Ezra Miller and his partner, Reg Berkeley, are the forces behind AmericanVice.com and ViceList.com, two unique adult websites that are literally transforming and shaking up the porn industry. People are logging on to ViceList.com because of its vast catalogue of films and an impressive roster of talented writers that are willing to tackle anything from politics to sports. In addition to being a partner in the business, Miller contributes brutally honest, insightful, funny and sometimes-acerbic critiques of the more than 2,000 porn films he’s watched, and the reviews have earned him a global following. Both sites were launched in 2006 and continue to expand at a rapid pace.
According to Berkeley, “What we offer is a constant weaving of intellectual thoughts, pop culture references and sex . . .all within one cogent paragraph. Our writing is of the highest quality, with a bent towards crass, vulgar humor like Kevin Smith, Dennis Miller, Bill Maher, National Lampoon, etc.” People are definitely interested in what Miller and Berkeley are offering, as IAFD (the adult equivalent of IMDB which tracks numbers of reviews) has listed ViceList.com as #5.
Miller allowed me to conduct an exclusive interview and ask some tough questions about the websites, the dark side of porn and the duo’s mission to revolutionize the industry.
G-Man: What is your professional background and how did it lead to this endeavor?
Miller: I graduated from Cornell University with a BA in English and a Creative Writing concentration. Obviously, a degree like that usually lends itself useful to two things: A lifetime of academia or the starving artist waiting for his big break, ala J.K. Rowling. Thankfully, I was never forced to live out of my car, though I came close. I bounced around between several jobs after college, everything from selling office furniture to the military to parking cars and waiting tables. None of those positions provided me with any sort of satisfaction, so I packed up my life and headed west to seek my fortune. That’s where I hooked up with Reg Berkeley.
G-Man: What makes your website(s) so different from the thousands of porn sites showcased on the Internet?
Miller: We care. I know that sounds like a ridiculous notion, given the nature of our business, but we sincerely believe that quality is important even in the realm of Internet pornography. Reg spends countless hours agonizing over the tiniest details of the sites in order to make them better, faster, stronger for our customers. In terms of my role, I give our patrons an honest perspective on the content we offer.
G-Man: The economy has even forced online businesses to shut down, but your website recently catapulted to the number five site in the world! How would you explain this amazing accomplishment, given the state of the economy?
Miller: Persistence. The number of people who will either pay for porn or who have the inclination to read our reviews is extremely overblown. The media bandies about figures like $12 billion in annual revenue. The reality is that an actual porn consumer is more akin to a Star Trek devotee. The challenge for us has been finding our niche audience.
G-Man: You’ve watched more than 2,000 porn films. When critiquing them, what are some of the things you look for?
Miller: It depends on the genre. There are basically three or four different types of adult movies out there: feature, gonzo, reality and fetish. I strive to put myself in the shoes of the person who would want to watch a particular kind of porno and write about the things they’re looking for. So when it comes to a feature, I’m hammering on the points of storyline, acting, pace of the movie, etc. Gonzo, I’m talking more about energy, gratuitous close-ups and quality lighting. Reality and fetish are a little tougher because they tend to be so unique. But there is one all-encompassing and paramount quality in my mind and that’s chemistry. It can make or break a scene before the clothes come off.
G-Man: How do you keep the subject matter “fresh” when you’re writing porn reviews?
Miller: It’s really hard and a cross I bear constantly. You reach a certain point where you’ve seen so many similar scenes over and over again that coming up with new things to talk about becomes a struggle. That’s where I have to be especially creative with my references. I try to bridge the gap between mainstream popular culture and adult entertainment whenever possible. If I can make the content seem more familiar, then hopefully it gives the reader a better sense of what they’re getting.
G-Man: You also tend to attack established porn stars, directors and producers on a regular basis in your reviews. Why do you have such disdain for them?
Miller: The kiss of death for me is unoriginality. If someone continues to pump the shelves full of the same predictable garbage every month, they’re bringing the entire industry down. It’s my job as a critic to call that out, whether it is the responsibility of the director, studio or performer. Thankfully, the format of our websites allows me to be brutally honest in my reviews, even if it’s not always gracious to those who should have failed years ago.
G-Man: Some critics still regard Bob Guccione’s 1979 classic “Caligula” as a landmark porn film because of its stellar cast, production and societal impact. What did you think of the movie and why haven’t more porn films been made on this scale?
Miller: That’s simply not the market anymore. You don’t have people running across the tracks to take in the latest adult feature film on its opening weekend. The industry has become so saturated through Internet and DVD consumption that the revenue potential is incredibly limited. Hence, studios are unwilling to pump a bunch of money into epic masterpieces of adult cinema.
G-Man: Do you think we’ll ever see a global, critically acclaimed film, which happens to have real sex scenes, considered for major award consideration in Hollywood?
Miller: Probably not. There are too many factors to overcome. Aside from the fact that most mainstream Hollywood actors would not cross that line, it’s simply unnecessary. What’s not shown in a major studio production is oftentimes just as important as what the director allows us to see. You can create far more heat through imagination and artistic camera angles than by actually displaying hardcore.
G-Man: What shocking and/or painful realities have you discovered about the industry?
Miller: Beneath the thin, glossy veneer of the Adult Video News (AVN) Awards, Jenna Jameson’s mainstream success and celebrity sex tapes, there is a harsh reality to face. I won’t say “all” because that’s never the case when you’re talking about any group of people, but a lot of these performers are hopeless. You can rant all day about the drug use, STD’s and torture they put their bodies through. That’s the obvious stuff. What gets me is the acceptability of psychosis. These people are fucking nuts.
G-Man: What do you think of the following men: Hugh Hefner (Playboy Magazine) and Larry Flynt (Hustler Magazine)?
Miller: I admire Hugh Hefner a lot for revolutionizing the print industry with an original idea. He wasn’t afraid to try something new and juxtapose class with sex. His legacy and success are well deserved. As for Larry Flynt, he’s fought the good fight for free speech and been the loudest voice in the room.
G-Man: Do you or your business partner ever feel that you’re “feeding the beast” or contributing to the problems plaguing the industry by promoting these films?
Miller: Are you asking me how I can sleep at night doing what I do? The fact of the matter is that these films already exist and have existed long before American Vice was even an idea. If anything, our voice is a step in the right direction for the industry. We’re holding them accountable to a higher standard of quality.
G-Man: Clinical studies have indicated there is a link between people who watch porn and those who commit sex crimes. Do you believe Internet porn, including your sites, should face strict regulations in order to deal with the rising number of sex crimes being committed against women and children across the nation?
Miller: I don’t claim to be an expert on this, but that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to an opinion. From what I’ve seen, the bulk of the research done on the subject has been with confirmed sex offenders. These are people predisposed to such behavior, and they’ve already acted on it. Human nature requires them to justify their existence, so naturally a majority of their first inclinations are to say, “Porn made me do it.” I’m all for reducing crime, which most studies would indicate is more correlated to the strength of the economy than anything else. But I still believe that 99% of people who watch porn do it purely to masturbate. Some psychopath is more likely to get crazy ideas from watching “Saw” or “Hostel.” Those movies graphically depict horrendous violence with the benefit of massive special effects budgets and a two-hour attention span. Even the most outrageous or aggressive porn that I’ve seen can only be guilty of bad taste. It’s so low budget, sophomoric and fleeting, that you’d have to be truly deranged to take it seriously.
G-Man: How do you respond to critics, particularly those in the Christian community, who say you’re simply peddling smut and immorality to obtain wealth?
Miller: Judge not lest ye be judged. As far as wealth, I’ll let you know when it happens.
G-Man: You’ve openly discussed many of the evils associated with the porn industry. What positive thing can you say about it that would justify your involvement and continued support?
Miller: Porn is a very polarizing topic. Just mention it in a crowded room of people and ears perk up. For better or for worse, it is a true reflection of humanity in its most raw and vivid form. Some people love it, and others are repulsed by it. I find that intriguing. When the chemistry between the performers clicks and the scene is right, there is nothing like it. That’s why I watch.