This article originally ran in AVN magazine.
To meet Farrell Timlake and find out more about Homegrown Video, find the company's booth at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, which begins today and runs through January 24.
With its steady stream of stories about revenge porn cases and stolen celebrity nudie pics, you could call 2014 the Year of the Voyeur. But really, isn’t every year? It’s a potent temptation to peek into someone else’s bedroom—either a famous someone or just the couple next door. Fortunately, for everyone who likes to watch there are those who willingly put on a show.
And therein lies the equation behind one of adult entertainment’s most enduring genres: amateur porn. And who better to talk to about the subject than Farrell Timlake, owner and president of Homegrown Video.
Homegrown itself started in 1982 down in San Diego, and is widely credited as the first company to get in the business of commercially selling erotica created by amateurs. Timlake was a fan who had submitted his own tapes; when the company ran into money troubles and was put up for sale, Timlake bought Homegrown in 1993 and operated it with his brother and his brother’s wife as well as his then-wife and her brother. “It really was family from that time on. And even though the face of the family changed, it’s gone into the extended family,” he said.
One of those extended family members is Spike Goldberg, the company’s CEO. “We go way back. I knew his brother. He was one of my Grateful Dead friends. I knew Spike when he was a little kid,” Timlake recalled. “He was anti long-haired, weed-spoking hippies. He came into the company and he worked through every facet of the company and developed from there. He knew what he wanted to do, and it’s a grand thing that he’s there now.”
Timlake explained that Goldberg as CEO oversees the day-to-day. “They want me to be the fun guy that gets naked in the hot tub at parties,” he joked, whereas Goldberg “does the grind, the stuff that no one else wants to do. So god bless him. I’m going to drink to Spike right now.”
Timlake raised the cocktail he was imbibing in a Venice bar, where we met while he was in town on a trip away from his home base in the Seattle area. He provided a quick summation of his involvement with the company and his background before getting into the adult game. “Everything that I brought to Homegrown was stuff I learned selling T-shirts at Dead shows,” he explained. “The grassroots marketing and sort of the philosophy of how the Grateful Dead made their own cottage industry as a touring band, that was our idea of how we connected with our fan base. Like they say about the Dead, they’re not the best at what they do—they’re the only ones who do what they do. That’s what we tried to be. We wanted to be the pure amateur.”
But when Timlake took over the company, at times it was difficult to sell the product. “They’d hang up on us before we could say a word,” he said. “So what we did was to create Xplore Media, and that was the non-Homegrown brand. … We also toyed with the pro-am stuff, because I’d been working in L.A. and I knew all the pros. I’d get them to do more amateur type scenes … my friends who I knew would be able to deal on that level and wouldn’t come down and be all preposterous—‘I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. Timlake.’ People I knew would get into the spirit and the vibe that we wanted.”
Eventually Timlake became dissatisfied with the pro-am scene and wanted to refocus on amateur. “I think it derailed us at a certain point. The Homegrown brand kind of lost its sparkle and the Xplore brand became sorta ubiquitous,” he said, partly because there were a lot of the same pro-am shooters working for various pro-am companies.
“We created Xplor after a year of not getting traction with distributors for Homegrown. We kept Xplor prominent in the packaging for about four years before we felt safe to slowly bring the ‘Homegrown’ brand back in the design. Eventually, around ’98 or ’99, we put Xplor down to just a little tiny logo and put ‘Homegrown Presents’ at the top of the box covers. We still were releasing pro-am titles under this but realized that we had to get back to true amateur content, like the company was founded on, to really bring back the fans. Only in the last few years have we really succeeded in finding the authentic amateur scenes and returning Homegrown to what it needs to be. It is more difficult to find that type of content now that everyone tries to look and act like pros, but we are doing it.”
In the end, Timlake believes, turning to amateur porn is a natural progression. Consumers first look at porn and see something they’ve never seen before. “You say, ‘Wow—I don’t get that. That hasn’t happened to me.’ But at a certain point you say, ‘That’s never going to happen to me.’ With amateur porn, the scenarios are much more attainable. Something that is real and that you can connect to—that’s how the real fun happens.”
And now, he believes the company has found its way back to the original Homegrown appeal: “That sort of real appreciation for that uniqueness of Mom and Pop, Saturday night and a six-pack, cutting loose, whatever happens. It’s gold. That’s what we’ve kind of come back to, and we’ve jettisoned the pro-am stuff. It’s been great. … We’re actually starting to gain traction.”
One source of success has been to follow where the fans lead. For Timlake, the first surprise was how many female fans were interested in amateur porn. “When we took over the company we got to see the mail list and the mail list was interesting because there were so many female names. … Everybody always said, ‘Only 5 percent of your audience is going to be female,’ and we were seeing 25 to 30 percent. … It really shaped us.”
Fans also affected the company’s output directly in two ways: by the tapes they supplied and the content they requested. “We had all this footage that we purchased but never knew where to put it. It was just sitting there—we couldn’t figure out what to do with it or what to call it. Finally we said, let’s just say what it is. We called it Oversexed, Overweight and Over 40, and it was HUGE. It was the top-five release in our catalog for years.”
Fans of other niches also spoke up. “We had this one club of people that were into hairy stuff, and they said, ‘We really want you to do this. We’re really tired of looking at 1970s porn. You gotta give us something else.’ And then we thought, we’ll do that.”
He added, “The core audience showed us the way as far as each niche, whether it was MILF or bush or creampie. … People would write us and say, ‘Why does the guy always pull out? I don’t do that. My wife doesn’t want me to do that. Why would you do that?’ And we thought, there’s something to that.”
Timlake had lots more to say, so he happily answered a few questions about amateur porn in general and Homegrown Video’s future in particular, including its recent change in distributors.
You’ve done some interesting talks on HuffPo and Reddit and FunnyOrDie. Do you find those mainstream appearances translate into traffic for your sites?
First, thank you for the major compliment. Yes, all our mainstream mentions have been great for business since there we can communicate the personality of what we do and let the honesty and integrity of our message and purpose come through loudest and clearest. You see, Homegrown was about “user generated content” long before YouTube, Facebook, etc., so the way we look at it is the planets finally aligned and the heavens opened on what makes us pertinent, relevant and enduring.
How has the community changed over time?
The younger audience has been sort of weaned on free porn and the stuff they really look at for free is all the same thing. That audience is just glad that we’re the real deal. … The average porn viewer progresses back to the raw state, and that’s what Homegrown is. Not to put too much of a druggie spin on it, but it’s the only thing that works after a while. And the older audience knows and appreciates it and is glad we’re coming back to it.
People actually have gotten better at running their cameras … so it’s not hard to look like you know what you’re doing. … But we have to indoctrinate the younger audience that hey, with the real deal stuff you can’t set your watch to what position they’re going to change to or how attractive or not you think the person is. If you really want it warts and all, this is how it is. Luckily … in the chatrooms, the more experienced, older members train them and teach them. That’s the best part. That’s the X factor.
Have the sexual performances changed over the last 20 years?
First it was less theatrical, and then it became overly theatrical, and now we’re trying to tell people, no you don’t have to do the theatrics—just do what you’re going to do, and let’s just see what happens. That’s the hardest thing: to get people to sort of pull back from what they expect that you want. “Oh, I think my stuff is as good as Bang Bros., or whatever.” Well, that’s good, but you don’t have to do that. If you want to be a star, we can be a walkway to that. But we want what you’re going to have fun doing before it becomes work. Keep it kind of fun. We’ll take care of the rest. Don’t worry about the AVN Award-winning performance.
Speaking of being a walkway to stardom, are there any major stars you recall who debuted in Homegrown movies?
The one who stands out is Anna Malle. She actually died in a car crash in Vegas about seven, eight years ago [January 2006]. … When I met her at an AVN Show in Vegas, she wasn’t in the industry, and she heard of us. I went through the whole process, asking if she was sure she wanted to do this, and she said she was a Max Hardcore fan. And I thought, well, that’s pretty extreme. It’s sounds like you know what you want to do. … The night that we shot with her the video stopped rolling … and she pulled all of the crew into crazy nonstop sex until every man in the room was broken. At the end, that was when we coined the term “Homegrown Moment.” She’s still the top, against whom others are measured, and will not be equaled.
You’ve now released your first few titles through Girlfriends Films. Do you expect this relationship to bring your DVDs into new markets?
We are very, very pleased to be with Girlfriends and at long last we feel that we have found a distributor that “gets it” with what we do and what we are about. … why some middle-aged housewife with a few extra pounds and stretch marks could be more sexy and sexual than any pumped up and primped porn star. Girlfriends gets it. They understand fan bases. They understand branding. They are the perfect fit for us because they are not trying to throw every Tomcat, Dickless, and Hairy Ball fake amateur brand at the wall to see what sticks in the market. They know Homegrown sticks. There is a reason we have been around since 1982. They know when customers get sick of all the fake stuff, then they find their way to Homegrown. I am very confident that they will do better for us, even in today’s market, than any other distributor ever has.
Do you have any plans for new series or sites that we can let people know about?
We are coming out with a swinger site that will be sort of like the full culmination of returning to our roots. I am excited about it because it has been so long overdue!
What do you want to do for the next 20 years?
I want to reposition Homegrown to the absolute epicenter of the amateur universe. To make the name synonymous with amateur. And throw out the perception that pro-am is amateur and let people know what the real deal is. ... Everything that we do now is about how do we get the voyeurs connected with the exhibitionists—every piece of that puzzle coming together, so instead of being disconnected from the process everybody is fully engaged in the process, reviewing the movies and letting our audience dictate where things go. Every change that we make on the site and in the community is geared toward that.
One of the simple things that we’ve done for years is to have a live chat. And I’m still in there talking to everybody and making sure everybody knows that they’re talking actually to the owner. You can really tell me, ‘I’m sick of this’ or ‘I love that,’ or whatever. Just bringing that aspect together, that’s the focus for me now, and who knows where that will take us, but it’s going to be fun getting there. I’m still learning things every day and that’s a good thing, that’s a sexy thing.