Talking porn with Shine Louise Houston

Exploring Representation, Micro-Economies, Intimacy Porn, Porn Incubators, and Personally Inspired Narratives

Shine Louise Houston is a writer, director and producer in the genre of porn. She launched Pink and White Productions and has created 6 feature-length films, over 400 episodes since 2005 (through projects like CrashPadSeries.com, Heavenly Spire and Tickle Takedown), is the creator and curator of PinkLabel.TV which hosts over a thousand independent adult films, and runs The San Francisco PornFilmFestival. She chatted with pleasure educator Euphemia of I Wish You Knew.

EUPHEMIA RUSSELL: Shine, it is such an honour to meet you! I first came across your work many years ago when I first visited the San Francisco Bay Area. You are PROLIFIC. I consider you and your work an icon and living legend! So I, of course, have many questions.

First of all, for those readers who haven’t watched your films, episodes and projects I feel like you capture the political, queer essence of the San Francisco Bay Area and have a nuanced pedagogical tone without being instructive or condescending. You portray diverse people and bodies in a way that is embedded in your approach, rather than the manufactured and contrived approach of so many companies nowadays or the lack of representation in tube site porn. What are the values, beliefs, and approaches that drive your work and choices?

Pink and White Productions

Pink and White Productions

Pink and White Productions

Pink and White Productions

I could go into my rant about how porn isn’t a monolith, but basically there weren’t many people in porn who looked like me or my community, and I was like ‘I need to see more brown, larger, and gender-variance’!

SHINE LOUISE HOUSTON: Well, when I started it was in response to a lack of queer visibility in the mainstream which evolved. I could go into my rant about how porn isn’t a monolith, but basically there weren’t many people in porn who looked like me or my community, and I was like ‘I need to see more brown, larger, and gender-variance’! Or if they were represented it was segregated and categorised, like race and tokenism.

But my approach is that I don’t have a direct political agenda other than representation, it’s a priority for me to cast people who are not necessarily represented by our culture’s beauty standards. In my directing style, I’m not trying to use the scene as a platform for my politics, my approach is actually to take myself out of the process as much as possible. I instead try to create an arena for talent to perform and/or represent themselves and give as honest a performance as they feel comfortable with. Then in the editing process, it is my job to honestly edit and construct what happened on set.

ER: I’ve been thinking a lot about how the expression of pleasure and joy are integral to Black liberation. How do you want porn and your work to contribute to Black liberation?

SLH: Honestly, I don’t know if I really contribute to it. We’re talking about something that is so entrenched in this country and would need a large cultural shift. I think it is larger than one porn company can handle! Race and class are so fused together, that from the get-go people need to have economic freedom as that leads to freedom to make choices not impacted by economic pressures. 

Then there’s also pressure from respectability politics saying that being a sex worker is not ok, that it wasn’t a choice because of economics, and you have to rise up above that. What I can offer are opportunities where performers have autonomy over their performance, as in what they feel comfortable doing for the offered talent fee and an amount of control over-representation.

I’ve had viewers share that they feel like they’re intruding on a scene because they witness people being so themselves.

ER: Always my favorite moments in your films are the moments of check-ins and adjustments. You always capture real-life moments of negotiation and consent as poetic rather than distracting. What impact do you think they have to not edit them out?

SLH: Personally I really like all the weird awkward moments. If I had my way, the whole scene would be all the weird awkward moments of “intimacy porn”, and the sex, yeah whatever. I think those moments show humanity, and keeps the edit honest. I’ve had viewers share that they feel like they’re intruding on a scene because they witness people being so themselves.

Pink and White Productions

Pink and White Productions

Pink and White Productions

Pink and White Productions

ER: I adore that you have many performers who pop up again and again over the years. From the outside, you seem to have developed a production company, a platform, AND a community. If this is true, how have you fostered that?

SLH: I think the rhetoric of ‘community’ is overused or not used in the right context but I definitely have friends and allies. Instead, I think we’ve created a tiny economy. People want to shoot with us again and again as I really try to consider the other person when talking about pay, their experience on set, representing them, and keeping in touch about other opportunities. Our processes don’t focus just on what I want to get out of the situation, which is to shoot a scene, and also respect the talent, which is to help them get money and find ways to continually make money off their own labor after they’ve shot a scene!

ER: So then in 2012 you established PinkLabel.TV, a platform which hosts and supports emerging and indie porn producers. How did you decide the industry needed this after being a producer yourself?

PinkLabel.TV has now become a home for all the weird, usually short films that would never be picked up.

SLH: There were two things that inspired PinkLabel.TV. The first was going to the Pornfilmfestival Berlin where I found my people, and also saw so much work that blew my mind. People were treating porn as a film genre as I do. Yet after this festival, nobody was going to see these films and shorts again, and people deserve to. PinkLabel.TV has now become a home for all the weird, usually short films that would never be picked up. We’re like The Criterion Collection of porn! 

As for the business practices, it was a reaction to some of the experiences I had in the industry. I wanted to help distribute people’s work, and for lack of a better word, I didn’t want to be a dick. 

I want young producers to get a good chance, it’s kind of like an incubator. We have a shared revenue model, and we usually give 40% which means we usually break even. They don’t have to deal with processing fees, don’t have to incorporate, or start a website as they might not have the cash.

Pink and White Productions

Pink and White Productions

Pink and White Productions

Pink and White Productions

ER: I’ve loved watching your work exploring new techniques, approaches, and concepts. I saw the debut of ‘Birthday’ in Oakland last year, and I look forward to watching your newest work ‘Chemistry Eases the Pain’ which is being released this weekend. I feel like your work is always evolving and exploring. What inspirations have you drawn on to develop these concepts and works that are so different to previous ones?

SLH: I’m generally with each project trying to push myself technically and craft-wise with the camerawork and scriptwriting. Which is partly from age and partly feeling more confident in my skill set and physical tools.

Lately, my scriptwriting and projects are more personal. Previously my personal work and reflections were expressed through my paintings. ‘Chemistry Eases The Pain’ is about ambivalence, regret, and atonement and is inspired by a friendship I had with a guy who eventually overdosed. It follows a queer woman who has fears of her changing identity and sexuality as her community may be jeopardised by her attraction to a white, cisgender, straight male. So it’s also about the biphobia and the challenges of an interracial couple, but focusing on their experiences rather than a commentary on culture.

As for the technical, when I first started, the formats I preferred working with were dying and I hated the look of video compared to film as I’m such a cinephile. So I learnt how to bridge the gap for a while with experimenting, I knew I needed to give it 10 years before the quality of the video would be good enough for the beautiful, creamy, soft look I wanted. Now the technology is good enough that the footage looks so much better, and I can more accurately translate the ideas in my head to the screen, and tell better stories as I have the right tools to fit the idea. Note: the online world premiere of ‘Chemistry Eases the Pain’ happens June 27th with a livestream and a Q&A with Shine Louise Houston and stars Lotus Lain, Logan Pierce, and guest Dr Mireille Miller-Young, scholar and author of A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography. See more details at the end of the article.

ER: What work are you proudest of and why? We’d love to share it with all your new and old fans.

SLH: I’m the proudest of ‘Camera and I’ I had a mindblowing breakthrough experience in the airport going to Berlin as I was listening to Zach Hill’s ‘Memo to the Man’ while I was working on this other script that I had been trying to write for the last 10 years. I’d had too much coffee, and suddenly I saw everything converge in my head. This moment felt like entering a new phase of my career where I’d honed my skills over the years with narrative structures, scriptwriting. 

Now that I’ve conquered those skills I could let go and forget them and come back to the intuitive abstract experimental work I imagined 20 years ago. I finally had all the technology and structure to construct the weird magical narratives and put them into form. 

So I came home from Berlin and had a fun time editing ‘Camera and I’ but then COVID happened and I got seriously blue balled.

ER: Lastly, how can people lift up you and the incredible work you do? Particularly after the waves of dismay with SESTA-FOSTA and the pandemic.

LINKS: 

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