LOS ANGELES – Greg Lansky’s youth in France was nothing to write home about. He was an outcast, considered the worst pupil in the class and routinely suffered from anti-Semitism. Finally he dropped out of school. With a father in real estate and a homemaker mother, there was nothing in his background to hint at the unconventional future that lay in store for him. But one adventure, at the age of 21, following a random meeting with a former high-school friend, shaped the course of his life.
“In that period, I saw how all my friends were in university, finding jobs, and I had no direction in life,” recalls the 36-year-old Lansky, then a low-ranking employee at a production company and participating in research on the porn industry. When he saw his old friend, Mike Andriano, again and the two were reminiscing, Lansky told him about his dream to be part of the industry himself.
“To my surprise, Mike said that it was his dream, too. And then – I don’t where the idea came from – I told him that we need to produce a movie together,” Lansky says. “I had a little experience in production, and his parents had a big house in the south of Spain. Within a few weeks I was on a plane on the way there.”
The two approached a German actor, flew him to Spain, rounded up some unknown actresses and shot the movie at the first opportunity, when the house was empty. That episode ended with an amateurish, low-budget production, but Lansky decided to take it to an erotic industry trade fair, Venus Berlin, in 2005, which was held a few months later.
“I tried to corral all kinds of producers, but none of them would even look at me. I realized I needed to change my approach. When I was introduced to one of the biggest producers in Germany, I told him about the movie but said, ‘It’s not for sale anymore, someone else has put an option on it.’ Right away his expression changed. ‘Do you know who I am?’ he snapped, and demanded to see the movie.”
After a very brief negotiation, Lansky sold the rights to the film, “Slut Diaries.”
“At that moment I knew I could make money doing what I loved. It’s the first time I felt alive.”
Brave and beautiful
A decade and a half later, Lansky, who now resides in Los Angeles, is a prominent figure in the porn industry. He had won the AVN award – the Oscar of the industry, sponsored by Adult Video News trade magazine – as director of the year, three times in succession. A producer and entrepreneur, he has created three websites that offer subscribers hundreds of films in different categories, and have become familiar labels worldwide: “Tushy,” devoted to anal sex; “Blacked,” devoted to sex between black men and white women; and “Vixen,” his general site.
Lansky is consistent in his work: His films are meticulously made and avoid the usual violence and humiliation endemic to porn. As far as he’s concerned, his aim is to put passion on the screen. Some of his colleagues would say that his type of porn is too soft. But the proof is in the pudding. Within a few years, his style has spawned an economic empire with hundreds of thousands of paid subscribers. In an era when porn is disseminated freely and producers are choosing to make ever cheaper films, Lansky has taken the opposite track.
“I am the HBO of the industry,” he likes to boast.
Nor is he content with prizes and economic success. He wants his industry to be considered an art form. That wish began to be fulfilled in a Rolling Stone profile about him last year. “Meet the director turning porn into high art,” the magazine’s headline blared. When he won the director of the year award in 2016, he took advantage of the stage to urge people working in the industry to take pride in their work. “Adult performers YOU are artists!” he tweeted. “You are brave & you are beautiful! [Others] do not define what we do.”
“Greg has created a company that’s identified with glamour,” says Dan Miller, chief editor of the AVN site. “The locations of his movies are prestigious, the camerawork is the highest quality there is, it’s all very clean, very now. The brand he’s created sets a high standard for the entire industry and induces others to try to make quality movies. The aesthetic of his pictures is something we weren’t used to before him.”
According to American sociologist Chauntelle Tibbals, who has researched the porn industry, “Besides the aesthetic aspect of his shots, you see how he makes his actors feel on the set. You see the kind of performances he gets from them. Actors are very enthusiastic about working with him, because they feel they are part of a creative team. Lansky’s message, according to which the porn he makes is art, is a strong message that empowers many people.”
“When I walk onto a Greg set, I’m taken care of, I’m respected,” says Abigail Mac, an actress in the industry. “It’s a feeling I never had on any other set. They ask what I would like to wear, I get asked my opinion. Sometimes we would shoot a scene 18 times. No one else in the industry is doing that.”
Last year, Mac starred in one of Lansky’s most successful films, “Abigail,” which won almost every possible award in the industry. It lasts four hours and includes mainly anal sex.
‘The Jewish thing’
Greg Lansky grew up in Paris, the son of a Jewish father of Algerian descent and a Christian mother. “I did the whole Jewish thing,” he says now. “I fasted on Yom Kippur, went to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and had my bar mitzvah. But even though I felt Jewish, I was never fully accepted as a Jew. I was stuck between two worlds: On the one hand, I suffered when skinheads provoked me, and on the other hand, the Jewish establishment explained to me that I’m not Jewish, because my mother isn’t a Jew.”
Still, Lansky emphasizes that he sees himself as a proud Jew – one reason being, perhaps, that he is often reminded of his identity in anti-Semitic emails and online comments. “I would say that almost all the threats I get are directed toward the fact that I’m, like, Jew this, Jew that – it’s all about this Jewishness. They pinned negative stereotypes on me; said I was a Jew who got into the porn industry to pervert society. Some people came up with conspiracy theories about Jews trying to take over the industry. I get emails calling me obscene names. You could say I was getting the stick from both ends, but it doesn’t bother me. I’ve learned to love my life without fear.”
But it must affect you.
“As a kid I always wanted to be loved, to be accepted, to feel I belonged. So now, when I look at the adult [film] industry and the people in it, who are not accepted by society – I’ve taken on this effort because I feel like I belong in this fight for acceptance.”
His was a liberal, open home, he recalls, where no one made a big deal out of talk about sexual relations or seeing naked women on television. Even so, he was thrilled the first time he got his hands on a copy of Playboy magazine, at age 12. “We were on a family vacation in the south of France, and I wanted to buy an adult magazine, a porn magazine. I looked for a cool, young guy who would buy a magazine for a kid – because, you know, I’m not 18 years old then – and I found one. I remember there were incredible photos of super-hot girls, but the first thing I did was look at the page where they had the names of the staff and the editors. Looking at those names, I knew I wanted my name on that page, too.”
At the age of 12 you already wanted to be part of that world?
“I had anxiety about living a regular life, that was not what I wanted. In France they look down on children with big dreams, they want you to think small, it’s the opposite of America. But even then I had no doubts. I knew that this is what I wanted to do.”
Did you watch a lot of porn as a teenager? It wasn’t so accessible then.
“When I was around 14-15, I watched movies that were broadcast on TV late at night. I loved it; I thought it was so cool. I wasn’t addicted, but I was fascinated. And I was also fascinated by the idea of who’s behind this, who was getting paid to do this.” More than the young women themselves, he was interested in the industry and the money behind it, Lansky says.
Formal education fascinated him less, to the point where he dropped out of high school at 16: “I was horrible in school. I remember in France, they always felt they needed to humiliate you ... Every single week, they would hand out report cards, and they did it in order, from the top student to the last one. And we’re like 30-plus kids, and every single week I was the last one. They kept on humiliating me and it really devalued what I thought of myself. I thought I was an idiot. So finally I just dropped out.”
Black and white
We’re sitting in leather armchairs on the deck of a luxurious yacht in Los Angeles Bay, with bottles of liquor and a television broadcasting shots of models. With half a million followers on Instagram, Lansky has a reputation to uphold.
He says he arrived in Los Angeles after that Berlin fair at which he sold his first movie. A producer he met there invited him to call if he found himself in California. That was enough for Lansky, then 23, to pack his bags and grab a flight.
Through that connection he landed his first job in the United States, at a porn production company called New Sensations, and embarked on a seven-year career as a salaried director and cinematographer.
“Every year I would find a new excuse why I did not start my own company. Every year I had a new excuse: ‘Oh, the business is bad,’ ‘Now is not the right time’ – but what’s funny is that every year things would get even worse in the industry. More piracy, more companies going out of business.
“Then one night, during AVN week in Las Vegas, the company bosses invited me to their suite. They told me I’d been doing such a good job for them that they got me a little gift. I open it, and it’s a Rolex watch, right? The only problem is: It’s the cheapest Rolex you can find – after I made millions for these guys. On top of that, they were having this dinner for all the top executives, but I was not invited. That’s when it hit me. To them, I was just a camera guy. It was like, you will never be part of them. And at that moment, I decided. I said, ‘You know what, if you don’t do it, they will never, ever do it for you.’ And at that moment I decided to start my own company.”
His first brand, “Blacked,” featured movies in which the man is black and the woman, white. “In the end, I’m a businessman. And how many people can say that they entered this industry, which was absolutely the bottom of the barrel – there was literally no money to be made in the porn business, about five years ago almost 70-80 percent of the people I met were out of business – and succeeded? People thought I was the stupidest guy to do that, no one wanted to lend me money, but I knew that in order to make money, you don’t need everyone, only a small portion of people. It’s enough if a small portion are willing to pay every month. Just like not everyone has to read The New York Times, just so there will be enough readers who will be ready to pay for quality.”
You refer to the Times and talk about art, but in the end we’re talking about sex movies.
“I feel I define what I do in life; other people don’t get to define what I do. They try to put you into a box, but that doesn’t work for me. It’s just like people used to say that hip hop isn’t music. Nowadays people are like, ‘Oh, porn is not really art.’ Why isn’t it? I am not ready to accept that. I hear people say that it’s easy to be an adult star. No work is easy when you do it well, at a high level. I consider what we do art, because we’re putting emotion, putting our heart, we’re putting our passion into it. I feel in a way, we’re changing the perception of how Adult is perceived.”
Lansky proudly assumes the role of representative of the rejected, champion of the weak – but reality is a little more complicated. The porn he produces takes the masculine point of view: As is customary in the industry, his films, too, involve the man achieving climax in a humiliating way. Also, in the Blacked series, there are no black women paired with white men. Moreover, Lansky avoids criticizing the fact that the porn being created by his industry colleagues is becoming increasingly violent.
“I’ll tell you where I draw the line,” he says. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people that are [involved in] consensual bondage and submission. I’m just not into anything that’s violent, like choking, slapping in the face, spitting in the girl’s face. That’s not what I’m about, it’s not what the brand is about. That doesn’t mean that some people who are happily doing it have a problem with it. That’s great, if some people are into it. Awesome! Good for them. Not for me. I like aesthetics. I like beauty. I like beautiful.”
But these movies affect reality. A 13-year-old who watches violent porn could take an example from it, not to mention the attitude toward the actresses themselves.
“It is definitely not the responsibility of adult stars and adult companies to educate people. I definitely don’t think people under 18 should watch porn, and I don’t think they should watch extremely violent movies, either. What we do is not an education, it’s an entertainment. Sex education is something they teach in school. It’s like saying that it’s wrong to watch violent movies because it makes people more violent, when it’s not proven and there are a lot of people who disagree with those stats.”
In the case of porn, there is no dispute that practices that are widespread in the movies make their way into real life.
“People will find all kinds of excuses to blame adult movies. I’m in the business of offering people an escape from reality, not to educate them. The same way, when I watch ‘Game of Thrones,’ I know I shouldn’t cut people’s heads off. I think the younger you are, the more susceptible you are to the content you’re watching. Kids don’t have the experience to understand and deal with what they watch.”
As a leading person in the industry, you wield influence. Let’s take the Blacked movies – why don’t you also make the opposite: Movies where the woman is black and the man is white?
“The concept of Blacked is black man and white woman. The other way around is actually very popular right now as well. But it’s not about what, it’s about how, and a lot of people get stuck on the what. It’s not about what we did, it’s about how we did it. The execution is the most important part. Before us, no one ever had done interracial adult content in that style. High-end, classy.”
Maybe the heart of the matter is that this industry is dominated by men and aimed at men.
“As far as our members go, about 30 percent of our member base is female and couples, and that’s considered extremely high. One of the highest in the industry. Women are just like men, they have different tastes. Some men like it soft, some women like it hard. There is really no rule. There is no porn for men or porn for women. There’s porn for people, and different humans like different things.”
On the set
What does a typical day on a Lansky set look like? According to actress Mac, “A scene of 30 to 50 minutes, what we call an ‘episode,’ takes six to eight hours to shoot.” The film “Abigail,” lasting over four hours with bonus footage, took three weeks to make, with 10 hours of shooting and sometimes more each day, says Mac, adding that there was a special emphasis on the camerawork.
When you talk about long days with multiple takes, it sounds like a nightmare.
Abigail: “I want it to be perfect. I want people to see it and be like, this isn’t porn. Yes, there’s hard-core f-----g, of course. But I’m watching this like I’m watching HBO or Showtime or Netflix. Imagine your favorite show, something you’re enthralled by, and it’s beautiful acting and you’re inspired by it, and there’s also hard-core, beautiful sex as well. That’s what Greg is doing.”
How does the scene play [out]? Is there a detailed script or is there room for improvisation?
“They sit down with you first, it’s called a compliance. So you sit down and go, ‘What do you like, what don’t you like?’ And they ask before every single scene if I have an idea for that scene.”
According to Lansky, the actresses themselves decide who they feel comfortable working with. “The Vixen team is 120 people,” he says, “and some of the directors will write their own scripts, others will have scriptwriters, but once we have a concept we take it to the actresses. It’s a collaborative project. They approve everything.” And sometimes plans get changed accordingly, he adds. “With models of that caliber there are no last-minute surprises on the set.”
In fact, the situation he describes at the Vixen enterprise does not reflect what happens elsewhere. After all, in the porn industry there are many testimonies of exploitation and of tough days on the set, which are hardly glamorous. Still, the demand to participate as actors in the industry is not declining, says Lansky: It is actually rising.
“We get so many applications all the time through agents or directly, by email to our site,” he notes. “I think people are more open-minded now, I think social media has had a big impact. Suddenly people see different sides of our stars, and that is empowering for them. In the past, fans had no way of reaching out and adult stars had no way to show another side of them, you know? There was no outlet whatsoever. Now, with social media, I think people are looking at adult stars like, ‘Wow, there are so many more layers.’
“They have Snapchat, with hundreds of thousands of followers and fans that can buy the content they upload. Stars like Abigail and Sophie [Dee] also do shoots for magazines and they do dance parties; they get paid to attend parties all around the world. They have multiple layers these days. Sophie also models. It’s a cross-promotion and a sharing economy. When they work for my brands, it brings them huge exposure on their Snapchat, and when they work for us it brings us their own personal fans, so it’s a really great sharing economy.”
You’re a successful businessman and recognized director, but in the end, we’re talking about porn. Are your parents proud of you or are they ashamed?
“My father is no longer alive, but at the time both of my parents loved it. They thought it was the coolest thing ever. I think at first my mom was scared because she thought porn was like the Mafia – she was, ‘Oh you gotta be careful, the gangsters and all that.’ But I was like, ‘Look, it’s pure business. I sell a product, like any other product, with clients and subscribers.”
Lansky is currently working on new ideas. He’s planning to enter the fashion industry with his own label, and afterward to open a night club in Ibiza or Mykonos. His extroverted, high-profile lifestyle has inevitably drawn comparisons to Hugh Heffner.
“I want Vixen to be the new Playboy,” he says – meaning, a mainstream brand with clubs, a magazine, a fashion presence. He wants to become bigger than just a porn site.
“Today Playboy is in an identity crisis, but they did so well for so long. I wish my company could last 50 years," he says. "I remember how in the 1980s and 1990s a lot of girls would say they would never pose nude unless they got an offer from Playboy. And now girls are saying, ‘I would never do porn except for Vixen.’ That’s when I know I’m winning. I’m trying to change culture and I’m trying to make Vixen a cultural icon, a part of society, so that the first thing that comes to mind when people think about adult content, is Vixen.”