As you can see from just a quick scan of Sword headlines over the years, Michael Lucas has always been an outspoken and polarizing figure in the adult entertainment world. His 16-year-old company Lucas Entertainment remains a major player in the gay porn universe, lately releasing about three new scenes a week, and the Sword sat down with him recently to talk about his business, and about his recent forays into documentary film.
Lucas was in San Francisco the other week for a presentation of his most recent documentary about anti-gay laws and vigilante abuses of gay men in his home country of Russia, which screened at the San Francisco GLBT film festival, Frameline.
I spoke to him at his hotel the day after the screening.
J.W. W-H: Tell me about this Russia documentary, how you started working on it, etc.
Michael Lucas: Well you know I’ve produced two documentaries, the first was Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land, and now this one about Russia, Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda. Both are passions of mine, Israel because I consider it my second home and Russia because I had a very difficult time living there as a Jewish gay man. So one was my love letter to Israel, and one was my [desire] to expose Russia for what it is.
Your hate letter, so to speak.
It’s kind of my hate letter, yes, but it’s a very balanced one. In fact many people who have seen it, are surprised at how balanced it is. I tried to show how divided the gay community is there. You have one group saying that this whole [recent civil rights crisis] has given them better visibility and the other saying no, that’s its horrible and they want to leave. Lots of people have already left. I’ll tell you something that wasn’t in my film: I helped four Russian guys leave and come to America. They are all friends, two of them are a couple, and all 4 are HIV-positive. Before coming to the US, they lived in Moscow, but were originally from other cities, smaller cities. When were diagnosed with HIV, they went to the hospital to get treatment. They were denied treatment and treated so horribly. People were afraid to touch them, just like it was in 80s here in the states. They were verbally abused and told that they had to go back to their hometowns to get treatment. And when you come from a tiny little city, they’ve probably never had [HIV cases] to treat. So it was a horrible cycle of being discriminated against and not being able to get the treatment they needed. Basically their options consisted of them waiting around, developing full blown AIDS and risking the chance of death.So I brought them here and I sent them to GMHC, a superb organization. And they were crying. They couldn’t believe that they had come here, and they’d never worked a day in this country, and just because they had HIV and had come from Russia, GMHC got them a translator, got them doctors, got them all on medication, helped to get them insurance, all for free. They even helped them find an apartment and invited them to dinner. And they just said, “God bless America.” And it’s true. This is a wonderful country. It’s a country of patriots, not nationalists. Unlike, Russia which is full nationalists, people who hate everything that’s different. These guys are examples of people who left and now will be American patriots. They will work for this society, and they will contribute, out of gratitude for America being so incredibly nice to them and for treating them as human beings. That’s something that in Russia would have never happened.
What were you saying about how there are some Russians who think this crackdown is giving them more visibility? They don’t fear getting arrested, or harassed?
It’s interesting really. I compare it to the Jews in Germany in the 1930s. There was a group of Jews who knew the history and knew that this was the beginning of the end. But there was a big group who stayed, who thought it would get better, and many of them were exterminated. I think this group of gays in Russia has hope that this will get better and that it can be used as an opportunity, but it’s bad and they need to see the reality of the situation. This is of course only my opinion. I was careful not to give my opinion in the documentary. This was not supposed to be about me.
When was this documentary shot?
This was over a year ago, right before the new discrimination laws were signed. But the regime had promised this, and I knew, all Russians knew, when they promise something, it happens. I had lived there, so I went right away to start filming. I gladly invested $100,000 of my own money, knowing that documentaries don’t make money, to tell this story because it was important. So, this was charity that I did for Russia. But your original question was why did some of Russians think that there would be greater visibility, and they feel like all this conversation means that more people are acknowledging them and discussing homosexuality. But not all PR is good PR, just like in Nazi Germany. Russians are being brainwashed, and Russians are not free-thinkers. They are very easily brainwashed. So they are being convinced that gays are dangerous, dangerous to families, that they convert people, and that they spread HIV/AIDS. The Kremlin didn’t become homophobic overnight. But what happened was that the platz, the Russian street, got the message that they needed to protect their children. And these are young people, teenagers and twentysomethings who don’t gave jobs. So what they do is they start to lure gay people to their apartments using Grindr and other services and film it, it’s really awful.
Yes, I’ve seen the videos.
Yes, it’s horrible. Hundreds of them. And they call it a “lesson.” They beat them up, and they’re spraying urine in their face, and then they film them with dildos to humiliate them. And no one is doing anything about it. Russian LGBT organizations are a joke, 20 people show up with flags. The same 20 people show up every time. And you know it’s terrible, especially if you live in one of the smaller places. We don’t know how many people were killed, instead of being filmed. We only know about the ones who were filmed. Anyway, they call themselves, this organization or whatever it is, Occupy Pedofil-aye [Editor’s Note: Those words are supposed to rhyme, in Russian.] It’s a message to the West. They’re trying to turn Russian public opinion against us, saying, basically, “Gay people are agents of the West.”
So let’s talk about the porn world. What’s your perspective on it now? You used to do these grand, lavish movies with high production values and big budgets. And pretty much no one does these anymore.
Well, it was a great time to do them, to establish the brand, to get people writing about them. We’ll still produce some movies like that. But look, at this point we’re producing three scenes a week, one of which is exclusive to our members, and it’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of content to produce and push out each week.
In order to stay competitive, you mean.
There are not many companies that are doing as many. I can only think of one off the top of my head.
Men.com is doing is three a week, at least.
Yes, they are one of the few. Three scenes a week is a lot. Sometimes we are releasing four scenes a week. For a few months we’ve been doing three main scenes and one fetish scene. For the summer we’re doing just two main scenes and one fetish scene. Its a fight to get paying customers. Before they find an effective way to fight piracy, it will be tough to protect and keep content exclusive. A lot of companies have closed or sold to other companies. I get a lot of people who are interested in buying Lucas Entertainment, but I’m not interested in selling right now. The company is continuing to grow and has been since we opened in 1998. But particularly we’ve seen incredible growth the past two years, so I don’t see the point in selling it. I like this time we’re in. It’s just incredibly interesting, challenging and I like it.
Do you find that because you have to produce so much content it’s less exciting to you, or less interesting, because there’s so much more of it?
No. I do not direct. I have not directed in many years. I’m very rarely on the set. I view everything, and I give my notes both before and after production. I also do the pairing and approve all the models. [Before the shoots] I give my suggestions about what I’d like to see. My guys know very well what it is I want. I’ve changed videographers five times since 1998, and all of them have known what I want. When you have a good staff, you don’t really have to be there. I focus my time on running the corporate offices.
Do you think that recruiting is easier now than it used to be? This is something that Chi Chi LaRue brought up recently. She said there’s just so many guys, straight and gay and whatever, who are beautiful and who want to do porn.
Yes, my god. We receive up to 50 applications a day. Of course most of them do not match the standards of our models. But back in 1998 we were lucky to get 3 applications a week, of course not as many people knew who we were.
Do you prefer to cast gay models?
Of course we always prefer to cast gay models, and I can count on my fingers how many models I’ve worked with who are straight or bisexual. We have exceptions, like Rod Daily, who I believe is truly bisexual. He just truly loved getting fucked by guys. But we will not take a straight guy who’s not really interested [in having sex with other guys]. It just doest work and you can tell on camera. I tried it recently in Hungary, without knowing what I was signing up for, and the content was so bad. Four scenes that should have been better and just weren’t. [Referring to Toby Dutch: Barebacking in Budapest.] I will not do that again. It was also gang-bang. I don’t like gang-bangs. I like orgies. Most of what we do now is three-ways, four-ways, and orgies.
Because it sells better.
Yes, it sells really well. It is a very expensive thing to do, but you know. We just produced a movie that is only threeways. Only double-penetrations. That’s how we have to compete for customers today. Here’s your threeway, and here’s a double penetration.
And you’re still producing fetish content?
Yes, about once scene every two or three weeks. Sometimes we’ll have guys in a shoot who are interested in a fetish and we’ll ask them to do it and maybe we’ll take that scene and release it separately. Because not everybody wants to watch that, it’s a special audience.
You produced one of my favorite scenes of all time, it was either won a GayVN Award for Best Duo or it was nominated. This was Blu Kennedy and a guy named Danny B. in Encounters 1…
Well I’m glad you liked it. But as for awards, I really don’t care. After all the many awards that I won, or that the company won didn’t really matter. The truth is, when you win a GayVN award, it doesn’t do anything for sales. You don’t get a single extra DVD sale from one of those awards. Not one extra click from these shows. Because the shows are not being attended by anyone but porn stars and industry people and a few people who happen to be in the area. They say, “Oh it’s the Oscars of porn,” but who really cares? The Oscars are transmitted to millions of people all over the world. That translates into sales. These silly does not translate. That’s why my guys in the office don’t go to these things anymore. We do IML, and anyone who goes to IML are welcome to go [to the Grabby Awards] but I’m not paying for it. It’s not interesting to me.
So, if you could do anything besides being a pornographer, what would you be doing?
Oh, I don’t really know. Its one reason I am not ready to sell the company. I just don’t know what I’d do. I never in my life had to work for anyone. At the age of 21 in Russia I had a travel agency, and I opened this company in 1998. I only worked briefly [as a model] before that. But I can’t imagine being an employee or reporting to anyone. I own the company, it’s 100% mine. I never took a loan. I think I will always do my work for the gay community, maybe I would do that full time later on in life. You will have to wait and see.
Do you have any goals for the next few years?
In business, its to continue to produce hot porn. That’s the goal. I’ve changed a bunch of people [on my staff] in the past year, and now I probably have the best team I’ve ever had. I love coming to the office. I’m surrounded by great professionals. Most of them have never worked in porn before, and they have great ideas. I think its going to be a great future for us.
And personally, a lot of things have changed in my life. I got divorced. You know, gay marriage… people don’t talk about gay divorce. But it happened. And now I have a new boyfriend. He’s an amazing, amazing guy. Incredibly wise, intelligent, had great experiences, very sweet and warm and educated. He’s ten years younger than I am, and has a executive role in a large New York Advertising Agency. We are really happy together.
Where did you meet him?
Funny enough, I met him on a dating app. Called Tinder. I liked his profile and we went to lunch. It was interesting because I remember the first thing he told me was “You know, I’m HIV-positive.” And I said, “Okay, thank you. But why is that the first thing you are telling me?” And he said, “Well, I just want you to know. I don’t want to waste your time or my time.” It was the first time I realized its apparently a deal breaker for many people. To me that is unbelievable. Its 2014, people, gay men especially need to learn the basics. That is my whole position on Truvada. If someone is on HIV medication, and his viral load is undetectable, the chances of infection or so low. And with Truvada, used as Prep, its virtually impossible to get infected. To me, it has the chance to revolutionize the way we prevent HIV.
But yes, we met on Tinder and have been together every since. I’m so very happy, which is great. We never fight. Of course, we have very different opinions about things, but it’s always very respectful conversation. All my boyfriends have had different opinions about politics, and me and him don’t see eye-to-eye about a lot of things but we have very respectful and interesting conversations about it. It’s like intellectual ping-pong. Truthfully, I was so very unhappy for a long time. When I was getting divorced it was very difficult. My husband met someone who was much younger and I was heartbroken. But it gave me the opportunity to reevaluate my life. I realized, there is nothing I can do about it and I have to move on. The next day, I hit the gym, I threw myself into my job and my life started to get better. My ex came back two weeks later, wanting to be back with me, but I had already moved on and continue to realize it was good that it happened, because I really wasn’t happy. Sometimes it’s good to change your life, you know. These changes have been great and I’m looking forward to what the future has in store.