Friday, March 17, 2017

Freshman (Part 1)

     Angel was over the moon for the mini-features idea I'd had.  Really, what I had proposed was making XXX versions of sitcoms and TV dramas.  Inana's roots were in the production of "loops."  In porn, loops were twenty to thirty minute long sex scenes, no plot whatsoever, just wall-to-wall sucking and fucking.  We were still producing them, with a twist: instead of just random sexual activity, we actually had some set-up for the action.  Say, a guy helps fix a girl's car when it's broken on the freeway.  She invites him back to her place to wash up, then demonstrates her gratitude.  A woman owes a bookie money, but she offers a different form of payment.  A guy helps two girls move into their new apartment.  They thank him, at the same time.  And on and on. Just little set-ups lasting about three minutes, then into the sex.

     The mini-features would be more involved, but still primarily existed as showcases for the smut.  My friend and now full-time writer for Inana, Mallory from Minneapolis, created basic frameworks for these mini-features.  The frameworks offered endless possibilities.  One was a twenty-four hour fitness center, around three a.m.  Another was a college dorm.  Another was the garage of a suburban home, converted into living space by an eighteen year old bong-monkey and his girlfriend.  Yet another was a real estate office. And finally, an apartment inhabited by alternate-universe versions of the cast of "Three's Company."  These three didn't play the coy games Jack, Chrissy, and Janet did, they were on top of and inside each other constantly, along with almost everyone they knew.
     Angel said to ditch the real estate office, but start cranking out script treatments for all the others.  We could serialize the episodes very easily.  The first few tapes of the mini-features would have episodes from all four scenarios, then we could start putting out tapes containing four episodes from each little world.  Since the locations were totally static --- how many sets did "Married - With Children" have? --- they were cheap and easy to produce.  We'd be able to keep all our performers busy with them, and they'd have more to do than suck and fuck, they'd need to act as well.  Loops have always been nothing but masturbation inspiration, and these would be too.  The sex would still take up a large percentage of each episode's running time.  But there would also be valid entertainment happening, and it would continue to happen, if Mallory and I had anything to say.
     Angel gave me two directives.  First, start hunting down a third writer.  Second, I was no longer the de facto COO of Inana Productions.  Angel didn't want me managing a business, he wanted me being creative.  To this end, he had hired my "replacement."
     I answer the door of the Inana mansion, where our original studio was.  Standing there was a complete geek: thick glasses, nineteen pens and pencils jammed into his dress shirt pocket, tie askew, slightly buck-toothed.....  A geek, a dork, a nerd. And when he sees me, he sticks his hand out and says, "Hi!  You must be Lenny!  I'm Stefano, my uncle Angel just hired me to run the business end of Inana.  Where would you like me?"
     Shaking my head as if to clear it, I answered, "Angel is moving damn fast, he just told me about this arrangement yesterday.  Ah....  You'll be taking over my office.  Only thing is, I've gotta clean out my crap first.  But uh, let's go that direction."
    I sat down behind my desk and gestured Stefano towards the sofa.  Looking across at him, I queried, "What qualifications do you have that made Angel hire you?"
     "I'm a business major from USD, I graduated in the spring.  Angel wanted a pro to take over the business end of things, but he also wanted someone young, not a wise guy from the family, you know?  Angel said he wants you doing nothing but writing and producing from now on.  You're getting a raise, and I'm getting a damn nice salary for my first real job."  He eyed around the room.  The Wendy O. Williams poster and Bekka's Penthouse centerfold grabbed his attention.  So did the Macintosh on my desk.  He asked, "You've been using a Mac to manage things?"
     "Some things, yeah.  You familiar?"
     He shook his head and replied, "Macs are too lightweight for business use.  No memory, dinky hard drive, black and white display....  I prefer PCs.  Replacing that Apple Jack with a state of the art 486 is the only way to go.  Do you have any personal information on that thing?"
     Thinking, I said, "Yeah, a whole lot of writing.  Every full script Inana has produced is on floppy, plus treatments, outlines, random notions....  Stuff I want around still, so I can sniff out different ideas.  Lemme guess, the file format all my writing is saved in isn't compatible with a PC's software."
     "You got it,"  Stefano said airily.
     "Okay.  How do I get to that information?"
     "With your Mac, open all the writing files you want to save, one by one.  In each file, remove any formatting you've inserted.  No italics, no tabs, no bold-face, just words forming sentences and paragraphs.  Re-save the altered file as a .TXT file.  Both Mac and PC can read plain txt. files."
     The sound of people approaching began rising.  A glance at my watch showed it was lunchtime, the morning's loop was in the can.  Bekka and Donna had taken on Dale and Stallion, the setup was married couple Bekka and Dale had met young unmarried couple Stallion and Donna at a bar.  The unmarried couple asked what the secret was for a long and happy marriage.  "Flexibility, a willingness to take chances, and carnal desire."  Do you two have the same level of "carnal desire" now as you did when you met?  "Absolutely.  It's just, we're smart enough to know we are desirous of other people, not just each other.  And we help each other try to indulge those desires.  Why do you think we invited you two back to our place?"  Cue the rutting.
     Bekka stepped in,. wearing her kimono robe.  Donna was also there, in nothing but thong panties.  Both lit cigarettes, then sat down, with Bekka on my lap and Donna nodding a greeting at Stefano.  He gave a wobbly smile back, rattling his head up and down.  Bekka said to me, "Since he's sitting in here with you, and you're not pointing your pistol at him, I'm gonna guess this guy is cool.  Hand me the fucking pipe, darling, me and Donna can both use a pick-me-up.  Both of us spent too much time today trying to get Stallion to rein it in."
     I pulled the glass pipe out of my pants pocket and squinted into the bowl.  It needed a reload, so I pulled out the vial and began knocking meth into the neck of the pipe, tapping it so the dope would drop into the bowl.  As I did so, I asked, "What was Stallion doing?"
     Donna rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, Jesus.  He's still sure Hollywood will be calling any day now, to turn him into a star.  Then he'll be done with low-budget outfits like Inana.  When the cameras were on, he was grinning and strutting like a cross between a street pimp and a WWF wrestler, totally out of character for his role.  We'd mount a position, and Stallion is giving us these 'I'm so much better than you' snotty grins."
     "Does he even have an agent?" Bekka asked, taking the pipe from me and beginning to melt in the dope.
     "He's signed up with someone," I answered.  "Whoever it is took him on the strength of his glamor shots and a sample video he sent.  It could be William Morris, it could be some guy working out of his car, monopolizing the pay phone at a mini mart.  It took him a while to land whoever he's with.  Nobody has a use for porn studs in Hollywood.... No, I take that back.  I'm sure Barry Diller could find plenty of uses for porn studs."
     Bekka had taken her hit and was holding the pipe towards me.  I waved her off, pointing at Donna.  She began firing the bowl.  Stefano was watching this with curiosity.  When she blew her cloud, she offered the pipe to him.  He asked, "Uh....  What is it?"
     "Meth," answered Bekka.  "If you didn't know, Lenny and I are addicts.  Donna uses intermittently, a far more sensible approach."
     I said, "Donna, Bekka, this is Stefano, Angel's nephew and my replacement.  Angel wants me writing a hell of a lot more, so Stefano is gonna be the de facto COO here.  I'm gonna claiim squatter's rights at one of the empty upstairs offices in Oceanside and work there, or even at home.  So Stefano, are you familiar with these young ladies?"
     "Becky Page and Donita Dare," he gulped.  "I've seen some of their movies."
     "You need to see all of them, possibly more than once," I suggested.  "You'll understand what we do around here far better if you do."
     Stefano worked up the nerve to speak a full sentence to Donna.  He said, "Do you always walk around like, uh, that?"
     Donna looked briefly confused, then gave him a patient smile.  "You are aware this is a porn studio, right?  I have more clothes on now that I've had on for the last two and a half hours....  And there were more people in the room upstairs."
     Bekka added, "If you're going to be working here, you'd better adjust to seeing nude people of both genders.  How familiar are you with Inana?"
     "I've studied the financials for the last four years, since 'Lust Instructor' was released.  Very interesting patterns.  Inana's worth increased so rapidly it's amazing.  There doesn't seem to be an end to the company's success.  Strange, 'Bewitched' was the studio's first major hit, but the sales grew over months, not weeks.  Everything but 'Rocker Girls' became a hit within weeks."
     I explained, "When 'Bewiotched' came out, our features weren't being reviewed in Time and People.  AVN, Hustler, and the other skin mags gave us glowing reviews, but only porn fans would have known, or cared.  The crossover success hadn't kicked in yet, and even when it did, the growth was rather organic.  It took a lot of people saying to their non-porn-watching friends, 'Check out this fuck film, it's actually a really good movie.'  Total word of mouth."
     "And now...." Donna smiled.  "Now, our films are viewed as legitimate entertainment, we're the ones who invented 'smart porn,' hardcore you can watch without shame.  The other studios, like Hustler Video and Vivid, are trying to catch up to us, so there will be some dilution in our sales.  But we were there first, and best."
     "Actually, I have a bar graph I created to show--- Aw crap!"  Stefano had grabbed his attache and was opening it, but he fumbled and dumped it on the floor.  Lots of odd-shaped pieces of plastic seemed to be skittering everywhere.  I picked one up and saw it had numbers on every side.  Stefano was a gamer, these were RPG dice, for determining hit damage and strength, along with other aspects.  His attache also held the softcover booklet for the game "Timelord," a tabletop RPG.  I asked if he'd ever played MERP (Middle Earth Role Player).
     "Oh, absolutely!" Stefano declared.  "What wasn't to love?  Tolkien, plus a gaming system that was both faster and more accurate?  MERP got a lot of outsider critics who always bitched about games being slow and clunky to shut up."
     "I responded, "Dammit, D&D and AD&D were slow and clunky.  Gary Gygax should have sat on the game another six months when he first published it.  He could have made things a lot more streamlined.  It always irritated the shit out of me that while I'm in the middle of mentally creating this huge adventure, I've gotta routinely stop and work out a math problem."
     "Is it really that big a deal?" asked Stefano.
     "If you suck at math, it is," I said pointedly.  "That aspect is why gaming got written off as a pursuit of the terminally nerdy, a pursuit only the pencil-necks would enjoy.  Tabletop RPGs should have been accessible, and a hit, with a cross-section of people.  The wonk work needed to play just drove folks off.  Plenty of people would enjoy the mental immersion possible in playing a well-run game.  The grunt work, the math needed, jarred you out of that immersion.  I gave up on RPGs completely until I played MERP, and MERP had been out for a while when that happened."
     "The popularity of RPGs for gaming systems supports that idea," said Bekka.  "Look at how popular Ultima or Final Fantasy are.  You can take part in actually playing the game, and let the damn Nintendo perform math for you.  Somebody's buying all those games."
     Donna announced, "I can smell Stallion's fucking deodorant on me, I'm gonna go shower."
     "I'll join you, I smell of dick."  Both girls went out and upstairs.
     Stefano looked at me and said, "Is this what things are always like here?"
     "What do you mean?" I asked.
     "Um, nearly-naked girls, drugs, just hanging out with the boss....  They walked into your office like they owned the place."
     I frowned across at him, considering my words.  Then I said, "Lemme straighten you up on a couple things.  First, Bekka is my damn wife.  She can walk in here when she pleases.  But of course, so can Donna, or Elspeth, or Small Steve, or anyone else.  If my door is closed, they'll knock.  If it's open come on in.
     "We have a pretty egalitarian way of doing things around here.  Okay, I've been the guy who hands out paychecks and makes the schedules and generally wrangles how shit works.  I guess that makes me the boss.  Well, whoopty fuck to that.  I've got a job to do, but so does everyone else.  I do have the role of arbiter, fair enough, but I'm not gonna throw my weight around.  In fact, if I step into the performer's lounge, I cease being 'the boss' and just become Lenny, another dude who works here.  I will not discuss any matters on my mind while I"m in the lounge.  People respect me and accept my instructions because I get shit done, and I'm not a dick about it.  Hey, what's your last name?"
     "Rossi," Stefano told me.
     "Okay.  I'll tell you right now, if you wanna alienate everyone here, insist on being called 'Mr. Rossi.'  You may have the chops and acumen to run the business end of the studio, but on a more human, social level, you're still just a greenhorn, some guy who showed up one day.   Spend the next few days glad-handing people introducing yourself.  Do it regardless of what someone is --- or isn't --- wearing.  You're gonna be the go-to guy, the motherfucker who runs the nuts and bolts of making the studio operate correctly.  You'll be helping set the performance schedule, final arbiter in discussions about how production should be accomplished, and the guy who's allowed to write check and hand out cash.  People will respect that.  Everyone always listened to what I had to say, but they also knew I'd listen to them, too.  I was the one who got to talk first, though.
     "Have you ever been around any video production at all, much less hardcore pornography?"
     Stefano shook his head silently.
     "Then start learning how production works, all aspects of it.  Explain you're here because you're qualified to run a business, but you don't know dick about making porn, and you'd like to change that.  If people get the idea you understand how shit is done, they'll be much more accepting of hearing your opinions on various subjects.  Remember, people who have made porn their careers tend to be a bit anarchistic.  They couldn't do what they do if what outsiders think of them, and their jobs, bugged them.  Everyone here is talented in their own right, never diss anyone's job.  Make it clear that yeah, you're the final arbiter now, but you're still just Stefrano, not Mr. Rossi.  Understand?"
     "Yeah.... " Stefano frowned.  "So there is no hierarchy here?"
     "Barely," I answered.  Performers and crew answer to Small Steve --- Steve Stillman --- and he answers to me.  But that's about it.  By not elevating myself into a head-space of 'I'm the boss' people are more willing to say what's on their mind.  Knowledge like that is very helpful, and will make your job a lot easier."
     "Seems like I'm getting a lot of work and not much glory," Stefano complained.
     I stared at him briefly, than said, "Dude, you're, what?  Twenty-two?  Twenty-three?"  He confirmed, twenty-three.  "Have you ever held a goddamn job in your life?  Even a paper route?"  No.  "So, basically you're stepping into a situation you're almost completely unqualified for.  Having a chi-chi Catholic college in San Diego declare you a successful business student doesn't mean much to me.  But it was the strength of having your diploma that got you here.
     "Here's a little news flash.  Every single job you ever hold your entire fucking life is gonna lots of grunt and little glory.  It won't matter the industry, it won't matter the location, or the pay scale, or your title.  You bust ass, because you're supposed to bust ass.  And when you've got a personal stake in a business, you really bust your ass. Right now, you are in no position to bust your ass.  You don't know the other people here, you don't know what they do.  Even if you did, you'd have no practical knowledge.of their jobs.  Here in this office, you don't know where to find paper for the copier,. much less what sort of arcane filing system I use.  You'll need Gina to give you all the 411 on the phone system here.  Our security guards Spike and Goose had been alerted to the presence of the new guy, you'd have a space with your name on it.  There, that's your glory  Now get down to the brass tacks of learning all about the industry you're now in. You'll learn who everybody is and what positions they hold.  You'll have a comprehending of how all sorts of equipment works.  And you'll understand that for the creative and talented people who work here to flourish, they didn't need a fucking 'boss,' they needed someone they could consult with, who also had the leverage to get things done.
     "I really am the leader around here, more or less,  But that came from me being involved very deeply with what we were doing, I had all the answers, basically.  My commitment to Inana was on a deep personal level.  I had goals and hopes for the studio, and I'd move heaven and earth to attain them.  People looked up to me, and reported to me, because to them I was more than just the COO, I was the guy whose existence was wrapped up in the place.  My commitment was deeper than anyone else's, to I got pushed to the front of the line.  I had the job title, and the salary, and the responsibility, so technically I was the boss anyway.  But I gave people valid reasons to actually think of me like that, without me becoming isolated from everyone.  You're gonna have to earn your managerial title, just like how I said you should.
     "And dude/....   Really.  Did you expect to step from college straight into the board room?  That's not advancement, that's usually the result of nepotism.  Hell, you had an 'in' here, your uncle.  I'm sure you have the technical knowledge of business management to run the company named Inana Productions like a German car.  But to really be the boss at Inana, you're gonna serve an apprenticeship.  And the people you're apprenticing to are the ones who will think of you as 'the boss.'
     "The main thing is, don't make arbitrary decisions over anything, not without good reason.  If you're saying, even in your head, 'I'm going to do something because I'm the boss and I said so,' you will disintegrate this studio.  For the Inana people, this will have turned into just another job, a grind.  No personal satisfaction, no sense of camaraderie.  Writing quality will drop, so projects will no longer have the spark they once did.  Performers will sleepwalk through their roles.  Inana will return to being just another fucking porn studio.  And the most dangerous part?  Your uncle Angel's golden goose will have stopped laying, and that will upset him greatly."
     I stood up and gestured for him to also rise.  "Time to start meeting people.  I'll show your around some, and we'll see who we bump into.  These will be your co-workers.  All of them are skilled and talented, and all of them truly do give a fuck about this place.  Let's go."
     Halfway up the stairs, Stefano came to a stop and gestured to me.  With a guilty look, he said, "Uh.... I haven't been completely honest with you."
     "What;s up?" I queried.
     "My uncle said I'd have the duties of a COO.  Not the title, though.  Uncle Angel said that you'd still be the person in charge around here.  So, I guess you're still the COO."
     I rubbed my chin and said, "Okay, it's mostly semantics, but no.  I'll no longer have the duties one expects from a COO, you will.  I'll tell Angel to call you by your correct title and descriptive.  If he still wants me to oversee this den of iniquity, fine.  He can call me 'field marshal' or something.  Shit, I'll get that printed on my business cards.  But you are the one functioning as the Chief Operations Officer, so I'll see to it you get the title."
     "And you'll be the boss.  Okay."
     I laughed.  "No, I'll be Lenny, like I always have been.  Only Rio calls me 'boss,' and she smirks when she says it."
     We went up to the sound stages, so I could introduce Stefano to some of the crew.  They all welcomed him aboard.

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