I put quotes around his name, because his real name was Nick. Nicholas Iacona. He's been a ghost to me for almost 12 years.
Only two times in my life have books literally fallen off a shelf in front of me. Both times I've picked them up and bought them. The first book was Randy Shilts' "Conduct Unbecoming" in 1994 at the Chapter 11 Bookstore in the Ansley Shopping Center in Atlanta. That book followed me through six apartments in Atlanta, a guest house in Savannah, a home in North Hollywood and my current home of 11 years.
I knew at some point I was going to turn that book into a movie. In 2009, I was a writer for hire on a historical DADT epic called HERE'S WHAT WE'LL SAY. It was a combination of Reichen Lehmkuhl's biography about his time in the military in the early 90s, a present day reporter and Randy Shilts' research and release of his book. Three stories that bounced off each other like THE HOURS.
What happened (or didn't happen, more appropriately) with that script is a whole other story. I was angry at Reichen for not talking about it on his "reality" show THE A-LIST: NEW YORK. I told him he needed to talk about it in order to get a buzz going. He finally did after nearly a year of the script collecting dust and my phone blew up with text messages, "you're in Page Six!"
Sure enough, November 2010, Page Six covered the fact in print for the first time that a script existed and within the hour, Entertainment Weekly was on the phone interviewing the producers. CLICK HERE for the article.
After OVER A YEAR of the producers owning the script, finally someone was actually talking about it.
A staged reading was scheduled. The day of the reading, my dear friend, Ryan O'Connor called me. I was just leaving City of Hope Cancer Center, having had the worst appointment ever - stuck in a room for five hours because the doctor forgot about me - I was coming out of my skin from the fury and Ryan very gently assessed I had not heard "the news."
"Oh, God. You don't know," he said.
Our friend, Chane't Johnson had died of a heart attack. We both grieved and as it goes in Hollywood, the show must go on. We arrived at the theatre and did the reading for potential investors and producers.
I met Bryan Singer for the first time and he complimented my writing, but I was still numb. We had a number of actors reading the script and one of my favorite actors, Ben Weber read the role of "Randy Shilts."
I'm not going to lie - I was angry about a lot of things. Confused about my role, more than anything. It was ME who spent many trips flying back and forth to San Francisco, combing through Randy Shilts archives for multiple trips on my own dime. And I felt out in the cold on the celebrations of the evening. I was thankful for my friends coming. Bryan Putnam took the above shot from the reading.
Two weeks later... President Obama repealed DADT and my script was literally the deadest script in Hollywood.
Two weeks ago, Bryan Putnam killed himself, after many years of battling addiction and depression.
The week after September 11th (September 17, 2001 to be exact), I was in A Different Light Bookstore when the book "Wonderbread and Ecstacy" fell on the shelf in front of me. I picked it up. A naked man on the cover. Joey Stefano. Never heard of him. But it was an interesting story from the back cover - porn star who died of drugs. HIV-positive. It's GIA with a dude.
I bought it. I read it in one sitting. But something felt... off... about the story. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew I had to turn this into a movie. Two days later, I found Chi Chi LaRue's email and I emailed him.
Chi Chi (real name, Larry Paciotti) discovered "Joey" and his career exploded. He became the biggest porn producer/ director in the industry. He was also in love with Nick. An unrequited love.
In Nick, Larry formed a family of wayward misfits called, "The Porn Brat Pack," made up of performers, crew and a reporter.
I knew I couldn't do the film without the full cooperation of Larry. He emailed me back the next day with these words: "I have ZERO interest in talking to you about this."
That was it. The book went back on the shelf and collected dust for ten years.
By Summer 2010, I was ready to move back to Atlanta. I had quit casting in late 2005 to pursue writing and here I was, nearly 5 years later with nothing to show. I had completed HERE'S WHAT WE'LL SAY seven months earlier and NOTHING had happened with it.
Since I had quit casting, I went from one ridiculous experience to the next. I can't tell you how many Facebook updates were all, "got great news about..." and then nothing happened.
Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner had taken out my pilot MORTIFIED in 2008 it died a slow death (I got the call that they were done with it the same day I discovered the lump on my testicle, so I assumed that was God's way of saying, "prepare yourself. You're going to die." But good on God for giving Sean and Todd some creative closure.)
Right after getting diagnosed with cancer in 2008, I was "hired" (read: I was never paid...) to write a script based on a producer's idea. Realizing the money wasn't coming, I began to question the validity to the project. When I asked for my contract and what stipends were due to me, suddenly I was "difficult." I ended the relationship. I didn't need that level of toxicity while I was going through chemo and trying to heal. There's a much sadder ending to this story, but that's for another time. And as a side note, if someone is going through chemo, DO NOT make them sit outside in the freezing January temperatures so you can smoke while giving script notes.
I spent the first half of 2009 unemployed. I went to work for hotel on a night shift job and wanted to shoot myself in the head every night.
I was hired for $1,000 to rewrite another script as a writer-for-hire based on a book. It too was in the hands of someone who had NO IDEA what they were were doing with it.
In early 2010, my friend Ryan Green and I produced a no budget movie called AWAY. It was 13 stories that take place in a hotel. Ryan and I worked well together. I found the hotel. He closed the deal allowing us to shoot there for free. I wrote half the stories and another writer/ director wrote the others. He also served as editor. And the film remains sitting on his hard drive, unfinished to this day.
And on June 4, 2010 - I was done. I was ready to move back to Atlanta. I was sitting at St. Felix with someone I no longer have in my life and my friend Adam Cuculich. Adam had a small role in AWAY, but he made a living working in the adult entertainment industry.
I couldn't get a literary agent and I was done. I was going to move back to Atlanta and start extras casting again and make a killing doing that. Five years was enough time to realize this writing thing wasn't going to happen.
"Why do I keep writing for people who have no idea what they're doing!" I screamed.
And Adam very calmly said, "you should just do it on your own."
That was the stupidest thing I had ever heard.
I can't PRODUCE! I can't DIRECT!
And again, Adam said, "well, look at AWAY. You produced that. And the actors wanted to deal with you more than the director."
He had a point. And I HAD produced theatre. If you can produce theatre, you can do anything.
BODY FARM (my pilot MORTIFIED as a feature film) was too expensive. THE TELLING was too expensive. If I was going to do a "little" film that could do festivals, I needed a subject that would play to the LGBT festivals. And the only story I ever wanted to do was JOEY STEFANO.
Adam said, "you should talk to Chi Chi."
I explained the entire story and he said, "I think enough time has passed." In truth, nearly 9 years had passed.
We finished our drinks, walked from St. Felix to Eleven (one block away) and ran right smack into... Chi Chi LaRue.
In all my years in LA, I had never met Chi Chi. So this was clearly a sign. A big, loud, drunk sign.
Larry was drunk. I wanted to talk to him, but I wanted to do it when he was sober. I made a deal with the person no longer in my life (which I plan on honoring),"if you can get me a meeting with him, I'll give you associate producer credit on the film."
24 hours later I was sitting in front of Larry at Starbucks. I pitched my little heart out. I told him I thought Joey Stefano's story needed to be told: it's a story about addiction and family. The ones we create and the ones that bind us. Every day in casting I saw a hundred "Joey Stefano's" who just wanted to be famous, but the trappings of Hollywood ruined them.
I could tell Larry really didn't want to do it, but he said, "every single day of my life, someone asks me about Joey Stefano. If I agree to this, you have to make this movie. Because after it's done, I don't want to ever discuss it."
In the 14 years since Nick's death, Larry has lost hundreds of pounds. He is still one of the titans in the industry. And I knew I couldn't tell the story without him opening doors.
I started interviewing the surviving members of the infamous "Porn Brat Pack." I tried for weeks to find Mickey Skee. Larry just kept telling me, he's out there. But "Mickey Skee" was again, a pseudonym. (WHAT IS IT WITH EVERYONE HAVING TWO NAMES!?)
More bizarre signs happened: I ordered Karen Dior's autobiography through Amazon One-Click. When it arrived, it was shipped from a guy who I know from church. Of all the people in the world to ship this book... I know him from church. I freaked out, "oh, no! This guy who goes to my church is going to tell everyone I'm buying books on porn!" I called him and explained the movie. To which he said, "oh, I knew Joey Stefano... I used to cover the industry under a pen name, Mickey Skee."
I knew for the first time in my life, I was on the right track. I mean... do you need a bigger sign than, YOU GO TO CHURCH with Mickey Skee?
I interviewed Chris Green, Sharon Kane, Brian Maley. I interviewed over a fifty people. I flew myself all over the country to interview people. Nick's family did not want to be involved. I approached them numerous times over the years and they have turned me down.
I never went back to the book because I didn't want to be accused of stealing from it. I wanted the story to come directly from my characters. And as I would discover, that "feeling" I had that was a little "off" was true. Through no fault of the author, there are inaccuracies in the book, because the book was written shortly after Nick's death and the truth is, they were all high doing interviews. They told half-truths. And people were interviewed who claimed to have a bigger part of his life. It was so real and raw in the moment that they hadn't had enough time to process what had happened. Yes, a lot of it IS true. But I would discover there were some events right around the end of his life that were not true.
These survivors had... survived. Some were now sober. Some were now HIV-positive. Geoffrey Gann (aka Karen Dior) died of AIDS related complications in 2004, ten years after Nick.
It was a different time. It was a time when porn stars were royalty in West Hollywood. They would walk into a club and the seas of people would part for them. Without discussing each of their addictions, it's safe to say there were A LOT of drugs. Some people could manage their use and function. Others couldn't.
It was driving back from Comic Con with Pauley that I voiced out loud for the first time, "I think I want to direct this." I had never had any interest in directing, but having just worked with a director who wanted to completely redo my script THE TELLING, I needed a way to protect myself. If I'm going to produce it. If I'm going to travel all over the country interviewing these people, then I want TOTAL control.
For the first time, I was sticking up for myself and what I believed in. I was told by many people, "oh, so-and-so will never talk to you," I earned their trust and got them. If you weren't helpful, you were off the project. For years I had carried dead weight and tried to make people feel involved, even if they had ZERO experience in production, but not this time. If you weren't supportive, you were gone. I was getting too old for this shit.
I finished the first draft of the script in about 6 months. It was centered on Joey.
We did our first staged reading in February of 2011. I had cast Ryan O'Connor as "Larry" and Willam Belli as "Karen Dior." We would later add Missi Pyle as "Sharon Kane."
Following that reading, I met Kevin Williamson who read the script and liked it, but his note (and what I had come to fear, having heard two readings at this point) was: "I don't think your script is about Joey Stefano." He was right. It was about the entire PACK. Not just him.
Another rewrite later, nearly a year after the first draft was completed, it was called THE PORN BRAT PACK.
Last year we got a lot of buzz when we released photos and a video of the cast in costume.
We've gone out to literally dozens of actors to play "Joey Stefano." If he's 20 and looks remotely like him, trust me, we've gone out to him. It blows my mind that most of these actors (who are not A-List talent... or even B-List) would so quickly turn it down. After all, "Gia" launched Angelina Jolie into a super star. But I know we'll find the right one eventually.
I've always felt that I need to make this movie for about a half million. At a half million, I feel confident I can make my investors money back. Any more than that, and you run the risk. Of course, at that time, I had never directed anything.
My producing partner and I went back and forth over numbers for two years. She felt more comfortable at a million (knowing it was STILL going to require a lot of beg, borrow, steal). I felt more comfortable at half that.
Last summer, while sitting in a room, watching the last mix of GROOM'S CAKE, Kathy turned to me and said, "do you really think you can do this for a half a million?" and we agreed.
The title has gone from JOEY STEFANO to THE PORN BRAT PACK to its current title, X-RATED. It doesn't glamorize the porn industry. Far from it. It's not going to be shot as some experimental sex movie. Again... it's "GIA with a dude."
Since those drinks two and a half years ago, I've shot a web series (PROJECT: PHOENIX, which is in post-production) three short films (HABEAS CORPUS was nominated for Best Picture and Best Drama at the 48 Hour Guerrilla Film Competition and GROOM'S CAKE has won nearly a dozen awards for Best Short) and I just finished my first feature on a shoe string budget.
"I can't produce" and "I can't direct" are no longer part of my paradigm.
I need money. I need investors. I need to tell this story.
And this is a good investment! THIS is a Sundance movie. Worse case scenario, it opens and closes every LGBT film festival next year. But these are people known all over the world. When the film was first announced, blogs all over Europe were talking about who would play Joey. People love biopics. People love movies about addiction. People love movies about the industry.
But mostly, people love a good story.
Since those drinks two a half years ago, the night I met Larry... he has been sober for over a year. That's right. Number two on the call sheet is living a new life.
Addiction is a day to day battle. As an addict you make the choice for "today" not to drink. Not to partake of drugs.
Since those drinks two and a half years ago, I've lost several friends to addiction and I have friends who slip and fall every day. But they get back up and they get back on.
If we can change the life or motivate just one person to get help, we've done our job. I've often said that I'm going to get the money for this project through someone in the community who has a vested interest in addiction. Maybe I will. Maybe I won't.
I just know that this is an important story with a message.
I'm grateful for people like Adam, who have encouraged me to strike out and do my own thing. After I started researching and interviewing for X-RATED, I tried to get THE TELLING made. It didn't work out either, but rather than let it get to me, I used the lessons I learned in that working relationship to shape the way I handle the business side of all my projects. Namely, never say, "I totally trust you and whatever you think is the best, that's what we should do." I still listen to my producing partners, but I don't ignore my gut and instincts anymore.
I'm grateful for Ryan O'Connor, Willam and Missi for hanging in there while we wait. This happens with a lot of films - the cast is announced and its 5 years later before a foot of film has been shot.
I'm grateful for my producing partners, my attorney, and all the people make that sausage.
I'm grateful for Larry, Sharon, Mickey, Brian and the others who have trusted me and shared their stories and let me into their lives.
Everything comes in cycles. I get that. MORTIFIED sat on a shelf for three years and then it came back to life and we took it back out again. (Still waiting to see what happens with it.) The scripts you think are dead are the ones that roar back to life.
Hopefully this year, we get to tell Nick's story. Larry's story. Sharon and Mickey and Brian and Karen and all the others.
Wish us all luck on trying to get it to the screen this year. I don't want another year to go by where I say, "Happy birthday, Joey Stefano. Hopefully this is the year we shoot your movie."