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Inside the Risky Business of Porn Star Agents

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For porn agents, deciding which clients to take on is a task akin to a traditional film agent scouring Sundance or Cannes in search of a breakout star. Spiegler, for example, receives at least 500 solicitations a year, often several a day. And because most agents refuse to work with women who use drugs or are believed to be unstable, there are prying questions. The queries don't just center on the aspiring stars' mental states -- agents want to know about performers' sexual boundaries. "I have to ask these girls, 'Do you do anal?' " says Spiegler. On an ordinary weeknight in November 2011, a young woman's mother called Spiegler from West Virginia to ask whether he would represent her daughter once she turned 18. "The mom wanted to get off to a head start," he recalls. Spiegler asked his standard questions about sex, prompting the mother to shout: "Tiffany, do you do anal? Do you have sex with girls?" Spiegler told the mother to ring him again when Tiffany turned 18. He never heard back from her.

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Spiegler's frank, homespun style has made him a popular figure in L.A.'s adult entertainment community. But not every agent is like him. At the other end of the spectrum is Derek Hay, founder and owner of L.A. Direct Models, one of the industry's top agencies.

Until the early 2000s, Jim South, head of World Modeling Agency, was the biggest and most powerful adult entertainment agent in Los Angeles. He set up shop in the Valley in 1976 and represented such top talent as Jeremy and Traci Lords, wielding a Michael Ovitz-in-the-'80s level of influence as the industry was revolutionized by home video. "Jim was the king for many, many years. He had it locked in; no one was even close," says Jeremy, 59, who continues to perform but also has carved out a career in mainstream film and television and as a product pitchman hocking cigars, hot sauce and rolling papers.

The World Modeling hegemony was broken by a spate of new agencies that formed in the early 2000s in an effort to capitalize on the rise of the Internet. (South did not respond to a request for comment.) Both Hay and Spiegler launched their firms in this era. However, the two agents, considered by many in the business to be tops in terms of clout, client rosters and success, couldn't be more different.

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Spiegler, in many ways, is evocative of Hollywood's cliched notion of a porn mogul. He is rotund and scruffy, gregarious and quick to stop a reporter mid-question whenever his mobile phone rings. ("I'm in the middle of an interview, but go ahead real quick," becomes a familiar refrain.) Spiegler's musky apartment in Woodland Hills serves as the de facto headquarters for his company, which has no formal employees and instead relies on a sole independent contractor who maintains the books and shuttles clients to and from shoots. Hay, meanwhile, is fit, clean-shaven and seemingly all business. His Studio City-based company is housed in a sleek, corporate building adjacent to Vivid's headquarters, and his offices overlook NBCUniversal's Black Tower executive suites across the 101 Freeway.

That both Spiegler and Hay are succeeding as porn agents says a lot about the business' roots and where it is headed.

Spiegler grew up in Los Angeles and attended Hollywood High before going to Cal State Northridge. After graduating with a degree in economics, he had a lucrative run trading stocks. He first got a whiff of adult entertainment in the 1980s, when he worked as a production assistant on a few films. In the '90s, he was approached by an acquaintance who asked to borrow money to finance porn movies. The films were poorly made, but Spiegler, intrigued by the possibilities, pursued more production work and ultimately wound up producing 96 films in the mid-'90s. He stopped in 1999 -- around the time digital production saturated the market with amateur pornographers -- and transitioned to the representation business. That year, Spiegler teamed up with a porn actor associate to start Topp Models but grew dissatisfied with his partner when he learned that this person also was performing in films. "I don't think agents should be doing scenes, working with the talent, on or off camera," he says. "It's just not good business."

In 2003, Spiegler broke away to form his current firm. Spiegler Girls is known for representing just 25 women; performers such as Akira (Girls Kissing Girls 9), San Dimas (Katwoman XXX) and Rose (Caught From Behind) are part of the current roster. In 2006, he signed Grey, the brunette star known for her ultra-hardcore performances and later for appearing on Entourage and in Steven Soderbergh's 2009 experimental drama The Girlfriend Experience.

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"It's more boutique, but Spiegler's roster is extremely high-profile," says XBIZ's Miller. "He is not representing the volume of the other agencies, but the quality that he has, it is pretty substantial."

Hay, 48, had a roughly 20-year career in stage production and management, working with such acts as Metallica, The Bee Gees and The Rolling Stones before transitioning into adult entertainment. In the early 1990s, Hay, who is English, got to know a few women who performed in adult movies and eventually "took the plunge" in 1997, appearing in porn productions shot in London and stateside. He performed under the stage name Ben English until retiring this year; his many credits include Superman XXX: A Porn Parody and Busty Athletics..

There are other agents besides Hay who have performed in adult films. Shy Love, a retired porn star, is the owner of agency Adult Talent Managers. In the porn business, this experience can be an asset, says Sandra McCarthy, a co-owner of adult agency OC Modeling, who represents roughly 80 actors. "Maybe it was good they were performers and they could get on the level of the talent in a different way," she says.

In 2000, Hay partnered with a friend to found London-based Direct Models, and his agency career began. About a year later, Hay started L.A. Direct Models, and the London outpost of the company quickly faded out of the picture. But it was tough sledding at first. "Such was the near-monopoly hold that Jim South held on the business, many people regarded my effort to compete in the marketplace with derision," says Hay. But a turning point would come when Hay began representing English porn star Hannah Harper, whose career took off in 2002 after she appeared on the covers of Hustler and Penthouse. She was, says Hay, the It girl of the moment, and helped L.A. Direct establish a toehold. The business, which represents men and women, grew steadily from there; these days, the company has two agents in addition to Hay and represents 100 women and 25 men.

"There are rules [with Hay]," says Danny Mountain, a male performer and one of the agent's clients. "He doesn't want girls turning up on set still drunk, out of their head or on prescription drugs. He's professional. As a male performer, I don't want to be having sex with a miss Xanax queen or something like that."

Top agents consider themselves protectors in addition to negotiators. Spiegler has a policy of paying his clients out of his own pocket if a production company stiffs them. But he says this happens only "once or twice a year," and only in one instance was Spiegler unable to recoup the money from the producer. "And that guy is in prison," he says. Spiegler also does not require his clients to sign contracts with his company. "They are free to leave at any time. We deal in good faith with the girls, and we expect the girls to deal in good faith with us," he says. And the agent knows where his strengths lie. While handling an ascendant Grey, he recognized when it was time for her to seek out mainstream representation. "I remember telling her one time on the phone: 'To be honest, you may outgrow this business. I'm a licensed agent like the same in Hollywood, but I know what I know and I know what I don't know, so at some point you may have to move on.' "

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Indeed, while in previous eras, Jameson's and Jeremy's mainstream work almost exclusively capitalized on their notoriety as porn stars, these days, Grey and Deen are getting the chance to step outside those roles. Deen, in particular, could become a trailblazer if The Canyons, the independent film in which he stars opposite Lohan, is a success. He recognizes the stakes. "If it comes out and it's good, people in the mainstream world will be more willing to take chances on people in the adult world," he says.

Deen has gone agent-less, but for others with similar aspirations, their adult agencies are playing a key role, often acting more like traditional Hollywood representation. Spiegler, who represented Grey before she signed with Beverly Hills' APA, and Hay, whose company represents megastar Tori Black (Pretty Sloppy 4, Anal Buffet 5), also negotiate their clients' mainstream deals and arrange appearances on Howard Stern's radio show. They are quick to note that not all of their clients want to cross over. And for its part, the conventional Hollywood community seems uncomfortable with the idea of a porn star invasion. "Until Comcast buys Vivid, I don't think you are going to see that kind of stuff happen," says one prominent Hollywood manager.

Still, the adult industry is similar to Hollywood in many ways. A group of about 10 large studios, including Vivid, Evil Angel and Wicked Pictures, produces a large chunk of the content. The rest is generated by dozens of small operators, says Vivid's Hirsch -- the equivalent of the indie scene. During this period of industry flux, there has been some consolidation as the DVD market continues to shrink and Internet, pay TV and mobile mediums gain ground. "A lot of these smaller companies are finding it harder to produce movies based on what is going on in the industry," says Hirsch. Just five years ago, DVD sales accounted for about 80 percent of Vivid's revenue but now generate about 30 percent of revenue annually.

Just like in Hollywood, the porn agencies are cutthroat with one another. According to Miller, actresses often jump from agency to agency. When Chanel Preston and Brooklyn Lee recently signed with Spiegler, XBIZ breathlessly covered the news. And in a move that recalled Ari Emanuel and colleagues abruptly quitting ICM in 1995 to form Endeavor, Robert Moran and Bud Lee, two former L.A. Direct agents, left the company in June 2011 to found 101 Modeling -- ultimately signing such former L.A. Direct clients as Audrey Bitoni and Rachel Starr. "I know that agents leave William Morris or CAA and set out on their own and a new agency is born," says Hay. "We've also been victims of our own success in that we've borne the offspring of people that now compete with us. But that is the business."

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller