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Power Play

Peter Smith
Let's start things off with a nice barnyard analogy: Just because you can milk a cow doesn't mean you're capable of running the entire farm. Of course, that may seem like an enticing notion — raking in the big money, telling hired hands what to do, basking in the glory of ownership — it all sounds quite attractive when compared with pulling on saggy teats day after day.

Which brings us to the world of porn. One of the oft-heard figures about the adult business is that it's a multi-billion-dollar industry. How many billions depend on whom you want to believe, but, suffice to say, it breaks down to a lot of money. And who gets that money?

There's no denying that talent (especially female talent) can earn enormous paychecks. A steadily working performer with looks, skills and good sense can move well into a six-figure annual income. For male talent, the bucks will never be as big, for obvious reasons; its tits and ass that move product.

But the salaries of talent, even combined, don't crack the billion region, so, for an ambitious performer the only way to go is up. And up — though it may require a number of steps to scale the heights — ultimately leads to company owner. Own your own material and rake in all that money, money that will ostensibly continue well into the future through licensing catalogue backlog. You call your own shots and get a parking space with your name on it in your very own discreet office complex in Chatsworth.

Of course, it's not that easy, and not everybody with the desire has the necessary ingredients to pull it off. What follows is a glimpse into that journey from adult performer to owner through the lens of a few who have successfully made the trip, male and female. And, while there are rewards at the end of the road, it's not without its bumps.

Tera Patrick is arguably the biggest name in adult entertainment today, with an empire based around her company Teravision, which she controls with her husband and Teravision CEO Evan Seinfeld, aka Spyder Jonez. Patrick began her hardcore career in 2000 and opened her own concern three years later.

"I wanted to make all the money," she says. "I was tired of making everybody else rich, and I was tired of everybody else exploiting me, so I decided to go into business for myself and exploit myself."

Though everybody interviewed for this story has their own unique experiences, there is an almost Norma Rae-like, "tired of workin' for the man" theme that is common to all — "When I shoot scenes for other people I feel like I'm just giving myself away," says star/owner Gina Lynn.

"When I own the content, it's money that keeps coming and coming and coming."

When Patrick decided to branch out on her own, she was up against a learning curve.

"I didn't know squat," she reveals. "I knew nothing. I only knew how to perform and look good. But I had my husband Spyder, who had toured the world as a rock musician, and had been on a big TV show and managed his own career successfully, and I knew my career would be easy for him. It was kind of like a turnkey operation."

Yes, couples are doing it for themselves, as is the case of Gina Lynn and husband Travis Knight, the duo behind Gina Lynn Productions. Puerto Rican-born hottie Lynn entered the business as so many women do, via stripping, which Lynn did during her senior year in Catholic school. The blond vixen signed on with Pleasure Productions in 2000 and quickly established a name for herself by virtue of her incendiary performances and stunning physique. Her company opened in September of 2004, releasing a movie a month.

"My desire to have my own company gradually progressed," she says. "My husband really wanted it pretty bad, and we were good friends with Jules Jordan and we saw how he built everything up. No matter what, we would have to have our own content for our website, so we might as well do the same thing with video. That's how it started."

Deliciously top-heavy MILF Kelly Madison got into adult with her husband Ryan, but, unlike most newcomers, Madison was in her 30's (Ryan is 10 years her junior). Her experience is also unique in that she started off as an owner, launching her website in 2001.

"When I started I was only supposed to be a test model for the website, Kelly Madison.com," she states. "It was going to be an attempt to do an adult website and do it for as little cost as possible, not even hire models, and focus the site around me and my breasts."

At 34FF, that's some focus.

"Ryan had never done websites, he'd only done graphic design, and I'd only sold commercial printing and worked with advertising agencies, I'd never even marketed on the Internet, so it was really new," Madison continues. "We cut our teeth on our website. We signed girls on and did their websites, and we're going to make our fortune off all these hot girls who were younger and prettier than me, but it ended up that my site took off the most. Go figure."

Madison, who's cousin is superstar Janine Lindemulder, feels that women actually have a leg up on men — and on women in the mainstream business arena — when it comes to company ownership in the adult realm.

"I'm used to the real world, and it's a lot harder in the real world for a woman to have their own business and be taken seriously," she offers. "Women in adult have an advantage, they're already the star of the show, they can often say what their pay rate is and they get paid more than the male performers. That certainly isn't the case in the real world. You see Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick and all these other women that are doing it; I think it's easier for a woman to get ahead in adult."

In 1998, Lexington Steele began his porn career. A truly gifted talent (he won AVN Male Performer of the Year a record three times), Steele launched Mercenary Productions, which reported annual profits of $2.6 million in 2005.

"I didn't really want to be a performer as a career, it was just one of the steps necessary to independent ownership and distribution," Steele says. "Most importantly, it really was necessary to start from the ground up. I saw what was out there and the way things work, ownership was within my means and capabilities. Owning your own company gives you longevity. I had a business background, and entrepreneurship is something that I wanted to achieve.

"This business is certainly not rocket science in any way. The owners of the companies are no better or professional than I was or am capable of being, so I had always envisioned making that ascension toward ownership."

Which is not always a piece of cake, says adult veteran Vince Vouyer, who launched Vouyer Productions in 2000, and Vouyer Media in 2005.

"Part of the battle when you own the product is you've got to police your product," he says. "It could be people stealing your stuff or getting licenses illegally. That's the downside, and lawsuits and chasing people down are no fun. But when the rewards come in it's awesome."

Vouyer was in "a huge lawsuit" with Red Light District in December 2005 to get the rights to his work. The parties settled out of court.

Another element is literally getting going.

"I think a lot of people run up against a lot of problems, first and foremost the financing," offers Steele. "It's difficult to get the money to pull this off. It's much easier to show up and do a scene or shoot and direct a scene, but once you get into distribution and administration it gets very tough. A lot of performers have no idea what it takes to move a product from A to Z. And, if you don't have your own distribution, you're only dealing with A through F.

"Secondly, you have to have a reason for the buyers — who are inundated with new companies — to buy your product."

A connection with the buyers is a key stepping stone in successful ownership, and one that a savvy performer can accomplish along the way.

"When I was with Pleasure, I would do all their warehouse shows, and I'd do a bunch of store signings so I got to meet all the storeowners and I kept all those contacts," Lynn said. "That helped big time, and I learned how to schmooze everybody too. Storeowners would buy huge amounts of product, and then afterwards you go out to dinner and meet their friends and family.

"I would see some of the girls go in there with attitude and not wanting to talk, and I'd tell girls, these are the most important shows. I've been to store signings where they told me a girl came in who was a favorite on video, but when she came in she had such a bad attitude it ruined their whole fantasy."

Having an established name prior to hanging out a company shingle is crucial.

"When I had to deal with pricing with the buyers, their familiarity with my product and name allowed me to set my own price in a very competitive market," says Steele, a sentiment echoed by Patrick.

"I knew I had a great opportunity because I was already a big star and a big name, and I knew everyone from Larry Flynt to Steve Hirsch would take my calls," she says. Lynn agrees: "It's not as hard if you have a really big name, but if you just do scenes, even if you're pretty, it's harder. You have to have a name that stands out with quality behind it, something more than just someone who works everyday," Lynn states.

In the role of company boss, working everyday takes on a new meaning.

"I'll do actual filming, and every week I pick out galleries for the girls for the DVDs, pick out box-covers and deal with art directors, it's a constant thing," Lynn revealed. "Even when I'm on the road dancing, I have my laptop going. It's a lot of work."

It's a common situation for those intent on making the transition.

"We have five clerical staff, three production people and a graphics guy, and we're growing," says Vouyer of his operation. "We just leased a new building. I sign all the payroll, I approve the girls with my production guys and make all the production decisions from start to finish. I wear a lot of hats." Consummate swordsman that he is, it's all a professional balancing act for Vouyer. But so it is too for all of the aforementioned porners.

"I haven't been in front of the camera in about nine months," he admits. "It's at the point where my time in the office is more valuable than my time performing. When you're worried about something making it to the printer, it kind of gets in the way of 'that girl's hot.' This is my livelihood. If it doesn't get released, I don't get paid."

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