The New Pornographer
As a boy, Mikey Butders dreamed of distant galaxies. From the window of his family's apartment in Queens, the night sky was a hazy fantasy swirling above the fluorescent wash of street lights. Butders would go there someday, he told himself, and float untethered through the blackness.
The astronaut reverie began to fade when Butders was ten years old. He had stumbled onto his big brother's cache of skin mags and pornographic videotapes. He was fascinated, watching the sex scenes over and over, telling all of his friends about Ultimate Lover starring porn legend Nina Hartley. The Frankenstein-meets-porn plot revolved around Hartley's quest to develop and use a "superstud" in her lab. It wasn't long before Butders dreamed of being a porn star himself.
Fast-forward eleven years. Butders's parents have separated and left the Jackson Heights neighborhood in which Butders grew up. After a few semesters of political science classes at Penn State, Butders has dropped out and moved to Miami to be closer to his mother in Coral Springs.
It is a weekday afternoon in early 2004. A 21-year-old Butders, sweat beading on his forehead, is going at it doggy-style with a brunette, her hands crumpling beige sheets in a low-ceiling South Beach apartment bedroom. The room is furnished with little more than a mattress and box spring, and the hospital-white walls are bare. Butders picks up the pace, and the Puerto Rican girl's practiced moans grow louder. It is sex scene number twentysomething or thirtysomething of Butders's budding porn career.
Just over five feet five inches tall, with short, curly black hair and a gleaming smile, Butders (the Uruguayan-American's screen name) has a cherubic face that makes getting into bars without an ID nearly impossible. A shadow of stubble shades his jutting jaw, and a thin gold necklace dangles above his pecs like a rope bridge over rock formations. His toned arms and wide chest products of regular visits to the gym and a regimen of muscle-boosting testosterone supplements glisten in the modest set's umbrella lights. The two-bedroom apartment where Butders sleeps and works is nearly spotless and smells of citrus air freshener. The refrigerator is full of bottled water and the cabinets are full of bags of potato chips. A hall closet is stocked with towels, condoms, anal beads, dildos, and lubricants tools of the trade.
Sitting on the living room couch, the girl's boyfriend can hear the bed banging against the wall. He can hear his girlfriend panting. The two had answered an ad to shoot a sex scene together, but the boyfriend wasn't up to the on-camera performance. So the cameraman "went to the bullpen," calling in Butders.
"Open up," the cameraman says calmly. Butders repositions himself so his right hand cups the brunette's left butt cheek and his left holds the right cheek, providing a better camera angle. The camera pays little attention to their faces, so Butders watches closeups of his eight-inch penis in and out, in and out on the playback monitor. In his head, he counts down the minute-and-a-half until the next position.
By the spring of 2004, Butders was making good money and living out his fantasy, but it was all beginning to feel routine, and doubt was creeping into his mind. Then Butders's 64-year-old father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. For about eight months, Butders stopped filming scenes. He worked as a food runner at Cafeteria in South Beach and spent time with his father, who was living out his final days together again with Butders's mother in Broward County. Still affectionate toward her ex-husband, Butders's mother had offered to care for him when she heard of his illness.
Grief-stricken and lost, Butders agonized over his porn career. Had he become some kind of lowlife, unredeemable in society's eyes? Would every girl he fell for leave him as others had when he told them about his job? Was he unworthy of being a father? He told his own father he was in porn. His dad didn't scold him, but Butders could tell he was disappointed.
"With me, they had high hopes," Butders says.
Butders had seen others in the business grapple with the questions that were haunting him. He had seen them give up on themselves, an attitude he's quick to characterize: "I'm a fucking scumbag. I'm shit. Oh yeah, what was I thinking more drugs." Butders chose another route. He would stay clean, keep his head on his shoulders, maintain perspective he wasn't doing anything illegal, wasn't hurting anyone. He would make a name for himself as a porn star. Then he would branch out to directing and producing scenes for mikeybutdersvod.com a Website he maintains with clips from scenes he has done for other sites eventually compiling the scenes in a DVD series and living off the royalties. If the scheme worked, he could retire in about ten years, get on with his life, raise children. In the meantime, he told himself, he'd keep his career a secret from the person with whom he spent every Sunday his mother. He would give up on finding love.
"Love ain't paying too well these days," he says.
Miami's porn industry largely Internet-based is like an 800-pound gorilla covered in Vaseline. It is difficult to ignore and impossible to pin down.
Local sites such as bangbros.com and milfhunter.com pioneered so-called gonzo reality porn, with sex scenes made to look spontaneous and unscripted in moving vans and on boat decks, featuring supposedly random girls off the street and unfaithful spouses. The niche quickly became a phenomenon, spawning legions of imitators and leading to massive exposure for the originals. However, because most sites are privately owned and no definitive financial analysis exists, there's no way to gauge the profitability of Miami's porn industry.
Adult Video News, the industry trade magazine, compiles a monthly Web feature about porn site traffic patterns. Miami-based operators consistently receive high billing. AVN's analysis comes from link sites, Web businesses that get a cut for every new member they direct to a porn site. All three of the link sites in AVN's upcoming March analysis list Miami programs among their Top 10 most profitable.
Understandably, link site owners have made a point of directing Web surfers to Miami sites such as bangbros.com and milfhunter.com. In fact well over 4000 link sites connect to each among the highest totals in the online porn world, according to Brandon Shalton of t3report.com, an online service that analyzes Web traffic.
Nationwide the porn industry is estimated to have raked in about $12.6 billion in 2005, according to AVN. Internet porn accounted for approximately twenty percent, or $2.5 billion of the total.
Butders wants a slice of the porn cash pie and then, he says, he wants out. He's waiting to find someone with the capital to get the ball rolling on the movie series he plans to market. It will be bare-bones, no plot, straight-to-the-sex stuff. "Why bother with anything else?" he says. "Most people just fast-forward through that."
He has had some bites but hasn't reeled in an investor yet. As Miami's online porn business continues to boom, more people will want a stake, he figures. "It's like the new real estate."
The plan is to shoot scenes for mikeybutdersvod.com and then compile the scenes, based on subscriber votes, into DVD movies. Butders will star (of course), direct, and produce. He'll pay a cameraman about $200 per scene and a starlet about $600 to $800 per scene. When movie royalties begin pouring in, he'll say goodbye to porn.
Butders's confidence might be naive, says porn legend Ron Jeremy. With more than twenty years' experience in the business and close to 2000 films under his waistband, Jeremy has seen plenty of porn stars plot their financial independence. It is not an easy path, he says. In Miami recently, Jeremy chatted amiably before a conference about mobile porn technology nudie pics for your cell phone, basically at the Radisson on Biscayne Boulevard. Barefoot and wearing nylon pants and a black T-shirt strained by his bulging belly, Jeremy reclines on the hallway floor outside his room. He doesn't want to disturb his "lady friend" having room-service breakfast in bed.
"It's so hard to get well-known if you're a guy, because we're just props," Jeremy says. Porn's overwhelmingly male customer base is primarily interested in the actresses, he points out. In Los Angeles, where most major production companies shoot, even Jeremy, the most famous porn star in the universe, earns only about $800 per scene. In contrast, female starlets such as Jenna Jameson can make up to $10,000 per scene.
First thing's first, Jeremy says: "[Butders] is an awful name. It's going to hinder his career." Whatever handle he uses, Butders will have a difficult time gaining wide recognition through a Website, Jeremy explains: "Anything can be online." Starring in DVD movies, by far the most profitable and highest-profile segment of the industry, is the way to climb to the upper echelons of porn stardom, Jeremy says. Still, the Hedgehog, as Jeremy is known, is encouraging. Butders will do fine if he works hard, does scenes with lots of "cute" girls, and Jeremy smirks changes his name.
He graduated high school with a 3.8 GPA and a 1220 SAT score but didn't have the patience for college. He moved in with his mother. He worked as a personal trainer in Boca Raton and spent weekends on the beach. He drifted.
One day, in Fort Lauderdale, he spotted Jake Steel, star of milfhunter.com, one of Butders's favorite porn sites. Steel was filming a "pickup" scene on the beach. Butders, then nineteen years old, worked up the nerve to approach Steel, telling him how great he thought his site was. They chatted, shook hands, and then Butders went back to his towel. "Give him your number," Butders's buddy said. "Let him know you're available for work." Butders shook his head. He couldn't do that. Besides, what did he know about working in porn? "You think they go to school to be a porn star?" the friend said, choking on his laughter. So Butders did it, gave his number to Steel. What the hell.
Two months later, in the summer of 2002, the phone rang; Steel was on the other end. He wanted to try out Butders for a scene in Davie. It paid $150, Steel said. When the day came, Butders was jumpy. The set wasn't reassuring a "crappy" little apartment where another couple was finishing up a scene on the floor and having sex in front of strangers was nerve-racking. Midscene, Butders had to take a break and masturbate in the bathroom to prepare for the money shot. The girl opposite him was doing her first scene too, and seemed scared. "She freaked out when we did anal," Butders recalls. She was digging her nails into his pelvis.
And so a career was born. Butders began doing more and more scenes. He quit his job as a trainer, moved out of his mom's place, took a daily menu of supplements, and kept his pubic hair trimmed. His name got around. He was dependable, they said, easy-going, no-nonsense, a good "woodsman." He appeared on ballhoneys.com, a site focused on black, Latina, and Asian women; haileyyoungxxx.com, a Twiggy-like porn starlet's site; scoreland.com, "#1 in Big Boobs"; Miami Maidens, an amateur DVD series; and hotamateurmpegs.com, where he was the main male talent. Soon he was commanding $500 to $600 per scene, almost top dollar for "pro studs." (Female porn stars typically make $1000 to $1500 per scene in Miami's Internet-based industry.) Butders could live comfortably and pay off the tuition bills he had accumulated during his year-and-a-half of college.
People dont go into porn to change the world. The lure of big paydays in Miamis porn business attracts mostly young women from all over the country. Once they overcome any lingering doubts, the motivation is pretty simple, says Barbie, a former modeling agent who asked that her real name be witheld: Okay, one hour of work, a thousand dollars.
After being propositioned by a porn director in a South Beach club a year ago, Barbie, now 22 years old, started her informal agency. She advertised on adult job sites. Although most of her business came from established porn actresses, Barbie recruited more than a few newbies at bars and clubs. They get drunk and they start talking about everything, she says. After six months, Barbie quit. She felt like she had been using the girls she recruited, taking advantage of their insecurities and lack of savvy. In retrospect, I dont think I even cared about the girls, she says. I did it purely for the money.
Joseph Thomas tells a somewhat different story. Known as JT, a well-endowed, gap-toothed star of bangbus.com, he sees Miami's porn world as a harmless ticket to financial independence and a laid-back lifestyle. "I'll be a pornographer for life," the 26-year-old said recently over quesadillas and spinach dip at the Clevelander in South Beach. The transplanted New Jerseyite worked as an exterminator when he first moved to Fort Lauderdale seven years ago, but he was curious about the porn industry. It sounded like a good time, and Thomas figured he was marketable. (He claims he has a ten-inch penis and can fellate himself, something he has done for gay porn videos but says he takes no pleasure in. "It's like tickling yourself.")
So Thomas went to work for a wealthy first-time director who paid him $40,000 up front to do 50 scenes. On the first day, the director told him, he'd have three scenes in a row. He would play an auto mechanic "servicing" three different women in a garage. "Dude, I can't do that," he remembers saying. "You're young," was the only response. So Thomas did it, squeezing in ten-minute breaks to catch his breath, eat a doughnut, or down a cold drink. The scenes never made it to the Web or video, but Thomas was hooked on the business. About 700 scenes later, he drives a sleek black Jaguar and talks about being a family man. He'd rather show you photos of his six-month-old daughter than the tattoo of a joint-smoking jester on his upper arm. His fantasy? To hang out on the beach with his girlfriend and daughter, and "not ever hear the word porn," he says.
Sipping a Johnny Walker Black Label on the rocks, his favorite drink, Butders is as likely to discuss the historical development of social mores as he is to expound on perky breasts. He segues seamlessly from brusque porn talk "My job is I got to get naked, put my dick in her, and come in her face" to starry-eyed domestic dreams "My destiny is becoming a good father and raising children."
Sometimes Butders, a bachelor, wears a wedding ring to shoots. It cuts down on emotional complications and ensures things won't go beyond the set, he says. In fact, aside from a little friendly chitchat before a scene, Butders rarely talks to the girls he has sex with. He even tries to avoid thinking about them while his body is crashing up against theirs. He imagines the innocent-looking makeup girl, he concentrates on the sensation in the tip of his penis, he daydreams about anything that will help him keep his edge. "You got to go to that happy place and get hard."
Staying hard can be hard work. Shooting a scene takes anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours and involves constant maneuvering for ideal camera angles and frequent stops to change positions. To stay in the game day after day, most pro studs take Viagra or inject themselves with steroids behind their scrotums. Butders says he runs on the strength of his fantasies.
Then there's the ejaculation scene the pop shot or money shot. Though it might seem like the easiest part of the job for a fit, young guy, it takes awhile to get used to. Imagine "your most vulnerable moment" under bright lights and a prying camera, Butders says. After a while, you get used to it; you learn to tune everything else out.
It's different for women, Butders says. "A girl, to do porn, all she's got to do is open her legs." He says his perception of women already shaky before he began doing porn hasn't improved after a few years in the business: "There's not any difference. Porn girls are just more forward." Most women are manipulative, untrustworthy, and simply out for money and good sex, he believes. "I've realized they're all whores." As evidence, he says he's slept with more than a few married women and girls cheating on their boyfriends something he shows no hint of considering hypocritical on his part.
Butders hasn't given up on the idea of a girlfriend, though. He just doesn't want one now. As much as he'd like to be with someone, Butders dreads having to justify what he does during the day. He doesn't want to deal with the stereotype of a "dirty, STD-infested" porn star, and he worries about losing sexual stamina for work. "You want to do one nut a day," he states.
Sometimes the porn star life is a dream come true, Butders says. The time he convinced two Canadian girls on spring break to shoot a scene with him that wasn't bad. He can't complain about his recent trip to Russia, where a wealthy pornographer paid him almost $3000 per day for three weeks of sex with beautiful Eastern European women. But, more often than not, he's just going through the motions, literally. So he tries to keep his business plan in perspective. Lately he has cut his work down to one or two scenes per week. He spends his free time which is most of his time keeping up with the New York Yankees and Knicks, reading the BBC news online, and playing in a recreational baseball league. He starts every morning around 10:00 or 11:00 with an espresso and an apple. Instead of working for an assortment of production companies that sometimes offer as little as $300 a scene, he waits for higher-paying jobs, and he waits for his big break.
Butders would do well to listen to Ron Jeremy and other experienced pros, says Miami-based cameraman and producer Vic Lagina (get it?). Fresh out of film school in California four years ago, Lagina filmed his first porn scene for a Jeremy movie. Right before the pop shot, Lagina recalled in a recent e-mail, Jeremy told the female star to count down from twenty. As soon as she hit zero, Jeremy ejaculated. Less awe-inspiring was the sight of a naked Jeremy eating cold pizza in the kitchen afterward. "I'll never shake that one," Lagina wrote.
Beyond emulating Jeremy's physical control, Butders should imitate his work ethic, Lagina wrote. When Butders was new on the porn scene, he phoned in one day to tell Lagina he couldn't make it to a shoot. He wanted to stay home with his girlfriend before he gave up on having girlfriends; he was tired from a night of sex and didn't have the juice to do a scene.
After shooting a few hundred scenes, the 32-year-old Lagina still can't stand some of the industry's quirks. "The crazy part is that I sometimes get burned out from this job," he wrote. "I know it makes zero sense to the average individual: You shoot hot naked women all day and you get paid a lot of money to do it, so what's the problem?" There's lax schedule adherence "the porn star delay," Lagina calls it. There's erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, especially among inexperienced performers. "Being around the lights and a guy holding a camera that they just met a half-hour ago can understandably bug someone out." There's the occasional actor who tests positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea. (Most porn stars are tested for venereal diseases every 30 days, according to Lagina and others.) A yeast infection can blow a shoot, but there are ways an inserted sponge, namely around menstruation.
As for the stereotypes, yes, plenty of porn stars do hard drugs, Lagina admits. He questions, however, whether the industry is unique in that respect: "I know surgeons who have had coke problems." Before every scene he films, Lagina asks the actors if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If the answer is yes, the shoot doesn't happen. Same goes with Viagra, Lagina claims: "I won't give out a blue boy, because it's a liability if they should keel over with a heart attack." Exploitation? Sure, Lagina says, there are those who prey on impressionable young women. But, he says, "I think there are an equal amount of girls who see themselves as a commodity that can make them a decent living for a certain period of time." The smart ones invest or save their money, Lagina says.
"You have to have a plan," says Hailey Young, a 22-year-old who recently left the Miami porn scene to make a go of it in Los Angeles's adult world. Her plan is to learn the ropes as a porn actress and then move into directing. In the meantime, her mother knows what she does and is "very supportive." Young was surprised to hear that Butders, her sometime costar, hadn't told his mother about his career. Then again, she remarked, much about Butders surprises her. "He comes across differently than a lot of the guys. They just want to have sex with all these different girls. They're just horny guys."
Butders is as horny as the next guy, and he'll bluster like a frat boy about having sex with this girl or that girl. But talk with him one-on-one, and you can almost hear him parsing the moral ambiguities that color his work life. "What am I giving her?" he says of the girls he's paid to have sex with. "I'm giving her my sperm. I'm not doing anything sacred." He is careful to emphasize the distinction between the physical act of "fucking" and the emotional act of "making love." He gets paid to fuck, he says, but he wouldn't accept any amount of money to allow a cameraman into his own bedroom. In fact, Butders says, he wants to be a successful porn star, but he doesn't want to be too famous. "It'll be a very difficult conversation when I have kids."
blue boy = Viagra
chili dog = excrement that comes out when girl doesn't prepare properly for anal sex
cowgirl = position in which girl rides facing the guy
let me get my edge = phrase a male porn star might use to ask for time to get an erection
mish = missionary position
money shot = ejaculation scene (male porn stars don't get paid for a scene unless they ejaculate, hence the name)
newb = new porn star (short for newbie)
over-under = doggie-style in which stud penetrates from an elevated angle and holds his scrotum to allow for a camera angle from below
pile driver = position in which girl lies on her back with legs bent back toward her head
playing in the mud = anal sex
pop shot = see money shot
pro stud = male porn star
reverse cowgirl = position in which girl rides facing away from the male and toward the camera
studding = working as a stud
stunt cock = guy who replaces main star when main star can't get/maintain an erection or ejaculate
sunny day = sex without a condom (although rare in the business these days, some production companies, such as Score Group, still film scenes in which the male porn star goes condomless)
suspect wood = a less-than-fully erect penis that is erect enough for penetration
woodsman = a porn star who has no problem maintaining an erection
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.