There are lights, camera and action in these movies, for sure.
But that's about it. There's nothing remotely resembling a plot or, say, character development. No cinematography or set design or any of those frivolities that get in the way of what some people watch a movie for.
You know. Sex.
And there's certainly a lot of that if not much else in amateur adult videos -- these increasingly popular, bare-bones "movies" that can be made by anyone with a camcorder, a couple of free hours, few inhibitions and even less shame.
In an industry forever in search of a new kink, tapes made by amateur rather than professional actors and filmmakers have captured a chunk of the $325 million adult video market. How large a chunk, however, could not be determined, although a manager of a local adult store said he sold about one amateur video for every three professional ones.
The appeal, some say, is exactly what you would criticize a professional movie for: There's usually no story to speak of, and the players get down to basics pretty quickly without the usual actors' concern with motivation. Sound quality can be awful, but that's noproblem because the dialogue often is about as bad or simply nonexistent. And the "actors" and "actresses" can be, well, as lumpy, wrinkled and unacquainted with plastic surgery as the rest of us non-Hollywood types.
"The professional market got really boring," says Mickey Blank, a vice president of Homegrown Video, a San Diego company that claims it was the first on the market with amateur videos 10 years ago. "With the amateur market, you don't know what to expect next. The one thing these tapes have that others don't is sincerity. They're normal people. They're not Barbie dolls."
"They're real people. I think people enjoy that," agreed a manager at an adult store on The Block who asked that his name not be used. "They're the newest thing on the adult market. They have this texture to them. Some's quality is better than others."
The tapes, which are available at some general video rental stores and adult book stores in the area, are sold by companies that recruit amateurs through ads in adult magazines or notices at the end of the tapes themselves.
Amateurs then make and send their tape in. The company, if it likes what it sees, pays the filmmakers -- from several hundred dollars to $1,000, according to one business -- then duplicates and distributes the tapes.
The amateur films are easy to pick out from the professional ones -- the companies go by names like Home Movie Productions, Amateur Hours, America's Dirtiest Home Videos and Next Door Neighbors.
And, there's usually no mistaking amateur for professional once you pop the tape into your VCR, if a tape rented from a local video store recently is any indication.
This particular tape was broken down into several "scenes," each introduced by title frames of the people's alleged first names. With a variety of "sets" like a bed and nearby mirror and a sofa with a sheet thrown over it, and sometimes over the sound of a dog barking somewhere in the background, here's how the "movie" went: First, the camera focused on one couple; then a second man joined the couple; then a different couple was on screen; then another couple (or was it the first couple?); then . . . well, you get the picture.
Apparently, many people want to perform in front of a camera and, by extension, an audience of strangers. Since an appearance on the "Sally Jessy Raphael" show a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Blank said Homegrown Video has been besieged with calls and tapes of would-be porn stars. The company's five 800 numbers are constantly ringing -- they're planning to expand to 12 -- and it gets hundreds of tapes a week, he said.
What will get yours picked from the masses and ultimately end up on your local video shelf?
"We're not looking for Ginger Lynn," Mr. Blank said, referring to a popular professional porn actress. "We're just looking for a turn-on, something we feel is sexy and sincere and hot."
And legal, he might add. Mr. Blank said the company requires copies of two pieces of identification proving that everyone on screen is over 18. Mr. Blank said he'll also abide by requests not to sell your particular tapes in certain locations, like where you or perhaps your mother lives.
While amateur videos have been around for a while, they've only become more popular in the last several years. They're not easy to find if you want to rent them -- some video stores don't carry adult movies at all, and those that do may have only one or two of the amateur variety. Several adult bookstores carry them, but only for sale, not rental.
"It's something new," says Joe Ulman, owner of Movie Time Video in Baltimore. "At this present time, they're doing better than the professional ones."
Not everyone, however, has jumped on the amateur bandwagon. Some local video stores have decided not to carry them.
"It's just a personal choice on my part," said Wilhelmina Hargrave, owner of a West Coast Video franchise in downtown Baltimore. "I try to carry really well-done adult tapes with good production values if I'm going to carry them at all. But I understand [amateur videos] have been very popular in the industry."
But the craze may have already peaked, according to a manager at a Baltimore company that distributes adult videos and novelties to stores.
"The amateur movies brought something different to the market. These people supposedly could be your next door neighbor," said the manager, who asked that his name not be used. "But it's a flooded market right now. It's a small part of everything out there -- important, but small."
David Kastens, president of the Adult Video Association, a trade group that represents professionals in the industry, believes amateur tapes are around to stay because they're profitable. Which is why some professional adult filmmakers have started amateur lines of their own, he said.
"You can just see so many pictures of actors and actresses," Mr.Kastens said. "Sometimes you want to see real people."