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Steven Scarborough

Steven Scarborough

November 26, 2007
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" he had experimented with men but was unaware of what it meant to be gay until he arrived in the radically liberal San Francisco "

Throughout his long career, Hot House founder Steven Scarborough has always been building something.

"I've actually been very, very lucky. I worked very hard, but it's also required some luck," he said. "I'm very careful. I'm a control freak, which I think suits being a director. I've had the good fortune to work with a lot of good people and still do. I found a lot of talented people, and I know I can't do this by myself."

The oldest of six siblings in a military family that was at various times stationed all over the world, Scarborough confesses that he's always been rather "independent and bossy."

And in 1974, after a month-long hitchhiking trip across the U.S. from South Carolina, he landed in the Bay Area. Scarborough had been married; sexually curious and active, he had experimented with men but was unaware of what it meant to be gay until he arrived in the radically liberal San Francisco of the '70s.

He opened a health-food store in the heart of the Castro district at a time when the Sexual Revolution was in full force, in the era of Al Parker clones, discos and the emerging Gay Pride movement.

And as luck would have it, Scarborough fell in with a group of friends that would become the vanguard of gay pornography in the '80s and '90s. He was dating Falcon Studios model Dick Fisk.

"[Directors] Eddie Marks and Christian Bjorn were both clerks in my health-food store," Scarborough said. "And it was funny because at the time there was a clothes store right down the street called Rugby that was owned by [director] Matt Sterling, but Matt Sterling had been indicted and was doing time, so the store was being run by the legendary director John Summers. So, I met Matt Sterling and Chuck Holmes who owned Falcon, and we became friends."

During the '60s, gay adult films and magazines had evolved from the muscle magazines and underground loops of the '40s and '50s, but there were only a handful of studios producing gay content in the '70s.

One of those was Falcon, which was founded in 1971 by Holmes as a mail-order company specializing in gay loops. When Falcon started producing movies, Holmes set the standard model of a modern gay adult production company. Raising the level of production values to a feature- style format and providing customer service to its mail-order clientele were Falcon innovations. They also were one of the first to transition from film to video.

A few years after meeting, Scarborough and Holmes started a relationship that lasted a few months but became the basis of a friendship that would last until Holmes' death in 2000. Their affair re-ignited and Holmes convinced Scarborough that he should try his hand at directing.

"Toward the end of '86, '87, Chuck and I got back together. At that time, I'd had my health-food store for 10 years and closed it down," Scarborough said. "I didn't know anything about movies, but I had been a big fan of movies and wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do, but Chuck insisted that I get involved. He thought that I had a dirty mind and he wanted me to come and add a little pizzazz to the shoots. He had been working on one movie for about six months, and not finished.

"I knew that that wasn't very good business and that we needed to complete the project. What I brought to the board was a lot of energy and some organization and a lot of determination to build the company, and I think that's what Chuck needed at the time."

"Perfect Summer," the title that Scarborough helped to finish, was soon followed by 1988's "Touch Me" a plot-driven hardcore love story that won AVN Gay Movie of the Year for a surprised Scarborough.

"What made me successful very early was that I could bring these things in on budget and on time," he said. "Where other people at Falcon had stumbled before, was that they'd get [a project] going and then they'd put it down and think about coming back to it later. But what I would do was I would find other ways to get it done that day and move on to the next one."

After the success of "Touch Me," Scarborough's work at Falcon produced several definitive gay titles and the roster of directors that Scarborough discovered for the studio reads like a Who's Who of gay porn, making his influence in the industry legendary and pervasive.

"What happened was I hired a bunch of folks who went on to become legends," he said. "I did early work with Chi Chi LaRue [principal at Channel 1 Releasing]. I hired John Rutherford right out of film school, who became my best director and went on to become owner of Falcon and now, owns COLT. I hired Bruce Cam — he did some work for me at Falcon with my cameraman, and then went on to found Titan. Years later, I hired Chris Ward and he made his very first movie for me, "Club Inferno," and then went on to found Raging Stallion."

In 1993, Scarborough created what he believes is the seminal film that would define his style as a director, the "Redemption" series for Falcon.

But the workload combined with his penchant for hard partying left Scarborough exhausted; a situation that was compounded by Holmes focusing more of his attention on philanthropic endeavors than on the company, which both men had worked hard to build.

"I hadn't thought much before that time, of having my own company. But when I decided to leave Falcon, it was a no brainer," Scarborough said. "And the other thing, too, was that people told me I was good at this but I didn't fully believe it yet. I sort of believed it — but I didn't completely believe it — but people told me I was good so I thought that this is what I should pursue."

Hot House Debut
Since its 1993 debut title "On the Mark," Hot House Entertainment has produced less than 40 movies, not counting the films produced under its other lines, "Club Inferno" and "Plain- Wrapped." Scarborough was using his education at Falcon to produce high-end features, but also experimented with different styles and formats.

"I went the through a period with the 'Club Inferno' and 'Plain-Wrapped' lines that was a little more hardcore fetish stuff. Hot House started out as a little bit more of a hobby — you know, 'Plain-Wrapped' wasn't even going to have box-covers, just a plain wrap, like little hobbyist movies as a little sideline for the fans, but then it took off. So I did those for years," he said.

In 1999, Hot House released "Descent," a transcendent adult film that Scarborough said is the closest he has come to making an art film and is still Hot House's best-selling title to date. He also admits that the movie was completely influenced by his mental state at the time, when he was in the midst of a drug-induced breakdown that would result in a three-year absence from directing. During his hiatus, Chris Ward stepped up to produce 20 films for the "Club Inferno" line.

In 2003, Scarborough made his return to the director's chair with the aptly titled "Resurrection."

The sequel to 1999's "Skuff" quickly followed that release. The leather-clad BDSM epic "Skuff II: Downright Filthy," he said, is what put Hot House back on the map as a producer of edgy, extreme content.

The success of last year's award-winning "Justice" is a testament to Scarborough's continued viability after more than 20 years in an industry that he helped to construct. And as the gay marketplace evolves from traditional models like mail order and DVD to the Internet and pay-per-view, Scarborough is in a confident place and as independent and headstrong as ever.

While other gay studios hustle to strike deals with video-on-demand-providers and rush to get their digitized content online, Hot House has taken the time to build its own websites, while pushing forward to meet the needs of a more tech-savvy audience.

"We've just released our membership sites — the Hot House Backroom, which is our premium site, and the Club Inferno Dungeon. Those are both membership sites with all of our content in them but also, a weekly update with exclusive content just for those sites, and it does include DVD," Scarborough said. "So those have been very successful so far. In that way, we're addressing the more modern, younger customer who's accustomed to getting the material a different way, online. We're also shooting a lot of stuff that we've never shot before that people kind of look for in that market."

Though the do-it-yourself approach was costly, according to Scarborough, it was worthwhile since he gets to keep a higher percentage of the sales profit while protecting the exclusivity of the Hot House brand.

He credits his life/business partner Brent Smith, who is Hot House Vice President and Creative Director for developing the company's distinctive look and style. The only concession he has made is a partnership with gay VOD provider Maleflixxx that powers Hot House's on-demand theater.

"This is how careful I am; it took almost two years to negotiate that contract. We went back-and-forth and back-and-forth and finally got it right," he said. "And we were really, really glad — shortly after we launched it — with the results, and they tell us that they were as well. So it was worth the effort."

In terms of movie-making, he will continue to expand the Hot House catalog for customers who expect a certain standard from the studio. His budgets for a midlevel production can run more than $70,000 because that's what it costs to keep production values high, as well as pay the salaries of crew members and exclusive Hot House talent.

"The trend with people is to make a few movies a month. I don't subscribe to that and I also don't want to live that way. I make about eight movies a year and we're servicing those kinds of folks that like those types of movies, really, really well. And by that, I mean people that are collectors and actually want the packaging with it, and they stay loyal to us," he said.


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