Can gay porn have a purpose (aside from the obvious)? Can it get people thinking about serious issues like climate change while they get off? Multi award-winning adult filmmaker Marc MacNamara thinks it can.
Born and raised in Florida, MacNamrara has been involved in the adult filmmaking world for over a decade, launching his own production house, Nasty Boy Productions in 2013. He produces, writes and directs content for NakedSword and MEN.com.
His latest film, A Murdered Heart, currently streaming in four episodes on NakedSword.com, is set in a US conversion therapy camp. With the fourth episode available from this Wednesday March 4th, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke exclusively with Marc MacNamara about how he got into the business, making films that have something to say, his insistence on using condoms for A Murdered Heart, his take on porn stars having profiles on subscription services like OnlyFans, and how people usually react when he tells them he makes porn for a living.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Before we get on to the film, I wondered how long you’ve been involved in making adult movies. Did you start out as a performer and then move to the other side of the camera?
“You know, I could never, ever do what porn stars do. I could never be vulnerable like that, I’m way too bossy! That’s why I bow down to them because what they do is something that I would never be able to. So going back a little, when I was seventeen and still in high school, I made a music video and I sent it into MTV and they aired it. That’s what kind of started my process of thinking I can do this as a career instead of just as a hobby. I’d always been filming stuff when I was a kid, I always had a camera on me. So I started in the mainstream with TV and movies. I worked for a reality show on VH1 and the Nicolas Cage movie Lord of War. Then someone asked me ‘hey, would you write a script for a porn movie?’ Which I laughed at, not thinking that some of these movies in the adult industry actually have stories! So I wrote it and then they said ‘would you direct it too?’ I said ‘I’ll direct the story part, but I’ve never been on porn set so I wouldn’t know how to direct the sex’. So I did the story part and then it kind of just evolved from there, you know they wanted the characters to go into the sex and so I started directing the sex as well. That was back in 2008 when I got started in porn.”
That’s interesting how you initially got involved in the business on the story part of a movie, because with A Murdered Heart the narrative framework, the non-sex aspect, is just as important as the sex scenes in a way isn’t it?
“You know, I am not able to watch porn anymore, just because I know all the guys and it’s just…I can’t! But I find that the porn is sexier when your mind is involved as well. If it’s making sense that the characters would be having sex here and it’s not just gratuitous, like the pizza delivery guy coming in, you know what I mean?”
And you talk about coming into the business yourself and not realising that there was a script; when you tell people what you do, what are some of the main misconceptions that people have about porn?
“It depends who it’s coming from. If it’s coming from another gay guy it’s usually something like “oh my God, that’s so hot, you must be hard at work all the time’. Which is absolutely not the case. Never once have I been aroused on set or at work, never. But if it’s coming from a straight person who doesn’t know anything about gay sex or gay porn they generally have a million questions. Then you have a lot of people who are just like ‘oh, gross, I don’t want to know anything about that! We’ll just skip over what you do for a living’.”
It’s funny what you were saying about the atmosphere on set because you know with horror movies for instance it’s not like it’s ever scary on set. So in the same way I guess it’s not a very sexual atmosphere on a gay porn set because you’re just having to get the camera shots and make it look sexy; so the end product is the hot thing, not the actual experience of making it.
“Yeah, I’ve never heard that before and I’m going to use that because that makes total sense. On a scary movie it’s not scary and on a porn set, guess what, it is not sexy at all!”
Yes, because what you do is so choreographed I suppose.
“Yes, every single position is mapped out, we have a storyboard. They are not sucking dick in a position that they thought of themselves. Every single thing that they do is orchestrated, choreographed and they are jumping right into that. They are looking at their phones, they are jerking off to get hard and then you say ‘action’ and then they jump in and they act with the other actor. Very rarely, less than ten percept of the time I’d say, do the actors touch each other before action or after a cut. It’s never really that type of connection, you know, they’re acting.”
Well, as someone not involved on set and just watching the finished product at home there are some very hot scenes in A Murdered Heart.
“That’s good! That’s the point!”
Whose idea was the conversion therapy setting for the film?
“That was mine. I always write all of my own stuff that I direct, unless it’s a one-off scene for MEN.com. I write from ideas that just come to me. With this film the title came first. I was thinking of sometime later in life writing a book and titling it A Murdered Heart, not an autobiography, but just a series of events about people who have been hurt and how pain transfers. You know a lot of times hurt people hurt others and that’s the idea that I started from with A Murdered Heart. As you saw in the film, the dad who sends his son to conversion therapy and the pastor that’s involved in running the program are people who have been hurt themselves. They’ve been hiding their sexuality as gay men and transferred their pain on to someone else. When your heart is hurt you’re more likely to hurt someone else. So I was thinking about that and just the reality of life and how people deal with pain and disappointment, and being sent to a conversion therapy camp was something that I wanted to talk about. 2020 marks a new decade, and I felt like I’d accomplished a lot in the last decade and I wanted to have more to say. I’ve been lucky enough to have this platform, so I wanted to be able to use it to say something and conversion therapy is something that is very important issue to the gay community. There are only 19 states now that have it banned and I thought that was very small. Going into it before I did all the research, I thought it was illegal everywhere in the United States, I didn’t think that it was still going on but it is and it’s done so much damage. I mean its affected over 700,000 LGBTQ individuals and it’s just insane that that’s the world we’re living in, where this practice and these camps exist and they are torturing guys, young and old. So I wanted to weave that in and make that the backdrop of the story.”
And something that you address with the story, as you mentioned with the dad and the pastor, is that generally these facilities are run by “ex-gay” men. We often hear that years later they eventually become more accepting of their own sexuality and reject everything that they’ve done. So I think it was important that you go that aspect of repression and then damaging other people into the film. Did you talk to anyone who had experienced conversion therapy?
“Yes, I had friend that went through it and so I knew the reality of his story and we talked about what it would be like if what happened to him was happening right now. And we had a model in the movie who had gone through something similar, not necessarily a camp, but a situation with his family where he was being forced to “convert”.”
And what was the models’ reaction to the conversion therapy setting for the film; it’s something more serious than most of the movies they’ve been involved in I would imagine?
“We were very specific and careful about who we cast. We wanted them to be guys who were interested in acting and interested in telling a more serious story and who would be capable of doing that. I mean, no offence, but a lot of performers lean on the side of sex performing and they are not necessarily great script actors. So we were very careful in who selected to play these roles. Like Jessy Ares who plays the pastor, I’ve worked with him several times and he’s just brilliant at dealing with a script. When I sent it to him he knew immediately how he wanted to act it out and I was very excited about him joining in. Then Johnny Hazzard, he’s worked on a lot of independent mainstream short films and movies and so I knew he was going to be able to handle the script as well, and the same Angel Rivera too. The only person who was being filmed for the very first time was Alexander Savage, the boyfriend who has sex with Angel Rivera in the first scene, and he killed it. His role was mainly sexual, but I’m sure if we’d given him a larger role he would’ve killed that too. A lot of the guys were very excited about it, they were excited to do something new, something different, something they hadn’t seen before in this platform. And so many times people will say ‘it’s porn, how dare you talk about something so serious in porn’ or ‘how am I going to jerk off to that?’ But this story is about sexuality and if we can’t talk about sexuality in porn what is the proper place to talk about it?”
Absolutely, and there’s the scene where you have Ty Mitchell’s character reading his sexual diary entry and being humiliated and being made to feel bad about his own sexuality. So when we see his character able to have sex, when the two guys escape for a while, there’s that sense of liberation. I thought it worked really well, the significance that it gives to the sex scenes, that heightened tension because they’re doing something that they’ve been told they are not supposed to be doing. It’s about relishing that freedom and celebrating their sexuality which they are being forced to repress and feel bad about at the camp. How does the conversion therapy setting influence the sex scenes in the film and the way you shot them?
“The sex scenes were something that I knew I wanted to happen organically. I didn’t just want to set up that the dad is going to have sex with the pastor now, it needed to make sense and it needed to be based in the reality of this world that we were creating. So with each sex scene it’s part of the larger story, like with the two guys who escape and have sex, they have been told their entire lives that ‘this is wrong, this is shameful, you can’t do this, this is not normal, this is not how a man should act’. When their sexuality is given freedom it’s more intense because they’ve been waiting their whole lives to touch another man like this and it really celebrates the beauty of homosexuality, who you are attracted to; it’s OK to explore this, it’s OK to have these feelings, this is natural, this is who you are. Each character has their own story and with each sex scene their characters are led in a way where it’s meant to happen. And great, if this is a movie that you can jerk off through, but I don’t know if this is the movie that everyone is going to be able to jerk off to. It’s more a display of realistic sex, it’s not super porny.”
You just touched on this, the potential importance of gay porn. People can watch it, and we don’t know where they might be living in the world and what they might have grown up under in terms of being told that being gay is wrong, but guys might watch this and think ‘OK, this is what gay sex can look like’ and in that way it has the potential to help people feel better about themselves.
“I’ve always taken into consideration that we are the lucky ones, we’re able to look online and watch porn and use it as we want to use it, but some people are watching this and either learning how to have sex this way or they are really connecting with the characters. Maybe there’s some kid somewhere who is being told this isn’t right and he might relate to these characters and connect with this story and realise that it’s OK. That’s what I really wanted to do, because not everyone is as fortunate as us, some people need a role model or they need to be shown it’s OK to do this.”
I really loved the look of the film as well, I liked that crimson colour jumpsuit that they have to wear and all those aerial drone shots, and the setting itself. Could you talk about the look you wanted to create and the way you shot it as well?
“Some people I think would be surprised that in porn we pay attention to detail, like the colour red that they are wearing with their jumpsuits, their sweats, that colour was described online as ‘carnal’. That really helped me pick the colour that I wanted them to wear because they are being told that this is a carnal sin, and so why not be basically put the scarlet letter on them. And then the way it was shot, I always make a shot list after the script is written. I think in my head if I was watching this, just like any other director I’m sure, how would I want this to be presented, whether it’s an aerial shot with a drone or how I am going to move the camera, or whether it’s going to be a close-up, a mid-shot or a far-shot, it’s all mapped out and planned. Then once you get to the location maybe that will all change. The very first day the we shot, it was the second sex scene where they have sex outside by the truck, that was the first day of production, and the guys at Falcon and NakedSword had found this beautiful artists’ camp that we shot at, it was the perfect setting for the camp. That first day everything was fine, but the second day we go there to shoot and we had lost the location. So it was like ‘fuck, we don’t have a place to film this movie!’ So I called the guys at Falcon and they said to scrap the movie idea and just shoot some sex scenes, but I wasn’t willing to do that and luckily I found this other location that we hauled ass to and just rearranged the movie to look a little different, and we just had to be able to think on our toes and make it work.”
That’s the essence of filmmaking isn’t it! I hadn’t seen a NakedSword movie before and I had assumed from the name that it would be condomless sex. Do you generally shoot with the performers using condoms or does it just depend on who you’re making the films for?
“That was something I insisted on for this film, given the nature of this story and who might be watching it and connecting with it. Like we were talking about earlier, some people are learning how to have sex from watching it. Here we are in the US and we have better access to healthcare and PrEP. I don’t know across the world if someone would have bareback sex because they watched it on A Murdered Heart, and think ‘it’s fine, kids can have bareback sex with no consequences’. I didn’t want to tell that story. I didn’t want that to be an element that was presented as normal or OK, and I’m not judging and saying that it’s not, but I insisted on the condoms on this movie because I thought it was an important thing to have if we’re going to use this as a tool to teach and to learn from. I wanted to make sure that we were covering our bases and to showcase that it’s OK to still wear condoms. I know it’s 2020 and not a lot of people love to do it, and I know a lot of the fans are going to be dogging me, like ‘oh, this would’ve been so much better bareback’. Fine, shoot me in the head, but that’s what I wanted to do and I felt good about doing it. So that’s what we did. I just shot a big movie for MEN.com in Hawaii and it was bareback, but that was one of the first films that I’ve ever done bareback. I’ve kind of been the lone ranger holding out on going over to bareback, because like I said I felt responsible for people learning to have sex the way I presented it, and I didn’t want anyone to have any consequences because of something that I did. But it’s come to the point in the adult world where if you’re not willing to shoot bareback then it’s basically like ‘get out’, so you know, you just have to evolve and adapt and go where the market is going I guess.”
It seems like the porn studios are all doing well, but obviously there’s a lot of amateur content around now and self distributed porn with platforms like OnlyFans. Why do you think there’s still such a big market for studio made movies with high production values like A Murdered Heart?
“I see it like the OnlyFans or the JustForFans or any kind of subscription service that the models can have, I’m all for that and I think the models should be able to make more money, they are the ones putting themselves out there and it’s their image, so I say go for it, have your OnlyFans do it, but in my mind that’s the reality show. You know, Brad Pitt might do a reality show but people are still going to go the theatres and see his well polished, well thought out and executed production. So I think they are two separate entities. You have the reality show, like the OnlyFans, and then you have a big production like on MEN.com or Naked Sword. You know, I might watch a reality show about Janet Jackson, but I’m still going to buy her album too!”
Are there any other more serious subjects that you would like to address in future movies.
“Absolutely, I mean I definitely want to take a larger role in that throughout the year, doing at least three or four big movies that have something to say. To go back to the one that I just did in Hawaii, the undertone has to do with climate change and I know that sounds ridiculous in a porn film, but they wanted to do a movie about mermaids, which I was very apprehensive to do because it sounded a little too goofy for me. But if I could make it that the mermaids are coming closer to shore because of climate change and have it tie in an important message then OK, great I’ll do it. I want to talk about whatever is going in the world, whatever topics that I feel we need to discuss or have a dialogue with because sometimes we don’t really pay that much attention to the news or what’s going on unless it’s directly affecting us. So if I can use this platform, that may not necessarily be an obvious place I will. A lot of people might think that porn isn’t a great place to start a conversation, well, I disagree, I think it’s a great place to start a conversation because a lot of gay men are watching it and gay men get shit done, so let’s throw it in your face here. We can still make the sex hot, but we can talk about important issues too.”
Marc MacNamara’s A Murdered Heart is currently streaming on NakedSword.com.