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8/28/2008

News

SEX SELLS
A local producer cashes in on Florida's online porn industry

 

Editor's note: This is a corrected version of the story. This version was updated on 8/29/2008.

The swanky, gated Central Florida home looks like many others. Haley Sinclair, a pretty blond production manager with Orlando porn producer Demon Seed Pictures, answers the door, beer in hand, before returning to the sofa to watch an Ashton Kutcher flick as she waits for the pizza rolls to finish cooking. There’s a baby pool in the living room and a furry bunny suit with strategically placed holes hanging in the hall closet.

In an upstairs bedroom, Chris Nelson, a consultant for Demon Seed, is playing Guitar Hero. Next door is a leggy brunette with flowing hair, wearing a skin-tight dress, high heels and black nail polish.

“I was the virgin slut,” declares 23-year-old Demon Seed actress Tasha Contradiction, who’d rather not give her real name for fear of stalkers. “My mom said I just dripped sex. Isn’t that a terrible thing for a mother to say?”

She pulls down the top of her dress, exposing her bare breasts, and wraps herself in a U.S. flag for promotional photos. “I’m proud of my country,” she says, tenderly licking the fabric.

Porn is a booming business in Florida, particularly in Miami, which is known for companies like the Bang Bros, who produce online reality porn. The state as a whole is an untapped market for producers because there’s a large and willing pool of fresh faces.

“Maybe it’s the warm weather,” Nelson says. “But people here are just ready to take it off.”

Here in conservative Orlando, however, Demon Seed is still practically a pioneer.

Virtual reality

Porn is nothing new; it wouldn’t be a stretch to date it to the compilation of the Kama Sutra in the second century. But it wasn’t really a mass-market commodity until the release of the infamous Deep Throat in 1972, much of which was shot in Miami.

Porn grew in popularity with the advent of the VHS tape, and later DVD, which allowed fans to watch in the privacy of their homes. But sales in that medium are now being taken over by online porn.

Since 2000, online porn has exploded. In 2006, it raked in $2.8 billion nationwide, 22 percent of the $13 billion industry total, according to the AVN Media Network. While adult movie sales and rentals declined by 15 percent that year, Internet porn increased by 14 percent and represented 22 percent of the adult market. Though cable and pay-per-view porn jumped 34 percent in the same time period, it still represented only 14 percent of the market. By 2007, for the first time, online porn revenue overtook revenues from adult videos and DVDs.

“That was a milestone, a changing of the guard,” says M.J. McMahon, publisher of AVN Online. “Comparisons could be drawn to when the VCR came out and they could mail it or you could go to the store and bring it home. It killed the theater as people became more savvy with the Internet. I think the Internet will kill the DVD and the bookstore market to some extent.”

Florida is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this shift in the adult entertainment biz. Operating costs are cheaper here than in California, especially for the plethora of porn companies that operate exclusively or mostly online. And it may actually be safer, from a legal standpoint, to distribute porn on the Internet because companies aren’t using the U.S. Postal Service to move their product.

“The reason the Internet is exploding here is because it takes anonymity to the next level,” says Bill Fisher, owner and CEO of Miami-based porn company Cezar Capone. “No one has to go to a clerk and buy Your Mom’s Got a Tight Ass. The Internet is that guy behind the curtain.”

Online is quicker, easier and cheaper; there are no warehouses, tangible products or shipping to deal with, an advantage for the startup business. Then there’s the Florida lifestyle: sunny skies, sandy beaches, palm trees and tan girls in skimpy bikinis.

“I think a large part of that is that there’s a large and willing talent base,” McMahon says. “L.A.’s still the biggest base, but so many companies use the same talent. Florida’s a tough one [to figure out]. The Miami area is more liberal, but it gets more conservative as you go upstate.”

The Jacksonville Times-Union puts Florida at No. 2 in the amount of online porn created nationwide and fourth in the number of consumers uploading and viewing adult content on the free site XTube (www.xtube.com); a 2006 state-by-state breakdown of U.S. sex enthusiasts by Adult Friend Finder places Florida third in porn-viewing habits, with 4.1 percent of the state’s population admitting to viewing porn. In California, 3.3 percent of the population watches porn, according to the same survey.

Orlando sits right in the middle in terms of how much producers can get away with. It’s not as free-spirited as Tampa or Miami, but not as “family values”–driven as Polk County or the Panhandle.

“There are some interesting companies coming out of Florida such as the Bang Brothers, who helped popularize reality porn,” Fisher says. “It looks like it could really be happening.”

No boogie nights

“Our original plan was to go to California, but it would have been costly so we decided to set up shop here in Florida,” says Demon Seed porn photographer Leon Bryan, who sometimes performs under the name Leon Derriere. “It’s a different crowd here with amateurs and people trying to get into the business. There’s definitely that amateur factor in Florida.”

Bryan is 23, slim and good-looking with a mischievous smile, dark hair and a ready joke. He’s a former freelance photographer for theme parks who got into the industry because he loves sex, though he has a tough time keeping a straight face when he gives out a business card listing his stage name. After two years making porn, he knows where the Florida market is.

“People want to see real people doing it. People on this coast are sick of the fake stuff. They want it to look realistic,” he says.

Demon Seed Pictures is a legit company, registered with the Florida Department of State. Its actors fill out IRS tax forms just like any employees. Their website (www.demonseedpictures.com) launched a month ago. Already they’re close to breaking even on startup costs.

They film standard fare -– hetero couples, women masturbating, etc. -– but they also found a niche in some stranger stuff, notes Nelson.

“We’ve shot it a couple of times,” he begins slowly, “but one of the weirdest things is girls grinding on teddy bears. Obviously someone wanted to see it. The runner-up would be someone in a rabbit suit smoking a cigar and using a carrot vibrator.”

Then there’s the tied-up balloon-popping and topless tooth-brushing sessions. “There’s wackiness to be found, for sure,” says Nelson.

On a typical day, Nelson wakes up about 2 p.m., preferably without a hangover, eats lunch and then does some filming. It’s a lifestyle he finds agreeable, but the work still has to get done.

“Everyone likes to have a good time,” he says. “It’s all about freedom of expression. People have a slanted view of porn. It’s definitely a business.”

Demon Seed porn star Leihla Leionni agrees. The pixieish 20-year-old considers adult acting a career choice. She hopes to parlay her online work with the company into feature films, then become an agent or a clothing designer. She already has her own website, www.bustyteendream.com.

“Some people choose a desk job; some people want to fix TVs. This is just what I want to do, and I do this job because it makes me happy,” she says.

Leionni says making porn isn’t the drug-fueled party some people assume it is, and she wants to dispel the myth that all porn stars come from broken homes. She graduated from a Tampa high school with a 4.1 grade point average, getting extra credit for taking advanced courses.

“I got great grades in school and had a scholarship,” she says. “I actually really do like what I do. It’s not an ordinary job.”

Leionni broke into porn only after an agent handed her a business card at a nightclub about two years ago when she was 18. She says she isn’t in it just for the money, though the paycheck isn’t bad. Solo scenes pay about $300, and boy-girl scenes pay around $600-$800 for newer girls. Anal sex pays about $1,000 a scene. Men get about $200 for a day’s worth of work, contingent upon “completing” the scene. Well-known, experienced or more attractive stars can command considerably higher fees.

By comparison, Contradiction sticks with the solo stuff. Much of it is fetishist in nature. Recent shoots have included peeling latex off her nipples, humping teddy bears and romping in a kiddie pool full of Froot Loops.

“I’m a goof at heart,” she says. “And this way I can tell my mom what I do and still look her in the eyes. There’s just certain things I won’t do. Nothing goes in my butt, but I can put something in everyone else’s butt in the room.”

Before porn she worked “every job known to man,” including stints as a waitress, a bartender, a secretary, an event coordinator for a nudist resort and even selling orthopedic shoes.

She first made homemade porn with her ex-fiance to help pay his tuition. Later she developed a following by posting silly skits on Stickam (www.stickam.com), including one in which she drew on a fake mustache, acted like she was going to puke and held up signs with offbeat sayings to “Mr. Bojangles.”

The porn she’d made with her ex resurfaced about the time she met Demon Seed president and founder Rob Bryant. By then she needed the money to help take care of her 13-year-old sister, because her divorced mother was extremely ill. She grew up in a wealthy family and wants her sister to have everything she had.

“It’s like putting on a mask and being someone else. It’s like being a superhero,” she says. “I’m totally a born performer. I love the fact that I do such ridiculous things and people find it sexy.”

But she doesn’t see herself as sexy. She’s a video-game lover who was known as “the brain” in high school.

“I took all advanced classes. I wasn’t sexy,” she laughs. “But you learn a lot about yourself when you’re naked in front of a camera and a whole room of people. It makes you a vulnerable person.”

Her aspirations include “world domination in general.” Whether that’s directing or starring in porn or as the owner of fast-food chain, she’s not sure. But she does look forward to being a housewife and mother.

“I’d be a soccer mom, but not as obnoxious, and my kid would have a mohawk,” she says.

Bryant says he’s in porn for the long haul. He has “no delusions of being a Hollywood director.”

“When I was in high school I always said it will be porn or radio. When radio became too corporate, I decided to try the other,” he explains. “It’s one of the last forms of entertainment that isn’t corporate. Even with indie films, you need to hit a certain demographic or appease corporate sponsors. With porn, you can do things your way and you don’t have to worry about who you piss off.”

A 25-year-old radio producer by day, Bryant is a hefty guy with cropped hair and a friendly smile who calls himself “a porno guy with a heart.” He was born in Long Island, N.Y., and grew up in a Roman Catholic family that moved every 10 years because of his dad’s job as a professional photographer, winding up in Orlando by high school. After graduating from Oviedo High School, he attended a trade school to study radio broadcasting and has worked in radio production since 2002.

He put together Demon Seed Pictures in March with plans of eventually growing it large enough to film feature-length movies. He plans to launch three more websites before the end of the year.

“It’s entertainment. It’s an art. These are movies with stories, high production values and special effects,” Bryant says. “It’s not those coke-snorting Boogie Nights days it was in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s just a job.”

The front line

But Bryant views himself as something more than just a pornographer; he’s also waging a campaign for free speech rights.

Last year John Stagliano, the owner of Evil Angel, a Washington, D.C.–based porn business, was slapped with multiple federal counts of producing obscene material. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

In June a mistrial was declared in the case of fetish producer Ira Isaac, who was accused of distributing obscene material featuring defecation and bestiality in Los Angeles. The mistrial came after the presiding judge recused himself when it was discovered he had a website that contained sexually explicit material.

Just two months ago, California-based porn producer Max Hardcore was convicted of obscenity in Tampa after shipping films there. And four X-rated producers pleaded guilty June 25 to charges of obscenity, racketeering and unlawful financial transactions in Pensacola. (The four included Florida producer Raymond McCowen, also known as Ray Guhn, who plead guilty only to charges of unlawful financial transactions.)

“In the last year we’ve seen a resurgence in obscenity prosecutions. There’s been a significant uptick of obscenity prosecutions, especially at the federal level,” says Larry Walters, an Orlando-based First Amendment attorney.

Generally only one or two obscenity cases are pending at any given time nationwide, Walters says. In the past year, the number has been closer to a half-dozen, sometimes more.

The problem is that the only test that exists to determine whether material is obscene is the arcane Miller Test, in which the material is looked at as a whole to determine whether there is any scientific or literary value. That test, developed in 1973, is based on community standards, meaning there’s never been a specific nationwide definition of what’s acceptable.

“The First Amendment is designed to protect minority positions and dissenters so that they are not squelched, but the Miller Test left it up to the community to decide what’s appropriate and what’s protected First Amendment material,” says Walters. “It turned that on its head. It’s a dangerous standard. The same movie can be considered obscene by one jury, but not by another. It’s a total crapshoot.”

Walters points out that Deep Throat was convicted and acquitted an equal number of times. The Supreme Court upheld the Miller Test as recently as 2002, though an online child protection act that the Supreme Court is expected to consider within the next two years could help spawn new community standards that would be applied to online porn.

Since then, community standards have actually relaxed, says Walters. Back in the ’70s, the feminist group Women Against Pornography gave guided tours of Times Square sex- business booths to raise awareness of what they perceived to be exploitative content. Morality in Media, a faith-based organization started in 1962, and the American Family Association steadily picked up momentum in the ’70s and ’80s, campaigning against obscenity and indecency.

These days, the federal government often looks to the fringes of porn to get obscenity convictions.

"But now community standards have become more accepting and the government has to look harder at finding fringe material to secure a conviction," says Walters, who notes that producers filming material similar to that made by Evil Angel have been convicted. "[The Evil Angel] case was seen as a significant test case as to whether typical fare will be convicted."

He says the feds win obscenity convictions in about 50 percent of cases. At the state level, odds are about the same.

While specific guidelines have never been implemented within the industry, porn industry lawyer Paul Cambria, representing Hustler, put together a list of guidelines in 2001. The Cambria list of no-nos includes no male-male penetration, no incest topics, no black men–white women themes, no bukakke, no coffins, no fisting, no menstruation topics and no shots with the appearance of pain or degradation.

“The prevailing notion is that the government tends to focus on fringe fetish material with bodily fluids, vomit, blood, violence, scat, bestiality and urine,” explains Walters. “That doesn’t play well with juries and the government knows it.”

Demon Seed’s Bryant says most producers know which sex acts might raise the interest of the feds: penetration with violence, simulated rape, urine, feces and vomit. He also knows how they get convictions.

“They go into areas where they know the community values are very strict and order the craziest movies they can think of through the U.S. Postal Service, then it arrives at the door and all of the sudden [the producer] is trafficking obscene materials,” Bryant says.

Before even stepping into the porn business, Bryant started Exxxpress Yourself, an Orlando-based group that works to help Florida porn producers defend their rights. He became enraged after reading about the White Ribbon Against Pornography movement, headed up by Morality in the Media and supported by conservative family associations such as the American Family Association, which spent its time lecturing Congress about the horrors of the adult business and protesting outside adult establishments. The campaign still continues, highlighted by a weeklong awareness blitz every October, though it has lost some momentum since its heyday in the ’80s.

“It’s the most disrespected as far as amendments go,” says Bryant. “The most blatant violations of First Amendment rights are in porn. And it won’t stop there. Churches are even after Harry Potter books. … Why should [anti-porn groups] be the only ones who feel like they should be able to yell that everyone who doesn’t believe what they believe is going to hell?”

Party time

Bryant doesn’t party soft. After filming off and on for six months, Demon Seed’s website has finally gone live – though it’s still rudimentary – and the crew is ready to let loose one day in late July. The Penthouse Club in Tampa is crawling with topless women in tiny, brightly colored thongs and towering heels. It’s the kind of party you might expect of a porn production company.

A $100 round of Jäger bombs has been clinked onto the glass-top tables in the roped-off VIP area. After a rousing toast and shots, Bryant hands Nelson a stack of one-dollar bills and business cards to tuck into the dancers’ garters. It’s early but Nelson is already lit.

“I’m going to get a website and it’s going to be called ‘hardcore nasty uncut fucking shit dot com,’ ” he shouts over the pop music to Bryant.

“That’s a long name,” muses Bryant. “You can have guys getting Saran-wrapped and kicked in the balls.”

“Women will be getting fucked with Nintendo controllers and shit,” retorts Nelson, his voice trailing off as a dark-haired stripper catches his eye. “It’ll be all fucked-up shit. It could develop a cult following. There’d be crazy stuff, like fishhooks. I’d hang someone off the door and do oral sex. That stuff doesn’t really have a place but if you put it online someone would look at it.”

And someone would make money off of it.

dmorey@orlandoweekly.com
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