Arts & Culture » Feature

A portrait of the artists (OK, that might be a stretch) as 18-year-old porno directors

What started as a joke between two college students has led to a casting call, an awkward audition, and several hours of (so far) PG-rated footage. How far will they take it?

by

28 comments

One night nearly a month ago, Cameron Chapleau and Jaboukie Young-White, college students and roommates, were hanging out in their sparsely furnished apartment in the South Loop doing what they usually do when they're bored: coming up with names for porno movies.

There was Forrest Hump. And Django Unbanged. And One Blew Over the Cuckoo's Chest. Some, they admit, were better than others. But Austin Plowers was the very best of all.

They were so proud, they decided to do another thing they like to do when they're bored: post an ad on Craigslist.

"The creative minds at Exxxquire Productions are proud to announce their debut film 'Austin Plowers,'" they wrote, "and are looking for a cast!! As you guessed it is based off the hit movie series 'Austin Powers' so we are looking for a funky, spunky male lead to play 'Austin Plowers'! But hey ladies he can't be alone! So we are also looking [for] the ladies that Austin Plowers will be 'plowing' the applications are open, we are not looking for anything in particular. Email me if you are interested in partaking in this monumental film!"

Within an hour, they had three responses. Within a couple of days, they had ten. Some hopefuls sent head shots. Others sent dick shots. One sent dick shots from several angles, a photo of his body with his face blurred out, and a video of himself saying "Yeah, baby!" in an Austin Powers voice. ("He'll look really good with ruffles," says Chapleau.) Best of all—since none of the men, it turned out, were up for dude-on-dude action—the very first respondent was a woman.

That was when it became clear to Chapleau and Young-White that they would have to go through with making a porno.

Fortunately, both are film majors, Young-White at DePaul and Chapleau at Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. They first met at Marian Catholic High School, in Chicago Heights, but they never really talked until after graduation, when they discovered that they were both moving to the city and needed a roommate.

Their shared circle of friends was very excited about the project. Several immediately offered to help with the filming and costume design. One offered the use of his very nice digital SLR camera; the rest of the equipment, they figured, they could borrow from their schools. There was a slight problem with finding a place to film, but they decided their apartment might be serviceable if they borrowed another friend's multicolored rotating disco ball. It didn't really matter that their budget was exactly $0, though Young-White was concerned about having a craft services table for the actors. ("Maybe we'll cut up hot dogs and put them on toothpicks," he says, "and put out some apple slices. They need complex carbohydrates to keep their energy up.") They considered, and then rejected, both a Kickstarter campaign and asking established porn directors for advice and guidance.

"We're going to do this our own way," says Chapleau, "by which I mean we don't know what we're doing at all."

He and Young-White are eating lunch together at a Panera a few blocks from their apartment: identical bread bowls. Their budget does not allow for drinks.

Young-White looks too young, or at least too baby faced, to have ever thought about porn. (Actually, before this project, he hadn't, except for titles.) It's hard to tell what Chapleau looks like: he appears to be hiding behind a shaggy beard and a pair of black-rimmed glasses. He has no small talk, and on the phone, he communicates in monosyllables. In person, though, when the subject turns to Austin Plowers, he does most of the talking, while Young-White contributes wisecracks. They are cheerfully, unself-consciously goofy.

It wasn't until after it became apparent that Austin Plowers was really happening that they realized they were facing a major obstacle (aside from lack of money and experience): as 18-year-old boys, they understand that loving porn is almost like a duty, but they don't really.

"It kind of makes me uncomfortable," Chapleau confesses.

What they love are documentaries, particularly Catfish and Six Days to Air: The Making of South Park. "The behind-the-scenes aspect is very interesting," Young-White says of the latter film. "So many things make the end product good, and then you want to know, how did they do it?"

So why not make a documentary about the making of that other great work of cinema, Austin Plowers?

"It will change the porn game," Young-White says solemnly.

"Forever," Chapleau agrees.

The documentary will also emphasize the incongruity of these two extremely unlikely auteurs producing and directing a porn film, particularly the awkwardness of the whole thing: first finding people willing to take their clothes off and have sex, and then the further awkwardness of them actually going through with it.

"I think it's really interesting how cherished a thing porn is," Young-White says. "Our ex-roommate is a self-described porn connoisseur. He's been a subtle influence."

"He can name multiple porn stars," says Chapleau. "I can't even name one." (He and Young-White have, however, come up with porn names for themselves: Dorian James and Jean de Bois.)

The roommate also left a more tangible legacy when he moved out at the end of the school year: his foosball table. Chapleau and Young-White are trying to figure out a way to incorporate it into the Austin Plowers proceedings.

"At first I was so blown away by the idea of doing a porno," Young-White continues. "It's so easy. Celebrities do it all the time with sex tapes. There's this fascination with seeing people naked. It's there, so you might as well watch."

There will be no sex in their documentary, though. Instead the focus will be on the reaction of the two directors as they try to talk their actors through having sex. And maybe there won't be a lot of sex in the porno, either. "My dad said we should do a Terrence Malick-type thing," says Chapleau. "You can show them starting to have sex and then pan out to a tree and make it very audio heavy."

(The cinematographer, an extremely tall, extremely skinny classmate of Chapleau's named Keller Anderson, shares that point of view. "I want it to be tasteful," he says. "I want good cinematography. I want to show real passion.")

As they planned, the porno has become less an end in itself than a vehicle for producing the documentary. "Maybe we'll only do one scene," says Chapleau, "just the club scene with 'American Woman' and then cut to them having sex."

"We have to stay as true to the original film as possible, to hold up the artistic integrity of Austin Powers," Young-White says.

"The porno is not going to turn out well at all," Chapleau predicts. "The documentary yes, the porno not so much."

The documentary, they hope, will go on the festival circuit. The porno, they suppose, will be distributed online, on a website that pays the filmmakers for each viewing, only because Chapleau and Young-White feel it wouldn't be fair to the actors to keep their work from the outside world.

So far they have two hours of documentary footage, all shot by Anderson on digital SLR, stored on Chapleau's laptop. It mostly features Chapleau and Young-White going through the e-mail responses to their ad. They haven't written an Austin Plowers script yet, though one of the Craigslist respondents offered to help. They're probably not going to take him up on it. "There's not much writing to be done," Chapleau admits.

But what they really need is a cast.

"It's a small project with big dreams," declares Young-White. He giggles. "It's really hard to have a conversation about porn without making porno puns."

There is no casting couch at Exxxquire Productions. That's because only one woman responded to the Craigslist ad. As long as she's amenable to having sex on camera, and as long as she's been fully tested for STD's, the leading-lady role is hers. Therefore, Chapleau and Young-White are careful to refer to the audition as a "meeting" and schedule it for a Wednesday afternoon in a small study room on the seventh floor of the Harold Washington Library.

The actress, Leigh Ann Christensen, is running late. (Actually, she has a terrible sense of direction and went to the Chicago Cultural Center instead.)

Inside Study Room A, Chapleau, Young-White, and Anderson the cameraman lounge in wooden chairs around the study table and speculate about Christensen, in particular why she wants to star in a porno movie.

"She does a lot of auditions for stuff," Chapleau reports. "She just auditioned for a horror movie, which may change her availability. She has lots of winking smileys in her e-mails." He and Young-White have decided to take that as a good sign.

They've typed out all their questions onto Chapleau's laptop, which sits open on the table like a small teleprompter. These mostly concern her porno experience (or lack thereof) and what sort of things she'd be comfortable doing.

"My dad just called because he knows we have a meeting today," Chapleau tells Young-White and Anderson. "He wanted to make sure she's not an undercover cop. I googled, and it's not illegal to make a porno in Illinois, but who knows? We talked on the phone. She sounds like a woman. But she could be a woman cop."

"This is our most important audition," Young-White explains. If Christensen doesn't work out, they'll have to resort to alternative means of finding an actress. The previous evening, Chapleau went on the website FetLife, which caters to people with fetishes.

"It's hard to contact them," he says. "You have to message them through FetLife, so I had to join. I messaged one couple who's older. They're close to 50, but they said they were into being filmed. She's the slave and her husband is the slave master."

"Well, the chemistry is there," offers Young-White.

Chapleau's phone vibrates. "She's here!"

Stills from the yet-untitled documentary: Young-White and Chapleau conduct a futile casting interview with Leigh Ann Christensen, who turns out not to be the least bit interested in adult filmmaking.
  • Stills from the yet-untitled documentary: Young-White and Chapleau conduct a futile casting interview with Leigh Ann Christensen, who turns out not to be the least bit interested in adult filmmaking.

Leigh Ann Christensen turns out to be a trim, attractive 42-year-old with a 20-year-old son—a couple years older than the directors who are hoping to cast her. ("I'm not gonna lie," Young-White says later. "When I saw her, I thought, MILF.") If she's surprised by the producer/directors' youth, she has the acting chops to hide it.

"This is what I've always wanted to do," she tells Chapleau and Young-White, while Anderson sits off to the side with the camera, "and it's been nothing but wonderful. The only hard time I've had is finding addresses. My first head shot led to a table reading for HBO. I get lots of callbacks. I have another audition on Friday for a horror film."

Young-White, who has been chosen to do all the interviewing because he is the less socially awkward of the two, sneaks a look at the computer. "What about porn? Have you ever done porn?"

Christensen looks truly shocked. Her eyes open wide and she leans back in her chair.. "Oh, my God, no! I never realized anything like that was going on."

Young-White and Chapleau laugh nervously. "Uh, well . . . it's, um, understandable," says Young-White.

"I don't understand," Christensen says. "I thought it was Austin Powers."

"It's Austin Plowers."

"I thought it was a documentary."

"It's about the making of Austin Plowers."

"I see," Christensen says slowly. "You know I have a 20-year-old son. If he knew about this, he'd come after me for sure."

"I thought he was just really supportive."

An awkward pause

"Well," Young-White says, "I guess that ends the interview."

Beside him, Chapleau hangs his head and looks sheepish.

"Good luck," Christensen says. She gets up to go, but then, apparently, her conscience gets the better of her. "At your age, you shouldn't be doing this."

"Why not?" Young-White asks.

"You just shouldn't." She shakes her finger at the two directors. "Do your teachers know?" They nod. "Your parents?"

Chapleau finally speaks. "They think it's a good idea," he tells her. "They think it's going to be a good documentary."

"So everybody is going to see this?" Christensen asks.

"We could blur out your face if you're uncomfortable with the interview," Young-White says quickly.

"I'm not taking my clothes off," Christensen says firmly.

"You were the only female response we got," Chapleau admits.

"Great," Christensen says, shaking her head. "I'm the only one not paying attention. If Jordan knew I was doing this . . ."

Anderson pipes up finally. "If he's interested in the male role, tell him to give us a call."

The three filmmakers manage to wait till Christensen leaves the room before cracking up.

"Wow," says Young-White.

"What the fuck?" says Chapleau.

"It looks like we need another female lead."

"What do we do now?"

"Post another Craigslist ad to lure in an unsuspecting middle-aged woman?"

"Maybe we should be more explicit this time," Chapleau suggests. "Just say, 'Looking for a woman to be in a porno.' Or, who's the most sexually aggressive person we know?"

"I have a friend who might . . ." Anderson volunteers.

"Is it the girl with the blog?" Chapleau asks. "Does she want to be in a porno? Ask her! Tell her she can have sex with anybody she wants, not some random guy we found on Craigslist."

"The easiest way is a couple," Young-White agrees.

They think of Christensen and start cracking up all over again. "I'm blown by that," Young-White says.

"I'm glad she brought up my parents," Chapleau says. "My parents are proud of me!"

"I knew it was too good to be true," Young-White reflects.

"What did she think Austin Plowers meant?"

"I guess she thought it was another Austin Powers movie."

"It's not good for the process," Chapleau says glumly.

"It was entertaining, though," says Young-White.

Chapleau's phone vibrates again. "It's Leigh Ann!" he whispers as he puts the phone on speaker. Anderson holds up his iPhone to film the conversation. "Hello?"

"I'm not calling to say I changed my mind," she says, "but if you need help, definitely call me."

"OK," says Chapleau.

"You can send me the script."

"OK. I will. Thank you!"

"I don't actually have a script," Chapleau confides after he hangs up the phone. "I totally lied to her. I can bang out a script in five minutes."

"She could still be in the movie," Young-White says thoughtfully. "She could turn down Austin Plowers."

"He could find the next best thing," Chapleau says, warming to the idea.

"There's nothing as good as Leigh Ann Christensen," says Young-White.

"I definitely thought the winkie faces meant something," Chapleau sighs. "Maybe we could do the documentary without the porno?"

Young-White, who has been packing up his stuff, turns around and stares at his friend. "There will be a porno."

"We put up the ad as a joke, and we got replies, and we realized that this was our big opportunity."—Cameron Chapleau

A week later, Chapleau and Young-White are hanging out in their apartment enjoying a late breakfast of Pizza Bites and watching a VHS tape of Top Gun with the sound turned down and their own music turned up. This is how they prefer to watch movies.

"It makes interesting music videos," Chapleau explains. They watch VHS not out of an aesthetic preference, but because they can get tapes for 50 cents apiece at Unique Thrift on half-off Monday.

Since the misunderstanding with Christensen, they've yet to find another candidate for their leading lady. "We're about to post another Craigslist ad." Chapleau says. "And I think if we want a woman, we'll have to be willing to pay."

"We have to at this point," Young-White says. "We'll have to empty out the contents of our Pringles piggy bank."

They do feel a debt to Christensen, though. "That film [footage] of her was so good!" Chapleau says. "It was just like . . ." He can't even finish the thought without cracking up all over again.

"We want to include her in the final film at some point," says Young-White. "Maybe in a breakfast scene. She could be the waitress."

On the bright side, they've secured an actor named Gideon—the one who sent them multiple penis shots—to star as Austin Plowers. They promised him half the profits from the porno. "It seems fair," says Chapleau.

(Their true casting dream is to find a little person willing to play Mini-Me and have sex with Dr. Evil, but they realize this is kind of a long shot.)

Chapleau has also changed his mind about the quality of the porno. It might be possible to make one that's not so crappy after all. And so he's become a serious student of porn.

"I'm not masturbating to it," he explains. "I just want to see how to do it. Like when they do the wipe transitions."

"You have to be sensitive about the cuts," Young-White says.

"They can't be too abrupt," Chapleau agrees. "Sometimes they use a dissolve to transition between sex acts. That's with the nice DSLR cameras. We don't want to get into it right away."

"That's tacky," says Young-White.

"We want this to be tasteful porn, like with candles and stuff."

"And a Lionel Ritchie CD playing on the soundtrack."

"If we can get the copyright cleared."

"I'm sure Lionel will help," Young-White says cheerfully.

Despite the ridiculousness of the Austin Plowers premise and their cavalier attitude toward the script (which is no closer to being written than it was a week ago, though they now think they'll have a short comic bit before getting into the sex part, or, as Young-White puts it, "The ha-has, and then they get horny"), they are very serious about using Austin Plowers as an opportunity to learn moviemaking firsthand.

"It all happened by accident," Chapleau muses. "We put the ad up as a joke, and we got replies, and we realized that this was our big opportunity to make a good documentary. We're so young, we're not even into porno . . ."

"We didn't assign any meaning to it at the time," Young-White adds. "There hasn't been any deep lesson learned. Maybe there is one, and we haven't figured it out yet."

"Well, we've learned it's hard to get girls to do porno," Chapleau says.

(In a few days, though, their fortunes will turn: Anderson's blogging friend will agree to star in Austin Plowers under the name "Rachel Pattycake" and offer the use of her friends' band space as a shooting location.)

But if they achieve their ultimate goal, they will not only have made a hilarious—and maybe even instructive—documentary, they will also have achieved the impossible: an exquisite work of pornographic cinema based on the Austin Powers franchise. It's the deployment of technical craft to create a thing of beauty. And isn't that just another term for art?

Not that Chapleau and Young-White have actually thought about it that way.

"It's fine if people masturbate to it," says Chapleau. "But I hope people will appreciate it."

"Yeah," Young-White agrees. "Like they'll say, 'That's really hot. But the cinematography is so nice.'"

Comments (28)

Showing 1-25 of 28

Add a comment
 

Add a comment