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 .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Superior Video Shoots Its Wad: Part 1: NIGHT MOVES

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Peeping Nixon, Willem Lowen, Cindy Carver

The “redeeming social value” in Night Moves was the political statement made by having a peeping-Tom pervert wear a Nixon mask.  But, to my girlfriend, Night Moves had a whole different importance: The SCENE.

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Large Photo: Lilly Marlene and Shanna McCullough. Small Photos: (left to right) Cindy Carver, Robyn Everett, Carrie Bergman, Courtney

It starred the ever-reliable Mike Horner and two hot ladies: that sexual predator Lilly Marlene and the intense Robyn Everett.

From SKINFLICKS: 

 It was a typical night game at Candlestick Park, the stadium from Hell Frozen Over. The infamous icy winds had once blown pitcher Stu Miller off the mound in the midst of his windup. They were now turning hotdog wrappers, napkins, Giants caps and anything else not clutched in numb fingers into crazed satellites, making the rounds of our seating section.

Wrapped in a blanket, Shelly and I sat huddled together, arms around each other. It was so cold that Shelly’s favorite San Francisco Giant, Chili Davis, ignored his standard post-strikeout ritual of breaking his bat over his knee; he ran back to the dugout. The Giants were behind by five runs.

We were more excited from shivering, hugging and rubbing together under the blanket than from the events on the diamond. Shelly said, “I’m getting horny as an old cat. Let’s go home, turn on The Scene and trounce around.”

The Scene, in Night Moves, was Shelly’s favorite video stimulant. It came at 3067 on the digit counter of the Panasonic VCR in the bedroom. We always shuttled the tape back to that point after we were finished.

What really made that section of videotape come alive was the chemistry between Mike, Lilly and Robyn.

When taping the scene, there was no need for the “hurry up and use the erection before it goes away” approach. I let Horner and the two blonde actresses take their time.

There was lots of caressing, kissing, tonguing and fondling, more like real life than structured screen sex. The intensity built to a frenzy, and when Mike pulled out of Robyn–to be taken in Lilly’s waiting hand–he produced such volume that she exclaimed, “So much come!”

He had plenty left. We were disassembling the gear when Mike and Robyn started up again. I grabbed a camera and taped her fast, cowgirl position bouncing and Mike’s second orgasm. Then Mike and Robyn took a shower together–and had sex yet again.

During the long drive from Candlestick Park to San Rafael, the anticipation was an aphrodisiac. Shelly and I were still “trouncing around” long after the tape had ended.

Then we caught the late news: “The Giants’ six-run ninth inning rally was capped by Chili Davis’s three-run homer in a dramatic come-from-behind victory…”

“Oh no!” Shelly exclaimed. “Look what we missed!  It’s all my fault!”

I gave her a kiss. “We didn’t miss a thing.”

————————–

During 1983-84, Joe Farmer and I felt that we had the formula for shooting hot sex on videotape all to ourselves. (That would soon change as every sex-shooter and his bastard brother began cranking out crap videos–as described in Chapter 11: The Smut Glut.)

For that brief, glorious period, Superior Video went for the gold.

Next: Superior Video Shoots Its Wad: Part 2: Running Wild. Does Porn Go Better with Pot?

 

 

 

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.

My Worst Porn Directing Experience: Barbara Dare

Barbara Dare came running down the sidewalk barefooted, a spike-heeled pump in each hand.  “I wanna ride in the Corvette!”  As she fumbled with the shoes and the door handle, I realized that I’d been about to commit what any red-blooded American auto buff would consider an unnatural act: let one of the most beautiful women who ever bared all before a camera scrunch into a production assistant’s beat-up Falcon, loaded with reflectors and camera gear, instead of inviting her to settle into the black leather of my yellow Stingray.  But after a morning of non-stop friction with Dare on the set of E.X., I would’ve consigned her to ride in a garbage truck—and not in the cab section.  (Passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics.)

The auburn-curled beauty was not yet the sensation she would become in 1986, but already she acted the prima donna. “What girl ever works with three people in one day?” I rattled of a list of those who had, including Traci Lords. In response, Dare blurted, “But Traci likes fucking!” I knew then it would be a tough shoot.

A previous post related Rick Savage thanking Shanna McCullough for making his screen cherry scene so pleasurable that he continued his porn career. On the E.X. shoot, the opposite happened. Dare consented to a three-way with Billy Dee and a man making his porn debut, as long as everything with the new guy was simulated.  I agreed to her terms; new guys usually can’t get it up anyway.  But he surprised us, to Dare’s consternation. When he tried to touch her breasts, she pushed him away…After that debut, the new guy decided he didn’t really want a porn career after all.  His last words before leaving: “She thinks her shit don’t stink.”

New guy, Dare, Billy Dee. From E.X.

Dare’s refusal to follow any directions that weren’t yelled at her was giving me a headache.
Some pornographers like to act tough, to enforce their commands.  That wasn’t my style.  I sat staring into space, trying to make a decision.  I could either spend the rest of the shoot snarling and threatening to manhandle her, or I could cancel the shoot and pay everyone except Dare for a half-day.  She saw that I was at the breaking point.
Like most seasoned bitches, Dare knew when she’d pushed too far. “You don’t seem to like my New Jersey sense of humor,” she laughed.
“If New Jersey humor means making a complete cunt out of yourself, you’re right.”

That exchange marked a turning point: Dare lackadaisically  followed directions, and I decided to settle for her perfunctory performance. The next day’s E.X. finale—without Dare—went beautifully, and I appreciated even more the pleasure of working with those great ladies Lilly Marlene and Nina Hartley.

With her abrasive chutzpah, Barbara Dare attained porn success. She signed an exclusive with Select/Essex, claiming she got $10,000 for each of her movies. She maintained a six-figure annual income over her porn career,  making no more than a dozen movies a year and negotiating top dollar on the dance circuit.  She even managed to do some acting, winning the 1988 AVN Best Actress award.  Talk Radio monologist Eric Bogosian gushed, “Barbara  Dare, in her effusive, bubbling orgasmic womanhood is the purest antidote to pin-headed porn haters, Left and Right.”  Yes, she knew how to fool her fans.

Regardless of the demand for the actress, I told her agent Jim South, “Jim, if I ever shoot Barbara Dare again, it won’t be with a camera.”

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.