Failed old business models?

Hi Everyone,

I’m coming to the end of my summer sabbatical, feeling a lot better after my burnout. My head is re-filling with kinky ideas. I’m rolling up my sleeves for our next location mega-shoot. I’ll shortly be booking for our autumn and winter shoots with a bunch of new models and some of your customer faves as well.

I’ve done some thinking about the website and the business over the last few months and I thought I’d write it up while I am still on vacation. I really want this to be my job until I retire! I’m very motivated to make sure I can.

I saw a tweet this week in reply to a model asking people not to pirate her stuff. It alleged that performers and producers were stuck in a failed old business model and should move on.

Now let’s be honest, when I see comments like this my usual translation is “What you mean is that you think you should be able to watch all of our porn for free, forever, that we’re all millionaires anyway and if we’re not we’re dirty sluts who don’t deserve any money, and anyway we get paid per view when I watch you on Tube site so you should be grateful for my attention” (memo to reader- no, we don’t get paid when you watch us on tube sites, especially not if the work is stolen, which it almost invariably is).

In short, I often conclude that the poster is an asshole.

But I wondered- what if he’s right? I’ve been in the business getting on for twenty years now, and I *think* I know what business models are working for people, but what if I am missing something huge?

So this post is my high-level overview of business models for fetish and porn producers and performers, addressed mostly to other industry folks. What am I missing? What is working for you?

The Basic Ingredients of Our Business

Main Products We Offer

  • Photosets
  • Videos
  • Customs (as opposed to producer/performer funded material).
  • Group Online Personal Contact (e.g. OnlyFans).
  • Direct Personal Contact (e.g. webcam, sessions, private chat, Snapchat).
  • Social Media Feeds (free, on large platforms like Twitter).
  • Physical Items (worn panties, signed photos).

Main Sales Channels

  • Personal Website (for performers, primarily fronted by one performer. The BoundHoneys/Jasmine Sinclair/Chloe’s ToyBox model).
  • Producer Websites (multiple performers, primarily fronted by one producer. The Restrained Elegance/Northern Spanking/Models Tied model).
  • Niche Websites (multiple performers, primarily focussed on a narrow niche, a producer will typically have many of these. Hucows, Metal Bondage, Chastity Babes – the FoToRo model).
  • Aggregated “Web 2.0” websites (OnlyFans, Clips4Sale, ManyVids, Customs4U. Typically, a performer/producer will use the same material across many of these).
  • Individual “pay me this and I’ll send it to you” transactions (most custom videos work this way).

Main Sales Models

  • Subscription-based service (the Netflix model – pay once, see the current selection. Was once the dominant model, has been in decline since 2008 crash despite gaining in popularity in other industries, such as Apple Music or Amazon Prime Video).
  • Pay-Per-Clip service (The Amazon Kindle/iTunes model – buy something, download and keep. Clips4Sale. Dying in other industries, but seems to be sustained and popular in ours).
  • Pay-per-view streaming (as far as I know not big in the fetish industry as our customers like to keep stuff they’ve bought, but I gather was big in mainstream porn for people who didn’t want any evidence of porn purchases. Webcam is still this, of course).
  • Crowdfunding (Patreon, Kickstarter. Was growing in popularity but Patreon’s terms of service change had a big chilling effect on what was a very promising avenue).
  • Advertising-funded (The Facebook model. You pay nothing directly but the big company sells all your personal data to whoever will buy it. You might think this is the P!rnHub model but you’d be mistaken, see discussion below. Most advertisers won’t touch us with a barge pole).

Main Transaction Methods

  • Direct Payment (Bank transfer, cash, amazon vouchers, wishlist purchases. Also amateur photographers hiring models for shoots, bondage or photographic tutorials, events, etc.).
  • Credit Card Payment direct to producer/performer (never popular, is now almost unheard-of. Good luck getting a merchant account, and good luck surviving your first big chargeback).
  • Payment Processors (CCBill, Epoch, etc. all producers to spread the risk and provides infrastructure for memberships etc.).
  • Third party web 2.0 (CLips4Sale, OnlyFans – customers pay them and they pay performer/producer on commission).
  • Trade (was once very popular – performers and producers would work for each other for free then sell the footage, either both doing so, or taking half each. Has massively declined in popularity as sales patterns have changed).

I’m sure there are many frills and twiddles I’ve not included (e.g. audio-only porn, Babestation TV channels, etc.) but as far as I know those are the main ingredients for most producers and performers.

Combined Elements: Business Models

How do those ingredients combine into the true “business models” we see in the industry today? I think most full-time professionals, of necessity, now have mixed business models which include every element above. We can’t really afford not to.

Nonetheless, I think a lot of people will probably recognise the following basic patterns.

Clip Producers

Produce primarily video.

The cost of production is underwritten by individuals commissioning videos and paying the producer directly for that. Many will not shoot if no customer is willing to underwrite.

Producer then sells the clips, primarily through Clips4Sale and other clip stores.

Producer may have an associated membership site but this is not the focus of the business – it is more “mopping up” customers who don’t purchase through clip stores. Their clip store usually came first.

Notably, to succeed this requires a high volume of production to stay visible on Clips4Sale. A video a day is almost mandatory. You can use each clip twice (eg 4K, 1080p or 1080p, 720p) so that’s three and a half videos per week. Of necessity, then, these clips have to be quick and easy to produce, shoot and edit. Disfavours longer form, slower to shoot narrative stuff in favour of wham-bam-into-the-action 20 minute one rolling take clips. (Clip4Sale always has branded itself as being “amateur-made clips” which very much suits this aesthetic, which is great business for them).

Old School Website Producer

Produce a mixture of stills and videos.

Some funding by customs but traditionally more producer-led and producer-funded, using the profits from the last shoot to fund the next.

Sales is primarily focussed on their own brand via a website, but that’s no longer sustainable as a pure endeavour these days so pretty much everyone also sells on Clip4Sale, BentBox, and any other channel that gives enough return on time invested to do the data entry.

Traditionally funded by membership sales – a small monthly fee covering access to the most recent X months’ content plus some archive. Works very well when hundreds of people are willing to chip in, but fewer are willing to commit to ongoing payments these days, even though this model is experiencing huge growth in other industries (eg Adobe software ONLY works on this model now, Netflix and Amazon Prime are huge).

Individual clip sales direct from the brand website is now pretty much mandatory (and liked by producers as it is typically a much better payout percentage than Clip4Sale, even though Clips4Sale has the traffic).

Magazine and VHS sales

Just to show how fast things change, I wanted to include this as it was the dominant business model when I started in 2001. VHS was replaced by DVDs, then fell of a cliff. Magazines fell off the same cliff around the same time. The ones that survive (eg Paul Raymond/Mayfair etc.) are now online businesses supporting a print side-line, to my best understanding.

A good illustration that business models really do get old and die, taking some producers with them. Are we at such a cut-off point today?

Performers

While the producer side of the industry has been in long-term decline, business is booming for performers if they play their cards right.

There are now multiple low-barrier-to-entry ways to make and sell content. Notably, the combination of OnlyFans, Clips4Sale, ManyVids, MV Crush, a phone to film, Twitter to promote, and customs and wish-lists to get stuff directly commissioned or paid for by fans.

This means that performers can now launch themselves into a self-contained career with little need for technical expertise and relatively low expectation on technical quality (people will accept much lower technical standards in exchange for the personal connection when they know a model is self-shooting on her phone).

Which is not to denigrate the awesome art that people make with their iPhones and a ring-light, or to say that it’s easy to make a success of this. Just that you no longer need to know a good dose of HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL or spend $5000 on a camera and light setup to get started.

The massive advantage that performers have is that they are the product and they can connect directly with people who like them, then choose the sales channels and working patterns that suit them.

They haven’t cut out the middle-men, but the middle-men are no longer producers taking photographs of them. The middle-men are now the Web2.0 platforms like OnlyFans and Clips4Sale.

Performers can now get residuals as their old stuff sells, in exchange for giving 40% of the gross sales to the middle-men. The old model used to be that the performer got paid up-front, the producer took the risk, but also kept all the residuals. Swings and roundabouts.

The great things is that right now performers can choose how heavily they weight guaranteed payment up front vs. speculative shooting, by taking on a mix of paid shoots, customs, and self-shot stuff on spec which costs only their time.

It’s a pretty good time to be a performer if you’re a bit entrepreneurial. Let’s call this the Sophia Smith/Ariel Anderssen model.

Performer-Producers

One thing that’s not so great is performers being their own product are also very much at risk if that product breaks.

A lot of performers hire other models, producers, camera operators, etc. to work with them, but that still relies primarily on customers liking the performer’s look, and if she breaks a leg or wants to take time off to have a baby or whatever, it can be tricky to sustain the business.

So an alternative model is the performer whose brand is based on themselves but who tries to pull in other performers to work for them in more like the traditional producer role.

My impression is that this never really works out as well as the performer hopes. I’ve heard a few people say that they’d hope to gradually transition to behind the camera, but it never works, because their business was build on them personally as a brand. They always seem to end up having to be in at least 50% of what they produce in order to sustain sales. And it is always going to “feel” cheaper not to pay out $$$ to another performer up front if you could do the job yourself, regardless of the long-term economics.

Artists and Personalities

An alternative approach is to sell everything you do as an artistic venture, from vanilla through to fetish, from selfies through to personal appearances, activism and teaching at workshops.

This eclectic mix of activities is often supported via crowdfunding platforms, typically Patreon for regular offerings, Kickstarter for big one-off things like collected works being put into a coffee table book, with a component of customs and sales via the usual Web2.0 channels supplementing this.

The main problem is that you’re always one junior muppet decision away from losing your business when Patreon’s team decide you are the wrong side of the art/porn line this month. And one CEO decision from complete exclusion for being a naughty pornster, of course.

Lots of Little Sites

A variant on the website models above is the model some very hard-working producers have of running many small sites, each in a tight niche. They don’t update as often as big old traditional sites, and the set-up for each site is typically very restricted: every single set might be shot in the same room with the same lighting and the same props, for example.

Typically each site features a wide range of performers placed into the niche situation, whether that be wearing satin, taking off their panties, placed in metal bondage, or getting exactly 12 strokes of the cane. Each clip or photoset is identical in almost all ways except that the performer and her reactions change; this is often enough variety to satisfy the small but faithful customer base, and it is cheap to shoot because every shoot has the same set-up.

Performers typically go and work with the producer and shoot for a dozen or more of these niche websites, often at break-neck pace.

Hobbyists

You may not realise it, but at least in the fetish niche, a lot of production is done by hobbyists who are holding down a full-time job. They often underwrite the overheads and capital costs themselves (e.g. buying the camera kit, paying the mortgage, heating the house) and sell what they produce as a way to defray the costs of paying performers.

I started this way, and many people are still doing this. In some ways it’s a pain that there are people like the-Hywel-of-2001 around because they undercut full-time professionals who have to cover overheads.

But of course I cannot criticise! To do so would be massively hypocritical of me! In many ways the hobbyist producers deliver work of maximum purity and clarity and artistic integrity, because they’re following their inner artistic vision or bringing their own fantasies to life, not chasing the market, which is a siren temptation for those of us trying to make a living this way.

Hobbyist producers pay the performers, support a generally vibrant artistic and social scene and don’t have to pander to production schedules or put off working with performers until they can get enough custom videos to underwrite the shoot, and if I have to go back to a vanilla day job I will definitely go back to being one of these myself!

P*rnHub

Up until this, I’ve been outlining what I think are viable strategies and I’d love to hear other performers’ and producers’ and fans’ thoughts.

This last section turned into a bit of a rant.

The elephant in the room is the new business model represented by the tube sites and most of all by MindG**k, the company being P@rnhub. I’m censoring the names because they don’t need any more damn traffic.

On the surface, their business model is the Facebook one. Offer a service of value to visitors, in this case free porn, in exchange for showing adverts to visitors, which are paid for by the actual customers, who are the advertisers.

This business model might have stood a chance a decade ago if a large company with skin in the game had tried to build a site based on paying out performers some percentage of their ad revenue – Kink.com could potentially have had the muscle and the traffic to make this work in say 2008. Like Apple Music and Spotify, we could then have gently transitioned into some mix of advertising-supported free play and subscription-based premium service which paid out to performers via some reasonable algorithm depending on plays/views.

Unfortunately, that chance has gone because now you’d have to compete with MindG%%k, whose business model is altogether more rapacious.

Their business model is this.

  • Steal as much porn as you can from anywhere and everywhere.
  • Post it so people can watch it for free, outside a paywall.
  • (Don’t give a flying fuck that this includes under-age people visiting your site).
  • Create a gamified interface to encourage visitors to your site to steal more material for you, and post it on the site.
  • Put adverts on the site, and sell visitor eyeballs to the advertisers, your actual customers.
  • Get venture capital investment on the basis that you’re going to get a monopoly.
  • Suck all the traffic from the performers and producers whose work you have stolen.
  • Ensure that performers and producers cannot profit from their work, because within 24 hours of a clip being posted even on pay-per-clip channels like C4S, the work appears pirated and to view for free on your site, with NO return to the original performer or producer.
  • Having sucked all the oxygen out of the room, put the production studios out of business.
  • Buy the production studios at fire-sale prices, including all their back catalogue.
  • Start selling the back catalogue in higher resolution for pennies on the dollar compared with the original production company’s prices – easy to do when you didn’t have to pay for the productions.
  • Restart production using that production company’s good name. Police rigorously so that only trailers and free samples go up on your free site, just the same as every other producer ever, so that you can charge premium membership to see everything else.
  • Rinse and repeat until you have a monopoly.
  • Now even the few remaining indies will be desperate to put trailers on your site, as you have all the traffic. Allow them to do so, with promises of a share of ad revenue. Pay them cents for stuff that cost hundreds of dollars to produce.
  • Continue to pirate their work on industrial scale, so the full versions of all the clips the indies are producing are on your site for free anyway. Promise to put “stringent measures” in place to prevent this. (You could if you wanted to- you do it for your own in-house production companies). Do nothing.
  • Express great sorrow. Offer a paid service to get pirated copies removed for your oh-so-special production partners. Ensure that piracy inexplicably continues.
  • Indies go out of business. Make sad noises. Their footage obviously wasn’t all that great. If it actually was (you know because you have all the REAL viewing stats, not the gamified likes and lies you’ve been publishing to marks and mugs on the website), buy the studio and their back catalogue for pennies on the dollar. Consolidate your monopoly.
  • Encourage governments to legislate for the problem you have created with minors accessing porn.
  • Lobby government to get the sort of rules you want.
  • Volunteer to provide the solution to the problem in the form of age verification which lets you put names and addresses to porn viewing habits of millions of people, ready to sell to any corporate psycho willing to pay. Blackmail’s not your problem anyway (see lobbying, above, which means no statutory duty on you to protect privacy. Ka-ching!).

One thing I always wondered about P$rnHub – why are the adverts so fucking crap? MAYBE these lame adverts are really lucrative when you can rip off the one sucker in a million to the tune of thousands, but I don’t think so. When I visit (something I have to do with tiresome regularity to get my fucking pirated stuff taken down) the adverts are NEVER something I would buy, and never have done. And I’m not sure vanilla advertisers are going to be keen to have their precious brand image tarnished by being shown next to a page full of (say) gay fisting piss porn or hard caning BDSM ball-gagged naked erotica, however beautifully shot, are you?

I think the truth is more in that venture capital deal to achieve monopoly. Without being privy to their accounts, I think the advertising claim is a scam.

I think the real deal was to underwrite making a loss on all the free porn bandwidth in order to put the competition out of businesses, suck up all the traffic, and buy up the production houses. Then restart production under monopoly conditions. The venture capitalist vultures gave them a big enough chunk of money to operate at a loss for years in order to do that.

If this is the business model we need to adopt, we’re fucked, for several reasons.

The first is that I don’t believe for a moment that MindG^^k has any intention of paying out fairly based on their premium or subscription services. Their whole business practice over the last decade or more has been an exercise in corporate psycho fucking the little guy, to an extent that would make Apple or Facebook blush. I have every confidence in that fucking worsening as they consolidate their monopoly. They will carefully calculate the exact minimum they need to pay out in order to get people to produce for them, and that amount will be less than minimum wage because of amateurs and hobbyists.

Well, what about setting up a grand competitor to P%rnHub and taking all the traffic away from them, paying producers fairly, etc. ?

It’s a nice idea and I think it might have worked. Back in 2008, had someone big like Kink.com been community-minded enough to give it a go. Except that I don’t think it would have, really. How do you compete with someone who is running the shop next door to yours, who has dug a tunnel through to your shop and is literally giving away products they’ve stolen from you, that you’ve already paid to make? You can’t.

Kink.com did their best by giving away so much free stuff that they pretty much killed the BDSM photoset market for everyone else, and still it failed. They’re currently making more money hiring out their premises as office space than they were filming there. (* edit = apparently they sold the premises and the new owners are hiring it out, rather than doing so themselves. Thanks for the info.)

And now? How could you possibly compete with a website that’s one of the top few in the world in terms of traffic? There’s no way anyone can, they’ve already achieved de facto monopoly and you can’t undercut them because they have stolen all their stock. You can try stealing theirs (and I’m sure the numerous smaller tube sites are doing exactly that) but I can’t see a way to win long-term in that situation.

Finally, competing with P@rnHub would mean stealing from all my friends and I would rather quit the industry and never shoot another thing than do that. I’ll go and do something more honest, like law, politics, or selling snake oil.

Other tube sites exist, and their business models are hopefully less crooked. If they respect the producer/performer’s decisions on what to give away free and what to keep for paid, they can be a good driver of traffic and place for discovery, I’m sure. Probably one of the things I should do is to figure out which are the least disreputable, and start putting promo stuff on them as it’s getting harder and harder to reach new people.

I don’t think it is too late for the industry. P@rnHub would collapse tomorrow if a few large governments required them to verify performer age, verify that the uploader actually owned copyright to the work, and imposed and enforced statutory duties for privacy, data protection and security. It might get forced out of business by other factors (a consumer boycott would do it too, but I don’t think that’s going to happen until there’s a huge data breach in the wake of age verification – watch this space).

But it *IS* too late for the industry to try to move to the advertiser-supported-freeview business model. The validity of that model for adult entertainment is highly questionable (advertising children’s pushchairs next to adult diaper porn? I don’t think Mothercare will be funding those adverts any time soon). But even more so because the traffic has already been monopolised by a really bad-faith corporate psychopath actor, and no legitimate business is going to be able to compete.

You couldn’t get away with this in any other sphere of legal business. They’ve been able to only because of our society’s mixed attitude to porn. The majority of people view it, but the majority of people also keep it secret, lie about it, or pretend not to. And the majority of people think people in the industry are all filthy rich anyway, and are all dirty sluts who deserve it.

The fact that you are reading this means that you’re not like that. You know that we’re just people, making stuff we hope you’ll like to see. Especially in the fetish area, we’re all people who share your fetish, and we’re trying to bring it to life so we can all enjoy it. And your continuing support of our efforts is the only reason it is possible for all of us, producers, performers, cam-girls, models, clips stores, OnlyFans and all, to bring you more of what you like to see. Thank you!

Addendum

I think because I ended with the rant it sounded like I was full of doom and gloom for the industry.

I’m not, although we do need to keep watching shifting trends and move with the times.

What I don’t think is viable is trying to compete with P$rnHub, especially not at their own game. That business model isn’t a business model, it is an organised crime model, and the mob already have it sewn up.

But there are still plenty of people out there who will buy what we make for a reasonable price. It’s getting harder to find them outside of the web2.0 platforms, maybe, which makes us indies a bit more vulnerable (if Twitter bans us all our publicity and marketing is screwed for example). Custom videos are currently fairly healthy. The performer-centric business model is doing really well. (I’m very grateful that I share a house and life with one, because at least Ariel’s business and mine are SOMEWHAT decoupled because of this).

We just have to keep an eye on changing spending patterns and not miss out on the next big thing or risk being caught with a warehouse full of VHS tapes when the bottom falls out of that market, I guess!

With a bit of luck and the help and support of our lovely fans and customers we can keep at it for a long time to come.

SPECIAL OFFER: Custom videos with Ariel Anderssen, Lucy Lauren and Zoe Page

Hi Everyone,

Our next big location shoot is a video shoot with a terrific threesome of the UK’s kinkiest models: Ariel Anderssen, Lucy Lauren and Zoe Page. They work fantastically well together, as you might have seen from videos like Trophy Girlfriend Shop and Bridezillas.

We have one day’s worth of the shoot to allocate for custom videos and because we have the models and location for multiple days, we can offer a substantial discount on our normal multi-girl custom video fees.

We have six slots available, each slot costs 250 UK pounds or 300 Euros or $300 US – way, way, way cheaper than we’d normally be able to offer a three-girl custom video or photoset shot on location.

Available fetishes: bondage, domination, submission, spanking, foot fetish, gags, hogties, metal bondage, rope bondage, pantyhose, bare feet, stockings, and many more – contact webmaster@restrainedelegance.com to reserve your slot now. Don’t delay these are sure to sell out very quickly!

How long will the video be? Depends on the each story – we’ll have an hour to shoot it, and we’ll make it as long as we can for that time. 15-30 minutes is normal for a bondage storyline but it’ll depend on how complicated the script is.

Ariel and Zoe at the location:

Lucy Lauren:

Location shoot awesomeness!

Hi Everyone!

We just got back from an EPIC location shoot with Ariel Anderssen, Faye Taylor, Natalia Forrest, Temptress Kate, Sophia Smith, ColFet Media, Steve and Merlin (and me).

We hired a big old party house for four nights and decided to concentrate just on shooting stills… and here are a few behind the scenes shots to show you what we got up to! We shot 88 sets in total which is unbelievable!

I’ll put the full behind-the-scenes set up as a bonus soon. First full sets from the shoot will be on the sites (we shot both RE and Silk Soles) in a few weeks!

Hywel

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KinkyElephant.com update – invitation only

Hi Everyone

A few months ago I created KinkyElephant.com, a social media “instance” on a network of Federated social media sites called Mastodon. My intention was to provide a space for fetish producers, models, amateur photographers and fans to meet and post which would be safe from shut-down by corporate social media operators like Tumblr and Twitter.

Well, this week Tumblr dropped the news that they were banning all non-work-safe postings. And in the two days since that happened, membership at Kinky Elephant has exploded.

In one way this is great. But I’m paying for KinkyElephant’s hosting out of my own pocket, and the numbers risk overwhelming the server. I don’t mind paying some of what is effectively YOUR money from RestrainedElegance.com and SilkSoles.com purchases to provide a social space for us, but I can’t afford to take over the whole of sexual Tumblr as a public service.

I’m upgrading the hosting plan for the instance, but I’ve had to temporarily suspend public sign-ups for the service whilst we decide what to do.

What I would like to do is to revert to the original plan of providing a space for bondage and kinky people to post. Everyone can follow what we post from other instances – for example, from Mastodon.social or Switter.at which are bigger, publicly-funded instances.

But for the actual membership of KinkyElephant.com I may restrict it to Bondage industry types, models, amateur bondage photographers, and fans who are customers of RestrainedElegance.com, SilkSoles.com, or have bought from our eStores etc..

If you would like to join in, please contact me and I will issue you an invitation so you can join while public signups are closed!

All the best, a still very-post-viral Hywel

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

Tie with BLACK PARACORD


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!

Challenges

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!

Hywel

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”.