“Penny, can you hogtie yourself or do you need help, hun?” Jacky St. James asks.
Penny Pax is practiced at self-restraint. She wordlessly slips into the network of ropes like she’s lacing lingerie.
The front door of the shoot house opens, echoing through the mansion.
“Help!” Penny shouts. “They have me tied up and naked in here!”
A press photographer steps into the room. Seeing Penny’s predicament, he kneels beside her and focuses his camera. Penny affects an expression of tortured ecstasy.
* * *
The Submission of Emma Marx: Exposed is the third and final film in Jacky St. James’s award-winning trilogy for New Sensations. The series extends the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey into the pornographic realm, featuring BDSM scenes bound in a romance storyline. The day I visit the set, the crew constantly hustles between the shoot house’s three levels with lights and camera equipment. Most of the day is spent shooting short segments for two montage sequences. It seems only fitting, then, that my coverage of this shoot is itself a montage.
* * *
In the first sequence, Penny wanders through the empty mansion. Her character, Emma Marx, searches to define herself in the absence of her lover, Mr. Fredrick, played by Richie Calhoun. She tries to discover if she truly likes BDSM or if she merely defines her sexuality by her need to fulfill her partner’s fantasies. Does her innate desire to please inherently make her submissive?
* * *
During this series of somber scenes, the camera is set slightly off-kilter to capture Marx’s unstable world. For Jacky, this sequence is essential to the romance storyline, but poison for the porno. As a writer and director, she struggles with balancing the need to tell a compelling narrative and the demand to create a cost-efficient porno. While loss and depression are staples of dramatic stories, these emotions can feel strange in adult films, perhaps because porn, at its base, is an assertion of life, of humanity’s central creative act. In a sense, sex is the closest we come to immortality.
* * *
Jacky bounces about the house in a loose black dress and running shoes, looking like a business professional accustomed to racing marathons and hurdling obstacles. She constantly shifts between rearranging the room and annotating her shooting script. One moment she is kneeling on the floor, using the bed as her desk while she reviews her script. The next she fills the white space in an empty closet with lines of black ties, which she then rearranges.
“You didn’t get fifty gray ties?” I ask.
“No,” Jacky says with a smirk. “I’m staying as far away from that ‘grey area’ as possible.”
* * *
While Jacky dresses the rooms for each scene, the two cameramen, Eddie Powell and Paul Woodcrest, focus on framing the natural light. Curtains are drawn to the raw California sunlight. The bright exterior contrasts with the dark interior. Penny’s naked form repeatedly appears silhouetted against the daylight. This echoes Penny’s character, Emma, and Penny herself—a light surface concealing a darker side.
Penny looks deceivingly innocent. She is not as shy as she is quiet. Few would suspect she is a porn star, let alone someone who brings her own restraints to set and knows how to hogtie herself.
* * *
“Do you have panties on?” Jacky asks.
Penny nods. Her mouth is clogged with a ball-gag and her hands are bound over her head.
“Let me see,” Jacky says, lifting Penny’s skirt.
This scene repeats itself throughout the day. Jacky pays as much attention to Penny’s underwear as Woodcrest and Powell give to lighting. Despite the general consensus that Penny shouldn’t wear underwear—which is also Penny’s preference—her underwear plays an important role in this montage. Like leaves, the changing colors of her panties convey the passage of time.
* * *
Richie Calhoun’s underwear is also a point of contention. He arrives on set carrying an Ikea shopping bag as his briefcase.
“I said to bring clean clothes,” Jacky jokes as she rummages through his bag to find a suitable pair of boxer-briefs befitting Richie’s millionaire character, Mr. Fredrick.
“You should have thought about that before you hired Stinky-Foot Calhoun,” Woodcrest says, puffing on his vape pen.
Richie’s street clothes consist of dress loafers that are on their last leg and a battle-worn fanny pack. His disdain for socks prompts his set nickname. Jacky dresses him in slacks buttoned with a safety pin and a prop shirt brought to fill Mr. Fredrick’s closet.
Richie seems as at home in the mansion as he is in his borrowed clothes. He constantly disappears to nap in various rooms. Richie has a strange charisma. He could pass for a billionaire named Mr. Fredrick or a drifter named Stinky-Foot Calhoun. His smirk is reminiscent of George Clooney's in Batman, which is not far off from his character: a wealthy playboy with a dark side. But instead of spending his nights saving damsels in distress, he shackles them to his desires.
* * *
Before each scene, the soundman records several seconds of silence. In these moments, the crew plays the quiet game. Forced silence tempts laughter in the same way bondage provokes sexual energy.
During one of these moments, Richie teases Penny’s pussy while her hands are bound. She tries not to squeal. The soundman smiles. His boom-mic picks up the light foreplay. He must re-record.
These attempts to record silence are repeatedly rebuffed by the real world beyond the set. The crew waits for a train to pass, then a plane. A donkey brays. Coyotes howl and yip. The chaos of real life constantly tries to encroach on the creation of fantasy.
* * *
In the second montage, Emma repeatedly presents herself to Mr. Fredrick, giftwrapped in lace and leather.
Penny stands in heels, her arms strung to a vine-covered archway. Drool drips off her ball gag and pools at her feet. Mr. Fredrick sidesteps her as though she’s a statue.
In another, Penny dresses as a Catholic schoolgirl in a plaid skirt and pigtails. She crawls across the floor on her hands and knees, drops a belt in Richie’s lap, turns, and presents her ass. The belt falls from Richie’s knee. Penny retrieves it with her mouth and drops it back in his lap. Richie continues reading.
Later Penny rubs her pussy under the table during supper.
“Emma,” Richie says, “are you masturbating at the dinner table?”
I imagine this is a common problem billionaires have when recruiting middle class women to be their BDSM slaves.
“Yes,” Penny says hopefully. “Are you going to punish me?”
“No,” Richie says with a smirk. “It’s your day off.”
Denial-play delays gratification and builds sexual tension. The irony of BDSM is that it pushes players to expand the frontiers of their sexual imagination through confinement.
* * *
As the sun sinks behind the mountains, the crew lights the house’s library for the day’s final scene: a three-way sex scene. A wall of color-coded books dominates the room. The titles are a mix of the practical and fantastical: books on investing, finding your spirit animal, marketing strategies, and astrology. Richie flips through a volume on animal magic.
“If you put a bat eye in your pocket you will be invisible,” he reads. “In Ireland they say pigs can see wind… ” He shakes his head. “How does the same person who owns this mansion own this shit?”
This bookshelf displays two minds. The investment-savvy mind that purchased the house, and the free spirit who used her mystical, seductive skills to marry into opulence. It’s a reminder of how even the smartest people are at the mercy of sexual charms.
* * *
“I felt bad for Penny and Richie,” Jacky says, explaining why she wanted Emma and Mr. Fredrick to have a threesome in this third film. “They have to fuck each other all the time. I wanted them to get to fuck someone new.”
“Isn’t that like a normal relationship?” Eddie asks.
“Oh yeah,” Jacky says, smiling.
While romance porn often portrays exclusive couples, the sex scenes need new dimensions to keep audiences interested in watching the same couple have sex, especially through the course of three films. It’s the same dilemma faced by long-term couples searching for ways to spice up their love lives. Since Mr. Fredrick and Emma started out having kinky sex, Jacky had to find a more extreme solution for supercharging their sex lives: an answer that came in the form of Aidra Fox.
* * *
Aidra arrives at dusk. She has the lean frame of a fashion model topped with a porn star’s chest and hips shaped through corset training.
She found the house easily, as she’s had sex here before. Woodcrest asks who she worked with in this location.
“How can you expect me to remember who I’ve fucked here?” she asks, grinning.
She can’t recall what the scenes she shot here were about, but she knows the sex was hot. This begs the question: Does sex need a reason, a plot, or characters, to be good? Or is sex sometimes better if committed beyond reason, for the pure pleasure of the act?
* * *
Jacky interviews Aidra on her sex life for behind-the-scenes content. Aidra admits that she has a latex fetish, which she thinks is rooted in a desire to fuck doctors. She also claims that she’s into BDSM off-screen.
“I love being taken control of. Being taken care of,” Aidra admits. “Maybe it’s the feeling that they are teaching you, teaching you about yourself. I like to be told what to do from the moment I wake up. I want to be given a list of things to get done. To be told I’m a good girl.”
Long boots conceal bruises on Aidra’s legs. This is perhaps why leather is so popular in BDSM. It helps protect and conceal the flesh from fantasy. The bruises resulted from a superhero fetish shoot. The makeup artist hides a few of the visible contusions. Most pornos want to portray the fantasy of rough sex, as opposed to the reality, which can leave lasting marks.
* * *
Jacky reviews the rules for the BDSM threesome.
“Penny is domming during this scene,” Jacky explains, “So allow her to tell you what to do. And no smacking so hard it leaves marks.”
Jacky also reminds them to eliminate degrading dirty talk.
“This is BDSM,” she says, “but it’s BDSM for couples.”
Once Jacky finishes, Penny takes control, asking Aidra and Richie about their limits.
“You can do whatever you want to me,” Aidra says. “I like punishment.”
“What about biting?” Penny asks, going through a mental checklist of what she wants to do to Aidra.
“I love biting,” Aidra says. “Honestly, if you drew blood, I’d be into it. You really can do what you want to me. Just don’t touch my belly button. That’s my only hard limit.”
If Aidra can be aroused by something as mundane as latex, it follows that she can be turned off by something as innocuous as bellybutton prodding.
* * *
The crew runs through the scene preceding the sex. Penny leads Aidra into the library where Richie is reading. Penny is no longer the quiet girl I met who lay hogtied on the floor that morning. For that matter, neither is her character, Emma. She controls the scene, both on and off screen. Penny delivers her lines without missing a beat, suggests new dialogue, and is the lead sexual architect—working out how best to configure the naked bodies in camera-friendly angles.
“Remember,” Emma tells Mr. Fredrick before the sex commences. “I’m in control of your choices tonight.”
One of Emma’s rules for the threesome is that Mr. Fredrick cannot do anything to the women without permission. Unconsciously, Richie keeps reaching to grab Penny and Aidra’s heads as they both go down on him. He repeatedly has to restrain himself. This is Emma’s retribution for Mr. Fredrick’s denial play. Soon Richie is sweating, straining to keep from touching his costars without permission.
“I want to see what your dick looks like inside her,” Emma tells Mr. Fredrick.
Penny guides Richie’s cock between Aidra’s pussy and Penny’s mouth. Then Penny straddles Aidra’s ass and commands Richie to go between their pussies. Next, Penny sits Aidra atop Richie and forces Aidra’s hips down on Richie at an accelerating rate.
Richie abruptly stops the scene. Aidra thinks she did something wrong. The problem was that the women were doing too much right.
“Usually men just have me slap them to keep them from coming early,” Aidra says as Richie waits for his forthcoming orgasm to subside.
It’s telling that Richie has a harder time delaying his orgasm when he’s at the mercy of Penny and Aidra’s whims, when he’s not in control.
* * *
The crew uses the down time to discuss the dynamics of the looming money shot.
“Am I allowed to lick up his cum?” Penny asks Jacky.
Jacky decides on a cleaner finish, not wanting to force the acquired taste of cum play down the throats of tamer viewers.
The action recommences. When the time comes, Penny has Richie pull out and finish on Aidra’s chest. The payload is not cinematically grand enough. As a testament to how in sync the performers are, all three spontaneously start spitting on Aidra’s chest to increase the appearance of cum for the still photos.
* * *
During this sex scene, and for much of the day, I sit behind the cameras and stage lights, lurking in the shadows. I keep as still as possible for fear of making noise, knocking something over, or otherwise disturbing the shoot. I struggle with confinement. All day I’m plagued with a fear that I’ll come down with “porn Tourette’s” and start blurting out directions, such as the suggestion that they bind Emma to the framework of a princess canopy bed, as this would be the perfect inversion of the princess fairytale.
I have difficulty being restrained. I want to be part of the action, to insert myself into the story. I want to direct the scenes the way I mentally redirect movies at home. The irony is that this dominant streak is rooted in a lack of control. This is part of what drew me to writing. The solitary craft gives me the power to reconstruct reality, or a porn shoot, according to my own predilections, to rearrange scenes, change their focus, and follow my whims down dark corridors.
* * *
The Submission of Emma Marx: Exposed will be released February 8, 2016 at newsensations.com
Read more by Shawn Alff or email him directly at shawnalff.com