Through the Back Door
It was the typical Pottery Barn living room setup – the burnt orange wall, chocolate brown leather sectional couch, gray upholstered club chair, and large oak coffee table accented with modern lamps and paintings.
But I wasn’t staring into the Castro Pottery Barn store window – regarding that ideal that so many A-gays aspire toward when imagining their Diamond Heights dream home. Rather, it was a staged living room set at Pantheon Productions in Potrero Hill, a notable niche porn company founded in 2002, specializing in intergenerational and bear films.
The journey that took me here was not an easy one. It all started with the idea of working on a porn set, to be up close to the action and to know exactly what goes into producing an adult film.
With so many gay porn companies based in San Francisco – Falcon Studios, Raging Stallion Studios, Titan Media, Colt Studio, Hot House Entertainment, NakedSword, and Treasure Island Media – I thought I’d get offered a few opportunities.
But generally when a studio representative did respond to my query, it was something to the effect of, “We have decided to pass on this project because no one wants to know that their favorite butch model is a nellie queen.” Or this gem: “Porn is like sausage, it tastes better when you don’t see how it’s made.”
The reality is that an adult film, whether gay or straight, is selling a fantasy, where sex is always sultry, connected, and effortless and doesn’t require any penis pumps or chemical enhancers.
My hunger for the behind-the-scenes experience was finally satiated when I received an email from owner/director Chris Roma of Pantheon Productions, expressing interest in working with me. There was a daddy/boy scene shooting the following week that I could be part of. “As long as I’m not a fluffer,” I thought, a little naively. But no, I would be a production assistant.
When I arrived on set, I immediately realized that my P.A. role was more as Chef Tyler Florence than porn star Tyler Saint.
Setting up the food table, I watched the three-person crew – cameraman Chris, fellow cameraman and video editor Walter Romero, and still photographer Mitch Conner – setting up lights. After I was asked to sit in for some test shots, the models arrived: The lanky, toned top daddy “Jay Taylor” and tall, trim, 20-something bottom boy “Greg Stanton.”
After they signed their paperwork and provided age verification, they took turns being interviewed on video and photographed in various stages of undress – everything from a lifted-up shirt to showcase sexy abs to a penis peeking out through unzipped jeans to a backside in a jockstrap.
Next the models were shot engaged in simulated sex acts, which included prerequisite oral sex, rimming, 69ing, and penetration.
I started to become a little uncomfortable. It was then that I realized the harsh truth that maybe porn was better observed from a distance. More specifically, I felt like maybe I was too prudish to watch sexual activity in such a public way. It’s one thing to watch a movie from the safe distance of your home computer, where you can be alone with your feelings and can exercise control with the play, stop, rewind, and fast-forward buttons; it’s another experience altogether to have it thrust upon you without the ability to direct what was happening or easily escape from certain things. Luckily, it was soon time for a break before the actual filming.
Leaving the studio, I felt better out in the fresh air as I jogged up to Farley's on 18 th Street for an herbal tea. After that I headed to Hazel's Kitchen next door for a sandwich. “No meat for me, thanks,” I told the cashier. “I’ll take the vegetarian, no mayo.”
Back on the set, it was time to begin shooting, so I returned to my spot behind the kitchen counter. This particular scene began with the boy walking up to the daddy, who was lying seductively on the couch. Each grabbed their respective cocks in a cruising gesture.
Soon they were kissing, but lips quickly went south. “Don’t be afraid to make some noise; grunting and groaning always sounds good,” Chris suggested.
I started getting nervous. There’s something disconcerting about watching people engaged in the act. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, you can’t help but insinuate yourself into the action and analyze whether or not you’d enjoy partaking.
“Suck those balls,” Jay ordered. “You like that, don’t you?” Greg said in between licks.
I grew increasingly tense, knowing what was soon to transpire. It was only a matter of time before I’d be witnessing a hardcore penetrative scene.
After some 69ing, Jay had stiffened in his resolve. “Wanna get fucked?” he asked. “I’m up for it,” Greg responded.
“Oh boy,” I thought, as I considered how obvious it would be if I ducked behind the kitchen counter, trying to shield myself from what was about to ensue. But I wanted to act professionally.
With Greg bent over and Jay spitting on his latexed prick, the cameramen took their positions, one from behind Jay’s shoulder and the other from leg level.
Rubbing his member against Greg’s hole, Jay asked, “You like that?” “Oh, fuck yeah,” was the response.
“Oh no,” I thought, “This could be the straw that breaks my back.” I was on the verge of ducking down again, but disturbed as I was, I didn’t want to be that person. In a city like San Francisco, I’m surrounded by sex-positive people who wouldn’t think twice about having public sex. And here I am, afraid to watch a simple sex scene. I had to detach in order to do my job.
Just before the scene hit its climax, Chris motioned me over. This was the moment of truth. Could I get even closer to the action? To be honest, from the moment that the sexing began, I found myself growing increasingly desensitized. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad.
Passing me a handheld light, Chris signaled for me to kneel down with the light to better capture the deep penetration shots and I quickly obliged. But now within such close proximity to the action, I had to turn my face and mentally dissociate – until Jay spanked Greg’s ass, that is, shocking me back into reality. It was the proverbial back smack heard around the world. My discomfort was intense and I didn’t know if I could handle another second.
Thankfully it was soon time for a position change and I was able to return to my safe haven. Greg got on Jay’s lap, riding him, before getting on his back with his legs over Jay’s shoulders.
I may have felt unsettled before, but when it came down to the finale, I wanted to witness the happy ending, from up close. There was something cathartic about watching them release. It was as if all the tension that I had felt throughout the experience was finally relieved as well.
I was also pleased that other than a couple transition reshoots, the scene was filmed in only one take, sparing me a long set day.
“[Jay]’s the only person I’ve ever worked with who requires no cuts in the scene and can go straight through,” Chris said. “But we’ve worked together long enough for him to know where I want him, so all I have to do is guide him along.”
I surmised that the chemistry between the actors also helped the process along.
“That was so hot,” Greg whispered to his scene partner after the cameras stopped rolling, before proceeding to tongue-wrestle him for a good minute.
“When we are setting up a scene with more than one guy, we take some time playing matchmaker,” Chris explained. “We get an idea of what type of guy someone wants to do a scene with and then send pictures and info back and forth until we get a good match.”
As the couch was wiped down with towels, Chris explained that this was the second scene in a five to six segment film, one of eight to 10 titles Pantheon will produce this year, in addition to the 40 solo scenes that go directly onto their subscription websites. After the final scenes are shot, it will take a month to edit the footage. In the meantime, Chris will work with the graphic designer, coming up with a DVD cover, posters, DVD menus, and website banners.
Once the DVD is completed and packaged, it will be sold through Pantheon’s website store and distributors. Pantheon will also post scenes on its own subscription sites and make the film available to streaming video companies that it partners with.
After the models showered, dressed and left, it was time for me to say my goodbyes. On the way out, I thanked the crew for their generosity and professionalism, and Chris informed me that I had done a great job and would actually get a production credit in the film.
I couldn’t have been prouder. I’ve always wanted to see my porn name – Jay Rod – in film and maybe there’ll even be a job for me in food setup or handheld lighting someday.
While it wasn’t the easiest day’s work I’d done, I definitely learned a lot about the “nuts and bolts” of shooting an adult film. I also discovered that unless you have the ability to divorce yourself from the action and regard it as what it is – a serious job – then you’re probably better off watching porn than producing it.
Ultimately, I think that the studio employee who compared porn to sausage making was right. Here I’m reminded of a twentieth-century theory on store window displays that argues that much of their mystique is dependent upon our witnessing them as a final product without any knowledge of the grueling labor behind the magic. So if you don’t want your fantasies dashed, then don’t peek behind the curtain.
If you want to work behind the scenes on adult films, then do a little “research” first. Pick up a DVD, watch the credits and find a role that matches your skill set — casting, set decoration, lighting, camera work, or editing – and apply through company websites. If you’re an aspiring porn star, choose a company that specializes in actors with your specific look. You can submit an application and photo through a website. If you’re a bear, daddy, or boyish type, then Pantheon Productions might be a tight fit that could suit you just fine.