“Confessions of an Ivy League Pornographer”: Alum dishes on adult films

Here’s some background: www.adultfyi.com/read.php?ID=35770

from www.browndailyherald.com – What is porn?

For Sam Benjamin Stern ’99, it was the possibility of pursuing art while making money. It was also a way out of the pot-smoking grind of his first post-college job as an organic farmer in California.

Last but not least, it was a way into publishing: His self-published first book, “Confessions of an Ivy League Pornographer,” was released this May.

Benjamin, who used his last name, Stern, while at Brown but now goes by just his first and middle names, “Sam Benjamin,” chronicles in the memoir his journey in and out of the porn industry — from directing videos to starring in them.

The book is told from the point of view of a “highly educated Jewish kid from North Carolina,” wrote Benjamin’s publicist, Shane Mahoney, in an e-mail to The Herald. The book is for the “postmodern, jaded, Gen-X crowd,” he added.

Indeed, Benjamin writes his story with no lack of self-consciousness, calling his decision to choose filming sex over harvesting tomatoes the “fantasy shared by every upper-middle-class, semi-hipster, slightly awkward Jew who’s ever done time in a college classroom.”

From 2000 to 2005, Benjamin made about 10 independent pornographic films and filmed hundreds of scenes for professional companies.

His interest in pornography goes back at least as far as his years at Brown. A concentrator in art-semiotics, he toyed around with editing existing porn films. He also drew a comic strip for The Herald called “Anxiety Comix.”

“I was super passionate about being a working artist,” he said, but “I wasn’t really talented.”

Benjamin wanted to bring an uncharted level of artistic thought to porn, pairing postmodernist thoughts — and even a bit of humanity — with eroticism. He tried his hand at it on and off from 2000 to 2005.

“Porno was this land of undiscovered opportunity,” he said. “I just knew I could do something better with it.”

After graduating from Brown, Benjamin left rainy Providence for California’s sun, taking a job at an organic tomato farm. The sun and home-grown marijuana took their toll, though, and Benjamin moved on.

“Brown, like most American liberal arts institutions operating in the latter part of the 20th century, had adopted the post-Modern way of thought as a virtual religion,” Benjamin writes in the book.

That “splendidly pretentious lexicon” taught him to play “the Creativity game, and play it to win.” He decided he could make art to make money — “I could use my brain to make a buck,” he writes.

Benjamin wanted to make “porn with soul,” according to Mahoney. So, while working at a juice bar, he struck up conversations about porn with anyone who would listen.

“I’m really surprised I didn’t get fired,” he said.

The start to his new career came in the form of a porn-loving 45-year-old named Dennis, whom he met at the juice bar.

Dennis offered to be in Benjamin’s first video at no cost. (“I’ll never forget him, because he was my first,” Benjamin said.)

But Benjamin “had to troll the Internet” to find Dennis’ counterpart. Eventually, he found a “super-smart, super-interesting” dominatrix named Janay, star of the “Debbie Does Whip-Ass” series.

Besides actors, Benjamin also needed a camera. He spent $1,000 on a “one-chip digital camera,” he said, after asking the salesman if he could return it after, which he did.

Benjamin’s first movie, “We Always Want,” was “hardly even a porno,” he says, but it was “the best film I ever made.” The film featured interviews with the actors to put “their personalities into the film” — something that most porn movies lack, he said.

He tried to sell copies of the video on eBay for $5.99 each. But success was hard to come by. He sold only five of his home-mastered VHS tapes.

“Hardly anyone’s ever seen it,” Benjamin says of the movie. “It’s my masterpiece.”

After nine months of hawking his homemade creation and working at his dream of independent erotic-film producing, Benjamin decided to move on to bigger things.

So he moved from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles, where he pushed his way into the industry with “chutzpah.”

Meanwhile, he had to make money and took odd jobs to make ends meet — including a stint as a go-go dancer in a gay bar.

His entrance into the “high-profile porn industry” came when an Internet company needed a producer and director for low-budget erotic films. Benjamin “lucked into the job,” he said, and kept it for about a year and a half.

“I was running the show — I was hiring people, I was getting paid good money,” he said. But “it was the opposite of what I had come into porn to do.”

Business slowed down, and the work Benjamin was doing for the softcore company Wett Channel fizzled. Benjamin was broke.

Soon he was stuck riding a bike in L.A., after his car broke and he had no cash to get it fixed. Benjamin didn’t want out, though, and he got his next chance, he said, “sooner than I expected.”

A sex-shop salesperson he’d met a year before in San Francisco called Benjamin with a request. She was directing a movie for the porn company Good Vibrations — her first — and she wanted Benjamin. But he wasn’t going to be behind the camera, she said. Instead, he’d be one of the actors.

Benjamin’s role in “Slide Bi Me” was fairly straightforward, he writes in the memoir. “My dreadlocked lover kissed me on the head, then pushed me towards a pink blanket. Lysette penetrated me from behind, and I rode the wave of her desire.”

Benjamin’s on-screen debut motivated him to stay in the industry. He continued working in L.A. — behind the camera once more — and even told his father what he’d been up to since college.

Then, the ubiquitous sex began to drag. Instead of changing things as he had intended, he was “doing exactly the same thing.” “Burnt out” from the work, he said, “I didn’t feel like being around people having sex that much.”

To sort himself out, Benjamin traveled to Asia, where he meditated and fasted. Then he applied to the California Institute of the Arts, where he graduated in 2005 with a master’s degree in critical studies and integrated media.

But that wasn’t the end of making porn for Benjamin. While pursuing his degree, he also pursued the gay porn industry.

The switch from heterosexual to homosexual porn was “refreshing,” he said.
“For some reason, in mainstream porn there’s an agenda,” he says. Women in straight porn are in the movies to be “degraded,” he said, but in gay porn, the men are not imposed upon to have sex.

Now, with a book “far cheaper than actual porn, and only 50 percent as shameful,” according to Benjamin’s Web site, his goal of successfully mixing sex, money and art may be about to reach its climax.

Benjamin wrote the bulk of “Confessions of an Ivy League Pornographer” in six months in 2006, moving “forward in fits and starts,” he said. Now, while publicizing the book, he’s also at work on another volume.

“The whole project of writing this book is my artistic redemption,” he said.

He went into porn hoping to do something new with the genre, but he found the medium to be static. Porn is the same — “besides the aesthetic differences,” he said — again and again.

The tale features his stories of Viagra use — “penises get scared, too,” Benjamin writes — and theoretical examinations of a “world where women existed only as props.”

The chapters are separated by photo-comics dealing with postmodern art, “Small-town freaks on a leash” and alternate careers he might have pursued, among other explicit and artistic explorations.

Though Benjamin is self-publishing the book for now, he hopes to find a publisher and is working to drum up interest through social media sites, he said.

Benjamin has a literary agent in New York, according to Mahoney, and his goal is to find a publisher by mid-next year.

“Several hundred copies of the book” have been sold, Mahoney said, since it was released for the Amazon Kindle last May and as a paperback last August.

What’s more, Mahoney wrote, the book is already profitable, since “our margins on digital products are so low.”

Though Benjamin calls himself a “hack” — and admits he’ll always be one — he cites a “creative force” as the impetus behind his continued pursuit of artistry.

“It was a failure,” Benjamin said of his porn career. “But it was a funny failure.”

And, when it comes to Benjamin’s artistic redemption, the book may provide a happy ending.

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