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    How A Feminist Porn Company is Reshaping the Rules of Crowdfunding

    by Julie Keck
    July 1, 2015

    Shine Louise Houston is used to knocking down barriers. As the CEO of feminist porn company Pink & White Productions, Houston has pushed the boundaries of this overwhelmingly straight male arena by creating porn with casts diverse in terms of sexual orientation, gender expression, and ethnic background. Now she’s breaking out of old film funding models by bringing crowdfunding into the porn world. Shine is currently crowdfunding for her fifth feature, “Snapshot,” on IndieGoGo.

    Shine Louise Houston

    Shine Louise Houston: Feminist. Pornographer. Crowdfunder. Photo used with permission from CrashPadSeries.com.

    "There’s no room for anything else in my brain right now. I start doing something else, and then 20 seconds later I’m back on Twitter." ~Shine Louise Houston

    Many credit pornographers (and Disney…go figure) for often being ahead of the next new wave of tech. In the ’80s, pornos jumped to VHS (shunning Betamax) before Hollywood; pornographers were also among the first to jump to the Internet to find an audience and work out the kinks of e-commerce (pun intended.) Now, exploring new ways of funding is a part of any independent filmmaker’s toolbox (including independent porn makers), and Shine Louise Houston is ahead of the curve. Additionally, Houston has a surprising leg up where crowdfunding is concerned: she’s a woman.

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    There aren’t a lot of numbers out there about how women — or pornographers or queer female pornographers of color — are utilizing crowdfunding. There are porn-specific crowdfunding platforms, including Offbeatr and AdultXfund (sites NSFW), but erotic content can also be crowdfunded on the Big Two crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, as long as rules are adhered to. A representative of IndieGoGo said that they don’t collect gender data or, at least, don’t share it since they’re not a public company. Kickstarter, which shares stats at the end of each year, doesn’t seem to publicly disclose gender numbers either.

    Women Hitting Targets

    However, a recent academic study showed that when women try to crowdfund, the odds are in their favor. On Kickstarter, women are 13 percent more likely than men to reach their goal, with the number jumping to 66 percent for women-led tech projects. On IndieGoGo, women are 61 percent more likely than men to meet their financial targets. It’s also important to note that another study found that women tend to shoot for smaller crowdfunding targets.

    Emily Best of Seed & Spark

    Emily Best of film crowdfunding company Seed & Spark. Photo used with permission from Best.

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    Emily Best of the film crowdfunding and distribution company Seed & Spark says that about 60 percent of their crowdfunding projects are helmed by women. Best, who started the company following her own frustrating experience trying to find funding and distribution for her female-centric film, says, “I understand why women turn to crowdfunding…in many ways, it’s in our wheelhouse: it’s about building community.”

    Shine Louise Houston is now trying rally her community to crowdfund her next project.

    “It’s a little unnerving … an emotional roller coaster,” Houston says about crowdfunding.

    So far, the benefits are outweighing the drawbacks. At the writing of this article, Houston’s campaign, co-helmed by marketing director and frequent Pink & White performer Jiz Lee, has raised more than $17,000. I spoke to Shine by phone about her crowdfunding campaign, the surprising reason the campaign was shut down for a day, the role crowdfunding plays in the creative lives of women, and the importance of control over your own work — no matter the genre. Below is an edited version of our conversation, as well as questions answered by Jiz Lee via email.

    Q&A

    Shine, this is your first time crowdfunding. Is it what you expected, and how is it going so far?

    Shine Louise Houston: It’s a little unnerving, because every time we get a donation we’re like “woo hoo,” and then we go an hour or a day without a donation it’s like, “Oh, we’re fucked.” It’s an emotional roller coaster, but it’s a good experience. Money with no strings attached. I don’t have to pitch to someone else’s company; I don’t have to take into account someone else’s vision. If I do this, I can film this exactly how I want to do it. I can take my time and do it right.

    Why did you crowdfund for this project?

    Houston: We have a decent amount of money to throw at it, but to get it right, pay people what they’re worth, I needed a little more. I didn’t want to do the usual plan of going to a larger company … I wasn’t doing that this time. I’ve been working on this script for the past four years, really wanted to do this my way.

    Jiz Lee, Performer and Director of Marketing for Pink & White Productions. Photo used with permission from Jiz Lee.

    Jiz Lee, Performer and Director of Marketing for Pink & White Productions. Photo used with permission from Jiz Lee.

    Jiz, Shine gives you credit for finding the partners who contributed perks for the crowdfunding campaign. Could you share with me a little bit about how you reached out to those entities and convinced them to participate?

    Jiz Lee: We’re fortunate to have developed long-standing relationships with many sponsors over the ten years Pink & White has been in business. For example, we regularly work with manufacturers to offer sex toys to performers on CrashPadSeries.com. The toy company gets to show off their product, viewers get to see the toy in action, and performers get to take the toy home with them to keep. It’s a symbiotic, win-win situation. Many of these businesses generously donated to the campaign.

    Other perk donations came from colleagues and industry peers who saw an opportunity and reached out to us. There are many more perks to come; IndieGoGo only allows 20 perks at a time, so we’ll rotate the remaining perks over the final days of the campaign.

    Did you encounter any barriers to setting up a crowdfunding campaign for a porn project?

    Houston: We were very upfront with IndieGoGo, told them exactly what we were doing. We started the campaign, it was going fine, then a couple of days in our campaign was suspended, and we thought, “Oh, okay, this is where the problem starts.” But Indiegogo said, “Oh no, it’s not the porn thing, you just can’t have backers signing up to be part of a contest.” So we fixed that by removing the raffle tickets from the Goodie Bags that come with the Party Perks, and our campaign got back up, and it was no problem. Since then, everything has been smooth.

    What role do you think crowdfunding plays in the way women can produce their own content?

    Houston: It helps women cut through the BS. Plus, you have a chance to connect with your core audience, the people who believe in your project. It’s a lot different from going to one large institution and having them have control over the project. You’re still asking for money for your project, but there’s a shift in power from the investors to the audience.

    Houston on set

    Shine Louise Houston on set. Courtesy of CrashPadSeries.com.

    How did you prepare your existing fan base for the campaign?

    Lee: We collected the emails of everyone who has ever corresponded with us, we emailed anyone who has ever been a member of CrashPadSeries.com, and because we’re still known for our DVDs, we also reached out to the retailers who have carried our films, to tell their staff and include the campaign in their newsletters. And, we continue to utilize our presence on social media.

    It’s our first time running a crowdfunding campaign. It’s also one of the biggest projects we’ve embarked upon as a company. In working to make our goal, we’ve honed our marketing efforts and improved our community engagement. Shine held her first Reddit AMA, and she’s been more active than ever on social media, which in turn has made her a more recognizable figure to represent her company. As a result, we’ve enjoyed an increase in followers, a notable spike in traffic and subscribers, and lots of potential to build new relationships. Though stressful, running this campaign has been one of the best things to happen to Pink & White Productions. It’s a wonder we didn’t think of trying this earlier.

    MediaShift: Jiz, I read that you started with Pink & White as a performer. What about Shine and Pink & White has gotten you to be more involved as their marketing director and the mastermind of this campaign?

    JL: My first porn performance was in 2005 for Pink & White’s first film, The Crash Pad. A few years later, Shine recognized the film’s popularity and created CrashPadSeries.com. By producing her own digital distribution, she was able to introduce an independent, sustainable endeavor for Pink & White Productions.

    A website needs human resources, so it was roughly around that time in which I became more involved behind the scenes helping to produce and maintain the site as well as manage its affiliate program. (My background is in non-profit arts administration and freelance web production, and at the time I was working as an Online Marketing Director for a larger company.) As the subscribers grew, so did my job. Little by little — over the course of about five or six years — my job grew and took shape. In 2013, Shine invited me on full-time. Without hesitation, I quit my day-job to work for her porn studio.

    A full-time paid position in queer porn is a rare opportunity, so I’m proud of the hard work I’ve put in over the last 10 years to get to where we are today. It’s undoubtedly the best job I’ve ever had, and I’m incredibly grateful. It also calls for a combination of skills that I’ve honed over the years in previous professions, utilizing creative problem solving in working with shoe-string budgets and minimal resources. I’m able to make a lot out of very little, which I hope will continue to benefit Pink & White’s mission, and radical visions of sex on film, for years to come.

    What’s something that has surprised you about crowdfunding?

    Houston: Just how all-encompassing it is. There’s no room for anything else in my brain right now. I start doing something else, and then 20 seconds later I’m back on Twitter.

    Any suggestions for other filmmakers thinking about crowdfunding for the first time?

    Houston: Line up big donors earlier.

    When do you start shooting this project?

    Houston: July 27th – August 7th. We’ve been in pre-production since January.

    Check out Houston and Lee’s crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo.

    Julie Keck is a social media consultant and filmmaker. She writes and produces original series for tellofilms.com. She co-authored the book Social Media Charm School and has spoken about social media engagement, crowdfunding, and film at SXSW, the University of Notre Dame, Columbia College, DePaul University, the Chicago International Film Festival, Toronto WebFest, and more. Julie is also the social media and newsletter editor for MediaShift. If you’re up for some fun, follow her on Twitter: @kingisafink.

    Tagged: crash pad crowdfunding emily best gender equality independent film indiegogo jiz lee pink and white productions porn queer seed and spark shine louise houston snapshot women of color

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