Shooting The Perfect Gift: Hard Lessons Learned

Every movie you make teaches you something new. The shooting of The Perfect Gift–only my second video production–presented enough lessons to make me feel like a kindergartener taking Quantum Physics 101.

Lesson #1: Hire only professionals. (Text from SKINFLICKS is in italics.)

flyers and book cover 017(My business partner)Joe had written his swinger friends into the shoot…these sex party stalwarts became camera-conscious and couldn’t stay erect. Fortunately, the reliable Don Fernando stunt-cocked enough penetration close-ups to add hardcore to all the “sim” (simulated) action.

Joe’s excuse for his buddies was that they thought they’d be working with the dreamy-eyed star Dorothy LeMay, who’d cancelled due to vaginal injuries inflicted during a stage-show at the Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theater by Annette Haven’s over-zealous dildo work. Instead, the men were stuck with lanky, horse-faced Liza, another of the Bay Area’s Jill-of-all-sex-trades call-girls.

Lesson #2: For Every piece of Equipment have a Twin.

Shotgun microphones quit because of trampled cables. Our rich-boy videographer, Denny, hadn’t brought any backups….Torrential rains drummed the roof and windows, making audio–now recorded on weak in-camera microphones–unusable.

Lesson #3.  Pay Cash, not Promises.

Then Denny went on strike. He’d made a deal for six percent
of gross profits instead of cash. Now he concluded that the
miserable shoot would never make a profit and he wanted cash
instead. I was mad enough to punch him out, but I didn’t know
how to work his gear. We agreed to pay him cash.

Lesson #4: Realize that there are Worse Things than a F&*%ed-up Production.

On Sunday morning, something put the shoot into
perspective. In the continuing downpour, the 220-volt line
clamped into the main power box on the side of Joe’s house fell
off. The set went dark.

Standing in the water rushing down the steep hillside, I said a prayer.

Despite gloves and boots, the rain could create an unbroken surface of water from the box to my feet. A 220-volt zap meant instant death. I let the spring clamp snap onto the electrode and pulled my hand away just as a fat blue spark erupted. It felt wonderful to be alive. I wedged a bucket over the box to protect it.

Lesson #5: Choose Porno Business Partners whose only Interest is Making Money. 

Before I left for L.A., Joe made a comment that led to our
three-year business partnership. I’d complained about the hassles
of shooting porn, and Joe said, “I think you’re very fortunate. For
fifty years I’ve wanted to make pictures about sex.”

He had script ideas, a great location, and knew northern
California models. He wasn’t rich but had a few thousand to
invest. I had movie-making skills and access to distribution. We
discussed collaboration.

There was one caveat: Joe said, “If I can’t get laid out of the deal, then this venture isn’t worthwhile for me.”

Getting laid turned out to be the least of his problems.

Joe was finding that being a first-time porn director was like laying bricks during an earthquake; you put one up and two fall off.

And it’s even worse when you’re also trying to be an actor and have to get it up.

Next: Shooting The Perfect Gift, Part 2: Are things finally Going Right?  The House Built for Orgies.  Juliet Anderson’s famous BJ.  The Branded Slave Girl who freaks out Juliet.  And how to put your putz in porn but not your punum.


Shooting LIGHTS! CAMERA! ORGY! Part 3: Lovely Rita Malice Maid

On looks alone, Rita should have been an adult movie sensation.  As described in SKINFLICKS, she had jet-black hair falling straight to her waist, globular breasts, and an oval face with fine features and large dark eyes.  But her naturally exotic beauty was marred by a hard, glazed look and the languid manner of a veteran hooker.

During the shooting of LIGHTS! CAMERA! ORGY!  She was also stoned on Quaaludes.

She wasn’t always this way.  Superstud Mike Ranger told me that when Rita had been his girlfriend, she was witty and fun.  But he had broken up with her after…she changed.

I don’t think Kenny the Agent was good for her.  This caricature of a sleazy pornographer hid behind mirrored shades and a beard, clutching an ever-present beer.  Though married, he cheated on his wife with Rita.

Instead of boosting her to the $1000-a-day stardom enjoyed by another raven-haired beauty, Annette Haven, Kenny had Rita  working for $50 in my loops–and in the videotape documentary I was making of the 16-millimeter loop shoot.

My client, who was paying me for the loops didn’t know I was shooting the video.  If he found out, I was afraid he and his scary underworld partner might retaliate.

The following weirdness is from SKINFLICKS.  This scene was written as a direct transcription from the videotape footage:

Before we could begin, Phil called. “Just wanted to see how
things are going,” he said. “By the way, how’s the video?”

“The video?” How did he know about that?
“Yeah. You are shooting video, aren’t you?”
I sat down on the couch. “You mean the…the experiment?”

Rita’s naked body passed in front of me, followed by
Denny’s camera. She raised a breast toward the lens. A nipple
protruded between long auburn fingernails. She parodied a sigh.
“Well?” Phil pursued. “Is the video usable or what?”

“I don’t know, Phil. I’m concentrating on the loops.”

Rita sat next to me. Ace sat on her other side. He began
kissing her and fondling her breasts. Sedated, she didn’t care who
did what with her. Denny widened out to show all three of us
while I assured Phil the loops were looking fantastic.

Ace plunged his hand between Rita’s legs. She spread them
wide, and one landed in my lap, followed by her hand. “Speaking
of fantastic, Phil, I got some of that right here. Rita, give Phil a

She made an exaggerated smooch into the phone, adding a
long sigh. I told Phil I’d call him later.

“OK,” I said, “let’s make a movie”–leaving Ace grumpy
about being denied his quickie. Rita flashed Denny one last split
beaver shot, prompting Patrick to sigh, “I should’ve gone into
“This is the next best thing,” I said. “Let’s get to work.”
We didn’t get very far.

When John was hard, Rita began to straddle him in
“cowgirl” position, then exclaimed, “Stop! Stop right now!”

Her period had started. We turned out the lights and Rita
inserted sponges. “Let’s do missionary,” I said. “That way the
blood will mostly stay inside. How’s that sound, Rita?”

She flipped a middle finger at the monitor. “Huh? I was
looking at that picture over there.”

I asked Ace to turn the lights on. Still sulking over his
aborted quickie, he said, “No. I’m just the loader.”

I crossed the room to turn them on myself. “Fuck you, Ace.”
“Try it.”

In missionary position, John began to build momentum.
Rita’s eyelids opened and closed as if they weighed ten pounds
each. “I’m gonna give you an expression of pain,” she said. “’Cuz
it hurts.” Not listening, Kenny chirped, “Expression, Rita.”

John lost his erection. Rita went for the Albolene, with
Denny behind her. He had decided she was the story. “This guy’s
driving me crazy,” she said.
“He’s doing his job,” I growled. “Pretend he isn’t there.”
“I can just ignore him?”

Instead, she spread her legs to Denny’s camera with a comic
expression of glee.

John kept going soft through spoon and doggie positions,
needing Rita’s trance-like fellatio.

Bothered by Denny’s zoom lens hovering next to her, Rita tossed her long hair over her head so it blocked her face.

Trying to shoot from her other side, Denny pulled his cables taut and shorted out his audio.

Later, I’d scream curses when the screen suddenly went
silent, just before four photographers–Ace, Kenny, Denny and
me–scrambled for shooting angles as John, without warning,
pulled his flaccid penis out of Rita’s mouth and began coming.

After taking so long to get up for each position, he’d finished by
ejaculating prematurely.

Afterwards, I felt sour enough to deny Rita the multi-speed
vibrator she wanted. I told her it cost $30 (it retailed for $16.95).
Rita offered me her body, but I wasn’t interested. Kenny was; he
steered Rita into my bedroom for a quickie. Ace wasn’t invited,
adding to his petulance.


Next Post: Shooting LIGHTS! CAMERA! ORGY!  Part 4: Pete Rose and Orgasmus Interruptus 




Starlets or Harlots Part 2: The Perils of Porn Stardom

Mauvaise de Noire, Billy Dee and Lisa DeLeeuw

Lisa DeLeeuw described one of her worst experiences.  Working for Svetlana (“Sweatlana”) Marsh, spending 20-hour days shivering in an unheated sound stage, living on “stale donuts, coffee and hot dogs,” the voluptuous redhead came down with a bad cold and conjunctivitis—“pink eye.”  (Passages from SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry are in italics.)
By the fifth day, “I just couldn’t go on like that. All of a sudden, I passed out. For half an hour. When I came to, Svetlana says, ‘You just sit there in the corner…you’re background. Fine.
“Well, I’m doing that and all of a sudden Jamie (Gillis) comes over and decides to pull me into the scene, grabbing my arms and yanking me in.  So I’m playing the scene and Jamie has this stupid cattle whip that he’s holding in the middle so the handle is on one end and the cat-o’-nine-tails on the other. And he’s slinging it like a double pendulum and he catches me—WHACK—right across the bridge of my nose, which he breaks.  I just freaked!  I blew up and grabbed the whip and started yelling, ‘I’m gonna kill you!’ And the cameraman is up above us on a beam, and he goes, ‘Oh, this is great! Keep goin’!’”

When a woman enters porn she faces two kinds of challenges: those on the set and those away from it.  On the set, a porn starlet quickly learns that what the male wants is gospel.  If she interrupts a scene because her leg is cramping, she risks causing a lost erection.  If it can’t be retrieved, the blame is hers. Once the stud has delivered, the director wants to hurry on to the next scene, regardless of how turned on an actress might be.  (Rather than be left high and wet, stars like Annette Haven and Lilly Marlene recruited crew members to help them “finish up.”)  Then there are the directors whose grandiose visions of sizzling sex push women beyond their limits.

“Whatever your natural inclinations are, they play on them,” said an anonymous actress in a 1980 Adam Film World interview.  The graphic details she added are recounted in SKINFLICKS.  Serena’s forced retirement came after a shoot that almost killed her. After a filmed contest to see if she could handle more men than Mai Lin, Serena not only took on more than forty studs but also their microbes. “My doctor said the germs ganged up,” Serena told me. “My belly swelled up like I was pregnant.” Delirious from septic shock, she spent months hospitalized with severe pelvic inflammatory disease…The filmmaker didn’t even send a get-well card.

After enough unpleasant surprises, actresses come to regard all directors as exploiters. Some play the game of balking at every request and negotiating every detail.  And directors come to expect actresses to be lazy whores, out to get maximum dollar for minimal effort…”The nicer you treat the performers,” observed porn historian Holliday, “the more likely they are to shit on you.”

New ladies were afraid to balk at pornographer’s directions for fear of being called “difficult.” Compounding the physical rigors were the non-stop months of serial 14-hour days needed to build a six-figure nest egg.  In Adult Video News, director Bruce Seven complained, “By the time they get to me, a lot of the performers are half-dead from overwork.” He followed that statement with a graphic description of what he meant.

One way for ladies to cope with the demands was through cocaine, which became epidemic in the frenzy of video shoots during the 1980s. Stressed-out actresses often find that on a porn set, things do go better with coke, at first.  It dulls pain, creates euphoria, gives a feeling of boundless energy, and—many ladies claim—makes them horny.  They can work longer hours, earn more money, and chase off all the bad feelings waiting in ambush after the action ends.

The poster girl for cocaine addiction was the late Shauna Grant. Her whispered nickname “Applecoke” was a play on her real surname, Applegate.  Whether her death was a suicide, as porn critics claim, or murder by drug dealers, hers was a worst-case scenario of life away from the porn set, where a whole new world of challenges awaited.

Kristara Barrington said former high school friends in Illinois now called her a slut.  On finding out Ginger Lynn was a porn star, her bank manager stopped treating her as a respected customer and even refused to validate her parking.  Locals pasted sex magazine photos of Shauna Grant on her former high school locker.  Relatives and spouses of porn stars become resigned to receiving anonymous packages with hate messages scrawled on pictures of the star.  I delivered a script to Lilly Marlene and was reviewing its highlights with her when something crashed against the back door.  “It’s those kids again,” she sighed.  They’d bang on the door and leave obscene messages.

If porn haters weren’t bad enough, there were the porn lovers. Lisa DeLeeuw described her first unplanned public encounter with porn fans. “I was in the frozen food section.  I’m trying to decide whether it will be fish sticks tonight or pizza, and suddenly some little Jewish guy comes running up and goes, ‘Oh, I saw you last night on the video.  You were fucking Jamie Gillis!’ And all these little old Jewish ladies—the store is right in the heart of a Jewish neighborhood, Ralph’s Market on Sunset—they all drop their matzo balls and go ‘What?’ And they follow me all around the store and I hear, ‘Oh, I really like you!’ ‘I watch you very week!’” Those were the nice fans.  There was also the kind that the late porn historian Jim Holliday called “the Toad Patrol.”

Porn fame meant gross encounters of the worst kind: Grandpa (Al Lewis) Munster posing for photos at a trade show and–to quote AVN—“goosing the smut starlets.”  An inmate sent Debi Diamond a plastic baggie of semen.  Someone posing as a cop called porn companies, trying to get the address of Kelly O’Dell…these fans stalk starlets from one club date to the next, steal their purses at trade shows, whisper lewd comments as they sign autographs, grab flesh and later brag to their friends that they actually bedded the star they hunger after. Who’s to disprove them?

In the SKINFLICKS account of Juliet Anderson’s premier party for Educating Nina, a drunken neighbor, braying for sex, kept returning after being turned away,.  I finally told him that one of the guests was a former Green Beret interrogator who would subject him to “…involuntary unleashing of bladder and bowel functions.”  That statement made him stay home; he turned out to be innocuous. More diabolical was a rock band whose album Love Letters to Joanna Storm included the romantic .38 Caliber Kiss. The band kept pestering porn people to give them Ms. Storm’s address.

Having ruminated over the nature of porn fans, I came to the following conclusion:  There are contradictions in the American male’s attitude toward the porno queen: his frustrated lust for her versus his impulse to condemn her; his desire to meet her and impress her versus his fear of her scorn for his inadequacies.  He hides his conflicts behind rough, macho swagger.

Porn fans can be avoided (or at least relegated to limited exposure), but there are some people whom porn princesses can’t escape: their significant others.  Porn agent Jim South described a malady he called “boyfriendinitis.” Its sobbing victims would call him to cancel shoots due to black eyes and chipped teeth.  A rock musician, quoted in the Bay Area magazine, Spectator, said, “Strippers and porn stars are a lot like rock n’ roll groupies…They don’t have a lot of self-esteem.  Treat ‘em good and they’ll walk all over you; treat ‘em like shit and they’ll worship the ground you walk on.”  His statement notwithstanding, there’s a simpler reason for “boyfriendinitis” violence.

Kristara Barrington lamented, “When I come home to my boyfriend and we make love, I think of it as work almost.”  Musing over why industry love affairs were so short, Juliet Anderson said, “When you drive a bus ten hours a day, you don’t want to spend your vacation on a Greyhound.”  Picture the poor boyfriend, squirming with desire while waiting for his porn queen girlfriend to return from work. He can’t understand why his exhausted lover won’t give him the attention he thinks he deserves.  Not noted for their compassionate sensitivity, porn stars’ boyfriends often react with fists.

Pursuing porn’s promise of wealth, many actresses would echo Samantha Strong’s declaration upon signing a 15-picture contract with Western Visuals: “I do not have, nor do I want, a personal life right now.” Alice Springs put it simply: “I don’t have a boyfriend, thank God.”

Most ladies find X-rated stardom a lonely road, strewn with broken relationships, leering fans, hostile media, angry relatives, menacing cops, back-stabbing competitors and exploitive agents, managers and producers.  They suffer the smirks, snickers, and sermons of a society quick to condemn, slow to forget. Behind their tough-girl act of demands, tantrums, vendettas and lawsuits, many of these “prima donnas,” barely into adulthood are terrified.

Not surprisingly, many porn actresses decided to give up on a lucrative career. On page 20 of the September ’84 issue of Adult Video News, Desiree Lane was hailed as a new starlet with “the potential to become the new Seka”; on page 22 of the same issue, Ron Jeremy’s column announced her retirement.  Adult Video News sarcastically noted the comings and goings: “Samantha Strong…saw agents and producers, got booked solid, then decided to quit every other month.” “Erica Boyer, from all reports, has met another guy and is out of the biz once again. Gentlemen place your bets.”

Leaving the business behind becomes especially frustrating when women find that a past porn career becomes like a stink that won’t wash off.  After dating Michael (“Batman”) Keaton for two years, Serena Robinson told him of her past porn career as “Rachel Ryan.”  Keaton subsequently dumped her.  There are ongoing debates about whether Megan Leigh and Alex Jordan actually committed suicide. Was Leigh shot to death?  Was Jordan’s hanging an autoerotic experiment gone wrong?   One thing both had in common was that they were soured on porn.  There is no question that superstar Savannah (Shannon Wilsey) killed herself.  The temperamental porn queen (Her infamous shoot-stopping declaration: “I’m on break—NOW!”) known for romps with rock stars, Slash and Axl Rose, was being hounded by the IRS. She had wanted to break into “legit” show business like Traci Lords (who used her “child victim” plea) had done, but feared her porn career prevented that.  On July 11, 1995, her drunken ride in her Corvette ended in a crash. Then, in the garage of the Universal City home she had paid cash for, Savannah put a 9-millimeter slug through her head.

Despite the potholes in porn’s road to riches there are women who prospered in porn, proud of their careers.   Part 3 of Starlets or Harlots? will examine what it takes for success without apologies.  I will discuss my all-time favorites, such as Nina Hartley, Shanna McCullough and Lilly Marlene.  I’ll include my worst directing experience ever, with a woman who became one of the biggest stars of the late 1980s.


This is a blog category for stars I have photographed and/or directed, and also porn directors I have worked for. For each of these people, I will describe my experiences with them in the 70s and 80s, followed by an update.
Nina Hartley, 1980s. 
“That’s my butt!” the new lady announced to the audience admiring her race-horse rump, which filled the projection screen. “How do you like my butt?”
This was no shy ingénue, uneasy about the throng at Juliet Anderson’s premier party for Educating Nina staring into her body crevices.  The star of Juliet’s first effort as a producer was proud of her debut.  (Excerpt from SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry.)
Usually, you don’t put a fresh, new woman in a starring role. If the newcomer freezes up, thousands of dollars in production costs could be lost. Most porn actors—both male and female—start out in support roles, sometimes as “nude extras” who perform no actual sex.
But Juliet Anderson, the (late) sex superstar making her producer/director debut in 1984, felt that Nina Hartley was someone special.  At the time, we didn’t know just how special.
I was working as Juliet’s director of photography, fulfilling my part of a trade: In 1982, Juliet had directed my Superior Video, Inc., feature, Physical.  In return, I was to do camerawork for her in the future.  It wasn’t until two years later that Juliet secured the financing for Educating Nina.
That title was ironic:  Nina Hartley turned out to be the educator—the best educator ever to emerge from the sex film industry.  Like Annette Haven, the porn Hall-of-Famer whose career started in the early 70s, Nina used porn acting as a platform to express her views on sex and society.  Nina felt that American sexuality was sick, burdened with guilt, shame and persecution.  She wanted to change that; a Herculean task.   Like Haven, she decried the mating of sex with violence.  In our culture, the term “sex and violence” sounds almost like one word: sexandviolence.  Nina said, “I’d rather have my child watch someone making love, even if it’s a little mechanical, than watching a woman getting decapitated or mutilated.”
Nina had the credentials to teach; she was a registered nurse.  She proudly declared that she had both a husband and a wife. (Nina’s husband, Dave, was a great on-set crew member.)  She became the porn industry’s best spokesperson, appearing on talk shows and other forums, maintaining her dignity and humor while confronting the most virulent of anti-porn agitators.
Nina Hartley

Working on movies in which Nina Hartley appeared—including my own feature video E.X.–I found her to be one of the most upbeat and cheerful performers I’d ever seen, bantering easily with cast and crew.  She once arrived for her scene in a problem-plagued Anthony Spinelli production, and Spinelli’s wife, Roz, exclaimed—as if Nina were a good-luck charm, “Ah! Here she is! The most wonderful woman on this whole shoot has arrived!”

            “I’m not the most wonderful woman here,” Nina replied. “You are. But I’ll take second.”
Nina called herself “a sex industry worker.  I’m a feminist.  I enjoy my work and I don’t feel exploited.  A person who works in a bank and hates it is being exploited.  My job isn’t for everybody.  I’m a bisexual exhibitionist making a good living.”
Over the years (decades!), Nina Hartley has appeared in hundreds of movies, both porn and non-porn.  She has produced her own sex education shows.  Her world-wide fan following has only increased as she has grown older.
A year ago, Nina Hartley underwent surgery to remove a seven pound fibroid tumor (non-cancerous) from her uterus. I’m not surprised that she has recovered completely.  Nina has always been known to take care of her health. What does surprise me is a plea from “Lesley,” on, for Nina’s fans to contribute funds to help cover the costs of her recovery. I’m glad that Nina’s fans came through. She deserves only the best.  I know she didn’t get into porn with the idea of getting rich, and I hope she is financially comfortable.
The porn industry may not be financially comfortable, especially if the new Los Angeles ordinance requiring porn performers to wear condoms is copied in other parts of the country to which porn production might flee.  Nina Hartley has raised her voice against the new law.  It has long been a truism in the porn industry that safe sex doesn’t sell.  Fans want to live their fantasies vicariously; they don’t want to be reminded of sexually transmitted diseases.  It will be interesting to see what will happen next in the world of porn production.