Shooting RUNNING WILD: Does Porn Go Better with Pot?

flyers and book cover 007
Main photo: Valerie LaVeau & Adrienne Bellaire. Small photos (left to right): Dorothea Redd (top), Corrinne (bottom), Sarah O’Hara, Cindy Carver, Willem Lowen

Since Running Wild was shot on a pot farm, the logical question is ‘How does cannabis affect porn performance?’

( Passages From SKINFLICKS are in italics.)

With all the problems of porn production, few directors  sanction the use of drugs on a shoot. During the making of  Prisoner of Paradise, John Holmes was allegedly wired on cocaine when he slugged director Gail Palmer. Seka and her husband also brawled with Holmes at the pig farm location where the aroma made all present a bit cranky. Many ladies “prepare” for screen sex by snorting coke, sometimes causing impotence in men whose penis glans have been numbed by the drug in their partners’ saliva.

OK, so cocaine is NG, but what’s wrong with a little weed?

I regretted the only time I allowed dope to be used during a sex scene. A French couple playing marijuana buyers in Running Wild swore their scene would go better if they smoked real pot instead of tobacco. They were wrong; the man’s penetrations and come shot had to be cut in from my “insert library.” A model whose brain is buzzing with drugs can’t concentrate on both his screen partner and the words of the director.

b & w pictures from authorhouse 028
Preparing for climactic orgy. Left to right: Willem Lowen (in Lotus pose), Billy Dee, Cindy Carver, Joe Elliot

For the big “dope orgy” in Running Wild the pipes being passed contained pure, unadulterated Bull Durham.

You want your cast and crew sober enough to deal with things such as…

More painful intruders than cops invaded Superior’s scenic Running Wild locations on a remote Sonoma County pot farm. A hoard of yellow jackets threatened to turn our sex scenes into bug-bangs, until chunks of hamburger placed well away from the cast and crew diverted the insects.

Production problems too offbeat to prepare for require impromptu solutions. On the rustic Running Wild shoot, a hundred miles from repair facilities, a generator that ran a table full of video gear turned balky. A mechanically-inclined grip earned the shoot’s Most Valuable Player award by dribbling gasoline into a finicky carburetor float, maintaining the precise level required for smooth running during two straight 12-hour work days.

Needless to say, that Most Valuable Player was not stoned, but with his tedious, exacting task he probably wished he was.

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

 

 

 

 

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 Favorite Dead Pornographers

You know you’re getting old when you keep putting the word “late” before the names of people you’ve known.  In the porn world there have been many who died of drugs, AIDS and—as porn’s detractors gleefully point out—suicides.  This isn’t about them. The subject of porn’s casualties will be reserved for a future entry.  This is about people who weren’t casualties, people who prospered through their work in porn, people I’ve enjoyed working with, people who unfortunately checked out before getting the chance to just slowly fade away.  In the order in which I came to know them, they are Jamie Gillis, Juliet Anderson, Anthony Spinelli, Henri Pachard, and Russ Meyer.  I won’t delve into their biographies; there are plenty of those on the Internet.  These are strictly my recollections from interacting with them, highlighted with details from SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry.
      
Jamie Gillis

You know those ads for erection enhancers—the ones that go “For an erection lasting over four hours seek medical attention.”?  Well, in a scene with Serena in my bondage video, Bound, Jamie stayed “up” for at least that long, with no apparent lasting damage.  In fact, for sustained penile performance, his member was one of the healthiest in history. From SKINFLICKS ”During a busy week of shoots, I asked Gillis if he ever got tired of sex. He thought for a moment, then said, “The way I look at it, sex is like food.  After a heavy meal, you might swear you’ll never eat again, but in a few hours, you’re hungry.”

Jamie Gillis and Mauvaise De Noire

The craggy-visaged actor was known for playing sinister characters, and fans mistakenly thought he was some kind of diabolical entity in real life. (My girlfriend—who didn’t know him—exclaimed, “Jamie Gillis! Terrible man!”) On the set, he was one of the nicest, most agreeable people you’d ever want to meet.  Thoroughly professional. A director’s dream. Of course, when given the green light to do his own thing, he liked to treat women like dogs, cuffing them lightly when they didn’t lick fast enough—as he did with Mauvaise De Noire in my bi-racial video Chocolate Cream.  In SKINFLICKS, Lisa DeLeeuw relates a traumatic incident in which Gillis took his beastmaster persona a bit too far—and broke her nose.  His penchant for offbeat scenarios extended into his real life.  From SKINFLICKS: Examining the rectangular leather-covered frame hanging from the ceiling above  the stage, Jamie Gillis tested its strength to make sure it would support Serena, nude and spread-eagled, with her hands and feet tied to its corners.  On the past Halloween, he’d tied her naked in a bay window of their Polk Street apartment, displayed to the crowds below.  Even revelers as bizarre as San Francisco’s could only stare upward, open-mouthed.
.  Despite his kinks, the real reason he got so many strange roles was because, as a polished Shakespearean actor, he could play them so well. In my videos Chocolate Cream and Running Wild, his portrayal of—respectively–an avaricious dating service proprietor and the head of a clan of orgiastic potheads was infused with subtle humor that went beyond the written dialogue. His sex scenes, limited (mostly) to the usual mundane positions, were performed with his customary expertise.  After a long career as actor, producer and director, Jamie Gillis (James Gurman) died of metastasized melanoma on February 19, 2010 at the age of 66.  

 Juliet Anderson

Juliet Anderson was a perfectionist.  I know that from the bracing experience of being her mansionmate.  When I moved in, she presented me with a detailed 13-page list of household chores (“frequently take hair and fuzz off brush while vacuuming rugs”). Her fastidiousness clashed with my neglectful housekeeping.  From SKINFLICKS:  Once I was about to leave for L.A. on the same day Juliet was scheduled to come home from New York.  I’d spent the morning in a cleaning frenzy and thought the results quite presentable.  I was walking out the door just as she arrived. Juliet took one look at the place and let out a shriek that echoed in my ears as I hurried down the fifty-six steps.
Juliet’s perfectionism showed in her image: patrician features, short, swept-back blonde hair and a figure trimmed through compulsive exercise. Her determination to succeed extended to her sexual skills, such as her “famous Aunt Peg blow job.” From SKINFLICKS: “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.
Juliet was also one of porn’s all-time great “screamers.”  Her crescendos could bring down chandeliers. From SKINFLICKS: Returning from another business trip to L.A., I found a note from Juliet on the door: “Living room is reserved for a mini-orgy Harvey and I are having tonight. The cats have been fed.”  Great, I thought, another night with Juliet’s shrieks resounding through the house.

Juliet Anderson and Billy Dee in Physical

Juliet’s years as a teacher (Among other things, she’d taught English in Finland.) prepared her for the role that brought her fame: “Aunt Peg” in the Swedish Erotica loop series, where her sexually sophisticated character taught eager young men the arcane secrets of pleasure. Juliet’s lifestyle was a sex workaholic’s frenzy of porn work, stage shows, mail-order items, phone sex recordings and “fantasy sessions” with admiring sugar daddies. From SKINFLICKS: I encountered a fat old man in a bathrobe breaking our “no smoking in the house” rule, puffing a pipe in our living room. Juliet whispered to me that he was a big fan of hers who’d made a fortune in medical devices. One weekend I had to sleep on Joe’s padded floor, consoling myself with my $80 split of the rental of our house to a Rajneesh group.
Like so many of porn’s “lifers,” Juliet knew her future lay behind the camera, not in front of it. She made her directing debut with my Superior Video feature, All the King’s Ladies, where she kept her cool through this staggeringly problem-plagued production.  In my next feature, the hot-selling Physical, she played the lead role of a magazine publisher who uncovers a sex-contest scam. Juliet traded her work in Physical for my future services as videographer in a movie she planned to produce.  Her 1984 video feature, Educating Nina, turned out to have historical significance as the debut of future porn legend Nina Hartley. Unfortunately, Juliet didn’t have the steely, negotiator nerves required for dealing with porn’s inner-circle barracudas. After years of getting screwed in the best way, she got screwed in the worst, lamenting that the process of marketing Educating Nina was “an emotional and financial disaster.” Disillusioned with the world of porn, Juliet turned to less harsh pursuits, managing a bed-and-breakfast and running a massage therapy company.  She finally returned to porn in the mid-‘90s, focusing on videos of older people having sex.  All her life, Juliet had battled Crohn’s disease, keeping it at bay with a healthful lifestyle.  The disease finally won.   It came as a shock to those who knew this vital, energetic woman when she was found lifeless in bed. Juliet Anderson (Judith Carr) died on January 11, 2010. She was 71.

Anthony Spinelli 

From SKINFLICKSHaving survived two heart attacks and lost an enormous volume of weight, Anthony Spinelli appeared to have found the wry peace of a grizzled Buddha.  On a shoot bedeviled by a beeping audio pulse nobody could identify, I turned to him and blurted, “Maybe it’s your pacemaker.”  I immediately wished I could swallow the remark, but the great, bearded bear of a director roared.  Cinderella Distributing’s Jack Stephan said of Spinelli, “I’d love to be a first-time comic with 500 like him in the audience.”
Anthony Spinelli was a unique pornographer; he had no interest in shooting sex.  From SKINFLICKS: After his usual meticulous direction of a long dialogue scene, Spinelli turned Kay Parker, Herschel Savage and Helga Sven over to his cameramen, Joe Farmer and me, and left the set.  We were pleased with the hot sex we shot.  Before spot-checking the video, the tape operator called out, “Sam? (Spinelli’s real first name)…Sam, you wanna see this?…Sam?”  We went looking for the man whose livelihood depended on the kind of action we’d just taped and found him in the green (utility) room, snoring soundly.
Pornographers crave distinction, something that makes them stand out from the rest of the wham-bam crowd.  For Spinelli, it was his ability to wring outstanding thespian performances from “stars” whose idea of “acting” was to vary the pitch of their moans.  Spinelli had the tenacity of a Jewish mother (He referred to himself as “an old Jew.”) in not allowing even the most lackadaisical performers to slough off a single line.  Actors learned that the sooner they followed his directions, the faster things would move. (The oft-repeated Spinelli line: “What’s your motivation?…To get outta here by 9 P.M.”)
Spinelli saw intonations, beats, flickers and emotional textures in a scene that I never could. On his shoots, my co-director Joe Farmer and I saw the importance of a good crew, who were like family to Spinelli. (After he twice suffered on-set heart attacks, Spinelli’s crew took it upon themselves to finish shooting his films.) Their loyalty, competence and dedication put pressure on cast members to do their best, also.
After his movies won acclaim in porn’s “big-budget” Film Age, Spinelli’s Plum Productions prospered in the leaner Age of Video. From SKINFLICKS The Spinelli clan had adapted well to the age of the micro-budget.  Like haiku, the short stories of H.H. (“Saki”) Munro, and Twilight Zone reruns, their spare, interior dramas appealed to the cerebral end of the market.  Plum’s “one-act morality plays”—as AVN’s Joe Daniels called them—gave couples a springboard for more elevated post-coital conversation than “Was it good for you too?”
Anthony Spinelli (Sam Weinstein) died of pneumonia on May 29, 2000, at age 73.  His son Mitch carried on the family tradition of high-quality cinema.

 Henri Pachard

From SKINFLICKS: Henri Pachard pointed to the “D” on his ever-present Detroit Tigers cap. “Know what that stands for?” asked the winner of 1985’s Adult Film Association Best Picture award (for Taboo American Style).
    “Director?”
    “Close.” In the resonant tone of an attorney or politician—his aspirations before being expelled from college for gambling, Pachard said, “It stands for ‘directator’: part director, part dictator.  I’m tough: I’m very demanding. I’ll ask a lot out of you, and you’ll have to work hard.”  Then he said the magic words: “But if you follow my directions and do exactly as I say, I promise you I’ll get you out of here on time.” 

In contrast to Spinelli, Henri Pachard was very concerned with the sex. Unlike so many pornographers who claim a lofty “professional distance” from their actresses, Pachard admitted to casting women he’d like to screw, hastening to add, “Not that I’d ever have sex with them, but…if they turn me on, I hope it shows in my direction and the various situations I put them in.”  He was proud of being called, “The King of the Commode,” gaining that title though the engineering of scenes on bathroom fixtures. One of the most athletic skits I ever witnessed—described in SKINFLICKS—was on Pachard’s Harlem Candy shoot.  It involved Angel Kelly, Honey Malone and F.M Bradley, teetering on the rim of a laundry tub, with the tall, black Bradley, his face enshrouded in red panties, tilting his head to fit under the ceiling, while Pachard played the “directator.”  From SKINFLICKS: Like a coach on the sidelines pep-talking his team, Pachard put the trio through twisteroo positions with a running commentary: “Oh yeah!  That’s beautiful!  That’s sensuous!  Sensuous!  (to a cameraman) Get that expression on Angel’s face.  Lookit that!  No, don’t turn your head, Honey. Stay exactly like that.  Oh, that’s beautiful!  What an angle!  What an angle!”
As budgets grew skimpier during the late ‘80s “smut glut” era of cheap videos clogging the market, the resourceful Pachard managed to shoot three features in one day (The trick was to shoot three separate dialogue scenes with the same cast on each setup, to fit three different stories).
One scenario the “directator” couldn’t control was his last one in life.  I don’t know if his fondness for vodka helped precipitate the cancer that killed him. On September 27, 2008, Henri Pachard (Ron Sullivan) passed away.  He was 69.  Some wag on a website posted the remark that the age number was appropriate for a pornographer.

Russ Meyer

When I think of Russ Meyer, I think of food. Good food!  Whenever Superior Video exhibited in trade shows across the America, Russ was there also, selling his RM Productions videotapes.  He made the decision of where to eat dinner after a long day of jawing with retailers easy. The well-travelled gourmand knew the best restaurants in every city of the United States (and in other countries, I presume).  His suggestions always kept Superior Video’s crew looking forward to our evening meals.  Russ was never wrong.
I include Russ here even though he was not a pornographer in the hardcore sense.  His celebrated films were more like Hollywood fare—with extremely buxom women: Extremely, extremely buxom women.  Russ didn’t put sex in his flicks—just plenty of bounce.  He would bristle at any suggestion that he was a pornographer, explaining that he made comedies, not pornos.  He was a true  auteur de cinema.  When I asked him what he would title his autobiography, if and when he wrote one, he puffed out his chest and proclaimed, “Russ Meyer: The Rural Fellini!”
For a non-pornographer, he helped the hardcore Superior Video make a lot of money. At every CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and VSDA (Video Software Dealers of America) extravaganza, we somehow had the great, good fortune of having Russ Meyer’s booth right across from ours.  Russ, truly a rugged individual, came to every trade show alone, his entire exhibit neatly compacted onto one hand dolly. Within minutes, he’d have his booth up and running. And attracting crowds. Russ had the perspicacity to edit a trade show trailer consisting entirely of damsels in distress.  Their screams would fill the auditorium, and people would come running like oglers at an accident. Of course, many of the retailers and distributors in these SRO crowds would turn around and order tapes from Superior.
My only contact with Russ Meyer came through trade shows.  After I left the adult video industry, I never saw him again.  I was saddened to learn that he had died on September 18, 2004, of pneumonia. He was 82. Since he also suffered from Alzheimer’s, Meyer was the only one in this article to come close to “slowly fading away.” 
Russ Meyer, the embodiment of rugged individualism, lived life his way: He got rich by exploiting his fascination with watermelon breasts.

We all want to go out as painlessly as possible.  My aunt, Margaret, a health food advocate who taught me to read at age three, did it right.  She was 89 when she went to bed with a cold and didn’t wake up. We should all be so lucky.