Eli Cross Reveals Plans for Next Big Production

Joanne Cachapero
LAS VEGAS — Prior to winning the Best Feature award for the second year in a row, SexZ Pictures contract director Eli Cross talked to XBIZ about transitional times in the industry, why he creates the films that have put SexZ on the map and his latest, big-budget project, “The Blood of Virgins.”

Last year’s SexZ blockbuster “Corruption” established Cross, as well as SexZ contract star Hillary Scott, in the adult industry firmament. This year, for the futuristic epic “Upload,” it seemed almost improbable that Cross could pull the rabbit out of the hat for a second time.

SexZ owner Bo Kenney arrived on the awards show red carpet that Saturday night accompanied by Cross, “Upload” co-producer Kylie Ireland, Scott and SexZ newest contract performer Paulina James.

“I’d like to make something that people will remember and we see it with ‘Corruption’ everyday now,” Kenney said. “’Corruption’ is selling better now than it did last year, and that means that people are just catching on to it. I have 10 retail stores in Virginia. I’ve sold over 10,000 copies just out of my own ten stores, so I get a lot of joy out of that — people knowing that we make great stuff. It’s like a good wine; when you know it has the great legs, they let you know when you’ve done something good.”

A few hours later, Cross had won back-to-back awards for Best Video Feature, catapulting “Upload” star Eva Angelina into the spotlight, while Scott brought home the award for Best Supporting Actress in a Feature. The win reinforced SexZ’s position as a big-time industry player.

But, the day before, on the floor of the Adult Entertainment Expo, Cross said that it was his 19th show, and that he had watched the industry evolve to its current transitional climate with every indicator pointing toward a state of flux.

“The media is repurposing itself, but nobody knows what they want it to be,” Cross explained. “Nobody knows what it’ll transition to. Most of the people in this business survive because it’s their business, and they’re not brilliant business people. If mainstream can’t figure out how to monetize the Internet, then I don’t think adult will be able to do much better.”

With industry buzz about HD DVD vs. Blu-ray formats and IPTV networks poised to take adult into the broadband future, Cross speculated that HD DVD would be overtaken by Blu-ray in the hard product wars.

“There is the same, if not much worse, debate coming for streaming home video. Until that gets all shaken out, there’s still going to be a hard media market for home theater. The trick is to try and be at the sweet spot five years down the road,” when the dominant distribution platform is established, he explained.

Naturally, Cross is betting that, in the future, at-home viewers are going to want to download high-quality, big budget adult videos onto their home theater systems, and he also is betting that they are going to want hardcore adult material.

So, while SexZ spends lavish budgets to produce titles like “Corruption” and Upload,” Cross never forgets that adult film is a “purpose-driven media.” His hardcore style sets SexZ apart from other feature-producing studios.

“That’s why we make the features as hard as we do. It’s a masturbatory tool,” Cross said, comparing a big budget feature to an expensive hammer in the hardware store. “If I can’t drive nails when I get it home, then what good does it do me?

“The market sees harder stuff on Cinemax than what Digital Playground is releasing,” he said.

So, for his next big-budget feature, Cross has no plan to lighten up. In fact, he wants to go even darker than the socio-political thriller “Corruption” or the post-modern decay of “Upload.”

His newest project is called “The Blood of Virgins” which will take Cross into the horror genre with a story based on the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, the 16th countess that was said to be a distant relative of Vlad the Impaler.

According to legend, Bathory became notorious for murdering hundreds of young women, then bathing in their blood, in order to stay young forever. She was never tried for her crimes due to her royal status but, instead, walled up in the tower of her own castle. Food was passed to her through a slit in the bricks, until she died four years later in complete isolation.

The main part of production is slated to start in March and will star adult performer Sandra Romain as a descendant of Bathory. Cross and his production crew have already traveled to Slovakia, formerly Transylvania, and also in Budapest, in order to shoot on-location in a castle, as well as get exterior footage of the actual Bathory castle.

“The story starts out with a modern-day girl who starts having nightmares when she gets her period,” Cross said.

The character’s mother has committed suicide, so the girl goes to her grandmother, who explains that they are descendents of Countess Bathory, who spent her last four years in the tower trying, by black magic, to possess the souls of her future female relatives.

Cross said he would use special graphic effects to tell the story in flashbacks, and through the main character’s hallucinations. He also warned that there would be lots of blood.

“Eventually, she succumbs to her nightmares,” Cross said.

Kenney’s plan for 2008 is to slowdown gonzo production and focus on three big-budget titles for the year. SexZ Pictures also recently made a distribution deal for Europe, where he feels that audiences will appreciate Cross’ intense, cinematic adult movies.

“They appreciate things with a little more edge over there, and it kind of fits our style and what we’re doing with Eli,” Kenney said.