Sunday, July 30, 2006
BILL GARDNER and JOHN SINGLETON:
Hot Desert Knights Owners Re-Establish the Bareback Video
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Once upon a time — from the mid-1970’s, when the above-ground Gay porn business got started, to the late 1980’s — the men who had sex with each other in porn videos were blessedly condom-free. That all changed in the early 1990’s when, at the height of AIDS consciousness, Gay porn producers began to incorporate condom use into their films as well as prefacing them with safer-sex lectures. The condoms wouldn’t have been so bad if the filmmakers had figured out any way of integrating them into the action; if they could have managed to eroticize the act of putting a condom on, their movies might have been more entertaining and also more effective in propagandizing for safer sex.
Instead, they took the easy way out and created what Hot Desert Knights owners Bill Gardner and John Singleton call “the magic condom” — the one that just suddenly appears on the top partner’s cock right at the moment when foreplay stops and actual penetration begins. The whole concept is so ridiculous that even one porn star who refuses to do anal sex scenes without a condom nonetheless jokes about the director calling, “Cut for condom!,” when The Moment is reached.
In 1998, Gardner and Singleton, a retired Gay couple in Palm Springs, stumbled into porn production and created a new market for “bareback” — condom-free — Gay videos. Today, judging from the catalogs of porn retailers, videos showing Gay men having sex with each other as nature intended them to, without condoms or barriers of any kind, are once again in the ascendancy.
But ditching the “magic condom” wasn’t the only innovation Gardner and Singleton made; they also got rid of the pretentious attempts at plot and acting that had crept into the productions of the Gay porn mainstream. Hot Desert Knights films often begin right in the middle of hot, heavy sexual proceedings, and for a company that’s staked out a market niche in on-screen barebacking their movies are in a real sense middle-of-the-road productions. Their models are neither skinny, hairless twinks nor big, hefty bears, but ordinarily attractive men you can imagine being willing to go home with you, and the sex is often spiced with appealing bits of kink without going all-out into potentially off-putting hard-core S/M.
Bill Gardner and John Singleton came down to San Diego to be the guests of honor at the opening of Pleasures and Treasures, the new erotica and novelty shop owned by Bill Freyer and Tim Melodick at 2228 University Avenue in North Park. Zenger’s caught up with them there and did the following interview. For more information on Hot Desert Knights, or to purchase their films, please call 1-(800) 300-2002 or visit http://www.hotdesertknights.com on the Internet — a resource Gardner and Singleton claim they were the first Gay porn producers to use.
Zenger’s: Why don’t you start by telling me a little about yourselves and how you got into the adult video business?
Bill Gardner: We’re still trying to figure that out! John and I have been together for, what, 15 years now, coming in August. We moved to Palm Springs about 11 years ago. We were actually retired, and we started having parties at our house, bareback sex parties. At the first party we had about 15 people, and the next party we had 30, and the next party we had 60.
John Singleton: And 75, and it kept growing.
Gardner: After the second or third party, we were all sitting around one night, just smoking and having a beer. Somebody said, “You guys make videos, don’t you?” Actually, the company we had sold when we retired and moved to Palm Springs did make videos — transportation safety videos. So we told him yes, and he said, “Why don’t you make fuck videos? Why don’t you make bareback videos?” Our response at the time was, “We never thought of it.”
I was getting tired of retirement and so was John, so we started thinking about it and about a couple of months later we made our first two films. We didn’t know whether there would be a market for it. We didn’t know whether it would be profitable. But we thought we’d give it a whirl, we’d try it and see what happened. So we created a Web site, and all of a sudden we found out that there was quite a market for that type of video. Sales just went through the roof, and the rest, as they say, is history. That was back in 1998.
Singleton: They liked our genre, and they specifically liked the type of men that we use.
Gardner: Our goal from the very beginning was not to use the Catalina or Falcon style model, you know, blond hair, blue eyes, smooth —
Gardner: We wanted guys that were just average guys; that if you saw them in a bar at night, you wouldn’t be intimidated and you wouldn’t have a problem going up and talking to them, and maybe making a connection. Just average guys. We felt that our customers would be able to relate to those kinds of guys. We’ve used some quote-“porn stars”-unquote that have come to us, but for the most part we still use average guys, good-looking guys, nice guys. They’ve become our friends. When they come into Palm Springs, they stay with us.
Zenger’s: How did you find them and get them to appear?
Gardner: I belonged to a lot of groups from an Internet company called OneList, which has since been bought out by Yahoo and become YahooGroups. The groups all had different topics: fetish, fisting, bareback, or whatever. We simply sent out an e-mail on the OneList groups, and we said, “We don’t know if there’s a market for a film like this. We don’t know if customers want it. We don’t know whether it will sell, so we can’t pay you. We will pay your transportation to Palm Springs. We will pay your meals while you’re here and we’ll pay your hotel while you’re here, so you’ll get a mini-vacation.” And We ended up with about 400 responses from guys from all over the world, actually. There were so many that when we flew them all in —
Singleton: We didn’t fly in all 400.
Gardner: No, but we did fly in enough to make two films that weekend. So we made our first two films, Bareback Buddies and Bareback Raunch, that weekend. And we released them about a month apart.
Zenger’s: What was the response to the films?
Singleton: It was overwhelming.
Gardner: Tremendous. I think we released it on a Thursday, and by Friday morning— I don’t even know how many orders we had, but we were absolutely amazed. We didn’t know how we were going to get these videos duplicated fast enough to get them out on Monday. And it hasn’t slowed down since.
Singleton: We said on our Web site that if you order before noon it will ship the same day. That was tough, keeping up with the first order.
Gardner: Yes, it was tough. But there really was — and still is — a desire in the marketplace for those types of films. Guys are over the “magic condom,” the condom that all of a sudden just appears in the scene. They’re really over looking at blond-haired, blue-eyed muscle hunks that don’t look real. They’re over looking at very tightly scripted and edited films.
So when we came out with ours, I think the guys were just amazed. It wasn’t over-edited, it wasn’t over-scripted. What we told the models was, “Do what you do best. Do what feels good. We’ll keep the cameras going, we’ll capture it, it will be in real time, and it will be a real video. It will be real sex between the two of you.” The marketplace wanted that. That’s what our customers wanted. And they’ve been very, very loyal over the years.
Zenger’s: Have you had any controversy surrounding the concept of bareback porn?
Gardner: You know, it was really funny. We thought there would be a tremendous amount of controversy. We really thought that we would be attacked by the various AIDS organizations, health departments and whatever. We certainly had an attorney that checked into it and made sure that what we were doing was legal, and all that. In fact, I was kind of looking forward to it, because there’s an old saying about how there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And had we created a lot of controversy like that, it probably would have been good for sales.
But we never got a complaint. We never got an e-mail, we never got a phone call. In the eight years now we have been in business, I can only think of two complaints that we’ve ever gotten, where someone has called the office and complained that we were making bareback films.
The one group of people we have got complaints from have been our competitors. There are a lot of film companies, and some directors within the adult entertainment industry, that don’t agree with what we do. We understand that. The bottom line is that they have the right to disagree and we have the right to disagree. They don’t have to make our kind of films, and we’re not going to make their kind of films. Chi Chi LaRue is the biggest outspoken critic of barebacking. And we know Chi Chi. We respect Chi Chi.
Singleton: She has the right to say whatever she wants.
Gardner: She certainly has the right to her belief. And she is very adamantly opposed to it. That’s fine. We understand that.
Singleton: That’s her choice.
Gardner: But she is a competitor. We’ve heard there was some kind of symposium back in New York a couple of years ago, and during the symposium, if I remember right, Chi Chi was on the panel. Something was said to the effect that one of the problem now with the bareback producers is they’re becoming very professional with their quality, and that’s going to create a lot of problems for us. They looked at us at first as just a bunch of amateur studios, but our quality is up there now with their quality.
But what upsets us most is when they try to accuse us of encouraging the spread of HIV because we make bareback films, and [when they say] we are encouraging young Gay men to go out and bareback simply because they watch one of our films. We don’t believe that. We think that young Gay men are more intelligent than what these folks give them credit for, and they’re not going to go out and participate in unsafe sex just because they’re watching one of our films, any more than they would watch Law and Order and then go out and shoot somebody because that’s how Law and Order started off on Thursday night.
We’ve also been cautious about how we make them. We talk to the models quite a bit. We do get a lot of models who write to us and tell us that they’re HIV negative, and they want to do a film where there’s barebacking, and they want to become positive. Obviously, we aren’t going to ever do that or use a person like that. The models all know that the other models in the videos are in fact HIV positive.
We’ve never advocated bareback films. We’ve simply said that adults have a right to participate in the type of sex that they want to participate in, as long as it’s consensual and it’s between adults. None of us have the right to say you cannot do that, any more than the straight community has the right to look down on the Gay community and say, “You can’t be Gay.”
What we do say to people — and we say it in our films, we say it on the box covers of our films, we say it on our Web site, and in virtually every interview that we’ve ever had — is that if you are HIV negative, you need to do everything that you possibly can to stay that way. The best way to stay that way, obviously, is number one, don’t have any sex. That’s not going to happen, so the next best way is use a condom. We really do believe that. We tell people that all the time. Besides, the largest increase in HIV right now is in the 18- to 25-year-old Gay community.
Singleton: Because of the lack of education.
Gardner: There’s more of an increase in the Latino and the Black community, but still it’s the 18- to 25-year-old Gay men. What you have to understand is that this month AIDS is 25 years old. So many of these 18- to 25-year-olds don’t even know someone that has HIV, and have never known anyone that has died of HIV or AIDS. They’ve looked at AIDS as an old Gay man’s disease.
Singleton: Or if they get it, it’s advertised in every magazine, “Take a pill, you’re fine.” They don’t see the side effects.
Gardner: Right. If they read the Advocate magazine or almost any Gay publication, they’ll see the ads from the pharmaceutical companies showing very, very healthy-looking men, with the insinuation that there’s a magic pill out there that keeps it under control.
Singleton: Take a once-a-day pill — but they don’t show the side effects or anything.
Gardner: So when you take that into consideration, and the fact that since we’ve been under the Republican administration, the public-school system cannot teach condom use in any public school in this country without losing their federal funding. All they are allowed to teach is abstinence.
So when you take into consideration the fact that there hasn’t been any true education in the public school system about HIV and STD transmissions, and that the pharmaceutical companies are doing all this advertising, showing all these healthy men and leaving their readers with their impression that if you get HIV, all you have to do is take the magic pill each day and you’ll be O.K., and you take into consideration that this young 18- to 25- crowd hasn’t grown up understanding HIV the way we understand HIV, and then when you consider that the AIDS organizations out there today are not doing the education that was done at the beginning of the HIV or AIDS epidemic, because they don’t have the funding —
Singleton: Or they’re losing their funding.
Gardner: You don’t see posters out like you used to. You don’t see the PSA’s on television like you used to. So the kids growing up today haven’t been exposed to any of this. You take all of that into consideration, and it’s really easy to see why there’s an increase in HIV transmission between 18- and 25-year-olds.
Singleton: Twelve years ago, when we started with the HIV education and support groups, everything was volunteer. Now everything’s paid for.
Gardner: Right. John and I used to run an AIDS organization back in Delaware, and We ran an AIDS support group, and we didn’t have any paid employees. It was all volunteer. Today that same organization still has volunteers, but now they have an executive director that makes over $100,000 a year, and they have outreach staffs. All these folks are paid, and a lot of the money they receive goes into their salaries. They’re buying their own building. There’s not a lot of incentive to reduce their client load, if you will. And I think that’s true of a lot of the HIV/AIDS organizations in this country.
Singleton: So much money would be lost if HIV were cured or a vaccine were created.
Zenger’s: Right. Which is why you don’t hear about that anymore. Which is why instead you hear the goal is to make AIDS “a chronic, manageable disease.” Meaning a disease for which the drug companies can sell people drugs for the rest of their lives and make money off them.
Zenger’s: In fact, I too run a volunteer AIDS organization. It’s somewhat different because our take on it is that AIDS really isn’t caused by HIV or any other viral infection: that it’s a long-term toxic breakdown of the immune system; and I would add to your list of things affecting young people the fact that they’re not really being educated about the horrible health risks of recreational drug use.
Singleton: That’s true.
Gardner: Absolutely. We’re probably the only adult video company, Gay or straight, that has a written drug policy. Our models have to sign on to that. Even though they’re independent contractors, we have the right to test them when they show up to appear for the filming. Our big concern is crystal meth, but if they look to us like they’re under the influence of drugs, then we send them down for a drug test. Now, obviously, they never show up for the drug test.
Singleton: And they never show back up on the set.
Gardner: They never show back up on the set. But we have a great concern about that in this community. We’ve had a drug-testing policy at our company for years. That does contribute to the spread of HIV, obviously: guys getting under the influence of various drugs, but specifically crystal meth. We’ve had friends that have gone through rehab several times before they’ve been able to get off of it. It’s an insidious drug, and it’s going to ruin this community.
Singleton: We’re very, very up front in the interview process with our actors/models, telling them that we do have a drug policy and we do not tolerate the use of drugs on the set.
Gardner: And we don’t tolerate attitude on the set.
Singleton: No drugs, no attitude, have a good time.
Gardner: Everybody has to have a good time.
Singleton: We’re all there to have fun.
Zenger’s: If you make a porn movie, especially if you make a porn movie about some sort of sex that is in some way dangerous or risky, are you encouraging people to duplicate those things, or are you sublimating it, allowing them to fulfill their desire for it vicariously so they don’t have to do it for real?
Gardner: I think that a lot of people who are in the adult entertainment industry think more highly of themselves than they ought. They think they have a great deal of influence over what other people do, which they don’t. The bottom line is that what we do is entertainment. We create fantasy. Many of our customers tell us that they’d love to be able to bareback. Because of HIV and the risk of getting HIV they don’t, but they can live vicariously through our films. And that they do. We’ve had lots of people tell us that. I’ve never had any customer say to me, “I’m HIV negative, and I want to stay that way, but because I watched one of your films, I figured it was safe to go out and have unsafe sex.” I’ve never had any customer say that.
It really boils down to the freedom that you have in this country. You can’t take away any freedoms. For example, I think that the Ku Klux Klan are just despicable. I don’t agree with anything that they agree with. But I do agree that they have the right to march down the street in a parade, provided that they follow the law and they get a parade permit and all that. Because if we allow their rights to be taken away, then what’s going to prevent our rights, either as Gay men or our rights to make a bareback film, or do whatever we want to in this country?