Sunday, December 25, 2011

When in Rome

    SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — Ancient Rome, that epic world of emperors, orgies and gladiators, is once again being recreated for a movie — not on a Hollywood soundstage but at a remote, sprawling ranch in the hilly, northern reaches of Los Angeles County.
Spartacus XXX” is a joint venture of London-Gunn and Miko Lee Productions, that will be distributed by Wicked Pictures. That’s Marcus London and Tommy Gunn, who own the ranch where a gladiator training camp has been recreated. The scene in progress is a practice session for the fighters.
Under the blazing California sun, three pairs of glads work out under the eye of a fourth pair. Gunn, co-producer and co-star, is paired with a mainstream actor. They hit each other’s shields with their swords — whack-whack, whack-whack, one-two, one-two — over and over, monotonously.
“Fuck, my arm’s on fire right now,” Gunn exclaims. He puts down his sword and takes a break.
As Crixus, he has a barbarian look: long hair, beard, buckskin leggings. I say the first thing that pops into my mind, “You look authentic!”
“That’s the point,” he replies, downing an energy drink. He and London, who’s directing the show, want everything — from costumes to weapons to behavior — to look as it did (to the best of anyone’s knowledge) in 1st Century Rome.
The actors are on a patch of sand bordered on two sides by rough-hewn timber walls — the gladiators’ training ground in a Roman arena. The third wall is a green screen, to be used for CGI crowd scenes. On the fourth wall is the camera, manned by Wicked stalwart Francois Clousot. On a track, it moves laterally, covering all the action.
The only odd thing is the absence of women. To be on a straight porn set and not see a babe in front of the camera is strange. True, there’s Devon Lee, London’s sexy wife, who has a leading role in the movie, but today she’s just working as crew.
It turns out that the babe-work has wrapped, leaving the final shooting days for men only. The cast is loaded with women. In addition to Lee, they include Gracie Glam, Tanya Tate, India Summer, Andy San Dimas, Melanie Rios, Jenna Presley, Prinzzess, Charley Chase. Among the other men are London’s longtime pal Tony DeSergio (as the gladiators’ owner Batiatus), T.J. Cummings, Nacho Vidal, Jack Vegas, Marco Rivera. There’s an unusually large number of non-sex actors, including Wicked’s Brad Armstrong as a Roman senator.
There were four days of sex and dialogue, one day for fight training (under Paul Rapovski, a Toronto-based stunt coordinator), and two final days for shooting the action, which will include wire-assisted moves with the help of a very large crane waiting nearby.
“The fighting has to be convincing,” says London, in loincloth and leggings as Spartacus.
During a break, he and Gunn are eager to explain that their movie is not a parody but a serious retelling, with hardcore sex, of the Spartacus story. He says they were “inspired” by the cable TV series, using it as “a blueprint.”
They spent four months on pre-production, building all the sets on the ranch, where the entire movie, indoors and out, was shot. All the weapons, helmets and costumes were handmade — a “very, very long process, with no cutting corners.”
Gunn says they knew they couldn’t find the gear they needed at Hollywood prop shops, so they created their own. Hauling out a mean-looking, six-foot-high trident, he points to its razor-sharp tines and laughs, “It’ll hurt ya!”
London says, with perhaps some exaggeration but pardonable pride, “It took more time and effort than has ever been put into any adult film.”
He and Gunn point to bruises and cuts on their hands and arms from building and fighting. “We’re gonna bleed for our fucking art.”
The two men, who’ve been friends ever since they met on the set of James Avalon’s “Darkside” in 2005, took their project to three major companies. Wicked expressed interest but London balked at the idea of using condoms — a Wicked requirement for in-house movies — as anachronistic. He also didn’t want to have to use contract girls.
“So,” he says, “we told them, ‘we’ll fund it, you distribute it.’” And that was the deal. They obtained financing, entering into an agreement with Miko Lee Productions. She is executive producer. Their budget was big enough to allow for the seven-day shoot — a luxury in porn. As for post-production, Gunn says there’s not a lot, but “we have our work cut out for us.” The upside of all their labor is that, with sets and weaponry already made, “a sequel will be a walk in the park.”
London figures that if they deliver a first-class product, “The investor gets his money back and we make more movies.”
Gunn sets his sights even higher: their raising the bar may “inspire our peers to do better.”
They’re called back to the set to shoot the gladiators saluting their owner. Eight men line up facing the camera. “Attend your master!” orders their trainer Doctore, played by Lucas Stone, a tall, powerfully built African-American.
“You guys are looking up at a balcony,” says Devon Lee.
“Everyone look at the top of that tree,” instructs London. “Count 20 and then —‘Batiatus! Batiatus!” The gladiators yell, pump their arms and strike their shields — and for a few thrilling seconds it does indeed look like the real thing.

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