There’s nothing unusual about me receiving a press release for a new gay porn film in my work email. But the one I received today, for the new Raging Stallion film Vice, was a bit different.
For starters, the press release referred to Vice as the “controversial new feature” from Raging Stallion, which definitely caught my eye. What exactly does a gay porn studio — the films of which feature tatted-up beefcakes engaged in butt sex — consider “controversial”?
“Controversy arose after a censored version had to be developed for release on RagingStallion.com due to bank compliance issues,” says the release.
Still not sure exactly what that means, I decided to call up the film’s director, Steve Cruz. A veteran of the industry, he knows a thing or two about how gay porn works, and I knew he could fill me in.
First, some backstory on Cruz: He didn’t get into the gay porn industry until his mid-30s (later than most gay porn stars) but quickly shot up the ladder (pun not intended, but hey, let’s go with it). His second scene was with porn legend François Sagat (“I thought, ‘Oh my God, so I should just retire now, right?” he says); he won the Best Newcomer GayVN right out of the gate — and later Performer of the Year — and was eventually approached by Raging Stallion, for whom he was an exclusive, to become the studio’s porn star celebrity director. By 2008 his porn-directing career had taken off, and he moved from in front of the camera to behind it.
This year marks Cruz’s 10-year anniversary as a Raging Stallion director, and he’s responsible for shooting and editing well over 100 films. He currently oversees around 12 films per year for the studio, the concepts of which are straight from his head.
Vice, this latest film from Raging Stallion, had been initially imagined as a big-budget police-themed porn but was later molded into something more focused on vice cops. “I’d been watching Narcos. I’m a big fan of that on Netflix,” Cruz says. “And I watched Snowfall and really liked that on FX. So I said, ‘Oh, I can easily do this, and I’ll do it as a comedy.’ I didn’t want a narco story that was blood and guts and murder and gore, like the reality of narcotics. I wanted to do something a little bit funny. I wanted to do something more lighthearted and ridiculous. Vice is ridiculous.”
The film centers around a fictional designer drug: Tsunami. The latest sex party drug has infiltrated Las Vegas, and the city’s local law enforcement has gone undercover to bust the drug ring responsible. Even the vice officers of the film, being followed by a reality film crew, succumb to the drug’s powerful effects.
“That’s the concept of Vice,” says Cruz. “It’s this drug that’s so powerful that if you come into contact with it, you lose control of your decency. You just have to fuck everything. So the pack house is like an orgy every day, and they can’t make their deadlines because the guys in the pack house are continuously having an orgy.”
According to the banks that set limitations on porn distributors, that premise was a no-go.
Unaware that porn studios even had limitations placed on them by outside actors, I asked Cruz about the type of restrictions typically placed on his work.
“So, a few things: no blood, no piss,” he says. “Back in 2011 I used to be able to sell piss movies. Now I can’t show piss anymore — that’s a big one. No rape. It has to be consensual, and you can’t even imply that maybe it’s not consensual. [An actor] can’t say ‘no.’ And those things I understand. But the one violated here [in Vice], the language said ‘No drunken sex.’ That’s all it said. I thought that meant no drugs or alcohol on set, which I’m hugely in support of. I don’t want drunk models. That’s what I thought it meant. This is where I screwed up. It should say ‘no depictions of intoxicated sex.'”
Demanding that a porn film not depict intoxicated sex seems to come from a socially responsible place, particularly as far as gay porn is concerned. Chemsex and drug abuse has long been a poignant topic among the queer community, and glamorizing drug use or the (potentially even more dangerous) prospect of sex while high is doing the community no favors. Vice does, indeed, feature sex while under the influence of its fictional drug. That’s something Cruz acknowledges freely, though he says his intention was never to advocate drug use.
“My story was completely fabricated, and I put a disclaimer on the movie to make sure that everybody understood Tsunami, this drug I invented, is not real,” Cruz says. “That the story is ridiculous, that nobody was high when we were making this film and nobody advocates drug use. In fact, I went through rehab a couple times, so I’m the last person who would want to make light of chemsex or the problem we have. That’s not what this movie’s about. I mean, the drug is blue. The drug is like Smurf or Viagra blue. I did a lot of things to make sure it looked like a ridiculous cartoon, to make sure it wasn’t too realistic, that it wouldn’t trigger people in that way, that it was actually a farce. Which it is. It’s a huge farce.”
While some will surely take issue with the ‘intoxicated sex’ featured in Vice, despite Cruz’s attempts at satirization, there will be others who find the refusal to allow the film normal distribution channels to be nothing short of censorship.
As for those restrictions placed on the pornography we consume — no piss, no nonconsensual sex, no intoxicated sex — those are in place not because of distributors’ concern for the health or moral standards of society; they are in place because of the banks.
“The distributor would actually like to distribute this movie as is,” Cruz tells me. “They don’t want these rules, either, but in order to do commerce and use a bank, these are the corporate rules that are put on them. So this is evil corporations controlling our sex.”
No one thinks — or at least I never did — about banks having control over the porn industry … until you actually consider what you’re saying. Of course they do.
“The banks have total control,” Cruz says. “In fact, if they wanted to drop us, they could altogether. I’ve heard of it happening at other studios, so we have to be very careful, because financial transactions are everything; they control everything. I mean, if I was writing this film for Netflix or I was writing this story for cable TV — even YouTube — it would be fine, because it would actually be hilarious to a lot of people. But because it involves sex, it’s like two vices. It’s two vices in one, it’s not just one vice.”
What all this means for the latest Raging Stallion film, Vice, is that two versions exist. After much back-and-forth with the studio’s distributor, the version that members of RagingStallion.com will see is an all-sex, no-story edit. In this version, anything to do with the film’s drug aspect has been removed. In addition, a director’s cut is being released for purchase online. Buying the download allows viewers to see Vice in its entirety, as Cruz intended.
It’s an odd compromise, seeing as how Raging Stallion members — the ones who practically speaking should get the studio’s exclusive — won’t get the full feature. They’ll have to purchase it separately like everyone else.
As for Cruz, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the controversy surrounding Vice might foster something of a chilling effect with respect to his future films.
“Oh my gosh, now I’m nervous about a lot of the things, the ideas,” he says. “I have such a great producer. My boss pushes me. We all know what’s happening to gay porn — everyone has been stealing gay porn for over a decade. And gays have seen everything every which way, and we’re bored, and we want new, fresh ideas. I am being pushed to come up with new, fun concepts all the time. Now I’m sort of like, ‘Oh, can I do that? Is that …’ So I have to go over everything with a fine-toothed comb, and my whole department is doing it now, too. ‘Now I need to turn this in for review a little earlier just in case.’ It’s changing a lot.”
Cruz is no stranger to controversy in his films, though never before have things reached the fevered pitch of this Vice debacle. Earlier this year he wrote and directed the Raging Stallion film Gun Club, which was a satirical look at gun control. “I thought that movie was going to get pulled because of its political content,” he says, though politics aren’t typically the only frowned-upon theme. “If you do anything with religion, [the powers that be] tend to get really upset about upsetting the church,” he adds. “But those are the kind of movies I want to make. You know what I mean?”
Parent company Falcon Studios Group is standing by the new Raging Stallion film Vice — the sex-only version and the director’s cut. President Tim Valenti was quoted in today’s press release as saying, “All controversy aside, there’s no denying that the men of Vice will raise more than just your cock in your pants. Steve Cruz once again delivers an amazing film that we’re proud to be releasing under the Raging Stallion brand.”