Kassidy James removes her mouth from around her husband's cock long enough to flash me a wink and a smile and to ask,
"Are you having a good time?"
Perched behind her on the bed, ready to mount her like a mutt, is a big-dicked stud who goes by the name "Johnny Sunglasses." A third man, Drew, sits next to her, fondling her breasts. All five of us--the four of them a knot on the bed, me in a chair not three feet away--are crammed inside the bedroom of a large hotel suite. The four on the bed are naked, I'm fully clothed. There's one other man in the room, Jeff Harder, who orbits the bed like a satellite, a Sony DV camcorder in hand. The room is stiflingly hot.
"I need to get the initial penetration shot," Harder informs Johnny Sunglasses as he maneuvers for a good camera angle. Johnny gives Kassidy's ass a tug toward him, settling himself into position. "You ready?" he asks, eager to press forward. "All set," Harder replies. He hits the record button and there is a little electronic chirp! chirp! as gears begin to spin inside the camera. Johnny pushes himself in, moaning dramatically. Kassidy follows suit, her moans quickly broken up into little uh-uh-uhs as Johnny begins to thrust in and out of her.
"Oh yeah," Harder offers encouragingly. He hits pause--chirp! chirp!--and moves to a different angle. From the edge of the bed, Kassidy's husband, Mike, looks on, smiling, enjoying the show. The sight of Johnny Sunglasses pounding away at his wife gives him an obvious thrill.
Harder asks Johnny to stop for a moment. "Let's switch things around some," he directs. "Maybe a little reverse cowgirl?" Johnny disengages himself and sits back on the bed, giving his long member a stroke. Kassidy straddles him, positions the target over him. They both turn and look at Harder expectantly....
With some 15,000 new titles released each year, the porn industry is one big clusterfuck of product. And while some releases are "quality"--well financed, well produced, (somewhat) well written--the vast majority of porn titles released in the United States every year are amateur productions: videos shot with a single camera, usually in a sparse, single room; videos with woman after woman servicing (or being serviced by) man after man. Gonzo, anal, oral, facial, gangbang, bukkake, black-on-black, interracial, all-Asian, girl-on-girl, compilation tapes, Internet sites--the sheer size of America's amateur pornopalooza is overwhelming. So much so that the industry likes to boast it rakes in close to $10 billion annually (a figure Forbes magazine disputes, pegging the number somewhere between $3 and $4 billion).
The birth of amateur porn probably dates back to the Lumière brothers' invention of the motion picture camera (for smut seems to establish every new medium), but America's current glut of it (some 80 percent of all porn titles are amateur works) can be traced back to two industry-shattering events: porn's shift from celluloid to video in the '80s (when mass production suddenly became economically feasible) and the release of The Adventures of Buttman in 1989. The first porn to fully explore the "artistic" merits of shooting on video, John "Buttman" Stagliano's The Adventures of Buttman revolutionized the industry by removing porn from its stagy, cumbersome, tripod-and-sets-oriented roots and allowing the camera to freely move around the action uninterrupted. The result was a feeling of randomness lacking from previous porn, a What's going to happen next? excitement. Stagliano's camera floated about, zooming in and out, peering between bodies and their tangled limbs, giving the viewers an excessively intimate view of the smutty proceedings--and the finished product turned the porn industry on its collective ear. The Adventures of Buttman is often mentioned alongside 1972's Deep Throat as one of porn's most influential productions.
Stagliano's achievement spawned not only a slew of imitators (as most successes do), but also its own genre title: "gonzo porn." And in the 13 years since The Adventures of Buttman's release, gonzo has taken over the industry, inspiring a flood of cheaply produced videos cranked out by upstarts with $900 cameras and iMac computers. Some, such as Ed Powers and the über-creepy Max Hardcore, have etched out names for themselves, but for the most part amateur porn "auteurs" remain relatively unknown, mere ripples in a vast, deep sea of smut.
Bobbing somewhere in this sea is Jeff Harder. Tall and beefy and somewhere in his late 30s, Harder is the owner/chief operator/sole employee of Allure Pictures, a small adult-entertainment company based in Puyallup, Washington--yes, that Puyallup, home to antique malls and the Puyallup Fair, about as far from porn's traditional home of San Fernando Valley, CA, as a place is likely to get. Specializing in what Harder likes to call "quality productions with amateur talent," Allure has released nine videos in just six years. Videos with titles like NYPD Nude and Nicole Does It All and Brittany's First Time. Videos with exceptionally amateur talent--real people, average-looking people, people who like to have sex and are more than happy to do it on camera. "Our main selling point, what we try to get across to the consumers, is that we take the amateur out of amateur porn," Harder says. "Our performers are more like the people next door. Real people, no fake talent. Just fun, positive sex."
Kassidy James, the star of Harder's latest video, Gang Bang Nurse, fits this profile. Blonde and improbably tan, her looks are decidedly average--at least by porn standards. Kassidy is more gussied-up housewife than glamorous porn starlet. A nurse by trade (hence the title, apparently), Kassidy had a fantasy of taking on more than one man at a time, a fantasy her husband Mike was eager to help her realize. "Most of the people who contact me are people like Kassidy and Mike," Harder says. "They have a fantasy, and by doing a video they get a chance to live it out."
The idea of amateur porn, what set it apart from the rest of the porn industry's product, was the notion that viewers were tired of watching standard performers--the unachievable beauties, more plastic than flesh. In the '80s, a market for average people doing dirty things was identified, and it is this market that Allure Pictures serves. Harder's videos are not like watching impossible people getting it on, but rather, like watching people on the street, your neighbors perhaps, joining together for a session of slap 'n' tickle (or gangbang the nurse)--a session you're invited to watch.
Gang Bang Nurse is filmed over two days in an upscale hotel in downtown Tacoma. Without a car, I journey to Tacoma on the #594 bus, a blue/green breadbox that shuttles back and forth between Seattle and Tacoma (cost $5). The hotel where I am supposed to meet Harder and crew rises out of downtown Tacoma like a filing cabinet, and the lobby is crowded with conventioneers--men and women in town from some other place, each of them unaware of the looming fuckfest about to begin on one of the hotel's upper floors.
Harder meets me at the door to his suite, along with his dog, Troubles. Porn shoots, dogs--apparently you can get away with a lot in Tacoma's hotels. "Come on in," Harder says. "We're just taking a little break."
The suite is large and cluttered--a camera case here, light stands there, a massive dildo on the dresser--and as we walk in, Kassidy is just emerging from the bathroom. She is wrapped in a white cotton robe, all scrubbed and shaved and ready to fuck. Harder introduces us and she shakes my hand, smiling warmly. "Nice to meet you," she says casually, then promptly disappears back inside the bathroom. Evidently it takes a lot of prep work to be a gangbangee.
Scattered about the suite's main room is the rest of Gang Bang Nurse's cast--the gangbangers. Harder introduces me to them, saying, "This is Bradley, he's here from The Stranger." Each of the gangbangers gives me a nod and a hello. Mike, Kassidy's husband, has graying hair and is squat and powerfully built; Drew, short and balding and bespectacled, is a lawyer/executive type; Johnny Sunglasses (not his real name) is tall and lean and polished, a khaki-clad stud. All three of them are perfect amateur-porn types--average-looking guys, not the types one would expect to bang a woman in unison.
"What's our schedule look like?" Mike asks Harder.
"We'll wait another 10, 15 minutes, then we'll get started again," Harder replies, collapsing onto the sofa. It is just after 2:00 p.m. on the first day of shooting, and already the production is dismally behind--the morning had been spent taking snapshots for the video's cover, and now that the day has stretched toward late afternoon, 50 minutes of actual fucking footage remains to be shot. At the moment, however, everything is on hold--the guys are waiting for Kassidy to finish prepping herself in the bathroom--so for the time being, everyone takes a seat and watches basketball on TV.
"This is what shooting a video is really like," Harder jokes. "A lot of waiting around."
According to Harder, his career as a budding porn auteur began after a few years of toiling away as a producer of corporate training videos. It was a job he enjoyed, but he found it difficult to earn a decent living. One day, searching for something new, he hit on directing porn videos. "I'd always been interested in adult films," he says, adding, "and not just for the obvious reasons. So I decided to give it a shot."
Allure Pictures, founded in Harder's Puyallup home office, released its first video, Please Me or Else, in 1993. Sixty minutes long, it starred Danielle Davis, a Seattle nurse Harder had met through an ad in a Tacoma newspaper. (Northwest nurses are inclined to shoot porn, apparently.) Harder also starred. The story: A wife comes home from tennis practice and finds her husband jerking off to porn. Angry, she decides to punish him. Superhot sexy shit ensues.
"There's some good scenes in it," Harder says of Please Me or Else, "but there's a lot of mistakes. It's not my best work. But the next one was much, much better."
That next one, NYPD Nude, again starred Davis and Harder, along with a second woman, Crystal Storm. A stripper, Storm was "actually very sexually inexperienced," Harder claims. "She wanted to learn about sex and experience new things, as well as fulfill a fantasy of being in an adult film. NYPD Nude gave her the opportunity to do so."
Shot in the aforementioned downtown Tacoma hotel (as almost all Allure productions are), NYPD Nude tells the story of a lonely husband (Harder) who hires a stripper (Storm, obviously playing against type) for a private show. Things heat up, however, and soon client and stripper are entangled mid-coitus atop the hotel bed. Unfortunately, their passionate fluid-swapping creates such a ruckus that the police are called, and the responding officer just happens to be--holy shit!--Harder's wife. Superhot sexy shit ensues.
"I still think NYPD Nude is my best video, at least production-wise," Harder says--and watching it, it's easy to see why he thinks so. Although it was shot with just one camera and a skeletal crew, it matches most San Fernando Valley productions both in quality and production value. This, of course, is not necessarily high praise, but it is an eminently braggable achievement, for if NYPD Nude did anything, it proved to Harder that he had the porn-shooting chops to compete. NYPD Nude sold well, according to Harder, and flush with success, he quickly followed up with two more videos: Crystal: Home Alone and Northwest Amateurs. According to Harder, both sold as well or better than NYPD Nude--especially locally--as did his next video, his first stab at a full-fledged feature-length production, which he called Swami M.D.
Swami M.D. was bigger and more complicated than anything Harder had attempted before. "It had a large cast and crew, which was challenging," he says. "I learned a lot from it, and I think it turned out real well. AVN gave it four stars."
AVN, or Adult Video News, is the porn industry's Variety, a monthly glossy promoting new releases, along with feature articles on productions, talent, and directors. The four-star review for Swami M.D., which appeared in the June 2001 issue, helped build Allure's reputation within the industry as a player outside of California. Bolstered by fresh accolades, Harder again picked up production, releasing four videos in quick succession: Alecia Does Camille, Nicole Does It All, Brittany's First Time, and Kayla's Audition. According to Harder, each sold well. Allure had arrived.
Kassidy eventually emerges from the bathroom and Gang Bang Nurse gets rolling again. Harder leads everyone down the hall to the bedroom. "Let's all make sure to switch off our cell phones," he announces. "We don't want to be interrupted during all the fun."
As we enter the bedroom, Harder points to a chair by the bed. "You can go ahead and sit there," he tells me with a smile. "We saved a special seat for you right in front of the action."
I sit down, unnerved by how close I will be. Kassidy tosses herself onto the bed, ready to go. There is a sudden nervousness in the air. Kassidy's husband Mike, average-looking Drew, and Johnny Sunglasses linger by the door cracking jokes while Harder sets up his equipment.
"Are you excited?" he asks Kassidy, switching on his camera.
"Yep," Kassidy replies, smiling back at Harder.
In contrast to Southern California, where surgically enhanced beauties and well-toned, absurdly membered studs seem to pop up from the soil, the Northwest is relatively barren. To find talent, Harder often places ads in newspapers, as well as notices on Allure's website (www.allurepictures.com) and in various Internet groups, such as those found on Yahoo! Harder doesn't work with drug users, prostitutes, or anyone who would be considered anything other than low-risk. "Before any shoot, all the participants must go through a complete health screening," Harder says, "and be checked for HIV, as well as have a full STD screen.
"Finding women to be in videos is always a challenge," Harder continues. "Even finding men can be hard. I get a lot of guys who tell me they're interested, but then when it comes time to shoot a video, they suddenly chicken out."
Drew and Johnny Sunglasses do not chicken out. For Johnny Sunglasses, Gang Bang Nurse is his second adult video (his first--and his only previous video--was Harder's Kayla's Audition). As for Drew, the short, balding lawyer, he is a member of Seattle Players Gang Bang Club, a group of straight men who have their own website promoting themselves as fulfillers of women's gangbang fantasies. "They've banged only three or four different women [so far]," Harder tells me. Drew is reluctant to discuss his gangbang club with me, and Harder asks me not to put the Seattle Players' website address in this story. Curious women are invited to search the web.
On command, Kassidy begins looking sexy for the camera. Harder peppers her with questions--Are you having fun? Are you ready for some more action?, etc.--before he reaches the cue: "So what do you feel like doing now?"
"Um...," Kassidy coyly replies, "I think a gangbang's in order right about now."
ACTION! Mike, Drew, and Johnny Sunglasses burst through the door, their flaccid members flopping. Notebook in hand, I quickly scribble down some notes: Mike... estimated penis size 5-6 inches; Drew... 4-5 inches; Johnny Sunglasses... holy fucking shit....
Giggling, Kassidy makes room for her gangbangers on the bed. They quickly relieve her of her robe, then her panties. Kassidy casually gropes each of them, her hands moving from man to man. Everyone seems nervous and excited.
There is a small monitor set up atop the bedroom's TV that displays the footage being captured. Harder zooms in and out, changing angles--chirp! chirp! He frames Kassidy in close-up as she tries to swallow Johnny Sunglasses' member, then pans left to focus in on Drew and Mike fondling her from behind.
"How's that feel, Johnny?" Harder asks.
Gangbangs have always been a part of porn, but in 1995 they reached their absurd zenith. That year, a world record was broken when Annabel Chong took on 70 men, who fucked her 251 times. Five years later, the record was broken by another porn star, Houston, who was fucked 500 times. A video, The Houston 500, was released, and it quickly became a bestseller, and a year later, Houston again went for the record, breaking it with the staggering total of 650. It is a record that still stands.
Gang Bang Nurse is a decidedly more intimate affair. As Kassidy, Mike, Drew, and Johnny Sunglasses tangle on the bed, Harder swoops around the action, offering some direction, but mostly just letting nature take its course. Hands grope, mouths suckle, and Harder records it all, the footage displayed behind him on the monitor, the three NRG lights burning down on the action.
Surprisingly (or not surprisingly--at least in hindsight), watching porn live and in person turns out to be just as dull as watching it on videotape. It is the nature of the product--porn, especially amateur porn, is designed to encourage a quick release. What's more, home viewing usually involves much fast-forwarding on the VCR. Sitting there in the room, however, with the action smack before my peepers, I have no remote. I make note of penis sizes, positions, sounds, sights--but the blur of touching and sucking and fucking quickly bores me out of my skull. Eventually, I turn to the monitor--and unsurprisingly, a porn-style fuckfest seems much more natural on the small screen. Up there, displayed via pixels, Harder's choices of angles and edits manage to at least hold my interest.
Mike is the first to climax--the buildup of watching his wife fondled and mounted by other men is too much for him to control. He pulls out, groans, and spills all over his wife's back. Harder quickly zooms in, capturing the "money shot" just in time. "I lose," Mike says, a hint of embarrassment in his voice. Everyone laughs. Mike collapses back on his haunches, but Harder asks him to remount.
"Let me get some still shots of the come on her ass," Harder says.
With a sigh, Mike places his spent dick just south of his fluids so that the pictures can be taken.
Soon after, Johnny Sunglasses and Drew both shoot their loads--Johnny on Kassidy's belly, Drew in her mouth--and Gang Bang Nurse wraps up production for the day. Kassidy slips back into the bathroom to clean up while Harder checks through the footage on the monitor. Mike, Drew, and Johnny Sunglasses kick about the room, chatting, relaxed. None of them seems to be in a hurry to get dressed.
Outside, sirens sound in the distance, and everyone goes to the window to investigate the commotion. As I stand in a hotel room in Tacoma, staring out the window surrounded by three naked men, all of whom I've just watched ejaculate, the day's absurdity reaches its peak. Before sitting in on Gang Bang Nurse, if someone had given me a nickel for every time I'd watched another man ejaculate, the total would have reached a measly five cents (courtesy of a cousin who, in the throes of puberty, demonstrated his newly acquired prowess at whipping his skippy). Now, however, that total is up to 20 cents. Maybe one day I'll reach a quarter, though I'm not holding my breath.
A few weeks after my porn-viewing excursion, a box arrives in the mail. Inside is a copy of Gang Bang Nurse (post-production time is hysterically rapid in porn). A note from Harder reads, "Hey Brad, the first scene is a little weak. Scene Two, which you were at, is better, and Scene Three is great." The video's cover features a photo of Kassidy and her three gangbangers. On the back is a shot of her in a vinyl nurse's uniform.
I take the tape home and, with blinds drawn, shove it inside the VCR. After a burst of static, the title appears, followed by Harder himself, seated at a table in the hotel suite. He introduces Kassidy, then proceeds to undress and orally examine her on the table. The scene culminates with Kassidy bursting into orgasm. I fast-forward.
As promised, Scene Three, the scene shot on the production's second day, is the strongest--not three, but four guys are over, under, and beside Kassidy. It ends with four internal cum shots--what the industry calls "cream pies"--one after another, in quick succession.
As for Scene Two, the scene I was there to witness, it unfolds exactly as I remember. Skimming through the footage, fast-forwarding, something catches my eye--for the briefest moment, a mere sliver of an instant, my shoe is visible in the bottom right corner of one of the shots.
Oh shit, I think. My porn debut.