The Dream World of Erica McLean
They helped a lot of young performers, too. A short list of stars that started with a "Barely Legal" scene early in their careers includes Bunny Luv, Monica Sweetheart, Tanya James, Ashley Blue, Kylie Wild, Sabrine Maui, Belladonna, Tawny Roberts, Jenna Haze and Sunrise Adams. One called Erica "the really cool mom we all wish we had."
After working side-by-side for over 15 years — one life with two hearts beating in time — Clive passed away in March 2005 from cancer. Erica was determined to carry their work forward, and was confident she could keep the long-running Hustler series going. She was right. Some six months after Clive's passing Erica started cranking out "Barely Legal" titles again, and did another few dozen until forming her own production company, Cheeky Monkey, to pursue new dreams.
There's some inside speculation suggesting that one of those upcoming dreams-come-true just may be a reimagining of "Alice in Wonderland." (Ron Jeremy as the Mad Hatter? How about Belladonna as the Red Queen? No, Alice!) It's best to leave filmmaking to the experts, of course, and Erica's already proven herself to be massively gifted. One needs no further proof than the astonishing reception accorded her first Cheeky Monkey production, "Hardcore Circus," released to rave reviews the day after her XBIZ interview.
This wise, preternaturally beautiful woman is remarkably self-effacing, and refers to herself as a kind of "hippie Earth goddess flower power priestess." She loves her horses and dogs, makes worldclass salads and margaritas, reads Rollo May and lives just a half mile or so from this writer in the Sunland- Tujunga hills northeast of L.A. XBIZ spoke with the visionary director in mid- July.
XBIZ: The first question is always the same. How did you get started in this business?
MCLEAN: I've done a lot of mainstream work — music videos, modeling, tons of commercials, some films — but when I met Clive there wasn't even a video department at Hustler. After we got married he was shooting all the time for all the best magazines. Then one day in 1999 he came home and said, "We're doing a video." That was the birth of "Barely Legal."
XBIZ: A legend was born, right?
MCLEAN: Not right away. Hustler had put some scenes together, but what they showed us first was just horrible. So we went in with taste and style, storylines and everything. The product spoke for itself, and by the time the fifth or sixth one came out, it just flew. It really took off.
XBIZ: Now, you have moved on from "Barely Legal." Is it true your budgets were getting too big for a pro-am production?
MCLEAN: Not at all. The ever-shrinking budget is happening to all companies. I got the most from every penny, used lots of creativity and called in lots of favors to put together a great product. Budget wasn't an issue, my intuition and creative juices told me it was time to step up my game. I was so happy that Larry Flynt gave me the opportunity to hone my skills, and took a chance on me. He once told me that Clive was a Picasso and that nobody had ever heard of Picasso's wife. Now they have.
XBIZ: When Clive passed away, you carried on with Hustler. Tell us about that.
MCLEAN: Clive was diagnosed in August of 2004 and passed away in March of 2005. I took over and by September had another one going. With Clive gone I became director as well as producer. I wrote the scripts, put together the talent, got everything scheduled, got the crew ready, worked out the wardrobes — all of it.
XBIZ: Was it your plan to keep Clive's spirit in the series or make it your own?
MCLEAN: We shared a vision. We both wanted to keep erotic art going, quality erotic art, one step above what's out there as a mass market. Some people — like Clive, like me now — really do hold to a standard. It's a special thing to be an artist, to attain a high standard. You have this feeling that you want to keep upholding it.
XBIZ: What did you bring to "Barely Legal" when you took over?
MCLEAN: As a woman I like to see things that are colorful and fun, and have the sex be involving and interesting. I like the idea of movies, not a sequence of scenes, but some porn directors think that people only care about getting off, which is why the Internet is so strong. But people have different parts, all of which need stimulation, and different kinds.
XBIZ: A lot of today's top performers started with appearances in "Barely Legal." What was it like working on that title for almost 10 years?
MCLEAN: We really were seeing a lot of real first timers, real 18- and 19-year-olds. And I mean a lot of them. Then all of a sudden the "young girl" thing got popular, so they'd work with different directors, and when they got to me they'd be so happy. It would start with my crew telling them right away that they were now getting the best, you know? I always wanted the girls to be comfortable, and I would feel for them, identify with them. I knew they were there for the money, sure, but sometimes you just wanted them to know that there were decent people in this business.
XBIZ: Before we get too far, what camera do you prefer?
MCLEAN: It's a Sony HVR-V1U, a 3-CMOS camera, a nice high-def unit.
XBIZ: Tell us about the new movie, "Hardcore Circus," the first Cheeky Monkey film that Hustler is distributing.
MCLEAN: In May 2008 I had this dream about the circus. I hadn't been dreaming, and it was the first dream I had after Clive passed. In this dream I walked onto a porn set and saw all these video screens, and I said, "Oh, no, we're over budget," and then I turned and saw all this circus and sex activity, all kinds of crazy combinations. It really came to life.
XBIZ: What made you decide to film this one as opposed to one of your other scripts, ideas or dreams?
MCLEAN: When I met Blue Iris, and she told me she did porn, I told her about my dream. She got it, she really did. I knew then it was going to work.
XBIZ: What motivates you to work as hard as you do?
MCLEAN: I sit here on the top of this hill above the wash in Sunland, and there's Angeles Forest right there across the street. Of course, I miss the city, too, where it's stimulating and you get your interest sparked by a thousand and one things. There's a balance, of course. I can go and walk around museums and hang out with other artists for inspiration, then come back home and reflect. I think, "OK, this is what I'm going to do, and that's how I'm going to do it." Then like "Hardcore Circus" I just go ahead and do it without thinking about the consequences.
XBIZ: That's "Erica the artist" talking there, as opposed to "Erica the business owner," right?
MCLEAN: First and foremost, I am an artist. I live in my mind, and we artists always make it interesting. Now, most people can't do that so they really can't figure out where we're coming from sometimes.
XBIZ: Not to mention where you've been, too, in all those parallel universes and dream worlds.
MCLEAN: We're blessed with that ability, and we are duty-bound to bring others enlightenment and entertainment. That's what I want to do with my vision, with "erotic moving art." Porn is now capital-P "Porn" and has that name that gets stuck in the throat. "What do you do?" someone will ask, and I'll say that I direct and produce adult films, and if I see that look in their eyes I'll say, "You know, erotic art."
XBIZ: When you say "erotic" some people probably get a whole other look in their eyes, right?
MCLEAN: We scare people, not just because we're porn people, because we're artists and we see through things. In a way I wish that more people would be scared, it might wake them up. I mean, the art of conversation, it's dead. People don't take the time to write, read, create, wonder, imagine, stand in awe of things, drink in the beauty — they just want to get through the day and pay the mortgage.
XBIZ: The government's stimulus plan is supposed to help with those mortgages and get people through the day. I think your "Hardcore Circus" is a better kind of stimulus, one to help people get through the night.
MCLEAN: Stimulating in every way — that's where I'm going with my work. Sure, I want it to be eye candy, but done in such a way that's it not offensive. I want it to be cool, and a turn on, but not merely a visual thing. It's so much more powerful when you get your whole being involved.
XBIZ: What's up after "Hardcore Circus"?
MCLEAN: I'm ready to do another one, probably September or October when it cools down. I want to film a story Clive wrote in 2004, based on a dream he had, and then I have one more dream I want to film — hey, that's a dream trilogy, isn't it? Very cool! As for "Hardcore Circus," I really had fun doing it. It was a wonderful project. Now it's a wonderful work of art.
XBIZ: You are just a bit different, Erica, but this business is a bit more tolerant than most.
MCLEAN: "Different" is fine. Why be "normal" or "average"? They call me the hippie Earth goddess flower power priestess, and I like that. I don't just want to tolerate people; I want to treat them well. I really do believe in the Golden Rule, that I should treat people the way I want to be treated. On my sets, people are at ease, they can be themselves, they understand what I am trying to do, they want to work — and I get to see my dreams come true.