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Tommy Gunn: Giving Away a Piece of His Soul Every Time He Does a Scene

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Louis Theroux writes on – OVER the past 15 years, I have been in some of the strangest situations imaginable, interviewing people from extraordinary and bizarre walks of life and often finding myself lost for words.

But watching a middle-aged man having sex with a fairly uninterested blonde in a mock office for my latest documentary was odd even by my standards.

And perhaps the weirdest part was what I said after the appropriate moans and groans were over.

When veteran porn star Tommy Gunn reappeared, dressed and indistinguishable from any bloke you would pass in the street, I couldn’t help but tell him: “Without sounding creepy, you seemed to be doing an excellent job.”

Despite the clinical circumstances and lack of warmth from his co-star, Tommy had remained focused. I had to admit, it was an impressive physical act.

It was when Tommy opened up to me, though, that I realised his inner turmoil.

Fifteen years ago, when I first investigated America’s porn capital in the San Fernando Valley, I was keen to find the “hungry young male”, the newcomer full of ambition.

With reports of the porn industry in decline, this time I set out to find one of the older performers who was disillusioned.

To me, Tommy is the heart and soul of the new documentary. On the surface, he is one of the most stalwart, respected performers in the business. He has made more than 1,000 films and is regarded as one of the industry’s “most reliable woodsmen”.

Yet he is a bit of a lost soul. He talks about his romantic disappointments, his inability to find a woman to see him for who he really is rather than some kind of trophy or as a stepping stone for their career in adult films.

In his eloquent and candid way, he described how he felt he was giving away a piece of his soul every time he did a scene.

During filming of the original documentary in 1997, I realised that while the industry was robust there was a fragility to the performers.

The job might seem, to men, like the embodiment of a fantasy in which they get paid to have sex with lots of beautiful women, but it can be stressful and isolating.

This time round, I discovered the industry itself is struggling.

Illegal downloading from YouTube-style sites is such a problem now that very few people are still paying for adult content, whether that’s on DVD or online.

This means few films are made, the performers are largely out of work and the little work they get is very poorly paid compared to what they were getting a few years ago.

Profits have been slashed and companies are going bust in droves.

You only have to look at Adult Video News, the trade magazine of the porn world.

It used to be as thick as a phone book seven or eight years ago. Now it’s like a pamphlet because there are so few companies to advertise and so few films to review. Male porn stars now might only get £70 to £100 for a scene and, if they’re only getting one or two scenes a week, that’s not enough to survive.

In five years, the job of full-time male porn performer will probably no longer exist.

Ironically, there has been an increase in people wanting to get in the business due to the recession.

Historically, female performers always got bigger pay packets than the men but they’re not commanding top dollar as they once did.

Instead the women are creating sideline businesses to beef up their earnings. I met Kagney Linn Karter who did a “solo” performance web chat to paying fans from her bedroom while her boyfriend Monte and I chatted in the kitchen.

There is also the practice of “doing privates”, which is basically working as a prostitute and is a sort of open secret in the business. There are undeniable dangers here, both to the women’s safety and because of the risk of introducing an STD into the porn work pool.

I spoke to a couple of young women who are new to the business, who aspired to be big names.

Aside from all the obvious concerns, the idea that you deserve to be rich and famous just because you’re willing to have sex on camera shows a lack of perspective.

Even Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian bring a bit more to the table than a sex tape.

On the one hand, what these young porn actresses do is their business. It’s not a crime and you could argue people don’t get hurt.

But then, at the same time, it seems like the one common factor is that most performers have been damaged in some way in the past. And actually, you’re giving away a lot and not getting a lot back. One man I interviewed during the original documentary, JJ Michaels, told me his baby’s cot death led him into porn. That all the anger and anguish gave him a kind of death wish, a desire to be reckless.

Interestingly he now seems to have recreated himself as an IT worker, in suburban Missouri, and seems partly embarrassed, partly proud of his seedy past. He was, however, the only positive story to come out of my reunion with people from my original film.

Tragically one of the most prolific performers, Jon Dough, spiralled into crack cocaine addiction and killed himself in 2006.

Another, Rob Black, was one of the most extreme pornographers in the game. Since I saw him last, he and his wife were sentenced to a year in prison for obscenity.

Rob was made an example of in President Bush’s war against lewdness. It might not have been good news for Rob, but it was beneficial in cleaning up an industry which seemed to be trying to depict the most outlandish, degrading sexual acts possible.

In the battle to get consumers away from illegal downloading the typically grainy, low-quality films on websites, porn producers are making blockbuster-style films, with slick effects and expensive costumes.

The trend is for movies couples can watch together, or parodies of Hollywood action films.

For me, it was interesting returning to the San Fernando Valley with an older person’s perspective. I’m 42 now, I’ve got kids and I felt I had a deeper understanding of the emotional stakes involved. I have an appreciation of what it means to sacrifice your intimacy, and the gravity of the step these performers take, the strain it puts on their relationships and the risk of embarrassment in the future.

As to whether we should celebrate the demise of the industry, it’s complicated.

Yes, it needed its wings clipped and it was in danger of getting out of control.

You could argue that what’s happening now is payback for a business which never fostered loyalty or treated its employees particularly well. But I think we should be careful of cheering the fact that this collapse is due to theft. If we start regarding illegal downloading of porn as acceptable, then what about mainstream movies, music, TV shows?

Maybe, in some way, people think it’s more acceptable to steal porn than to buy it.

The bottom line is this is what happens when the content you produce doesn’t have an emotional connection to the people who consume it.

People may have illegally downloaded some of my shows, and I’m not too precious about that. But I would like to think people feel good about getting them legally.

What is clear is that the internet has hammered the nail in the coffin of the adult movie industry.

Regardless of what you think about porn and those who perform in it, it’s the end of an era.


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