What I imagine you’re thinking right now is, “Sure. This kind of thing happens to all of us. We’ve all made a porno, we’ve all watched it with our mothers, and we’ve all practically forgotten about it, because of how completely common and universal an experience it is.”

Right? That’s what you’re thinking? You guys?

Well, if that is not what you’re thinking, then I guess this one is for you–the minuscule fraction of the population that has yet to experience the joy of watching (on a giant screen, with your mom) your peers get naked and pretend to make sex.

My story begins in the summer of 1994, or “My Porno Summer,” as it’s come to be known. (Nope. No one calls it that.) I was working several jobs–three, to be exact. I split my days between a department store, a truck stop, and the office of an AIDS resources clinic (again, like we all did when we were twenty), and stayed up late drinking and smoking with friends on someone’s front porch every night.

These were the salad days. My salad summer. My pornographic, workaholic salad summer.

I had enrolled in the upcoming fall semester’s Intermediate Film Production course and, after two years of prerequisites and theory, I was looking forward to getting dirty, so to speak, making actual movies on actual film stock. I couldn’t wait. And, as it turns out, I didn’t have to.

One morning I got a call from the associate producer of a local independent film, directed by my soon-to-be professor of Intermediate Film Production. The associate producer was another student in the program. In fact, all of the crew members were students, and most of the actors, too. My teacher had found a great way to save money on his low-budget, straight-to-video (VHS!) movies, and his students got to graduate with some “professional” experience.

The associate producer seemed very eager to bring me on board as a production assistant. Even though my production skills were limited to “knows how to enroll in a class,” he tried to make me feel like I was the only person for the job. In truth, he needed to find someone–anyone–who could drive to an insurance agency and drop off a check by 5 p.m. The lucky so-and-so who could accomplish this would be rewarded with a two-week job on the set of a real live movie, for no pay, and with no real responsibilities.

Perfect.

I had only worked one other professional set before, as an extra in Necessary Roughness, for which I was paid $50 to hang out in a football stadium all night. I watched Jason Bateman and Scott Bakula run around in football uniforms, and I high-fived Sinbad under the bleachers while eating a hot dog. It was (clearly) a trip to Thrillsville, but this new opportunity seemed much more legit. I pictured myself among the crew, learning cinemagic secrets and making connections with Hollywood somebodies who would someday make me famous.

I took the job.  I picked up the insurance check, I drove to Dallas, I dropped it off, and I came back to report that everything was okay to go. The producer was grateful and held up his end of the (conveniently one-sided) bargain. Without any information about the movie, or what I’d be doing, I scribbled down the next morning’s location and call time and headed home.

My next order of business was to orchestrate a two-week vacation from all of my jobs. I called a friend who was in nursing school and asked: “What’s something that sounds serious, but can later turn out to be nothing?” She offered up “Dysplasia”—a cancerous condition of the uterus. “You go get a biopsy and in a week or two you find out it’s nothing. Meanwhile, once you say ‘cancer’ and ‘uterus,’ your boss will stop listening and give you whatever time you need.”

Perfect?

(And yes, I realize the irony and know that karma is a sneaky bitch.)

However shameful and manipulative, it worked. My immediate reward was two weeks of standing around in 100+ heat waiting for something—anything—to do. Initial duties included (were limited to) holding a jacket. We were shooting in a metal warehouse (in Texas, in June), without interference from noisy air conditioning or fans. So in between takes, our lead actor would remove his jacket, and it was my job to hold onto it at all times, making sure it didn’t somehow walk away.  I was doing the job of the back of a chair; developing the skills of a hook. I was the world’s sweatiest coat hanger.

I suppose I was learning, too. I learned not to schedule a warehouse shoot in the middle of a Texas summer. I learned that our lead, the son of a famous and well-respected star, had graduated from the Kiefer Sutherland School of Acting (“whisper or yell, but nothing in between”). I learned that this movie was a capital-B Bomb in the making—and even heard that the student who wrote it had changed his name for the credits sequence. Whoops!

Most importantly, I learned that if you hate your job, change your job description. I showed up early on the third day and started volunteering in other departments. I figured if I made myself useful enough to someone, he or she would rescue me from my job as a human closet. I figured right. I began working with the props department, running errands for craft services, driving some of the actors to and from set. I was even an extra in a few scenes–but we’ll get to that in a moment.

After a week or so, I learned that the movie was about more than just gunshots and goodfellas. We were shooting an outdoor scene and were asked to show up, set up, and then leave the vicinity. As we sat on the grass, out of view of the cameras, the guys on the crew schooled me about the situation. We were working around what is known as “a closed set” because we were shooting a sex scene.  It seemed weird that one of my fellow students was fake fucking a stripper/actress/whatever around the corner, just a few feet away. I found it hilarious and gross at the same time.

The next sex scene was filmed in somebody’s condo. Again, the crew set up and then waited outside for instructions while the actors got fake busy. This time our fearless and aging director had cast himself in a minor role. He played the part of a two-bit gangster who gets both blown and blown away by the film’s biggest star–former Penthouse Pet of the Year, Julie Strain.

Random note–as the contents of the equipment truck were unloaded into the condo, one of the building’s  tenants asked if we were new residents. I explained that we were shooting a movie and he said, “Oh. You know, my son is an actor.” I pretended to be impressed, assuming his son had taken the accolades received from his role in some high school musical and parlayed them into an illustrious career in local advertising or community theater. “You might know him, ” he added, “he’s on that show Wings.”

Turns out his son is Thomas Hayden Church.

I finally got a clearer picture of the kind of movie I was working on when we filmed the seminal (pun waaaaay intended) pool scene.  I was busy setting up the poolside bar, filling empty liquor bottles with iced tea, when the propmaster asked if I could stay put and play the bartender. It wasn’t a speaking role–they just needed someone to hand a drink to one of the scantily-clad ladies.

Of all the possible extras on the set, I was the least suited for the job. First of all, I had clothes on. Secondly, the clothes I was wearing were completely wrong for the environment. I had on my favorite sweater at the time–a light camel-colored cotton thing that had been worn so thin it provided absolutely no warmth–perfect for a Texas summer day. What it did provide was necessary coverage for the ten or so massive holes in the worn out white tee I wore beneath it.  (It was the ’90s. I was simply embracing the grunge-girl uniform required of my generation.)

Nevertheless, I was cast on the spot and given some basic instructions. The director of photography took a test run to work out a complicated shot (his camera followed a bikini girl as she emerged from the water and walked to the bar, then tracked past her to the real action of the scene). When he saw me in the background he immediately asked me to remove my sweater. “We’re at a pool, for chrissakes!”  I took it off to reveal the holey tee, and he gave me a once over.

“Put it back on, I guess. But try to look like you’re at a pool party.”

The propmaster then brought me a pair of sunglasses, and voila! I was transformed into the most unrealistic poolside bartender a naked-lady party would ever hire, but with sunglasses. We shot the scene a few times, and when satisfied, the director called for the “alternate version” shots. All the bikini-clad “actresses” in the pool lost their tops, and the production crew suddenly became much more precise in perfecting the lighting. We shot the scene again, several times, until everyone was satisfied.

I was in one other scene before we wrapped, this time playing a barroom patron. I think I was wearing extremely baggy denim cutoff shorteralls that day, plus the same holey tee shirt and short pigtails. In other words, devastatingly beautiful by anyone’s standards and clearly fitting right in with the rest of the crowd in a naughty “Hard R” movie. We wrapped soon after and I hung up my production assistant hat for a while.

A few months later, the film was ready to “premiere.” I was invited to a private screening at the film school, for cast, crew and special guests.

One of those guests was my mom.

At the time, she was the city’s film commissioner. She had spent years working on the economic development of the city, and for a while that included acting as a liaison for film and television crews that needed permits and help from other city officials. She assisted productions in a variety of ways, securing public locations and working with the police and fire departments when necessary, and was therefore included (as were the mayor and city manager) in the credits of the movie, under “Special Thanks.”

By now, my Intermediate Film Production class was in full swing.  The professor, once again, was the same guy who directed this Skin-emax-style low budget softcore. The day before its big premiere, he pulled me aside during class and explained to me that the movie I would be watching was rated R. The conversation went something like this.

Prof: So, you’re coming to the screening tomorrow night?

Darci: Yes. I’m excited!

Prof: You know the movie is R-rated, right?

Darci: I do now.

Prof: And you’re still going to come to the screening?

Darci (confused): Yes? I mean…why wouldn’t I?

Prof: No reason, no reason. I just mean… I just wanted to make sure you knew… Your mother is coming to the screening?

Darci: Yes.

Prof: Does she know that there’s material… that it contains some… adult… that it’s—

Darci: My mom has seen an R-rated movie before.

Prof: Yes, but it… there’s nudity and…

Darci: Yep. She’s seen that, too. We’re good.

Prof: Okay. Okay! Sure. So we’ll see you tomorrow night, good.

 

I found it bizarrely funny that my professor was trying to protect my mother and me from being exposed to a few naked boobs and makeout sessions. (He certainly had no problem exposing us to overacting.) When my mom and I arrived, he repeated his warning to her, which she found equally puzzling.

Despite these warnings, we were not at all prepared for just how R-rated the movie was. It was porn. Softcore? Sure. But porn.  I’m sure there was a story, but plot was not a central concern. It was six minutes of action followed by fifteen minutes of “action.” The sex scenes were long and drawn out and uncomfortably shot. (You really learn to appreciate the editing in your average porn after being forced to stare at a couple going at it from the same angle for minutes at a time.) Plus the couples were in the room with us–it’s weird to watch the people sitting next to you getting naked in front of you. And lots of them were in classes with me. How do you make small talk in a study group with a guy you watched bang a stripper in front of your mom?

Answer:  You don’t. You give him the nickname “Naked” + his first name, forever, and you try to remember not to call him that to his face.

“Some guy named Dave’s on the phone for you.”

Naked Dave?”

By the third sex scene, we heard an audible plea from the audience–a whispered, “Please don’t have sex again…” I found out later that it came from me.

I wasn’t alone. Before the fourth sex scene could begin, a couple of people ducked out of the room to get a drink, or use the toilet, anything to avoid the uncomfortable prospect of watching one’s teacher get a blow job on camera. It was awful, blatantly so, but eventually the awfulness became funny. My mom and I found ourselves sitting in silent agony for the remainder of the screening, working hard to restrain ourselves from laughing.

It was the first thing we did once we got back to the car. The second thing we did was agree not to tell my dad (or the mayor) about our involvement in a softcore porn. I don’t know if the mayor ever found out, but my dad was informed immediately. My mom couldn’t help herself, and blurted out, “Your daughter’s in a porno!” within minutes of returning home. He was less than thrilled.

In the days that followed, we all forgot about the movie, more or less—it’s not like it made a splash at Cannes or anything. No Oscar nods for anyone–I don’t even think it was nominated for a Kiefy (the annual ceremony of the Kiefer Sutherland School of Acting). I guess the collective star power of a Penthouse Pet, Charlie Sheen’s uncle, and Robert Mitchum’s son isn’t as much of a draw as some might have guessed.

Or maybe it was the shorteralls?

A couple years later, someone called in a favor and B-movie expert Joe Bob Briggs reviewed it for the Dallas paper, mentioning that it was shot in our town. Someone brought the article to my mom’s attention, asking, “Hey, did you know Denton made a porno?”

To which my mom responded, “Oh, yeah! My daughter’s in that movie!”

 

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Founder and editor of online magazine Kittenpants, producer for stage and screen, former writer for the Comedy Central Insider, quoted in both Maxim and Jane: DARCI RATLIFF can do it all, and does do it all (on or before the third date). Buy her book, If I Did It at kittenpants.com.

16 responses to “That Porno I Made (and Watched with My Mom)”

  1. Chris Weber says:

    Oooohh, I didn’t realize there was a Special Edition!!

  2. Karl says:

    You were in a movie with Joe Estevez?!

  3. Brian C says:

    Pics or it didn’t happen 🙂

  4. […] mother who works as an escort tells her story at OffBeatMama.com, while a writer at TheNervousBreakdown.com writes about showing her mother porn she […]

  5. Alanna says:

    How many people can say this, honestly? I never got any fun jobs being a PA- but I also got to act as coat rack!

  6. Cody says:

    Ah, the wonders of Denton porn…

  7. angela says:

    I spent way too long on IMDB trying to figure out what the movie was, and there it is at the end.

    Really funny and entertaining read.

  8. Hilarious! My guess is that 90 percent of the stripper/wet shirt (Helen Hunt in Castaway, Scar-Jo in Match Point, etc.) sex scenes in any movie were shot simply because the director was horny.

  9. Charlie Smith says:

    Oh, Gawd! This takes me back…

  10. Heather says:

    Hahaha! I remember you telling me about doing a movie, but never knew it was porn. Did you put that on your list of accomplishments when job hunting from my sofa? I wonder if anyone you interviewed with it?

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