Kayden Kross Blog
What to Expect When You're Expecting a Porn Career
I hate to see girls come into porn anymore. It’s not a jealousy thing, I swear. I wouldn’t trade places with them. I first signed as a solo model for Hustler at the AVN show in January of 2006. I remember it was overwhelming. Cliches are generally tired descriptions because they’re accurate and this was the closest I’d ever been to what you’d call a sea of a people; every man with a camera like some cell floating alongside the next camera-head and the next and the next. The crowd that year was like a great undulating surface of thinning hair and baseball caps beneath which we may never know the depths. They thought I was someone because I stood behind a booth and had a headshot. They swarmed. Never before or since have that many people paid attention to me at once.
It was in October of 2006 that I finally did my first boy/girl scene under contract with Vivid. That scene was with Manuel Ferrara, who I am practically married to, but not legally, despite what the gossip sites may say.
The point being, I came into porn in 2006. This was the tail end of the good times if you ask anyone who has been around long enough, and also about the time that people began to believe that porn just might not be recession-proof. If given the choice, I would do it all over again. Not only did I get an amazing career out of it, but I got a Manuel Ferrara out of it as well. But I would not do it all over again if I had to start in 2013. First off, because the industry has changed so drastically that I don’t believe the costs outweigh the benefits any longer, and secondly, because Manuel Ferrara is off the market.
Here’s why: the real wages paid to female performers have steadily decreased. This is true across the board. Jenna Jameson wrote in her book that when she entered her contract with Wicked in the early 90’s she signed on at $6,000/movie. That was good money for the 90’s. The boilerplate contracts handed out to girls still paid roughly the same though ten years later, and when I came in, and even for a few years after. Today that rate is considered a raise after the first year of performance on a boilerplate contract for a new performer entering the industry. One of today’s dollars was worth $1.62 back in 1993. So if we’re doing simple math, first year contracts back then were roughly equivalent to $9,720/film today. That would be a monthly salary before any other streams of income were added in.
I have a better knowledge of contract pay than I do of independent pay, which would make sense to you if you knew I’ve only ever been under contract. I do know that the benchmark $1,000/scene that independent girls try to charge has been the same rate for at least 15 years. In 1998 one of today’s dollars was worth $1.43… quick math: if real wages were equivalent then female performers entering the market should be making $1,430/scene today. I can count on one hand the number of top independent female performers I know of who can charge that amount or more. Those who can have paid their dues.
Sketchy math: independent performers entering the industry fifteen years ago at that rate would have had the option to take a booking every single day if they so chose. Performers of the same caliber today entering at the exact same rate can rarely garner more than a few bookings a week.
Shitty math: That rate fifteen years ago was for a straight up boy/girl scene without any bells and whistles. Nothing over-the-top and nothing extra. Girls used to hold off on their first anything. I remember I held off using a toy as a solo model. Couldn’t really tell you why, but I did. Then I took my time getting around to using a girl. Then a boy. I made a quick slip into anal and decided it wasn’t worth the anxiety and reined it back in at straight boy/girl sex scenes for years. I did one special movie that had a boy/boy/girl but, a) I was making residuals on that movie, and b) I’m the one who pulled the second guy in. It wasn’t exactly scheduled. On top of that I chose every single person I worked with every single time to the point of blatant redundancy. This was all great for me.
The point is I would never get away with any of this as a girl coming into porn in 2013. Not the pay and not the narrow range of what constitutes a yes list.
And I understand the counterpoint: that the money has tightened, porn really isn't recession-proof, fans’ taste wants bells and whistles. But if the industry didn’t collectively throw the cash down to the girls’ rates back when it was flowing then why should the girls’ rates be constricted when it’s not? Then again the market doesn’t give a flying shit about ought to. The fact is most companies really are just paying what they can now afford. Too bad they didn’t think to do the same back then.
It’s not just the money and lighter work that’s gone. There was some illusion of grandeur at some point that has slowly eroded into web shows on the personal couch of the dude whose dick you’re sucking at a discount followed by your free evenings spent using social networks to throw in a little promotion of the day’s scene at no extra charge. This is not how porn was painted or how it’s being promised to girls coming in. The picture of the thick scripts and the big sets with the catering and the wardrobe and the CGI is something like what a lot of us came in believing. I know I did. And it’s still there, marginally. But there’s no guarantee a new performer will make it to that set, and if she does it won’t be the norm. The norm will be some dude’s personal couch.
But the economy, the economy, they say. Yes it’s turning up but no a college degree won’t guarantee much unless you hit one of the great letters of the STEM acronym—science/technology/engineering/math. So, unless you’re left brained. I am not. I’d rather stare at my computer screen and make the sounds of words with certain syllable counts come together in just the right ways. I went to school for psychology because at the time I was supposed to declare a major I had the most units racked up under that. My big goal was to get a degree, not to actually do something with it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So when Hustler offered me a contract out of the blue all I saw was jet-setting and adoration and enough money to feed my horse habit. It’s probably what most of us see, if you substitute horse habit for ___________. You can’t knock a job that pays $1,000/workday in this economy. Or in any economy, historically.
And it’s not that a small bit of the grandeur isn’t there anymore. It is to a lesser extent if you’re willing to put your body through more and you have fewer things to say no to. And if you require less payment in terms of real wages to do it.
I guess I can’t say that I’d feel right talking a girl out of porn if she had the right package coming in. Mostly what I mean by that is that she has the looks and the performance energy to get her booked on the basis of more than just her unwillingness to say the word no. Who knows. If I weren’t already ruined by the experience of something better maybe I’d think coming into porn today was a good idea too. We can’t know the self that we’ve never been. There’s some bullshit fortune-cookie wisdom for you.
Regardless of whether I would or wouldn’t start porn today, here is a list of things I would have wanted someone to tell me:
1) Your first scene is valuable. It’s valuable to you no matter what. It is not actually valuable to most studios unless they believe your name is going to matter down the line. They might believe your name is going to matter if you’re a) ridiculously hot or have at least a spattering of ridiculously good physical assets, b) under contract with the studio in question and are therefore sitting on a future that they can manipulate, or c) you’ve already done a body of work and have a following somewhere else, usually as a girl/girl model. So don’t expect too much extra for your first scene unless you fit one of these conditions.
2) Whatever you make for your first scene is the most you will be able to charge for the same kind of scene forever, and you will likely be charging less pretty soon. You will also see a lot of bookings as a new girl, then a slump, unless you’re a crazy-great performer or your name takes off for unexplainable reasons.
3) Regardless of what you think will happen with your name, choose it before you start porn. Research it to make sure no one else has used it. Consider the spelling. You want fans to actually be able to find you online. To do that they need to be able to easily spell your name. Consider how common it is. For example, we’ve already had not one but two major performers who used the first name Jenna. The last names Lee, Lane and Love have been done before. They’ve been done to death. I understand why. They sound nice. But there have been major performers who already used all three of those last names. You will be buried underneath them in searches. Start somewhere fresh. Lastly, don’t be one of those assholes who takes on a name that sounds alarmingly like the name of an already established performer in the business. I’ve heard of agents advising girls to do this so they can trick people into booking them and fans into searching them. If an agent is advising this, he sucks, and obviously doesn’t think you have a prayer in this business long-term. Once you have this (original) name, and before you do anything else, buy your domain. Secure your twitter and facebook and whatever the fuck social networking pages are popular at the moment. If you do have success in porn, scumbags will open an unauthorized website using your name and weirdos will pretend to be you online. If you don’t believe me, try searching Kayden Kross on Facebook. There are more than 100 of me. And this is especially weird, considering I’m not on Facebook at all. There’s also a reason my twitter handle is @Kayden_Kross and not @kaydenkross.
4) Here’s a big one: porn agents don’t actually know what an agent is. In the real world an agent is someone who takes a percentage of the earnings from the deals he works hard on with his clients. In Hollywood, that percentage rate is not more than 10%. In Hollywood, the agents are usually extremely knowledgeable and connected and can negotiate extremely case-specific things. And in Hollywood, people walk away from their agents at will. If they do this it is usually because they don’t believe the agent is working hard enough for them. In porn, a lot of the agents don’t know that they work for you. They will treat you as if you work for them. They will yell at you if they like, and they will talk down to you. All porn agents like to take 15% of your earnings, sometimes 20. Their idea of representation is to throw your pictures up on their website right next to your rates for the scenes you are willing to do. If they negotiate anything, it is a negotiation of your rate down, not up. The girls who don’t have their rates negotiated down are generally happy about this, completely ignoring the fact that they are giving up 15% of their earnings to a man who does nothing more than post their pictures and answer phone calls. Notice no negotiation is taking place for anything other than the dollar amount for the scene. In Hollywood, the carats in the gold toilet seats are up for negotiation. Not that I support lavish idiocy. Just making the point that regular agents will get everything they can. Porn agents will not lift a finger beyond the flat dollar amount of the scene—which is why it’s so confusing for me that they’d want their clients to sign a contract with them. Not all porn agents do this, but the most aggressive and cutthroat one definitely does, and I’m sure there are others. If an agent takes no risk in taking on new clients then why does he need a contract that locks performers in for multiple years? It’s perfectly fine to sign an agreement that states that you are going to be represented by a given agent, but the moment you are locked in for any significant length of time and can’t choose a new agent once the relationship stops working, the contract is no good. You will never regret not signing a long-term contract with an agency, I promise. And as you go through porn you will hear horror stories about the bad contracts girls have signed. I know one who doesn’t even know when she can finally leave the agency because they refuse to give her a copy of her own contract—and the list of reasons she’d like to leave the agency in the first place is a mile long. The fact is you really only need an agent at all if you’re new or not yet in very high demand as a performer. Agencies will keep your name out there as directors and producers search for performers to fill certain roles. But if your name takes off and your Freeones ranking is high the producers and directors will find you. If you’re trying to figure out which agency to approach first, here’s a hint: Go to Spiegler at Spieglergirls.com. He won’t fuck with you and he won’t let you fuck with him. So if you’re irresponsible or prone to diva shit don’t bother, but if you’re serious he’s the best there is. The last place I would ever recommend you go to is LA Direct Models. This is the agency headed by the aforementioned cutthroat agent. If you can’t get on with Spiegler there are plenty of others—Type 9 Models, 101 Modeling, etc. for boy/girl performers. If you’re looking to do only girl/girl I was a huge fan of Cam Smith’s agency but I don’t know if he’s still around. Matrix Models is also good for girl/girl, but I would argue doesn’t have the reach to keep you busy with boy/girl unless you’re doing a lot of your own PR work or just inexplicably wildly popular, which does happen. Just know that no matter which agent you choose, once you go with his agency you have given him a direct line to your livelihood. He has the power to boost the amount of work you do or to take it away, depending on his whims and/or what he wants you to do. And some agents will take advantage of that. Cutthroat ones will. Choose the agent without the evil whims.
5) More on agents: if they try to get you to escort, they’re wrong for you. They shouldn’t take you on if they don’t think they can get you regular-enough work that you can survive on porn bookings alone. This is another reason I’m a big fan of Spiegler. I don’t work with an agent, but if I did I’d want to work with him.
6) Freeones rankings: they matter. Who knows why. That’s freeones.com, and if you look to the right of the page there is a list of the top 20 performer searches for the day. You want to be there. Study the girls who are. For the most part they know what the fuck they’re doing. Directors and producers check the rankings on that site when making booking decisions, webmasters check it before partnering with a girl on her website, and any number of other people check it for any number of other reasons.
7) Pay attention to tired. If you’re popular you will get booked, and often. It will wear you down. I think a lot of girls don’t listen to the warning signs and then they get so burnt out that they quit altogether. Be willing to pass up money in the short term so that you have the stamina to make it long term. I don’t think porn is worth it for anyone if you’re not planning on sticking around. Once you’ve done porn it is out there forever—whether you’ve done one scene or 5,000. And you will be treated with the same general negativity that society likes to reserve for sex workers regardless of how much you’ve done or how far you’ve taken it. So if you’re going to do it, then really do it. Don’t dabble for a few months and move on. Don’t go hardcore every day for a year straight and fall over in exhaustion. Pace yourself. The real money comes from having a name—toy deals, featuring, directing deals, small mainstream roles, website money—that’s what you’re ultimately working towards. You don’t know it yet, but you will get tired of straight up boy/girl scenes that never return more than the check you made for the work that day.
8) But don’t publicly quit and then come back. Not that it’s never worked, but if it does it is the exception to the rule. If you need a break, take time off quietly. You will lose a lot of momentum by quitting and starting over is harder each time. You only have the new-girl charm once.
9) If a large studio offers you a contract, take it. But don’t take the boilerplate contract and don’t sign your name over to anyone, ever. These days having a contract can technically mean less exposure because you’re not showing up on all of the internet sites, but they will pay you a lot more per scene and will only require a few scenes a month. This translates to longevity. Longevity in this industry is hard to come by as a female performer. The men seem to go on forever.
10) Start collecting content for your website now. Take pictures on your iphone, video your hookups (and get releases), work some deals out with photographers for use of the content. If you start to make a name for yourself that website will make money. Not the bucketloads they used to, but enough that when you’re ready to quit you still have some passive income to rely on for the time it takes you to figure out your next step in life. Websites will continue to return money long after you’re gone. The money will slow down, yes, but at that point it’s free money. And when girls decide they’re done it’s often abrupt.
11) Louis Vuitton purses are retarded. That’s right. I used the r-word. So are Prada purses, Gucci, Valentino, Fendi, and ever other tote bag made out of two strips of stitched-together leather embossed with a brand name and accented with some heavy zippers. Tassels are useless, useless things. If you are spending your own money on a bag meant to hold a pack of gum and a sunglasses case, then I don’t even feel bad for you making less now than you could have ten years ago with porn. If you’re just going to waste it then the dollar amount is sort of a moot point, no? Do you have ten pairs of sunglasses and did they each cost more than $500? Did you spend $2,000 on a tiny dog that doesn’t have the skull space for the necessary brain functions that might prevent it from peeing on everything? Are you the single occupant of a residence that has more than 3 bedrooms or are you the proud owner of the most expensive car you could get financed for or have you ever worked regularly and still found yourself unable to make the payments on any of these things come the first of the month? Is your boyfriend’s job somehow a derivative of your job? All porn girls can identify themselves in at least one of these descriptions. It’s understandable. We mostly come from lower socio-economic backgrounds and then suddenly there is more cash pouring in then we’ve ever seen in one place. Everything seems accessible and we want to prove that we have it. Well everything is not accessible, unless your life expectancy is 30. Mine is 94 years old according to a shitty little test I just took. Those younger than me are looking at 100. Do not delude yourself into thinking that you will ever make the kind of cash again that you will make in porn. Do not delude yourself into thinking that porn will last more than seven years for you if you’re especially tenacious. Sure, a few girls have carried strong names and actively performed for well over a decade, and a few have moved on from porn to make even more money somewhere else. But “a few” typically means somewhere in the ballpark of the number three. You are likely not one of these three, and neither am I. Plan accordingly.
12) Ways to plan: A) open a Scottrade account. Buy some stocks. Not sure where to start? Research the top picks at the time for the sectors you feel like you can believe in. I’m 27. I have a lot of stock in media and casino companies. That’s worked out well, as any other 27-year-old might assume by simply hearing the words “media” and “casino”. Buy the stock and sit on it. You are not, nor will you ever be, a day trader. But long-term and short of an apocalyptic event, if you’ve picked stocks rated “buy” in sectors that make sense to people with common sense, you will end up ahead. Long-term does not mean six months. It means years and years and years. Never buy a stock that your buddy recommends on account of it’s “going to blow up”. Never buy penny stocks. B) Open an IRA. You can put $5500/year into this account and not pay taxes on it now. And trust me, taxes in porn are a beast. We are typically paid our full rate in one check and then at the end of the year are upset to find that all of our taxes are due at once. Open an IRA. That’s money you don’t have to pay on now that you can invest in a second Scottrade account. Then, don’t touch that fucking IRA until every hair on your head is grey or gone. C) Buy your own place. Buy only what you can afford easily. By the time you retire you should be able to rent it out for more than you owe on it (not much more, but that number will keep going up as your mortgage stays the same). D) Save everything else. Put it in CDs or let it fester in a bank account or throw more of it into stocks as you become more knowledgeable about the market. You do not need 75 pairs of shoes, or Fendi anything, or an $80,000 car. You do not need to upgrade your seats to first class when you fly and you don’t need to prove to anyone, anywhere, that what you’re doing is right based on your ability to buy things that they cannot. Save what you make. You can pursue almost any other field after porn if you’re sitting on six figures in the bank, a retirement account, some stock investments, and your own home. On top of it you’ll be coming out thirty years ahead of most of the rest of the population that applied the same diligence.
13) Pay your fucking taxes. Seriously. They will not be ignored. But also write off everything. Your make-up, your gym dues, your bathing suits and the shoes you need for signings and the dangly little earrings that go just right with the award-night dress and the fake eyelashes and the lube and the testing and the gas you used to drive yourself to set and the miles you racked up on your car doing it. Save the receipts. Even easier, get an American Express card and use it for all porn-related expenses and at the end of the year they’ll sort the expenses and send you the report that you can just forward to your CPA. And for fuck’s sake, use a CPA.
14) You have no excuse not to have health insurance in porn. There is also not much of an excuse not to get the vaccines that protect against certain strains of HPV and Hepatitis. This is a job that uses your body, not your big beautiful brain. If something like a car accident takes you out and you didn’t have health insurance and now have no way of working, where does that leave you? An easy cost-competitive individual health plan can always be found at Anthem. I used to pay $116/month for it before I went to Digital Playground. That’s less than what one agent will take in commission off of one booking. No excuses.
15) Do not ever lose your sense of discomfort. If you don’t want to work with a certain performer or do a certain type of scene, do not do it. ‘No’ is the first and last thing that you have in this industry. If you give that up you will hate it.
I could go on. Easily I could double this but then we’d be well into 10,000 words and the fact is most of the people who are reading this aren’t even chicks looking to get into porn. But that’s my two cents, if you’re new, or thinking about being new. Toodles.