Inside the Risky Business of Porn Star Agents

Agent Mark Spiegler with, from left, clients Asa Akira, Andy San Dimas and Kristina Rose.
Agent Mark Spiegler with, from left, clients Asa Akira, Andy San Dimas and Kristina Rose.
 Joe Pugliese

This story first appeared in the Nov. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

On a late-summer afternoon in a dingy San Fernando Valley apartment, talent agent Mark Spiegler is having it out with a producer. Pacing the length of the living room that for the past nine years has doubled as his office, Spiegler, portly with thinning brown hair and a graying 5 o'clock shadow, sets out his demands: If his client, a top actress, is going to agree to a project, certain accommodations must be made. "You want her ready at 8, you should do the makeup," Spiegler barks as he stomps past a bookcase filled with framed photos of himself with various women. "If you want her later, she'll do her own makeup."

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Spiegler's spat over the call time might seem familiar to agents at the CAAs and WMEs of Hollywood who often find themselves protecting their star clients from producer demands. But Spiegler has a particular reason for being concerned about the 8 a.m. shoot: It would require his client to get up around 4:30 a.m. to receive an enema. Because the scene calls for the woman to perform anal sex.

Yes, Spiegler, 54, represents porn stars -- and he's one of the biggest agents in Los Angeles' $1 billion adult entertainment industry. As the Ari Emanuel or Kevin Huvane of hardcore, he handles such top performers as Skin Diamond, Chanel Preston and Asa Akira, the client for whom Spiegler is arguing.

Ultimately, the production company, New Sensations, will agree to delay the shoot for Akira, 27, who will do her own makeup and be paid about $2,000 for the scene. "That's the whole reason for us being here," says Spiegler, whose boutique firm, Spiegler Girls, represents a small group of elite women and is known as one of the adult industry's top agencies. "We are the buffer -- so the girl doesn't look bad. We take the heat."

Just like the Tom Ford-clad armies that handle the affairs of the Brad Pitts and Charlize Therons on the other side of the hill, the Valley-epicentered adult industry is led by a cadre of talent agencies that cut deals and jockey to represent the stars of tomorrow. The skill sets are, in many ways, the same -- tenacious negotiating and maintaining strong industry relationships -- but there are, of course, different responsibilities, such as advising on whether a client should get a boob job (well, maybe there is some crossover there) or agree to perform a double-penetration scene (if you have to ask, don't).

But here, in the shadows of Hollywood, the world's pornographers are at a crossroads, much like their mainstream entertainment colleagues. Facing declining revenue resulting from piracy, amateur digital competitors and a shrinking home entertainment market, the kings of porn (and yes, the industry is run mostly by men) face another threat to their business: the just-passed Los Angeles County measure requiring condom use in adult movies. Although the enforceability of Measure B is unclear, Steven Hirsch, founder and co-chairman of Vivid Entertainment Group, one of the biggest porn studios in the country, argues that the effects would be wide-ranging and dramatic. He's part of a loose coalition of porn players that plans to mount a legal challenge to the measure and is asking the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors not to begin enforcing the law. "If the board chooses to implement it, we will absolutely explore options and move production out of the county," he says.

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At the same time, shrinking porn profits and a talent supply-and-demand imbalance have caused performers' salaries to decline. Whatever the moral qualms Americans have (40 million to 50 million people in the U.S. regularly watch pornography on the Internet, according to studies) about the proliferation of movies with such titles as Orgasmic Oralists, Damn, She's a Lesbian and Dong of the Dead, the tough U.S. economy has led to an explosion in the number of people hoping to find work in porn -- some perhaps emboldened by the dream they too could become crossover stars like Sasha Grey (Entourage) and James Deen (the forthcoming Lindsay Lohan starrer The Canyons). While a decade ago the average female performer would make about $100,000 a year, Spiegler says she now might make as little as $50,000 -- all while juggling responsibilities such as social-media outreach and personal appearances.

And where there were only two or three reputable adult agencies 10 years ago, now 14 agencies are licensed and bonded, though top shops L.A. Direct Models, 101 Modeling and Spiegler Girls dominate the upper echelon of performers. None would discuss how much money they make, but observers say that top agents can pull down $250,000 a year from their 10 to 15 percent takes. "It's very competitive, and the well-known agencies do control most of the talent," says Dan Miller, executive managing editor of industry trade magazine XBIZ. "It's just like Hollywood in that regard."

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One might be inclined to think of porn agents as elevated pimps. Indeed, the many unlicensed, fringe representatives in the adult industry are dubbed "suitcase pimps" by their legitimate brethren because of their penchant for depositing a client and a suitcase filled with her personal effects at a shoot and returning once the work is finished to collect her and the money. They also take commissions of more than 20 percent, which is the maximum allowed by California's Labor Commissioner.

But there is an actual skill and finesse to the real porn agents, even if negotiating deals is relatively straightforward. Unlike in Hollywood, most adult performers charge set rates, so the conversation often centers on the availability of an actor. Still, agents also help clients set up personal websites, arrange for transportation and even make sure performers are staying on top of their mandatory drug-testing regimens. As if to illustrate this point, during an interview, Spiegler interrupts the conversation to answer his phone and discuss the scheduling of a blood test at Cutting Edge Testing in Sherman Oaks, a facility popular with adult entertainers.

According to Spiegler, there is a relatively straightforward scale for performances: An in-demand actress is paid about $800 for a girl-girl scene, $1,000 for a guy-girl scene, $1,200 or more for anal sex and $4,000 or more for double penetration (guy-on-guy pornography has a separate pay scale; most agents in the mainstream straight porn world, including Spiegler, do not represent gay men). Spiegler takes 10 to 15 percent, receiving the larger percentage if he handles transportation for the client. In an effort to ferret out rogue agents and discourage actors from working with them, several agencies, led by L.A. Direct, banded together to form Licensed Adult Talent Agency Trade Association (LATATA) in 2009. All member agencies -- there are seven, including Spiegler Girls -- meet once a month, are licensed by the state and adhere to standard practices.

In addition to the usual day-to-day travails of running a business, a top porn agent has to contend with venereal disease (a syphilis scare shut down Los Angeles production for 10 days this summer), underage applicants (standard procedure is to check driver's licenses or passports) and a pool of producers who -- as one can imagine -- might not include the most savory characters. Says Spiegler Girls client Kristina Rose, a 28-year-old San Diego native: "I went with Mark, I told him what I wanted to do, and he helped me make that shit happen. I've never not gotten paid for a shoot, I've never had a problem on set, and I've never had to walk off set." Adds client Andy San Dimas, 26, whose recent work includes The Dark Knight XXX: A Porn Parody, "He treats us like we are his daughters, and he has a lot of respect for us, unlike other agents that try to scam you, pimp you out."

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Still, Spiegler, who is not married and does not have children, is learning to do more traditional deals. In an era in which Jenna Jameson penned a New York Times best-seller and Ron Jeremy hawks a rum called Ron de Jeremy, it's clear that the notion of what a porn star can do is expanding. According to XBIZ's Miller, about 70 to 80 percent of an actress' annual revenue is derived from movies, and the remaining 20 to 30 percent could be generated by everything from exotic dancing to sex-toy sales and personal website subscriptions. And the odd paycheck from a mainstream Hollywood gig certainly doesn't hurt.

In September, Grey, who is retired from the porn business, inked a deal with Grand Central Publishing and Little, Brown to write an erotic novel, The Juliette Society. And Sunny Leone, a Canada-born porn star of Punjabi descent, has in the past year become a Bollywood sensation, starring in the controversial film Jism 2 and on Bigg Boss, a popular Indian reality show. The taboo-busting porn star -- the first notable Indian sex actress -- was paid the SAG scale rate for her work on the 2010 Will Ferrell-produced American comedy The Virginity Hit but made about $250,000 for Jism 2, says her agent and husband, Daniel Weber. "She has about 150 film offers, and she has signed four films already," he says, adding that he expects Leone will command $1 million per mainstream Indian film by 2013.

Meanwhile, San Dimas appeared in the 2011 Ryan Gosling crime drama Drive after Spiegler secured her an audition. And there always will be bit parts in shows like Entourage, roles as strippers and prostitutes in R-rated movies or other offers, like the one Akira recently got to appear in a G-Unit music video.

But a career in pornography alone -- whether in front of the camera or managing the careers of others -- can be lucrative for the few who make it to the top. A handful of female superstars can make upward of $350,000 a year, while top male performers can make more than $100,000 annually, though they shoot far more often. According to Miller, from the thousands of hopefuls, there are between 200 and 300 "in-demand" women (termed "models") who work regularly, shooting between 100 and 150 scenes a year. "A popular girl is going to work a minimum of 10 times per month," he says.

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One such It girl is Akira, one of the biggest Asian porn stars of all time. She lives in the Valley, drives a Toyota Prius, has a puggle named Homie and dates porn actor Toni Ribas. A Spiegler Girls client, she was born in New York to Japanese immigrant parents and, as their only child, attended a private high school. In 2005, when Akira was 19, newly married and deciding whether to attend college, she was approached on the street in New York and asked whether she wanted to be a dominatrix. "We went up to see his dungeon, and we started training the next day," she says. After a stint performing at a now-defunct sadomasochism club called the Nutcracker Suite, Akira segued into stripping at Manhattan's Hustler Club. Eventually she moved to Tampa, Fla., to become a regular on Sirius XM's Bubba the Love Sponge Show. Once there, Akira began performing "light masturbation" scenes on camera for a website set up by the radio program.

When the radio job ended in 2007, Akira moved back to New York and pondered whether to make the leap into pornography. It was a big decision -- one she knew she couldn't take back. "Once you do it, your life is never going to be the same," she says. But Akira always has been sexually curious and in 2008 moved to Los Angeles to pursue porn. (She didn't tell her parents at first but says she maintains a "very, very close" relationship with them.) Akira's career quickly took off; she has appeared in more than 250 films and won 12 AVN Awards (the industry's equivalent of the Academy Awards), including one this year for best anal sex scene. She has a legion of fans, many of whom stop her on the street and ask for a photograph. "There are definitely times I don't want to be recognized, like when I am shopping at Ross Dress for Less," she says. "But I like it, of course."

The business is lucrative for Akira, though she declines to say how much money she makes. Spiegler helped her land a deal with Interactive Life Forms, the makers of the Fleshlight sex toy. The company has sold tens of thousands of $67.96 interactive rubber devices that simulate Akira's vagina, mouth and anus. "I definitely love getting my Fleshlight check," she says. "These are the deals you work toward."

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