Contingency Planning

So it looks like the UK has elected a Conservative government. Of the possible outcomes for freedom of expression and freedom of sexual identity in the UK, this is one of the gloomier ones. The attitude of other parties was unknown, but we KNOW the Tories brought in the December 2014 regulations and promised to expand internet censorship to non-UK websites as one of their campaign pledges.

If this had happened two years ago, Ariel and I would now be house-hunting for somewhere to live and work outside the UK. Our friends in Britain might not have been able to see our work, but maybe the rest of the free world could still enjoy our romantic BDSM fiction uncensored.

But a year ago, we found a place and fell in love with it. We have a beautiful, slightly crazy, slightly tumbledown old house which Pandora Blake says is like Narnia. We live in a friendly little town. Not sure exactly how friendly they will remain if we are majorly outed in hysterical right wing local press, but so far all visitors to the house have been entirely unfazed by what we do.

We also pulled the financial trick of moving from the very expensive South East of England to a cheaper and much more beautiful part of the country. The upside is we could afford a house which feels like a mansion to us, complete with a stone dungeon under the bedroom. It couldn’t be more perfect for us. But it sat unsold on the market for 18 months before we bought it- so even if we wanted to sell up and move out of the UK, that is not a viable proposition for us on a sensible timescale. By the time we managed to sell it, we may have had a referendum and no longer even be in the EU!

I’m the first to admit I’m no hard-headed businessman. I’m a bit of a dreamer, a scientist-turned artist, not a practical man, and I suck at salesmanship. Nevertheless, even a rubbish businessman like me managed to build Restrained Elegance up into a thriving cottage industry.

I’m proud of that. I’m not going to let it slip away without a fight.

But, pragmatically, I need to have some contingency plans in place for if we get closed down by the censor. If you want an idea of how heart-wrenching this is, all I can say is read Pandora’s post about her site being censored. She puts it into words more articulately than I can. It’s heart-breaking.

I want to be completely open and up-front about this. So although I’ve not yet taken legal advice, and the censor’s letter has not yet come thudding through the door, here are my thoughts as to what we might be able to do.

Right now, the regulations only apply to sites offering a TV-like video on demand service. In the last few days a challenge has been made to the way the UK is applying this to anyone and his dog who posts a video online.

The best case scenarios- one of the current challenges works and the EU makes the regulator behave sensibly. Or they decide we are without the scope of the regulations as RE is all hosted and run by a non-UK company.

Slightly worse but positive would be that we get regulated, but that the individual censor looking at out work agrees with us that our work is romantic fiction, and doesn’t require us to take everything down. We’d have to pay the blood money to be allowed to continue, but maybe they would apply the regulations sensibly. (We are not hopeful of this. Consider the sort of person who wants make a living stopping “ordinary” people watching other people’s art.)

If the regulations still only apply to video, we could hive off the video parts of RE. Maybe a combination of GeoIP blocking and credit card address verification would allow us to block all video to the UK, or even just videos featuring banned subjects (which we’d guess would be gags and CP, but who really knows? It is up to the censor).

If the axe falls we might have to take all the RE video offline, I guess, and slowly bring it back up as the censor allows. Previews will get massacred, I assume, but maybe the core of RE would be allowed to remain.

The worst case scenario is that the regulator gets the extra powers they want to cover ALL media (so stills as well as video) and ALL websites, regardless of where they are in the world. In that case, the only options would be to leave the UK or close the site. Obviously we really, really hope it doesn’t come to that.

The real bugger for us is that as Ariel and I both rely on fetish work for our income, our ability to pay the mortgage, pay the bills and eat would be greatly threatened if any of the more drastic scenarios come to pass.

We’re not the sort of people to sit passively and wait for the worst. Ariel is working on viral videos. We’re talking to film-makers about campaign pieces and activism to get the worst excesses of these regulations revoked. If we had more money, I guess we would be looking at a bolt-hole outside the UK as a worst-case scenario, but that’s just not a viable proposition at the moment.

Despite the Tory victory, I don’t think the majority of people in the UK really and truly support censorship. There is just still too much stigma about admitting to being an adult and having a healthy interest in erotica in general and BDSM and other fetishes in particular.

Ariel does have non-fetish-related work. Right now, I do not. I’m sorry if it seems a bit cowardly, but I’m going to have to figure out some contingency for me being able to support myself and pay my share of the mortgage. I will try not to let it impact negatively upon the sites; so far I’ve been doing a day’s work then heading off to the hills. I’m trying to practice and see if I can get sufficiently good at landscape photography to make a sideline for the business doing that. I’ve tried mainstream film and video production too but no-one seems to be making any money at that on the cottage industry level (too many people keen to do it, not enough people willing to pay to watch what they produce). At least landscape photography has some proven sales channels, although it is also famously hard to make a living at.

I’m expanding on teaching and tutorials, but how much call for that will there be if the censors get their way? Purpleport and amateur photographers might not be allowed to show bondage photography for much longer either.

Another downside of the move is that I can’t exactly walk into a reasonably-paid high tech job in this part of the world, either. That sounds self-pitying… it isn’t meant to be. I’m an optimist at heart and I’m not afraid of running a business or doing some hard work. I will find some way of making a living. I just don’t want it to negatively impact on RE, because RE is my art, my romantic life, my erotica, my fantasies, and Ariel and my shared life together.

The thing which is going to have most impact on RE is the whole gags-plus-bondage ban in the new regualtions. Although I fucking HATE it, I would be foolish to have a two year stock of gagged videos on disk if we’re suddenly not allowed to show them- that would be tens of thousands of pounds of investment in shoots which I might never be able to recoup.

So the other concrete policy decision from today’s election result is that for the moment we’ll be shooting mostly ungagged videos, unless it is a custom shoot. Custom shoot fees cover the production costs up front, so even if we end up not being able to put the video up on the site, at least I won’t have lost money on it. Maybe enough people will want gagged custom videos shot in the RE style that it won’t change the mix too much. I can already say there are going to be a few more videos with shoes and stockings and ballet slippers and other foot wear; a lot of custom video requests want something other than bare feet. I won’t let it change the character of the site, but barefoot and gagged bondage videos might be a bit thin on the ground for a while if people don’t want them as custom requests.

If and when we get censored, I will not go quietly. I will keep you informed of everything we do or are required to do, and will explain why (as I hope I have in this post).

And with that, I will leave you. I’m going to work on July’s RE updates and cheer myself up. And maybe go out and by a huge fucking cake of a million calories to eat.

Restrained Elegance, Silk Soles and Elegance Studios are your sites too. We will do our best to defend them for you, every way we can. We will fight this.

Hywel

Save BDSM in the UK

Hi Everyone

SIGN PETITION: SAVE BDSM IN THE UK

As you may have heard, most forms of BDSM have just been banned from UK websites, despite the fact that it is legal to peform, legal to film, legal to own and legal to buy from a website outside the UK. It’s just not legal for a UK-based producer to put on their website.

The regulations are ignorant of BDSM safe practice, ignore the consent of the performers, and also prohibit many other forms of sexual expression and enjoyment, especially those involving women actually taking pleasure in the activities. For more details, see these posts by lawyer Myles Jackman and feminist film maker and Restrained Elegance and Silk Soles model Pandora Blake.

Please help us repeal this ridiculous censorship. Sign the official UK government petition here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/72693 and share with everyone you know. Enough signatures and the government is legally obliged to respond. (For UK residents only- sorry, only just found that out).

You can also complain about the new regulations to the censor directly (more details on that from Pandora Blake).

If we cannot get these regulations revised or revoked, fetish production in the UK will cease and your favourite UK models will no longer appear in bondage and spanking films for your pleasure. RE model Nikki has already had to close several of her websites. Virtually all of Pandora’s scenes have suddenly and unjustifiably become illegal. Northern Spanking, AAA Spanking, Spanking Sarah and others have been forced to leave the country – and that is just in the last four days.

Killed it stone dead for me…

Hi Everyone,

Does anything kill a website stone dead for as soon as you get through the door?

I started my own site because no-one was making exactly what I wanted to see. Lots of people were making interesting stuff, and lots of people still are. I still join websites that I like. I joined a couple recently, solo model foot fetish sites that looked fun. The photos on both sites looked nice.

One site had nicely arranged sets in ZIP files so I could download them. The other had some ghastly Flash-based gallery system. So not only no ZIP files, but I couldn’t even easily set a web spider to download galleries I liked.

That killed the second site stone dead for me. They’ve got years and years worth of content… but I’m never going to see it. Even though I’ve paid for it. It’s just too frigging painful obtaining the photos in a suitable form to view where and when I want to view them. They had an option to download the videos but I prefer stills.

I’ve explained before the dilemma that all adult websites face to balance the bandwidth bills with the membership fees. That’s why we have a rotating members’ archive rather than leaving every set from the last 13 plus years up all the time. It’s not an ideal solution, but it reminded me that there are worse ones!

This could be why that second site is set up that way: making it difficult to just grab everything or flick quickly through sets is one of the ways websites try to limit each members’ bandwidth usage. Or maybe it is some idea of “You want to see the pics? You need to stay a member FOREVER”, which I think is misguided. It’s a little incoherent with being able to download the videos. Maybe they think that people will use less bandwidth downloading videos once rather than repeatedly streaming it to watch it every time? Videos are big compared with stills. Maybe they are right, I don’t know their usage patterns or their business strategy.

What I hope that it is a misguided attempt to make the site user friendly by presenting photosets in nice galleries to click through shot by shot. Maybe I’m unusual in preferring to download the lot and do that on my local machine, flicking between shots with only the delay from a fast SSD rather than having to download the next picture each time by manual intervention. I spent too long at the computer already- when I’m signing up to something fun like a website, I want it to make it easy for me.

Whatever the reason, it killed that site stone dead for me, which is a shame because I was looking forward to seeing, saving and enjoying their work. Sad face.

The first site had a daily download limit, which was mildly annoying, but since the limit was quite generous I downloaded all the stuff I was interested in in a couple of days. I only joined for a month but if they keep producing fun new stuff I’ll very likely go back.

I’ll never go back to the other site. So they’ve potentially lost a fair amount of money, and I’ve not got value for money from my one-and-only membership of their site, either.

I have two questions for you.

1) Is there anything that kills a site stone dead for you? I mean flaws on legitimate sites, not rip-off sites which don’t provide what they advertise. (Those I’d ask for a refund/chargeback for- I haven’t needed to in YEARS).

2) Is there anything about any of our sites which kills it stone dead for you?

I’ve tried to make our sites support the way I like to use sites I join myself, but you may prefer to use them a different way. If I’ve made it impossible for you to do so, I’d really like to know about it. So if you could post a reply here it would be much appreciated!

Cheers, Hywel

NEW! Custom shoots!

Hi Everyone,

Well, we were going to wait to announce this until we moved house, but as that is still dragging on and we have a window for shoots in the current house before we move…

We are now taking bookings for custom video or photo shoots. And the cost is significantly less than you might expect! Check it out now:

Custom Videos and Photoshoots from RestrainedElegance.com

A Hive of Activity?

When things go quiet, it is usually because we’re in a frenzy of behind-the-scenes activity which will make its way to the screen for you soon. Here’s a “state of the fetish empire” update.

At the end of 2013, Ariel and I did a shoot with the lovely Sophia Smith on location in the Welsh borders. After the shoot, we both independently said how much we’d liked the shoot, but also how much we’d liked the area.

We currently live in the South East of England, quite close to London. We moved here for work, but in my case the job was a lectureship which I quit a decade ago. The south east is very crowded and rather expensive.

We vaguely mused that we might consider a move in a year or two, and planned to spend a few days at the end of February scouting out quieter areas of the country where we might be able to get a little more for our money house-wise. When your house is your photo-studio, space becomes an all-consuming demand: more rooms means more potential sets and more places to store the mountain of clothes, bondage gear, lights and camera gear that our two businesses require.

Somehow “consider moving in a year or two” became “let’s look on Rightmove” which became “Let’s put our house on the market” which became “moving house in a couple of months”, assuming everything goes OK. So our scouting trip at the end of February has morphed into a second viewing of the house we are hoping to buy. We’re very excited- I don’t want to say any more publicly because we superstitiously don’t want to jinx the whole thing!

Needless to say, this has meant January was whirlwind of stuff to do, not helped by the fact that I was called for Jury service potentially taking me out for two weeks at the start of February. (In fact I ended up showing up for two days, not being drawn to serve on the jury twice, and being told I could go. I was actually quite disappointed, there’s nothing I like more than learning new things and I was interested to see the justice system at work).

We’ve been hard at work processing photosets and editing videos to make sure we have enough stuff queued up to cope with a potential house move, and now we’re getting back into shoots for the spring shooting season. Our first shoot of the year was with stunning new model Fiona Jane:

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We’ve got more shoots with new models coming up in the next few weeks, and one or two with fave models to make sure we have enough sets of them to carry us through and make sure we don’t have a panic if timescales slip on the house move.

We also took the opportunity to do a few sets with just Ariel and me, which is something we really must make more time for. Poor Ariel has been very brave stepping up to rigging for the site and it was nice to get her back on the right side of the rope!

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We’ve also been frantically editing videos we shot before Xmas. The two best-fun shoots were a big RE reunion location shoot with Steve, Merlin, Kate, Katy, Ariel, Hywel and Natalia Forrest, and a weekend shoot with Ariel, Hannah Claydon and Janey.

The first thing we shot that week was a thrilling new historical epic for Elegance Studios, called Highwayman. I’ve finally had chance to do a rough cut of that:

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As often happens with Elegance Studios, editing the rough cut showed up that we didn’t really have all the footage we needed to tell the story properly. I guess it is just hard to fit shooting a 30+ minute feature indie-film style into a single day! So we’re going to have to pick up some extra scenes the next time we have Ariel and Natalia together- hopefully a very early shoot at the new house, since it should fit in quite well with the look of the footage we shot on location last year.

We’ve got another proto-Elegance-Studios film in the works which we started just before Xmas at an action-packed weekend shoot with three of the models who I think are really superb, natural actresses: Ariel, Hannah Claydon and Janey. It was the first time in a couple of years we’d managed to schedule a shoot with Janey and it was absolutely wonderful to catch up and see her do her stuff again!

The long video we started on is a sexy spy thriller with a seventies twist called “The Island of Doctor Destructo” (think The Prisoner with a hint of Stepford Wives). I haven’t had chance to put together a rough cut yet, as usual I suspect we might want to add a few scenes once I’ve seen it cut together, but here are a couple of framegrabs of raw ungraded footage as a teaser:

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What about the other sites?

As you’ll probably have seen if you’ve checked out Restrained Elegance our idea of a world where being a nude in metal girl was a fashion and lifestyle choice like being a goth or a hippy has found a great home as a new special feature. We had considered launching this as a separate website and I guess if it is really, really popular we still might at some point in the future. But overall it seems much more at home on Restrained Elegance and we’re very happy with it there. It is great fun to shoot, so we’re looking forward to expanding the world and the ideas soon.

Bastinado Girls is sadly on indefinite hold. We had some of the best times ever shooting for it, but as Ariel explained in her blog, she suffered an injury last year from which she is yet to fully recover. As the problem is her knee but with complications including pain in her foot, we’re just not going to risk bastinado until she’s better. No amount of sexy fun is ever worth putting your partner at risk so we want to be sensible.

We do have a little fun project to fill in the gap with just Ariel and me shooting together, but that’s at too early a stage to say anything about it yet.

The British Film Festival idea is also on hold. The film producers we got together are still keen to organise something, but we’re thinking more along the lines of a film-makers skill-sharing event than a public screening at the moment. We’ll hopefully organise this if and when we move house (it doesn’t make any sense to plough through the bureaucracy in the South East if we’re about to move away).

Last but not least is Silk Soles which is very close to my heart but which I knew was something of a self-indulgence when we started it. I have a foot fetish, and Silk Soles is what I like when the girl isn’t tied up (or isn’t tied up YET, if I am more honest with myself!)

When we launched Silk Soles , we decided to give it a year and see if it was commercially viable. It wasn’t a great time to be launching a new site- most webmasters I know were still in decline, despite the economy at large starting to pick up. The year is almost up and it is getting towards crunch time- in the next couple of months we’re going to have to decide whether to book more shoots and shoot more sets with new models.

Frankly, Silk Soles has not yet broken even.

It’s a terrible dilemma.

We have a band of faithful members who say it is just the very best foot fetish site they’ve ever seen and they love it to bits. One member said he loved the way the videos are like frozen moments, the thrill of seeing a girl’s bare soles the first time and the breathless anticipation of seeing her naked. It’s probably too gentle and innocent for today’s foot fetish porn market, but there are still some people who can see the romance and the eroticism… and for some of those people it is just the ticket.

Ariel and I love shooting for it- it feels so fluid compared with bondage shoots, and the knowledge that the audience is small but dedicated has allowed us to experiment with things a bit more freely than we might for RE, which remains the cornerstone of the “Empire” (and the thing which pays the bills). That artistic freedom leads to fun new ways to shoot, which feeds back into the bread-and-butter shoots for RE. We really appreciate having side projects to stretch us a bit, we think it is important for helping us stay fresh.

We thought we could shoot in a quicker and less painstaking style for Silk Soles than we do for RE. It turns out we can’t. More specifically, I can’t bring myself to produce work to a lower standard than that of which I know I am capable. So initial plans to shoot stills and video using the same lighting went out the window, and as a result Silk Soles sets take very nearly as long to film as RE shoots do… and the membership as yet doesn’t justify it.

But… damn it, we really enjoy it, and the membership HAS been growing for the last few months.

I should emphasise that if we do stop updating we’ll make sure everyone gets all the updates they paid for- we work far enough ahead that we’ll notify everyone in good time that the updates will stop on whatever date and everyone will get their month’s worth of updates at the very least. It’s not going to suddenly stop. What we’re talking about is deciding whether to launch into another round of shoots in the knowledge that we may not make our money back soon, or possibly ever.

But it really brought home how much we enjoy it just recently when Ariel and I shot a batch of videos for Silk Soles:

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I guess what we may do is to carry on the pattern we’ve recently established of having every other update feature Ariel for SilkSoles: that way we cut the costs of the shoot (since I pay Ariel, but obviously that money stays in our household so we can still use it to pay our bills and mortgage!)

I wonder what SilkSoles members think of that idea? I happen to think Ariel has very pretty feet and personally I’d be delighted with a site that was 50% Ariel… obviously still featuring all the other regulars like Natalia, Tillie, Hannah Claydon, Anita deBauch and the other RE girls as they come for their shoots with us.

What do you think?