by Shawn Alff
Throughout the past decade, the writers of more mainstream shows, like Spartacus, have incorporated explicit, sexual content in their storylines. This shift is partially explained by the availability of online porn, which has made soft-core sex scenes far less taboo. On the other end of the spectrum, many adult studios have tried to cope with the impact of free online porn by producing adult films with more mainstream appeal — which explains the explosion of parody porns. With both film industries trying to capitalize off of each other's territory, it seems inevitable that the two worlds will soon collide.
One man hoping to lead the uprising of the adult industry in the war for mainstream consumers is Marcus London — the writer, director, title character, and one of the producers of Spartacus MMXII: The Beginning. This film is not intended to be a parody or even a porn, but a serious remake of the legend complete with gory fights and graphic sex. London took a break from working on the script for his second film in the series to chat with me about the production process and the future of adult films.
There were a few moments. At one point I lost a fingernail. I don't know how, but I looked down and it was just gone. Nothing major. In the blooper reel there's a close shave with TJ Cummings. After a couple hits and twists, he turns around and swings his sword down across the other guy's face. He was probably two inches away, but with a real sword at high speed, that is kind of scary. Each fight took about five hours to film. You get a little sloppy as you get tired.
Was the giant man who played "The Shadow of Death" the only gladiator who was not an "adult" actor, or did you hire stunt fighters?
Honestly there were no stunt men in this movie. "The Shadow of Death" was played by Reno, who used to be a big adult performer back in the days when the male talent had long hair. We had actually hired a six-foot-seven giant from Canada, a stunt guy, who does a lot of mainstream work to play the part. He was even going to do a sex scene with Miko Lee. But he called two days before we were scheduled to shoot and said he ripped his bicep. We considered using the fight choreographer because he's tall, but he's not built like a brick shit house. We wanted someone who looked more menacing so we called Reno ... But, of all the guys in the movie, there are probably about four or five mainstream extras. Ninety percent of the gladiators are adult performers.
When researching the Spartacus legend, were there any interesting elements you discovered about Spartacus or the Roman world that are not in the Starz or Stanley Kubrick's version, but which made it into your film?
... Obviously I could not include 70,000 slaves or do the story of the four-year campaign where he fought legion after legion of soldiers. The book offered so much information, but it was mostly about the battles. There wasn't really any in-depth details or storyline that I could use. So I really went off of a little bit of the Starz version and some of the original movie. I used the basic premise of what happened: Spartacus was a conscript for the Roman army. He deserted. They captured him. He became a gladiator and eventually escaped to create an uprising and revolt that rocked Rome for the next four years.
I know you don't like this film to be called a parody. Why didn't you use the story of a different gladiator, or invent a new warrior, to further distinguish this film as more than a parody of the Spartacus legend?
In general a parody is a mockery of someone's articulated work, or a story that someone else owns: Batman, Superman, etc. Then a company comes along and jokes it up a bit. Makes it tacky. Puts some porn in it and it becomes a parody. Spartacus is a historical story. It doesn't belong to anyone. I am not parodying it. I am remaking it. Also, parodies are comedic. Everything about this movie is absolutely serious.
The reason I didn't try to make something up was because I was so amazed by the story I read about Spartacus. I was so impressed with the production Starz made and how sexy it was. I thought, this is perfect. We have a blueprint of what we need to do. Now, all we need to do is make the script a bit more our own and retell the story of Spartacus with more sexual content. Plus, with Spartacus, we have a story that is out there, that people already know and can relate to. I felt that was better than trying to come up with a fake gladiator or to use some little known gladiator from history.
The dialogue and dialect really impacts the design of a movie. Consider a movie like Snatch. If you didn't have the pikeys speaking pikey, you don't really get a sense of who they are and what they are about. For me, I wanted to have that old English, that old Biblical style of dialect. As much as it may be difficult for actors to do or the audience to understand, it fit the time, the costuming, and the characters. If all the characters had American accents, that would just destroy the movie. So I made sure that the majority of the people either spoke British English, or they could tone their accent down, so they could come across as slightly British ... I also cast Nacho Vidal as the Roman, as the Spanish in him would come across in his accent. Originally, I would have loved to have more Spanish and Italian accents in the film, but it was like anything else. I didn't want to have fake tits in the movie either, but I had to bow out somewhere. Try finding good looking women who don't have fake tits in this business. It's pretty damn tough. Or people who are not covered in tattoos. We could cover up the tattoos but we couldn't account for everything.
I noticed you left some of the male actor's tribal tattoos.
If you watch the Starz series, The Shadow of Death has a huge tribal. Tattoos go back into ancient history, so tattoos in and of themselves weren't a problem. I just had to be very careful what tattoos I showed. I covered one of mine, but I left my dragon tattoo because dragons are timeless. Jack Vegas's tattoo is extremely tribal, so I left that. There were only a few tattoos on the men that had to be covered. It was mainly the women like Jenna Presly and Andy San Dimas whose tattoos we had to airbrush out. But, I think the tattoos we were able to leave added a bit to the characters.
You were able to spend several months on pre-production, building the set and props with fellow producers and actors, Tommy Gunn and Tony De Sergio, on your ranch. How did living this close to the production impact the final product?
If we had not lived here we could never have made the movie as good as it was made, and it would have cost twice the amount. Realistically, we probably took six months, but let's say four months of actual, nonstop five to seven hour days of working on it ... The garage where it is all stored is packed to the ceiling with props. If Tommy didn't have the area he needed to work in, if we didn't all live together on this ranch, if we didn't have these areas to build the sets, to look at them, shoot them, pull them down, and tweak them, we could never have made the movie, and we certainly could have never shot it in six days.
We were also able to empty our house, put everything in storage, then re-decorate it, picking where to put pillars and drapes in our own time without renting a huge studio and having to pay $2,000 a day for weeks and weeks. The movie should have cost $400,000, maybe $500,000 to do what we did if we hadn't been in control. We owned our own space. We made our own props. We didn't have anyone helping us. Everything was done in house. The box cover design. The editing. If you added all of that up, it would have been an enormous movie, and an expensive one at that.
I'm looking at an area here in my living room that has helmets, swords, sexy roman masks, a roman dildo that was made for the movie. We could decorate the house with all the stuff we have ... I still have the drapes from the film hanging in certain areas because they look nice. We still have the set for the slaves' quarters set up around the hot tub. We have a set in the carport and we still have the full set of the arena because I know I am going to use some of the same areas in the second film.
When you are the writer, director, producer, title character, your home serves as the primary set, and your friends and wife are in the film, is it difficult to step back and look at the film objectively, as a product to be sold as opposed to an artistic or personal pursuit that you want to get perfect?
Honestly, I think the reason the movie looks so good is because I wasn't worried about how it would sell. I cared about the movie itself ... I just want to make an amazing film that we could be proud of ... The way I saw it was, if we make an amazing film, if we put all we have into it, if we do it our way, and the quality is there, it will sell because it will be different and better than anything else. Will it sell better than Anal Whores Volume 6? I don't know, but it will go down in history as one of the best adult films ever made, and that is what we wanted ...
When the end goal was to make a more mainstream film with adult content, did you feel the need to hire professionals from outside the adult industry?
I did consider hiring a mainstream DP who wasn't in the industry. But, as much as it is the DP's job to light and figure out the shots, it is really the director's job to explain to him what he wants. So, any DP would be good as long as I know what I want. If I didn't know what I wanted then I would definitely have needed a good DP.
We have really good lighting and sound guys in the business that do mainstream work already. The lighting wasn't hard because I didn't want a lot of lighting. I wanted a lot of fire. I wanted the shadows. I wanted dark. I wanted it grungy. I knew I could get that because I shot the trailer and got the look I wanted with literally a huge bowl full of fire held up with an oven glove.
A camel appears in the background of a single shot. Was that the most expensive extra in the film?
Honestly, that was the cheapest extra because he is owned by my neighbor. I was originally going to have an elephant because I know someone with an elephant, but that was going to cost me a couple of days because elephants are much more difficult to wrangle ... So I called my neighbor and asked, "Do you think we can use your massive horse, "Moose" and "Coco" the camel?" I gave her like $500 to come down and play an extra. She drove the chariot with her horse and her husband walked along with the camel. It probably would have cost $7,000 for something like that.Helen Mirren and Malcolm McDowell?
Will we see another x-rated film with that kind of budget anytime soon?
Honestly, if anyone makes it, it will be me, because it is the area we are pushing toward now. I am even toying with the idea of not putting hardcore scenes in the second Spartacus and going TNA-softcore, HBO-style. I would be perfectly happy just making softcore movies because, at the end of the day, I could really spend time on the production as opposed to the sex. I doubt anyone will ever spend that kind of money again because it wouldn’t be pushable in the mainstream market and it would be ripped off online ... Going above a $200,000 or $300,000 budget in adult is a very, very dangerous situation now. If you can't shoot a movie for less than $50,000, you've got to really ask yourself if you can get that money back.
How are the sex scenes different in Spartacus MMXII than in other hardcore films?
The sex scenes were toned down. We didn't let the actors run wild. Also, the sex scenes are part of the story. The actors remain in character throughout. I didn't want people screaming out swear words, saying things like, "fuck my dirty pussy." In other films, as soon as the character gets in the sex scene, he becomes Evan Stone again, or he becomes whoever the Gonzo performer is doing his thing. I wanted the audience to believe that character throughout the sex. Believe what they are doing and why they are doing it. Believe there is that connection with that couple. Like when Andy San Dimas finishes having sex with TJ, you can see the fear in her eyes that she will lose him the next day. You can physically see it ... You don't see that in adult films. That is what sets this movie apart. It never lets go of who it is. It is Spartacus. It is never a porn movie. That is what I think we really did, what we captured, the fact that we were making a mainstream movie that showed sex.
What did you learn from shooting this film that you will do differently in future additions to this series?
We learned that we could make a really good film that looks like anything else in the mainstream arena. We know we can get the feel. We know we can get the look. Now I have to deliver the acting. We shot most of the dialogue scenes in four days, because we spent two days just on the fight scenes. Imagine if I spent a couple of months on that dialogue, really working with the actors until each scene was perfect. That is really what I am looking to do with the second one. The second one's story is extremely, extremely deep. A lot of questions get answered. There is a lot of intrigue and mysticism. People stab each other in the back. What I am trying to do is to really deliver an extremely powerful story with amazing, amazing acting. Great cinematography obviously, as always. Not many special effects, at least in the beginning and middle, and then at the end when we have the final huge fight sequences in the pits, then we are going crazy. Then we are going green screen, monsters, fucking cut-throat, bloodthirsty violence. But mainly, the big difference is that I am going to concentrate on the level of acting.