shoots simple custom videos is to read the script, remember what she has to do, point a very wide angle lensed camera at herself, hit record, and stop once she’s reached a bit over the allocated run time (to make sure she doesn’t short-change the customer).

When she can’t do everything herself (e.g. when she needs to be tied up) she’ll hire me or another model or a friend to rig, and for really complicated stuff she’ll hire a camera operator as well, whose job is to make sure that the action is visible- so if the rigger is blocking the view of the model, move the camera. Possibly call cut, but not if it can be avoided, because that requires less time when she comes to edit the video.

This is by far the most sensible way of shooting, and it results in the “website video one rolling take” look which you’re probably very familiar with, although you’ve probably never thought of it as a definite stylistic choice. It still takes a lot longer to shoot and edit the film than the run time would suggest- there’s usually at LOAD of time in pre-production to source the location, the clothes, the people, etc. not to mention all the emails back and forth with the customer to get all of this right beforehand. Then there’s editing, maybe a bit of colour grading, uploading, and finally the video is done.

Would that I were business-minded and sensible enough to be able to shoot in that style the way I once did. But I’m not. I am cursed with having learned more of the grammar of movies than that because I was fascinated by it, and now I can’t go back to one rolling take filming as anything other than an unusual stylistic choice. My default setting is lots of shorter shots, each trying to tell you something new as the story progresses. I’d love to put motivated moving camera work into more films, too, although I’ve been struggling for years to figure out how to do that sensibly.

This is a slower, more deliberate way of shooting. It take longer- we often spend three minutes setting up a shot (moving camera, changing lenses etc.) and then the shot contributes a few seconds to the final run-time of the film. A five minute clip can easily take over an hour to shoot, and a 30 minute clip takes all day. This is why the customs shot in the RE style are more expensive to produce than Ariel’s rolling-take ones.

It also means I can spend a lot longer on each custom, which makes it even more important to get an evocative, interesting script to work with. This is why I sometimes turn down customs, especially “too short, shot by the yard, 30 minutes of a tight hogtie and not a second less” scripts. I may end up investing days or weeks of creative time on your film, and I want to enjoy it. I also want to be able to sell it to other customers afterwards, like the delightful Pony Girl series (which are some of the best customs I think we’ve ever been lucky enough to make: just enough details and novel ideas to inspire and evoke storyboards, enough freedom to get creative with it and really enjoy). Bliss.

Hywel

Rating sets

Hi All,

Is anyone having problems rating sets on SilkSoles.com? It seems to work for me some of the time, but not all of the time, and a member has said it isn’t working for him consistently either. I might turn it off for the moment so we can investigate. I’ve not touched anything on the code there myself but it is quite possible that an update to the operating system on the server has messed something up.

Bear with me, got a bunch of shoots in the next few days, I’ll investigate as soon as I can.

Hywel

Well, darn

Hi Everyone,

Just a quickie. I’ve just been diagnosed with a raging case of tennis elbow. The physio said that often he can just recommend people stop doing the activity that exacerbates it, but since essentially every aspect of my job (holding a camera, especially on a wrist strap, typing, mouse, moving kit around) exacerbates it, that won’t be practical. So I’m going to have to work on it with exercises, wrist supports on shoot days and for computer work, etc..

I will be trying to reduce impact. So using light cameras on a neck strap rather than the Hasselblad or RED for shoots for the next few months, trying to organise shoot days so I do less moving of kit by shooting more sets in each room before we move, and trying to reduce my time in front of the computer to the bare minimum to get by. I’ll be switching to dictation software for as much typing as possible, too.

I don’t think it should impact the functioning of the site in any major way. But… my customer service emails might get very curt for a while, the stories might be a bit briefer (and possibly more surreal if I don’t catch errors from the dictation software). If it goes on for too long or gets too bad, I might also cut back on the amount of fine detail retouching I do on photosets and rely on the automatic parts of the software until I’ve recovered. I hope you won’t notice much difference, but if you do, please bear with me until I recover. Thanks!

Cheers, Hywel

How Much Does A Bondage Producer Earn?

My lovely wife Joceline (whose screen alter-egos Ariel Anderssen and Amelia-Jane Rutherford you will likely know) just posted a video on her YouTube channel about how much an Internet model earns. Oh my god, this is SO un-British. That probably seems strange to Americans and maybe people from other cultures, but in the UK it is a really taboo thing to talk about. Doing so was really brave.

You can see her film here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aY74D89eIs0

Between us, Joceline and I have evolved a policy of being more and more open and transparent. It’s really important to us. So I thought it would be cowardly of me not to match her in transgressing this British taboo. I’m still too cowardly to vlog about it, of course, so here’s a long essay!

I’ve spoken about website economics in the past in general order-of-magnitude terms. But what can you actually make as a bondage producer?

Well, unlike modelling, income is limited by sales rather than the number of billable hours you can charge to clients for standing in front of the camera. As a result, I suspect that there’s a much wider range of incomes possible for being a bondage producer. Clearly, Kink.com have a much higher turnover than RestrainedElegance.com does. But here’s how the numbers stack up for me.

This is based on my last tax year for which I have accounts; the next year is due to be sent off to the accountant this week but I don’t have proper figures yet.

If you follow producers on twitter it is probably no secret that sales have declined across the industry since then; we’re all hoping it turns around.

My total sales were around £120,000 AFTER deductions from billing partners (who typically take between 15% and 50% of the sales figure customers actually pay to download the content). So I’m only counting the money that actually got paid to me, not what was paid out by you kind folks.

Wow! I must be super-rich, right? Sadly as a producer most of that goes straight out again. There are a lot more overheads than in being a model. So my profit margin was almost exactly 20%. My actual profit, the money I have to live on, was £25k.

Of those sales, the lion’s share was Restrained Elegance membership, maybe 70%. 20% comes from cart sales including Elegance Studios, Clips4Sale and the rest, and the remaining 10% comes from custom video commissions and external jobs. SilkSoles sales are modest, we do that mostly for love. These numbers have been broadly consistent over the last few years.

Of the expenses, by far the biggest was models (and a few other employee costs for friends who help with some admin jobs like web programming and doing data entry on shopping carts for me). That came to £30,000 or a cool 25% of turnover. (This money has to be spent up front, months or even years before the sales from a given shoot might pay off, by the way. So I’ve got money invested in material I’ve shot but haven’t sold yet.)

Website hosting and fees, location hire, repairs and renewals of broken or worn-out kit, insurance, licence fees (for music for the videos), professional fees like accountancy, purchase of props, costumes, bondage gear, and general expenses like electricity and heating etc. make up the bulk of the rest.

This is a little disingenuous, because I also invested £20k that year in the Sony A7RII and lenses, plus a replacement for the ten-year-old video tripod which was no longer really safely holding up the RED on shoot days. I did have some choice about investing that money or not, so I could have had a bigger profit if I’d not done that. This is always the way with investment for the future though- jam today, or choose to sink the cash back into the business for the longer term?

How much worse have sales got since then? Quite a lot worse. I’m going to be lucky to hit £100k turnover this year, even with some big customs and more external jobs. As you can see, when your profit margin is only £25k, losing £20k turnover is a big deal. Annoyingly, few of the expenses scale down with lower sales, at least the way the business is currently structured.

For now, I’ve compensated by buying less kit (anticipating this might happen is partially why I did the two big-ticket purchases in that previous tax year). I’ve brought a few more jobs in-house. We’ve reduced the shooting schedule a bit because we’d got to the silly point of having more than two years of content on disk- which makes no sense when sales may decline further if the economy tanks some more, the pressure from piracy and the looming threat of increasing government censorship.

So we’re striking a balance between shooting fantastic new stuff with hot new models, getting through the content we’ve already shot a bit more, and finding more shoots via customs. I know a lot of producers have switched over to customs funding 100% of production- I don’t want to do that even though it would probably be better business. I hope it isn’t pretentious to claim to be an artist and the commissions are fun, but if I didn’t get to shoot any of my own ideas I don’t know that I’d be able to carry on long-term.

I’ve been in the business for nearly 17 years now, we have good brand recognition I think, and a fantastic audience of regular customers. I’m lucky enough to be able to do this full-time, and I know not all producers can do that. I don’t know how this compares to other producers right now. I get the feeling I’m probably losing out by not pursuing customs more assiduously – but in return I get to shoot more stuff from my heart, which is REALLY REALLY important to me. It’s why I took this up as a full-time job in the first place 🙂

I get the impression that producers concentrating on mass video production are doing best right now- the guys and girls posting daily new videos to Clips4Sale funded via customs. I could do more of that if I pulled back on how many stills sets I shoot. I love stills best, though.

So unlike Joceline, I don’t have any real notion of where we sit in terms of how much it is possible to make as a bondage producer so I can’t give you a broader perspective. I hope it’s been interesting, and I hope you don’t hate me (seriously. I had shivers writing this post. It is SO Un-British to be open about this stuff. But. Transparency. Bravery.)

Urgggh. Please don’t hate me.

Hywel