The problems start when Demi Marx breaks a nail.
She's pulling a pink fishnet blouse over her bare breasts when the material snags a French tip and the sucker drops to the wood floor with a soft plunk. Marx, an attractive young woman with a slight overbite and brown hair that hangs just above her shoulders, looks for the nail in despair. Worried about how her asymmetrical digits will look while she applies herself to getting the talent off, she figures she better use her other hand on him. Coiling her fingers, she pumps her good hand in the air a few times just to make sure.
Through the door behind her, production assistant Ivan E. Rection carries a cooler stuffed with bottled water, Wheat Thins, Pringles and Fleet Ready-to-Use Enemas. Lube and baby wipes round out the essentials for today's shoot, Meat Pushin' in the Seat Cushion 2.
Her co-star today is Scott Styles, who arrives while Marx and the crew head to the backyard. He has just made the 30-mile trek up from Redondo Beach, where he shares a two-story stucco home with his wife and fellow porn star, Kim Chambers.
Today's shoot doesn't require any special clothing, so Styles arrives comfortably clad in a white pullover, black shorts and sandals. He's handsome, with a reassuring smile, although he's vague about his age, which the Internet Movie Database lists as 35.
Well tanned and well built, with long black hair combed behind his ears, he chews gum and waits patiently inside the house as Marx strips off her blouse and shorts.
Styles arrived late enough to miss the commotion that got the crew off to a late start and set the tone for the rest of the day.
They're an hour behind schedule, mostly because the door to the one-story San Fernando Valley home was locked when everyone arrived. D.J., the still photographer, had to call the location company to track down the woman of the house, who eventually rolled up, unlocked the door, told everyone the dogs were harmless and promptly disappeared. No one seemed to know who she was, thereby preserving the mystery of the homeowners. The only thing one could say about them was that they were dog people and didn't mind strangers taping heated bouts of anal penetration on their conjugal bed.
Once inside, D.J. sits on a couch overlooking a rug that boasts the world's biggest dog-hair collection. He and Marx complain about the rank odor in the still, stuffy air. The hair on the rug looks like it belongs to the red chow, a Cujo-in-training lurking in the rear hallway. The other dog, a mutt with that extra-sweet disposition reserved for only the dimmest animals, just walks around, giddily trying to sniff everyone. Director Tom Byron, with shades, earring and goatee, prefers to be away from the beasts altogether, smoking at a table on the patio. He's dressed for colder weather, wearing a heavy navy blue sweatsuit whose back is embroidered with quotes from Muhammad Ali.
Now, Styles just relaxes as Byron, D.J. and Ivan toil in the backyard, shooting Marx as she poses pseudo-seductively for the video's box cover. Her six-inch black heels digging into the earth, she not only looks like she's shrinking, she has trouble maintaining balance.
"Fuckin' porn, man. I should've stayed in school," she says with a laugh. She's kidding, because she did stay in school; she earned a degree from an online fashion design school. She says she's just working in the porn industry until she earns enough money to start her own business.
Styles has never before met Marx, who celebrated her 20th birthday the day before, but 15 minutes after they shake hands his tongue is between her legs.
They're in the owners' ten-by-ten bedroom, a veritable furnace even with the curtains drawn against the blaring SoCal sun. Byron removes the jacket of his heavy sweatsuit. Out of respect, D.J. and Ivan have turned framed photographs of the owners' toddler daughter away from Byron's camera. Ivan stands outside the bedroom, taping the action from the hallway. D.J. disappears to the living room.
All is well until the sinister chow releases a blood-curdling bark, disturbing the serenity of the scene.
Byron lowers the camera and says, "Hey, dog, gimme a fuckin' break."
The dog eventually complies, and the action resumes -- Marx on the bed doggie-style, while Styles kneels behind her, only the back of his head visible.
"Okay," Byron says after about ten minutes, "I'm fuckin' bored."
That means it's time to get down to business, time for the talent to really earn their pay. For Marx, this means acting enthusiastic, moaning here, screaming there, generally trying to give the impression that she actually enjoys what she's doing.
For Styles, this means staying hard and lasting long enough for three positions and the pop shot. But he's a professional with more than 100 movies to his name. He's been doing this for years, since he left behind a career at Johnson Space Center's Mission Control. Today, he'll prove his professionalism when complications arise, and he'll come through in the clutch. Meaning: He'll come. In a small, hot, cramped bedroom, with two video cameras fixed on him, he'll provide the pop shot.
Back in Houston, he communicated with astronauts orbiting the moon. Today, he's jerking off on tape in Tarzana. With his master's degree in physics, Styles could, if asked, plot the trajectory of the journey from point A to point B. There would be a spike around the time he stopped doing what he thought he was supposed to do and started doing what he wanted to do. The jump would be dramatic, like a shuttle blasting off to an undiscovered planet.
Ten years ago, Scott Styles the porn star didn't exist. In his place was a man with a different name who left his Clear Lake apartment every morning and drove a mile to Johnson Space Center.
He was a Rockwell employee contracting for NASA's Mission Control, splitting his time between sitting behind the massive console made famous in space movies and behind a PC in a cookie-cutter office in Building 4. Two floors up were the astronauts, brave souls who survived the intense training and, more important, the bureaucracy.
That man was a flight controller with a master's degree in physics from Texas A&M. He worked with a team who monitored shuttles' electrical data (fuel cells, power distribution) after they launched from Cape Canaveral. Although he rarely socialized with colleagues at work, he worked well with his team.
In 1991, during a mission for the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force, the flight controller and his crew helped astronauts aboard the shuttle Discovery recover flight data that was lost when two tape recorders malfunctioned.
In a letter from Air Force Captain Lindley Johnson, amid tech-talk of things like "quadropole ion neutral mass spectrometers," Johnson reverted to plain English to praise the flight controller's work. He stated that it was the first time ever a ground crew assisted astronauts in splicing wires to recover data while still in orbit.
"On behalf of my fellow project officers, the payload experimenters, and the United States Air Force, I extend our sincerest gratitude for your efforts in support of the nation's defense," Captain Johnson wrote.
But such moments were rare. Between flights came simulations: software rigged with engine failures and other catastrophes. That's about as exciting as it got.
"You hope for a boring-as-hell flight, as far as we're concerned," says Styles, who adopted his nom de porn after moving to Los Angeles.
He never handled boredom well, and that job didn't offer the same thrills he got back when he was 18, when he first saw scientist Carl Sagan's Cosmos on TV. Back then, the universe was fascinating, expanding with endless possibilities. Now, after three and a half years at NASA, it was just a paycheck.
He kept his sanity by hitting the gym and the strip clubs. He loved working on his body, which he had built from nothing to a solid 185 pounds on his five-foot-eight-inch frame. He also loved helping other people build their bodies and had been moonlighting as a personal trainer for some time.
When he wasn't at the gym, he was at Rick's or The Men's Club or at one of the out-of-the-way clubs that brought in porn queens to dance and sign autographs. Seeing them onstage, he couldn't help but wonder -- if only fleetingly -- what it would be like to be in the adult entertainment industry. No corporate culture, for sure. No sitting behind a console for the rest of your life.
"I was never a fan of porn stars, like the fans that we have," Styles says. "Most of the fans of porn would never see themselves trying, they'd never see themselves in the position to do it For me, I saw the women, the sexuality that they portrayed and I just thought that would be cool. And the guys that I saw with them didn't seem like anything too special."
When he heard that Keisha, the star of Ready, Willing & Anal and Big Melons 31, was dancing at a tiny club off I-10, the flight controller took a chance on his fantasy and formulated a plan.
Once in the club, he walked confidently to the stage where the poofy-haired vixen was proudly showcasing her assets. In the midst of drooling patrons throwing cash on the stage, the flight controller produced two photographs of him in Cancún, showing off his glistening pecs and six-pack. He lifted them up to Keisha and then flipped them over. The ploy worked -- she shimmied over to his end of the stage.
"Will you read this?" he asked.
He had taped a $10 bill to the back of each photo, above a message expressing an interest in finding out how to break into the industry, as well as an invitation to tour Johnson Space Center.
She smiled, took the pics and got back to business. The flight controller found a seat and waited for whatever came next.
A little while after the end of Keisha's gig, the DJ announced that the actress wanted to see the guy who had given her the photos. Backstage, he says, Keisha told him two things. One: She politely declined the tour invitation.
And two: "She said that she thought that I might be good for porn," Styles recalls.
The porn queen and the flight controller exchanged numbers, and he left the club one step closer to the biggest decision he'd ever make.
"I've got pictures of [Scott] when he was in high school, and he stands three and a half feet tall," his older sister, Dawn Smith, says from her Austin home.
She pauses, reconsiders.
"Okay, maybe four feet tall."
Smith, who refers to her brother by his birth name, found out Styles's new career after months of his evasiveness. He was vague about what he was doing in L.A., and whenever Smith asked to talk to his wife, she was always "working out" or "shopping for groceries." Smith, a private investigator, eventually pressured Styles into telling the truth. Though it took some time, Smith accepted her brother's new life, especially since she saw how happy he was. The youngest two brothers have not fully accepted it, Smith says. The youngest brother discovered the truth when his teenage stepdaughter saw Styles on Jerry Springer and summoned her parents to the living room.
"Isn't that my uncle?" she asked, using Styles's birth name.
Smith, Styles and the two youngest brothers grew up on 300 acres of farmland about ten miles outside Wichita Falls. Their father liked the discipline that tending livestock gave his kids. Their mother, a wife from the old school, stood by her man and never questioned his methods.
His kids did, though. As loving as he was, he was also stern and, they thought, unbelievably judgmental. He acted like a bully to Smith and the two youngest boys, Styles says.
"Basically [they were] made to feel like they needed to be whatever he said," he says.
Styles, displaying unusually high intelligence early on, was spared.
"What me and my brothers referred to [Scott] as for years was the Golden Child," Smith says. "If you wanted Dad to do something, you got [Scott] to ask him. [Scott] was the only one that could sit down and talk to my dad without ending up in a fight."
His popularity at home carried over to high school, but not in the most desirable way. He was a late bloomer -- cute but scrawny. During freshman-year Spanish, he sat beside a gorgeous senior cheerleader. One day, she held a flattened hand level to her head, as if measuring something of equivalent height, and told Styles, "You're really cute. When you get to be this tall, look me up."
So, for much of high school, Styles was relegated to little-brother status. But he tried to get the most out of his time there, playing trumpet in band and even joining the football team, where he played rear bench.
"He had a personality that everybody loved," Smith says. "And he was a brain, and everybody thought he was so cute, but he's that tiny little, cute little boy, not somebody that [you] would actually want to date. And that's how he felt."
Styles spent summers at baseball camp and excelled at the trumpet to the point where, when he was 18, he scored a music scholarship to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls.
By that time, he had sprouted to five-foot-eight, but he weighed only 115 pounds. Still, he found a girlfriend his senior year, and he lost his virginity to her on graduation night.
Another highlight of that year for the 18-year-old was watching Cosmos, Sagan's wildly popular documentary series on space.
Styles was fascinated. Here was something he could build a career around, something that would challenge and inspire him. Soon, he breezed through Midwestern and headed to Texas A&M for his master's in physics. During semester breaks, he drove home, where his dad would always ask him about school.
"My dad admired [Scott] and his education so much. I think he felt, at the time, [Scott] was the child that finally lived up to his expectations, and shouldn't we all," Smith says.
But Styles wasn't working out just his mind. He was hitting the gym at school, trying to build a body that would break him out of little-brother mode. He read fitness magazines and put himself on a strict diet.
He spent more time in the gym than he did with other physics students. They seemed one-dimensional to Styles, stereotypical science nerds who had no interests outside the classroom. That was his first inkling that if a career in space and science meant hanging out with dorks for the next 30 years, he wouldn't survive.
In the bookstore near campus where he bought his fitness mags, he couldn't help but notice the adult magazines and soft-core videos on nearby shelves. Except for the occasional Playboy or Penthouse that surfaced at baseball camp, Styles had never been exposed to porn. After walking past the shelves a number of times, he finally decided he'd rent a video.
With the sick leave he had accrued after three and a half years at Johnson Space Center, the flight controller took two weeks off to see if he'd actually miss the place.
By that time, he had been a personal trainer for six months and was making good money. More important, he enjoyed it.
The day he came back in, he says, "I felt like I'd never left. It was a sinking feeling."
He told his supervisor that that would be his last day. He left without regret and moved to an apartment in the Galleria area.
Smith says their father was disappointed that Styles left the job.
"I think my dad was very much in awe of him -- his education and his job," she says. "And then when [Scott] decided, 'I'm out of NASA now, I can't handle the corporate crap,' my dad, all of a sudden, his bubble burst."
The flight controller's father couldn't understand why his son was throwing away his career. How would the kid make any money? That would become a common argument between father and son over the next few years, as the father would try to involve the son in his own business endeavors.
"I told him if all I was concerned about was money, I would sell drugs," Styles says. "It was ridiculous to say that, in a way, but it made the point to him: that money's not the only thing. And he has a hard time with that."
But he scaled back on conversations with his father, focusing on his personal training. He eventually stopped talking to his parents altogether, never telling them about his porn career.
"They wouldn't approve," Styles says. "And I'm not seeking approval. I'm a big boy now It wouldn't be good for them [to know], and I don't care to listen to them tell me that they don't approve."
His new life began in the summer of 1996.
He was thinking back to his meeting with Keisha and decided to take a chance. He sent a letter and photos to Jim South, the industry's biggest agent, in Van Nuys. He listed Keisha as a reference.
A few weeks later, South called and invited the ex-flight controller up to Van Nuys for a talent call, which Styles describes as more of a "cattle call." It was a chance for performers to show off their goods to movers and shakers within the industry.
One of the ex-flight controller's nude Polaroids made an impact; he was invited back a month later to shoot a scene on June 19 (his birthday) with a Japanese distribution company.
So he spent his birthday in a desert ranch 90 miles outside Los Angeles, receiving oral sex from a woman named Nikki Sinn, with a boom mike overhead and eight crew members waiting for the pop shot. It was his best birthday ever and the perfect introduction to his new career.
"In a way, it was an acceptance," Styles says, "or the ultimate acceptance in a different way than I had before in that I had been concentrating on academics and other things besides the superficial."
A month later, he got a call to tape another scene. It was a rare offer; it's nearly impossible for a guy to break into the industry unless he brings along a woman.
"When I was fairly certain that I wouldn't have to sell my soul or compromise my values to come out and do porn I thought, 'Okay, let's go do it,' " he says.
Scott Styles threw everything he could into his SUV, said good-bye to Houston and moved to L.A.
Bill Margold is on a tear. The 60-year-old porn veteran is sitting in a West Hollywood diner just a few blocks from his apartment, launching into one of his patented soliloquies about the industry. But after 30 years of performing, writing and directing, his opinions are hardly taken for granted by his colleagues. He says his push to raise performers' minimum age to 21 has made him one of the most hated people in the industry.
But he was there from the beginning, back when porn was illegal and movies were made with one eye on the camera and one eye over the shoulder. He was questioned by detectives when a friend of his, porn legend John Holmes, was implicated in the murders of four drug addicts. He survived the fallout when a high school dropout named Nora Kuzma revealed that she started her career as Traci Lords while under age, bringing the industry to its knees.
He's not afraid to tell you he knows more about the industry than anyone. His business card reads, "God created man. William Margold created himself."
"Scott and [wife] Kim are members of what I refer to as the Playpen of the Damned," he says. "We are damned forever by society -- that is totally hypocritical, by the way. Jacks off to us with its left hand and pushes us away with its right. We live in a nation of Judases."
Margold, an L.A. native who says he grew up in a "private home for unruly children," has become a little grayer and a little rounder since the days when his lean frame appeared in such classics as the 3-D porn extravaganza Disco Dolls. The bespectacled veteran looks especially grizzly today, after not shaving for several days to get in character as a hit man in the latest installment of a series called The Suppornos, the industry's answer to The Sopranos.
Margold met Styles on the set of Net Dreams, whose cast also included an African-American dwarf named Napoleon. More important, it featured Kim Chambers, the protégée of Ivory Soap Girl-turned-Porn Queen Marilyn Chambers, and Styles's future wife. Margold had helped Kim Chambers break into the industry, partly by making her jog six miles a day to help the 18-year-old lose her baby fat. He also looked after her like he looked after many of his "kids" in the industry. Ever protective of his young colleagues, Margold has established programs to help performers with emotional, financial, medical and legal needs. After all, as he says, performers are considered expendable.
"Immediately I saw in him this sort of strange form of purity," Margold says of Styles.
Margold told the newcomer he thought he was too innocent for an industry that completely disregards the emotional well-being of its talent. This includes the sin of omission, the smoke screen that managers, agents and producers use to obscure the Playpen of the Damned.
"Nobody else warns anybody," Margold says. "Nobody else wants anybody to know that what they can do now could haunt them the rest of their life."
Margold felt Styles was walking right into the trap.
"He came out of the real world, he had this real career," Margold says. "He was sort of this strange, all-American kid stumbling into the X-rated industry, really sort of overwhelmed, I think, by it."
But soon Margold saw a glint in Styles's eye, something the veteran took for a sign of mischief. Whatever it was, Styles kept it to himself, never telling Margold why he wound up in L.A.
"Maybe he's doing this for the rebellious nature of his psyche, or for some reason he maybe wants to thumb his nose at his past, or eradicate his past," Margold speculates. "No past ever goes away. It's always there."
Behold the paradox of the male porn star: He -- or, more specifically, the pop shot -- is an integral part of a sex scene. But since the woman on the box cover makes the sales, men usually earn about half what a woman makes per scene.
But the man's career potential is longer than that of a woman, whose value decreases with age. As Margold says, a man's job prospective is "as good as his dick. If your dick works, you keep on working. When your dick doesn't work anymore, you're through."
However, it's not as easy as it sounds. On the set, time is money, especially when homeowners can charge production crews hundreds of dollars per hour. A man must be able to stay hard and come on cue.
In this way, Margold says, "males are more valuable, because it's harder to find good ones. There's that famous line: 'A hard man is good to find.' "
Speaking with his down-home Dallas drawl, industry über-agent Jim South says, "Males seem to last a lot longer than girls do. A male performer, if he can perform, and if he doesn't have the type of personality that offends the girls that they're working with there's no limit."
South says, "The guy is kind of like a prop. So since the concentration, even if it's a nice-looking guy like Scott, is not on the guy, they don't get shot up, where the girls can After a while, they either rise to the top like Kim Chambers did, or they sort of get to where maybe some people are tired of watching them. That sounds cruel, but that's just the nature of the business."
A male must also be able to tweak styles depending on the subgenre.Oftentimes, Styles isn't aware of what he's starring in until he shows up that day. But he finds pleasure in the varying subgenres. Features offer two days of pay, one day for penetration, the next for dialogue. But the sex is usually more vanilla.
Wall-to-walls (scenes strung together with the same setting, e.g., an auto body shop whose staff of mechanics remarkably consists entirely of bottle-blond women with fake breasts) call for more positions and overall freakier sex.
Males must also be compatible with their female counterparts; bad vibes can ripple through the industry and turn a man into a pariah. The male must quickly learn and respect his co-star's boundaries.
"A big thing is kissing," Styles says, "which to me initially just blew my mind, that somebody would be concerned about kissing somebody else more than fucking them. But I actually understand it now there's gotta be something sacred to them."
But male and female performers share the same woes when it comes to forging a romantic relationship approaching normal. Finding a mate outside the industry is burdened by the obvious, and marriages within the business tend to quickly fizzle.
Yet Styles and Chambers, 28, have been married for eight years, the industry equivalent of a lifetime. In their Redondo Beach home, far removed from their colleagues in the San Fernando Valley, the two work side by side, updating their Web sites in a basement office. In addition to his own site, Styles now builds sites for others. He's being creative, and using his brain in that way provides the balance necessary after a day of just using another body part, he says.
The whole relationship is something of a balancing act as well, with both parties having to separate the mechanical motions of a movie set from the genuine intimacy craved by real human beings.
"You kind of have to always make sure that the other person knows that they're No. 1," Chambers says.
It also helps to forget who you are when shooting a scene.
"You click on a character," Chambers says. "I've gotta turn into this character who is just nothing but a sex addict and then, you've gotta make sure that your partner knows, 'Okay, well, this is the way I become on set. And maybe I'm not being this way with you, because, in a different way, it's more loving and caring and nurturing, as opposed to a set, where it's just fucking.' "
Just fucking means you have to fill out an IRS Form W-9 afterward. Intimacy does not require paperwork.
It's grown hotter on the bare-bones set of MPITSC 2, and Byron removes his jacket and wipes his sweaty brow with a forearm.
Marx is too sore to continue. She apologizes, saying she shot an anal scene the day before, and two days in a row was just too much.
She was a trouper for the first two positions, pushing on even though she had to take several breaks to use a baby wipe, apply more lube and ease the burning pain. As she lay still on the bed, Styles hopped off and stroked himself to stay hard.
Marx can't handle the third position, upsetting the choreography, which called for Styles to deliver a pop shot upon exit. Styles, Byron and Ivan have a caucus to discuss alternatives, with Styles stroking himself the entire time.
Ivan suggests a facial. Byron mulls it over as if he were choosing between a tall and a grande at Starbucks.
"Facials are cool, but we do that all the time," he finally decides.
But after a long, intense, chin-scratching brainstorming session, they ultimately opt for the facial. Marx slides off the bed onto her knees. Styles drops a dollop of lube on his palm and strokes himself.
"I have some spit if you need some," Marx offers.
Styles says he's all right, and then no one speaks. Byron and Ivan are standing statue-still, their cameras trained on the two performers.
For what seems like a fortnight, Styles is the only person who moves. The room is silent except for Styles's tugging of his moist organ, a sound like galoshes swiftly squishing through slush.
This is the moment where a male performer must prove himself. Twenty minutes of stop-start sex with a partner wincing in pain has left him less than aroused. Styles alone must conjure the pop shot.
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Styles's eyes are fixed on Marx, who feigns extreme delight. Like everyone else in the room, she just wants to wrap things up and grab lunch.
This is what Margold is talking about when he says the male is a hit man, hired from the waist down. Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, full count, and you can't foul up a ball.
Styles always loved baseball but was just too little to be of much use. But here, in this stuffy room, he's Babe Ruth, pointing to the lights and reeling off a pop shot to save the day.
Twenty minutes later, he's back in his truck, heading out of the valley. He's smiling, because he's done a good job, and because the rest of the day belongs to him.