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Accessibility and audio descriptions at the London Porn Film Festival

The London Porn Film Festival

Last weekend was the first ever London Porn Film Festival - a weekend of queer and feminist porn organised by queer community Wotever World. I managed to catch four out of five screenings, and attended three Q&As to accompany my films that were showing. I really enjoyed myself, and would love to write in more detail about some of the amazing porn I saw - keep an eye on my personal blog, and hopefully I'll post some reviews and recommendations for new hot, kinky, ethical porn when I get the chance.

They accepted two Dreams of Spanking films: Please May I Come, Mistress, and the new fast-paced edit of Bitch, which I renamed Queer as in Fuck You. In honour of its screening I've released it for free on Dreams of Spanking, so if you couldn't make it to the festival, you can watch it without a site membership here!

Screengrab from Queer as in Fuck You

There was a lot of warmth and love for me in screening my work to my home community, a roomful of lovely queers many of whom I already knew. I think everyone else was feeling the love too, because the audience reception to both films was far and above the most positive response I've received so far. Everyone laughed at the jokes, got the little asides and comic moments, and enthusiastically applauded at the end - and I got lovely comments afterwards too from people who'd enjoyed the films. Perhaps it's a Londoner thing - all four performers in the films are from this city, and maybe there's a common sense of humour. But whatever the reason, I appreciated it.

Zak Jane Keir noticed it too, and has written a lovely blogpost about her experience seeing herself on the big screen for the first time

The other factor that seems likely to have made it easier for the audience to get the jokes was that for the first time, both films were subtitled, and we were screening to a roomful of native English speakers. Dreams of Spanking films are often dialogue-heavy, and these two are no exception. Neither has particularly good audio quality; Queer as in Fuck You was shot before I upped my game and started using external mics to enhance sound quality, and Please May I Come, Mistress was an unexpected and spontaneous shoot when I didn't have my usual equipment. A couple of German speakers in Berlin told me that they found the rapid, quiet speech during the interviews hard to follow, so I was very happy to subtitle it in French for La Fete du Slip in Switzerland.

London Porn Film Festival were even more on the ball with language and accessibility - in fact, they were the most accessible porn film festival I've ever been to. Filmmakers were asked to submit English subtitles and audio description files for every film, to improve access for hearing and vision impaired members of the audience. The audio description was to be "exactly the same length, down to the frame, as the video file, and match up with it".

When I first got the email asking me to create those resources, I was fascinated to observe a short, intense ableist response flare up in me. Rather than admiring the LPFF for their strong stance on accessibility, my immediate reaction was frustration, feeling that this extra, unpaid work would be fiddly, tedious and unwelcome. Particularly around the audio description, I felt something along these lines: I've already created this film in my preferred medium to tell this story, it's done now. I don't want to have to go back and retell it another way, a way I never designed it to be told, having to comply with someone else's specifications! It's going to be unrewarding, and screening films at film festivals is meant to be about MY creative satisfaction, damnit!

Writing it out now, it sounds ridiculous - and in fact it didn't take long for me to get over myself and realise that of course creating accessibility materials was part of my job, and it was an honour to help my work reach a wider audience of people who were interested in viewing it, but wouldn't normally be able to. In fact, providing these sorts of materials was probably something I should be doing as a matter of course. So I made a conscious effort to shake off the ableist and self-involved reluctance, and got down to it. There was only one problem: I had never made an audio description file before, and I had no idea where to start. 

The more I thought about it, the more confused I got. Surely an audio description of the film would take significantly longer than the film, as visual information is communicated more quickly than speech? Should I use the original dialogue and music to retain the voices of the performers and add mood and atmosphere - but then, that wouldn't leave many gaps to insert description?

Luckily, the lovely folks at the London Porn Film Festival were ready to answer my questions. They explained that audio description is transmitted at the same time as the film with a loosely-fitting headset, so whoever listens to the AD will hear all the film sound, including music and dialogue, as well as all the sound in the AD. Not all visually impaired people are blind, and many can see part of what's going on on-screen, which is why the timings need to match up, so the AD makes sense with the visuals they're seeing.

In fact, the advice they sent me was so valuable that I asked their permission to repost it in full. Since I was new to this, it occurred to me that other filmmakers might be, too; and so this guidance might be useful to others who want to make their work more accessible to visually impaired people.

The AD file should be just voice. Of course, not being able to describe everything is frustrating. But a lot of the personalities of Zak and Charlie can be picked up through their conversation, and their relationship is discussed in detail - perhaps their physical appearance is secondary? Very often, you go after what gaps are available and fill those with what seems right at that time, and that's as good as it's going to get.

I work professionally with AD scripts for mainstream TV, and I prioritise in roughly this order, with everything above taking precedence over everything below:

1. Not running the script over any dialogue or plot-pertinent sound effects, e.g. doorbell ringing

2. Stuff that's mentioned in dialogue but not explicity, e.g. someone points at a chair and mentions it without saying "chair", at which point the AD would say "Jim points at a chair" or whatever.

3. Characters present. Names if they've been introduced, brief descriptors if not.

4. Location.

5. Actions.

6. Description of setting.

7. Description of characters' appreance and (non-plot-essential) clothing.

I'd say that in the majority of AD scripts I do, I rarely get below level five, and even then many actions that happen during dialogue will have to be excluded.

Armed with this information, I sat down and began the process of watching the films while noting down brief descriptions of actions every time there was a gap in the dialogue - and with these two films, there aren't many! I then did a second pass, reading my AD script aloud while playing the film again, and deleting anything that didn't fit. Once I had the wording down I set my mic up on my desktop, with the film soundtrack playing in headphones, and recorded the audio description at the same time as listening to the film audio. Finally, I laid the film soundtrack as a second track in Audacity and went through the recording and tweaked the timings of the audio description to make sure it didn't overlap any of the dialogue. Then I deleted the film soundtrack, and exported the audio description file complete with gaps in all the right places.

For two films, it was a long job, and sadly I don't have the resources to offer it as a matter of course for all Dreams of Spanking scenes. But it was an illuminating process. It enabled me to connect with my films in a new way, and perceive them as aural experiences, learning how they come across differently without the visuals. And it was fascinating to think about how visually impaired people might enjoy porn, and how pornographers might approach their work differently in order to create multi-sensory experiences that work on different levels for different types of viewer. It would be so cool to create a film that was just as effective an erotic experience if it was enjoyed aurally, or visually, as well as the combination of the two.

I'll upload the audio descriptions of Queer as in Fuck You and Please May I Come, Mistress to the scene pages, so you can try them out if you want to - and there are subtitle files for both films too, including both English and French for the latter. Plus, of course, if your sight doesn't permit you to fully enjoy Dreams of Spanking films visually, you would probably enjoy our audio spanking stories.

In the end, after a bit of a reluctant start, I enjoyed creating the audio descriptions for the London Porn Film Festival. And I was delighted when after the screening, someone came up to me after overhearing me talking to someone else, and recognised my voice from the audio description. They told me they'd really enjoyed it and they thought I'd done a great job with it. At the end of the day, that makes it all worthwhile.

S'il vous plait est-ce que je peux jouir Maitresse

La Fete du Slip is a gender and sexuality film festival in Switzerland (I think it's slip as in panties or underwear). It's been running for a few years and has gained prestige in the international porn community, and Dreams of Spanking is joining them for the first time this weekend.

I first tried to take part in La Fete du Slip in 2015. After Houseboy won the Berlin Porn Film Festival short film competition, I felt encouraged to submit it to other festivals. But sadly it seemed that it wasn't to La Fete du Slip's taste. I figured that I was unlikely to make a better film than that any time soon, so perhaps my work just didn't suit them. I didn't think it would be worth trying again. But I was pleased and surprised in Berlin last October when Stéphane, one half of the brother-and-sister organising team, found me after the Fetish Porn screening to tell me that she'd loved Please May I Come, Mistress, starring Charlie J Forrest and Zak Jane Keir; and that she wanted to screen it at La Fete du Slip. Well!

Charlie and Zak in Please May I Come, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

So here I am, on the Eurostar to Paris, where I'll change trains and venture to Lausanne - my first visit to Switzerland. I am curious to discover whether the home of milk chocolate and cheese fondue will have vegan food I can eat. I'm sharing an airbnb with porn friends Livia and Parker Marx, and I'm so looking forward to catching up with them both, seeing other international porn fam, and immersing myself in queer, sex positive community.

When I watched Please May I Come, Mistress in Berlin I was pleased by how it came across, despite the appalling picture quality. (It was a DIY porn shoot; I hadn't intended to shoot porn that day, didn't have lights, and only had my oldest camera with me. If you don't know the story of how I came to shoot spontaneous porn at Eroticon with two brand new porn performers you can read it here.) But it was noticable that it was hard to catch what Charlie and Zak were saying. They both speak quite fast, and I hadn't had a proper audio recording setup; despite my best efforts to boost the dialogue, it was still hard to make out. So I'd already decided that I was going to need to create English subtitles for it at some point.

Charlie and Zak in Please May I Come, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

For La Fete du Slip, however, I needed French subtitles. I ran my English transcript through Google translate, but was well aware how lacking the result would be. I turned to Twitter to see if I could recruit a native French speaker who wanted to help with the translation in exchange for free porn. Big thanks to @bdsmfreq who valiantly stepped in. Did you know that the French for "come" is jouir? I do now.

Despite BDSMfreq's generous support, turning the French transcript into actual subtitles was a different ballgame. La Fete du Slip prefer hardcoded subtitles, and I would have liked to have had that much control over the aesthetic, but when I tried to use Premiere's built in subtitle feature the formatting and positioning looked terrible, and I couldn't work out how to fix it. Free subtitle software was equally frustrating. In the end I created a .srt file and hand-noted the timecodes for each line of dialogue, which the organisers kindly accepted. But this was my first time creating subtitles, and I'm nervous that I haven't left enough time for each line to be read. I'll be watching it on the big screen with my heart in my mouth to see if anyone can follow what's said.

Hopefully my efforts will be legible. But even if not, the bondage, spanking, teasing and orgasm control is still pretty hot.

Charlie and Zak in Please May I Come, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

We're going back to Berlin - Dreams of Spanking at Porn Film Festival Berlin 2016

This time last year, our short film Houseboy was awarded first prize in the Short Film Competition at the Porn Film Festival Berlin. Given Dreams of Spanking was offline at the time amid our struggles with ATVOD, this was a glorious fuck you to the censors, and powerful proof that porn depicting spanking that leaves marks can have cultural and artistic value. So we are beyond excited to return to this wonderful festival, now in its eleventh year.

Please May I Come, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

The submission deadline was in June, before we re-opened the site; so we submitted the one film that had been shot during our ten month hiatus - Please May I Come, Mistress, the special Berlin edit of which is now available to watch online. It's a gorgeous, erotic docu-portrait of a real life BDSM dynamic, and the new edit combines the whole scene into a single short film, including intimate interviews with the performers, bondage, spanking, orgasm control, and lots and lots of love.

Please May I Come, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

We're thrilled that Charlie Forrest and Zak Jane Keir's porn debut has been selected for screening, and it's lovely that Dreams of Spanking will be featured at the festival even though the site was offline during the submission period. And we're particularly pleased that the film will be opening the Fetish Porn Shorts programme. We've always felt that Fetish Porn was our spirital home in Berlin, but somehow or other our work has always been listed in other categories before. The rest of the line-up looks exciting too, including names like Ben Berlin and work by new performer-directors such as Nenetl Avril (whom we are hoping to shoot with at some point!)

Please May I Come, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

Please May I Come, Mistress is screening at 00:15 on 28 October (Thursday night), and 11:15 on 29 October (Saturday morning). Pandora and Charlie will both be attending in person for a Q&A after each screening, so if you have any questions for them (or you just want to admire Charlie’s moustache in the flesh) please do come and say hi.

Please May I Come, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

Orgasm control and what feels natural

A couple of weeks ago, when I had the pleasure of introducing you to Zak Jane Keir and Charlie Forrest’s style of loving dominance, there was something pretty significant I was holding back: the ending.

Part one was a gorgeous sensual spanking – with all the kissing, touching and caressing that makes me fall in love with spanking videos that feature real-life BDSM play partners. But I was also itching to tell you about part two…

I held back from revealing too much of what (and who) comes in part 2. There are so many moments of hotness: Charlie’s straining erection, aching desire, and that subtle gasp-moan as he tries not to come. Sometimes it’s hard to hold back, but I managed it, so today I get to talk to you about the second part of Zak and Charlie’s scene, and the beauty of orgasm control.

Femdom orgasm control in Please, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

Orgasm control is one of those kinks that I feel everyone must understand. Regardless of whether they participate in it, the key lust triggers are things that most sexual people have experienced at some point in their life. The look on the face of someone who is desperate to orgasm, or the throbbing sensation in your own cock or cunt as you’re balanced precariously on the edge. At points wondering if you’ll be able to restrain yourself or you’ll just explode everywhere.

The second part of Charlie and Zak’s scene captures all of this – much of it through Zak’s eyes. We get her point of view, looking down or up at Charlie’s face as he bites his lip. We get lingering, delicious close-ups of his cock, which is rock-solid and twitching in anticipation of permission.

“Please may I come, mistress?”

That phrase is loaded with so much – especially in light of the playful way Zak’s been teasing Charlie with her hands, mouth, and breasts. It’s not just a polite request, or a ritual, or an impassioned plea: it’s also performative. Charlie knows, even in the moment when he’s so turned on he has to rush to get the words out all in one quick breath, that he has a role to play too. His role is to come exactly when – and only when – Zak allows it.

Femdom orgasm control in Please, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

But the beauty of Zak and Charlie’s style of loving dominance is that orgasm control doesn’t have to follow the strict (and samey) roles that you’d expect from mainstream porn: he begs, she says no, he comes anyway, she beats him. Or from a Top 10 Ways To Dominate Someone advice guide: tease, deny, let him come explosively, then reward him afterwards. No, Zak pushes Charlie through one explosive orgasm, as he moans and screws his face up at the cathartic feeling of pleasure and failure. And then… she comforts him and consoles with the same soft words and gentle admonishment that you’d expect from a partner who knew their lover well.

Orgasm control is often something that you think of in one particular way: we know the rules and how it goes, and expect certain things. But Zak and Charlie have a natural flow, and their natural flow seems to come not from a standard checklist of things to do or say, but from what feels utterly right to them in the moment. Yesterday Charlie wrote an incredible blog post – about belonging and not belonging, and how his experience shooting porn with Zak and Pandora made him feel.

“I felt indestructible after that, a feeling that what we'd done was something I could be truly proud of. I was filled with the idea of a sort of defiant vulnerability, if that makes sense? Because in that moment I was utterly unapologetically me. Not the cleaned up compromised presentable version, but me as I am.”

Femdom orgasm control in Please, Mistress at Dreams of Spanking

Defiant vulnerability is such a brilliant way to put it. The way Charlie looks when Zak pushes him through his first orgasm, and even as she contemplates wringing a second out of his trembling body. I won’t spoil the surprise as to whether that happens, because the incredible thing about Zak and Charlie is that whatever unfolds, it all feels natural. From the initial teasing and sensual spanks right through to orgasm – somehow not what you expect, but so perfect that when it happens you know it’s exactly right.

Sorry, I’ve gone on about it there in probably far too much detail when I’m sure you’re itching to just watch the awesome, orgasmic scene already. Like I said at the beginning, though: sometimes it's hard to hold back.

An intimate afternoon with Zak and Charlie

 I love public displays of affection – when you as a stranger are treated to a little glimpse of how people are when they're alone.

After they'd shot this intimate spanking scene, Zak and Charlie sat whispering and cuddling on a sofa in the pub, and when I walked in you could see them radiate intimacy and warmth and happiness. I sidled up to Pandora and she couldn't contain her excitement: “we've just shot some amazing porn!” Then, with Zak interjecting occasionally, and Charlie 'mmm'-ing and nodding in a blissed-out state of happiness, she proceeded to tell me all about it.

So to say I've been excited to see this one is a bit of an understatement. I've known Zak and Charlie for a couple of years, having met in 2014 at Eroticon. They're both erotic writers, and so I'm more used to chatting to them about the written word than about the kind of intimate, explicit video they created that day. But there's something incredibly cool about hearing two lovely friends go over the details of the scene they've filmed – and how excited they are to share it with others.

If you want to get a sense of this feeling, you can read their blogs alongside watching the scene – Zak's Eroticon, Erotica and Porn and Charlie's 'Love, Camera, Action!' which explains how the scene came about:

Pandora Blake, having given a presentation on how to go about making your own porn, happened to mention that she was available if anyone was interested in shooting something that evening. Suddenly a few disparate thoughts coalesced and I sent a text message to the delightfully devious Zak saying, roughly, “I know this sounds a bit weird, but how do you feel about shooting a porn film?”

There are so many brilliant moments in this scene that work in exactly the same way as that public display of affection on the sofa in the pub: they show you how Charlie and Zak play in private. They are little flags of intimacy and closeness – from the way his toes curl when he's taking sharp smacks with the paddle to the murmurs and moans that Zak reads so skilfully to work out when to comfort and when to keep spanking.

If you're a fan of loving domination, and watching real BDSM play partners, then you'll adore this scene. And with two incredible people – Charlie's smart, debonair moustache contrasts so beautifully with his naked vulnerability when he presents his red bottom for a spanking. (Extra bit of behind the scenes gossip: Charlie's bright red because he was given a spanking by Pandora a little earlier in the day – it was an awesome day, I'm telling you). Zak is simultaneously controlled and eager. She uses skilled hands to work Charlie's cock into a rock-solid erection, but although her face shows that she's hungry to let him come, she holds off until he's trembling under the effort of keeping control.

It's a really subtle, flowing form of tease and denial – one which is only possible when a dominant knows a submissive so well that they can read their expressions like a book. Pandora tells me that they didn't need to cut at any point during the whole scene (of which this is just part 1 – part 2 is coming soon), as both performers just got immersed in the familiar flow of spanking, caressing, kissing, and touching.

So watch the scene, fall a little bit in love with Zak and Charlie, and then picture how they looked on the sofa when I went to meet them in the pub. Arms around each other, relaxed, happy looks on their faces, and a glowing remnant of the intimacy they'd just captured perfectly on camera.

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