I had only met Kate the day before when we chatted about all things sex and Canada while lying in the sun. Today’s agenda was a bit different: we were going to a porn shoot.
Ciné Sinclaire is an alternative porn company, although the word “alternative” sounds a bit harsh. It is an ‘ethical porn’ company, meaning that they focus on respect, diversity and consent. Their films are created with reality at the forefront; emphasizing real moments between people who genuinely care for each other. Their current repertoire is body-positive, LGBT+ inclusive, label-free (and freaking awesome).
We were headed to meet Dawn and Michele – two people who had contacted Kate about representing sex in a way they felt the world needed to see. When we arrived on set we discovered a classic Montreal duplex outfitted with chains, ropes and leather.
Kate and Ciné Sinclaire emphasize personal storytelling and a comfortable, consensual atmosphere. This means that there is a designated moment to discuss goals, boundaries and concerns. It was not the first time this couple had been behind a camera, but it was the first time for such a large viewership. While we waited for the photographer and the second videographer to arrive, we chatted about consent, sex on camera, Dawn and Michele’s goals, and of course, their pronouns. Proof of age was given, contracts were signed and the performers were paid. Unintentionally or not, porn directors can wield a lot of power from paychecks. If paid after a shoot, performers might feel pressured to fulfill certain acts. Kate pays performers prior to the shoot so there is no underlying sense of pressure – she has really thought of everything. Kate’s advocacy for consent and respect is reflected in all of her actions.
The two other crew members arrived, introduced themselves and began set-up. A few curtain adjustments later, they fine-tuned their camera lenses to capture the most natural light. This particular crew had worked together in the past and was reuniting in Montreal for this session.
It is incredibly important for everyone on set to feel safe and respected, so the new arrivals chatted with the performers about how the scenes would unfold. The questions were more technical this time: what happens during a transition, is it okay to stop a scene, what if they spend ten minutes tying each other up? Keeping consistent with the theme of the day, the answers were “whatever the performers felt comfortable with.”
If you’ve never watched people get intimate in front of you, then going to a porn shoot might feel a bit unusual. You get a glimpse into the performer’s lives. You get to see their stories, their pleasures and their quirks. I also got to see how the videographers interacted with each other and the performers.
Dayna Danger, the second videographer, kept up-close shots of faces, body parts and tokens of love: subtle hand squeezes, spanks and moans. Kate shot from a distance, allowing the room to be included and getting an overall frame of the acts being performed. Bee Dixon, the photographer, and I watched for a while, experiencing the chemistry of two bodies coming together. The room started warming up, filling with the smells of sex and mild body odor so we quietly snuck out of the room to let the filming continue without us.
During the set, the couple moved from mutual masturbation to 69’ing to anal play on dungeon furniture to being tied to chains from their ceiling. For some, these acts might be considered kinky, but it was totally natural for the couple; this is how they really have sex. We were watching what happens intimately in their relationship, regardless if a camera was filming or not. I would best describe it as sensual kink.
On the breaks, everyone would congregate in the kitchen to discuss the scenes, any re-shoots that were necessary, and of course, grab a snack. No, there wasn’t a catered spread like in mainstream porn shoots. Instead, we had fruit, veggies, hummus, cheese and gluten-free crackers. But were you expecting anything different?
If you put a bunch of sex-positive people in one room, there is going to be some discourse around representation in porn. As we snacked, we discussed diversity, LGBT+ inclusivity, the need for ethical porn, what ‘feminist’ porn means, and how Ciné Sinclaire is making space in the porn industry for alternative representations. We might as well have all been hanging out for the day instead of shooting porn. The conversations were relevant, intelligent and inclusive. This is where the advocacy happens, when people come together to show that ‘different’ is okay. This is where the conversations happen, eating hummus in a kitchen while condoms and anal plugs are strewn across the bedroom floor. With six open-minded people discussing the importance of alternative porn.
When all the scenes were captured and it was nearing time for people to get to their day jobs (surprise, ethical porn doesn’t pay the bills… yet), we all left in high spirits. Dawn and Michele headed outside for a post-sex smoke, the crew packed up their gear and e-mails were exchanged to stay in touch.
We piled out onto a typical Montreal street, with people out walking their dogs and a grandmother working in her garden. They had no idea that their street was now part of a porn transformation – a revolution that welcomes proper representation and different voices. A community that focuses on real stories, respect and consent – a revolution that Ciné Sinclaire contributes to every day. We jumped in an Uber and headed on our way as if we hadn’t just watched two people have sex for hours. You know, all in a day’s work.