Original Roy Karch
"That's me," Karch says. "I'm that guy shooting on video. They don't say my name, but people know it's me they're talking about."
The video Karch is talking about is 1979's "The Reincarnation of Serena," a movie he made for Gourmet Video, where his official title was head of sales but where he also directed roughly 300 movies. His name, however, seldom showed up in the credits.
No credit. It's the story of Karch's life.
Technically, Karch was shooting adult content on video as early as 1975, when he and a friend began taping "The Underground Tonight Show," an adult-themed counter-culture talk show for public access, meaning there should be no dispute who was the first adult director shooting on video.
"Truth be told, I was the first to make a 3-D porno, the first to do an adult cable access show, the first to run an adult awards show, the first to get an X-rated video into the Adam & Eve catalog, and I opened up Tower Records to porn," he says — not in a bragging manner, but simply as a man who is proud of his work and maybe just a bit sad that many of his contributions are remembered only by those who were there at the time.
The porn industry has a short attention span and little sense of history. It's a pill Karch has to swallow, but one that goes down a bit easier for Karch than many others of his generation because he's still working, still relevant, still in demand.
And those who work with him don't hesitate to give credit where it's due.
"Roy is a king at making feature movies that always come in at or under budget," Bo Kenney, owner of SexZ Pictures, said. "I totally trust that Roy will always deliver a good story with well shot sex that allows me to do the types of deals I need to do, such as the Hustler TV agreement [Hustler last year signed SexZ to an exclusive pay-per-view deal]. Roy has been doing this a long time and has delivered some really great-selling movies for Sex Z Pictures like 'Desperate Wives 2,' which, by the way, is our biggest seller ever."
Karch is too busy shooting for SexZ, Adam & Eve and Wicked, among others, to dwell on the past.
That's not to say he doesn't look back fondly on his early days in the industry.
Wild Times in NYC
A Jewish kid from the Bronx, Karch graduated with a masters degree in health education from City College of New York. He was a college jock who started his adult life as a whistle-blowing gym teacher. But by 1970, at the urging of a girlfriend, he had started performing in underground sex movies. And like many people who came of age during that time of rapid social change, Karch started to identify more with the hippie counterculture.
"I stopped teaching in 1972, joined the Millennium Film Workshop and got lost in New York," he says. "I started caring less about the physical and became more cerebral. Maybe the LSD helped."
By 1975, Karch was fully immersed in the industry, taping "The Underground Tonight Show," first at Richie Haven's Café Wha? On McDougal Street and later at the public access studios.
"It was all about music, sex and politics," he explains. "It was for people who wouldn't or couldn't be on Johnny Carson. We had Marilyn Chambers, Debbie Harry before she became Blondie, Patti Smyth, Jerry Damiano, Tina Russell."
While the show remained distinctly under the radar, it was thrust into the spotlight after one episode in which Dr. Betty Dodson, author of the first book on female self-love, masturbated on the show with five other women. The station pulled the plug. Karch and his partners appealed the decision to the Federal Communications Commission. The case eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld a previous ruling that the public airways should remain uncensored.
In December 1975, Karch parlayed his contacts and the cache of "The Underground Tonight Show" to throw Eros 75, which he describes as America's first sex festival, where he and other show organizers handed out the Toungey awards.
"We sold 4,000 tickets at $10 a pop," he says. "We were plugged into erotica, not just porn. There was erotic art, musical performances. It was an eight-hour event, and we lined the ballroom with booths."
The show ran through 1977, when Karch jumped on a plane and headed to Los Angeles, intent "directing Fonzie, or something like that." Instead, he wandered into an office on Hollywood Boulevard where he met Bill Margold, and, in his words, "My life hasn't been the same since."
Video Kills the Movie
The first movie Karch worked on as a production manager, 1978's "Dracula Sucks," was, like most adult movie's of the time, shot on 35mm. It was a five-day shoot with trailers and a production lot based around a castle in Lancaster, Calif. Little did he know at the time that it was one of the last of its kind. As Floyd Gondolli said, the age of video had arrived, and Karch wanted to be first on board.
"We found some video equipment, rented a sound-stage in Hollywood and shot 'The Reincarnation of Serena,'" he says. "Then it sat on a shelf for a year."
Nonetheless, Karch's career was off and running, and his timing was perfect because the industry was thriving like never before — despite the fact that much of the filming had to be done on the run.
"We would all meet at Ralph's," he says, "switch cars, drive 15 miles, get in a van, go to Palm Springs, rent a house, party all night and then make a movie when we finally rolled out of bed in the morning or afternoon."
"I've known Roy for 19 years, which goes back way before I even thought about getting into the adult movie business," All Media Play President Jeff Mullen tells XBiz. "I used to provide music for his movies back when I lived in Milwaukee. Roy used to leave these long messages on my answering machine. He went on and on describing what he wanted the music to sound like, even busting out his harmonica and playing a bunch of ideas. It was crazy but, when I look back at it, quite funny. Yeah, Roy's a real character and a living legend in this business, but better yet, he is a great friend."
Karch can't help feeling a little nostalgic about those days, too. The industry, he says, has changed, in some ways for the worse, but in other ways for the better.
"Back then, we were making movies with lighting equipment and sets," he says. "With gonzo, you put a guy and a girl on a couch, tell them to have sex and shoot it. I guess I'm partially responsible for that, because it came with the switch to video. But I pride myself on being the guy who brought an easy way to make movies, along with a way for people to watch them in the privacy of their own homes."
Karch himself doesn't make gonzos. He makes features, mostly parodies of cultural touchstones such as "Desperate Housewives."
"Roy continues to make movies that serve a wider audience than your standard 'let's fuck' DVD," Mullen says. "He always tries to stay current by spoofing or knocking off a very popular TV show or movie. I remember an old title called 'Cagney and Stacy,' which was a knockoff of that TV show 'Cagney and Lacy'. There was 'Funky Brewster' back in the late 80s. That was really insane."
"I'm a filmmaker first," Karch says. "Every shot is scripted. I make movies. If you don't get that, I'm not your guy. But if you want a movie that will get on Playboy, and go into foreign markets, I can give you those markets."
As far as whether he's been overlooked for his accomplishments along the way, Karch says, "I'm not bitter. Well, I'm a little bitter. But I don't know if anyone should care. I'm just happy to be working every day. It's my get-off, my creative outlet. I have a great job."