"I want a lot of come on his face. I want to see come dripping everywhere," gay porn director Tony Alizzi is saying to the men in leather chaps standing before him. On a late-May afternoon on the third floor of Steamworks, a gay bathhouse on North Halsted, filming for this scene for Prowl 3 has been going on for almost two hours, and it's time for the money shots. All four performers can come on command, and they're ready to accommodate. Michael Brandon, the film's star, straddles the wooden tripod he describes as a "sexual sawhorse" as his costars Brad McGuire, Carlos Morales, and Diego Alvarez gather around him and start to masturbate. One after another, they ejaculate onto Brandon's face and chest. "Ah, fuck, yeah, shoot it on me, blast that load," the star moans.
Alizzi (his industry pseudonym--he won't give his real name or allow himself or his crew to be photographed) has set up the scene in a triangular space in front of a wall of orange doors and across from a maze of corrugated-steel-sided sex stalls. The set is tiny, about 12 feet at its widest point, and pitch-black. The bodies of the four men around the tripod are lit from overhead; the only other light is the glow from two small video monitors on top of a makeshift table--a plywood board on two wooden sawhorses. Behind the table Alizzi and a small group of onlookers monitor the action.
"That's beautiful," says the director. "OK, OK, let's see some real come now. Carlos--take some of that come off your lip, but leave it on thick." In the throes of orgasm Alvarez starts screaming, which delights Alizzi. "Are you seeing this? This is fucking awesome!" He jumps up and down in time with the motion of the men, doing the Sylvester Stallone Rocky dance, arms raised above his head. Later he'll comment, "I must say that when we're trying to get the come shots I feel like an expectant mother--or an expectant father, I should say."
Alizzi, who runs a Hollywood-based production company called MSR Videos (the acronym stands for Male Sexual Research), arrived in town in early May. "A guy at Gay Chicago magazine showed me around, and he knew the guy that runs Steamworks, and they were just incredible and it was a location that had all of the requirements that I was looking for." The decision to shoot in Chicago had to do with the International Mr. Leather contest and convention, held here every Memorial Day weekend.
This year, Alizzi says, "we took advantage of the 10,000 leather queens at the IML. We used our booth as a casting booth. There's an area behind the curtain where we had people take their pants down and we took Polaroids of them, and when somebody was really exceptional, Rick Tugger, my assistant, who's responsible for casting, would call me back there and I would give it my approval--to see if they, quote, measured up." Newcomers Alvarez, Nick Piston, and Rich Strong were cast this way. Shooting started three days later.
Alizzi continues to orchestrate the scene at Steamworks: "Watch the dick--don't go into the mouth with the come. That's it--right into the come, Mike," he instructs one of the two cameramen. "Keep pushing in, now widen out. Get the whole picture now. Beautiful. And cut." There is desultory applause.
"Can we get some water?" Michael Brandon asks, light glinting off the semen streaming down his chest. An assistant brings him a bottle.
"Guys, this was a beautiful come--oh, Jesus, it was like a triple come shot," says Alizzi. "Let's get these fake come reaction shots so we can break." Alvarez gets some congratulatory pats on the back and ass from his more experienced colleagues. He blushes, turning as red as his still-swollen penis. "You know," Alizzi will muse later, "that was one of the best scenes I ever directed. It was like conducting an orchestra. There were crescendos and hills and valleys--feel free to make any analogies you want. They were just four hot boys, and I just featured them having raw pig sex."
In the next room, which doubles as a group dressing room and break area, two o'clock sunlight pours through the large windows. Bright blue Formica tables and yellow chairs are set up in front of a wall of lockers. An assortment of vending machines lines the opposite wall, but there's also a catered lunch set up at the far end of the room: sandwiches, chips, and cookies neatly stacked in wicker baskets, a tub filled with bottled water and other cold beverages. Don Auxier, the film's production assistant, sits at a table carefully going through his file folders. Now that the scene is completed it's his job to hand out the checks, which are clipped to each performer's file. Auxier has taken Polaroids of the actors and photocopied their driver's licenses or state IDs as proof they're at least 18. Some of the performers' files contain copies of contracts.
Auxier works part-time for JumpStart Casting, a small Chicago booking agency that handles singers and DJs as well as strippers and porn stars for nightclub appearances. He's also spent over a decade carving out a large following in the gay and lesbian community as the female impersonator/cabaret vocalist Honey West. For the past four years Honey West has emceed Chicago's annual Grabby awards, sponsored by Gay Chicago and given for accomplishment in the field of gay porn. Raul Rodriguez, the owner of JumpStart, who was asked to help with casting for Prowl 3, suggested Auxier for this job. Though this is Auxier's first time working on a porn shoot, "I don't feel weird," he says. "I've been around the actors enough that I see them as people coming to work. This has been pretty much what I expected--I've been on some film sets. What would seem to take ten minutes can really take hours or days. It's like the weather. There's got to be the perfect combination."
The four men who just completed the sawhorse scene have come in to clean up, and they grab the fresh white towels that Auxier has placed on chairs for them. All the actors have six-pack abs, large biceps, big pecs. Naked or nearly so, they walk around the room nonchalantly.
"I'm Michael Brandon," says the star, flashing a megawatt smile as he wipes semen off his chest. "Have you seen my Web site? Whew, that was a hot scene--I don't normally get to be the come towel." He sits down and eats some soup, winking at Morales, who's toweling himself off over near the vending machines.
Brandon, who's based on the west coast, had never worked with Morales, who lives in Manhattan. But he knew of him "by reputation--he's famous for that gangbang scene where all those guys fucked him," says Brandon in a southern drawl, referring to Morales's part in a movie called The Missing Link. Brandon topped in a scene with Morales earlier today. "Monster had fun with that ass."
Monster is Brandon's claim to fame. At ten inches long and six and a half inches in circumference, his penis may not be as big as Dirk Diggler's. But Monster is real, and over the past two years it's been the star of more than 100 films and photo shoots and uncounted escort jobs. Brandon freely admits that his dick is his alter ego, and www.xxxmichaelbrandon.com features a journal of Monster's thoughts. "Monster's the star," he says cheerfully. "I have sex two or three times a day, but if it was up to Monster I'd be fucking all day and all night, you know what I mean? The way I look at Monster is that Aretha Franklin was born to sing and Michael Brandon was born to fuck." Both the Grabbys and the GayVN Awards (the Oscars of the gay porn industry, held annually in California) honored Brandon as 2001 performer of the year. "All in a day's work," he says with a wink and a smile, giving Monster a quick squeeze as he heads toward the showers.
Brad McGuire, freshly showered and dressed in olive drab shorts and black combat boots, sits down to eat next to Morales, who is wearing a black muscle T and jeans. McGuire, 28 ("That's real--a lot of guys have a real age and a porn age"), has made "probably 20 films, but only about 15 have been released. I actually did another film, Glory Holes of Chicago, that was shot at Steamworks in pretty much the same area." McGuire's ex-lover Adam Wolfe is also a porn star. "We both kinda broke into it together. I broke in two years ago. I'd done a few smaller films for a company called Active Duty," which makes military-themed porn. "They were primarily amateur films."
Like the rest of the performers, McGuire has asked that only his stage name be used. Unlike Brandon, he doesn't work in the sex business full-time. "I'm actually a stage actor. I've done some stuff for Sweetback Productions. I'm hoping to do the musical version of The Poseidon Adventure this fall [for Hell in a Handbag Productions]." Today, he says, was one of his better experiences at a porn shoot. "The four of us were into each other. We were kinda fooling around offscreen a little bit, getting each other in the mood. It helps to know that your costars are all into each other. Sometimes you'll shoot a film that feels like the guy's just acting." Stealing a glance at Morales, he adds wistfully, "I would've loved to have fucked Carlos, though. I so admired his work in The Missing Link. The things that he does in that film are pretty amazing."
Tony Alizzi first got into the porn business in December 1998, as a silent investor. "I was a production designer for television and movies for ten years, and at some point I wanted to have my own company. I wanted to be a producer." He says that when he was approached by his future partners, "I did have some reservations at first. I wasn't sure of the amount of prejudices, and I didn't know then how strong the negative connotations associated with porn were."
The company he invested in had planned to make money through both videos and a live-feed Web site. But after three months and $100,000 of Alizzi's money, it was in trouble. It had only put out two videos, "and that doesn't make a product line," says Alizzi. A lot of the money had gone toward the Internet portion of the business, "which I was never able to develop," he says. "At the time there was the Internet craze, and I thought to be on the cutting edge I had to have all that high-tech stuff. The point is I had to refocus the company."
He broke with his partners and formed MSR Videos in early 1999, turning away from the Internet to focus solely on video production. And he came up with a concept for his company, summarized by the tag line that goes on all its promotional materials: "Where the hottest men are always pigs."
"The nastier, more aggressive, more heavy action stuff, the better," says Alizzi. "We don't do vanilla love stories. It's all about real raw, aggressive, masculine, suck-my-dick kinda sex."
MSR has released a total of 17 movies, including White Trash: You Know You Are ("Don't you just love that subtitle?" Alizzi says with a chortle), Blow Me, Road Trip, Prowl 1, Prowl 2, and the film that put the company on the map, Manhattan Sex Party. "That video," Alizzi says, "sold over 5,000 units in the first year and is still one of the top-selling videos in the country. If you sell 600, 800 units you're into profit. Two thousand is a hit. Five thousand is like Titanic." MSR markets its movies to "about 60 or 70 publications--I send out a press release that includes a cell sheet [a two-sided glossy slick of images], the video, and a press release with who's in it, who's starring in it." Costs to make and market the films range "anywhere between $5,000 to $70,000 for a major production. Mine usually run in the $25,000 to $30,000 range. That includes postproduction, which is box artwork, editing, duplication, marketing, DVD, all that stuff."
Performers are paid by the scene, anywhere from $300 for an unknown to $3,000 for a star. A successful video can produce revenue for years, even decades. Still, Alizzi says, "If you make your money back including expenses you're doing well." MSR makes most of its money through orders off its Web site, where it collects the full retail price of each video or DVD (Manhattan Sex Party and its sequel, L.A. Sex Party, are priced at $54.95 apiece). But about half of the company's releases are sold through a domestic distributor, Paladin, which pays MSR only a fraction of the full price--Alizzi is mum on the exact figure. The company has recently acquired new representation for overseas distribution and makes it clear on its Web site that it will not ship to the 25 or so countries where pornography sales are prohibited, including Ireland, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
"I'm at least making my money back, which is a really positive thing for a company that's just three years old." He adds with a mournful laugh, "The misnomers of the industry are: Instant wealth. And get in the porn industry, get a boyfriend. I turn 40 this July, and I'm trying to be a sugar daddy, but lately I'm more daddy than sugar! Listen, I'm in production maybe 18 days a year, which constitutes the days I have naked men around me. The rest of the time I'm on the phone trying to sell the damn thing."
In the break room, Ben Archer sits and waits to be called for the next scene. He wears a silver-studded wrestler's belt, a black vest and armband, and, like the other performers, black leather chaps with nothing underneath. Interviewing him is like talking to a well-endowed woman in a low-cut blouse: trying to maintain eye contact is futile. Perhaps sensing this, Archer gives his penis a gentle tug every so often.
The next setup is ready, but Alizzi is busy worrying about a problem with a performer in a scene he shot earlier in the week. "I hate to hurt Duke's feelings, but I just don't think his body was up to par, and he wasn't dressed in leather," he says to Archer and Auxier. They nod in agreement. Alizzi adds wistfully, "Man, you should have seen this guy suck cock, though--it was beautiful." Alvarez, who's on his way out the door, is flying back to New York tomorrow but mentions that he can stop by before he leaves town if Alizzi needs a new actor to reshoot the scene.
The director shifts his attention as Archer's costars in the upcoming scene enter the room. They are veteran porn actor Steve Cannon ("the consummate bottom," says Alizzi) and Cannon's real-life boyfriend, Nick Piston. "Ben is going to anchor the scene," Alizzi says.
"I need your butt," Alizzi says to Cannon, "and I need your cock," he tells Piston. Cannon, who sports an assortment of tattoos and is naked except for a leather vest and biker boots, has just completed an enema in preparation for being fucked for the next two hours or so. Alizzi gives them all a pep talk.
"I want to see more of the aggression as time goes by in the scene," he says. "Ben and Nick, keep Steve's butt and his mouth busy. Do we need Viagras?" All three performers nod their heads and say, "I do, I do," just like the kids in Willy Wonka clamoring for Everlasting Gobstoppers. Auxier tilts the bottle into the outstretched hands, accidentally spilling several pills in Archer's, who hands them back. "You wouldn't want to take all those," Auxier says.
"You still have to be attracted to the person for it to work," Archer says, "but it's easier to get it up with it." The three men toss down the blue pills and head for the set.
They pass Michael Brandon, who's finished for the day. Dressed in jeans and an unbuttoned blue-and-black-checked shirt with the sleeves cut off, he pushes a small suitcase on wheels. "I'm a sun whore," he says. "I might still catch a few rays." There are quick good-byes, and then he disappears down the dark hallway.
Alizzi's assistants have repositioned the sawhorse table and monitors, which now face a small room that's lit in red. A sling hangs from the ceiling. "Can we get a rehearsal? Can I have the talent on the set?" Alizzi asks. "Let's just walk through it. We'll start with Nick eating Steve's ass while Ben watches and jacks off in the corner. Then we'll have Ben enter the scene--Steve, you'll suck his dick and then Ben will come around and fuck you first and then Nick will fuck you." Cannon idly strokes his cock and nods his head. "Are you wearing a cock ring?" Alizzi asks Piston, who pulls down his pants to show that he is. "OK, people, let's do this."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Richard Knight Jr..