Shooting ALL THE KING’S LADIES Part 4: Screw-ups and Sizzle

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Serena (left), Rhonda Jo Petty (right), Legs in pants: Michael Morrisson

The 1981 production of All the King’s Ladies, “the first big-budget erotic extravaganza shot entirely on videotape,” was both maddening and marvelous.

First, the screw-ups:

I made a package deal to use impresario Perry Mann’s lavish Marin County estate as a location and himself as an actor.  At least the property part  worked out–the location was gorgeous.

Mann, co-producer of that voyeur’s delight, the annual Exotic-Erotic Ball, couldn’t get erect, even with the exotic-erotic Mai Lin.

And his allegedly coke-addled memory retained dialogue like a sieve holds rain. Porn star Juliet Anderson, making her debut as a director, had to feed him his lines.

Juliet: Your soft, downy pussy gives me spasms of ecstasy.

Mann: Your soft, downy pussy…what?

Juliet: Your soft, downy pussy…

Mann: Your soft, downy pussy…

Juliet: …gives me spasms of ecstasy.

Mann: ..gives me…ecstasy.

Juliet: OK. that’s good enough, Perry.

Next screw-up:

Our snide little snot of an engineer was one of the few local technicians familiar with the new Ikkis (Ikegami HL-79 cameras). To him, working on a porno was like slumming.

He neglected to clean the Sony BVU 110 VCRs, causing a head clog that wiped out the first twenty minutes recorded on one of the decks. A bad audio line rendered all the tapes from the other VCR soundless.

As the second day went into overtime, the little engineer left to catch a flight to an out of town shoot. He assured me the gear was working fine; we should have no trouble. Right after he left, one of the Ikkis (Ikegami HL-79 cameras) went out of phase.

So, what went right?

The really important thing: Sex! 

(Note: Scenes described  below are more intimately detailed in SKINFLICKS. )

First, I had packed the cast with female stars: Sharon Mitchell, Holly McCall, Mai Lin, and the winner of a Farrah Fawcett-Majors look-alike contest, Rhonda Jo Petty. These ladies took pride in their craft.

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Serena Blaquelord in ALL THE KING’S LADIES

At  director Juliet Anderson’s behest, Serena had come out of retirement for the movie. She had quit porn after a scene that almost killed her.  A callous director had immersed the masochistic star in a brutal gang-bang that flooded her with enough germs to rival an ER in Afghanistan. Serena was hospitalized with septic shock.

I, too, used her in an S and M scene (what, me exploitive?).  Crude cowboy Michael Morrison whipped her like a mule. (I cut out most of the skit to avoid going to jail.)

The big lesson I learned was that video was tailor-made for porn. In spite of the equipment hassles, we shot ten sex scenes in two days.

“I used to struggle to complete three sex scenes a day,” I told Joe Farmer.  “And those were little more than loops, nothing like the feature story we just shot.”

Joe smiled. “Television production techniques will revolutionize the shooting of sex. Remember, you heard it here first.”

Everything was different from shooting “film style,” which I’d done on earlier video productions.

The director would sit at a console, watching monitors, and give instructions to the cameramen through a microphone feeding the headsets they wore: “Camera One, you’re ’hot,’ hold on her face. Camera Two, get a medium penetration shot–tell him to move his knee to his right. OK…get ready Camera Two…you’re hot. Camera One, pull back for a long shot…”

Switching between cameras, a director could “edit” the scene as it was taking place–live–capturing the spontaneity, saving hours of expensive post-production time.

Without the constant interruptions to change film magazines and batteries and to wait for the camera operator to line up each shot, performers could build momentum–and stay hard.

There was no need for a “fluffer,” an off-camera lady whose job was to suck the men up for each shot.

The final orgy scene, which would have suffered an epidemic of penis limpus if shot in film, went as slick as a pornographer’s wet dream.

Jon Martin, Michael Morrisson, Mike Horner, Don Fernando, newcomer Paul West and Ed Lincoln–son of veteran porn director, the late Fred Lincoln–all spouted spectacularly.

The sizzle reached its climax–so to speak–in a rooftop scene with Sharon Mitchell and Mike Horner.

From SKINFLICKS:

Miss Sharon Mitchell–as porn’s grande dame wants to be called after more than fifteen years as a performer–wouldn’t let a spent Mike Horner leave the rooftop set in All the King’s Ladies, even as the crew was packing the gear after shooting Miss M.’s forty-second status orgasmus (sustained female orgasm).

With leftover videotape, we interviewed the porn Hall-of-Famer:

She related the story of going into a theater to watch one of her films for the first time and unzipping the pants of an elderly gentleman next to her. When the startled patron saw that the lady going down on him was the same one as on the screen, he suffered a seizure. As he was being wheeled to the ambulance he croaked, “Thank you, Miss Mitchell.”

Despite “creative editing” to cover up All the King’s Ladies‘ technical difficulties, Adam Film World’s 1987 X-Rated Movie Handbook listed the feature among “The 500 Best Adult Movies of All Time.”

“I sure hope we can maintain the level of quality we established in All the King’s Ladies,” I said to Joe.

“If things go right,” he replied. “All the King’s Ladies should be the worst movie Superior Video ever makes.”

Next post: Shooting PHYSICAL: Letting It All Hang Out in a Best-Seller

 

 

 

Shooting The Perfect Gift Part 2: Are Things Finally Going Right?

After the hassles of near-electrocution, a videographer going on strike, a storm ruining audio, and a bunch of swinger-party studs who couldn’t get it up, something had to go right.

First, the house was perfect.  It was custom-made for orgies. Its owner was my new business partnerJoe Loveland (nom de porn), a pleasant little satyr with goatee and gleaming eyes, who looked younger than 53. Joe was a professional musician, a sex hobbyist, and a secret investor in porn film.

(Text from SKINFLICKS is in italics.)

Used for films (such as the acclaimed Sex World ), Rajneesh weekends, S and M “workshops” and swingers’ parties, it was on a hillside too steep for voyeurs who weren’t rock climbers. Visitors entered on the upper level and found a casual Northern California ambience of hardwood floors, a wood stove, hanging plants, and semi-antique furniture. Those admitted downstairs saw a different setting.

Stockinged feet (no shoes allowed) sank deep into a tan carpet that covered two inches of foam rubber. An alcove off the living room was an elevated stage, covered with the same rug-and-rubber cushioning. Heavy beams held spotlights with brackets for colored gels. Studding the beams were hooks and pullies for supporting chains, straps and other “restraints.”

Beneath a mirrored ceiling, an enormous playground of a bed filled most of an airy bedroom that opened to a hot tub with a raisable hammock slung over it. Fat, colorful pillows lay everywhere. Closets held “toys,” lotions, and more towels than the Oakland Raiders’ locker room.

The second good thing was Juliet Anderson.  Her professionalism set the tone for the shoot. She was one of porn’s three classy older women (along with Kay Parker and Georgina Spelvin).

After seven years of teaching English in Finland, Juliet became a porn star as Swedish Erotica’s “Aunt Peg” character. With short, swept-back blonde hair, patrician features, and a figure kept trim through compulsive exercise, Juliet was every young male’s fantasy of erotic instructress.

On Joe’s elevated stage that Sunday, she demonstrated her “famous Aunt Peg blow job.” “She doesn’t seduce men,” wrote Gary Giddins in Home Video magazine, “she inhales them.” Juliet’s blur of mouth manipulations and head movements kept Joe, in his porn debut, as hard as men half his age.

With a burnoose hiding his face (“a very carefully anonymous Arab,” wrote an Adam Film World reviewer), Joe also did well with “slave girl” Kay Buckley, a bold-featured masochist with an “A” carved over her solar plexus.

A star of S and M master Jay Magus de Tauroc’s rope bondage demonstrations, Kay performed a belly dance with clamps pulling her nipples, sending Juliet into squeals of squeamishness. Juliet had a phobia about even the thought of breasts treated roughly.

flyers and book cover 008The Perfect Gift, Bound, Lights! Camera! Orgy! and Teenage Playmates were my first videos (1979).

On the second series of videos, I was determined to overcome the technical foul-ups.

Next post: Shooting Peach Fuzz, Chained and The Awakening of Emily: Beyond the Boundaries

The “Smut Glut” Part 2: Scams

As the porn video industry plunged into depression in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s because of too many titles clogging the market, shooting new movies became too expensive to be profitable. Still, porn companies had to keep cranking out releases to keep their cash flow numbers up.  The solution? Cheat.

(Passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics.)

Desperate manufacturers pumped out “wraparounds (new footage ‘wrapped around’ old)” and compilations—if you had three or more scenes of an obscure model named Connie Lingus, you released The Best of Connie Lingus.  Some simply retitled old movies, put them in new boxes, and sent them out as brand new releases.  AVN called companies such as Limelight Releasing, notorious for retitling old product, “pariahs, predators and scum.”  

Hollywood Video’s Seka’s Teenage Diary boasted of “exclusive, never-seen-before footage of the platinum blonde beauty when she was just a teenager.”  VCR’s The Lost Episodes of Seka was also hyped as “never-before-seen on video.”  Both titles used footage from 1978 shows released by now-defunct Scorpio Etc.  Desperate for a cheap new Superior Video title, I, too, was guilty of using old footage.

The premise of The Reincarnation of Don Juan was that Don Juan, languishing in Hell, would be allowed into Heaven if he does a good deed for womankind, whom he had so cavalierly used in his lifetime. His task is to return to Earth and give a woman an orgasm.  The catch is that he is reincarnated as a flea.
    That story angle allowed me to disguise recognizable sex scenes by surrounding bodies with “flames of Hell” created by my “little black box” effects generator. I used change-of-camera-position travel over floors, rugs and ground as the flea’s point-of-view shots.  And I had a good excuse for lots of gynecological close-ups, as the flea narrates his frustrations with the logistics of his task.
    You can fool some of the people some of the time: a reviewer for Adam Film World’s Adult Video Guide wrote, “Lots of plusses here: storyline, sex, camerawork, editing—it all comes together…”   But savvy viewers and distributors screamed in outrage, and I never tried the “old footage” scam again.

Running out of title names for their onslaught of new releases, producers took to ripping off Hollywood.   Among the gems filling a page in SKINFLICKS  were Gonad the Barbarian, Jane Bond Meets Thunderballs, Ramb-OHH!  and the incomparable Yank My Doodle, It’s a Dandy. There were also Sister Dearest, Daddy Dearest and Mommy Queerest.

Walt Disney Productions sued Ventura Video, fearing the public would confuse the hardcore In and Out in Beverly Hills with Disney’s Down and Out in same.

Pornographers are always worried that their competitors would beat them to something new—such as exploiting a hot new girl before they had a chance to overuse her.  “I shot this picture with Shanna McCullough called Ecstacy.” Spinelli told me. “So just when I released it, this schmuck (Lawrence T. Cole of Now Showing) releases this cheap piece of shit under me called Xtacy—spelled with an ‘X’—with Shanna on the box. All I could move was 1500 pieces.”  Spinelli swore he’d never again mention the name of a title…until it was ready to hit the street.  Years later I was doing sound for Spinelli and asked him the name of the movie we were making.  Spinelli replied, “Number 1027.”

Then there were the “Debbie” debacles.  After the sequels to the original hit reached Mark Curtis’s Debbie Does Dallas IV, producers branched out with Debbie Goes to College, Debbie Does ‘Em All, and Night of the Living Debbies.  Bob Vosse directed Debbie Duz Dishes, and Spinelli couldn’t resist And I Do Windows Too…Richard Aldrich announced in AVN his plans for Bang the Debbie Slowly.  Wanting their own “Debbie” title to cover as much porn turf as possible, Essex Video called their 1987 release Debbie Does the Devil in Dallas.

As sales numbers continued to drop like dead Debbies, pornographers resorted to gimmicks. An order of any size for Caballero’s Stiff Competition came with an exploding penis slinky in a can…Twenty lucky people pulled out their Beverly Hills Copulator cassettes and found a gift certificate for “the dream date of a lifetime with Traci Lords.”  Howard Farber of Video-X-Pix complained that things had gone too far when he was offered cassette boxes that were supposed to contain human pubic hair.

Unable to market his legal-aged videos profitably, my mob-connected, ex-employer Tony Romano toed the borderline of child porn with Little Kimmi Johnson. The giggly, coltish Kimmi’s disclaimer that she is really 19 years old and merely “re-living” on videotape the adventures and fantasies of her girlhood didn’t stop police agencies from busting the tape.  Scenes of the gamine in parochial plaid skirts and bobby sox, seducing her science teacher, her mother’s boyfriend and the mother herself clearly violated the L. A. ordinance against depicting underaged sex.  With no other companies willing to risk competing in this “market,” Kimmi did well enough for the daring Romano to bring out “her kid sister,” Little Muffy Johnson.

With cutthroat competition came casualties.  When the elephants fight, goes a business saying, the ants get stomped.  Yet, as elephants crashed to the ground, enterprising ants crawled over them.  The “Smut Glut” Part 3: The Victors and the Vanquished will tell why some fell, while others didn’t, and how “ants” exploited outlier niche markets featuring such “specialties” as gang-bangs, transsexuals, midgets, enemas, and the female posterior.