HomeInterviewsNetflix's "Money Shot: The Pornhub Story" : Exclusive Interview with Director Suzanne...

Netflix’s “Money Shot: The Pornhub Story” : Exclusive Interview with Director Suzanne Hillinger and Editor Alexis Johnson 

Synopsis : Pornhub, the internet’s most famous adult entertainment platform, fundamentally changed how pornography is made and distributed. This enabled erotic content creators to reach a massive audience while the company made billions of dollars — but it also became embroiled in allegations including non-consensual material and trafficking on the site. As anti-trafficking organizations seek justice for victims, can the online giant protect those from whom they profit, or is this a new wave of censorship for adult performers making consensual porn?
Genre: Documentary
Original Language: English
Director: Suzanne Hillinger
Release Date (Streaming)
Distributor: Netflix
Exclusive Interview with Director Suzanne Hillinger and Editor Alexis Johnson 

Q: Pornhub fundamentally changed the porn industry and porn production. How did you get into making a film about Pornhub, and how did you get Netflix to back your film?

SH: It was actually Netflix’s idea. Netflix wanted to make a documentary about Pornhub and they approached Jigsaw Productions, the company Alexis and I have both worked with before. Jigsaw did a little bit of development work and then approached me to see if I wanted to direct it. I sort of put my own interest and spin on it. But yeah, this is a film that Netflix has championed from the beginning. They saw Pornhub as a really interesting company that was running itself like a social media company, that it was a giant pornography corporation. As I did my own research, I sort of shaped the story into something that was of particular interest to me. There was a story that hadn’t been told there before. 

Q: People in the porn industry who were making films in studios or production, were initially against Pornhub how they operated, but most of them ended up partnering with Pornhub. Once the mainstream chooses how porn is consumed through the online, they have to bend to Pornhub. Otherwise they would end up like Blockbuster. Could you talk about that? 

SH: Yeah, totally. The porn industry has evolved much in the same way that the television and the film industry has evolved, and as there are these big, powerful platforms that can control a lot of the industry, they also do provide a lot of visibility for smaller producers to get their work out. It’s not that different from Netflix, for example. So there’s always initially this pushback of oh, I now have to fight against this goliath. 

But I think Pornhub became this platform [where] people can market their own work on. In the beginning, Pornhub was stealing other content and was putting it up there and profiting off of it alone. But as they came up with the model hub concept and some other profit-sharing models, the smaller independent producers realized, I guess they’re not going anywhere, we need to figure out a way to work with them. So they all found their way of doing that, because there came a point where the smaller independent producers weren’t putting their stuff on Pornhub. It wasn’t going to get seen as much as other people’s. So it was, if you want to stay in the game, unfortunately you have to engage in working with this company, even if you don’t agree with all of their values because, unfortunately, they’re so powerful and their algorithm is so strong. But they had to. 

Q: Alexis, this film has so much vast material when it comes to Pornhub content and there’s a lot of legal terms you have to consider. Can you talk about the process of editing that material? 

AJ: Initially, Suzanne wanted to make a verité film, and there are some verité scenes that are in there. So in terms of them being in the movie, they were very easy, they were shot well and nice to edit with. What we found out through the beginning processes was that the movie didn’t really have a lot of visuals that weren’t just showing the Pornhub site over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. So we had to figure out — which we do, to an extent, but also it became an Internet movie that I suddenly realized, oh, well, the way that people are accessing this is through the Internet. So why don’t we work with our graphics team to figure it out, and put you in a first-person perspective? 

The people that are going to come and watch this movie, they might watch porn, but other audience members might not watch porn. So it gives you an insight to be [like] in a front row seat, whether or not you are a participant in watching and using Pornhub — you understand it by the end of the movie. So we figured out how to work with the colors that way. 

In terms of the material, you could make a series about porn history, and we pretty quickly realized that Pornhub is a very specific, narrow history of porn, and porn on the Internet is a very specific narrow history. So while it’s fun to think about Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, “Boogie Nights”-type of pornography, it doesn’t really have anything to do with what porn on the Internet has become. It has become explosive, so we had to keep it in terms of the Internet age. Otherwise we were going to have a four-hour movie. 

Q:Those porn sites are operating under the company like MindGeek which is a tech company that most doesn’t associate with porn industry. What are their tactics to make it into the big site that surprised you? They used the search engine optimization and bought the ads in Times Square, trying to push it to the mainstream?

SH: Yeah, MindGeek simultaneously did not want to embrace that they were in majority a porn site, but then also did want to embrace it. The people behind it — Fabian Thylmann, who came up with this search engine optimization [SEO] technology — originally, he was like, “What is the best product on the Internet that I can use for a search engine optimization? Well, everybody’s on the Internet searching for porn, so I guess I’ll use that.” So he came into it, not from the porn industry side. So a lot of the ways that MindGeek was built is not much different from Google and Twitter and all of these giant companies. 

But then what became really interesting is, when these marketing experts were hired at MindGeek to promote Pornhub, they were using the fact that they were pushing porn as these marketing strategies. The Times Square billboard was up for like, a day. They knew it was going to get taken down. They did it on purpose. That was what they became so successful at, and Pornhub became this brand name and it became synonymous with the porn industry, because they were marketing gimmicks. And they are really, really brilliant marketing gimmicks. They tried to get a Super Bowl commercial that got pulled. But they tried, and they got all this advertising attention for it. 

So the company has always tried to play both sides and I think it’s worked really well for them because it’s drawn so much attention. But I think it’s also gotten them into a lot of trouble, because when you build a website and you’re not realizing that the safety protocol you need to put into place is actually different from sites that don’t have graphic material on it, it can become a really unsafe place for people trying to make consensual material and upload it onto your site, and also people who don’t want anything to do with your site and there’s material of theirs getting uploaded onto it. 

Q: When a journalist Nicholas Kristof from The New York Times wrote stories about the Pornhub videos were associated with sex trafficking and rape and abuse, the entire porn industry got attacked — not just Pornhub, but also performers who have nothing to do with those contents. What was your reaction to Kristof’s article?

SH: Yeah, when Kristof suggested that Visa and Mastercard should stop doing business with Pornhub, what he pointed out was that these powerful financial institutions are working with porn sites because porn makes money. It did create an avenue where other platforms can be under attack, much in the same way that anti-porn activists or people trying to curb sex trafficking who believe it’s only happening on porn sites. They’re going to tell Visa and Mastercard “You shouldn’t work with any of these sites.” So yeah, by going after Pornhub — the most well-known porn site — in this way does create a model, and it was so scary for people involved in the porn industry. Because if it’s in The New York Times and they’re actually getting Visa and Mastercard to pull their payment processing, it’s huge. And it can certainly be applied to other platforms. 

Q: There are about 30 moderators in Pornhub who check all the contents for anything illegal. But so much content is shared on a daily basis that they miss much illegal material. Yet they have not reacted to that by finding solutions, such as hiring more moderators. 

SH: Yeah, it was interesting. Yet we don’t have all the details about how their moderation system works. We spoke to this one moderator on camera, we also spoke with a lot of other moderators off the record who corroborated that employee’s experience. But there’s fingerprinting technology that MindGeek uses, and they claim that it’s the best technology being used in the industry — and it very well might be. There are people who say things like, “It is. They actually do have the best fingerprinting technology to make sure that if a video gets flagged as being not-consensual, that it doesn’t show up somewhere else.” But it doesn’t mean that it’s good enough. It just means it’s the best that they have. 

Moderation is such a problem across the Internet. There’s interviews with moderators from Facebook  that are dealing with the same issues. I think it’s such a subjective experience, to be like, “Is this consensual? Is it not?” Does this person know they’re being recorded, or is this like a “sketch”? 

Q: Initially, under the Communication Decency Act, Section 230, if you are a service provider, you are not necessarily responsible for what’s published on the website. But that changed after Trump passed SESTA/FOSTA [the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which overturned CDA 230. But there is a problem with using Craigslist and Reddit for promotion by sex workers. What are your thoughts? 

SH: Yeah, I think it’s really easy when you’re trying to pass laws, to say like, “we passed SESTA/FOSTA and we will create a safer place for people who could potentially be victims of [sex] trafficking”. But the Internet is a really complicated place, and if you don’t fully understand who is using these platforms, it’s really hard to pass laws that regulate the platforms. There’s a lot more education that needs to happen as legislation is written about this. It’s really complicated. There’s a big question of who should be moderating the Internet. I think it’s a combination of, certainly the government should be involved, but that’s complicated because so many of its platforms are international, so which government? 

AJ: Also, too, if you look at Europe — I’m not saying they do a great job — but they don’t have the issues that North America has with porn, and sexuality in general from a cultural standpoint. They just don’t. The first thing we have to do is recognize that porn is not going anywhere. So once that gets recognized, that there’s going to be a demand for it, and if you don’t appropriately moderate it, and put safety measures in place to make sure that what’s being uploaded, everybody in the video has [freely] consented to, and also being fair, to make sure that people get paid properly. It’s all this balanced system, and it’s very intricate. 

If you’re not working slowly through the fact that porn is an industry, pushing it underground is only hurting the performers, and it’s hurting people being trafficked. And we aren’t actually growing as a culture, either. People are still going to go looking for it. So we’re hurting the performers, we’re hurting the audiences that are also looking for porn. If they’re looking for it in a safer place to look for it, then they are also having a better interaction with it. 

SH: Yeah, it’s not furthering a societal taboo, that there’s something wrong with sexuality. There are more regulations on these platforms, these public-facing platforms it’s going to push videos of sex trafficking further underground and make it harder to find the criminals who are actually making them. So it’s not doing anything to solve the actual societal problem of sex trafficking at all. It’s making it harder to find people who are doing the actual crime. There is a crime there, the platform leaves the video that’s a crime on their platform a hundred percent, but that’s not the original crime. The original crime is the actual sexual assault or the actual recording by the person who recorded that video. 

AJ: Not the upload. 

Q: Thank you. 

Check out more of Nobuhiro’s articles.

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Only on Netflix / March 15th. 


Nobuhiro Hosoki
Nobuhiro Hosokihttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Nobuhiro Hosoki grew up watching American films since he was a kid; he decided to go to the United States thanks to seeing the artistry of Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange.” After graduating from film school, he worked as an assistant director on TV Tokyo’s program called "Morning Satellite" at the New York branch office but he didn’t give up on his interest in cinema. He became a film reporter for via Yahoo Japan News. In that role, he writes news articles, picks out headliners for Yahoo News, as well as interviewing Hollywood film directors, actors, and producers working in the domestic circuit in the USA. He also does production interviews for Japanese distributors of American films and for in-theater on-sale programs. He is now the editor-in-chief of Cinemadailyus.com while continuing his work for Japan.


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