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xmag.com : April 2003: Gonzo Porno

Halli Aston is a diminutive, pretty, twenty-two year old fair-skinned redheaded ex-political science major from Orange County, CA who has been making her living performing in sex films for the last two and a half years. She has performed in thirty-three videos since accompanying her friend to a meeting with erotic film producer Seymore Butts at which she signed an exclusive six-month contract to work only with him on his Seymore Butts Home Movies video series. "After about six movies for him I decided that physically it was too demanding on me because this was a hardcore anal series and he does about one movie a month which meant that in one week I would have to do like three scenes," she says. "Also I had never had anal sex before I worked for him and my first time ever was on film and I wasn't 100% with my scenes so I didn't think that was totally fair. I'm really selective about who I work for and thirty-three movies in two-and-a-half years is like nothing.... Most girls do that in the first two months."

Welcome to Los Angeles's fast and loose world of "gonzo" porn that is carving an ever-increasing chunk out of the four billion dollar X-rated movie business. Aston and others like her who ride their genitalia to immortality via the LA adult industry meat grinder are now beating a path to stardom with a performance style based more on endurance and sexual vitality than anything else. Reality or "Gonzo" porn has begun to out-sell and out-rent the ponderous, larger budget feature adult films that have heretofore been the industry standard. "Feature movies are probably 5% of my business," says Kurt Swaine, owner of Generation X video in Encino, CA. "Gonzo and Amateur make up the other 95%.... The gonzo stuff is hot and rents really well. People are tired of the same professional porn stars over and over again. They're tired of the same basic, stupid, boring plot and they want something real."

The term "gonzo" was first applied to 60's outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson's brash, highly personal writing style that blurred reality and fiction. Like an erotic video version of Thompson's drug-addled ramblings, "gonzo" porn involves impromptu scenes with willing, paid participants who cut to the chase with genuine, unscripted enthusiasm. The absence of plotlines, make up artists, grips and lighting technicians all but eliminates production costs and allows for a stripped down, home movie like genre of erotic reality porn that is cheap to make and easy to sell.

Acting as cameraman, director, casting director, editor, and main stunt cock, Producer/Directors like John "Buttman" Stagliano, Adam "Seymore Butts" Glasser, Ed Powers, Matt Zane, Shane of Shane's World and porn legends gone gonzo like Randy West and Tom Byron can churn out up to four videos a month. Rapid technological advances in video camera quality and a culture-wide desire for greater and greater doses of reality-based human drama have made it possible for these enterprising lust impresarios to make their sex lives into lucrative businesses. The seemingly bottomless wellspring of video virgins make out pretty well, too, to the tune of $300 to $1500 per scene, depending on looks, status and acts performed.

Most producers keep it simple by filming out of their own houses or studios. Video sex junkets to exotic locales like Mexico and Europe keep the fresh faces and bodies coming. Eastern Block sex meccas like Prague and Budapest (Bootyfest) offer a smorgasbord of economically disaffected euro-vixens who throw it up for the camera with unabashed enthusiasm. "There's no pussy like new pussy," says Jeff Marton of vid distributor Evil Angel.

However, the center of the porn universe remains Los Angeles's sprawling San Fernando Valley, where sex industry hopefuls from all walks of life can make the rounds from agents to producers in search of the next paycheck/sex scene. "If someone wanted to eliminate the porn industry all they would have to do is drop a bomb on the San Fernando Valley," says one former porn actor turned engineer. "If you think you have what it takes to get paid for having sex in front of the camera this is the place to be."

In a nondescript office park a few blocks off of Reseda Blvd. in Encino, CA, is the headquarters of Shane Enterprises Inc. Currently running the show and acting as casting director, producer and chief porn logistician is a freshly scrubbed blonde mid-western transplant known only as Mandy whose unaffected, Great Plains demeanor could easily be that of a Methodist church choir director or middle school teacher rather than the mastermind of a line of sex videos reminiscent of reality shows like The Real World or Road Rules taken to erotic extremes. Mandy, her real life partner "Camera Guy" (who assumes all filming and editing duties) and porn veteran promotions director Callie Cox form the stripped down production team for several differently themed video lines including Shane's World Slumber Party, Campus Invasion and Search and Destroy.

The classic format for a Shane's World video is simple and purposefully open-ended. "There aren't a lot of other people in the industry who shoot like we do," Mandy says. "We get a group of people together and we take them on a trip and we let it go from there. The girls get to pick who they have sex with and how and the emphasis is on people having fun. They have a better time and the orgasms are real and the whole thing is enjoyable to be a part of and I think that comes across on video."

On the set for the all-girl Shane's World Slumber Party #11, Halli Aston was forced to sit out due to late PCR/DNA test results. Safe sex has become the rule in the adult industry, although the condom requirements that were initiated several years ago have fallen by the wayside. Now every performer needs documentation of a recent PCR/DNA test, which decreases the window of possible HIV infection down to about 30 days. A delay in the return of results can mean lost work, so most regular sex performers make the monthly test a mandatory ritual. "The testing requirements are having a very positive effect," Mandy says. "It's probably a whole lot safer having sex with someone in the industry who gets tested all of the time than with someone you would pick up in a bar."

Keeping with Shane's World's customary dedication to quirkiness, an unsuspecting male stripper was hired to perform and be worked over by an equally unsuspecting cast for Slumber Party #11. The action was quickly curtailed by Mandy when the Speedo was removed revealing a hard-on that would go un-popped (no test results) and the nonplussed dancer was paid and sent on his way. As girl/girl sex scenes were being filmed in the jacuzzi, on the pool table, kitchen counters and living room floor, Aston sat cross-legged on the floor in a back room, her long red hair cascading around a white pajama jumpsuit. "I've done features for Vivid and some other companies and the sex is definitely real but it's a little more planned and planned sex isn't always the best sex. These [gonzo shoots] are definitely the most fun for me with the total spontaneity and the rawness and the sweat because that's what's real. I want women to know that they are beautiful no matter what. They don't have to have a ton of makeup on and a perfect body to be sexy. Being sexy is being confident and that is fun. That's sexy to me. Also with the internet it's accessible to everybody and I think it is important that amateurs out there making their own home movies know that there is a market for them and that anybody can be a porn star."





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