Story by Kyle Hentschel
Photo by Tiffany Han
Breaching Hollywood’s strict, network-based system is a battle more often lost than won for graduating film students. Responding to the competitive nature of the industry, some aspiring producers are beginning their careers in cities like Portland, Oregon before they move on to the flashing lights of Los Angeles, California. With attaining practical skills as the highest priority for film graduates, the context and location of work becomes irrelevant.
As do many hopeful film students, Brianne Siegel faces the reality that production jobs are inconsistent in pay and difficult to come by, which is why most every morning, Siegel heads to work as a production manager for a custom fetish gore-porn studio.
“Los Angeles has way more jobs, and it’s growing in Portland, but people only really talk about Portlandia and Grimm. There is not intensive production, so it’s hard to find a consistent job in film, which is why I am working in porn because I was able to find that,” Siegel says. After graduating from the University of Oregon cinema studies program in 2013, Siegel moved to Portland to pursue an internship for the Northwest Film Center, where she remained for six months. Realizing she didn’t have any more resources to manage an unpaid internship, Siegel responded to a Craigslist ad for a general assistant job at a production company.
“In the ad was a photo of a girl in a bikini tied to a chair and there was a knife in the picture. It was kind of personable, so I didn’t really think it was porn. I thought it was gore-horror cinema,” says Siegel, who followed through on what she thought would be a temporary, but interesting opportunity.
Interesting proved to be an understatement. Siegel manages production every week for violent, gory pornographic films. Shifting between costume, make-up, second camera, and typical production duties of organization and preparation, Siegel has been able to look beyond the content and understand she is gaining valuable skills. She believes holding a camera, managing a set, and preparing scripts will benefit her when she leaves Portland.
“Ideally, I go on to work for a place that is okay with my experience working for a porn studio and if they aren’t, I probably wouldn’t want to work for that company anyway,” says Siegel, who values her steady pay and the co-producers and porn actors she has now befriended.
“It’s a different actress every week that we fly in for a three day shoot, but we have two guys who we’ve been using for the past few months, and I see them every week. In a way, they are kind of like my co-workers—they are just really silly, fun guys,” Siegel says.
While no one on set quite advocates for the content produced, Siegel’s experience meeting the demands of the customer prepares her for the often cutthroat attitude that has come to define Hollywood production work.
“If the guy asks for knee-high white socks and we don’t get them, then he will complain, get his money back, and the blame is on me,” Siegel explains, in reference to the “custom” nature of the studio in which customers can send in scripts, costume requests, and screenplays of which the studio is paid to produce a video to send back.
Siegel admits her daily work is bizarre and often disturbing, but she feels lucky to have a job in film and in Portland, where she wants to stay at least for a few years. While the dream Portland film job would seem to be producing Portlandia, it is evident that IFC’s hit comedy series provides a similar experience to Siegel’s production work.
Kate Schnabel, a current cinema studies student at the University of Oregon, will graduate college and resume her role as the associate producer of Portlandia. Similar to Siegel, a film opportunity brought Schnabel to Portland through an internship development class, whereby a faculty member connected her with the internship at Portlandia. The following year she was hired as a production assistant.
“When I switched out of pre-med and went to film school, my parents stopped paying because they didn’t think I could do anything with it,” Schnabel says. “I figured I’d either flunk out of school doing something I hate, or do really well doing something I love.”
Schnabel’s persistence and work ethic has allowed her to excel in her position, which has strengthened her skills in management and production; however, she has slowly steered away from her previous dream of writing or directing in the entertainment industry and will apply this to her career following Portlandia.
“As far as finding a job, I think production is my best bet. It may not be my first choice, but I don’t know if I am artistic enough anymore to be a writer or director,” says Schnabel, who sees a job in Hollywood on the horizon. Schnabel confronts the same challenges that motivate Siegel to remain in her position; even work at Portlandia proves to be intermittent, supporting the underlying, inconvenient truth about the profession.
“You have to be ready to have an inconsistent lifestyle if you want to work in production, and that requires a lot of discipline,” Siegel says.
But will a future employer discriminate against whom he hires based on the content of a portfolio? Siegel wonders if the consistency is worth it as she decides how to advertise herself without explicitly stating she works in pornography. Appropriately illustrating her experience to a future employer seems unlikely as she hasn’t even told her parents the entire truth about her job.
“They have no idea it’s porn; they just think it’s a production studio that makes horror films. I am doing what I describe to them. I am editing scripts and doing costumes, but they don’t know everything,” Siegel says.
It is important to note big Hollywood names like director Lars Von Trier, whose latest film, Nymphomaniac, confirms the big screen is quickly blurring the lines between what is regarded as cinema and what is pornography. Siegel maintains that this is an industry that is not as prude about such matters, or at least one that is becoming so as motion pictures move toward increasingly provocative content.
“It’s important to be unique. The more unique people are the ones who stand out in this industry. The porn industry makes my experiences more unique, and that will benefit me in the future,” Siegel says. She thinks people should not be so opposed to the idea, “I am not saying that film students should seek jobs out in porn, but it’s an option, and I think that it can lead to other options.”
Siegel’s unforeseen enjoyment working for the adult film industry is a refreshing validation of the insignificance of content, especially in the production world; practical experience trumps the taboo nature of pornography, at least she hopes so. For now, she says, “It’s an easy conversation starter.”