Back Stories – Michael Whiteacre, or who’s behind The Devil and Shelley Lubben (part 1)

Now some of you may have noticed my interest in the forthcoming film The Devil in Shelly Lubben (here and here)…

…and really, what’s not to be interested in?

You see, I’m pretty sure there’re at least two sides to every story; but I don’t feel like the mainstream media has given me a particularly nuanced perspective on this suuuper interesting one, hence my excited anticipation.

But what’s going on behind the scenes with The Devil and Shelley Lubben? Who’s responsible for this film, and why the heck do they even care?

Michael Whiteacre (pictured), who is one of two driving forces behind this project (along with Lydia Lee), took some time out to give me his take on the inside scoop. Read on!!

Hi Michael!! First off, thanks so much for taking the time out to chat with me – PVV loves you!! But all love aside (and to get us started), what exactly do you do in the adult industry?

“I’m a director, producer, screenwriter, editor, and composer …and lately a grassroots activist. Although I’m best known publicly as the director of late-night softcore ‘erotic’ films, such the wildly successfulCall Girl Wives (2005), I have a relatively diverse background.  Before I began making ‘adult-oriented’ movies, I had projects that I had produced in competition at Sundance and other respectable film festivals.

From 1997 to 2005 I was also a very reputable distributor and cable TV rep for adult producers such as Andrew Blake, New Sensations, Elegant Angel, Peter North, and David ‘Pussyman’ Christopher (among many others), but adult content only comprised about one third of my business.  I moved away in 2006 to run a couple of non-adult related companies, but in late 2009 I moved back to LA.

In March 2010, I directed and co-wrote Free Speech Coalition’s two anti-piracy PSAs (‘all star’ here and ‘featuring Charlie Laine’ here), which went viral in a huge way, and I suddenly and quickly found myself reintegrated into a community that I had dearly missed.

Awww, isn’t it funny how we always come back to what we love? …sooo what about your life before adult? Can you tell me a little about your background?

I’m from New York – born in Brooklyn, and raised in the Bronx.  I attended Yeshiva, a Jewish religious school, from grades one through eight; and, really from studying the law and the commentaries, I learned to appreciate the art of debate as well as the ‘legalistic’ view of the world.

I later attended the Bronx High School of Science, which stands right down the street from the high school that Gloria Leonard attended with comic Robert Klein (and designer Calvin Klein). I went to NYU on a couple of scholarships, where I was a political science major. I later went to law school and earned my J.D. from Vanderbilt University, which is in Nashville, TN, in 1993.

Shortly after graduating law school, I realized that I just couldn’t commit to a life working at a law firm.  You know, writing memos all day for some guy named Bernie, or whatever.  I needed a creative outlet.  This was 1993, and I found that most of the friends I had known had dispersed all over the country.  I had an offer to write for a ‘genre movie’ magazine, doing interviews and articles, and suddenly I had more friends and connections in LA than anywhere else.  Foremost among these was my oldest friend in the world, Jane Hamilton (a.k.a. Veronica Hart) whom I had first met on a trip to London when I was 9! I stayed with Jane and her family in LA until I found my own apartment.

It was as a journalist that I met my current writing/producing partner, Lydia Lee (a.k.a. Julie Meadows) in 1998, when she was new to the adult business. I interviewed her for an international news syndication company.  We hit it off and became wonderful friends.

(pictured: buddies Lydia Lee and Michael Whiteacre goofing around, 2010)

But wait… political science and law? I know that the law is one of the trickiest craftiest things ever, certainly an art in its own right; but where in all this did you develop a need for the sort of creativity you now exhibit? Certainly not buried in the law library at Vanderbilt

Well, my grandmother bought me a piano when I was eight, and I’m a fairly proficient musician. My parents listened to music constantly, although my dad was more of a movie fan. I performed all throughout my school years, and would tour a little during my summers. My mom got into country music in 1980, after the movie ‘Urban Cowboy’ and we got to know Mickey Gilley from his tours of the northeast.  Eventually I started going on the road and performing with his Urban Cowboy Band. I learned everything I know about drinking from those days.

heee!! (I’m laughing!!)

I loved writing, and I would frequently submit articles to various movie and music magazines, mostly collector-oriented stuff.  My love of music later led to a mini-career as a researcher and discographer, and I wrote or contributed to the liner notes for lots of box set reissues of many different artists.  Back when I started, the box sets were released on vinyl.

Oh god, how COOL!! What a job that must have been – nerd research plus awesome music. I’m jealous!!  Sorry – go on, go on…

So anyway, I’m a huge movie buff, and you tend to gravitate towards things you like.  I started writing for various entertainment magazines, and in LA you end up writing a lot about movies.  I did a ton of on-the-set pieces, and celebrity interviews and profiles. Eventually I started getting offered jobs in production. I’ve worked pretty much every job there is on a movie set. I started out doing craft service.

…which is arguably the most important job on any set!!

I was always interested in the visual aspects of film and how they were achieved, so I spent much of my time harassing the cinematographers and learning about lenses and lighting.  I’m also a big fan of diverse subject matter; while, like William Friedkin, I don’t believe in ‘style’ outside of the context of the particular work, I also side with Howard Hawks (the greatest American director in my book – the only director to have made a great, classic, genre-defining movie in EVERY genre) who claimed that his favorite movies were the ones where you could tell, from watching it, ‘who in the devil made it.’

In a nutshell, I believe in, and strive for, consistency of theme and world-view across as broad a dramatic range as possible, which may help explain my recent headlong lunge into politically-pointed works.  My world-view is present in every frame of every scene I’ve ever directed, even the ridiculous comedies.  There’s always a personal statement.

Oh wow that’s so interesting – your allusions to existing debates about genre and the idea of infusing your world-view in to every frame you direct are fascinating. I mean, it’s almost unreasonable to think that a person doesn’t leave some sort of imprint on anything they create, but the idea of consciously crafting a statement through the course of a life’s work is really compelling.  But still, how did you actually get into directing?

Well, I started directing as a fluke I guess.  I was in Las Vegas in January 2004, and one of the companies whose product I distributed was shooting with my friend Samantha Phillips was producing.  They used my suite for a coupe of scenes, and I suggested some of the girls I knew for the cast. The last night of shooting, the director, had to leave early to go on a date, so I offered myself as a replacement.  To be honest, I had already been toying with the idea of directing.  On that same trip, I threw my annual dinner at Piero’s, and I did an interesting job of ‘casting’ it (that’s what Andrew Blake called it).

(pictured (l-r): “casting” circa 2004 with Flick Shagwell, Sinnamon Love, Michael Whiteacre, Shyla Stylez, and Houston; also pictured are Ivan Nagy and Andrew Blake)

I was attempting to build critical mass.  Within a couple of nights I had everything in place: a repertory of talent and creative mentors, directing experience, an established rapport with several performers, access to crew and equipment, and encouragement to direct.  At the time I was also distributing Roger Corman‘s catalog to TV, and I stopped in to visit him when I dropped a check off at his office.  I asked him to do his famous ‘first time director’ speech for me.

“First time director” speech?

Yes. You see, even if people had directed in the past, before they directed for Corman he sat ’em down and told them what he knew worked.  He got up and played it out for me – it was amazing. Film school in six minutes. I use those lessons every single time I shoot, without exception. The next month, I financed my feature directorial debut and donned my directing sombrero for the first time.  Shyla starred, Axel played a small role (I wanted as many experienced directors on set as possible in case things went haywire, which thankfully they did not), my friend Brittany Andrews donated a day’s work as a favor, two of the ladies I directed in Vegas were also cast in it.  I never looked back.

(pictured: the back of Michael’s head directing Scott Styles and Shyla Stylez in Call Girl Wives circa 2004)

Ahhh… it all makes sense now.

I think so… Vis-a-vis my recent ‘activist’ works, my focus on issues of intellectual property rights, as well as the various crises striking the adult movie industry, can be easily understood when seen through the prism of a ‘recovering lawyer’/creative artist who has many dear friends in the adult business.  I make movies and videos about things that are in some way precious to me.  I don’t have a ‘hack’ switch that I can flip and just go on autopilot and shoot something.  I couldn’t do it as a writer either.  I used to spend more money researching an article than I would make from its publication.  It wasn’t a great business model, but I don’t have to look back in regret at anything I’ve produced.

Ha!! That’s just the scholar in you coming out (jkjkjk!!)… OK so you know how interested I am in this film you are producing along with Lydia… What can you tell me about The Devil in Shelley Lubben?

First, the title is a reference to two works by one of my favorite writers, Nick Tosches. Tosches penned the book The Devil and Sonny Liston after publishing an article entitled “The Devil and Sidney Korshak.” The title came to me first, and it was that title which spurred me to ask Lydia if she was interested in expanding her criticism of Lubben and the Pink Cross Ministry of Fear into the documentary format.

“Ministry of Fear”… that just drips with oxymoronica (which is not a word)!! …but what exactly is it all about?

In a nutshell, ‘The Devil and Shelley Lubben’ is a simple American story.  It’s about a suburban girl whose psychological and emotional issues were ignored, who was instead spoiled and babysat by 1970s television, and who grew up to be a narcissist of epic proportions.  Youth gone wild, or haywire as the case may be.  It’s a story not far flung from ‘The River’s Edge,’ or a Larry Clark movie.  Throw in some Theodore Dreiser and you’ve got a modern American tragedy.  Less a coming-of-age story than a coming-of-psychosis story, really.  I wish I could throw some Faulkner in as well, but I can’t find a way to work in a clutch of references to ‘blood’ and ‘soil.’

The piece is, quite simply, an unflinching look at, and a thorough debunking of, Mrs. Lubben and her organization.  She comes across as part Aimee Semple McPherson, part Howard Beale (from the great Sidney Lumet movie ‘Network’) and part Rev. Jim Jones. The cast includes Kayden Kross, Nina Hartley, Ernest Greene, Monica Foster, Lydia of course, myself, and others.  But the star is Shelley.  Having Shelley in it makes it my dream cast for sure.

Look at that – dreams coming true left and right (maybe someone was pointing their staff in your direction ;) (jkjk)!! So, when does the film come out?

The first part of The Devil and Shelley Lubben should be released within a week, and two or three further parts are still taking shape.  Part Two is nearly complete – there’s a lot of backstory and historical context therein – but we’re holding off for right now (though not for long).  Since the internet constitutes the place where exposés and documentaries such as this really find an audience these days, Lydia and I think that the twenty-minute portion model works well for this type of project.  Also, new – and, frankly, crazy – stuff keeps being reported all the time. This gives us more time to include the new events, and to add extra interview segments.

(pictured: Michael Whiteacre and Lydia Lee – great friends working, 2010)

“Crazy” gets me to thinkin’… does Shelley know that you guys are working on this? And what do you think peoples’ reactions are going to be?  Of the general public who are aware of her, people seem to reeeally love or reeeally hate Shelley Lubben…

Oh yes, Mrs. Lubben definitely knows we’re making it.  It hasn’t been a secret.  Mrs. Lubben is the kind of person who Google-searches her own name daily.  Plus she and her sheep regularly troll the adult boards, cruising for tidbits and, if you believe Brooke Ashley* (which I do), attempting to ‘set people up.’   Lubben has directed comments straight at myself and Lydia, so yes, she’s aware of it.  I want her to see it.

The response Lydia and I hope for is that people watch it and hopefully come away better off for the time spent.  We want viewers to see something they haven’t seen before. Beyond that, it’s up to them…  All I’ve got is a red guitar, three chords, and the truth/All I’ve got is a red guitar/The rest is up to you.

I will say, however, that nearly everything I’ve ever done has been a ‘love it or hate it’ proposition, and I have no reason to suspect this one will be any different.  And I really could not care less which reaction people have, as long as they watch it.  This isn’t bubblegum pop music.  There’s a point to it.  I see my role in the world as being an irritant – if I can ruin someone’s day, then I’ve done my job.  I don’t mean that maliciously or spitefully; I just think that one must make people look at uncomfortable truths, or painful realities, in order to convey any kind of meaning to them.  That process itself can be, and often is, uncomfortable.  But I believe strongly that to the daring there comes great reward.”

On this final point, I couldn’t agree with Michael Whiteacre, Esq. – activist, artist, “recovering lawyer,” and awesome “irritant” – more.

I have never met Michael in person, but he and I have communicated virtually for some months now.  He is clever and sharp, passionate and committed; and his scholarly research skills are ever-present. I am eager to see what he and Lydia Lee have dug up.

You can keep tabs on Michael via his YouTube channel.

(pictured: the man and his sombrero with Shyla Stylez, circa 2004)

All pictures courtesy of Michael Whiteacre.

*re Brooke Ashley: Brooke Ashley was infected with HIV on an adult film set in 1998. She has since survived an almost incomprehensible series of challenges, the most recent of which being a less-than-amiable separation from Pink Cross Foundation. There is much to this story, far too much for an endnote.  For some perspective on these recent happenings, you may go here and here.

…and trailers for The Devil and Shelley Lubben:

 

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From performers to post-production, office workers to executives, PVVOnline Back Stories explore the lives of people who work in all aspects of the adult industry. For more industry insiders’ Back Stories, go here.

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