Video Slut

How I Shoved Madonna Off an Olympic High Dive, Got Prince into a Pair of Tiny Purple Woolen Underpants, Ran Away from Michael Jackson's Dad, and Got a Waterfall to Flow Backward So I Could Bring Rock Videos to the Masses

Sharon Oreck

Faber and Faber, Inc.

Sun Comes Up

It’s December 12, 1988, and I’m just finishing up lunch with an egregiously hairy, three-hundred-and-forty-pound Geffen Record Company executive who’s swaddled in an immaculate knee-length white silk Indian kurta that turns out to be a precise color match for the pearl-handled revolver that he whips out of his size ninety-nine dhoti pantaloons while we’re waiting for the parking valet to roll up with his Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud.

“Et voilà!” Rod Stovington snorts through his two-inch plank of Santa-Christ facial hair, which is currently flecked with spit, tomato skin, and tiny bits of lacto-vegetarian nut loaf. “I always carry a .357 Magnum, just in case Axl Rose stops taking his lithium and tries to, like, fuckin’ impale me with a machete again.”

Since he has immediate access to a loaded handgun and has recently awarded me two rock video contracts worth a quarter of a million dollars, I elect not to mention that Rod looks like a deranged three-thousand-year-old Norse deity after a six-week crack binge before I jump into my battered, bird shit–encrusted forest-and-black Saab convertible and wave bye-bye. Then I roll approximately 2,050 feet to the threshold of O Pictures, my hip, happening, totally eighties rock video and commercial production boutique, conveniently located at the ugliest, most architecturally incoherent end of East Melrose Avenue, between Paramount motion picture studios and the Hollywood Theatrical Car Painting Center.

“I’m lucky I was too terrified to eat my truffled risotto at lunch today, because now I’m still thin enough (if I only drink watermelon juice for the next three days) to wear that size-four, lime green, fancy French mermaid dress that I just bought to wear to Madonna’s surprise party this weekend for famous movie star Warren Beatty at her recently redecorated, super-sophisticated, white-on-white Bel Air pied à terre!” I muse to myself. “I’m also super lucky that I bought my $800 outfit with a postdated company check because it’ll bounce like a lowrider on Saturday night if anyone tries to cash it before next February!”

Although I own a (purportedly) successful, top-tier, totally professional rock video and commercial company that takes in (a rumored) $20 million a year, I am actually poised at the gaping abyss of bankruptcy and shame, due to questionable insurance claims, catastrophic production overages, and the kind of insanely outsize workers’ compensation suits that are always being filed by the kind of overly litigious methamphetamine addicts who we always hire to be rock video extras because they’re the only kind of people who’ll take $50 for a seventeen-hour workday.

Since I’m a (ridiculously) optimistic kind of person, I joyously ram my nonluxury vehicle into my undersized parking space and strut with (false) pride and (faked) confidence toward my (utterly bitchin’) silk-screened double doors just as they fling open to disgorge a large, scary clutch of disgruntled twenty-five-year-old women who all happen to be sporting suspiciously similar faux-platinum hair bobs and chocolate-brown Sophia Loren fuck-me slips.

“Well hello, adorable and athletic fake-Madonna stunt double applicants!” I recognize them immediately. “Thanks so much for what I’m sure were your amazing auditions, which I unfortunately missed, due to an important preexisting appointment with a renowned recording industry sociopath! I hope your experience at my company was pleasurable all the same!”

The stunt doubles glare at me with an unsettling degree of aggression before they stomp off into the smog, like bleached-blonde lady Spartans exiting a successful peace conference.

“Not. Fucking. Amazing.” Their spokesperson barks at me while attempting to trap my head in the door. Although stunt doubles are psychologically sensitive, like actors, they’re physically insensitive, like athletes, with a strong desire to slam you into a wall and fuck you exactly where you never wanted to be fucked just because your company declined to hire them.

I run away, fast, up the new fake-marble stairwell that leads into the old brick-and-stucco photographer’s studio that used to look like a decaying New York slum right before we borrowed fifty thousand bucks to make it look like a peeling Caribbean tenement instead. The complex, love/hate affair with money and privilege that defines the late 1980s has led my company to a bold, pseudopoverty design statement that unequivocally declares that we’re living in a shit-hole because we can afford to live in a shit-hole and not because we have to live in a shit-hole.

“Jeepers!” I scream with joy as I hit the second floor landing and unexpectedly encounter a teeming mass of tall, well-built young black men, suggestively garbed in the scanty, tattered robes of ancient Christian martyrs. I guess there is a God after all, and it’s not the one my fathers shed their foreskins for.

Then I remember that today is casting day for the “Like a Prayer” video and that what appear to be hunky holy men are actually handsome Hollywood hopefuls who are preparing to vie for the role of Super-Studly African American Iconographic Saint ’n’ Super-Vixen who will get to simulate sex with Madonna on a down-at-the-heels church altar in order to end national racism, encourage world peace, and promote the ultimate salvation of the universe until the end of time.

“Welcome to O Pictures, handsome gentlemen!” I greet the dude-a-ciples. Hey, maybe this will turn out to be a nice day after all!

“Hi, lady producer!” They greet me back, patting me fondly as I make my way toward my office. “Love your place! What a great set up! Nice digs!”

“Oh gosh, thank you,” I reply. “You are so, so sweet!”

While I am utterly convinced that anyone who hates O Pictures is a lying, scabby child molester, I always believe it when anyone says they love O Pictures, even if they’re obviously just trying to butter me up so they can get hired to have rock-video sex for money with a molten-hot pop-music superstar.

“I want O Pictures to offer a colorful, larger-than-life, joy-filled artistic refuge, with a street-ish, fun-factory kind of gestalt,” I remember telling my savvy team of (purportedly) homosexual decorators without the slightest edge of irony, which might help to explain the green-and-gold fake-marble reception area that prominently features a gilded three-thousand-pound fax machine, a giant, gold-embossed prop clock from an old Boz Scaggs video, and my steadfast and good-looking male receptionist, Fred Rick, who really is practically perfect if you don’t count the constant bids for attention, the steroid abuse leading to occasional temper tantrums and the grotesque temporary speech impediment due to improperly sterilized tongue-piercing equipment.

“Og Biditchas!” (O Pictures). Fred is answering the phone while madly blowing me kisses. “Ow cran I whelp du?”

I wave to Fred gaily, because he is so, well, gay, and continue striding into the yellow-and-blue fake-marble bullpen, a huge, loft like space where all the full-time workers and all the freelance workers and all those adorable, absolutely-for-free film interns perform the valuable preproduction labor that’s necessary to create a successful rock video. Yes, this is where the magic happens, and it’s currently happening at full freak-out capacity, on account of a Madonna video, a Metallica video, a Tracy Chapman video, and a commercial for a smelly, disgusting German zit soap.

“Hey boss!”

“Looking good!”

“Awesome outfit!”

“Did you cut your hair?”

“Did you get a facial?”

“Love your boots!”

My company is always packed with fluff y dogs and unwashed children and groovily attired, perfectly coiffed hipster chicks who are always telling me how cool I am and how great I look. Also uniformly present is a scattered handful of sycophantic, sexually ambiguous young gentlemen who sit at long, Formica-covered tabletops, making phone calls, working on gigantic Macintosh computers, and furiously jotting away on yellow legal pads. Because, in many ways, O Pictures is exactly like Paradise Island, the mythical Amazonian home of Wonder Woman and her foxy superheroine sisters, who all live in a bucolic feminist utopia with their obedient man-slaves in perfect harmony—except that O Pictures isn’t an island, some of the men are women, and the slaves don’t do anything I tell them.

“Guttenfuckenzee! You’ve got to be joking me out!”

The glamorous blonde lesbian with the cool haircut who is screaming inexplicable phrases in an unidentifiable accent is the (real) executive producer of O Pictures, Hildy Inigborgasson. It’s her job to monitor all of our productions, mentor all the line producers, make sure that nobody goes overbudget, and tell all my directors how smart and cute they are, especially when they’re stupid and ugly.

Just kidding. As the owner and (not real) executive producer of O Pictures, it’s my job to remind the directors that they’re intelligent and successful, especially when they wet their pants like big, fat babies because their lives are so hard and they have to work thirty days a year so they can afford a top-of-the-line shiny new convertible so they can finally get with some real models, and not just those stupid video extras again.

Once again, I am obviously just kidding. Everyone knows that rock video directors always try to fuck the extras, because they hardly ever press charges.

Meanwhile, next to Hildy is Diana, a striking, twenty-five-year-old woman who’s securing the Fort MacArthur Air Force Base as a location for the Madonna “Like a Prayer” video.

“I will not tolerate this reeking bullshit for one second longer, do you hear me?” Diana is saying.

My heart sings! Diana has been here for only eight weeks and she has already evolved into exactly the kind of competent, hard-driving hottie bitch that O Pictures is famous for. At our company, brutal management is to great production what wire foundation is to surgically unaltered bosoms.

Next to Diana is Veronica, who’s dressed to kill in a secondhand early-sixties, navy blue Dior suit jacket with pearls.

“Excuse me,” Veronica is saying, “but we need to have a remote, soundproof setting where we can turn the volume way, way up, because the band is so completely deaf that they couldn’t hear a Concorde jet if it was landing between their legs.”

Veronica, who’s the most fashionable, good-looking, naturally skinny person I’ve ever met, is attempting to find an appropriate location for “One,” the very first music video from the platinum-selling thrash band Metallica, which my brand-new husband, Bill Pope, is going to direct. My good pal Robin Sloane, who’s in charge of creative affairs at Elektra Records, says that Metallica is different from other super-successful thrash bands because they’re “brilliant iconoclasts who’re way too cool to make a video,” but Rod, the psycho Geffen A&R Dude with the gun that I just had lunch with, claims that they’re more like “homicidal, alcoholic shit-birds who’ve been too drunk every minute of the day and night since the late seventies to get anything done.” To be fair, Robin is a genius and the Geffen Executive has been in a druginduced stupor since 1969 and doesn’t actually work with Metallica. Still, the relationship of the band to alcoholic beverages is so mythical that Veronica has written on the budget in huge letters: “FINAL BUDGET DOES NOT INCLUDE BEER.”

Next to Veronica is Hunter, Hildy’s heartachingly young assistant, who has buttermilk skin and bright blue eyes and a mindboggling physique that make certain bosses wonder if certain lesbian executives would ever hire a beautiful person just for her buttocks. On the other hand, as the daughter of a famous rock star and his famous model wife, Hunter has an unusual pedigree for meeting unreasonable demands of overentitled celebrity brats.

“. . . I hear what you’re saying about ‘the President’ and ‘forever,’ but I need a system that’s guaranteed to keep at least two dozen crosses burning for a week!” Hunter is shouting at the chief caretaker of the JFK Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery. “I mean this is a major, major Madonna video!”

Kennedy, Schmennedy. We’ve recently experienced some ugly glitches with an underground gas line that might have been illegally dug on an American military base for the “Like a Prayer” video and it’s Hunter’s job to keep the fires burning, literally. Slated for production early next month with my rock video best-director-friend-forever, Mary Lambert, at the helm, “Like a Prayer” is the biggest, most badass video production of my whole life. On the other hand, it’s also the biggest, most bad ass nightmare of my whole life. The script is endless, the budget is a ballbreaker, and I get twenty threatening phone calls per day from Eddie Grimstein, the head of Creative Affairs at Warner Records, who has been personally determined to crush my soul, spirit, and spinal column ever since Madonna told him in front of me to “shut up, fuck off, and get out the room so the girls can get some real work done.”

Here’s a free career tip: when a rich and extremely powerful female sex goddess symbolically crushes the (metaphorical) testicles of an extremely powerful man who can in any way affect your future, it is very important that you do not in any way acknowledge, approve, or applaud that action until he is out of the room, way down the hall, and, hopefully, driving home on the Santa Monica Freeway.

Moving on to the next desk, we find Joy and Lauren, who are putting together a reshoot for Matt Mahurin’s latest John Fogerty clip after an official MTV video rejection caused by a semierect penis that was wrapped in five layers of plaster, mud, and medical gauze.

I can still remember Jeff Ayeroff, former vice president of Warner Records, yelling at me over a satellite phone that—because of early-eighties technology—was still the size of a Montana moose, just because I called him from the set and mentioned something about “a very grainy, out-of-focus shot of a very talented modern dancer.”

“What’s this talented dancer doing that needs to be out of focus?” Jeff asked, instantly suspicious. Although Jeff was always supportive of my artistic license, he was annoyingly prescient about my outright bullshit.

“Uh, he’s, like, not, er, wearing any, what do you call them—pants?” I put forth tentatively.

“Sharon—” Jeff barked tenderly, “if I see a dick in this video, you’re fired.”

“I’ll take care of it!” Matt assured me, instructing our male dancer to disguise his male member by wrapping it in a roll of ace bandages that we had borrowed from the assistant director’s first-aid kit. After surveying the dick carefully, Matt applied the final artistic touches by encouraging its owner to roll it around in a little water, clay, and ground cover.

“Eureka!” Matt pointed with pride, as if a penis becomes less noticeable when it’s five inches fatter and covered in twigs.

“Jesus. Now it looks like a big loaf of dirty French bread,” I said bitterly. Apparently the MTV authorities, who referred to it later in their paperwork as a “cock-baguette,” shared this impression. Luckily, Jeff changed record companies in mid-video, so he didn’t have to fire me.

Okay, now over in the corner, all by herself, is a tall, ungainly young woman with a bad haircut, a strangely intense gaze, and Band-Aids plastered all over her arms and legs. That’s Augustina, Mary Lambert’s weird scary stalker-assistant.

“So you’re saying that there isn’t one single, solitary unmolted peacock in the whole entire world?” Augustina is yelling at the top of her very loud larynx. “What about Zanzibar? What about the Peoples’ Republic of China? What about . . .”

Three weeks before, Augustina had told all the video staffers that she was in the final stages of Leukemia, but then two weeks later she told the commercial producers that she had AIDS, and then yesterday she told me that she had to have blood drawn from thirty separate spots on her body because she has site-specific hemophilia. Since Google has not yet been invented, I have no way of proving that Augustina is seriously mental, and Mary Lambert keeps insisting that she’s just seriously committed to her job. Guess who’s right? The last time I had sensed that an O Pictures employee was too crazy to work here, he got pulled over two weeks later with a hundred stolen credit cards and the torso of his recently vanished landlady in the trunk of his car. I did not furnish him with the character reference he applied for six months later from his cozy (permanent) cell at San Quentin State Prison.

As I approach the rear of the bullpen where the rock video executives are working today—their office having been co-opted for “Like a Prayer” boy-toy casting—I begin to tiptoe, hoping to catch at least one of them sneaking in a Tetris game on their new, company-bought, super-expensive hi-tech Macintosh computers, which look like adorable, old-fashioned television sets mounted inside hideous vomit-colored condo mailboxes.

“Well, okay, I did sleep with him, but I only slept with him. I didn’t have sex with him.” Taylor (Video Chick Number One) is saying to Rhea (Video Chick Number Two) as I sidle up. Taylor’s job responsibilities include canvassing the music industry, schmoozing the directors, entertaining record company executives, getting us a lot of great jobs, and keeping our directors from dumping us for other companies that will schmooze them better. Her other skills include being hellaciously hot, wearing fabulous outfits, playing Tetris, and having complicated sexual encounters with inappropriate partners.

“Yeah you did,” replies Rhea blandly, barely looking up from her computer. Although Rhea is Video Chick Number Two, she is slightly more interested in rock videos than rock musicians, which may explain why she will soon become Video Chick Number One, when Taylor runs off with a hairy Rolling Stones clone who has three wives and a husband.

“Well, okay, but I didn’t have, like, intercourse sex,” says Taylor, also barely looking up from her computer.

“Yeah you did,” says Rhea, continuing not to look up.

“Yeah, okay, but it wasn’t, like, in the honey wagon bathroom on the set. I mean, I know you think I’m disgusting, but you’re way more disgusting, because you like Mötley Crüe and they have butt sex with sheep.”

“Omigod! They’re animal activists! There’s no way they have sex with sheep,” says Rhea, still not looking up from her computer, “in the butt . . .”

“Please!” continues Taylor. “They’re the world’s biggest douches! Nikki Sixx has overdosed on heroin and been clinically dead six times.”

“Seven!” interrupts Veronica excitedly from across the room.

“. . . and his swimming pool is in the shape of a vagina and I heard Vince Neil killed a stripper,” continues Taylor patiently.

“. . . and one of them ran over a box of kittens!” interjects Diana from her desk.

Excerpted from Video Slut by Sharon Oreck.
Copyright © 2010 by Sharon Oreck.
Published in 2010 by D&M Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.