Lights! Camera! Viagra!
When 43-year-old porn actor Tyce Bune goes to work these days, he makes sure to pack something extra in his briefcase along with the usual script and change of clothes: a vial of Viagra tablets.
On a typical day, when filming can stretch on for 14 hours, Bune will strip down and have sex in front of a camera crew as many as three times. During busy times, he might work five days a week.
It’s a grueling schedule, and Bune has popped so many blue diamond-shaped Viagra pills that one film director said some crew members have teased him about his “blue tongue.”
“I don’t think men should be ashamed that they do use it,” said Bune, who often relies on Viagra for film shoots. “I’m not ashamed of it. People know that I use it. It doesn’t make me any less of a man or a person.”
Call it better porn through chemistry. Viagra, the drug that has transformed the sex lives of the elderly and the impotent, has swept through an industry that arguably needs it the least.
From aging male actors seeking to further their careers to anxious directors pushing to cut production costs by eliminating awkward performance delays, the wonder drug of sex has become a critical tool for today’s adult entertainment industry.
Bune (pronounced boo-NAY), who has become a regular on porn sets throughout the San Fernando Valley, said he has taken as much as 100 milligrams a day--about twice the normal dose--and knows of peers who have used even more. With the current hectic pace of film production, some actors are taking the pill for every shoot, turning the industry into an unwitting mass experiment for Viagra usage.
Some actresses and directors are getting fed up with it all, rolling their eyes whenever they see the telltale signs of a Viagra-amped actor: the flushed face and chest, the glazed look.
“They’re using drugs designed for men with particular problems, and these guys don’t have that particular problem,” said veteran actress Nina Hartley.
Yet the pill has helped create dozens of male stars and eliminated so many annoying production snafus that industry players say they are willing to put up with the occasional lapses and potential health problems.
“I put Viagra right up there with the polio vaccine, as far as making my job easier,” said director Michael McCormick of Metro Productions.
Viagra, which was introduced in 1998, treats men with erectile dysfunction, a physical condition afflicting about 30 million Americans, according to its maker, Pfizer Inc. Touted in testimonials by 77-year-old former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, the blue pill racked up $1.34 billion in sales last year, making it one of Pfizer’s top moneymakers.
The drug is available only through prescription, in part because it can aggravate some heart and blood-pressure problems and can be fatal when mixed with other drugs, medical experts say. But Viagra has become easily available on the Internet, where dozens of Web sites sell the pill for $10 to $13 each to anyone who fills out a questionnaire.
A Pfizer spokesman said it was inappropriate to use Viagra for anything but erectile dysfunction and in excess of one tablet per day. Medical experts consider it highly unethical for doctors to prescribe the pill to adult film actors for that extra edge at work.
“It’s like giving growth hormones to kids who do not have a growth deficiency, but their parents want them to be bigger to play basketball,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Washington-based Public Citizens Health Research Group.
Drug Provides Quality Control
In its short history, Viagra has morphed into a recreational drug for the mainstream, especially among aging baby boomers.
Yet in the adult entertainment world, Viagra use is anything but casual. It has brought an industrial level of quality control to a business notoriously vulnerable to the whims of biology.
“It’s part of the larger mainstream pressure of a performance culture,” said feminist author Susan Faludi, who wrote “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man.”
“It’s reflective of what’s going on in society,” she said. “People are encouraged to view themselves as commodities that are marketed and fine-tuned with chemicals, whether it’s Viagra or Prozac or Botox injections.”
Indeed, even the most virile men have an off day. Bune said he uses Viagra whenever a scene lasts more than an hour or if he has to don a condom “because I just can’t work with them.”
Cheyne Collins, a 34-year-old actor who occasionally uses the drug, said he has to perform intimate acts even if he’s not in the mood “or if I’m tired or sick that day.”
“It helps, but it’s not a miracle pill,” Collins said. “For some guys, there are days when nothing, not even Viagra, will work and everyone’s waiting.”
Such delays cut into a sex film’s production budget, which typically ranges between $5,000 and $35,000 per film. A shoot could be postponed for several hours or delayed for so long that the crew would scrap the day altogether.
“You may not think that the delays are a big deal, but they are,” said Marci Hirsch, head of film production for Vivid Video Inc. in Van Nuys, one of the largest adult film companies. “Hollywood studios shoot for months. We have a budget that lets us shoot for three days.”
Small budgets mean small paychecks, particularly for male actors who typically rank at the bottom of the payroll food chain. The industry has long been dominated by women, whose bodies and faces are what sell an ocean of sex tapes to a predominantly male audience. They can often choose the male actors they will work with--and blackball the ones they will not.
Men who do make the cut are paid significantly less than their female counterparts, earning as little as $500 per movie. For many of them, Viagra has made the difference between steady work and a silent phone.
“If a guy gets there and he doesn’t do his job and he refuses to use Viagra, the director won’t force him to use it,” Bune said. “He just won’t hire him again.”
Bune, once a struggling mainstream Hollywood actor, now produces a line of adult films titled “Beach Bunnies With Big Brown Eyes.” He was drawn into the industry several years ago by McCormick of Metro Productions, who was seeking someone with real theatrical experience.
“We needed someone who could actually read both a script and their own name, and he could do that,” McCormick said.
Bune’s first shoot was a disaster, McCormick said. A blond surfer sporting a tattoo of the Energizer Bunny on his shoulder, Bune could not complete his scenes under the spotlight of the cameras. “That first scene had to have gone for three hours,” Bune said. “I was new. I wasn’t used to that.”
The actor turned to his doctor for help with his professional problem but was told that he could get a Viagra prescription only if he was having trouble in his private life. Bune said he “read between the lines” and told his physician that he also needed a boost in his bedroom.
A few months later, Bune returned to the porn world a new man. “Now he’s a stud,” McCormick said.
The new flood of chemically enabled competition has created a catty rift in the traditionally tightknit group of male actors. The reason is simple: There are now too many men fighting for the same jobs. The top sex-film studios, which churn out more than 30 films a month and pay the best, typically rely on a core group of 25 to 35 male actors. Yet hundreds of men now vie for these jobs, overwhelming studios with glossy portraits and telephone pleas for work.
Viagra is popular within this new group of “pretty boys,” said former actor and current director Bud Lee, who often takes some extra Viagra to the set, just in case. “They are making it tougher for the older guys to get work.”
For Nonusers, It Can Be a Matter of Pride
In the pre-Viagra days of the 1970s and 1980s, when X-rated movies had far larger budgets and took a couple weeks to shoot, the demands on an actor were more reasonable.
“Back then, you could only do one, maybe two [sex] scenes a day,” said Collins, who has been an actor since 1998. “Now, we’re doing five.”
Male actors broke into the business through a process of natural selection that weeded out the vast majority of wannabes who failed the difficult test of becoming aroused on command.
One result of this harsh Darwinism was that actors who could perform like Superman were often a far cry from looking like Christopher Reeve.
The classic star is Ron Jeremy, a pudgy actor fondly dubbed “the Hedgehog” by the industry because of his excessively hairy body and less-than-elegant features.
For stalwarts such as Jeremy, who has appeared in 1,700 movies in 23 years, Viagra is for amateurs. Jeremy said he refuses to use Viagra even if it takes him a little longer to get into character. It’s an issue of pride. No “real” star uses Viagra, Jeremy said.
“If you want me--you want Ron Jeremy--you wait two or three minutes. You still get a good scene,” Jeremy said, scoffing at the thought of using the drug.
Even directors grumble about what the drug has done to the “art” of hard-core films, such that it is. Instead of being “physically honest,” Viagra has helped turn actors into sex robots, said director Chi Chi LaRue.
“I hate it, and I try to deter my actors from using it,” he said. “This business is all about the fantasy, where the one bit of reality was that the actors were turned on. Now, they don’t have to be.”
Actors are well aware of the professional stigma that accompanies Viagra use--a perception that it is a pharmaceutical crutch for the impotent. Many make a point of saying that they are “V-free”--even if they’re not.
Though few actors admit using the drug, directors are practical about the matter. They have taken to issuing a discreet warning to actors about a half-hour before curtain call so the men can slip away and fortify themselves.
At a recent shoot inside an Agoura Hills home, a trio of actors clad in surfer T-shirts and slouchy shorts lounged on black leather couches, escaping the summer heat and preparing for the director’s cue.
One man, a tall brown-haired 28-year-old with the chiseled physique of a GQ model, walked over to his backpack, nestled against a wall covered with Norman Rockwell prints.
As he rummaged through his gear, he realized he had left his Viagra tablets at home.
Trying not to panic, he whispered to a co-worker, who nodded and handed over a tiny blue pill.
The nervous performer, who requested that his name not be used “because it’s really not that cool to say you use Viagra,” slipped outside with a can of soda.
An hour later, the director called to start filming.
The actor, now confident and smiling, was ready.
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