By Michael E. Miller
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When Into the Mist wrapped, Zen was told she would need to do several sex scenes for pinktv.com. Zen refused, saying her contract stipulated only one such scene a month in addition to her duties as hostess of Pink TV Live, the yet-to-launch talk show, and work in the "private session" rooms. Shortly afterward, Zen said, Pink TV simply stopped paying her.
She still seethes over the experience and is considering suing. "He ruined my life," she said of Verleur.
Zen isn't the only one who claims to have been caught in a bind with Pink TV. Jenny Hendrix, a Los Angeles-based starlet, signed on with Verleur shortly after Zen did. Hendrix was nineteen at the time and optimistic that Pink TV would be her ticket to bigger things. It quickly became clear, Hendrix said, that the operation had major cracks.
Pink TV executives were overly focused on making a name for the company, Hendrix said, throwing lavish parties and inviting investors to sit in on shoots to create the illusion that the warehouse studio was more active than it really was. Contracts were often misleading, model release forms an essential part of the business were out-of-date, and money flow was questionable, Hendrix said. When it came time to cash her fourth paycheck, Hendrix learned there no longer was an account to draw upon. Hendrix said she eventually recouped some of the money, but the experience left a bad taste in her mouth. "They don't have their shit together," she said.
Verleur acknowledged that Pink TV had bounced checks during "hard times" in 2005, but emphasized that all debts were paid "even if it took an extra week here and there." Pink TV's pay rate is among the highest in the industry, Verleur said, and models can rely on stable weekly work as opposed to the one-off scene work that is porn's bread and butter.
Verleur saved his barbs for Zen, implying that her hire had been a mistake and that she had a reputation for getting herself fired. "I think a lot of L.A. companies thought we were crazy doing anything with her," Verleur wrote in a recent e-mail. Zen was given $20,000 for relocation costs, according to Verleur, who said he was unaware of any further details of the move. As for contract confusion, Verleur evinced surprise. "Zen's contract was never binding, because after endless back-and-forth negotiation, we could never come to a final agreement." Therefore, Verleur said, Zen worked on a strictly "per-project basis."
Zen shot back, saying she had never been fired by a porn company and that she was known simply for being "headstrong." As far as the contract, she said she had understood it to be an oral agreement. "I would not move across the country for a project-by-project job."
Beyond the boobs and drama, the sex and recriminations, Pink TV is a business like any other. Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" soothes on-hold phone callers to the warehouse studio. The receptionist chats amiably about her recent string of bad luck. Techies sweat in the whirring server room and stare blankly at the control room monitors. The voyeur lounge on a recent weekday night could have doubled as a Prozac ad. The height of action in the lounge that night: two naked women lying on their stomachs and tapping on their laptops (each has a computer to chat with customers online). A vaguely Native American-looking raven-haired woman with perky buns manned a laptop on the bed while a laconic blond lay on her back as she read The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom. Later they sat down to eat take-out steak and beans, occasionally making small talk or dawdling on their keyboards. A ceiling camera recorded every detail of the meal. Then the girls left the room for a spell. The chatroom buzzed briefly before going quiet:
Joaquin: damn all the girls are gone
Darrell81: is anyone there
As captain of the Pink TV ship, Verleur is constantly dreaming of distant, unconquered lands. He has pulled out unlikely successes before (Pink TV's investors wouldn't have trusted him otherwise), and he seems surrounded by true believers if there can be such a thing in the porn world on a profit-sharing plan. "Pink TV is a life investment for my staff and I," Verleur wrote recently. "We are a young, driven force of people who work sixteen-hour days, sacrifice nearly all personal life, and live, eat, and breathe Pink TV." Soon, Verleur said, he expects to buy out the adjacent warehouse and expand the Pink TV complex by about 10,000 square feet, building an outdoor deck and Jacuzzi as well as a gated parking lot.
Last summer, when he wasn't in backroom meetings, Verleur made the rounds at Pink TV's sprawling Internext bacchanal, seeing to it that everyone was having a good time. But he couldn't control the weather, and a few hours into the party, it began to rain. The gravel lot turned muddy, and the white tents stained. Soon guests were scampering for their cars, Pink TV just another dark warehouse in their rearview mirrors.