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.
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.
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.
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