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A crowded diner at lunchtime is not the best place to watch soft-core porn. But Beach Heat: Miami is cinema, not smut. So director Bill Fisher whips out a laptop and cues up "Make-up Sex," the seventh episode of the Showtime series that debuted three weeks ago, while waitresses deliver matzo ball soup and jowly patrons down fat burgers.
Just like Baywatch, the show begins with an opening credits montage that includes guitar riffs and female lifeguards running on the beach.
Except these lifeguards are topless.
Though this publication has been sworn to secrecy concerning the unaired episode's plot points, we can tell you this much: "Make-up Sex" deals with the aftermath of a lifeguard's hot mom's arrest for going too far in a tantric massage session. There's a photographer-turned-madam named Amber, a groupie-banging rapper named C-Train, and a male lifeguard's utterance of what might be the show's philosophical credo: "I'm going to go save some lives and get a tan."
Fisher, a wiry 42-year-old Italian dude from New Jersey whose day job is directing hard-core skin flicks under the nom de porn Cezar Capone, adds narration while his BLT gets cold. He's sitting in a corner nook at Lester's Diner in Fort Lauderdale. "That kid's in Step Up 3D; he's pretty good," he muses about a bland-looking actor. Fisher wears sunglasses atop gelled black hair and a T-shirt painted with angel wings. He's accompanied by his balloon-breasted, perfumed-doused assistant, Emily Rigby, a budding porn director.
"It's a fucking great show," Fisher continues, "especially later in the season, when we start to develop the characters."
Suddenly, lesbian sex breaks out on his laptop. An impressionable lifeguard named Amber has come to ask her vivacious boss, Melanie, if she can borrow some money, and now they're naked and their faces are in each other's crotches. The scene is strategically obscured by lifted thighs but seems to stretch painfully longer than a few minutes. Maybe that's because a waitress keeps coming by to offer drink refills.
Fisher says there are about three sex scenes per episode, but they are "in no way gratuitous." He adds that the actors are always secretly wearing underwear or a "big Band-Aid" over their privates. "Is it sexy? Yeah, it's really sexy. But soft-core by definition means that there's a hard-core version of the same sex scene floating around, and that's not the case."
Fisher's starlets must not have access to the same glossary of porn terms. A coalition of Beach Heat: Miami's female talent — including its best-known star, reality show Z-lister Megan Hauserman — is revolting against the director, claiming Fisher tricked them into acting in smut.
They're considering filing suit to halt the show, says Christina Galioto, the dark-haired beauty who plays Melanie. Her character has four sex scenes in the first season, and now the 24-year-old actress fears she'll be pigeonholed into erotica. She's "mortified" that her family might see an episode.
"You watch movies about this sort of thing: The young girl goes to Hollywood and is tricked into making a porn," says Galioto, who lives in Buffalo but came to South Beach for filming. "You never think it will happen to you."
"If I had known the show would be so disgusting, I would have never done it," says another actress, who asked that her name not be used. She's a tutor, she explains, and can't afford to be associated with porn. "I can lose my job. I can be forbidden from working with children ever again."
Fisher is confused. "What did these girls think they were doing?" he demands, pointing at the laptop screen as Galioto's sex scene plays and nearby patrons give him dirty looks. "'I didn't know I was in a fucking erotic show?' She does three different positions in this scene alone! Here's my question: Did they think I was going to show them playing golf?"
Rigby isn't surprised that Galioto is staging a protest. "That's her personality," the assistant declares solemnly. "She's all women's-rights-fucking-activist-hippie-chick."
Beach Heat: Miami was supposed to be Bill Fisher's segue into mainstream production. The son of a photographer and protégé of Helmut Newton — the German master of the black-and-white nude — Fisher got his start doing fashion spreads for companies such as Dolce & Gabbana and Prada, he says.
He moved to Miami and helped establish local porn giant Bangbros.com. About five years ago, he lifted the shutters on his own enterprise: CezarCapone.com. It was initially based in Hialeah but has since moved to a Fort Lauderdale studio.
Fisher, who calls himself "the king of all MILF films," made headlines during the 2008 presidential election season when he offered Sarah Palin $2 million to appear in one of his productions. His company has been nominated for 56 AVN (Adult Video News) Awards — the Oscars of the adult-film industry — including this year winning recognition for Orson Welles-esque productions such as Oral Assault, 18 With Proof 4, Miami's Juiciest, and My Personal Panties.
He's also had legal trouble. In 2001, he was sued in Miami-Dade court by Hooters waitress and aspiring model Ashleay Boyd. Her accusation: Fisher used her photo on promotional material without her consent. Though the court record has been mostly destroyed, Fisher claims the judge told Boyd to "get this bullshit out of [his] court." Boyd's attorney, Malcolm Purow, claims they gave up on the suit because Fisher had no assets.
And last year, rookie porn star Iris Menke sued the company. According to a contract filed in court, she had been paid $50,000 a year plus benefits and a free cell phone to perform. Menke claimed that when she tried to leave for a larger company after a year, Fisher doctored and falsely notarized a contract to include a noncompete clause, barring her from working in porn anywhere else for two years.
The suit was settled confidentially. For his part, Fisher claims it was Menke who forged contracts. "Once you start your own studio," he laments, shaking his head, "it's like a big bull's-eye on your back for these chicks to take shots at."
Which is one of the reasons Fisher was fired up when Showtime green-lighted his "hybrid" show for an 11:30 p.m. time slot: "They wanted something that isn't porn but really pushes the envelope."
He was ready with the idea for Beach Heat and was given a five-year production option. (Showtime representative Perry Seaman refused to comment about the show or controversy. "With adult-like content, we just acquire it; we don't develop it," he says.)
Fisher claims he was up-front with auditioning actors, showing them a pilot that included sex scenes and describing his show as "like Californication, but racier," referring to the Showtime program often starring David Duchovny's bare backside.
"He compared it to Nip/Tuck or Sex and the City," says the unnamed tutor/actress, who was offered $800 and was not in any sex scenes. "He didn't say anything about gratuitous sex, and I didn't see any scenes like that being filmed."
Galioto won a major role and earned $5,600 for the first season, even though she had done little more than a Home Depot commercial and bit spots on E!'s Sexiest Jobs. She says she knew nudity was required: "We're lifeguards in South Beach; it's a topless beach, so we expected to be topless. But not, like, having sex topless."
She decided it might be porn after the second time she was directed to gyrate nude upon another actor. But by then, it was too late: "It was the type of thing where we were already in so deep. We had already signed a contract."
Tempers flared during four months of production on South Beach last spring. Galioto "got in a very heated fight" with Fisher, she says, calling him a "snake" on set.
The director was unfazed. He began referring to her as "T-Rex" for the way she tried to conceal her breasts with her hands during sex scenes.
Fisher says the disgruntled starlets partied too hard — "staying out at the club until 3 a.m. when we had to shoot at 8 the next morning" — and "were unhappy with their performances." VH1 reality-show star Hauserman, he points out, was busted for DUI during Beach Heat's filming in April. But Fisher allows, "I knew what I was getting into. I knew I wasn't getting Marisa Tomei."
Hauserman, who could not be reached for comment, didn't show up for the show's premiere at Pangaea Lounge in Hollywood. She's refused to sign on for the second season, which is in preproduction.
Fisher is undeterred. "These chicks think the show is about them," he scoffs. "They are so easily replaced. The show is about the concept."
Next up for the director: a comedy called Last Resort, in which a Michigan man loses everything and heads to Key West to start a resort. "It's going to be squeaky-clean, with A-rate actors," says Fisher.