A Day on the Set of a Lesbian Porn Film in the Valley

Director Alan with Briana Banks
Director Alan with Briana Banks
Photo by Gustavo Turner

Although adult films are a signature cultural product of Southern California, there are a lot of misconceptions about how those films are made.

Two weeks ago, Bree Mills, head of production for Gamma Films Group and one of the masterminds of the award-winning, all-female studio Girlsway, invited us to one of their adult film shoots in the Valley.

Consistent with Girlsway's philosophy of openness — the studio’s creative partners, Mills and director Stills by Alan, constantly communicate with members and fans via forums and Twitter — we were granted full access to document the process of how the porn you watch is made in 2016.

Girlsway, launched in late 2014, is revolutionizing the adult industry with its combination of high production values, care for actors on set and interaction with the fan base.

"Porn fans these days are also fans of entertainment in general," Mills says. "They enjoy Game of Thrones, they go to Comic-Con and they watch porn. We took the best aspects of current television and comics, like expanded universes, continuing story lines, etc., and applied it to porn. We were lucky, too, because fans of lesbian porn like 'story.'"

At the shoot we attended, Stills by Alan was directing a series of scenes with 2000s adult superstar Briana Banks (who retired around 2009 and is now seriously working on comeback), recently promoted to MILF status Reena Sky and newcomer Melissa Moore.

Here’s what a workday is like at a 2016 adult set.

9 a.m.: Alan, one of the Valley's top porn directors (who goes by "Stills by Alan") arrives with his DP, former porn performer Craven Moorehead, and two crew members. Two hair-and-makeup artists arrive with them. The crew and the makeup artist asked me not to identify them for this feature. They all work on non-adult sets as well and there's still a stigma attached to doing this kind of work.

9:15 a.m.: Three actresses (called "models" by everyone) arrive. They are Briana Banks, Reena Sky and Melissa Moore. These, of course, are their artistic names — one of them was complaining to her makeup artists that psychos and creeps online have leaked her birth name and now it's become hard for her to apply for credit, etc.

Briana is in her mid-30s. Between 2001 (when she signed with Vivid) and 2009 she was on the top echelon of performers in the industry. She's not new to GG (industry code for "girl-girl" lesbian sex scenes) scenes: her 2001 video with contemporary megastar Jenna Jameson, Briana Loves Jenna, is legendary among porn watchers. Briana has been working non-stop on her successful comeback.

Briana has been cast in a "MILF" role for today's shoot, which is the industry term for any performer who's not (or who cannot pass for) a starlet in her late teens or early 20s. Reena is 33, and, though she looks much younger, she's already been moved onto MILF territory by those who cast porn scenes. On this video, she plays Melissa Moore's stepmother.

Melissa is 20 and has been in the industry since last fall. Originally from Florida, she got noticed when fans of her cam work realized she looked a lot like Riley Reid, one of the current superstar starlets. She was then almost immediately flown to California in hopes of casting her in a "twin scene" with Riley. That happened right away. Two lessons from this story: In 2016 porn moves really fast, and fans and paying members of websites can call the shots and get their specific fantasies shot in the time it takes to demand them via online forums.

Briana Banks is getting her hair done.
Briana Banks is getting her hair done.
Photo by Gustavo Turner

9:30 am: Briana and Reena are getting their hair and makeup done. It’s a laborious process: Hair and makeup for adult shoots takes as much time as for any other production — that is, a lot. There are two makeup artists, so Melissa has to wait for her turn on the chair.

10 a.m.: The crew has finished placing lights in what's going to be the main set (of several) for this shoot: the bedroom.

10:30 a.m.: When Briana’s makeup is done, director Alan decides to do "Pretty Girls" with hers. That's the industry term for glamour stills that are used as slideshows and to promote the videos. Since this is the first time Briana has worked with Girlsway, Alan decides to get her Pretty Girls out of the way.

10:45 a.m.: Alan takes Briana to the bedroom to shoot her in a variety of sexy poses for the Pretty Girls. Since this particular shoot involves MILFs but none of the actresses is married, Alan has brought a variety of prop wedding rings for them to wear as part of their costumes. Briana's character is a conservative wife — this was one of the details included in the members' fantasies, to which Girlsway pays close attention.

11:30 a.m.: While Alan and Briana are wrapping up the Pretty Girls in the bedroom set upstairs, the makeup artist has started working on Melissa. Meanwhile, a crew member is outside interviewing Reena Sky for "extras" that Girlsway includes with its video content. These interviews are identical to the extra material that is shot for mainstream productions for DVD use.

Reena Sky being interviewed
Reena Sky being interviewed
Photo by Gustavo Turner

12:30 p.m.: Melissa Moore is now made up and ready for the camera. She's still wearing her street clothes. Both Reena Sky and Melissa Moore are Mexican-American, but they don't necessarily play those roles when they're performing (porn only highlights a performer’s ethnicity when it’s part of the fantasy they are shooting).

12:45 p.m.: Reena is waiting for Alan and the crew to finish setting up cameras and lights. The kitchen of the rented home serves as a center of operations. The production assistant has procured a lot of snacks for the cast and crew. A lot of sugar is consumed on set, with straight-from-the-box cereal being a popular choice.

Craft services
Craft services
Photo by Gustavo Turner

1 p.m.: Briana has decided on a blue dress to play the conservative nosy neighbor. The actresses brought their own wardrobe for this production, and they offered Alan several choices.

Alan begins telling the actresses about the script they're going to shoot, their characters and the specific things they can and cannot say. Since this is a stepmother/stepdaughter fantasy, he is very precise about when the characters should refer to each other as "stepmother" and "stepdaughter" (at first, to establish the relationship) versus "mom" and "daughter" (the rest of the time).

1:15 p.m.: Alan and his director of photography, Craven Moorehead, explain the setups to the actresses. Moorehead is a former adult performer who has transitioned to a behind-the-camera role, and he's being groomed by Alan to begin directing projects for Girlsway. Alan is splitting duties with Craven. While Alan will shoot some exteriors of Briana as the nosy neighbor snooping around the house, Craven will go with Melissa in her car to shoot the stepdaughter's arrival home from college to her stepmother's house.

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1:40 p.m.: Craven and Melissa leave for a drive-around, where she will simulate her arrival at the house from college. Alan emphasizes that mentions of "college" be repeated to steer the stepmother/stepdaughter fantasy away from inappropriate under-age territory.

1:50 p.m.: While Craven and Melissa are out shooting the arrival scene, a crew member shoots Briana being interviewed for the extra content. It's the Girlsway tradition to have all the performers say "I LOVE LESBIAN PORN" to the camera during their interviews. Briana hams it up with a pussy-licking pantomime.

2:05 p.m.: Alan shoots exteriors of Briana as the nosy neighbor trying to catch Reena and Melissa making out. The provisional title for this set of scenes is "The Peeper," and someone has written that on the clapper (the iconic film-set device to synch image and sound). Jokes about "clapper" and "who's got the clap?" are part of the workplace humor that everyone uses throughout the day to fend off on-set boredom.

2:15 p.m.: Reena has decided to wear lingerie and a robe, which would make disrobing easier later in the bedroom. Melissa and Reena begin getting comfortable together. This will be their first make-out scene today. Melissa and Reena goof around and play with each other before the cameras are ready to roll.

Melissa and Reena get to know each other
Melissa and Reena get to know each other
Photo by Gustavo Turner

2:35 p.m.: While Craven checks that the cameras, boom mics and lights are not in the frame, Melissa starts working on her character. Melissa, though new to the industry, is a pretty good actress, like many of the young performers today. Her style of acting is very different from the mannered, "porny" acting typical of an earlier era.

2:50 p.m.: While the crew moves the cameras and lights outside for countershots, Reena takes some selfies for social media. The actresses run their own social media and have to keep posting content for demanding fans. Reena also takes #bts selfies with Melissa. “Bts” (behind the scenes) images are a popular part of the adult performers' social media presence.

3 p.m.: This is the day's first instance of intimacy being shot on video. Cast and crew have been on set since 9 a.m.

3:15 p.m.: Starlet Tiffany Watson has arrived and starts getting in makeup. She will shoot a later scene with Briana. The scene is scheduled for after 5 p.m. but won't start shooting until much later. Briana, who's in all the scenes being shot today, will have an extremely long workday. "And tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. I'm doing anal," she tells us. Briana is working extra hard on her comeback to prove to the industry that she's still a bankable star.

Tiffany Watson in the makeup chair
Tiffany Watson in the makeup chair
Photo by Gustavo Turner

3:20 p.m.: Now everyone has moved into a large bathroom, where Alan has decided to start shooting the Reena/Melissa scene. Big problem: There are mirrors everywhere. Cameras, lights and mics have to be rearranged repeatedly to get them out of reflections. The actresses are told to begin performing on each other while staying on very specific floor marks to avoid weird reflections. This is extremely tricky, and Reena and Melissa pull it off in a couple of takes like consummate pros.

3:30 p.m.: More problems with the reflections. They're everywhere. Finally, Alan is getting the bathroom shot he wanted.

3:50 p.m.: Both actresses put their clothes back on for a fresh take.

3:55 p.m.: Alan shoots most things with three cameras, but a big part of the bathroom shot (because of the reflections) is done just as a master shot. Craven watches the scene waiting to man the second camera.

4 p.m.: Meanwhile, the makeup artist is putting the finishing touches on Tiffany Watson. She will then have to sit around for a couple of hours in full makeup until the previous scene is completed. Then the makeup artist touches up Reena after her bathroom tryst.

4:05 p.m.: Oops — Alan had forgotten to give Reena her "wedding ring." Hopefully this won't distract continuity freaks watching the bathroom scene.

Bling and a banana
Bling and a banana
Photo by Gustavo Turner

4:10 p.m.: The performers go upstairs to do still shots. These are like the “Pretty Girls” but include all the performers on this film. Alan shoots a variety of "plot" setups, with the stepmother and stepdaughter miming expressions when found by the disapproving Neighbor.

These stills double as a way for Alan to direct the actresses about the angles and sequences of the coming video shoot. He also uses the stills to correct the "naturality" of the performances. Girlsway's style tries to move away from "porny" acting and more toward mainstream television acting.

4:40 p.m.: OK, time to shoot the final sex scene (reminder: Everyone's been here since 9 a.m.). Melissa puts her costume back on. Everyone rests for a minute. The sex scene will be shot first in real time, with no cuts.

4:45 p.m.: Reena and Melissa begin making out. Briana is out of the frame, still snooping as Nosy Neighbor.

4:50 p.m.: Briana comes in and ... cut! Alan steps in to remind the actresses that a) they shouldn't say anything that would make the fantasy illegal or inappropriate due to the age of Melissa's character; b) they shouldn't talk about "mom" and "daughter" without saying "step" more than necessary; and c) when they turn Briana on to lesbianism, Briana should present some resistance but never say "no" or "stop," which would make the scene rapey. "Oh — I really shouldn't do this! It's so wrong!," on the other hand, is OK.

4:55 p.m.: "Oh — I really shouldn't do this! It's so wrong!,” Briana says as she’s being seduced by her neighbors.

5:30 p.m.: And it's a wrap!

5:45 p.m.: The actresses rest. Alan wants 15 minutes more of retakes for fill-ins, etc. Melissa’s face seems to say, "Are we punching the clock yet? It's been a long day. Is it time to hit the shower and go home or go party?"

Tomorrow? Another day, another scene. That's the way it is in the world capital of adult dreams, Southern California's very own Valley.

CORRECTION: This article has been amended to reflect Briana Banks' correct age and length of time in the industry.

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