Colossal Entertainment depends more on its in-country directors to find talent, while Steele's Mercenary takes a more active role to find the right faces for its very specialized transsexual line "You'd Never Know" because, as Steele explains, "that is where the most attractive trannies come from.
"I believe the transsexual product that's produced here in the U.S. contains a lot of cross-dressing men," Steele says. "Whereas the transsexual product coming out of Brazil are males who have been taking hormones since around ages 12-14. That's because you can access pharmaceutical-grade drugs over the counter in Brazil. So when these young boys reach puberty and feel [that they actually are] female, they can access the hormones and develop as females."
No matter which niche producers choose to mine, they're finding that the market is strong for South American models, and all agree on the reason for this allure: exotic faces in exotic locations.
"We stress new faces and ethnicity," UrgeXotica's Baron explains. "That's what we're selling — girls that haven't been seen anywhere before. And our product is the only place where you'll be able to see that new face. On top of that, we're filming on location, so you're not only seeing this beautiful new face, but you're seeing her filmed in places like La Mesa, Colombia."
Steele agrees. "The fascination with the South American talent pool is based on the love of exotic women," he says. "There's a big difference between an indigenous Latina from South America and an American woman whose family is South American. It's just something you can see in the skin and the behavior. Also, we shoot a lot of exteriors, so when we shoot in, say, Costa Rica, you can see that it's genuine. With the saturation of domestically produced product — this business generates 1,500 brand-new titles on a monthly basis — this variety of product is how we compete."
Proceed With Caution
Despite the advantages, filming in South America is not all hearts and flowers. There are different governments, different police departments, different laws and different threats. For instance, there's the problem of finding talent in countries where prostitution is legal but any representation that smacks of "pimping" will land a man in jail. Producers have to be careful whom they deal with and how they gather talent to avoid legal hazards.
Often, businessmen who own strip clubs or discos in countries like Colombia and Brazil will help companies find talent. Most South American governments allow this practice, but in a few countries, such as Chile, it is not allowed.
Another potential drawback is medical testing. As mentioned earlier, production companies such as UrgeXotica must foot the bill for testing of their South American performers — and they take the testing seriously.
Not only does the company want to protect its performers; it also has a vested interest. This is due to the precedent set in 2004, when Evasive Angles and TTB Productions each were fined $30,000 by the state of California after three women allegedly contracted HIV from a male performer in one of their productions.
"We test them for every single thing because we shoot condom-less," Baron says. "The clinics give their findings only to us, so if they find something, we tell the performer, 'Look, you didn't qualify. You'd better see a doctor.' We've never encountered anybody with AIDS down there, though."
On the other hand, age verification is not a problem at all in South America, due to the strict ID policies in those countries. Every citizen must carry a carnet de identification, which is similar to a passport. Since failure to produce this government-issued identification could lead to arrest, everyone carries around proof of age.
"I have no less than two forms of ID on every individual I've ever shot," Steele says. "We also do video IDs where we have the performer state their date of birth while holding their paper ID toward the camera. They also state that they have not been given drugs or alcohol and that they have not been forced to do anything against their will. I'm very strict, because I'm the one who would go to jail."
For those companies that depend on local directors and crews to handle all the production, another danger exists. They need to be sure that the film they're getting was shot for them, not a previously shot product that's already made the rounds in South America. Colossal Entertainment solves this by giving detailed shooting instructions.
"We plan out what we're going to shoot and what the subject matter will be," Baer explains. "We'll tell them we want the girls to wear pink in the first scene and orange in the second scene. By doing that, we know it's not a movie that they made for somebody else."
One final concern about shooting in South America — especially in the small out-of-the-way towns that the UrgeXotica crews visit — is security. Production companies have hired security guards to prowl their private locations, but there are many times when filming atmospheric shots on public streets, crews are at the mercy of the local constabulary.
"There was one time when we were shooting in a very small town in Colombia," Baron recalls. "We were filming these girls walking down a sidewalk with our DV cameras. All of a sudden these cops come up to us, and we're thinking that we might have to give them some money. Turns out they thought we were filming a soap opera."
When Rick Cuban explained they were an American company shooting a movie, the officers asked them for their autographs.