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Talent Agencies

Talent Agencies

April 1, 2007
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" There are no-shows, the constant risk of STDs, illnesses, double-bookings, substance abuse issues — the possibilities of a performer not showing up on any given day are endless. "

For 25 years there was essentially one agency in Porn Valley: Jim South's legendary World Modeling. While there has always been a peripheral cast of characters bringing performers into the industry, World was the undisputed king from 1976 until the end of the 1990s.

That's when the surge in producers, talent and production companies sparked by the gonzo revolution carried over to the number of adult agents. Of the first wave, Spiegler Girls and LA Direct Models were able to establish themselves as a new breed of agency — more efficient, organized and aggressive than South's wild west business model. Last year, unable to keep up in the increasingly competitive market, World shut down.

Today there are dozens of agencies and countless other individuals pimping girls to porn projects. The largest and most powerful is LA Direct Models, owned by Derek Hay, aka Ben English, which at press time boasted 117 female and 26 male models and supplies talent for 35- 40 scenes on any given day. Others have established themselves as formidable competition. The result is a streamlined process for producers and more choices than ever for performers looking for representation.

The Performer's Perspective
Porn can be an intimidating and even dangerous experience. The nature of the business puts performers in very vulnerable positions, often naked both literally and figuratively in situations with people they quite possibly have never met. Most girls are gone before their first DVDs are released. Whatever amount of time they spend in the business, nearly all will use an agent — and some will use many. A good agent can not only fill and maintain a schedule, he or she acts as a buffer between talent and producers, clarifying what's expected both in terms of performance and compensation.

Hillary Scott, who recently signed an exclusive performance contract with Sex Z Pictures, has been with Fresh Talent Management since she entered the business in 2004. She said having an agent helped her focus on scenes and navigate the industry.

"[Fresh Talent owner Skooby] takes a lot of stress away from me, handling a lot of my phone calls and booking me up," Scott said. "He really schooled me as far as how the business works — he told me about all the bullshit and what to look out for, and basically everything he told me would happen happened."

Of the concerns addressed by several performers — none of whom would speak critically on the record or, if they did, quickly recanted — complaints about the pressure to do harder scenes and have heavier workloads were most prominent. Regarding the latter, it went both ways: Girls often felt they worked either too much or too little.

For adult performers getting started, there are increasingly few girls who choose to work in the industry on their own. Jenna Haze, who only had an agent for her first three months in 2001, said that every girl coming into the industry should get representation.

"When I first got in the business, World Modeling was pretty much it," Haze said. "Now there are all kinds of amazing agencies that you can deal with." Penny Flame, who works with talent both as a performer and as a director, said having a trustworthy agent is important in a business that sometimes employs creepy characters.

"I've always felt like I've needed somebody to be the go-between because it is a very serious business," she said. "It can be very sketchy. And Derek and I get along well. He wants me to make money and I want to make money, so we have the same goal."

Making a Career of it
With all the competition, how does a new performer select an agent? Most of them offer housing and transportation to scenes. All the major agencies offer varying degrees of access to doctors, attorneys, financial planners, health insurance and tattoo removal services. Much of decision rests on what the girl wants to get out the industry. A hot new girl at a larger agency can reasonably work nearly every day, though it's a pace many find difficult to maintain.

"Some agents want that commission at any cost, so they churn and burn the girls, and in six months the girl has done so much, there's nothing left for her," said Lisa Ann, owner of Clear Talent Management and a former performer. "She's shot out, she's burned out and she's miserable."

Lisa Ann said she encourages the girls to space out their shoots, to do interviews and feature dancing.

"You need to space out the time that you're shooting," she said. "You need to take breaks and enjoy life a bit, take care of yourself, work out, go to the spa — do things that are going to extend your shelflife, and I don't see that with the other agencies. I just see them wanting to make money."

Exotic Star Models owner September Dawn, who has been in the industry 14 years as a costume designer, said one of the reasons she decided to become an agent was because she had seen so many friends leave the business in a bad way.

"Our girls don't work as much; they're not doing two and three scenes a day, but they work steady, and there are girls we've had more than two years," she said. "I'm not talking about girls who come in the business for six months and bail. I want to see them have longevity, have a career, establish a name and not get burned out and shot out."

The Producer's Perspective
There is tremendous pressure on production managers to get talent to a set. There are no-shows, the constant risk of STDs, illnesses, double-bookings, substance abuse issues — the possibilities of a performer not showing up on any given day are endless. And if a scene has to be canceled, money is lost. Using an agency can make life a lot easier for the production manager.

"Agencies are integral to the whole process," Kick Ass Pictures owner Mark Kulkis said. "Not only do they find the girls, they more or less guarantee that they're going to show up on the set sober. In the old days with Jim South, you took your chances. His extent was giving you the girl's phone number and saying, 'OK, she's booked, good luck.' That didn't cut it anymore."

One big advantage of using an agency is that if something does happen, the agency can frequently give at least a few hours notice, as well as offer a replacement. Still, not everyone involved in the business is sold on the new model.

"All they've done is driven up the prices," director Jim Powers said. "People want to believe the pimps have helped, but they have not helped. The flake rate is just as high if not higher. Back in the old days you just didn't know when they were flaking, nowadays at least the pimp will tell you the night before the shoot. The only difference is now you know you're being fucked."

Shortcomings notwithstanding, agencies are now an unavoidable part of the process. There's virtually no way around it for a production company that is shooting steadily.

"There's never been a bigger talent pool," Hay said. "There are more girls than ever doing this, and more girls than ever coming into the business, and there are more agents and more websites with talent that you can peruse quickly instead of having to have a little black book filled with hundreds of girls' phone numbers. There's been no greater time than now to be a producer."

Pimpin' Ain't Easy
Like the talent they represent, adult agencies come and go. By no means was World Modeling the only agency to shut down in the past couple years. Being an agent can be lucrative, but it is also a 24-hour job dealing with diverse personalities and frequently fragile egos.

The problems agents need to contend with are constant. They find themselves riding a thin line between being compassionate but firm; at the end of the day, after all, it is a business. Almost without exception, agents said the most difficult aspect of their trade is watching girls self-destruct around them.

Rory Z, who has been with Lighthouse Talent almost from the beginning, said that a lot of time is spent dealing with fragile egos.

"We're not only here to get them work, we also kind of watch out for them and the unnecessary drama some of them allow into their lives," he said. "Some of them are just more fragile than others."

In the end, the responsibility is in the hands of the performer to make the decisions that will allow her to get what she wants out of the industry, whether she's in it for the moment or if she hopes to turn it into a career.

"I am truly trying to help these girls establish a future in this industry," Dawn said. "I don't go after them; they come to me. They're going to come into this industry, and I can only hope that I can help them get started in a positive way."


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