Monday, October 19, 2015

Stardom (Part 2)

     One thing we'd never considered was fan mail.  We'd received it in the past, but only a few pieces at a time.  Now we were getting thirty letters a day, from new fans who wanted our performers to know just how awesome they were.  The tenor of the mail ranged from the grateful ("Thank you so much for making this movie") to the lewd, stuff that would have been rejected by the Penthouse Forum for being too over the top.  Picking up mail from our P.O. box was now a process, as there was always a note from the postmaster letting us know our box was full and we needed to go to the counter and pick up what didn't fit.

     Angel did something that surprised me, which was to hire an administrative assistant for Inana.  He said he wanted me to continue being creative, and not just buried in paperwork.  I'd already taken care of part of the problem, by removing our ad from the Reader and not bringing on new performers.  We were full up, having a good selection of girls (and guys) to put on camera.  They'd done their dance with our lawyer --- thanks Traci --- and would work as needed.  The administrative assistant took care of day-to-day stuff like paying bills and reading mail.  Fan mail was put in a box with the corresponding performer's name on it.  They all got some, but Bekka had the biggest stacks.
     In a surprising display of patriotism, Bekka would personally write back to any military personnel, including a couple signed photos.  She figured they deserved it.  The hoots of joy in barracks around the world must have been something to hear.
     Hustler and Gallery were good about forwarding fan mail.  They both received plenty of letters addressed to "Becky Page c/o Hustler (or Gallery)" and would collect them, bundle them up, and send them along to Inana.  Fans liked to share their erotic fantasies in those letters.  I avoided reading them, so as to avoid being influenced when writing scripts.  Some were easy to avoid, as they included nothing but a three line note and a Polaroid of some guy's dick.  Thanks, we see plenty of them in the course of the work day.
     We didn't do any signings.  We were too busy.  The one exception to this was an impromptu signing at the Smut & Stuff on Balboa.  We'd stopped in to buy whippets and lube after going to the shooting range down the block.  The promo poster for Bewitched was hanging front and center, and the cashier freaked out when he saw Bekka.  Other customers also made the connection and began scooping up copies of the video, buying them and begging Bekka for an autograph.  She obliged, running off six or seven signatures in fifteen minutes.  The next week, at my suggestion, we went up to the printers in LA and Bekka scrawled "Love, Becky Page" on a hundred box inserts.  We'd created an instant collector's item, which would be distributed to stores in LA, San Francisco, New York, London, and Paris.

     Our first sign of trouble came on a Tuesday.  The new script, tentatively titled Rock & Roll, had been completed and edited.  The whole cast was there, and we were doing our first read-through in the living room.  Sitting there, I could just make out the strains of "Nearer My God To Thee" drifting in from outside.  Confused, I excused myself and wandered out.
     There were picketers down on the sidewalk.  And a news van.
     Knowing who was important, I ignored the picketers and headed straight for the van.  I saw one of Channel Ten's talking heads sitting in the passenger seat, so I rapped on the glass.  She rolled down the window.
    "May I help you?" she asked.
     "Yeah, I figured you people would give me a better answer as to what the hell is going on.  I'm not used to having my place picketed."
     "Are you Leonard Schneider?"
     "That's me."
     She jumped out of the van.  "Hello Mr. Schneider, I'm Michelle Langston from Channel Ten News.  In answer to your question, this is a church group opposed to the production of pornography.  They object to your studio operating here.  Would you care to make a statement?"
     I shrugged and said, "You go ahead and ask questions."
     The cameraman, meanwhile, had jumped out the back of the van and shouldered his rig, ready to go.  He ushered us up into the driveway, so that my interview would have the marchers in the background.  They were holding signs that said things like "SMUT IS SIN" and "PORN IS A CRIME."  They'd switched to singing "Amazing Grace," which has about thirty-eight verses and these people knew all of them.  Ms. Langston started in.
     "What is your connection to Inana Productions?"
     "I'm the COO of Inana."
     "What does Inana do?"
     "We produce adult video."
     "If you want to use that term, sure.  We produce full movies, not just loops.  I like to think we take pride in what we do."
     I heard movement and looked to see cast and crew filing out of the mansion, taking in the sight of the protesters.  For the most part they looked fairly entertained by the spectacle.  They saw me talking with my interviewer and stayed back, up by the garage.
     Ms. Langston asked, "What do you think of being the subject of protesters?"
     I smiled.  "I'm fairly amused by it.  Judging by their signs and choice of music, their objections are moral.  Protesting against what offends you is a waste of time.  I'm morally offended by Joe Camel, but you don't see me outside of R.J. Reynolds with a picket sign.  I just don't buy the product."
     "One of the charges made by this group is that pornography exploits women.  Do you have a response to that?"
     I smiled again.  "Not being a woman working in porn, I can't give you a good answer.  Would you like to talk to a couple who do?"  I called Bekka and Tawny over.  They came skipping down the driveway.
     Ms. Langston said to them, "What are your names?"
     "I'm Becky Page," said Bekka.
     "Tawny Smith," said Tawny.
     "Are those your real names?"
     "Nope, not at all."
     "But they're the ones we use."
     Our interviewer got right to the point.  "Do you feel you've been the victims of exploitation working in pornography?"
     Both girls began laughing.  Tawny said, "I'm exploited less working here that I would be if I was in an office somewhere.  Or a news room."
     "I've never understood that charge," said Bekka.  "Nobody is forcing us to perform.  We don't do anything we don't want to.  To me, this is a well-paying job I have fun at.  Please, show me how I'm being exploited."
     "Do you mind that religious groups object to your work?"
     Bekka again.  "I'm actually pretty entertained.  The only way they'd bug me is if they tried to block my car when I go to get lunch."
     Tawny said, "I'm more than happy to debate the Bible with any of them.  We're going to have to agree to disagree on a lot of points.  Have they said why they chose us, now, to do their routine?"
     I said, "That's easy.  One of them saw 'Bewitched.'"
     "What is 'Bewitched?'" asked Langston.
     "'Bewitched is sort of our break-through movie.  It got fantastic reviews and is selling like crazy, it got all the female performers photo spreads in the magazines, it's been a real boon to Inana.  My hunch is that these people picked up on the success, looked up our address in the county business records, and here they are."
     "There was a shooting here about a year ago.  What can you tell us about that?"
     "That was a disgruntled former employee out for revenge.  It could have happened at a 7-11, or an office building, or a grocery store.  Unfortunately, it happened here.  The perpetrator is now in prison."
     "And it had no connection to the materials you produce."
     "None whatsoever.  Like I said, it could have happened anywhere."
     "What are your plans?"
     "Ordering pizza for everyone and watching the entertainment.  You wanna stick around for pizza?"
     "I meant for the future."
     "That's easy," I said.  "Continuing to produce really good smut, like we have been."
     "Okay, that's what we need," said Ms. Langston, lowering her microphone.  Seeing the camera drop, Small Steve ran over to the cameraman, calling, "Ben!  Wait up!"
     The cameraman turned and said, "Oh, hey Steve, what are you doing here?"
     "I'm the director.  I'm sober now, and getting canned from the news team was the best thing to ever happen to me."
     "Man, I've got good pay, a relaxed work environment, I'm having fun....  I have no complaints about being here."
     Ben smiled.  "Except for the protesters."
     "This is a new development.  So, what's going on?"
     I walked back up the driveway and announced my plans to buy pizza.  We could drag chairs onto the driveway and cheer on the marchers as we ate.  It sounded like a good idea to all involved.
     We went back inside and finished our first read-through, with a second planned for the afternoon.  I went in the kitchen and placed an order for three extra large pies to Leucadia Pizza.  Then I stepped outside to keep an eye on our picketers only to find Elspeth and Bekka already doing it, cigarettes in hand.
     "Damn fools," commented Elspeth in her gentle Texas accent.  "I'd expect this in Lubbock, not California."
     Bekka said, "It's not so surprising for here.  San Diego is a pretty conservative town.  Wonder where they're from, anyway."
     "One way to find out," said Elspeth, pushing away from the garage door and marching down to the picket line.  She cornered one marcher and began talking.  The conversation quickly went downhill, with Elspeth yelling, "To hell with you!" and the marcher shouting back, "It's you who's bound for hell!"
     Elspeth rejoined us and said, "Grace Chapel of La Mesa.  Mean anything to you?"
     "Not a thing," I said, lighting my own cigarette.  "The people who'd know would be any of the women's health clinics in San Diego.  You know they keep dossiers on their protesters.  They have to, for safety's sake."
     "Think they'd share information with us?" asked Bekka.
     "Hard to say.  If a place has militant feminists running it, we're shit outta luck.  We're not their favorite industry."
     When our pizza arrived, I grabbed paper plates and a roll of paper towels, and everyone pulled chairs onto the driveway.  We ate and drank sodas and applauded their singing.  They gave us dirty looks, and we smiled back.  I considered bringing down the bong, but I wanted everybody to be clear-headed for the second read-through.  Bekka decided music was in order, so she opened the doors of the Acura (into which I'd installed one hell of a stereo) and turned on one of her techno tapes.  She began dancing dirty, and was quickly joined by Tawny, Elspeth, Rio, Jackie, Rita, and Mandy.  Me, Chip, Dale, Eddie, Vince, and both Steves looked on.  The marchers stopped and stared in horror.
     They left around three, promising to be back every day until we either moved or went out of business.  Since we had no intention of doing either, they had a long wait ahead of them.  My main concern was that they'd make pests of themselves with the neighbors --- who knew what went on at the mansion --- and have the sheriffs out on a regular basis.
     After our read-through was complete we batted around ideas for blocking, especially at the nightclub.  I brought the bong downstairs for anyone who wished to partake.  Time sailed by and soon it was five, so we all went into the media room and turned on the TV to channel ten.  This being local news, we were the second item on the agenda.
     "There was drama in North County today--- "  And the whole room burst out laughing  " ---as parishioners from Grace Chapel of La Mesa picketed outside the studios of Inana Productions in La Costa.  Michelle Langston was there."
     "Thank you Ron.  The members of Grace Chapel have a goal in mind, and that is to wipe out pornography.  To achieve that end, they're going right to the source: the producers."
     The screen cut to a shot of the picketers, then to a chubby guy saying, "Our feeling is that pornography is a threat to the basic well-being of this country and exploits women, and we want to see it stopped.  We learned that this is where it is produced locally, so here we are."  A bar at the bottom of the screen announced he was Pastor Paul Wertham.
     The shot cut back to the picketers, and a voice-over said, "We also spoke with Leonard Schneider, who runs Inana Productions."
     Cut to me saying "I'm fairly amused by it.  Judging by their signs and choice of music, their objections are moral.  Protesting against what offends you is a waste of time...."  And it cut off right there.  The voice-over continued, "A couple of Inana's actresses also shared their views."
     The screen showed Bekka and Tawny, to cheers from the room.  Bekka said, "To me, this is a well-paying job I have fun at.  Please, show me how I'm being exploited."  Followed by Tawny saying, "I'm more than happy to debate the Bible with any of them."  They were cutting a lot of our statements up.
     Cut to Michelle Langston standing at the side of the news van, saying, "As you can see, there will be a lot of contention between the church and the pornographers.  With Inana having just released a new movie called 'Bewitched,' it's doubtful they will budge easily.  This will be a controversy that won't go away anytime soon.  In La Costa for Channel Ten News, Michelle Langston."
     Back in the newsroom, the pile of clothing named Ron said, "According to a statement by the pastor of the church, they will continue to picket until Inana Productions goes out of business.  In East San Diego today...."
     Someone hit mute.  Calm Steve said, "So, what, they're gonna be out there every day?"
     Mandy said, "Until they get bored, and figure out that picketing a book store attracts more attention.  Nobody can see them here, and personally, I could care less about them.  Just so long as they don't touch my car."
     I muttered to Bekka, "I've gotta talk to Angel.  He should know."
     I went in my office and dialed a number I knew by heart.  Angel picked up on the third ring.
     "Hey Angel, it's Lenny."
     "Lenny!  What can I do for you?"
     "Nothing much, I just wanted to let you know some news.  We've got some controversy down here."
     "How so?"
     "Aw, some Bible-thumpers have decided they're going to eliminate pornography in the world, and they're starting with us. They picketed outside the mansion today.  We made the news."
     Angel paused.  "They mentioned the studio by name?"
     "They sure did," I said.
     "Any chance they mentioned 'Bewitched'?"
     "They did in passing, yes."
     He was overjoyed.  "Lenny, this is great!"
     All I could say was "Huh?"
     "Lenny, controversy sells.  This church group and the TV news just helped spike our sales that much higher in the San Diego area.  They've provided us with free advertising.  People are going to be curious as to what all the commotion is about, and buy our videos.  This is perfect!"
     I said, "So we should ignore the pests, because they're helping us?"
     "Exactly.  All they're doing is attracting attention to Inana."
     "Never thought of it that way.  Okay, as long as they don't cause any trouble, I'll let them be.  They can picket to their heart's content."
     "Bingo.  Any other news?"
     "Yeah, we had our first read-through of 'Rock & Roll' today.  Everyone seems happy with it."
     "Good, good.  I'm gonna let you go now, I'm meeting friends for dinner down in the Valley.  Don't worry about your protesters, so long as they behave themselves.  Okay?"
     "Got it.  Talk to you later."
     "Good night."


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