Who the Fuck is Michael Ninn? Part_I
Interview by Scott McGowan Eye On Adult
I've asked that question on a few occasions; that is until I interviewed him at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.
In our industry, the most famous and sometimes most successful directors and producers are usually the loudest. Some even go so far as to cast themselves in the movies they make. In other words, just like any other branch of entertainment, hype is king these days.
Michael Ninn, however, is probably the least visible person in our business. He doesn't do interviews for the most part and if you've if you've ever met him, it was likely on the set of one his movies or while talking over a deal. He doesn't go to conventions or trade shows for the most part and you never hear tale of him posting on message forums or the like. In fact, other than the people that have worked with him directly, there are probably only a few people in the industry that could pick him out of a police lineup.
So, it begs the question, Just who the fuck is Michael Ninn?
Is he the greatest director in the history of adult films? I suppose it's possible, but that assessment could only be made from an individual's perception. Is he a reclusive genius? Well, he certainly doesn't seem to get out much and it's obvious that he's a super talented photographer/filmmaker. So maybe reclusive genius isn't such a bad label for him. Is he a pretentious art-fag with a propensity for going overboard with symbolism and abstract imagery? Again, it's subjective.
From my point of view, he's all of these things one day, none of them the next, and any combination of the three the next. At least, that's how I viewed him before our interview. I still view him in a similar light, but there's another element that I have to add in now- the human element.
I think a lot of us almost view this guy to be like a ghost or something. I know I really had no concept of the guy's actual physical existence. Hell, if someone were to have told me that Michael Ninn didn't even exist, and that it was a name just the cover for 3 or 4 people working together (similar to the Shakespeare myth/rumor), I might have actually believed it. But now, after meeting the man face to face, it all makes sense. There's a context to everything I know about him, his craft, and his reputation.
Tomorrow, I'll give the scoop on this most enigmatic character in our industry. Swing on by. You might learn something.
Who the Fuck is Michael Ninn? Part_II
As I was making my way over to the Ninn Worx booth at the Adult Entertainment Expo to do my interview with Michael Ninn, I really had no idea what to expect from the man. In situations like this I usually opt to imagine the worst-case scenario. It helps if only so that I can be prepared for a tough interview with someone who is just an outright pain in the ass. I kind of envisioned a tall, overly styled metrosexual piece of wannbe eurotrash who had far better things to do than talk with a guy who hasn't always flattered him in the past. Maybe he would be German, or at least act like it- all cold and indifferent with nothing particularly interesting to say.
When I arrived at the booth, I looked around for this guy. Which one is Ninn? I asked myself as I scanned the people shuffling about. No one fit the bill. Eventually, I just grabbed Sherry from Black Blue Media (Ninn Worx's publicist) who'd set up the interview and let her know I was around.
When she introduced me to Michael, I shook hands with what I can only describe as the polar opposite of the picture I'd painted in my head. He was nicely dressed, but in a more classic sense rather than trendy. He's kind of nebbish, if not sort of nerdy and seemed more nervous than me. I could tell he was shy, and maybe even a little uncomfortable. But above all else, he was just, pleasant.
At his suggestion, we negotiated the crowds of the Sands Expo to make our way outside by the loading docks to have cigarette. Why the hell not, right? It's a hell of a lot more relaxing and conducive to producing a good interview than sitting smack in the middle of the noisy, distracting convention floor.
After we'd lit up, I turned on the recorder. While it's something of a boring question, I felt it had to be one of the first questions I asked. How did a guy like Michael Ninn end up making skin flicks? After all, when you view a Ninn movie, it's obviously something that's done by someone with some real experience, right? Right. I went through a really bad divorce and I had been with a big news agency for almost 8 years. When I came to L.A., a friend of mine, in the evening time, his edit bays did adult. Michael tells me.
I edited a couple of adult pictures and I just went, I wouldn't watch this!' and I tried to make my first film.
This all took place around 15 years ago.
With that statement, I saw an opportunity to find out what inspired his interest in doing porn flicks. Particularly, I wanted to know what the flaws he saw in the films he edited that he thought he could change and or do better. I just wanted it to have the commercial appeal- how Mercedes sells a car or Chanel sells something. I just thought, ya know what there's got to be a market for upscale porn.'
He continues, It's not all disposable, man. I would say 80% of the businesses in the adult world think that the talent is disposable, the product is disposable, and most of all, the fans are disposable and interchangeable. I've never approached it that way.
The guy has a point. Consider the movies he was likely editing in the early 90's when he arrived in Los Angeles. These movies were disposable. It was garbage and part of that syndrome was the fact that no one had ever thought about mainstreaming porn in any way shape or form. They just needed to get their 3 positions, a money shot, and call it a day, right?
So Michael created his own brand of porno and a decade and a half later, it's easy to see his influence on the industry. He made his product slick, and sexy. But isn't all porn sexy? After all, there sex in it. I'd tend to disagree. Watching some guy's hairy nutsack bounce off of some girl's pimply, razor burned ass under bad lighting isn't sexy at all. What Michael did was build an aesthetic that was sexy, not unlike the marketing tactics used by the companies he mentioned above, and used that as inspiration rather than simply using the sex itself to carry the burden.
But critics, including this writer, have burned Ninn in the past believing his work to suffer from over-the-top production, storylines that confuse rather than entertain, and imagery that crosses a line between art and just plain silly. In my case, I've even used the term pretentious to describe some of his films. When I asked Michael how he felt about such criticisms, he said, Sometimes I don't see it being pretentious until it's done and it can be misconstrued as pretentious if you don't know me.
I leave it up to the viewer to decide. I'm a pretty down to earth cat. I'm not a heavy dude. I'm not a preachy dude.
He continues saying, I don't know. I just make it, ya know? I've been told since I got in the business that, No one wants to see your stuff. It's too soft, it's too hard, it's too heady, it's too this, it's too that,' and 15 years later I'm still here making pictures. 15 years later, I'm still up for best picture.
As much as I hate to admit it, the guy has a point. Normally, such bold statements would have be twisting my face up like I was trapped in an elevator with my father after a trip to Taco Bell, but like it or not, Michael Ninn can back it up. Despite my criticism and everyone else's, the guy hasn't flunked out and when you think about it, he's probably taken more risks with his craft than 99% of the director/producers out there.
Furthermore, and perhaps most important to me, is that I believe him when he says that he doesn't purposely set out to make films that are over anyone's heads. In other words, now that I've talked to him, I seriously doubt the guy is trying to get one over on porn fans. If anything, I believe he makes these movies as much for himself as he does consumers.
But Michael said something up there that I thought was particularly interesting. He said, Sometimes I don't see it being pretentious until it's done and it can be misconstrued as pretentious if you don't know me, which begs the question, Why don't we know Michael Ninn?
Why has this mad scientist of a pornographer been so damned reclusive if not enigmatic? On Monday, we'll address that question and many more when we pick up with part III of this article.
Who the Fuck is Michael Ninn? Part_III
On Friday, we heard a bit from Michael Ninn about his beginnings in the porn game. He also said his peace as it pertains to his critics, including myself, who have charged that his work sometimes crosses the line from artistic adult fare to self-indulgent (if not self-important) drivel. In Ninn's words, Sometimes I don't see it [his films] being pretentious until it's done and it can be misconstrued as pretentious if you don't know me.
Of course, such a statement immediately begs the follow-up question, Well, if that's the case, why don't more people know Michael Ninn?
As I've already mentioned and as I'm sure most fans of porn will know, you just don't hear anything about Michael Ninn himself. As I'm to understand it, my interview with Ninn was only one of six he'd done over the course of his fifteen-year career. But, why the reclusion? In spite of any criticism folks like me have written, he's easily one of the most revered and praised adult directors in the industry's history. I've often speculated in the past that it's perhaps that Ninn felt he was above speaking to the press. I've even wondered if he felt he was even above porn- that his artistic pretensions kept him from associating himself with porn types. But really, I had no idea what to believe. Any speculation on my part would be tainted by my tendency to imagine the worst-case scenario. It's part of the cynic in me.
However, the explanation for Ninn's reclusive ways is really very simple and quite innocent. As he tells it, Because I have five children and I don't think my children need to argue my first amendment rights, ya know?
But there's more to it than that. Whether it can be described as shyness (which he certainly is) or a quiet confidence, Michael Ninn knows that the key to success isn't always barking the loudest. It's not that important to me to be seen, he says. My product sells, and that's all that really matters- is that I can continue to make pictures.
And he's right. For all of the embarrassing bravado perpetrated by other performers, directors, and producers of adult movies, only a few have been on the map as long as Michael Ninn. The reasons for his success are numerous, but one thing I've mentioned about Ninn's work in the past is that there's no doubt that the end product is always the result of painstaking work. There are no corners cut, not stones left unturned. It is the work of a perfectionist.
While I already knew the answer to this question, I asked him if he is indeed a perfectionist. His answer was simple.
To a flaw? I asked.
To a flaw he pauses, with everything,
For fans that might not be in the know, mainstream movie/television sets tend to be extremely stressful places. Adult movies are often even more stressful.
There's a lot of reasons for this, but most of it boils down to comfort. The lights are hot. You're on a schedule and often times have to rush to get things finished. Shots commonly have to be reset, lights readjusted and scenes re-shot. Then on top of everything, two people who may have never met before or don't particularly like each other are expected to have sex and act as if they're enjoying it more than anything in the world.
Add in a perfectionist, if not eccentric director, and you have a recipe for a very, very long day.
Luckily, Ninn has been smart enough to keep his crews together for a long time. Most of my crew has been with me from almost day one, He says.
They know me. They know how I like things lit and how I want it. They kind of baby me to a certain extent.
When I ask how his talent reacts to his perfectionist nature, he says with what seems like a feeling of relief, Incredibly patient.
So, who the fuck is Michael Ninn?
Well, he's a father. He's a nerd. He's a filmmaker and a smut peddler. He's an artist.
And while he puts a lot (and sometimes too much) of himself into his movies, he is not his movies and they are not him. However, sometimes they resemble each other. He is not perfect and neither are his movies. Michael Ninn thinks in abstracts and from what I've gathered, doesn't always deal well with people around him unless they understand him. His movies often bear those same traits. His creations are sometimes held to a higher standard than other adult movies and many times he holds himself to a higher standard.
But at the end of the day, he's just a guy who wants to shoot pictures of pretty girls, which is hardly something I could really fault anyone for.