oh yes and we are making a film

We at Sensate Films are currently working on a new project.  The Succinct Description I’ve been rattling off when I’m asked about it is ‘it’s an erotic documentary about BDSM and intimacy’, which is somewhat accurate but not quite descriptive enough.  Or perhaps slightly off the mark.  It’s a lot deeper than that, and also (strangely) more broad.

The process is of course fascinating and I wish we had the time and the security to document that in detail, but I’ll provide snapshots where I can.  At Sensate we work with a very small crew (though lately we’ve been exploring the concept of the ‘assistant’ and can confirm that it is indeed an excellent thing to utilize – THANK YOU to those who have stepped in on short notice to help us not combust) so it’s pretty all-consuming and doesn’t allow much time or energy to share what’s happening online or do the social media thing.  But I’m making some mental notes and hoping to get to share them in one way or another eventually.

In the development of the treatment of the film we identified a few objectives and potential thematics, which of course (being a documentary-ish format) have been somewhat jettisoned by those we’re collaborating with.  Or sometimes just adapted in ways I couldn’t have expected.  This has been delightful and it’s allowed the project to ask itself some questions about its existence, and then the cast begin to answer them.  It’s thrown me for a loop once or twice, because I dearly love control, but I’m often so pleased as it’s happening because I trust the people we’re working with and I know that whatever threads they take, they’ll be worth following.

And so the Succinct Description has evolved a bit, and will most likely continue to do so.  At this moment it seems that the film speaks to artful relating, with kink / B!D!S!M! as the common thread, the medium of intimacy.  It also seems to be envisioning itself primarily as a piece of portraiture.  I think it’s hard for the way in which we work not to produce something with some sort of ‘message’, deliberate or otherwise, but these seem more likely to be conveyed through our collaborators’ ways of being in love and in play, and our ability to communicate them visually, than through any crafting or maneuvering we could have done in the processess of pre-production.

And all of this is done with cheerful and careful consultation, shared food, recollections, stories of collected locks of hair and the people they used to be attached to.  The collective spirit of this process is wildly humbling to us both and we are just blown away by the generosity of those we will feature in this project.  Home-cooked meals, gear runs, on-the-ground offers of assistance in the places we’re travelling to, housing, cuddles.  The investment these folks have in what we’re creating and in their own images is incredible and we are falling a little in love with them all.



God the colour work and cinematography in this film was amazing. Lady cinematographer btw, not many of them around! She’s a director now, made a documentary, won a bunch of awards! Anyho, saturated colour casts and a mix of intimate close shots and wider context shots for the play scenes. I imagine that we will separate these aesthetically from the interviews by infusing them with more emotional imagery. The colour in Amber is rich and increases in intensity at moments when the audience is supposed to feel things. I’d like to develop this idea in the doco, refine it a bit, learn to colour grade like pro.   

Use of abstraction in composition and focal length, potentially to achieve moments of access for the viewer to insert elements of self into the scene and to cultivate empathy.

Potential use of long-form video portratiure as observational material.

composition ideas. Also possible alternative colour grading for interviews. Warmer cast.

Poor Bob.

Use of domestic spaces as ‘stages’ for interviews and play scenes. Intentional and subtly dramatized use of personal objects and spaces. The acknowledgement that the act of viewing alters an act or a space, an engagement with this as documentarians and subjects.

composition ideas. Also possible alternative colour grading for interviews. Warmer cast.

sensate films – previous work

From gentlemanhandling.com

From gentlemanhandling.com

From gentlemanhandling.com

From gentlemanhandling.com

From ‘Taken’ (2012): http://www.sensatefilms.com/projects/taken/

From ‘Taken’ (2012): http://www.sensatefilms.com/projects/taken/

From ‘Taken’ (2012): http://www.sensatefilms.com/projects/taken/

From ‘Flare’ (2012): http://www.sensatefilms.com/projects/flare/

From ‘Touch’ (2012): http://www.sensatefilms.com/projects/touch/

From ‘New Tricks’ (dir. Morgana, 2013)

From ‘Chrysalis’ (2014)

From ‘Chrysalis’ (2014)

From ‘Chrysalis’ (2014)

From ‘Amber’ (2012): http://www.sensatefilms.com/projects/amber/

From ‘Amber’ (2012): http://www.sensatefilms.com/projects/amber/

From ‘Amber’ (2012): http://www.sensatefilms.com/projects/amber/


film references

Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist

The film is one of the few documentary projects we’ve come across that treats BDSM with respect, humour, and intimacy, and makes some suggestions about things you might do with it other than be a pervert.  Which it doesn’t suggest ain’t a great thing to be.

She Male Snails

Beautiful, slow-moving, emotive film about transfemininity and becoming.  Incredible compositions and colour casts, several re-creations of stories told in interviews.  Blend of vignette and more traditional interview and observational scenes.

American Splendor

While the trailer does not include any footage from the actual interviews with its subject, Harvey Pekar, this is a hybrid documentary / biopic, which intrigues us in its blend of narrative types and by including both the people the film is about and the people who represent them as characters in the film.  A good reference for layering versions of the same story, for uses of domestic space, and for the stylistic quality of the interviews, which create a blank stage into which are placed props representing several key elements of the story being told.  The engagement of the filmmakers are apparent yet non-invasive.

Vernon, Florida

Vernon Florida is a beautifully shot documentary and piece of portraiture, and is primarily an aesthetic reference.  Lots of long shots and a slow edit which serves the subject stylistically and structurally.  We don’t expect that our subjects will be quite this weird, but if they are, fantastic.

Zucht und Ordnung

Another good example of documentary / portraiture that addresses BDSM play artfully, respectfully, and with a degree of curiosity and a lack of judgment.  The full film can be viewed here: http://cb-player.com/en_EN/52599/ikf

Interviews on The Act of Killing

These interviews are of interest to us because they articulate sentiments on and theory about documentary which resonate with us – particularly around ideas of ‘truth’ and what it means to tell and re-tell stories, and to whom they belong.

Indie Game

The filmmakers here used a very similar kit to what we’ve got, and they use it well.  The subject matter is very different and the aesthetic is rather different, but in terms of production quality this will give you some idea of where we expect to be.  Reference this alongside our composition and colour casting diary.




Petra Joy Award

It’s official: we are award-winning feminist pornographers.  We’re dropping it casually in conversations, you betcha.  Heads turn.

Our short film Taken, a collaboration with our dear friend, wonderful lady, and cohort in smutmaking Viva, was selected for second prize in this year’s Petra Joy Awards.  In addition to a sweet trophy and some cashes, we will be included on Petra’s Her Porn Volume 4 collection, which is due to be released on DVD in Europe and the UK in 2013.  The Her Porn collections are nicely curated and contain both established and emerging filmmakers, and you should definitely check them out if you have the opportunity.  We’re pleased to be included in the latest edition; there are, like, famous people gon’ be on that DVD.  Score!  I don’t want to give away too much since that’s really Petra‘s business, but we’re pretty chuffed to be featured in the same place as some of our porno heroes.  I have had sneaky peeks at the other films selected for awards this year, and it’s pretty exciting to see that such a diverse range of pieces appealed to the judges. Through the awards, we also had the opportunity to connect with another Antipodean female pornographer who is just emerging, and am looking forward to collaborations with her.

Obviously I would say this, because she’s helping us out, but I do want to give some deep credence to Petra’s work, both behind the camera and in the industry of feminist pornographers.  She is absolutely sincere in her mission to assist emerging female erotic filmmakers to get their foot in the door in terms of distribution, collaboration, and community.  She understands the business elements of her market extremely well and is keen to spare other folks from exploitation by shitty distribution deals and the incredibly sharp pointy teeth of race-to-the-bottom porn publishing, and I think that’s perhaps more rare in this part of the industry that one might expect.  She was so welcoming to me when I visited the UK and generous with info, advice, free porn, and tea.  She has a lot of empathy for the folks she works with and is deeply concerned with the experiences of her performers and crew.  She’s also just generally bubbly and lovely and picked me up from the train station wearing a furry hat with ears and a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses.  Does that paint the picture for you?

We’ve definitely got a lot of ideas flowing between us and it’s hard to keep track of them all, but hopefully there are one or two tricks up our skirts for 2013.  I think her work is worth watching for those who are looking for female-focussed mostly-hetero films, so please make yourself familiar with her catalogue and avail yourself of some of your money in the name of pioneering ladyporn.

Award-winning pornographers love duty-free whiskey.


It’s been well over a month, and Sensate is finally beginning to come down from its brief love affair with PornFilmFestival Berlin.  It was fabulous.  And dangerous. Drive-by hard drive handoffs with moments to go until the international check-in closes, all-night encoding sessions resulting in the near-loss of one Aven Frey, my constant search for lentils under the pressure of a hectic festival schedule and the resultant ‘meat holiday’…dangerous indeed.

We screened the hell out of our little collection of shorts and I think it’s safe to say we were well-received.  I suppose now it’s safe to come out about the months leading up to the festival, too, since people have already had the chance to decide whether or not we’re a sham!  PFF and I had discussed my Filmmaker in Focus presentation in terms of Australian AltPorn, so I presumed that I would be screening the work of some of my colleagues as well.  As it turns out, the Festival wanted 30 minutes of original Sensate Films content that was not already screening in the festival.  At that moment, this did not exist.  Aven and I were more than a little overwhelmed by this, but it was also an opportunity to make whatever the hell he wanted to make, to play with thematics and people we’d been wanting to work with, and to experiment outside of the constraints of ‘commerical viability’.  We’ve never had the chance to do that in front of such a wide audience before, so while it seemed like a pretty mammoth task in the six weeks leading up to the Festival, we churned the stuff out like whoa and we are pretty happy with our work as it looks ‘under pressure’ with no capital.  Imagine what we could do with six months and a budget!  In that time, we made three short shorts (5 minutes or less), a 20-minute documentary, and a 15-minute explicit short.

Almost all of the work that Sensate screened at the festival will be made available for purchase soon – we are in negotiations to make them available by VOD (Video on Demand), and one of the films will be included on Petra Joy’s Her Porn 4 compilation.  I’m told we’re in good company, with the likes of Annie Sprinkle and Candida Royale, as well as the other Joy Awards winners (more on that in another post).

It is hard to describe the response to our films, and I hope that some of the people who attended screenings will comment here to share what it was like for them – that’s probably a better evaluation, since we’re pretty immersed in the content at our end.  For me it was so special to see our work in a cinema space, and how well it moves from our tiny monitors to a big screen.  It was also a fantastic learning experience to see what happens with sound and imagery when you place it in this context.  These days we almost never see porn on a big screen, and so rarely is viewing such a shared experience.  I was blown away by the number of people who wanted to pay to sit in a room together and watch porn.  I was also so pleased to hear individuals’ responses to the work, about what moved them and what made them curious, what emotions they experienced, what they were able to empathise with.  To everyone who approached me in the breaks, in the street, in the seats in the cinema, at the parties: I am so grateful to have had so many incredible conversations and to feel like you picked up what we were putting down.  People were so gracious with their feedback.  I felt so affirmed that what we are doing is valuable and desirable.  I also appreciated the critical voices that came through – I think my favourite piece of feedback from the entire festival was ‘I didn’t like your film, but it made me feel something.’

We are immensely grateful that the Festival was so generous with our screentime – we had 6 screenings in total and appreciated the opportunity to speak with the audiences of each.  This is one of the most incredible elements of this festival, I think.  The audience gets so much contact with the folks behind the scenes and such a rich understanding of where each director or performer is coming from.  People came from all over the world to share their work and were so approachable and giving.  I’d also like to acknowledge that the directors of the festival don’t sleep.  They go all fucking day, 14 hours or somesuch, and then they GO TO A PARTY and are all graciously social!  I felt my body shutting down at about day 2, and I was probably running at about an eighth of what they were in terms of responsibility and activity.

I think the greatest thing that this trip did for me and for Sensate, the thing that made all of that money worth spending and all of that sleep not worth having, was the connections I made with the individuals I met on the journey.  So many incredible filmmakers, writers, activitsts, performers, porno legends, producers, educators, festival programmers, and generative spirits were present, and I had more heartfelt connections than I imagined one could pack into five days.  I’d love to highlight them each individually, but I’m getting into dangerous territory for the length of time it’s taken me to write this post and I think I’ll get more opportunities to share their work later down the track.  So I’ll just say that there were so many people I made contact with on my journey (Berlin – Amsterdam – UK) who I feel drawn to in so many ways.  A true sense of kinship and border-crossing and smutty love.  I fell right into step with people I’d never met before, whose work I only knew from a distance, and we turned Kreuzberg inside-out for five days, sharing work and desire and popcorn and porno.

There are a great many exciting collaborations to pursue, works to produce, and conversations to continue, and we’ll try to do a better job of sharing those with our friends and fans in the months to come.  Berlin was everything we’d hoped it would be, and we will be back.

Black Wolf, White Wolf and some Foxes.

We are just about to launch our inagural project, and fuck we’re excited.  We can’t really talk about it until it’s all good to go, so in the meantime we’ll start filling you in on what we’ve been working on and what’s been passing before our lenses.

We’ve been testing our work on friends and colleagues and are getting such incredible responses.  One of them was from Melbourne artist and stylist Mel Balkan.  Check out her blog to get a sense of the breadth of her work.  Mel approached us with an idea that she seemed to have been developing for awhile.  And so we found ourselves a week later in an urban grunge setting making a film of a haircut.  Well, on the surface, anyway.  Mel’s approach to style is fully engaged and collaborative, and as we began to build moving imagery around the recontextualisation of her daily labour, we found a great many places in which to explore one of our favourite subjects: intimacy.  For two ladies who are used to filming much more conventionally vulnerable acts of sexual expression, we were pleased to find that we were able to find just as much vulnerability in this incredible exchange between the Black Wolf and the White Wolf.

Thanks to Belinda Gillies for the backstage images and Lady Lucille for the layers of White Wolf’s costume.  The edit is forthcoming over the next month or so, at which time we’ll say more about the piece itself, so stay tuned.  We were grateful for an opportunity to get out of the porno trenches for a moment and experiment with subject matter and form.  All told it was a beautiful afternoon of perfect light and generative feminine spirit, suggesting what might be possible as we open ourselves out into our community.