This Queer Porn Producer Of Color Is Changing The Biz

Photo Courtesy of N. Maxwell Lander.
After Shine Louise Houston graduated from the San Francisco Arts Institute with a Bachelors in Fine Art Film, she spent five and a half years in a different field, working at the San-Francisco-based sex-shop corporation Good Vibrations. In her twenties, she didn't know how film would factor into her career; she wasn't even sure what her career would be.

Through what she now calls her "market research" at Good Vibrations, Houston realized how she would apply her film chops: by creating porn that people wanted, but couldn't find; porn for trans people, queer people, and all people looking for narrative and emotion and connection in their erotic entertainment (a.k.a. quality movies that happen to feature seriously hot sex). In 2005, Houston created her first film, The Crash Pad, which launched an acclaimed series and Houston's career as a filmmaker who defies porn-making convention. As Houston has put it, "There is power in creating images, and for a woman of color and a queer to take that power, I don’t find it exploitative; I think it’s necessary."

Houston will soon direct and produce her first independent feature, Snapshot, "an erotic thriller featuring queer women of color" (video teaser below). As the Indiegogo campaign to bring the film to life draws to a close — add your support by July 1 — and Houston preps to begin shooting, we caught up with her on how she got her start, why her work is necessary, and what to expect from her upcoming film.

Well done on your first AMA last week — were there any particularly tricky questions?
"Well, kind of tricky: 'Do I like bananas?' I said, 'Yes, I love them.' Have you seen the Banana Bunker? You have to see Banana Bunker! And, I think because it was a hot topic at the moment, the whole Rachel Dolezal topic [came up]... I kind of felt that it was off-topic... I wasn’t expecting that, [but] I think it’s impossible not to talk about race issues being a person of color and being a woman — it’s going to come up even though the focus of what I’m doing is on sexuality."

How does your identity as a queer woman of color inform your films?
"Because I’m a person of color and because I’m queer, I’m aware of a lot of socioeconomic situations [that people in my demographics face], I’m really aware of political landscapes that revolve around race and class — so I think in that respect, it informs a lot of my life [laughs]. It's impossible to say that experience doesn’t affect what I do: It affects who we work with, what I work with, what we do.

"[But] the focus in my work is still about the artistry and craft and if I did have a direct political agenda, I feel like I’d miss my mark. I feel like because I’m not centered around a political agenda, because I’m focused on craft, that I’m able to make a statement that reaches people."
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Photo courtesy of CrashPadSeries.com.

Let's rewind to 2005, when you started your company Pink & White Productions and made your first film. How did you decide to make that leap?
"I had a moment — [there were] two things. [I thought]: I’m 30 and I’m still doing retail. And then I had a moment of — well, there was a renaissance of women filmmakers in the early 2000s and all of the sudden, everyone disappeared. It was over and I was like, Hey, what happened? I thought stuff was happening here!

"With my 'Shit I’m 30' crisis, [and my] market research working at Good Vibes and [my] film degree, [I thought]: I’m gonna start a business and do porn. Everyone was supportive, even my mom, so it was all good!"

What gaps in the porn market do you seek to fill with your films?
"As far as filling gaps — haha, that's pretty funny (laughs)."

Unintentional, I promise! The innuendo just creeps in...
"What I've heard from people is that there’s the camp that says they want more story, they want [their films to be] more plausible. Then, there’s the camp that says they want to see more intensity in the scene, I think they mean connection, emotional intensity. How I interpret that is taking on the attitude of being an honest filmmaker. I think that’s why I don’t control the scenes so much... I try to shoot in a way that’s not trying to make something contrived. And I’m not trying to film my own fantasies or the way I think your sexuality is. Mostly I create a [vehicle] for [performers] to come in and [I can] ask 'What do you want to do today?'"

Porn still carries a lot of stigma. Do you feel the effects of that on a personal level?
"Everyone who knows me knows what I do and is supportive. But if you’re talking about our position in the greater filmmaking world, I think people don’t take erotic films or porn or whatever you want to call it seriously. Even though we’ve been in Frameline and film fests all over the country, [many people's reactions have] kind of been a pat on the head, like 'Oh cool, people making porn'... We’re trying to make movies and content with a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what other filmmakers are creating projects with. For the money we have, what we do and what we produce on it, a lot of folks are doing amazing, beautiful work on nothing. And it’s something to consider. A lot of independent films are one million or four million. I’m trying to make a feature-length on 40 thousand, and it’s gonna look good. We’re the shadow of the industry... Nobody is really expecting too much from this genre. But I expect a lot from myself, so that’s why I’m making Snapshot. Not everybody knows about us, but the people who do know about us love us."

Tell me more about Snapshot.
"I’ve been writing this script for the last four and a half years...this is the final revision, [number] 37. The campaign ends on July 1 and then we start shooting July 27. It’s a little bit more dialogue-heavy than The Crash Pad, but for any other movie, it’s incredibly dialogue-light. Even though it’s heavily influenced by Hitchcock, it’s definitely explicit. I'm really trying to avoid clichés — the first time Charlie says 'I love you' to Danny is in the middle of this huge sex party — there are some great moments! The piece is really personal, it has a lot of references to my early twenties in the movie. I put a lot of heart and soul into it — and hopefully people get off to it!"
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