My Unbelievable, Sometimes Horrifying, Ever-Perplexing but Entirely True Adventures in the Film and TV Biz: “A Sequel?”
PART TWO OF SIX: THE TEMPTATION WAS NO JOKE, BUT BECAUSE OF GRANDMA I COULD NEVER PULL THAT TRIGGER. NO DOUBLE ENTENDRE INTENDED.
The Gautama Sapphire, my inauspicious industry debut, was a disaster. A soft-core rip-off of The Maltese Falcon (see Part One of this Six-Part saga for that torrid story), I chalked the future straight-to-video failure to paying my dues.
I heard everyone paid their dues in this business. I thought I was beyond that. Alas, those “overnight successes” you’ve heard so much about in this business?
Bullshit. Moving on.
I was in Los Angeles for less than a month. When word got out that this new Marina del Rey border was making his first film, I was introduced to everyone and invited to everyone’s parties.
And the bullshit coalesced from thought bubble to reality, and followed my every step. Were these people truly interested in me, or what I represented to them? I began to miss my real friends in New York, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going back. I was going to see this effort through.
Prior to the soon-to-be-less-than-lauded release of my $5000 epic, the production company’s owner told me he had a brainstorm:
”Since I couldn’t get the rights to The Maltese Falcon name,” he said, “and The Gautama Sapphire doesn’t have a pre-sold audience ... and my biggest hit was Sweet Evil, a mystery with the best tits in the business ...”
His voice dropped off in thought. I picked it up. “You want to change the title.”
“I want to change the title ... to Sweet Evil 2. Whaddya think?”
“A sequel?” I asked.
“No. Of course not. The sequel, to my most successful production.”
“The sequel ...”
He was going to do what he wanted to anyway. He reminded me we were ”Brooklyn Bros,” and when he moved in for a man hug I gave him my blessing. He didn’t need my permission, and I knew that would be the last time we would see one another.
I moved on. I was nearly out of money, and there was scant work to be had. Save, that is, for one salvation writing assignment. I made $2500 writing an episode of Hotline for Cinemax, that starred ex-Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts as a sex therapist who hosted a call-in radio show. Use your imagination.
I just couldn’t seem to break from this genre.
Five years later, I was eating lunch with another Brooklyn transplant, Richard Carbone (real name), who had an idea to shoot a documentary about the inner workings of the adult entertainment industry. We knew each other from Sheepshead Bay; I once played Satan in one of his college films. He told me I could make it work, as I didn’t have a Jewish nose.
Anyway ... he asked if I would be interested in producing his doc. I resisted, informing him of my two past experiences that I had tried my damndest to keep secret, and I wasn't prone to go from a softcore feature to a hardcore doc.
“Maybe next year,” I said. “I’d love to work on something legit first.”
“I had no idea,“ he responded, “but this can’t be a coincidence ... Has anyone offered to pay you to write the next Star Wars?“
He won. “How do you want to start?“ I asked.
Rich owned a camera. We had no money, but we’d do our best. I had met a small-time porn producer who worked on the side collecting cash at my local newsstand. I was told about him from a mutual friend, and we struck up a conversation. He expressed to know most of the “players” in the business. Ron Jeremy, Nina Hartley, Randy West, Kay Parker ... even John Wayne Bobbitt (yeah, that one), who recently completed his first porn film for Ron, entitled Frankenpenis.
And the producer didn’t disappoint. He introduced them all to me, and they all, save for Kay, ultimately appeared in our homemade film.
But it was during the initial gatherings that we had the most fun.
We met Ron and his new protege, Jasmine St. Claire, at The Rainbow in Hollywood. Ron impressed me; the world knew him as “The Warthog,” but he was (and is) a singular talent. He writes limericks like nobody’s business, he plays piano like a pro, and he has a terrific sense of humor. Thing is, he was also a former special education teacher from New York. And that’s where our similarities ended ...
We all liked him. Rich and I, along with our editor at the time, were regaled by his stories of the business. As for Jasmine, well, she was there as Ron was producing her next film: what would be, to then, “the world’s largest gangbang” (look it up; Hubpages is a PG- outlet). She explained to us that she was a huge Disney fan and collector. Her favorite of all the company‘s films was the recently-released Pocahontas. An interesting dichotomy, there. She further informed us that the day before, she wrapped the porn version of her favorite Disney film, this one entitled Poke-her-anus.
“I was afraid to tell my parents,” she said.
The gist of our documentary was to follow porn stars in their daily lives, to get to know the real people behind the personalities and their reasons for choosing their particular profession. Ron was one of our subjects, and he invited us wherever he went. We graciously turned down the gangbang, though. We were told we’d have to participate if we showed.
The next week, though, we followed Ron to a set in Pasadena, where a bondage film would be shot over two subsequent days. The women (later with whips and other accoutrements) were nice enough, and we interviewed several of them. To warm up, we played a game of basketball. Myself, John Wayne Bobbitt and our director, Rich, on the one side, vs. a dominatrix trio. They beat us 12-8.
We all went inside, and we prepped to shoot “behind-the-scenes” footage of the ensuing XXX product. However, one of the male actors didn’t show up. Ron and the women badgered the only non-busy guy present, being me, to take his place. Rich was directing, our editor was taking notes ... I was watching. And I was being given hell because they needed a third guy. “What exactly would I have to do?” I asked.
“Sit with Ron and John on the couch,” a mistress offered, “and watch us. They’ll join us, then you take your clothes off and you jump in.”
”Christ,” I muttered. I thought of my grandmother; I have no idea why. What if my innocent grandmother happened to catch either this doc, or the film itself? What then?
Not that my grandmother had ever seen a porn film, but nevertheless ...
I refused to give in to the peer pressure. Ron and John were on their own. The scene was rewritten on the fly, and none of the three of us were needed in the end. Disaster averted.
The next week, I met Nina Hartley, known and widely respected as The Godmother of Porn. We had spoken on the phone for weeks to schedule her interview, which would take place at a strip club in Van Nuys. Once again, I found myself in the danger zone.
Nina was changing into her stripper gear backstage when I entered the room, and she asked me to close the door.
I was single. This was Nina Hartley, who was also incidentally a licensed nurse, and noted public speaker, who spoke at colleges around the country as to the importance of “safe sex.”
Make your own judgement, there.
“So,” I asked weakly, “What are you working on?”
She had a gorgeous smile. “Well, Joel, I’m putting out these video guides with my name on them.“
”Oh, cool,“ I said. “Like what?” I was beginning to sweat, and before you ask, none of this is being exaggerated.
“We have Nina Hartley’s Guide to Anal Sex, coming soon on VHS.“ I was beginning to pour, and seriously attempted to be discreet while wiping the sweat with my sleeve. She seemed to enjoy pushing my buttons, and so she went on. “Nina Knows Best is something we’re working on. Chapters, Joel, like Everything Oral, which includes Better Fellatio, Better Cunnilingus and Advanced Oral Sex ...” You get the picture. I looked at my watch and told her I had to meet my director outside. I closed that door as quickly as I could. “See you soon,” I heard from the other side.
Following her set, an hour or so thereafter, Nina gave us perhaps the most provocative interview of the entire project. She was geting older, she explained, but felt no compulsion to drop out of the business, in which most were considered “washed-up” by their late-twenties. She was a woman totally comfortable in her own skin, and we all found out later she was beloved as a role model by other, younger female performers.
The most unexpected result of all this? I became friends with some of these performers. I discovered that my pre-conceived notions of these adult film personalities were, in many instances, completely incorrect. Further, I was becoming respected in that business, because I was respectful to those who worked within the business.
I was becoming an accepted member of an unorthodox society, to the point where I was asked by a producer to testify in court on his behalf. I had met him for five minutes on one of the sets, and wrote a nice letter to the judge about my interaction. I didn’t show up in court.
Eventually, the documentary was completed. We called it “Scopophilia: Undressing the Adult Entertainment Industry.” Scopophila being a euphemism for voyeurism. I didn’t get a writing credit, as there was nothing to write. I did, though, receive my first producing credit. We sold the film to Holland and Portugal. And the end result really wasn’t all that bad.
I wondered if I would find a semblance of outside respectability with this project. I wondered if there should be a followup.
I also wondered if I should pivot, and maybe seriously look into this side of the film business as my bread and butter since the legitimate work just didn’t seem to be happening for me. Surely, I could hang the pornographer tag from a hook, while continuing to pursue my larger endeavors.
From Sweet Evil 2 to Scopophila. It was as if the gods were trying to tell me something.
I rented a few porns from a local video store one night, and I watched. Alone, in my new studio apartment in Hollywood.
I had to escape Marina del Rey.
And then, again, I thought of Grandma ...
To Be Continued ...