Inside Erika Lust's Full-Service, Self-Aware Porn Studio

Inside Erika Lust's Full-Service, Self-Aware Porn Studio

By Matt WilleMar 25, 2024

Erika Lust is up against daunting odds — but by force of determination (and, yes, an auteur’s eye) she’s managed to finagle these stacked obstacles into a business model. Lust’s eponymous porn company is honest both internally and to the public eye about the challenges it faces; in doing so, it thrives in an industry that, in many regards, wants it shut out entirely.

What's immediately striking upon walking into Erika Lust headquarters in Barcelona (other than reminding me of Savoir’s fictional Parisian office in Emily In Paris) is how apparent it is the entire team is working towards a common goal. This is a company that, from its top executives all the way down to its most entry-level hires, is ready to literally put its money where its mouth is.

This is not an accident; this is the product of more than two decades of tireless building on the part of Lust and her husband, Pablo. Lust premiered her first erotic film, The Good Girl, in 2004, a relatively simple twist on the pizza delivery boy porn motif that centered the female gaze — its success spawned the empire known as Erika Lust Films. In the years since, much has been penned about Lust’s arthouse-style pornography, which continues to center the perspective of women against the general tide of the porn industry. It’s a project equal parts aesthetic and activist.

While every part of the filmmaking process is prioritized at Erika Lust Films, particular care is given to filming — and, more specifically, to the actors being filmed. Alongside intimacy coordinator and producer Anarella Martinez, Lust takes every possible precaution to ensure her actors are comfortable (and, yes, enjoying themselves). Martinez describes the process of creating a “sacred space” for filming: actors are asked to fill out detailed questionnaires about their sexual preferences, their boundaries (Do they prefer the use of condoms? Do they prefer lube or spit or nothing at all?). Martinez attempts to preempt any issues that might arise on set, even going so far as to work with first-time performers on the psychology behind how family and friends might react to seeing them in an erotic film.

But, of course, things come up during filming — an actor who specified a preference for using contraceptive devices gets lost in the moment, for example, and it’s Martinez’s job to step in and check that they’re not doing something they’ll regret later. She’s running around set with lube, watching for nonverbal cues that might show an actor is uncomfortable but perhaps unwilling to speak up about it. Martinez and the larger Erika Lust team understand that this is important both to the actors’ well-being and to the final product: actors’ genuine pleasure comes across in the finished product, making films much more enjoyable for audiences.

Lust recognizes as well that Martinez is a good power check for her on set. "I have the most vested interest in the project, because I've invested so much in it," Lust says. "Of course, I want to push things to their limits. [Anarella] can step up for the actors in those moments."

This attention to detail is apparent in every part of touring through Erika Lust's offices. The pre-production team, for example, spends many hours each week simply deciding which stories to greenlight. Many of Erika Lust’s film ideas come in through the company’s “XConfessions” platform, whereby the general public is asked to submit their hottest hookup fantasies for the chance to see them play out on-screen as produced by the Erika Lust team. XConfessions alone is a turn of ingenuity for the porn industry — it allows the team to source ideas far outside its own limited purview. (It also allows for some pretty wild collaborations: An idea confessed by none other than Cara Delevingne was recently turned into a '70s-themed orgy film called Dirty Martini.)

These ideas, once chosen by the team, are then given the full film production treatment, with six months to a full year of work per short film. We’re talking $20,000 to $40,000 budgets. This is not your average Pornhub handycam experience; Lust is bringing in full theatrical camera rigs. And there’s post-production to consider, too, including in-house color correction and audio mixing. (The post-production team is even involved in early film brainstorming, to consider variables like lighting design and song usage.)

Once a film is finally exported, Erika Lust StuFilmsdios also acts as its own distribution platform, which comes with a host of roadblocks. Although Erika Lust’s company operates in a nature entirely separate from the vast majority of the porn industry, it’s still hit with the same old stigmas. Banks don’t want to work with them. On a daily basis, new customers find themselves unable to subscribe to Erika Lust’s websites, their credit card transactions canceled by banks on the basis of “high-risk” activity. The tech team says they’re constantly looking for new fixes to simply allow those looking to pay for their porn to be able to do so. Even when transactions do succeed, the company is faced with higher-than-usual fees — just because its content is erotic in nature. Erika Lust Films receives none of the tax breaks afforded to other filmmaking companies, either.

This is why everyone involved in the production and distribution of an Erika Lust film has to be fully on-board with the mission in order for the organization to succeed. Going up against the mainstream porn industry, led by tube site behemoths like Aylo (FKA MindGeek, Pornhub’s parent company), is daunting enough. Getting the general public excited by the prospect of auteur pornography to actually pay for it — rather than flocking to those free sites — is a consistently uphill battle. "I do consider myself an activist for these causes," Lust explains, "and I get a lot of hate for it. You get hate when you're vocal about what you believe, and I am loud about it."

The company is finding ways to succeed through it all, mostly through its consistent willingness to adapt. Recently, after many years of turning its nose up at doing so, the company opened video channels across some of the more popular free porn sites. While, as Lust points out, most users aren’t looking for auteur porn on these sites, it gives the company space to be discovered by a different user base. If someone specifically searches for “Erika Lust” on these sites, they’ll be able to get a taste of what the studio has to offer.

In recent years, as user-generated adult content sites like OnlyFans have skyrocketed in popularity, Erika Lust Films has adapted by having open conversations with performers about whether or not they'd like to post finished Erika Lust films on their own pages for promotional purposes. It the attention to these industry shifts — and the company's willingness to be flexible in adapting to them — that keeps both actors and the company happy.

While the company’s obstacles present many daily frustrations, overcoming those challenges only makes the final product more sweet. Watching a gorgeous porn flick on the big screen at SoHo House is all the more enjoyable after knowing the care and perseverance that went into making it. There’s much pleasure to be had at Erika Lust Films, even against seemingly unwinnable odds.

Photography: Clara Ruiz