Fast Forward: Confessions of a Porn Screenwriter Eric Spitznagel Essay

person_pin Fast Forward: Confessions of a Porn Screenwriter

by Eric Spitznagel

Published in Issue No. 57 ~ February, 2002

“Have you ever thought about writing a porno?”

At first, I was fairly sure that Tim was joking. He had a healthy sense of
humor about the screenwriting trade, of which we were both would-be members.
When our prospects of finding meaningful employment seemed particularly bleak
(which was invariably), we would often joke about giving it all up and selling
out to the porn industry. For some reason, we always found this terribly amusing,
and in a way, strangely comforting. I suppose the inherently ridiculous concept
of peddling smut for a living made the shadow of poverty seem a little less
terrifying.

“Well sure,” I said, with a mocking grin. “It’s why I moved to LA.”

Tim didn’t return my smile. He just peered at me with a somber expression and
extinguished his cigarette into a plate of untouched eggs, already piled high
with butts.

We were sitting in a mostly empty coffee shop in West Hollywood. It had been
Tim’s idea to meet here, and judging by the urgency in his voice when he’d called,
I assumed it was important. Since our days as struggling writers in Chicago,
we’d promised that if either of us made it, we would find a way to share the
wealth. Although I’d only been in Los Angeles for a few weeks, Tim had lived
here for almost two years, and thus had a considerable head start on me. I suppose
I thought he would have something substantial to offer me by now. If not a real
career opportunity than at least an insider tip. Something to get me started.
I certainly expected more from him than sniggering remarks about porn.

“I’m serious,” he said. “It’s not as bad as it sounds. The money’s pretty good.
And god knows, it’s better than a day job.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. One of my dearest friends was actually
advising me to do the unspeakable, to venture into the darkest underbelly of
Hollywood. I always considered porn to be the final destination for teenage
runaways and frustrated young starlets with dreams bigger than their talents.
I’d never considered that a writer might fall under the oily grasp of pornographers.
It just didn’t happen that way. A broke writer may turn to journalism or even,
god forbid, advertising. But never porn.

“Are you actually considering this?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m not considering,” he said, a smile finally finding its way to his
face. “I’ve already done it.”

He told me the whole ugly story. It began when he’d gone to the Sundance film
festival with hopes of landing a film deal. After passing out his business card
to anybody even vaguely associated with a major studio, it looked as if he would
be leaving empty handed. But on his last night in town, he attended an after-hours
party, where a friend of a friend of a friend introduced him to a porn director.
A few hundred cocktails later, his judgment skills adequately impaired, he’d
been hired to write his first feature length screenplay.

“I finished it in one afternoon,” he said. “Twenty pages, five hundred bucks.
It’s the best money I’ve ever made.”

“Aren’t you afraid that somebody will find out?” I asked.

Tim just laughed. “And how would they do that? You think anybody really pays
attention to a porno’s production credits? Whose gonna know?”

“Yeah, but-”

“It’s not like I’m putting my reputation on the line here. Nobody is going
to watch this thing and think less of me as a writer. Odds are, nobody will
even remember it.”

He had a point. I’d watched more than a few pornos in my time, and couldn’t
recall a single plot. And why should I? Like any man my age, my libido suffered
from a short attention span. And porn offered the ultimate experience in instant
gratification. It was the perfect sexual release for anybody with a few hours
to kill and working knowledge of the fast forward button.

“You know,” he said, “a lot of famous filmmakers started out in porn.”

“Name one,” I challenged.

“Barry Sonnenfeld.”

“Bullshit.” But I knew he was right. We’d both read that Sonnenfeld interview
in Newsweek magazine. Long before Get Shorty and Men In Black
made him one of Hollywood’s top directors, he had indeed gotten his first
break in the porno trade. And he didn’t seem all that ashamed of it.

“You see what I’m saying?” Tim continued. “If Sonnenfeld could get away with
it, there’s no reason why I can’t. I should be so lucky to have his career.”

I wanted to be disgusted with him. A writer in LA was supposed to endure poverty,
suffer with quiet nobility while he waited for Hollywood to recognize his genius
and reward him accordingly. But Tim had sold out, in the worst possible way.
He had settled for less, gorged himself on chum in the water. He was wasting
his talents on an industry with no cultural significance, a creative black hole,
where ideas go to die. How could one of my friends – one of my peers
– have been so easily duped?

But if I was honest with myself, I was just angry because I hadn’t thought
of it first.


It was never my idea to move to LA. That had been my wife’s doing. She decided,
quite abruptly, that she wanted to try her hand at writing sitcoms. Myself,
I would have been happy just to stay in Chicago. I was born there, I’d spent
most of my life there, and had every reason to believe that I would die there
someday. But my wife insisted that Chicago was career suicide for a writer,
and so we left.

I guess I could have put up more of a fight, but a part of me wanted her to
be happy, and a bigger part of me wanted to be married to a TV writer who regularly
made obscene amounts of money. And so, despite my long-standing hatred of all
things west coast, we packed up our meager belongings and set out for sunny
California.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a proud armchair critic of all things
Hollywood. I’d regularly cough up tired old clichés like “LA has no culture”
and “It isn’t normal to live in a city without seasons.” But after I moved there,
my opinions about California’s nether region changed radically. This is not
to suggest that my paranoid assumptions about LA proved to be inaccurate. It
has no culture, the weather is redundant at best, and everybody who lives there
is, exactly as I suspected, a raging egomaniac. So how, you must be asking,
could any person possibly fall in love with a city so inherently evil? Wasn’t
I in the least bit concerned that it would result in the eternal damnation of
my creative soul?

It doesn’t take much for a man’s principles to be conveniently tossed aside.
For me, it was as simple as one phone call from an LA agent.

“You are hands down the most talented writer of your generation,” he told me.
“I kid you not. I’ve never met anybody with more potential for greatness. You
sign with us, and I guarantee you’ll have your first million within the year.”

For a humor writer such as myself, having my ass kissed so shamelessly was
a bit disconcerting. I’d become accustomed to a lifetime of obscurity and small
paychecks, and never imagined that I could hope for anything more. I certainly
never expected to have one of the largest agencies in Los Angeles call me up
out of the blue and promise me the world. There had to be a catch, but I couldn’t
for the life of me figure out what it could be. It seemed peculiar that anybody
in his position would want to represent me, given the fact that I had never
written a screenplay, nor had any inclinations to do so. But he was insistent,
and I couldn’t very well refuse someone so unwavering in his admiration of me.

I was invited to numerous breakfast meetings to discuss my impending fame.
We met at posh diners throughout Beverly Hills, where I was all but force-fed
omelets and cappuccinos. He told me that studios were already lining up to hand
over obscene amounts of money, and that I should keep my schedule clear should
they need me to begin work immediately. It seemed too good to be true, but far
be it from me to complain. As long as the free meals kept coming and my ego
was getting stroked on a regular basis, I was happy just to sit back and enjoy
the ride.

It wasn’t until our fourth meeting that he hit me with a bombshell. “Where’s
the script?” He asked.

This was the first that he’d mentioned an actual screenplay. After all the
assurances of instant glory and riches, it’d never crossed my mind that I might
be expected to write something. I suppose I thought I’d just be handed a check
for my biting wit and charming sensibilities alone.

“I need a script,” the agent said, getting snippy. “There’s nothing I can do
for you until I have a script.”

So I wrote one. I’m not sure how I did it so quickly. I might have been inspired,
but it was more likely that I just felt obligated to satisfy this agent who
seemed to be riding his entire financial future on my abilities. Days after
I delivered the first draft, the agent called again and began filling my head
with more visions of dollar signs. The script was perfect, he said. A veritable
work of genius. It disturbed me that he’d been so easily pleased, but his enthusiasm
was intoxicating, and I became even more convinced that my success was a foregone
conclusion.

And then one day, out of nowhere, the calls stopped coming.

I wasn’t particularly concerned. I just assumed that he was too busy pitching
my script or negotiating my million-dollar contract. But then days passed. And
the days turned to weeks. I called, but he always seemed to be in a meeting
or out to lunch. I left voice mail messages and sent e-mails, but he never responded.
I felt like a college co-ed who’d been seduced by a frat boy only to be brushed
aside after he’d had his way with her.

I called my New York agent (with whom I continue to have a healthy relationship,
if only because of his tendency to return my calls) and complained to him about
my predicament, but he wasn’t nearly as pessimistic. “That’s just the way they
do things in LA,” he told me. “Don’t take it personally.”

I tried to take his advice, but that was easier said than done when you have
rent to pay and your promised fortune has kept you from seeking out meaningful
employment. I was flat broke, and if my luck didn’t change soon, on the verge
of being homeless.

Welcome to LA.

When I arrived home later that day, I couldn’t resist telling my wife about
Tim’s porn misadventures. I was like a giggling older brother, tattling on the
misdeeds of a younger sibling. I took a mean-spirited delight in relaying every
juicy detail, and fully expected her to share in my enthusiasm. It was a horrible
thing to do, I know, but we both needed a distraction from our stalled careers,
and I thought this would help to uplift our spirits a little.

My wife didn’t find it nearly as amusing as I did. In fact, she even had the
audacity to suggest that Tim might be on to something. Maybe, she said, I should
be following his lead, and look into how I too might become a professional porn
scribe.

“Are you out of your mind?” I asked, unable to conceal my moral outrage.

“Well, why not?” She said. “It’ll give you something productive to do with
your time. What have you got to lose? It’s better than laying around the house
all day. And it’s not like you’ve been getting any other offers.”

I was a little hurt by her insinuation. She was obviously making allusions
to my agent, who may or may not have dumped me. “He’s going to call,” I insisted.
“I’m just going to give it a few more days.”

“Listen, it’s not like anybody is asking you to make a career of this. Just
write the script, get some quick cash, and that’ll be the end of it. Who knows,
it may be fun.”

“I don’t see you volunteering to do this,” I reminded her.

“Hey, thus far I’m the only one making some honest money around here. It’s
about time you started pulling your weight.”

Of course, I barely needed to mention that she wasn’t having any better luck
in her chosen career path. To her credit, she had come closer to finding an
actual job in the entertainment field than I had. After obtaining an agent,
she had managed to secure meetings with various TV producers. But alas, we had
somehow timed our move to LA so that it perfectly coincided with a writer’s
strike. She’d been assured of her talents, but told in no uncertain terms that
she would not be able to secure employment for at least the next one to two
years.

In the meantime, she’d found a few other jobs to pay the bills. Now, when I
say “jobs” I mean, of course, “game shows.” Since we’d moved to LA, she’d been
a contestant on over four game shows. And yet, despite all her efforts, she
had only $300 and a synthesizer to show for it. Not exactly the big bucks we’d
been hoping for, but then again, beggars can’t be choosers. Of course, beggars
can’t buy food with a synthesizer either, but whose counting, right?

“You really think I should do this?” I asked her.

“Why not?” She said. “If nothing else, it’ll make for great talk show fodder.”

“What do you mean?”

“One of these days, you’re going to hit it big. And when you’re doing the talk
show circuit, you’re going to need some amusing anecdotes. You mean to tell
me you’ve never thought about this?”

I was too ashamed to admit that the thought that never crossed my mind. Like
any self-respecting writer, I’d been fine-tuning my Pulitzer Prize acceptance
speech for most of my life. I’d also done a little work on my imminent podium
time at the Oscars and Golden Globes. I even had a Grammy speech tucked away
somewhere, just to be on the safe side. But I’d never once considered the possibility
of appearing on a talk show.

“Just think about it,” she said. “You’re sitting on the couch next to Dave
or Jay, and you mention how you used to write porn for a living. I’m telling
you, they’ll eat it up. It’s comedy gold.”

I had to admit, she might be on to something. The money was one thing, but
if writing porn could result in at least one colorful yarn, suitable for any
number of talk shows and magazine interviews, then I owed it to myself, to my
career, to take this chance. If I didn’t do it for myself, I should at
least do it for Dave.

I didn’t sleep very well that night. I kept having nightmares that would rouse
me from slumber every few hours. Most of them faded quickly from memory, but
there was one dream that was so disturbing, it continues to haunt me to this
day.

I’m one of the guests on the David Letterman show. He introduces me to the
studio audience, and I’m greeted with wild cheers of adulation. I’m not sure
what I’m done that’s made me such a popular figure in the mainstream, but I’m
clearly a household name at this point. Dave shakes my hand and tells me how
much my work has meant to him personally, a sentiment he seems to share with
the rest of America. We joke good-naturedly about my latest projects, and I
easily charm him with witty observations about the creative process and the
hardships of being a literary giant in an era of low expectations.

When we’ve exhausted every last minuet detail about my incredible and multi-faceted
career, Dave asks me about my long road to stardom.

“Well, it’s funny you should bring that up, Dave,” I tell him, winking at the
audience as if to tell them that my best material is yet to come. “Most people
don’t know this, but before I got my start in show business, I used to write
porn films.”

The silence comes so abruptly, it’s as if the laughter and applause were part
of a pre-recorded loop that’d been switched off at the source. Dave stares at
me with a baffled expression, not certain if this was some lame attempt at a
comedy bit or I had actually said what he thought I said.

“It was just one script,” I say, the lack of confidence showing in my voice.
“I was young and needed the money. But you can rest assured that I never–”

“Okay then,” Dave says, cutting me off. “As much as we’d like to hear all about
it, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time.”

Dave cues his producers to cut to a commercial, and I know that it’s over for
me. The studio audience continues to gawk at me, with a combination of fear
and hatred in their eyes. A few of them even start to boo.

“It’s not like I still do porn,” I say, beginning to panic. “That was
just a small part of my career. A very, very small part. Barely worth mentioning.
I’m not even sure why I brought it up.”

“Goodnight everybody,” Dave says, waving at the audience that has now risen
to their feet and is howling for my blood. As Paul and the band begin to play,
some burly stagehands walk onto the stage and grab me, roughly pulling me off
the couch.

“Barry Sonnenfeld did porno!” I scream at the audience as I’m dragged backstage.
“You forgave him! Why can’t you forgive me?”

As the stagehands throw me to the ground, I can see Sonnenfeld standing on
the sidelines, glaring down at me. “Will you shut up about that?” He says, in
a hushed tone more frightened than angry.

That’s when I woke up, covered in sweat and trembling violently. I must have
been screaming at some point, because my wife was awake when I came to my senses.
She tried to comfort me, cradling me in her arms and gently stroking my hair
until I drifted back to sleep.

“It was just a dream,” she said. “You’re safe now. Don’t worry.”

As much as I wanted to believe her, I knew that I had plenty to worry about.


Although I’d tried to acclimate myself to LA culture, I’d not yet bought into
the local custom of loathing and generally avoiding the San Fernando Valley.
But on this balmy morning in late July, it was the last place on earth that
I wanted to be.

As I drove through the streets of Canoga Park, searching for the offices of
my future employers, I could begin to understand why the Valley had earned its
maligned reputation. It’s less a suburban oasis than an apocalyptic dustbowl,
an unfathomably ugly sprawl of strip malls, factories and cul-de-sacs. The affordable
housing and lower crime rate hardly make it any more attractive. Despite its
good intentions, it can only ever hope to be LA’s ugly sister to the north,
the last stop for Hollywood failures and ner-do-wells, a rarely visited graveyard
where celebrity pool cleaners go to die.

And the heat, it can only be experienced to be truly believed. The Santa Monica
Mountains, which form the Valley’s southern boundary, manage to shield it from
the refreshing coastal breezes that cool the rest of Los Angeles. During the
summer months, the Valley is always at least ten degrees hotter, and exponentially
more humid, than anywhere else in Southern California. From the moment you cross
the border, it feels like you’ve ventured inside the mouth of a dog.

On the surface, you’d never know that this seemingly working-class neighborhood
was actually the self-appointed capital of porn. Over three-fourth of the adult
films produced in the free world come from the Valley, and more production companies
are moving there every day. Which brings up an obvious question: What could
they possibly be thinking? Despite the sunny climate and close proximity to
an endless pool of frustrated young starlets with dreams bigger than their talents,
there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why anyone in any entertainment field
would willingly call this unwashed armpit of the universe their home.

Probably the only good reason why porn continues to thrive in this region is
because it would be unwelcome anywhere else. The porn industry and the Valley
have developed an unspoken symbiotic relationship that neither would ever openly
admit to. The Valley’s middle-class community, founded with the slogan “The
Town That Started Right,” saw itself evolve into “The Valley of Sin” without
putting up so much as a snivel in protest.

And why would they? For most of its existence, the Valley was little more than
a working class refuge and a cheap source of water for LA. But since porn producers
began setting up shop on their turf, it has transformed into the epicenter of
a flourishing, billion dollar industry. While the production of feature films
in Los Angeles has decreased almost 13% over the past decade, adult movie production
is up 25% and rising. Americans regularly spend more than eight billion dollars
a year on hard-core videos, an amount easily three times larger than all of
Hollywood’s domestic box office receipts.

And that translates to rising employment. Porn productions annually bring as
many as 20,000 new jobs to the Valley. And those numbers don’t just include
the unlucky men and women having sex in front of the camera. Pornos also hire
cameramen, gaffers, grips and sound engineers. That’s a lot of checks being
written, which results in more homes being built in the area and more money
being spent on local businesses. Even the most porn-loathing Valley native has
to appreciate that the math works out in their favor.

Perhaps in reciprocation towards the Valley’s open-door policy towards porn,
producers have taken great strides not to flaunt their dirty secrets in public.
While Hollywood’s studios advertise their presence with glitzy overkill, porn
studios are downright inconspicuous, if not totally invisible. There are almost
three hundred porn facilities within the Valley limits – including sound stages,
editing facilities, and printing plants – but they’re hidden with such expertise
that even their own neighbors couldn’t identify them with any certainty. On
a daily basis, an empire of porn is created without anybody knowing the better.

Everybody gets rich. Everybody is happy. And it all happens behind closed doors,
keeping the illusion of a moral community fabric alive and well.

As much as I could appreciate the beauty of this system, I couldn’t help but
be a little annoyed by how it had personally inconvenienced me. It’s all well
and good that the locals don’t have to be constantly reminded of their porn
surroundings, but for an outsider like myself, it made finding a correct address
an impossible challenge. Forget a map, I needed a compass. It’s not like I wanted
a big flashing neon sign that screamed “PORN STUDIO,” but would it have killed
them to put a few numbers on the doors?

Using the process of elimination, I eventually found my way to the right building.
Hidden behind a fence of shrubberies on a quiet residential street, it barely
qualified as an inhabitable place of business. There were no windows, barbed
wire fences surrounded it at all corners, and all but one of the doors was locked
with a pad-lock. The elaborate security measures were probably intended to scare
away horny teenagers and curious tourists, but I couldn’t shake the feeling
that I was trespassing on a hostile religious compound.

I finally managed to find an unlocked door, and entered into what appeared
to be a rather ordinary reception area. It was clean and well lit, and reminded
me of a dentist’s office. Not exactly the strip club atmosphere I’d been anticipating.
But I was immediately reminded of who owned these premises when I was greeted
by a big-breasted secretary, dressed in a low-cut dress that revealed far more
cleavage than I was ready to witness so early in the morning.

“Hello,” she said brightly, smiling up at me. “Are you here for the gangbang
auditions?”

“Uh, no,” I said. “I have an appointment with Brandon Holly. I’m a writer.”

Her smile vanished. “Okay then,” She said. “Have a seat and I’ll let him know
you’re here.”

I wandered over to a couch in the far corner of the room. As I flipped though
the magazines laid out on a small coffee table (which included, strangely enough,
copies of Consumer Reports and Psychology Today), I wondered exactly
what was involved in a gangbang audition. Was a headshot and resume required?
Would you be asked to prepare a monologue? Probably best not to give it too
much thought. That way madness lies.

“Is that Spitznagel?” A voice boomed. I looked up and saw a thin man coming
towards me, his hand outstretched in greeting.

“Glad you could make it, sport,” he said, practically pulling me to my feet
with his grip. “I’m Brandon. Welcome to our happy little home.”

Though he seemed to be in his late thirties, there was something about him
that reminded me of a teenage girl with bulimia. The skin was stretched so tightly
across his face that when he smiled, his cheekbones threatened to crumble and
break like old taffy. And his ribcage was frighteningly transparent through
his loose satin shirt. This was a man in desperate need of nourishment.

“Let’s find someplace more private, eh?” He said, winking at me.

I followed him through a maze of hallways, designed to make escape impossible.
We eventually entered a conference room, its walls lined with the boxes of their
more popular videos. It was unsettling to be surrounded by so many pictures
of naked models. I had the weird sensation that the eyes were following me,
leering at me with forced, insincere lust.

We both found a chair on either side of a large table. “Can I get you some
coffee?” Brandon offered. I shook my head, not sure if my immune system could
withstand the hot liquid syphilis that undoubtedly passed for coffee at this
place.

“Let’s get down to business,” he said. “I love your script. Went ballistic
over it. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“That said, I had to make a few changes.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Nothing major,” he said. “I just cut some of the more complicated words.”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“It’s okay, you didn’t know. But for future reference, try to stay away from
words with more than three syllables. It just frustrates the actors and they
can’t perform. And when they can’t perform, we don’t get paid. You see what
I’m saying, sport?”

The way he kept calling me “sport” sent a chill down my spine. It made him
sound like a dirty old uncle, drunk at a holiday family gathering, trying to
coax some underage nephew into sitting on his lap.

“So,” he said, slapping a hand on my knee. “What else have you got for me?”

I just stared back at him, not entirely sure what he wanted. “I’m sorry?”

“What are you working on now? Anything new and exciting?”

“You mean scripts?”

“Hell yes I mean scripts. What’d you think, this was just a friendly get-together?
I want to hear some ideas! I want to crawl into that head of yours and mine
it for gold! I want to suckle at your creative teat!”

To say that I was caught off guard would have been a gross understatement.
I never suspected that I’d been invited to a pitch session, and was completely
unprepared for such a possibility. I suppose I could have improvised a few ideas
for him, had I not been so deeply troubled by what my “creative teat” might
be, and why this strange, skinny man was so eager to suckle at it.

Brandon must have seen the panic in my face, because he quickly filled the
silence. “I have an idea that I’ve been tossing around,” he said. “I’ve just
been waiting for the right writer to give it to, and I think you’re my man.
Are you ready for it?”

“Sure,” I said, tentatively.

He paused for a moment, letting the tension build in what he hoped was a hushed
awe. And then, letting the words leave his lips softly as a whisper, he said,
“Kurosawa.”

I just stared back at him. If this was his idea, obviously I’d missed something.
“You mean the filmmaker?” I asked.

“Have you ever watched one of Kurosawa’s films and thought, ‘Damn, this would’ve
made a great porno?’”

Honestly, the thought had never crossed my mind. Not once. But that didn’t
stop me from nodding excitedly at Brandon, as if he had hit upon some universal
truth. “Well sure,” I said. “Who hasn’t?”

My enthusiasm just seemed to incite him, and he leaned closer. “I’ve always
wondered what Rashomon would have been like as an adult film. Different
versions of events, multiple points of view, a cinematic meditation on the subjective
nature of truth. Add some fucking, and it practically writes itself.”

He was a madman, that much was clear. But I felt compelled to ride this runaway
train off the tracks and hold on until the last possible second. “I think you
may be on to something,” I said.

“This is my vision, Eric,” he said. “I need you to give it life.”

“Well, I–”

“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. The boys in finance don’t want this.
They’re calling for your head. They think you’re trying to ruin the company.”

“Wait, I didn’t–”

“But I’m going to fight for you. I believe in you and I believe in your idea.
Ask anybody, I take care of my people. If I stand for nothing else, it’s protecting
my talent.”

The joke had gone too far, and it was time to make a jump for safety. I glanced
at my watch, attempting to look surprised, as if I had only just realized that
I was late for another appointment.

“I’d better be going,” I said. “I’ll be in touch though, okay?” He seemed to
buy it, which was enough for now. As long as I could get out of there without
promising anything, I would be safe. I made a mental note to have my phone number
changed the moment I got home.

I was standing up to leave when the door to the conference room suddenly slammed
open and a short, pudgy man entered the room.

“Hey Brandon,” the man said. “You almost done here? I’ve only got the sound
stage reserved until noon.”

He was dressed in an old t-shirt and jeans, stained with splashes of dried
paint and plaster. His chin was covered in course stubble, and judging from
his ripe odor and oily hair, it’d been days since his last shower.

“Ian, great, there’s someone I want you to meet.” Brandon turned to me, placing
an arm around my shoulder. “This is Eric, one of our newest writers.”

“Hello,” I said, forcing a smile.

Ian just glared at me, his nostrils flaring. He nodded in greeting, but made
no attempt to conceal his immediate contempt for me. I felt quite certain that
if Brandon wasn’t standing nearby, he might have taken a swing at me.

“You’ll have to pardon Ian’s appearance,” Brandon said, ignoring the palpable
tension in the room. “He’s been up all night putting the finishing touches on
one of our film sets.”

“Oh, that’s great,” I said.

“He’s also one of our actors,” Brandon continued. “And when he has time, he’s
a cinematographer, editor and executive producer.”

I could fathom this man as a carpenter, and possibly even a producer, but picturing
him as an actor seemed like a bit of a stretch. His sizable panch and questionable
hygiene made it inconceivable that anybody, anywhere, would want to see him
naked. But that, I suppose, was the very essence of what kept this industry
alive.

“Well, it was nice to meet you,” I said.

Ian’s eyes narrowed in evident disdain. And then he turned his gaze back to
Brandon. “Just make it quick, okay?”

With that, he turned and left, and I released a heavy sigh of relief. Brandon
chuckled under his breath, apparently delighted by Ian’s reaction. “I hope you
didn’t take any of that personally, sport,” he said. “Ian just doesn’t like
outsiders.”

“I see.”

“Nobody around here does. They just assume that because you’re new, you can’t
be trusted. Give them some time and they’ll learn to accept you.”

Fat chance of that, I thought. I had no intention of sticking around this place
any longer than necessary. If they didn’t like me now, I’d just have to live
without their approval.

“So,” Brandon said, blocking the door with his gaunt frame. “Do we have a deal?”

“Sorry?”

“Are you writing my script or what?”


That night, I had another nightmare. I dreamt that I was a grizzled old pornographer,
testifying before a grand jury, possibly the Meese Commission. For some reason,
I’m in a wheelchair. I’m not sure if I’m paralyzed or just too lazy to walk
on my own. I’m surrounded by a gaggle of porn actresses, all of whom are dressed
in flimsy nightgowns. They’re giggling, tickling me, wiping the drool from my
chin with a satin cloth. My skin is oily and covered in rashes, but there’s
a smugness in my face. I take a sick pride in what I do for a living. I preach
to the committee about first amendment rights, the value of free speech. “Our
founding fathers wanted this,” I say. “It was their dream that one day, all
men, regardless of race or creed, would be able to enjoy movies about anal sex.”

I eventually woke up, but for some reason, I wasn’t disturbed by my nightmare.
In fact, it had given me a newfound sense of clarity. I nudged my wife until
she opened her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” She asked, blearily.

“I want to leave LA.”

She sighed. “And go where? Back to Chicago?”

“No. I don’t know. Maybe. There’s no porn there. Or if there is, I don’t know
anybody involved.”

She tried to change my mind. We weren’t just living in LA for the porn, she
said. What about my screenplay? As far as we knew, my agent was still pitching
it to studios. It could break for me any day. And what of her aspirations to
write for television? She was getting so close. If we could just be patient,
wait just a little longer…

Perhaps, I said. But I reminded her that it had been over a year since we moved
to LA, and nothing had really changed. Agents called now and again, occasionally
rewarding us with a free meal. But the studio meetings they promised never took
place. The checks they all but guaranteed us never arrived in the mail. We were
no closer today than when we first arrived in this foul city.

“So you just want to quit?” She said.

“It’s not quitting,” I said. “It’s running away.”

“Is that any better?”

“Yes it’s better. Quitting is about weakness. We’re not weak. We’re afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Of everything. Of the porn industry. Of our agents. Of everything this city
represents. I don’t know about you, but I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of
wanting so desperately for the right people to notice me, and then being terrified
that they’ll notice me at the wrong moment. I’m tired of constantly worrying
about my future. I’m tired of writing what they want me to write, being who
they want me to be, just because I think they might pay me for it. I’m tired
of looking over my shoulder, waiting for them to find me out, expose me as a
fraud. I’m tired of knowing that it could all end, that everything I ever wanted
to do with my life could be taken away. And I’m tired of wondering how my dreams
ever became so small that anybody could take them away so easily.”

I took my wife’s hand, squeezed it. “There’s no shame in leaving,” I said.
“Because we’re leaving on our own free will. We’re not losers, we’re cowards.”

My wife started to speak, but stopped herself. I could see the resignation
in her face. She wanted to tell me I was wrong, wanted to convince me that LA
wasn’t a lost cause, or at least convince herself. But she didn’t have the energy
for it anymore. I like to think that a part of her knew I was right.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll start packing tomorrow.”

I slid back into the covers and fell almost instantly into a deep sleep. I
slept better than I had all year. And this time, my dreams were pleasant, almost
peaceful. I dreamt of a place far away from California. It may have been Chicago,
but I suppose it could have been anywhere. I saw hundreds of people, of every
age and sex, standing together in a single line. They were holding hands, and
I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure they were singing. I was struck by how ordinary
they were. There was nothing particularly special about any of them. They had
no apparent reason to be celebrating. But there they were, singing away, perfectly
happy with their lives.

And this is the really strange part. I’m not sure why I noticed this, but the
women were all wearing turtleneck sweaters.

It may not seem like much, but to me, it was paradise.

account_box More About

Eric Spitznagel has been selling his filthy prose to the masses for well over a decade. He’s a regular contributor to Playboy magazine, and has also written for such national rags as Blender, Chicago, Harper’s, Juice, and New City. He’s the author of four humor books, including A Guy’s Guide To Dating (Doubleday, 1998). He currently lives in Chicago, where he teaches comedy writing at the world-famous Second City theater. He’s more afraid of you than you are of him.
  • AC

    Hi Eric, I want to to write a porno. Can you please email me a producer looking for a good script? spirit2012@live.com.au Thanks, AC (Australia)

  • Satcha

    Now you’ve really scared the sh*t out of me…You’ve actually poured cold beer over my porn screenwriting ambitions…Now what am I to do?? I’m scared stiff!! Impending doom is what I’m about!! I’m ruined already!! Oh Eric!!
    So you’re insinuating I should write soft core & maybe soft-softcore or super softcore?? Or ismply just give up? One less share right?
    Really Eric! If you were that squeamish how did you end up writing for Playboy? not that I disapprove 😉
    But on the whole, a really well written narrative!

  • Meli Melo

    I want there to be porn films written and directed by women. Teach men to actually please women instead of “masturbating into them” (I stole that from a comment in a New Yorker Magazine article on the effects of watching porn on men and women). I want to write porn screenplays but yuck, it doesn’t sound like easy money. Maybe we could start a feminist production company, “Porn by Women”, which other than provide titillating content would educate men on how to give women multiple orgasms and stuff… This is too idealist, isn’t it?