Those of you reading for the first or final time might wonder what attending a porn shoot is like. Well, it's a dream-come-true. It's magical. Were it not for the weapons-grade truss I wear for just these occasions, I would continually re-break my nose with my powerful erections. That, the copious supply of Power Bars, and the off-chance that I might see Heidi Pike-Johnson are the things that keep me coming back despite clinical priapism and my painful social awkwardness.
Anyway, Eon McKai, the Burning Angel group, Benny Profane and various other youngsters who make porn that features non-traditional-looking hotties, hotties wearing band-aids and sporting black eyes and bloody noses, pale, perhaps heavier, covered in tattooes, or otherwise looking like the women I dated in college (in college, we called these women "sullen", "crazy", and/or "morose", but today's politically-correct atmosphere demands we label them "hot like fire") belong to an altporn world that is getting a great deal of press, laudatory and dismissive.
Apparently there was a New York Times story about altporn that VCA publicist Sean Carney called "smarmy and mocking", and then a New Republic piece that was less about altporn than it was about the smarmy and mocking tone of the New York Times article. I have not read either of these items because I feel that, by the time something gets beyond a grass-roots level to heights such as those, it's best to fall back on the fact that you can actually have sex with someone rather than reading about what the NYT thinks about your aesthetic.That Joanna Angel, who started Burning Angel as a "punk rock Playboy" with Rutgers buddy Mitch Fontaine in 2002, is even shooting in Southern California is, well, partly a financial decision but otherwise pretty impressive for what it represents. McKai has racked up some good numbers for Art School Sluts and Kill Girl Kill (volume 2 comes out in July) and Burning Angel has been a harder-edged Suicide Girls (there will probably always be that easy, unfair comparison) based out of Brooklyn, but McKai's "I won't shoot in the Valley" platform and BA's NYC particularity made it unlikely that the two groups would get together, even if they had a mutual admiration society going on.
"We would send e-mails to Burning Angel and they wouldn't respond," said Malachi Ecks, McKai's producer.
Now with BA starting to release DVDs (their first, called Burning Angel.com: the DVD for some reason, came out in April, and their Cthulhu-porn Re-Penetrator will go on sale in two weeks), the shoe is on the other foot. In addition to filming a scene for someone other than herself, Angel and partner Fontaine are getting the lowdown on how to shoot a porn movie, studio style.
Burning Angel, Fontaine said, started as a membership site with Joanna and five friends posing, blogging, and shooting Internet-only videos. "We were trading ads with our friends' record labels," he said, "and then it slowly started taking off."
Fontaine said that constrictions of location and money required creative solutions to shooting porn in New York. "We had to find other ways to make shit look hot," he said. One recent solution was "Schoolbus Bitches", in which various Angels fuck their way through Williamsburg in the back of a short schoolbus that was purchased and refitted by yet more friends in bands.
"Short schoolbuses aren't just for the retarded," Fontaine explained. "Our high school bowling team had a short schoolbus."
Ecks and McKai were both DJs holding down day jobs when they met. Ecks was working at VCA in the art department, pulling chromes, and knew publicist Carney who was then at LFP. Carney also spins that goddamned house music. Art School Sluts started taking shape two years ago when VCA was still its own company.
Now VCA is owned by LFP which, depending on who you believe, is either killing its child slowly or giving it enough room to hang itself. Carney agrees that VCA has taken advantage of its new status to do some risky things.
"The Eon gamble has really paid off," he said.
The KGK3 shoot took place in the Soto Street buildings that used to house Dreamhost. They are now being used for an Internet company, a music warehouse, parties here and there, and porn shoots. The place looks like a 1950s state facility with carpets.
Angel, who at 5'3" actually fits in my hand, was being made up by Molly, who also does the faces of Otto Bauer and Audrey Hollander. Angel was wearing a t-shirt, looking like a weary babysitter, and sitting next to Art School Sluts' James Deen when I came in, and 90 minutes later, she looked like a breath of dirty air. Still, she sounds a lot taller and more evil in instant messages. In person she has a very soft voice.
"Don't make me look stupid," she wrote.
"It's not in my m.o. to make you look stupid," I wrote back. When I met her, I asked her if the Burning Angel girls would ever fight the Vivid girls. "Don't be stupid," she said.
Angel is being repped locally by Bad-Ass Frank, president of Bad-Ass Talent. Frank got into the habit, really, of being a talent manager when friends asked him to accompany them to shoots. "I didn't like it when they came back crying," he said, "so I started going to shoots and talking with directors beforehand."
Despite being a former bodybuilder, Frank doesn't have the air of menace or despair-induced glassiness of suitcase pimps. "Being in the business has actually encouraged my monogamy," he said. He has a steady girlfriend, refuses more clients than he takes ("I've referred a bunch of people to Jim South without even a thank you note from the guy," he said), and takes a 10 percent commission.
"Even on print jobs?" I asked. "Print agents scam 20 percent off of those."
"I'll look into it," he said.
Frank is soliciting bids to put together a video project of his own and will begin shooting a spec in two weeks.
That all these people are cooperating in the same building would be hard to believe in other studios or offices. This group is like the Beats in the 50's, except they use electroclash and meth instead of jazz, benzedrine, and jugs of wine. They're like the expatriates of the 20s without the pressed linen fetish and cigarette habits. They're like the various elements of King Crimson if that band produced videos of anal sex with girls on crutches.
Wardrobe designer Jon San Nicolas had commissioned his mother to craft a tutu for a Japanese Lolita that would be used later. "She would have disowned me by now if she didn't like it," he said.
San Nicolas, I think, is the youngest person I've met who doesn't offer a traditional "porn excuse", some pat meta data about why he's doing porn rather than (or in addition to) something else. "I had a roommate who was a porn production assistant," he said. "Designing clothes is so much better."
Yes. Since there are no fluffers anymore, porn P.A.s do far more horrifying things for their fistful of Red Vines and box of VHS tapes to pay off the pizza guy.
Eon McKai was shooting stills in an adjacent office. McKai, who has a mainstream job as a video editor, has found himself being approached for porn-lite mainstream projects as his porn persona, including the recent Louis XIV "Paper Doll" video on Suicide Girls. "The pseudonym thing gets difficult after a while," he said, "but the identity stays the same."
Because I needed to feed the monkey, I couldn't stay all day, and so I only hung around for the stills. San Nicolas outfitted Angel with some boots and fishnets. She posed in the panelled office with scene partner James Deen. He had been grousing all day about his representation in the KGK2 trailer. "I 'm just grabbing my package," he said.
"Better be careful of what the camera picks up," McKai said.
My favorite McKai quote goes something like, "It's like getting all your friends and making a porn film." I think that's more important and impressive than whether or not porn is alt or alt is good.
For people who actually watch porn (rather than just the culture that surrounds it), altporn isn't really a big deal or, save for the trappings, talent, and attitude, much diffferent from any other kind of porn. That its purveyors believe in it is what sets it apart.