The Erotic Film School is an annual three-day intensive hands-on course that teaches students the art of pornographic filmmaking.
This groundbreaking program is the only one of its kind and is led by former BDSM porn star and revolutionary feminist pornographer, Madison Young. It is only in its second year and takes place in the sex-positive, counter-culture capital of the USA, San Francisco, California.
As a filmmaker going into this program, I was very excited to simply be around the process of making a video. The experience was instantly nostalgic and served as sort of a refresher for some of the fundamental aspects of the craft.
Still, I approached the course with genuine curiosities. What can you learn here that you can't from a typical film school? Why not learn how to make films and then just add people f*cking? Well, the answer isn't technical but rather philosophical.
The curriculum is similar to most film schools. It covers script writing, creating a shot list, lighting, operating a camera, editing -- the whole nine yards. But all of these filmmaking topics take a back seat to other theoretical concepts, like creating a comfortable atmosphere for performers and capturing passionate, authentic sex. As Young says,
As Young says,
The more important things for me are empowering them and talking about what their vision is. What values they want to bring into their filmmaking. How to hold space for a model that is going to be having sex in front of their camera...
She also feels very strongly about promoting individuality and encourages her students to document their own sexual revolutions. The porn industry is like any other industry in that it has a mainstream scene and an independent/alternative scene. There's a stark contrast between creating material for masturbation and creating sexually-explicit content with strong underlying themes and messages.
As one student noted,
Through sex, you can attack so many other things… gender, gender politics, white supremacy and anti-black racism, capitalism, imperialism and the patriarchy.
The application process for the program is quite competitive, and the number of students is limited. Applicants must explain why they are interested in creating erotic films and also contextualize what messages they want to send in their films.
On the first day, Young had all the students write mission and value statements for the erotic films they were to create. She reminded them of these statements throughout the course until the video was complete.
I reveled in the sight of the students working diligently on all the elements of production for 10+ hours each day. They were all about their business, and each one brought a unique perspective to the production.
The students got to work with industry models and participated in guest lectures with industry professionals. The stigma of pornography was a hot topic during these discussions.
There was a lot of anxiety in the air -- particularly concerning the students' involvements in the industry and how their personal relationships might be affected. This is another reason Young felt the need to lead this program.
We're able to dismantle this stigma and shame around sexuality by developing this community of people who are feeling more empowered and have more skills to pick up the camera and make their own thing happen.
All of the students were unique, had incredible stories and came from all over the world. Some had passionate political and social beliefs they wanted to explore through erotic films while others were artists with pure interests in the medium itself.
In the end, the students created a short erotic film from start to finish called “Mirrored Lust.” The film explored the duality of an individual whose dominant side seduced the submissive side.
All of the students were full of confidence as they received their graduation certificates. The energy in the room was all love, and I smiled because I felt the porn industry was receiving an excellent and hopeful crop of fresh erotic filmmakers.