Abby Winters - Creator of the site
Some people would say that Abby Winters, creator of award-winning Australian erotic website abbywinters.com, is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma - shrouded in a mystery! Certainly, the 34-year-old keeps a low profile and prefers to let the models do the talking.
Starting the successful website in 2000, Abby was disappointed with the quality of amateur content available on the net. She saw sites dressing awesome amateur models up in silly heels and lots of make-up and was disappointed that these sites had missed the appeal of amateur models in the first place - that they are amateur! abbywinters.com was born.
With the plan to shoot models in their own homes, in their own clothes, and subvert the dominant paradigm, Abby handed the reins over to now-CEO Garion Hall after shooting in the earlier days. Abby and Garion met in 1998 while both working in theatre lighting, and bonded over a mutual interest in adult material and nerdy stuff.
While Hall has been shooting throughout the site's history, Abby stepped away from the lens in May 2002. Around this time, a deal between the two saw Hall become the owner and operator of the website, with Abby still retaining some creative control.
After this, Abby stepped away from the site almost completely to pursue other interests - not even stopping into HQ to visit since the team moved into their coveted building in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia. Mr Hall certainly has things under control, now with 45 staff spread all over the globe and an ever-growing and stable business from the members-based site; Abby really has nothing to worry about! Not bad for a woman who really only started the site as a hobby!
Other than the models, there is no public face of abbywinters.com, as Abby herself continues to keep a low profile. Staff and models represent the company always, as they do on the site itself. In fact, Hall has made a habit of employing models to work at HQ - from Production and Office staff, to Model Interviewers and Customer Service.
Abby feels the site continues to get better and better, with the early members helping her define the paradigm.
Along with the website, abbywinters.com DVD's are produced with some solo masturbation and Girl-Girl shoots, and these are continually rated highly among reviewers and peers. The models do what comes naturally, and the shooters capture it.
"I started this site as a hobby, as a laugh. Now we're quite serious about it and about all the repercussions great and small that it's had on the industry, and - dare I say it - on the world. Though I've stepped into the background, I'm extremely proud that my name is equated with ethics, beauty, naturalness and genuine sexuality. It's truly an honour."
Gear & Equipment
Stills Camera gear
We use Canon cameras exclusively, 5Dmk3 bodies, and L-series lenses. We use the 28-70f2.8L extensively, occasionally strapping on a 85f1.2L lens (our fave), or the 70-200f2.8L.
We use SanDisk Extreme III 16Gb CF cards. We shoot JPG+RAW, and use the JPG's for internal reviewing, and RAW images for processing and placing on the site.
Video camera gear
We use Panasonic HPX-200 DVCAM-PRO-HD HiDef video cameras, shooting to Panasonic's P2 cards (kind of like CF cards, but higher capacity). We have a few dozen 64GB P2 cards.
We use a AG-HPG10 field card reader / review to store or watch footage on location where necessary.
We use Sennheiser 416 shotgun mics mounted on-camera, and occasionally wireless lapel mics.
Where possible we use or reinforce natural lighting, with additional light supplied by Bron A2 flash packs and P2 3200watt heads. We use a range of umbrellas, Softboxes, blacks, reflectors and translucents to modify light.
Again, we use natural light where possible, but reinforce with incandescent "redhead" fixtures (800w), as well as a range of HMI fixtures (4k, 1.2k, 600w). When shooting with HMI's, we can sometimes also shoot stills under the same light, allowing great synergy between the two mediums.
As for stills, we use a range of reflective and absorptive mediums to modify the light.
abbywinters.com is hosted on two clusters of 26 servers, some in the US and some in the Netherlands. The servers run "LAMP" - Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP.
Garion Hall - CEO
Fastidiously meticulous and brilliantly informal, Garion is the charismatic leader of the abbywinters.com complex. He's led the company from contented anonymity to a world-wide phenomenon, one that is growing rapidly in popularity and fame, subverting the dominant paradigm and challenging the very definition of 'mainstream porn'.
Garion Hall, CEO of abbywinters.com, had been friends with Abby Winters since long before they started of the website together in 2000 - they met doing lighting for shows, travelling Australia. Now CEO, he's been the effective head of the company and main driver for the website since 2002 when Abby stepped down.
It's the studied lighting technique and imaginative artistic eye that Abby developed during their travels that's led to the characteristic "abby look": images flooded with sunlight and saturated with textures, buoyed by accentuated curves and brimming with smiles. You can spot an abbywinters image a mile away! Garion has rigorously continued Abby's tradition of precise, considered technique and a vision that is both sexy and natural.
These days, however, Garion spends little time finessing lighting. Instead, he's actively managing the company. With herculean endurance, Garion keeps tabs on and generates ideas in all areas of the company, from themes in videos to website design, HR initiatives to affiliate programs, stills selection to marketing.
There is now an ever-growing demand for amateurs being amateurs (instead of looking and acting like porn stars). Pubic hair, genuine sexuality, real orgasms and unscripted passionate girl-girl encounters - all shot in the models own homes - are replacing the previous generation's worn-out, unrealistic, over-directed material.
And we have Garion's leadership in pursuing and disseminating the abbywinters.com site and paradigm to thank!
"This company is my heart and soul. There from the beginning, I have watched it grow with the fondness and excitement of a parent. Abby and I had an idea of changing the industry from an artificial parody of love to a true representation of intimacy, from a dark cave with seedy desires and malevolent connotations to a sun-filled playground with integrity and morals.
"So far, so good."
Goals, Vision and Mission
abbywinters.com has three stated goals:
SexyThis is two things: The raw, erotic, provocative-ness of media we produce, but also the "coolness", how interesting, cutting edge, exciting or game-changing we are.
Frictionless"Friction" is what happens when things don't work as they should, where we have conversations about mundane business-as-usual stuff, instead of sexy stuff - our goal is to make every single conversation we have with each other, be about sexy stuff, that the systems we develop are so frictionless that every mundane question is self-answering. We're well on the way to doing this, and we're getting better at it.
ProfitableOf course, while we like making sexy things frictionless, we also want to make a modest profit, while still being corporately responsible.
Our vision is simple: Change the game.
Our mission drives everything we do:
Motivated by principles of social responsibility, we deliver provocative media by embracing imagination, creativity and emerging technologies. Our models, customers and business partners are inspired by our fervid passion.
Post production stills
Still images (JPG and RAW) are uploaded to our central file server, "Faith", and queued for editing and processing. Stills shooters edit (as in, select the images that will appear on the site, from those that were taken). Around 1000 images are shot per shoot, and around 150 end up on the site.
Once the "keepers" are selected, they are passed to the Image Editor who processes each image for colour, contrast, white-balance and sharpness. The resulting images are reviewed by the Creative Director for quality assurance, and then approved for release on the site.
Unlike most sites, none of our images are altered - we do not touch up blemishes, wrinkles, remove weight, or do anything to alter the appearance of the model (other than balance the colour and sharpness of the image overall).
We use ACDSee for reviewing images, Adobe LightRoom for editing and processing, and WinZip for making zips for upload. We use a neat little app called Bulk Rename Utility to rename bunches of files. It's very powerful, and we use about 10% of it's features (what is regExp anyway?).
Post production video
P2 cards are passed to the Media Administrator to ingest into the SAN, using the Panasonic AJ-PCD20P P2 card reader. Shoots are then assembled into edit-ready bins, so when a video editor is ready, they can open the project in Avid v3, and begin cutting.
Once the edit is complete, the project is pushed to the Media Encoder, who ensures the Vantage blade centre encodes the video in the formats required (h.264 for reviews). Each video is reviewed for quality assurance, and once approved, encoded in around 18 different versions for release on the website (Flash, MPG, WMV, h.264 and a few different qualities and sizes).
We're not noted for "breaking new talent", many of or models have never been naked in front of people before, other than their partner. Because they might feel a little venerable, and we're in a position of power in an industry that has a pretty bad reputation, we go to significant lengths to ensure models are well informed of the risks and rewards involved. Employees are encouraged to do what is "right" and ethical in any situation.
We have a very structured process from the first time a model calls, all the way to her first shoot and beyond. Staff are trained in every part of the process, with a focus on model care and empowerment, and models often provide feedback that help us refine the process. In fact, we employ several models in the business, and they are invited to weigh in when any decisions that might affect models are being considered.
We pay our models on par with other adult production company out there, and provide ongoing support for them after their shoots, in many areas.
We have some of the brightest minds in their field from a range of industries, including web development, post production systems, and administration. We routinely take junior people interested in a field, and provide extensive training for them in that field, but also in greater understanding of businesses and how they operate. Staff leave us extensively trained and ready to contribute to their next business and society in general, ensuring meaningful work that's a benefit to all.
Staff are well paid, and led by managers who are also leaders in their field. Systems are in place to ensure development and mentoring is performed as part of day to day work, and staff enjoy world class facilities and perks. Staff proudly list "abbywinters.com" on their resume.
We care about our members. Our site was designed from the ground up by passionate fans (of adult material, the internet, photography and videography) - it was created as a labour of love by its founder, and that tradition is carried on by staff with a focussed vision, and attention to detail.
We have created a site that we'd love to browse and use, not a site with the least amount of features to extract the most amount of money from as many people as possible. We perform regular market research in our industry, and in our customer base, and respond by making changes to improve usability and content. We engage with our customers via our message boards and via email, and, with the new version of our Content Management System (launched in Jan 2010), we're able to respond to changing needs and leverage new technology - all for the same price and consistent and increasing quality.
We provide customer support "in-house", with swift and personable response times of under 15 minutes for any query. Customers - well, anyone, really - are welcome to call and speak with real people. We have friendly discussion forums where old-time members are pleased to help newer members find that perfect thing that floats their boat, and an advanced tagging system allowing everyone to contribute to the organisation of the website.
Even guests (visitors to our site who are not members) are cared for. We have a tour that honestly and generously shows our content, and we allow guests access to many parts of the website usually held in secure areas, allowing visitors to get a truly thorough view of what they are purchasing.
We have pre-sales support, allowing guests to speak to a customer support person, who themselves are a fan of the website and can answer questions meaningfully and swiftly.
Like any business, we have relationships with banks, accountants, insurance, trades, equipment and consumables suppliers. Our many business partners agree, we're the kind of company they love: we keep them informed, we work collaboratively, and we pay our bills on time. We develop lasting relationships with people at other companies, to the benefit of all parties.
Where possible, we select local suppliers over mega-corps, to keep our vibrant community in Amsterdam alive.
We work to be responsible to our environment - we use Compact Fluorescent light globes, we use natural light as much as possible, we have a program to turn off computers at night, we drive fuel efficient vehicles that are regularly serviced, we have an energy efficient zoned heating and cooling systems that maintained regularly, we limit printing on paper and always print double-sided, we use unbleached paper, we use "green electricity", we always buy equipment with energy star rating in mind, all faxes are delivered electronically as PDF's, many of our staff use public transport or push bikes to get to and from work, we have many indoor plants in the office... there's a lot we do, and a lot more we can do. We're always looking for more new ways.
We have a donations program where we support a range of local, national and international charities and groups in a range of areas, including the environment, underprivileged people, medical research, arts, education and animals.
We lead all our staff and peers to be responsible citizens, to behave ethically, and lead others to do so. We look after our neighborhood and work closely with local officials to keep our streets clean and safe.