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February 03, 2016

Icon Male Forges Its Own Path, Previews New Twists in 2016

This article originally ran in the January 2016 issue of AVN magazine. Click here for the digital edition. Since debuting with Forgive Me Father in 2014, Icon Male has been on a roll with its focus on story-based porn. Director Nica Noelle’s emphasis on romance and dialogue has carved a unique space in gay male entertainment with series like Forbidden Encounters, Fathers and Sons and Schoolboy Fantasies (the recent Volume 3 is the studio’s 31st release). “It was a pretty amazing year,” says Noelle, who also writes her films. “I guess the first thing that comes to mind is seeing how Icon Male has influenced gay adult film, with so many romance/quasi-incest titles popping up. We emerged as a very unique studio, but that also brought a lot of scrutiny and criticisms, too, which I guess is only natural. My subject matter, the way I shoot, the fact that I often use performers who are considered ‘gay for pay’ and some people take issue with that...suddenly we were under the microscope. It seems like Icon is a little polarizing: you either love us or you hate us. Luckily it’s mostly been love, and the gay fans have been very welcoming.” Mile High Media Vice President Jon Blitt says the studio is doing incredible well, noting that the audience took to the material immediately. “We have not seen a lull. When the member site launched, Buddy Profits was shocked at the instant success, we exceeded all projections. Icon fills a void in gay porn with our emphasis on passion and romance with a forbidden element, and Nica is a master at this. Her ability to create eroticism out of topics that some see as too taboo set her apart in the industry. Through her leading the studio and the performers’ ability to capture the nature of our films, we are immensely successful.” Noelle notes that casting has proved to be more important for her than anything else. “It doesn’t matter what the story is or how much or how little time we have to shoot it, the cast makes the difference between creating a masterpiece and walking into a nightmare. I’ve learned that depending on the performer, shooting my type of scenes is either incredibly gratifying to them or it’s a pain in the butt. I’ve also learned that sometimes I have to live with not getting the result I’d hoped for. So many things can go wrong on set that end up costing time and money, and we work on such strict deadlines. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can.” She adds that she’s trying to communicate with performers a little more: “It’s never been my strong suit to be the gregarious, hang-out type of director, whooping it up on set. I’ve learned that performers really want to spend more time talking to me and they want me to be a little more accessible, which can be hard for me sometimes. But if they feel more personally supported by me they give a better performance.” The director says that from her earliest days as a porn director, she always kept a little stable of anchor performers that she uses on a regular basis—people who can do very specific things in terms of the kind of emotion and intensity they bring to their scenes. “Those performers don’t grow on trees. That’s why you’ll continue to see Nick Capra, Adam Russo, Billy Santoro and Wolf Hudson, to name a few, in Icon Male scenes. We’ve added some new staple players though, such as Rodney Steele who is just an amazing person and performer.” Noelle cites Steele’s pairing with Ian Levine in Baby Boy as a recent standout, a film she had wanted to shoot for a while but held off because she couldn’t find the perfect performer for the role of the older man who falls in love with a much younger one. She also loved the Nick Capra/Brendan Patrick paring in Forbidden Encounters 3 (“That scene was so powerful and tender and so significant to both performers. It was one of those scenes that made me feel privileged to do what I do”). The director notes that her performers like the idea of approaching their scenes with a sense of artistry—they are cast for their passion and thoughtfulness, and want to create something memorable and real. Also new to the fold are Ethan Slade (“he has a lot of depth and soul”), Max Sargent (“fantastic”) and Josh Stone, “who everyone fell madly in love with. I was also really excited to shoot Tommy Defendi’s last feature before he retired. I’m so proud of him for the performance he gave in My Sister’s Lover. It was his last film so he could have just phoned it in, but instead he did the opposite and really went in deep—no pun intended!” Noelle says she wants to explore more coming-of-age themes—guys finding themselves and discovering their sexuality—as well as look at love triangles in a deeper way. “We’ll still do our staple faux-incest titles, but I have a lot of other ideas, too. Usually when I come up with something, Mile High allows me to try it out and see how the fans like it, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s a flop. But whether a title succeeds or fails it tells me something about the audience, so I keep learning about them all the time, whether it’s through success or failure.” Overall, the fans have been amazing, she says. “I get long, heartfelt letters, a lot of them are very erudite and like to analyze the movies and ask me a lot of questions about certain scenes. Peers have probably been a little less friendly, but it may be that I’m not the most approachable person and don’t make much of an effort to get into the fold. But Chi Chi LaRue has been very kind and encouraging.” Noelle adds that she usually develops the dialogue by having a certain performer in mind when she writes the script—then imagining what he would say in the different scenarios she wants to present. “It’s very hard for me to come up with a story if I can’t picture the characters speaking and reacting. That’s why when people say to me, ‘Why don’t you write novels?’ I’m like, ‘Because I can’t just make people up.’ How do I know what some imaginary person would do or say? I’ve got to be thinking of someone real, who already exists.” Noelle anticipates the production schedule will remain at two movies a month. She’s also excited that Dana Vespoli, a fellow Mile High director, was shooting her first Icon Male title in December—with Noelle wrapping her first title in four years for lesbian line Sweetheart Video. “We asked Mile High if we could trade off studio titles every now and then, and they said we could. So I’m excited to see what Dana can bring to the Icon Male brand and to the gay porn genre overall. It’s great to have another artist to bounce ideas off of, and as you all know she’s really a spectacular filmmaker.” Above, a still from His Sister's Lover (Icon Male/Mile High Media)

 
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