Monday, May 20, 2013

What lurks beyond boring brick walls?

"This is a church, there ain't no steeple. Open the door to the left if you wanna see naked people!"
This is a building on Broadway Avenue in Tampa, what 7th Avenue turns into when you take it all the way east out of Ybor City. Definable only as "nondescript", it looks like any one of hundreds of buildings you probably drive past every day without even thinking about it. Probably some kind of offices or a warehouse, right? If you zoom in on the banner, you'd say it's currently a church for Spanish speaking parishioners. And it is... but not completely. There are two doors (unseen in this photo) on the east end of the building (to the right) that do serve as an entrance to the church advertised on that banner. But what lies behind the doors to the left, the shuttered windows directly beneath the banner and the ones to the right of that is the much larger part of the building and populated by other tenants: professional pornographers.

It was once the hub of a "voyeur dorm" operation fronted by legendary porn star Ron Jeremy. His name is literally plastered on walls all over the place. It's no longer the site of around the clock, internet subscriber-fueled adult activity as it apparently was in the '90s, but it's still very much in use as a filming location and production facility. Sort of like Prince's Paisley Park, his all-in-one music and film production complex in Chanhassen, Minnesota... only for naughty movies.

I know because I visited this building once not long ago to visit a film being shot there. I had helped out with the script, hence my involvement. No, it was not a porno. The building is available for rental now to anybody.

When I arrived, I was met at the door by a caretaker. "Keep it down, they're filming." I said, "I know, that's why I'm here." "No, not your friends. Another film," he said. I walked in past a reception area that featured a couch, and a service counter, behind which was an empty, black-painted wall unit that had once housed about a dozen video monitors. The hallway to my left led to a dank, industrial area with brick walls, concrete floors, a laundry facility and an employee break room with vending machines and a microwave oven. This was where the people I was there to see were setting up, using the location for its resemblance to a prison. The hallway to my right was where various themed rooms were to be found. A school classroom, a doctor's office, all with the appropriate props. The other doors were closed so I couldn't see inside but I was told (very quietly) they just looked mostly like bedrooms. One of those doors opened up shortly after and two dudes, one carrying a small bag of camera equipment, and a woman came out. "We're all done", said the guy carrying the bag to the caretaker. The caretaker glanced inside the room, presumably to make sure nothing had been broken, stolen or, um, soiled while the male actor tucked his shirt in to his pants and the female actor brushed her hair and lit a cigarette.
"Did you guys do it?", I asked, suddenly turning 11-years-old.
"Do it?", the actress replied with a sneer.
"Yeah. You know, make a movie", I said, futilely attempting a smooth recovery, like all along I was curious about the creative process. Excuse me for never having been in a position of encountering porn stars immediately after punching out (so to speak) for the day. She rolled her eyes and made a "tsk" noise. I wanted to say, "I bet you made a lot of noises like that today", but I'm smarter than that so I didn't.
The camera guy said, "yeah, but it was just one scene."
I could have said, "Us too", but instead I asked, "How long does that take?". He replied, "we've only been here about an hour and a half, and that includes various set-ups After edits, we'll have about 15 minutes of usable footage." I nodded my head like 'yeah, that sounds about right (does that sound about right? I really don't know)'. "Is there really a church on the premises?", I asked and the caretaker said, "They're next door. We do our thing and they do theirs. We don't get in each others' way so it's no big deal. Although, we do have a church room. It's got an alter and everything. It's really nice!" "I'll bet!", I said stupidly and went back to the other hallway to watch my group film the jail scene.

Anyway, if you've ever wondered what's going on behind the walls of all those nondescript buildings you pass every day, don't be too surprised when you find out.

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