Pornocopia at the Castro
GAYVN Awards honor gay porn's biggest stars
by Adam Sandel
Screw Helen Mirren. Forget Forest Whitaker, and to hell with Jennifer Hudson. While the world's attention turns to the Oscars on Sunday night, the really important awards show will be held Saturday night at the Castro Theatre: the GAYVN Awards for gay porn.
What used to be an industry-only event in LA will now be a San Francisco public event, hosted by comedian Kathy Griffin and featuring the cream of the gay porn industry, whose presence will give new meaning to the term "members of the community."
"The industry has shifted," says Raging Stallion director Chris Ward, whose studio netted 19 nominations. His film Lords of the Jungle got six nominations, including Best All-Sex Film. "Five years ago, 85% of gay porn was made in LA, but the quality of San Francisco movies was much higher." Major studios Falcon, Colt, Titan, Hot House and Raging Stallion are now based in San Francisco.
"It's really a great moment for our industry and a validation of what we do," says GAYVN Hall of Fame director Steven Scarborough. The founder of Hot House, which he runs with partner Brent Smith, Scarborough is proud of his studio's 20 GAYVN nominations, including 12 for his behind-bars opus Justice.
The Internet has spurred a huge demand for new porn product. Raging Stallion alone produces 30-40 films a year, releasing a new title every two weeks. The web has also revolutionized the casting process.
"Models apply online, and we get six to nine applications per day," says Hot House's Brent Smith. "Two per week are likely candidates who we fly out for auditions. It's much less sleazy than the old days, when people would hang out at bus stations."
Casting at Raging Stallion is handled by porn legend Michael Brandon, who's no stranger to the GAYVNs, having won two back-to-back Performer of the Year awards. He was inducted into the GAYVN Hall of Fame last year. The heavy-hitting Brandon retired from performing after last year's Hard as Wood. "It was time for me to move up the ladder. I'd become a partner in Raging Stallion, and I wanted to direct."
"Models are constantly telling us how comfortable we make them feel," says Raging Stallion photographer Kent Taylor. "Both Michael and Chris used to be performers, so they see it from their perspective."
While GAYVN categories include Best Actor, the preferred industry term is model. "It really does the fans and models a disservice to give these boys pages and pages of dialogue when that's not what you hired them for," says Scarborough. "I make strong sex movies. I'm creating fantasy."
But there's more to porn than fantasy. "It's so important to gay men," says Lawrence Helman, co-producer of That Man: Peter Berlin, a GAYVN-nominated documentary that played in 70 international festivals and earned five Best Documentary Awards. "Gay porn came into popularity with the advent of videotape at the same time HIV/AIDS hit," says Helman. "It was perfect for people who wanted to be sexual without risk."
And for many gay men in remote, non-urban areas, porn is their sex life. "Porn stars are heroes to many gay men because we're defined by our sexuality," says Ward.
Engorge of the jungle
That was certainly the case for Lords of the Jungle star Jake Deckard, whose two GAYVN nominations include Performer of the Year. "I was a big porn fan, and I had crushes on porn stars like Colton Ford. I wanted to be him." Deckard met Ford, who helped him get cast in his first film two years ago. Since then, Deckard has made 12 films.
His Jungle co-star and fellow Performer of the Year nominee Matt Cole has made 21 films since his porn debut in January 2006. Cole is also nominated for Best Newcomer, and says the Survivor-esque film is one of his favorites. "It was my first time in Hawaii, I loved working with Jake and Chris Ward, and Kent Taylor is such a good soul."
As the film opens, the hunky cast is washed up on the beach after a shipwreck (apparently from a merchant marine Atlantis cruise), having weathered a storm that ripped most of their shirts off. They forage in the jungle, and while they never find food, they do find plenty to eat.
To film the opening scene, Ward sent co-director Ben Leon into the surf to film the boys on the beach, "and a big wave came and swept the new $10k camera into the water," says Leon. The 29-year-old Leon is a porn director on the rise. His solo directing debut Manhattan earned 2 GAYVN nods.
Making his porn debut in Jungle is SF l
Quiet on the set
The set of Hot House's new leather film Communion radiates fantasy. Not just because of the elaborate, quasi-religious scenery, but seeing three chiseled young men wearing nothing but armbands standing around chatting at full mast is just not part of most of our daily realities. As they wait for the next take, it's clear that Viagra has eliminated the need for on-set fluffers.
"We're waiting on the booty," explains Scarborough as the fourth cast member freshens up. The cast sucks down Rockstar energy drinks to sustain them through the eight-hour day, which will produce one scene. Earlier in the week, smoke effects for the film brought firemen bursting in, and the director sprinting through the studio telling everyone to cover up.
When the musclebound "booty" emerges from the bathroom, co-director Michael Clift re-positions the cast as crewmen hunker down to capture the next take. It's safe to say that cameramen in this business spend more time on their backs than the models.
Kent North is excited. Not just because of his three GAYVN nominations, but visibly excited, as his tented gym shorts reveal. He gleefully tugs down his waistband to show me how much he's enjoyed watching the four boys shooting down the hall.
"They're so sexy!" says North, who received three GAYVN nods, including Best Threeway, for his demanding performance in Blue. "I spent the day upside down on my shoulders. Once we're into it, we just let it go, but then they say 'Great, just stay there for another 14 hours!'"
A bank manager in London, North has made 16 movies in less than three years. "The bankers at home think it's great, and my partner practically pushes me out here." What does he do when he's not turned on by a co-star? "It hasn't happened yet," he grins.
Pulling back the curtain on the industry that fuels the fantasies of gay men dispels many misconceptions about the porn biz. Although there's a mystique about gay-for-pay porn stars, the major studios seldom use them. While Scarborough admits, "I'm shooting a lot of bisexuals now," many directors and models will only work with gay models, because it's clear that the gay-for-pay ones aren't really into it.
There's also a common assumption that porn models are all dumb hunks. Yet all of the models I spoke with are bright, engaging men with a realistic sense that a career in porn is a short-term ride they're enjoying while they can.
Doing porn does affect their personal relationships. "The people I date, after about a month it hits them," says Matt Cole. "They see me get recognized in public, and I travel a lot, so my love life is on hiatus." Steve Cruz says, "I haven't had a date with a regular guy in a month, because my co-stars are now my friends. I'm not really looking to date, since I just came out of a six-year relationship."
Jake Deckard admits that his porn career has posed a challenge to his partner of 10 years, yet one of his tattoos reads, "Mark & Jake, Playing to Win in a Fool's Game." "We both know we're attractive to other people, so we don't take each other for granted. I'll give this another year or so, but he'll be happy when I'm done with porn."
But until then, "The audience I'm most interested in is guys in their early 20s, when their sexuality is developing," says Deckard. "I'd like to be the ideal that they want or want to be, like others were for me. It's a kind of immortality that everyone who's chasing fame wants, whether it's in porn or on American Idol."
GAYVN Awards hosted by Kathy Griffin, Sat., Feb. 24, 6 p.m. door, 7 p.m. show. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., SF. Admission: $100 general, $200-$300 VIP. Tickets: www.ticketweb.com. Info: www.gayvnawards.com.