The Boob Tube: Lesbians and Web TV
In spite of all the hard work done by groups like Glaad, finding examples of lesbians on prime-time television can be a challenge. These days, your best bet for Sapphic scenarios can be found in the movie theaters, via Netflix series like "Orange Is the New Black," or better yet, via the Internet, where with a little money and some elbow grease, you can televise anything you like.
Lesbian entrepreneurs have had great success in creating and posting lesbian-centric material, and even monetizing them. At the lesbian erotica website Juicy Pink Box, "Chief Sexy Officer" Jincey Lumpkin managed to turn a profit after only a few years. It gives hope to folks like Margaret Singer and Max Freeman, who just launched their lesbian web series "The 3 Bits," about three siblings (two of whom are gay) and their exploits.
Five years ago, Lumpkin was a practicing attorney when she first began writing a sex blog. She quickly realized that there was a hole in the marketplace located somewhere between girl-on-girl porn made for men, and authentic "San Francisco-style" dyke porn.
"I wanted to do something in the middle," said Lumpkin. "I have always gone very much on my own intuition on what will work, and so I targeted it to lesbians. But what was surprising to me was the customers: I ended up with mainly a straight women clientele."
Lumpkin figured that these women were excited by a website that was authentic, and that didn’t pander to straight women. So she kept making the erotica she wanted to see, featuring real LGBT women.
She shot the first videos herself in 2009, armed only with her artistic aesthetic, and some info from a few college classes. She later paired up with a web designer to build the website, thinking that Web TV was the next big thing.
While she was a bit ahead of the curve on that phenomenon, she tweaked her content and the distribution model, dividing it into a paid online streaming model, and physical DVDs for distribution, after discovering that while singles liked the online content, couples preferred DVDs. She was hesitant to move her business in that direction, wanting to maintain the luxury end product rather than getting lost in a sea of grotty porn videos. But in the end, partnering with a producer of lesbian content made a huge difference.
By 2011, Lumpkin was in the black. She had her best selling year, and realized in the knick of time that she had scaled up too quickly. She teamed up with Pink Visual to revamp the website, and the Arizona-based company made sure her content was compatible for all mobile devices.
By 2012, Lumpkin had cut her staff and got rid of her large office space, and spent the money she needed to buy new software for her online site.
"Learning to streamline the business is so important, and it’s a problem for all start-ups," said Lumpkin. "When you grow too fast, you drain the money that’s coming in. It is difficult to both sustain and grow the business. For me, getting rid of the New York office saved $40K a year."
Lumpkin also began collecting accolades.
"I was nominated for an AVN, an adult video award that is like the Oscar of porn," said Lumpkin. "I got seven nominations, and won two years in a row for best lesbian series.
Lumpkin was smart; she went into Juicy Pink Box with a business model and a product market distribution platform in order to bring in revenue. At this point in her business, she is evaluating new directors in anticipation of handing the reins over to other female filmmakers who share her high level of aesthetics and beauty.
Playboy approached her two years ago to create content for them, adapting best-selling lesbian sex books for the screen. Her confidence got a real boost, and she is now putting together a publishing division to publish two books: a memoir about her sexual experiences, and some fiction she is creating with a writing partner.
"What I’m going to do is split my time between Juicy Pink Box and this," said Lumpkin, who also writes a sex column for the Huffington Post. "I want to direct and produce less, do more executive producing and allow other feminist directors to tell their stories. I am really interested in that part. The brand itself has grown tremendously, and has a certain following, but my personal brand has been more successful than Juicy Pink Box. There’s my column, public appearances, online and TV, and so I want to spend a lot of time developing that. My goal is to create sexual entertainment in a way that is very mainstream."
Although her story is a success, Lumpkin warns that not everyone will emerge from the web wars a winner. While anyone with a digital camera can produce web content, having a business model is imperative to marketing that content in a sustainable way. You need to have a revenue model, and seek out distribution partnerships. You also need to have talent.
"There is a lot of shitty shit out there," said Lumpkin. "Just because it’s on the web doesn’t mean people are going to want to watch it. You need to find a niche, go after it, set a budget and make quality content."
Citing the success of shows like Netflix’s OITNB, Lumpkin says that it is possible for small fry to get in the game right along with big players, noting that, "now the entertainment industry is recognizing that this is an emerging media. If you want to control the gate, you have to think like a real producer. You have to work consistently, get your product as good as possible and tell compelling stories in a way that is well produced."
For more information, visit juicypinkbox.com
The 3 Bits
New to the world of lesbian web TV is Margaret Singer, who co-created the web series "The 3 Bits" with her writing partner Max Freeman, a gay man with whom she wrote a screenplay four years ago.
"Naively, we thought we’d be a big success," said Singer. "It didn’t take us very long to figure out that we should try our hand at making our own stuff. The reason we chose to do a web series as opposed to a short is that we looked around, and realized that not a lot of people see short films. It’s sort of highbrow, for people who go to film festivals. We wanted to make popular media."
So Singer and Freeman took their script and rewrote it into the first two episodes of "The 3 Bits," a web series about three siblings: a lesbian weed dealer, a Park Slope mommy and their gay younger brother.
"Each segment has its own style and aesthetic; they all feel different," said Singer. "Henry’s are more of a sitcom feel, Roman’s are like Quentin Tarantino meets ’The L Word,’ and the oldest girl’s is really short episodes, with an indoor camera. We can’t do this sort of structure on TV, but we can build this little world vertically on the Internet."
Each segment runs about 8-10 minutes, a lot longer than people advised Singer. She threw caution to the wind, saying, "There are lots of people experimenting with web TV. I know that we’re competing with kitten videos and porn. On one hand, I want it to have a high production value. But we also want to raise people’s expectations."
The series is currently self-funded by Singer and Freeman, and as their first project, is their "calling card." They have several other donators, but relish the freedom they have in calling all the shots.
"We are looking into having sponsors or brands for individual episodes," said Singer. "Everyone’s trying to figure out how to make web TV work financially. It’s hard, but I really haven’t seen anything like our series out there. Roman’s story especially looks at lesbian gangs, a lot of women of color, and a much clearer representation of lesbians."
Singer said that the first episode features a knife fight between black trannies and white lesbians, noting that "there are no men in Roman’s world, besides her immediate family."
She cited other web series like "The Slope" and "It Gets Betterish" as inspiration, and said that right now, they are just beginning to flesh out the narrative and try to raise production values.
"We’d just be happy to make more episodes," said Singer. "If a network wanted to pick it up that would be fun. We could get sponsors and there could be lots of great potential outcomes. But right now, we just want to go back into production before the year is out." Singer uploaded new episodes of "The 3 Bits" on Oct. 14.
For more information, visit http://the3bits.com