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January 18, 2017

Bree Mills on Porn Worth Paying For

This article originally ran in the January 2017 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition. In adult entertainment, it’s been common for directors to wear many hats.  Performer, videographer, screenwriter, production designer, even composer—all these are roles that have been handled by those also credited with directing. But in the ever-changing landscape of adult entertainment, where free porn is king, one skill has become increasingly important: that of marketing guru. And when it comes to filling that role, Bree Mills stands out. AVN got a chance to talk with Mills on the set of Little Red, which she wrote and co-directed with Stills By Alan. The Girlsway head of production took time out of a busy day to talk about her background, her approach to marketing, and the obsessions that drive her. A self-described “theater kid” and passionate cinephile who hails from Boston, Mills took her undergraduate degree in English and film studies to Canada and found herself working for Gamma Entertainment, the Montreal-based online adult giant that handles membership sites for many major adult studios. She learned production on the job, she explained, and considers herself lucky that she has had “such an experienced crew to educate me.” With that crew, and working closely with co-director Stills by Alan, Mills created Girlsway. They made a splash last year with Girlsway’s first two projects, The Business of Women and The Turning, both nominated for multiple AVN Awards last year. And in 2016 they added Pretty Dirty, a new imprint that features boy/girl content. When we spoke last summer on the set of Little Red, there were two features out from Pretty Dirty: Sugarbabies and Good Little Girl. Mills explained, “I want Pretty Dirty to be the place that you come and say, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe they did that story. What were they thinking?’ “For Pretty Dirty, my main role is as a writer and producer,” Mills continued. “Alan is our exclusive director for Girlsway and directs the vast majority of the catalogue. I just really come in and co-direct the features with him. He does all of our standard scenes and our mini-series. And Craven Moorehead is our lead director for Pretty Dirty. … But I’ll actually work with Craven in much the same way to co-direct features for Pretty Dirty, so he’s going to have to deal with me pretty soon.” What Mills brings to the table as co-director is multifaceted. For one thing, she favors certain themes. “I always like to tackle really kind of interesting and transgressive subjects. Little Red is all about, basically, sexual predators. It’s essentially what our twist on the fairy tale is about. And that’s obviously something that is a very taboo subject. … It’s what happens when you don’t listen to your mother and you go off the path and you meet a bunch of people who try to basically fuck you over. And that’s what’s happening here, though it’s just happening within a sexual context.” For another, there is her keen understanding of how to release and market adult content. “We’re making content for Girlsway.com; that’s our primary source of distribution, which is, of course, our membership site,” Mills said. “And most companies tend to be web first in their distribution, where you want to get it out and you don’t want anybody to pirate it so you wait months and months before you release it on DVD, and you release it on VOD as a sort of secondary distribution channel.” But Mills wanted to do something else. “I think it was with the release of The Turning, I went to the powers that be and I said, ‘I want to try something really different because for me the big thing is, we do four to six of these projects each year. They’re definitely the most anticipated projects that we do for the brand, and we have fans of all different types. There are fans who are still very much DVD based. And fans who want to get everything right away, looking at a pay-per-view type of model. And then of course we have our membership, which thankfully has been growing month over month after month since we launched. “So we have all these different fans, and for me I want to take the anticipation and amplify it,” Mills explained. When I release, I don’t want to release Little Red in bits and pieces over the next six months—I want to release it all at once, I want to put a megaphone to it, and I want everybody who wants to watch it in whatever medium they want to watch it to be able to watch it.” This approach “raises a lot of eyebrows” with concerns that it might dilute web sales, but Mills has found that simultaneously debuting on the site as well as on DVD and VOD helps to strengthen a title’s momentum. But to make this approach work, the content must be compelling. “The key to Girlsway is what I call addictive programming. I want you to get off and be excited about next week’s programing. ... Why are people so into Game of Thrones? Because they can’t fucking wait until next week. They can’t fucking wait until next season. It’s that kind of mentality that we want to create with these stories. What I love to see is that people will watch the first episode on Girlsway.com and they can’t fucking wait to see what happens to the story so they go on VOD and they buy the rest of it. Or they go pick up the DVD because they want to have it.” The Girlway team has fed the addiction by creating a story arc about a cryptic organization called MANTIS that carries over from last year’s The Turning to this year’s Telepathy, Project Pandora and Missing. “We actually have people asking us once we release the final MANTIS piece to do a boxed set. … It’s pretty cool.” With Little Red, Mills said, “I hope it’s the first of many lesbian fairy tales. We shall see. The fans will decide.” Fan feedback, she explained, is “actually one of the most absolutely important cornerstones of how Alan and I look and shape the Girlsway brand as a whole. We are talking to our fans every single day. We talk to them on Twitter. We talk to them in our very member forums—we probably have one of the most active forums probably out there. We take a lot of our casting recommendations from them; members submit stories that we will go and shoot as member fantasies. ... It really is a community, and it’s people who feel very, very invested in being a part of what we’re doing.” When it comes to making aesthetic decisions, however, Mills relies more on her own judgment. “I’m a cinema vulture, as I would describe it. I spent a good deal of my 20s trying to challenge myself to watch every film ever made.” For each project, she has drawn on different influences. “The Turning, we were looking at films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and It Lives and some other types of horror films. Project Pandora was really influenced by one of my favorite filmmakers, Michael Mann, and the film he did, Manhunter, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. ... one of the things I love about that movie is his cinematographer’s use of color to convey emotion. … And Missing was heavily influenced by some of the crime thrillers that I really liked, most notably David Fincher’s Zodiac. And Little Red has a bunch of influences as well, in terms of characters, more so. The character of the Fox, played brilliantly by Penny Pax, was actually inspired by Eric Stoltz’s character in Pulp Fiction.” Hearing about her passion for cinema makes one curious about her take on other adult content. “I watched porn like everybody else, pretty much as a means to an end,” she said, but that changed after spending a decade in marketing at Gamma Entertainment. “Obviously their main business model is being the web technology partner of a lot of really big adult studios, so as a marketing director … I became very familiar with companies like Evil Angel and Girlfriends Films and the host of other people they represent. I got to see more so how people were consuming their content. ... I got to see the patterns and trends of what made people tick—what were the fans looking for. And that was what really fascinated me even more so.” Now as a director herself, “I really try to stay up to date on what people are doing, not just to keep tabs but also out of respect and appreciation. So a couple of the filmmakers in the industry who stick out for me would be what Lansky’s doing with his brands and taking really hardcore action and morphing it with high-end fashion photography principles. And he’s great on branding—I really have respect for him on that. I think the edginess of the storylines of what B. Skow does and the Madisons do for Pornfidelity is really interesting. Pornfidelity is probably the best-shot porn out there. I mean, it’s amazing in how it looks. Those are a few people who stick out for me. “And I also have great respect for other female directors—Dana Vespoli, Jacky St. James and Mason, to name a few,” she continued. “I do believe we’re at a paradigm shift in the industry in the last couple of years where a new generation of filmmakers are coming in who really are doing things differently. Who are breaking conventions, who are mixing in a few more influences from mainstream, who are trying to be artistic and creative and pushing buttons. So I’m actually very proud and humble to be working at this time in the industry. It is a turning point. And there’s a lot of amazing stuff out there. There are a lot of really talented people.” Asked if there’s anything else she wanted to add before getting back to her cast and crew, Mills paused briefly to issue what a mantra worthy of both Girlsway and its fans: “Keep paying for porn, and keep making porn worth paying for.” For more on Mills’ movies, visit Girlsway.com and PrettyDirty.com. For DVD distribution, visit GirlfriendsFilms.net.

 
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