FilmDrunk

Full Circle At The AVNs: Farrell Timlake Talks Being Trey Parker’s ‘Porn Concierge’ And More

I’ve always thought of porn as sort of a perfect subject for me, both for the inherent comedy and the legitimate cultural insight, combined with the fact that so relatively few writers will deign to write about it – it’s like a dick joke wrapped in a middle finger. My schtick in this world has mostly been the amused outsider, going in with an open mind to dig for those gems of prized absurdity. A tourist.

But “outsider” isn’t the whole story, in fact, it’s kind of a lie. Fresh out of college, when I still thought video editing might be a good career path, I found myself working at XPLOR, an adult DVD warehouse with attached offices and editing suites in San Diego, where I would digitize ancient videotapes on half inch and make them DVD ready. I worked under Moffit Timlake, the insanely all-American looking, sweater-wearing Stanford grad who ran the joint, alongside a handful of misfits, including a pretty female receptionist and a metal-head video editor, easily the grungiest dude I’ve ever had to impress during a job interview. While buttoned up and preppy by porn standards (or by any standards, really), Moffit was a cool boss, the kind of guy who’d buy you beer on your lunch break. To this day, it’s still probably the least toxic office environment I’ve ever been a part of. Friendly, laidback, and no one took anything too seriously. Because how seriously can you take yourself when you’re pressing copies of “Handjobs Across America?”

I’ll never forget Moffit asking me if I knew what a “creampie” was during the job interview. I did, and had theretofore never thought that kind of knowledge would come in handy. I was hired, and soon dubbed “tie guy” on account of my attire during the interview. I still don’t know what the wardrobe rules are for a job interview at a porn company.

The job itself, unfortunately, kind of sucked. I would hit play on the half-inch tape deck and then wait up to two hours while the most God-awful old eighties amateur porn played on the monitor as it digitized. It ran the gamut from bad to baffling, including one starring a woman in dime store Halloween mask reciting limericks and eating a hot dog. Seriously. I quit after only a few months, but the most valuable thing it gave me was all that down time. I mostly spent it writing, and slowly came to realize how much I liked it (not to mention the fact that it’s much less expensive to put together a writing portfolio than it is an editing reel, and I was in probably five grand worth of debt by that point, not counting student loans).

Being an aspiring writer, naturally I was reading David Foster Wallace on my lunch break one day, when I came across a passage about my employer (from “Big Red Son,” an essay written in 1998 and republished in Consider The Lobster), a strange experience. Okay, so it was more of a footnote, attributed to one “Dick Filth”:

XPlor is a kind of an anomaly type of thing in the porn business. By and large the industry is still run by these grim cigar-smoking numbnutses who’ll just stare blankly at you if you should ever even attempt a bonmot or whatnot. You get me? In contrast to how XPlor are more of your hippieish dope-smoking bunch of Gen Xers who are always up for a good gag.

This led into a story about Moffit’s brother and business partner, Farrell, posing as Trey Parker from South Park and having sex with a porn star in front of Carrie Fisher and some other Hollywood types – Farrell was having the sex, Fisher and Dreyfuss and others still thinking Farrell was Trey Parker (you can read that story here).

More importantly, it painted the place where I worked the way I wanted to see myself. Merry pranksters living for a good joke, reveling in their outsider status. Who wanted to have a regular job anyway?

Trouble was, I was never quite able to enjoy it in that way. Even if you don’t exactly care what people squarer than you think, they can still be a pain in your ass. It wasn’t like I came from a conservative family. That year at Thanksgiving, my dad’s idea of a dinner ice breaker was “Hey, you guys hear Vince edits porno now?” I still give him credit for comedic timing, and that situation is basically my father in a nutshell, but I also found I didn’t like the follow-up questions and weird looks from family friends and distant cousins.

Another time, I had called a cab after a late night at the bars, and the cab driver who showed up was an over caffeinated woman with fluffy bangs and Sally Jesse Raphael glasses with a tiny animal print sweater who looked like a kindergarten teacher. She peppered me with a thousand questions. I told her I was a video editor, and when she got to “what kind of videos do you edit,” I was too tired to lie and just said “porno.” She went completely silent for the remainder of the ride and refused to take my money at the end. “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my entire life,” was the last thing she said.

One way to look at it, hey, free cab, and a funny story to boot. But I had a hard time seeing myself as a cheerful rebel while working a job I didn’t really like in a freezing beige office with foam-core ceiling tiles. You know that Patton Oswalt bit about Piss Drinkers Magazine? (“You know that thing that you think is so f*cked up and dangerous? That’s somebody’s boring job somewhere.”). It was like that.

So when I got the chance to interview President Owner of XPlor Media and Homegrown Video Farrel Timlake (who I’d never actually met back in the day) at this year’s AVNs, sure, I wanted to know how he went from Connecticut prep school kid to porn star to porn company owner. I figured I could get a more detailed version of the Trey Parker story (again, you can read that here), and dig up a little more background about Orgazmo from the man who has been called Matt and Trey’s “porn concierge.” But more than that, I wanted to find out something he probably couldn’t answer: What it’s like to live outside the straight world and what it takes to enjoy it.


 

The Curious Origins Of “Dave The Photographer” and Timmy from South Park

 

[Conversation picks up right after the Trey Parker/Carrie Fisher/Richard Dreyfuss story]

FARRELL TIMLAKE: We had a few situations like that. Like one other time we did Fox News, who wanted to come get one of those “Porn In Your Backyard” kind of stories. And when they walked through the door, we had like Mozart playing and somebody was serving wine and cheese, and we were just all very genteel. We had a guy who was– a friend of mine that’s wheelchair bound and has a degenerative muscular situation going on, and they’re like “Why do you have– what’s the guy on the wheel chair?” and I go “Well, you’ve heard of Make A Wish foundation. This is sort of the adult version of that. This guy, he’s only got a couple of months and he really wanted to see a porn being made, so they reached out to us and here he is.” And they’re like, “Wow, that’s really nice.” And we got everybody in a big circle before we started the action and I say, “I know some of us are nervous about the news crew being here today, and I think it’s important that we just share our feelings. And if anybody has any sort of objections to them being here, or wants to talk about it, let’s all get it out right now.”

And one of the other Fox News producers got up and was like, “Well, I just want to say that it’s Matt’s birthday today, and I just want to wish him a happy birthday.” And so we all start singing, and just kept on throwing lobs in the air like that.

We did that quite a few times over the course of the year, just screwing with people as we were teaching [Matt and Trey] about the wild and wacky world of porn. And really, the only ones that caught us was there was a TV crew from Germany that were doing a feature on us, and we wanted to do like a surrealist art kind of thing and keep pushing the boundaries. And we had Matt Stone walking into the middle of an orgy – he was completely naked except he had a book of poetry in his hand – and kept walking in the middle of it and just start saying, “Dead bird, dead bird, dead bird.”

Then he’d walk out, served no other purpose other than that. But they were like, “You guys tried to put one over on us,” so they caught us. But most of the other times, it was just pure hilarity and an adventure at every point.

FILMDRUNK: Right. Well I’m sure they didn’t know what to expect, so you could get away with almost anything.

Right. We were having fun with it and we just figured whatever. A lot of the characters in the movie Orgazmo came out of the experience of doing that. Like Dave the photographer is really Dave Stotts, he used to shoot for XPlor and went on to shoot stills for Vivid. And the character Dave the photographer in Orgazmo is the guy that goes, “I think unicorns are really sweet,” and has the mullet and all that. That was based on the real Dave Stotts–

Was he actually into unicorns?

No, but he would say things like, “Geddy Lee, best bass player ever,” or whatever. I don’t know that he’d say that about Geddy Lee, but he would just say things like that and just had that quirkiness about him. Another guy, Tim – who was one of the original baboon heart transplant survivors and was a guy that used to work a lot for Al Borda, that was a crew guy on our set – he was loosely the inspiration for Timmy in South Park. A lot of stuff came out from that whole time of working together and doing those kind of stuff.

Okay, question about you. If you’re sitting next to someone on the plane and they asked what do you do for living, what do you tell them?

I used to be, I guess, not necessarily cautious about who I’d say whatever to, I’d just be diplomatic and sensitive to them. But over the years, I’ve just gotten more comfortable about just saying, “Yeah, I’m in the adult industry.” And if they look freaked out then I just let the conversation die out pretty quick. But a lot of people, it’s very different than say ten years ago. People are just a lot more comfortable with what that means and whatnot.

Porn With Mom, and The Max Hardcore School of Porn

 

Have you had negative reactions too when you’ve told people that?

I have, but not in a long time. Generally, people are sort of fascinated and will ask– a lot of times they’ll ask business questions about how you’re still around. “How can you make money? I watch porn for free every day,” and they say things like that. It definitely is just a public perception that’s changed drastically actually over the years. I have had those moments where people just basically clam up and they turn around and I never hear from them again.

And how did you initially get into it?

Basically I used to follow Grateful Dead concerts around, and we used to watch these videos that said, “Send in your sex tape for $20 a minute.” And that was the original Homegrown Video. And so the light bulb went off and we were like, “Yeah, that’s a great way to see more shows [chuckles].” So we sent in our videos and it turned out we found out that their company was in bankruptcy. At which point I had waited so long to get paid by the original Homegrown owners on the stuff that we sent in, and just living in LA, I ended up getting in the pro side of the industry in the Valley. And knew enough at the point where they finally contacted me, that that probably was a better play than trying to do a $50 an hour, $50 a pop shot, a dude standing in a gang bang line.

Didn’t your mom help invest initially?

Yeah, she actually put– she got a second mortgage on her property and put up the money for us, and we bought it out of bankruptcy in San Diego and have been running it ever since.

And did that take some convincing or was she cool with it right away?

She had already gone through the what her son is doing for a living moment with me, a year and a little bit more before that. So she’d already come to terms with, I just was marching to a different drummer and we’ve come to accept it. When I told her what it looked like, and what we’d be buying and all that, she would have thought that it was probably an opportunity, and she was just there to support it, it was a brilliant move on her part. She was like– at that point, she was still living in Connecticut and had a bunch of these upper middle-class, blue-bloodish, Connecticut types with like a gasp that her son had taken this route in life. I think she got a kick out of it and a whatever, “my son the outlaw” sense, and just at a certain point she just got the joke, I think.

And on that note, one of my questions was about whether there’s something rebellious or punk rock about making a living off of porn instead of a 9 to 5?

I would definitely, I mean that’s the way I saw it. After going to all the years of Dead shows and having a revelation in doing acid at a show one day and thinking like, “What the heck I’m going to do with my life?” Because I really, like I can’t do the corporate  thing. That’s college education. There’s just no way that I could go that route. I was watching my brother and he was just out of Stanford, and he tried banking jobs and he was not having fun, and was like parking cars and then just doing whatever he could to get by. And I thought, “What do I really want and what motivates me to– what are my passions about?” And then I was like, “Well, I love the music but I’m not a musician and I love sex.” Like yeah, maybe that’s the way. And that started the whole process.

And we were watching the Homegrowns at about that same time, so it just seemed like normal. That’s the way to make money and if they got a camera, we could start shooting them as well. And it’s just fanned out from there, like once we started making videos of our own, then we were like, “Well, we can shoot other people too.” And because we were in the LAC, we just started– we went to World Modelling which was the big agency at the time, and started to learn quickly that didn’t really like the pro side of the industry. But met enough people to self-produce, and start shooting for a lot of different people and working for a lot of different people. One of them was Max Hardcore, who I’d worked for quite a bit back in the day. And I’d say that I went to the Max Hardcore School of Porn. But it was a fun time, just because– before us, he was Max Hardcore and he just was really into trying to create a certain kind of product, and that eventually became Max. But the part we were looking at was just– we’d shoot something, and then we’d look at it, and be like, “How can we get a better angle, and better lighting, and what makes it pop as far as the production quality and all that stuff?” So we were really just teaching ourselves how to do things and he really was obsessive with that stuff. So he was a great teacher in that regard.

[Quick aside about Max Hardcore here – he received a lot more ink than Farrell in “Big Red Son,” including a scene where he’d passed around a notebook with “I’m a little f*ck hole” scrawled in it, which one of his actresses had apparently written via a Sharpie clutched in her sphincter. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison for obscenity in 2008, eventually serving two years. I saw him walking the floor at this year’s AVNs, still in his dumb cowboy hat.]

It’s funny, I’ve read a lot of articles where it seems like they play you and Max Hardcore off of each other, almost like opposites. Do you think that you and your brother brought a legitimacy to porn, or changed people’s perception of what a porn producer looks like?

The egotistical part of me would like to believe that that’s the case. I certainly know that when I started to get a lot of TV interviews like Joan Rivers and Larry King and various places that featured us talking about amateur porn. Like when the Tonya Harding incident happened, we got brought on the Larry King Live Show and– we never went out and played against the stereotype, really. We just spoke and acted in a type of way that I think it really showed that we weren’t crazy, we weren’t freaky. We were just like everybody else and made it relatable just by not being whatever, the scary sideways of the business. I don’t know about the Max versus us aspect of it, but I would definitely say that I feel like we did put a face up to porn that people weren’t scared of.


 

Overweight, Oversexed, and Over 40

 

I know you’ve been in this business for a really long time. Is there anything that you’ve produced or been a part of that like a line that was successful and you were most surprised by?

Well, this thing about Homegrown is just about throwing everything out there and then getting feedback from the fans and the public. It really was an eye opener early on, as far as what people liked. We had this one video and we had no idea what to do with. We had a box of these similar tapes that was all the scenes that we didn’t know where they would fit anywhere, because we didn’t know if anybody would want to watch it. So we ended up with what we would have thought of as dead-end scenes and then we were like, “Okay. Let’s just throw them all out together and put them out and see what happens.”

We called it, Overweight, Oversexed and Over 40. And that freaking title was like– we couldn’t even think a name for it. It was like, “Let’s just call what it is.” We called it that, put it out, and literally, it was our top five seller over several years of selling it. Complete reorders and all that stuff. It was really just this moment of, whatever we think is what people really want to see, that’s not it. If we base it on our own case, we’re not getting it.

Then things like hairy pussies or things like that or internal cumshots, not creampie type cumshots or having a facial every time. We saw these particular niches that we built a series around, just because we knew there were people that couldn’t get that stuff anywhere else. Early on we were doing– and before the heydey of everything being in a niche on the Internet, we were releasing series based on those specific niches, and that was a big part of what helped us adapt to the Internet really quickly. As far as what was really popular, over 40, super popular, hair pussies – which, you say that, and people would be like, “What? I hate that! No way man, not about that.” But the sales numbers didn’t lie and we’d get these crazy letters from people that would be like, “Oh man, I’m so glad you guys are around and I’m sick of watching the same movies from 1975 that I had in my collection because I can’t find this stuff anywhere else and you get it.”

So do you believe in the idea of ethical porn, and what does that consist of?

For us yeah, we’re very much– the motto of the company has been since we took over has been trying to make a world where sex is safe. And we’ve always believed that consensual ethical standards just had to be observed. We don’t want to see people that are the typical professional porn, you can just tell that the people aren’t attracted to each other, that they’re doing stuff that they probably not comfortable doing, and it just radiates out. So the X factor of Homegrown is where you let people that want to be there do what they like to be doing, and with the people that they like to be doing it with.

We just got a tape that is a couple wanting to do like a first threesome and we said, “Go ahead, capture the whole thing and see what happens.” And they go through what happens in real life, where the girl is watching in her boyfriend screw this friend of hers and she gets all emotional about it. And she goes through a little thing where she’s jealous for a second and they work it out, they talk it out and the camera’s rolling on the whole thing. It’s amazing because the true moment of happy sex arrives and it’s just a beautiful process. Something like that, we feel sacred about. If it had been a situation where it looks like the guy is just going to try to force her to be there and whatnot, we would have rejected it. But the fact that it showed this whole beautiful process of, “Hey, are you cool? Are we okay?” And going through that whole spiel where they really are honestly caring about each other feelings, it was like, “Oh man, this is the greatest sh*t ever.” That’s what we want to get out.

With all the tube sites and all those things being successful [mostly with pirated content], are we in a situation where the people who care the least about the product are making the most money off of it?

For them, it’s a number’s game, selling, advertising. They are not selling the product so much. They’re definitely not concerned necessarily with the content as much as they are just with the traffic. But I don’t know, I couldn’t really say that that’s because they don’t care about the people involved, it’s just that their plans and numbers came a different way. They are super successful, but at the same time, they – in some cases – are collapsing under their own weight where they’ve bought up all these studios with content that’s really not attracting the audience that they hoped it would attract. They’re basically collapsing under the weight of the hubris of those studios and people not being interested, and having to buy more and more content or studios to keep people interested, and only making money from the advertising but losing so much money on trying to keep the studio partners happy. In some cases, they may look like they’re doing really well but they are actually, even though tons of money was coming in, tons is going out, and it doesn’t mean that everybody is getting rich when you get really into the numbers.

Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.

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