Shooting DEVIATIONS Part 2: A Sexual Circus

No movie–porno or otherwise–gets made without some fancy behind-the-scenes work of agents who deal with whining stars, demanding directors, pompous producers, and–rarely–nice guys like me.

flyers and book cover 004That’s why I always made sure to thank Joe Elliot for being like the oil in the engine of Bay Area porn.  And no flick required more lubrication (both figuratively and literally) than Deviations.

Consider Elliot’s feats:

  • Lining up a nightclub whose owners didn’t mind their quarters hosting the mess of a massive orgy.
  • Finding a lecherous audience through The Berkeley Party Hotline who accepting $1 each to sign releases allowing use of their images.
  • Hiring professional musicians to record the songs he’d written for Deviations, playing his synthesizer and soothing the inevitable clashes of creative musical egos.
  • Casting, including the debut of one of my all-time favorites, future porn Hall-of-Famer Shanna McCullough.
  • And, finally, offering his photographic talents and the stud skills of his own scrawny self. (My girlfriend observed, “He’s big in only one place.”)

Joe Elliot gave something more to the making of Deviations: his heart and soul.  The movie provided a platform for exercising his passions for music, photography and sex with pretty girls.

The ingredients:  Funky nightclub on the uneasy border between Berkeley and Oakland; rowdy crowd of leering voyeurs; enough video, lighting and sound equipment to turn the place into a snake pit of foot-snagging cables. And, of course, the “Deviations” themselves: four young ladies ready to screw their butts off in the name of erotic art.

What could possibly go wrong?

For obvious reasons, I allowed no alcohol.  But the skunky aroma of pot smoke soon filled the club.  Some things you just can’t control. Especially things that come from “Berserkely.”

When I asked Joe Elliot who our security team would be, he replied, “Rudy.”

“Rudy?  Just one guy?”

“Rudy will be enough.”

I doubted that.  Until I met Rudy, an African-American mountain of muscle. His massive presence assured good manners like a deity from Smash-face Hell .

b & w pictures from authorhouse 013
The Deviations: (Left to Right) Adrienne Bellaire, Connie Lindstrom, Shanna McCullough, Robyn Everett

The music went well.  The ladies had practiced enough with the recorded soundtrack to actually appear to be hitting the right frets, drumbeats and synthesizer keys.  As noted in the previous post, Shanna McCullough’s flawless lip-synching fooled the audience into thinking that the group was actually performing the songs.

b & w pictures from authorhouse 010
Dancers in DEVIATIONS

The dancing was as wild as I’d hoped.  A bare-bottomed girl ripped the shirt off a gentleman whose grin indicated he didn’t mind  sacrificing the garment.  Women thrust themselves before a distortion mirror, making boobs and butts burst forth like 3-D explosions.  Willem Lowen danced with a boa constrictor curled around his torso. (He managed one of America’s largest vivariums, the source of both his boa and Shanna McCullough’s.)

One lady, transfixed by the snake, was about to touch its probing tongue with her own, until the watchful Joe Elliot rushed up to tell her to back off.  He was lawsuit phobic after being sued by a stoned woman who, during one of his many parties, had crashed through his patio glass door.

Passionately involved with every detail of Deviations, Elliot–a natural worrier–was more hyper-vigilant than usual.  I, on the other hand, slipped into my detached, director mindset that protected me from Oh-My-God anxiety.  A patina of calm is necessary for both battlefield commanders and over-reaching pornographers.

Keeping a cool head helps you think better.  Like when a couple of porn-hero wannabes complained to me that all Connie Lindstrom wanted to do was fellatio. They wanted more.

b & w pictures from authorhouse 008
Connie Lindstrom (bottom)

( From SKINFLICKS) The fiance of blonde Scandinavian beauty Connie Lindstrom gave her genital herpes just before her debut in Deviations. She was embarrassed about revealing to her screen partners the reason she was limited to fellatio, so I told them, “In the script,Connie’s character only gives blow jobs.” In gratitude for my explanation, she gave me virtuoso performances.

There are problems a director can’t experience.  Like when a lanky (in all anatomical parts) Charles Manson look-alike called Animal leaped onto the stage to tryst with Adrienne Bellaire and Robyn Everett.

b & w pictures from authorhouse 009
Adrienne Bellaire in DEVIATIONS

He had hitch-hiked from a commune in Oregon just to perform in the movie.  As Adrienne later told me, “He probably didn’t have time to bathe.”  Both Adrienne and Robyn manged to hide their repugnance.  Real troupers, those girls.

Deviations became one of the top five best-selling adult videos of 1983.

Next Post:  How three movies I made in 1985 became officially child pornography.

 

 

Shooting DEVIATIONS: Big-budget Rock-and-Roll Epic. Debut of Future Legend Shanna McCullough.

You know how a gambler gets on a roll and then bets his entire winnings on one toss of the dice?

flyers and book cover 004
Cover photo: Adrienne Bellaire and Robyn Everett. Side photos (top to bottom): Connie Lindstrom, Adrienne Bellaire, Shanna McCullough, Robyn Everett

That’s how I felt making Deviations. 

After the success of All the King’s Ladies and Physical, I upped the budget for Superior Video’s rock-n-roll epic.  But I didn’t figure on spending more than the cost of both those two previous pictures combined.

But that’s what I did. Somebody stop me!

And there was another gamble: giving a critical starring role to a brand new lady making her XXX debut.  That goes against all porn wisdom.

New girls might freak out. You want to break them in gradually.

(Passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics.)

Anticipating sex before a camera can be more nerve-wracking than the experience itself. In her first six months, Ginger Lynn would only do nude modeling, turning down one lucrative “commercial”* gig after another. The exquisite brunette, Nina Alexander, was so nervous before her first on-screen sex scene that she threw up.

*(“Commercial”: Industry term for hardcore sex.)

So when agent Joe Elliot introduced me to a lovely chestnut-haired ingenue, I knew that giving her the starring role as the singer in a babe-band-gone-dirty was a big risk.

b & w pictures from authorhouse 011
Shanna McCullough’s incredible lip-sync performance

But I had a hunch that Shanna McCullough was one special lady.

Was I ever right! Deviations marked the “screen cherry” role of an adult movie legend.

I figured on doing some fancy sync editing to make it seem like Shanna was actually singing. But no trick editing was needed.

A buzz went through the audience. The singer on the stage had stopped singing, but her voice was still pumping through the big speakers.

b & w pictures from authorhouse 012
Left to right: Connie Lindstrom, Adrienne Bellaire, Shanna McCullough, Robyn Everett. Plot: The Four Foxes seek fame, fortune and rent money by becoming The Deviations and going raunchy.

It was the sixth take (so the two cameras could record all possible angles) of the four-girl rock band’s opening number, “We’re the Deviations.” The “singer,” Shanna McCullough, had been lip-syncing to a recorded professional’s voice so well that, until she stopped mid-song to point out that the audio operator had lined up the wrong take, the audience had thought she really was doing the singing. Realizing that this lady–a porno actress no less–was giving a remarkable performance, they burst into applause.

Superior Video had the distinction of shooting Shanna McCullough’s first-ever screen sex.  Would it be immodest to claim that this was the scene that launched a legend?

Her “screen cherry” debut with Mike Horner was so sizzling hot that during a break, I swore I saw steam rising from her bottom.

Shanna was no dewy-eyed ingenue.  She was a professional actress, starring every Saturday night in a Berkeley stage production of The Rocky Horror Show.

In her early 20’s, the East Bay sophisticate had a wardrobe of kinky outfits and an eight-foot boa constrictor that would later crawl all over her naked body in Deviations. She had that wholesome enthusiasm of a sex player absolutely free of guilt about her erotic adventures.

Needless to say, the seasoned actress had no problem performing before a nightclub audience whose idea of fun was to get down-and-dirty with the cast.

Next post (within a few days, I promise): Shooting Deviations, Part 2:  A Sexual Circus.

 

 

 

 

The “Smut Glut.” How the Porn Movie Industry almost Destroyed Itself Part 1: Stupidity

The distributor was screaming obscenities so fast in his New York accent that my office manager, Allyssa couldn’t understand him.  She had phoned to ask when Superior Video could expect overdue payment.  Between F-bombs, Allyssa managed to learn that the man’s partner had just been murdered. Sixteen .22 slugs in the head—the result of a much more serious unpaid debt.  Another of Superior’s distributors had just lost his warehouse to “arson.” (“For the insurance,” Allyssa guessed.)   And Ferris Alexander of AB Distributors in Minnesota, also in arrears, was preoccupied with the aftermath of an anti-porn demonstrator immolating herself in one of his bookstores.

In 1986, the porn video business became afflicted with three crises: the Traci Lords scandal (Chapter 12 in SKINFLICKS), the newly-declared War on Porn (the fried demonstrator being an extreme manifestation of the hysteria) and—the worst of the three—the “Smut Glut,” for which the industry had only itself to blame.

(Passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics.)

We were entering a time of rip-offs, lawsuits, arsons, and even murders; a time of bitter price wars, when even large, long-established companies would go bankrupt; a time when production of big-budget X-rated motion pictures would end.

The cause?  The same thing that had made Superior Video, Inc., successful.  We were the first to shoot full-length adult features entirely on videotape, with budgets of $20,000 instead of the $60-70,000 it would cost to shoot the same movies in 35 millimeter film.  For the first half of the 1980s, we produced hits like All the King’s Ladies, Physical, Night Moves, Running Wild, Chocolate Cream and our most lavish production, Deviations ($35,000 budget).   Our philosophy was to create adult movies as good as the 1970s “Golden Age of Porn” films. (Such as The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Sex World, and Behind the Green Door.)   When our competitors discovered the ease and economy of shooting in videotape, they didn’t share Superior’s philosophy.

Instead, they followed the pornographer’s dictum: If it works once, do it a thousand times. They began cranking out cheap videos.  Adult Video News noted that the number of porn video releases soared from 400 in 1983 to 1100 in ’84 and 1610 in ’85.  The market couldn’t absorb them all.  “There used to be 25 new titles a month and the store owner would buy 15 or 20 of them,” lamented VCA’s Russ Hampshire. “He’s still buying the same number of tapes, but now he has hundreds to choose from.”   Retailers began buying those 15 or 20 videos based on price alone.  As prices plunged, so did pornographers’ profits.  Companies had to crank out more titles to maintain their cash flows: a vicious cycle.  Something had to give, and that something was quality.

“What’s the difference between the old silent 8 millimeter loops and the video features of today?” asked reviewer Steve Austin in the February ’91 AVN issue. His answer: “The guys take their sox off now.”  

In the mid-‘80s, director Bruce Seven groaned, “What kind of quality can you turn out in two days?”  By 1993, the “one-day wonder” had become standard, and AVN editor Gene Ross recalled Seven’s earlier complaint: “Seven, as any other director in the business, would probably kill for that kind of latitude nowadays.”   Then, even one-day wonders became too expensive.

Henri Pachard was forced to crank out three features in one day! (Not as impossible as it sounds: the trick is to shoot three separate dialog scenes with the same cast on each setup, to fit three separate stories.)  

The demand for tons of titles at micro-budgets led to the Stallion Productions debacle of 100 titles in thirty days, after which the producers and their tapes disappeared without paying cast and crew.  AVN’s Gene Ross made the sarcastic prediction that “thanks to new Japanese technology that actually condenses time, some adult video company will hit on the brilliant concept of producing 100 videos in thirty minutes.”

As the downward vortex continued, porn companies resorted to cutting out production entirely.  The “Smut Glut.” Part 2: Scams will discuss “wraparounds,” re-titles, Hollywood rip-offs, Disney lawsuits, “borderline” child porn, bankruptcy epidemics, and desperate promotions such as pubic hair in cassette boxes.

My All-time Favorite Stars: Shanna McCullough

A buzz went through the audience.  The singer had stopped singing, but her voice continued.  She called out to someone offstage, “That’s the wrong cut!”
During the previous five takes (needed for changes in camera angles) the “singer” had been lip-syncing so perfectly that the audience had thought she was actually doing the singing.  As they realized that this woman—a porn actress no less—was turning in a great performance, the crowd burst into applause.

Shanna McCullough, “singing” in Deviations

When I cast Shanna McCullough for a lead role in my 1983 extravaganza, Deviations, I was taking a chance.  Women who are new to porn might freeze up or panic when they are called upon to have sex under hot lights, with a crew watching and a director barking orders.  Standard practice had been to break in ingénues as “nude extras,” who shed their clothes in a film but don’t have sex.  But when I met Shanna at agent Joe Elliot’s casting session, I had a hunch that she was one special lady.  I was so right!

This redhead with the creamy, alabaster skin and luminous eyes was much more sexually sophisticated than most porn newcomers. Shanna and her husband (at that time) were swingers. She had a wardrobe of kinky outfits. She was a professional actress, starring every Saturday night in a Berkeley stage production of The Rocky Horror Show.  She also had an eight-foot boa constrictor that crawled all over her nude body in Deviations.

From SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry Her “screen cherry” debut with Mike Horner was so sizzling hot that during a break, I swore I saw steam rising from her bottom.

Shanna McCullough in Night Moves

Of course, I gave her the starring role in my next video, Night Moves.  Shanna McCullough would go on to make over 200 movies in the next seven years, establishing herself as one of porn’s all-time great stars.  She was an inspiration to others: In his speech at the 1991 AVN Awards, Rick Savage said, “I want to thank the first actress I ever had sex with in a video. Because if she hadn’t been so hot and such a fucking inspiration, I may not have ever made another video. So thank you, Shanna McCullough!”  (In contrast, a future post will recount how the bitch-goddess Barbara Dare had the opposite effect on another would-be screen stud.)

As described in SKINFLICKS, Shanna’s performance in a Henri Pachard flick, left one of porn’s prima donna-type actresses puzzled: “So that was Shanna McCullough.  She’s a big star.  But she didn’t act like a star.”  Pachard sighed. “The real ones never do.”

Shanna’s retirement in pursuit of a mainstream career was another class act.  Unlike most adult actresses who skulk away licking their wounds and snarling invective, Shanna wrote a letter to AVN (May ’91 issue), thanking readers for voting her into the magazine’s Hall of Fame. “I had such a good time when I made my first movie, Deviations,” she wrote, “that I wanted to do it again.”  She thanked directors, actors and porn fans, adding, “I got a chance to live out many of my fantasies…I met a lot of great people, made some close friends and got to travel around the world. What more could you ask for in a job?”

Evidently she could ask for more.  Shanna McCullough “unretired” and went on to choose certain, select roles in adult movies throughout the next decade.

Should pornographers have sex with performers?

Breaking my “hands off” policy with Candy Samples at a trade show.

New girls in porn don’t know the limits of their obligations. The late director Anthony Spinelli told me about directing one neophyte’s screen cherry scene. After it was over, she asked him if she was done. “I kept a straight face,” said Spinelli. “And I told her, ‘Not yet.  For new girls it’s a long-standing tradition that the entire crew gets in on the action,’ She ponders this for a moment, then asks, ‘I get extra for that don’t I?’”

Some new girls don’t even get extra.  Sleazy “agents (some named in my book)” have been known to “audition” would-be porn queens by having sex with them.  Many pornographers (mostly newcomers) think, I’m the one paying her to screw. Why shouldn’t I get some? But, as veterans know, giving in to the temptation is bad business.  Why?  Because paid professional sex, even accompanied by genuine orgasms, remains within the safety zone of an acting performance.  But when interpersonal emotions get involved, it’s like treading a minefield.

One of the most difficult scenes I ever directed—recounted in detail in SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry—involved a young woman named Rita who was in a snit over something that had happened between her and my still photographer, Kenny, who was Rita’s agent and lover.  The following dialogue is from SKINFLICKS:
          “Take a picture of me, Kenny,” she said. “NOW!”
          “OK.” Kenny raised his Hasselblad. “Expression, Rita.”  She remained impassive. “Rita…expression…”
           “I gave it to you, Kenny,” she snapped.
           “I didn’t see it, Babe.”
           “I gave it to you and you missed it.”
           “Oh, come on,” Kenny pleaded. “Let’s do it.”
           “No. Wait. I’ll tell you when.”
           Kenny lowered the camera.  Rita shook a long fingernail at him. “No! You keep that camera over your face!”

After participating in the scene like a dental patient facing a root canal, Rita suddenly wanted to have sex—with me!  She wanted to trade a quickie for a multi-speed vibrator she had become fond of.  I turned her down. It wasn’t the first time a porn actress offered me sex and it wouldn’t be the last.  I had a policy of maintaining a “professional distance,” which was not always easy to do.

The gorgeous blonde sexual volcano Lily Marlene, one of my Superior Video favorites, kept invited me over for some fun.  If I hadn’t been engaged at the time, I might have taken her up on the offer. Sex to her was pure recreation without the need for emotional involvement. Her husband, fearing HIV transmission, finally put a stop to her attendance at bachelor parties, where she could exhaust all men present.  Lily did get to me for a few startling moments after the wrap of the Deviations shoot. I was in an office at the nightclub where the climactic scene had been shot. I was making out checks for the huge cast waiting in line outside the door for their pay.  When Lily’s turn came, I was busy with my pen when—under the desk—I felt my pants being unzipped.  For a moment I savored the pleasant sensations Lily was providing. Then the sobering reality of the impatient group outside the door took over and I passed Lily’s check under the desk.

The closest I came to actual sex with a porn star was during a break on the set of Chocolate Cream. It was a hot day and I was relaxing on a couch wearing only shorts. Mauvaise de Noire, a beautiful black woman who was soon to become a major star, was grateful for the starring role I had given her, and I felt lucky to have cast her. Wearing only her birthday suit, she sat down on my lap ready for some extra action. A cameraman offered to shoot close-ups, hiding my face, but I became camera-shy, reflecting that if my fiancée ever saw the footage, she might be able to recognize me from the part that showed.

The weirdest of possible sex offerings I ever encountered came on the set of my appropriately weird outer space video, E.X.  The following passage is from SKINFLICKS:
    After we wrapped, I found out why Gayle hauled Dennis around like excess baggage.  She motioned me to a stairwell, away from the crew packing up the equipment. Like a cop about to frisk a suspect, Gayle leaned Dennis against the rail. Chattering about how well-hung he was, she unbuckled his belt and pulled down his pants.  I wondered what this was all about; Dennis didn’t work in porn movies.  Then I recalled how the couple had kept telling me about their exploits swinging with third parties—both male and female.  Gayle alone I might have considered, but I wanted no part of this scene.  To this couple, Gayle’s porn work was part of their elaborate fantasy life.

The line between professional and non-professional sex was best drawn by my future housemate, the late superstar Juliet (“Aunt Peg”) Anderson.  My early business partner Joe Loveland (a pseudonym) had written himself into The Perfect Gift, playing an Arab oil sheik, his face carefully hidden in a burnoose.  He enjoyed his scene with Juliet so much that he proposed an encore in private.  From SKINFLICKS:
          “I never have sexual relations with the producers I work for,” she told him.
          “You had sexual relations with me,” Loveland said.
          “But that was work.”
          Later on, he told me, “I’ve never been so insulted in my whole life!”  I decided that any future business partners would have to be less libidinously involved in the product development process.

If you want to have sex with a porn queen, write yourself into the script and make sure you pay her and that the camera is rolling.