Randy Blue is working from home today after an arduous journey back to Los Angeles from New Orleans, where he and a friend spent Thanksgiving weekend. “I spend a lot of time working from home because the staff is shooting,” Randy (his real first name) says, “Sometimes as much as you hate to admit it, you can be a distraction. It’s easier for me to get stuff done from home.” Being at a remove from the shooting also allows him the pleasure to experience his company’s porn output with a fresh eye, and surprisingly, he’s not desensitized to it. He still jerks off to his company’s scenes, though RB’s cam shows have become some of his favorite ways to “let off steam” as he describes it. After over 12 years running Randy Blue, and several years before that producing porn for early internet porn pass sites, it’s amazing that Randy still exhibits the same drive and energy over “Blue movies” that he did in the early days. But it’s the business side that is his main concern. So while his staff is off shooting porn, Randy’s dealing with 101 different things to make his business better, from scheduling to financial issues to technological improvements like the specialized camming system that he spent months developing. I spoke with him in the midst of all this, to talk about how he built Randy Blue, his company’s special waiting period for new porn stars, and what he considers the biggest threat to his business — sorry guys, it’s not gay-for-pay.
Adam: When you go on a vacation like the one you went on this weekend, do you turn off from work, or everywhere you go you’re scouting and looking at the boys?
Randy Blue: I wish. That was the old days. I never really approached people as Randy Blue because it kind of sounds cheesy. Most of the work when I go away, it’s not scouting, but issues that we have internally. Either tech or booking or something like that that we have to get done. But I don’t think I’ve had a non-working vacation in about five years. When you own a company, I don’t think anybody can just turn off anymore. There’s always a problem back home that you need to take care of. My friends are the same way if they’re working for a company or have their own small business. I can be with them Sunday evening and a client calls with a problem, and they have to deal with it. We don’t have a nine-to-five world anymore where you just turn off. People don’t have the luxury of telling their customers to screw off for a week while they go on vacation. It is what it is.
You don’t do many interviews. Is that by choice?
I don’t do many. I used to do quite a bit, but it’s a different world than it used to be in that regard. The way that you promote and what gets people to you is not like it used to be. You used to do an interview for a magazine. Well, magazines don’t really exist anymore. Blogs have really whittled down the kind of content they’re looking for to get viewers to their site. I’m not a super private person but the opportunity just hasn’t arisen and I don’t really insert myself into a lot of different things, I guess.
So it’s not a reclusive thing, it’s just not necessary for you to be the public face of Randy Blue in the way Michael Lucas or Chi Chi LaRue is?
I never wanted to be a public face. When I created Randy Blue, the name was my alter ego, but as you grow and your staff is also along with you greeting the models, shooting the content, you know, Randy Blue is more than one person now. It’s who we all are. We all have our vision of what that is. But I never wanted to be an aging pornographer that puts himself in every shot or every thing. I don’t think that’s what consumers — and this is just my opinion and it could be totally wrong — but I don’t think consumers want to see me in everything. They come to Randy Blue because it’s an experience they want, and not a person.
That seems like a shift that’s taken place. Individual figures, even the porn stars, are less important than what the porn experience that each company depicts and offers is.
I agree. I don’t think there’s going to be, for lack of a better analogy, another Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt or Chi Chi LaRue. Chi Chi is absolutely, if you talk about gay porn and the history, there’s probably no one who stands out as a figure more than Chi Chi LaRue. I don’t necessarily think that that is the time and place that we are in right now. I don’t think people really want to hear my political beliefs. They want to see a great product. That’s more important to them.
Take me back to the beginning. For people who don’t know, because it’s been a while since you’ve done an interview, what got you into the industry? How did Randy Blue start?
I was a west coast sales manager for a company, and I was traveling all the time. When I would have free time, different friends of mine and I would talk about looking online at porn. It was such a new thing. I had started this company where I would shoot content for, at the time, all of these bigger sites. Companies that were the grandfathers of internet porn at the time, and they all needed content. Back then it wasn’t like a boutique shopping experience. You’d buy a pass and it would give you “access” to thousands of sites and most of those sites were just horrible. But they needed content. I would look and say, “None of this is turning me on. The guys are not attractive. It’s amateur. The lighting’s bad. It’s blurry. It’s bad.” Our company would supply content to all of these different websites. We found out that our stuff was better. So I’m like, “Why are we being the middle man when they all just want the cheapest possible, and are mostly owned by straight men, and have no idea what a gay customer wants to see. Why are we being the middle men when we can develop our own site?” That’s what happened. I wasn’t seeing the kind of porn that I wanted to see. I wanted to have something with really good looking guys in it that I would spend money on. That’s really how it happened.
When you were watching porn, prior to the internet, what was the first stuff that really excited you?
I was like every other college student in the 80s. I remember all the big Catalina and Falcon movies. The stars back then. The ones that really made you look. It was no different than that. The movie that sticks out the most in my mind, is Big Guns. I think most people remember that one because there were so many hot guys in that and the plot was just amazing. That one that has always stayed with me. At the time of VHS, Catalina and Falcon were basically the only names you knew. They had great plots. The guys would be “Oh my gosh I can’t believe this guy is doing porn.” That was always the most exciting thing about it, was seeing someone you couldn’t believe would be doing porn because they were so gorgeous. When we started Randy Blue, I wanted the experience of finding guys that you would never think could be in porn. I always said Chris Rockaway looked more like a movie star than a porn star. He didn’t look like somebody who would be doing porn. But I wanted there to be more updates and bring a lot more product to the site.
So you start your company. Do you call it Randy Blue from the start?
Yes. Well, we started a company called Max Pixels, and that’s the one where we should shoot for other companies. One night I was trying to think of a name for the site, and at the time, you would go online and all the websites would be like “Twink Boys Fucking”, “Fuck Buddies”, or something like that. I thought that wasn’t really something you could market. I wanted something where if somebody wore a t-shirt or something, someone would say, “Ohhh, Randy Blue,” but it wouldn’t be so obvious to other people what it is. A lot of people think it’s Randy Blue because my name is Randy — which it is — but I started thinking of how the word randy used to mean horny. Blue was a reference to pornography. In the fifties and sixties they used to call them blue movies. So I liked that. Randy Blue sounded like it could be a real person’s name. It just kind of worked.
At what point did you feel like things just clicked. Was there a moment of success or triumph, or a star that you found, where you thought, “Okay, now we’re on the map!” ?
I think when we saw that guys wanted to start working with us exclusively. This was a long time ago. This was Jay Lopez, Kody Henshaw, Sebastian Rivers. When you looked at those three guys, they were kind of the first that wanted to work with us. You know, gay, bisexual, I was like, “Wow people want to work with us because they like my company. They like the porn we put out.” I was kind of flabbergasted. From that, we kept going, and realized we could have exclusives on our site. Then comes Reese Rideout and Chris Rockway and Xander Scott and Leo Giamani, and others. That was when I started realizing, we had the customers but also the models wanted to stay put and work here. That was when I thought, “You know this can work, and I think we can build a brand name unlike any other.”
What was the biggest thing that you had to struggle with in those early days?
Knowing how to form this company. Everybody has this idea of what they think it would be like to work in porn. Usually those ideas are completely wrong. You have to find good people who want to give up their jobs to work in porn, but also bring something to the table, talent-wise. Creativity. But also good people that you can trust. There’s a lot of people who have this idea that porn is nothing but a non-stop party. I know you know differently by now. But it’s really a business and like any business you have to have people you can put your trust into who are good for your company and will help it grow. You have to have that to lay the foundation for something that’s gonna grow.
Did you have disasters on set? Was there a learning curve? What did you have to tame in those early days?
There’s always something. I would say, though, that a lot of situations are no different today than they were in the early days. You have people who can’t do the scene. Or you have people that come into town and they have their ulterior motives for coming into town. In other words, they didn’t really come into town to work with you, they came into town for a free ticket so they could meet somebody they’ve been talking to online. Or they think it’s going to be a drug party which it’s not. I’ve talked to some of my competitors, and they have some stories that have literally made my toes curl. But I’ll tell you, one of the things I’ve always held really strongly to, and it’s always seemed to work for us, I don’t know for how much longer, but it’s always worked — when I would talk to other models and other people in the industry, I was amazed that they would talk to a model and within two days fly that person out to do a scene. Whereas because of our schedule, editing and shooting, and because I truly believe that you’re going to be much more successful if you have somebody who wants to work for your company, not just any company. Our guys have to wait four to eight weeks to work with us and they wait patiently to do so because we have a great reputation. Building that reputation came from making guys wait. Because there is something that intrinsically sets a tone with a model. If you’re trying so hard to get them in before they can really think about doing porn, to get them in before they can change their minds, you might get a great looking guy but you’re going to lose guys and you’re not going to be able to get them back, because once they make a snap decision and once they go back home and deal with the repercussions of it, you’re not going to have nearly as a good a person working for you. If they’re able to think about it, think about the good and bad scenarios, and they come back and say, “I still want to do this work,” then you’ve given them a chance to think about it, and the relationship going forward is much, much better.
That’s really interesting. How does that work with the gay-for-pay models?
I’m glad you asked that, and I will tell you how I feel. I know that on comment sections people are going to go nuts. I have had gay-for-pay models who have done fantastic in their scenes. I have brought in gay performers who are rotten. Horrible, can’t get it up. It makes no difference. When people say, “Oh they’re gay, they’re going to be better.” Well, there is a good chance, yes, some of them are going to be much better. But it really gets down to how good of a performer that person is, and how committed they are to coming in and doing the scene. We’ve had gay performers that just cannot do it at all. We’ve had straight performers who are legendary. They do a great job in the scene, promote themselves well, and are easy to work with. Just because someone’s gay doesn’t mean they are going to have a hard-on the entire shoot, are going to do a good job, and aren’t going to stare blankly into the camera. It makes no difference. You bring people in and you pick the ones that are the best to work. Sometimes a customer only cares about the person’s looks. As long as they like what that person looks like, they don’t care how bad they are. Other times they’re not as giving. It really is a case by case thing and I don’t think you can have a gay porn company with just 100% gay models. A lot of guys are bisexual. A lot of guys are doing this because they want to test the waters. They are curious. We’re human beings and we’re supposed to be curious. I always find it odd that society tells people, “You need to experiment and explore,” and the moment they do, we’re like, “You’re gay.” Well, they may not be gay, maybe they just want to explore and figure things out for themselves. It’s really not my place to tell them who or what they are.
As long as they do a good job.
Right. And they’re great with their customers. It is what it is in that regard.
Do you ever retire stars? Do you ever hit a point with stars where you say, you know, “We’ve used you plenty. You should move on.”?
Very rarely. That’s their decision to make. Some of them have saved their money and decide to go to school. Some of them decide, “You know what? I’ve done it. I’m going to do something else.” Sometimes we say, “You know we’ve got a lot of videos of you.” Realistically, porn is based on new faces, not always, but there’s always going to be people who come in who are new and you have to give them a shot.
So are you in your day to day, mostly dealing with logistics and Evil Jeff and the other folks are doing the creative?
You know, I turned 50 this year, and that doesn’t mean at 50 you’re tapped out, but I think every ten years there’s a new generation or so looking at what you’re doing and I think anybody has to be able to step back and say, “I’m not a Svengali here. I have to rely on people who have fresher ideas and who look at things differently than how I looked at it.” It’s a different generation. My time is spent dealing with a myriad of different issues. Financial, technology, the cam side of our business. There’s plenty to keep me busy. But I’ve been very, very happy with the creative side of our business. I think Evil Jeff does a fantastic job, along with Jeremy and Brian Wow. They do an incredibly good job. I may offer suggestions or in meetings I’ll say, “I feel like this worked and this didn’t.” But I have to allow them to have the creative freedom to try new things and do them and convince me of it. I think that’s how you move forward as a company.
You must sit with your metrics, and know what your customers want. Are there new things people are looking for?
I don’t think there are new things that people are looking for. That is such a broad question, because every human being has things that emotionally get them to pull out their credit card or emotionally get them to spend money or to become a fan of a certain person or a certain thing. I think we’ve seen hipster porn, fetish porn, all different kinds of porn. All of those have their fans. But in all honesty, it really is about providing a very good product. The filming has to be great, the lighting has to be great, the model has to be good-looking and needs to perform. Let’s cut to the real heart of the matter here. While porn will change, and it’s always going to evolve and change, it’s not that people’s tastes have changed. I go online and I’m sure every one of my competitors do too. I’m not competing against people because of an idea or a change. I’m competing against myself over free porn. That’s what it is. It makes no difference because no matter what change or anything I would do aesthetically, it would still be up for free somewhere else very quickly. So you’re constantly competing against your own product that you created against people who are putting it up for free. I think we get sidetracked by, well, I’m missing this or that. But it’s really about the fact that you’re constantly fighting against free.
I’ve wondered about that. Do you think porn companies would be smart to de-tech themselves and make things more low-fi the way free porn is on X-Tube – or should the porn industry step it up and make better production values, scripts, and quality so it does stand out?
Our biggest problem is not because we haven’t upped our production values. You’re seeing really good production values from several studios. Our biggest problem is if our industry had come together to fight piracy, the way that a lot of them have come together to fight condom porn, then I think we would have done much better. It’s nothing to do with what’s out there and what people can get. It’s that we as an industry were horrible at coming together and fighting against the thing that has taken us to the woodshed and given us a beating. Hollywood didn’t just lie back. They worked together and prevented a lot of different situations in their own industry. While I’m not comparing ourselves to Hollywood, we could have been much more aggressive at working with each other. But it’s a small industry and people are very wary of working with each other. So it is what it is in that regard.
Do you have other studios that you admire?
Of course I do. I admire Sean Cody. I think they do a fantastic job and have always done a fantastic job. They’ve never strayed from what they do or what they have been. I think that’s very commendable and I think they do a fantastic, fantastic job. I think on production values Cockyboys does a great job. There’s some really good studios out there. Of course there’s people that I admire but those two stand out more than others. But I see things every week that I think are good.
Do you have close industry friends? Directors or studio owners?
I’m not really close to a lot of different people in the industry and that’s not because I feel like I’ve been wronged by anyone or I need to be reclusive. It’s just that I work a lot. When I have free time, I tend to want to be with my family and friends. I also kind of started eschewing a lot of the different events. The big weeklong events, because it really became more about drinking and partying than it was about any solid, good business networking. That’s fine though. I have no problem with people getting together to blow off some steam, but that just wasn’t my idea of what I wanted to do. I probably sound like a snob.
Nah. I get it, I wouldn’t want to go to a lot of that stuff either.
I’d rather refresh and do some different things.
Now, doing what you do, are you completely desensitized to porn?
Not at all.
So if you want to get off, are you going to put on your own scenes?
I do love to watch our scenes. Since I’m not shooting them like I used to, it makes it fresh for me. I love to watch what other people do too. I don’t think it has anything to do with me being desensitized because of what I do for a living. I think a lot of it now is just timewise. I don’t have as much time as I used to. Now I have other hobbies and things I like to do. Those things kind of tend to be my outlet for letting off a little steam.
So what was the last scene that you jerked off to?
Probably not one of our scenes but our cam shows. I really like camming. It’s raw, unscripted, it’s what those guys want to do. If they get a partner in there that they really like, it’s really hot and sexy. For me that works. But it’s weird, when you know all the models, it’s kind of weird to be jerking off to your employees.
I guess it’s the only business where you’re supposed to be doing that. How does the live cam thing work for you guys? You guys have your own system for camming right? It’s not like Live Jasmin or Flirt 4 Free, right?
Right. We wanted to develop our own system because we wanted to be able to do this and bring it to our viewers. We did a lot of trial-and-error testing to figure out what our customers would like in order to bring it to them. In the end, it’s because I believe this is the most amateur thing you can get. It’s live, in your face, real time, no editing or changes. Nothing.
Obviously the big thing that’s changed over the years is the rise of bareback. Have you ever wanted to go bareback?
Sometimes I go on blogs and read people saying I’m a big condom advocate. I’m not really a condom advocate. I believe that consenting adults should do whatever they want to do in their home. It’s not for me to sit there and tell people what they should do. It’s not for me to judge or comment on in that way. But that being said, I live in a city that has a condom law, and whether or not I agree with that condom law, I have to abide by what that law is in this city. Right now, to move to another state is not something I want to do. I live in Los Angeles because I love living in Los Angeles. My employees love living in Los Angeles. So to move and set up a new site with a certain amount of difficulty, is not what I want to do. But I will say this. I knew when bareback started people would jump on it and they would be like, “Yeah, I’m into this.” I don’t think most consumers have any idea. Maybe in the beginning, a lot of companies got a bump, people came running. But within a few months, every bareback video can be found just as easily as any condom video, for free on the internet. So while it gave them a boost, it’s not as big a boost as people thought I could be. Also you have to take some commenters with a grain of salt. I don’t think they have any idea that there is not a standardized HIV test for the industry. One studio did at home over the counter HIV tests to use, while some have used pretty standard tests and sent their models to a clinic to be tested. There’s not some standard. Models usually do porn, not all the time, but some do it out of desperation, and they have made the decision they have made based on the fact that they have to pay rent next week. They’re not feeling great about their decision and a lot of the studios have not put in the time to ensure that safety rules on their sets. Let’s be honest there are a lot of STDs out there that are not HIV. There’s still syphilis and gonorrhea. And a lot of times people don’t get a full test. When I see viewers screaming for bareback, they have no guarantee that the guys they’re watching have been filmed in the safest possible way for them to enjoy their porn.
But for some people that’s part of the thrill — the risk and the chance of infection…
That is part of the thrill for some people, yes. But we’re all still businesses that are regulated by the United States of America. So it’s not going to be this nasty free-for-all that some people want it to be. When all’s said and done it’s a business. You don’t want to kill that, and I understand it’s a fantasy. We all have fantasies and that’s what keeps us going. But at the same time, you have to make sure that everybody that comes into this arena, that comes into this industry to work, that they can work in the safest possible environment.
Adam Baran is a filmmaker, blogger, former online editor of Butt Magazine and co-curator of Queer/Art/Film. His short film JACKPOT, about a porn-hunting gay teen, won Best Short Film at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and was recently featured on The Huffington Post, Queerty, and Towleroad, among others. He is a features programmer at Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival and NewFest in New York. In his spare time, he complains about things to his friends. “Fisting for Compliments”, his weekly musings about the intersection of sex, art, porn, and history, will appear every Monday on TheSword. You can contact him at Adam@TheSword.com and follow him on Twitter at @ABaran999. Check out his previous columns in the Fisting For Compliments Archive.