October 20, 2006

On the Set Report: Michael Lucas’ La Dolce Vita


Every September, the tents go up in Bryant Park and all eyes are on New York City for Fashion Week, where top designers unveil their latest collections. On a Saturday morning in Chelsea’s Helen Mills Theater, about 200 guests sit expectantly along a runway as dance music pulses and bartenders pour drinks. But they aren’t awaiting a fashion show from Armani or Versace; they are gathered for the filming of the opening sequence of Michael Lucas’ latest epic, La Dolce Vita. The Russian-born director is rushing around, conferring with his assistant, giving orders to his production manager and overseeing a gaggle of photographers (some are actually extras posing as paparazzi) and five cameramen (using a dolly, a Steadicam and three tripods). If it’s up to Lucas, impeccably dressed in a designer suit as usual, there is no chance that any of this amazing spectacle will be missed.

In the audience, local trannie Amanda Lepore chats with Village Voice columnist Michael Musto (both are vets of Lucas’ previous big-budget award winner Dangerous Liaisons). Randy Jones of Village People fame sits across from porn stars Pete Ross, Jason Ridge and Spencer Quest. Lucas calls for quiet and addresses the chic crowd. He explains that they are about to see a pseudo fashion show (complete with clothing from such big-name brands as Prada, Miu Miu and Dolce & Gabbana) of a fictional designer. But first, Lucas thanks new friend Marc Jacobs for the use of his store (where a scene for the movie was filmed earlier in the week, promptly landing Lucas on Page Six of the New York Post, the first of several appearances in the days to come), his hardworking staff and his personal stylist Rod Novoa. Then it’s on with the show!

Drag star Kevin Aviance does a short performance of his dance hit “Strut,” which will be the theme song for the film, then a parade of gorgeous men (some porn stars, some real-life models and one hot local bartender) starts hitting the runway. They are wearing an assortment of hip suits, jeans, blazers, underwear, you name it. Porn star Jack MacCarthy, just back from a tour of Israel with Lucas, looks dapper in a red velvet suit, and Ben Andrews, fresh from his cockfight scandal with Chad Hunt, looks very grown-up in a tie. All the models are very serious, displaying much runway attitude, which they rehearsed until late into the previous night.

After each model walks three times in three different outfits, they all come back onstage and the designer of the so-called collection, Jack Bond (played by newcomer Jack Bond), joins them for a quick bow. The audience applauds wildly on cue, and part one of the shoot is complete. Lucas announces that they will do the whole thing over, just to be sure they have adequate coverage. But first, there’s a brief break.

Backstage, the scene is one of organized confusion. The models mill about in various stages of undress and talk on their cell phones. Phoenix Event Productions, the same team behind the Marc Jacobs and John Bartlett shows earlier in the week, is running things here, so everything goes like clockwork. Racks of clothing are labeled with each model’s name and character name. There are seven hair and makeup people standing by to do retouches as a photographer gathers various groups of models for pictures.

Lucas publicity director Heather Reznor films a faux interview with British hunk Jack Bond. She is playing Heather Weathers, a parody of a breathless reporter worthy of Entertainment Tonight. She flubs her lines but then nails it. Kevin Aviance says that he is a longtime friend of Lucas who couldn’t resist the offer to appear. “We all watch porn, don’t we?” he asks. A bubbly Pete Ross says that he is perfectly content to be sitting in the audience and not up on the runway. “When you’re as short as I am, it’s kinda tough to be thought of as a supermodel,” he says. Ross goes on to explain that he plays the nemesis of Lucas’ character, who is a gossip columnist. “It’s a fun part to play, and we’re having a ball!”

Lunch is served, and then it’s time to do it all again. Everyone takes their places, Aviance sings, the models strut and Bond bows. Lucas thanks the extras again and sends them on their way. But on the set, there is more work to be done. The monthlong, $350,000 shoot is only in its first days, and the crew gets ready to shoot the setup to a sex scene featuring Jack MacCarthy and Ben Andrews that will be filmed several days later at the Lucas Entertainment offices. Both young models are still in their stylish suits as they rehearse and act out their seduction, but it’s not until the following Friday that they get to consummate it.

It’s closing time, and the Lucas offices are abuzz with activity. As MacCarthy and Andrews get into makeup, Lucas creative director, videographer and Vita screenwriter Tony Dimarco sits in front of a monitor with editor Tyler Frank reviewing film from the previous night’s shoot. The footage shows Lucas stumbling out of a sex club and wandering the streets of a predawn Manhattan. “We are trying to update a classic here,” Dimarco says. “I watched the original La Dolce Vita over and over, but we wanted to add elements of New York City and things that are associated with Michael Lucas to it, like fashion.” Dimarco says that’s how he got the idea for the lavish fashion show opener. “I kept thinking, how can we draw viewers in and put them right into this world? So I thought the show would accomplish that.”

But the setting for tonight’s shoot is decidedly less glamorous: a bathroom. The lights have been set up and Dimarco—along with Ray Dragon, who will also be shooting—preps his camera. The models are dressed in their clothes from Saturday’s shoot, and the hair and makeup artists work from photos to get them to look exactly as they did a week before. Lucas gives them a once-over then calls to his crew for towels, lube, condoms and water—always a sure sign that “action” is about to be called.

Lucas directs the models to tear at each other’s designer labels but to leave their clothes on. He tells them to act with an air of urgency (after all, in the movie they are about to hit the runway) and then choreographs the basics of the scene. With a still photographer and a soundman hovering just outside the bathroom door, the models start kissing on a ladder. Dimarco is shooting from above, while Dragon is lying on the floor. Once dicks are out and hard, Lucas calls out directions: “Play with his foreskin.” “Gag on his cock.” “Faster! Harder!”

After about 30 minutes of oral, the models are heating up in the tight space and ask for a break. The crew goes off to eat some pizza and give them some privacy. When they return, it’s on to ass-eating and fucking. With MacCarthy bent over the toilet bowl, Andrews begins topping. MacCarthy’s tie dips into the toilet water and Lucas assures him that it’s okay. At one point, Dragon jumps up and races down the hall. Dead battery! He returns in a couple of minutes and gets back to work. In short order, MacCarthy pops while riding Andrews, who then stands and jacks. A quick cleanup follows and the models dress and act as if they are runway ready. Two hours have passed, and another of the 12 sex scenes for Vita is complete.

Lucas retires to his office, where he works on his blog and looks at footage from a couple of days before that re-creates the famous fountain scene from Fellini’s 1960 original starring Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni. Watching himself take a dunk with porn actress Savanna Samson in the fountain at City Hall Park (again, mentions in Page Six and the New York Daily News), Lucas comments on his acting. “I think I am better in this than usual,” he says. Then he divulges why: “I hired an acting coach. All the top stars have acting coaches. You need someone to run your lines with. Even Meryl Streep has an acting coach!”

The arty images on-screen seem to impress even him. “Nobody has ever done a movie like this,” he says. “Straight or gay. It is a first for this business.” When asked what he hopes to accomplish with Vita, Lucas says, “I want to go further than Dangerous Liaisons. I want to top that, make something bigger and grander. I hope viewers will be as taken in by the story as by the sex. As a gay man, I like beautiful things. It is very challenging to make beautiful and tasteful porn, not cheesy like most movies. And with the hard work of many people, I think we have done it.”

As award season approaches, Lucas admits that he would like to repeat the success of Liaisons: “It’s nice to win, but it’s not why I make movies.” So then why does the often controversial director do it? “To make money. I just hope the judges can separate me from my film. It deserves to be judged on its own merits.”

Reprinted from GAYVN magazine (2006)

October 11, 2006

New Release: Lebanon

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