The XXXstasy Biz

Porn in Miami Beach is just another franchise operation

While their parents remain unaware of their porn lives, Scott makes it clear that their marriage vows remain unaffected by the day's events -- both are absolutely monogamous. "If somebody wants to look down on me for sleeping with my wife on camera, it doesn't bother me," he bristles.

But the couple's insistence on only having sex with each other does bother much of the rest of the cast. As the two traipse off to begin their scene, several of their fellow actors hover nearby with a discernibly critical air. With Biscayne Bay framed behind them, Mariella peels off her clothes and crouches in front of Scott. The director begins circling them with his camera, swooping in for a closeup, issuing words of encouragement.

The rest of the cast is less impressed. "If she's serious about her career, she's going to have to start doing other guys," Lesley Zen observes pointedly, "or she's not going to get much work."

Hustler's Jimmy Flynt (above) connects DJ culture with porn, to the rhythm of a ringing cash register
bottom photo by Brett Sokol
Hustler's Jimmy Flynt (above) connects DJ culture with porn, to the rhythm of a ringing cash register
Monica Mayhem and Joey Ray, relaxing after a scene shot inside an Espanola Way club
Brett Sokol
Monica Mayhem and Joey Ray, relaxing after a scene shot inside an Espanola Way club

Joey Ray is less tactful. He begins mercilessly critiquing Mariella's oral technique. "Jesus, look at the way she's racking him with her teeth," Ray mutters, garnering snickers in agreement. Informed that Scott isn't just Mariella's exclusive partner -- he's been her only partner so far -- Ray simply sneers, "It shows."

"This company has never made as much money as now," declares Jim Baes, vice president and creative director of the Beverly Hills-based Hustler Video. "This is due to video. It's probably 50 percent of our revenue. Whatever Larry Flynt does, he always does to excess. He wants to be number-one in the adult video industry."

This move away from print, however, is nothing less than a survival tactic. "We're opening up in all kinds of new directions, because the press is dying," Baes explains, painfully aware that the former standard-bearers of the sex trade are in critical condition. Playboy's circulation may have stabilized at about 3.1 million, but its future is far from rosy. Ad pages are down, its Website is one of the few unprofitable sex-related concerns on the Internet, and the company overall continues to post losses ($31.4 million last year alone). Hugh Hefner's brainchild, once groundbreaking, is hemmed in on one side by now easily available explicit fare, and on the other by the runaway newsstand acceptance of cheesecake magazines such as Maxim (whose own 2.2-million circulation has made it the toast of the publishing world) and FHM (whose editor was just tapped to resuscitate the similarly moldy Rolling Stone).

Over at Penthouse readership has shrunk from a Seventies high of nearly 5 million to 650,000; suffocating debt has several financial analysts predicting the company's bankruptcy before year's end. The suits at Hustler -- who have seen their own publication's monthly circulation contract from a late-Seventies high of 2.7 million to its current 600,000 -- are paying close attention to these developments.

"Men's sophisticated magazines are dying, so we are diversifying," Baes continues in his thick French accent, pointing to his own career track. In 1999, after a decade overseeing Hustler's European licensing, he was called back to the States to launch Hustler's video line. In just three years, Hustler Video has quickly become a market leader, taking the novel path of bringing high production values to previously fringe subject material. Each volume of Barely Legal, a series of vignettes featuring young women touted as just this side of eighteen; gynecologically explicit, condom-free sex; and onscreen urination, sells upward of 15,000 copies at $25 a pop. Wholesaling for roughly half that, and made on budgets of $35,000 to $50,000, it adds up to a tidy profit -- especially since Hustler issues seven to ten different videos a month. Baes declines to reveal Hustler's overall financials -- the privately held company also includes a $35 million poker casino in Gardenia, California; retail emporiums in Hollywood, San Diego, and Cincinnati; strip clubs; and an Internet division. But he doesn't argue with the rough math that sees Hustler Video turning a cool million in profit each month.

The key to Hustler's fortunes -- and avoiding the downward spiral of Playboy and Penthouse -- is mirroring pop trends such as the current obsession with youthful sexuality, Baes says. After all, Barely Legal seems borderline taboo only if one ignores Abercrombie & Fitch's recent hawking of thong underwear to prepubescent girls. Explaining away the thongs, which come adorned with slogans such as "kiss me" and "wink, wink," Abercrombie & Fitch spokesman Hampton Carney told the San Francisco Chronicle: "It's not appropriate for a seven-year-old but it is appropriate for a ten-year-old. Once you get about ten, you start to care about your underwear."

Turning to music and fashion's fascination with hip-hop, Hustler Video also has the Ghetto Booty, Black and Wild, and Young and Black lines -- all scored to rap soundtracks and set within an urban milieu. That strategy has paid off as well: The best-selling adult video of 2001, with more than 120,000 copies sold worldwide, was Hustler's Doggy Style. The movie featured the rapper Snoop Dogg presiding over an orgy inside his Los Angeles mansion, taking the already risqué nature of many rap videos to their logical conclusion.

Next on Hustler's cultural radar? South Beach. Currently in preproduction is South Beach Love, a 22-episode, hour-length show Baes describes as "a look at the darker side of the modeling industry. It's going to be a very dramatic, somber story -- not light and bubbly. It will expose all the undercurrents of crime and corrupt politics that flow from the work these pretty girls do. That's what the public wants to see, and that's what Miami has."

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