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interview: rob black

What's good about being in this business, for you as a person?

As a person? I like the challenge that comes with creating an entertainment conglomerate, because I don't see us just as an adult company. We do other things associated with the entertainment business. I like the challenge of doing something that people on the outside see as taboo. I enjoy the challenge of just making the thing as a whole work, and grow, and thrive, and go. My partner, Tom -- he always says I'm a drama junkie. I thrive on the drama. And at times, I do. Aside from the money, I enjoy that ... and just that eternal quest to keep going and make it bigger than it is.

What's the trajectory you're on?

... I'd say the trajectory we'd like to be is more like a Ted Turner or a Disney or something like that, where this is one branch that we do, and we do other wings. We own a wrestling company -- XPW. We venture in different things. We're starting a line of R-rated movies, like "Friday the 13th"-type of movies. Ultimately, hopefully one day we'll own a football team. There's the ultimate goal. But that is ultimately the company as a whole, an entertainment monster in the business.

How does porn get you there?

First, it provides the money for us to venture into other things. And I think the porn aspect opened a lot of doors ... if you just strip it down for what it is, meaning entertainment. So you deal with a lot of the same people that a straight-to-video release would deal with, whether it's the mom-pop video stores or the chain stores. We basically deal with everybody except Blockbuster.

So you're in that niche, and you're still going in that direction.

Yes, we're going to the right a little, but it all eventually leads to the one point, which is the video stores and the consumers. So it provides us that avenue. Plus, I think it's a crossover. Everybody's always interested in the adult aspect, whether it's from the tame of Playboy to the hardcore of penetration and stuff like that. It's a billion-dollar-a-year business. So there's more than dirty old men in raincoats watching this stuff. It is a huge business. And that is another way that it enables us to kind of branch out and go in different directions.

"Rob Black"is the name Robert Zicari uses in the pornography business. Together with his wife Janet Romano (known as "Lizzy Borden" in the business), Zicari owns Extreme Associates, which produces low-budget sex videos that are considered extreme in their depictions of sex and violence. Zicari says his company tries to produce two films a week. Here, he talks about his vision for his company's future and how his movies differ from mainstream adult films. He also criticizes the mainstream industry's adoption of the so-called "Cambria List" (created by Paul Cambria, an attorney for the porn industry), which specified various sex acts that should not be depicted if porn producers want to stay out of trouble with the U.S. Department of Justice. This interview was conducted in May 2001. As of February 2004, Zicari and Romano are awaiting trial on federal obscenity charges.

How big a business is porn?

It's big. I don't know the exact figures, but when they say the billions and the billions, it's definitely up there. But it's not centralized on one company or even a handful. It trickles down from the companies that make it to the distributors who distribute it, to the consumers who buy it, to the DirecTV and the pay-per-views that offer it on your satellite dishes and on your Time-Warner cable, and stuff like that.

So you've got to follow that trail. As a whole, you're looking at billions and billions and billions of dollars. It reaches out from AT&T having their hand now in a branch of it, as far as DirecTV and stuff like that. It's enormous.

When I look the business now, I see a kind of iceberg or a triangle shape. Right? And at the top, I can see Vivid, Wicked, VCA, Flynt Enterprises. ... These are guys -- generally guys -- who have companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars and who are kind of very comfortably sitting there, talking about themselves as "mainstream pornography." Do you see the same thing?

We've got tons of stuff they technically could arrest us for. And when this happened, I put on our website, 'I welcome the LAPD to come on down.'

Well, what they're trying to do is trying to fool the public -- they fool themselves, more importantly -- into what they do. The one essence and the one beauty about us is that we've never hid from what we do. We make pornographic movies. I wouldn't even call Flynt in that list, because Flynt is by himself -- Flynt went through the dramas of the years of fighting for adult entertainment. He doesn't even belong in the VCA and the Vivid list, and the Wickeds. They're pretenders. They want to project this image that it's not pornographic. They like to say, "Well, it's couples friendly." They hide. ... "Do you make porno?" "Well no, I don't make porno. I don't make porno like Extreme does." But if you strip everything down, it's the exact same thing. It's two people -- two adults, having consensual sex, in front of the camera, and you sell it to the public. So they definitely are mainstream.

And when you take the Pat Robertsons and the Ashcrofts, they don't sit back and go "All right. That Vivid porno, that's good porno. The Extreme porno, that's bad. We have to get rid of them. We'll keep the Vivid." They want to get rid of everybody. The Christian right, the fundamentalists, they don't like pornography. It doesn't matter if their movie is a married couple having sex in the bed, and they're loving each other, or it's our kind where it's like some pimp having sex with some street hooker in an alley for crack or something.

They don't look at it that way. They look at it as sex, filming it, and distributing it to the masses. That's all they look at. And, if anything, they go after them first, because they're the ones with the big pocketbook, and they're the ones that are going on Wall Street and stuff, saying, "We're not pornography. Oh, we're nice people."

So along comes a new president. ... Do you have a sense that they're coming toward Los Angeles, the epicenter of all of this? Do you have a sense that things are changing?

In the sense of, do we feel it? Yes. Do we feel like back in the 1980s, the Meese Commission, that whole hysteria? Yes, we can feel it. But now I guess I could say, "Put up or shut up." Is the public going to stand for it? Are the other people in government ... going to stand for wasting millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars in time and effort going at pornography? The attitude's different than it was in the 1980s. You know, 1983, it was Reagan, it was the conservatism. ... Here we are, 2001. It's not that great anymore, you know? It's not cool to protest art exhibits. ...

Exactly. So they sit there and they come up with [the so-called "Cambria list"]. They're obviously afraid enough of whatever might happen out there. ... What's on the list?

The funny thing on the list: "No homosexual acts. No black guys with white girls. No she-males, transsexuals. No facial cum shots. No two guys on a girl. No putting the fingers in the girl's vagina, and opening it up. No sharing of a dildo; girls can't share a dildo." And these are the things that are on the list. There's others on there, I just can't remember them all. But these are the things that are on this list.

If you eliminated that, you would basically eliminate adult entertainment as we know it, or you would have incredibly boring pornography like Vivid's and Wicked's and VCA's. Remember, they do different things than us, in the sense that they do cable market. They attack the cable market. They have sell-through product, where they sell their tapes for $2.00 and $3.00 to all the stores. We don't do that. We don't cater to the cable market; we don't have a catalog.

... What was the vision for Extreme? How were you different than Wicked, Vivid, or VCA? And were you intentionally different when you started?

Yes, definitely. When I started Extreme back in 1995, I actually conceived it in Rochester, New York. I worked for my dad. My dad owns an adult bookstore. ... I conceived it in 1995, and I said, "We are going to be Extreme. I'm going to create this company. I'm going to create this character, Rob Black, who's going to be like, this demonic-like figure, this boisterous, obnoxious person. And I'm going to direct movies that are just out there."

And I sat back and I said, "Well, you never see movies that are edgy. You never see movies that are just entertaining. It's either just an all-sex movie or it's a plot about the pizza guy who delivers a pizza, and the girl doesn't have money, so she has sex with him for the pizza. I sat there and I said, "Let's get a representation of life, the grittier edge. ... "

... What's the nastiest [stuff] you guys do?

The nastiest? Probably ... we do a series called "Cocktails" -- it's pretty repugnant. Girls have sex by a couple guys, and the guys and the girl, they have sex with her, and she's giving fellatio and she's hacking up boogies in a bowl. And they're spitting in the bowl. And then she'll think she's vomiting in the bowl, and at the end they come in the bowl. And then she drinks it all down. That's pretty repugnant. (Laughs) Sometimes we do a fellatio line, where the girl's giving fellatio, and she's gagging so much she vomits. ... It's repugnant. It is.

But it's no different than if you go into a video store and buy a "Banned from TV, Caught on Video." And they've got like five volumes, and all it is is news footage of these horrific accidents with people getting hit by trains (laughs), and a guy with a stand-off with hostages, and the cops blow his brains out, and his blood. ... It's the same thing. You could go into Tower Records or Best Buy and buy a video where people are dying on camera. ...

The people who wrote the Constitution of the United States of America ... wrote an amendment called the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, of which I'm sure you're familiar. Do you think when they wrote that thing they were thinking about girls post-fellatio, throwing up on cameras? ...

No. I don't know. I don't think it was thought of back then. But our forefathers also didn't intend that "We will bear arms" meant we can have AK-47s and shotguns, and we can have every firearm known to man. I don't think they had that in mind, also. It's a different time. You're talking 200 years ago.

... And my favorite thing is, the Republicans are always so after pornography. But God forbid you talk about their guns. There's never been a child who's went to school, took out a porno tape, and beat the crap out of somebody and killed them. But they go and take guns to school. And the Republicans make sure that there's no waiting list on gun shows. "Oh, you can't have a waiting list. We're business." (Laughs.) OK. There's not even a two-day waiting period to go buy a gun at a gun show. That's all right. But pornography, abortion -- God forbid those things.

Who's watching your videos, Rob? Who do you think of when you make a film?

I think it's a mix. We don't get the huge couples market. I think we get the single male, or I think we get the 18-to-35-year-old guys. It varies. We do get the couples who get off on that type of fantasy. They get off on that edginess. But we're not getting a huge percentage of couples looking for couples sex.

My mom's a nurse in Florida. And she'll call me up, and be like, "Can you send some movies? This doctor likes some movies." Because they find out what I do, or they see me on TV or because I've done other type of things. "Can we send you a movie? What do you want me to send? Want me to send them super-crazy? Want me to send them nice?" She'll be like, "Well, don't send me, like, "Shades of Hades" or "Days of Horror." I don't want eight guys raping a girl in a vat of blood." So, it varies. But then sometimes, she'll say, "Give me a couple of crazy things. Dr. So-and-So wants to see something crazy." ...

So we don't really know who's out there watching?

No. I don't think you do know. It varies. But you know it's not kids. That's what we do know. My product is not available for children. My product isn't available in Tower. Tower Records has an adult section; Warehouse has an adult section. They won't even carry our stuff, because you've got to be part of the VCA group. The guy who buys for the Towers and the Warehouses -- they're with VCA. So you have to be friends with VCA to put them in there. My stuff is in adult bookstores, and a 14-year-old kid can't walk into a seedy adult bookstore in Hollywood and buy one of our tapes. So we know it's not that. So everybody else, I guess, is fair game.

Legend got nailed recently, as we all know, by LAPD Vice. ... What was the videotape about?

They did a bukkake -- it's a Japanese sex term, where it's just like 50 guys masturbating on a girl's face. So her face is just covered. It was that, and it was like this liquid gold thing, where girls were squatting in bushes, urinating. That's what they came and arrested them for. Like I said, I've watched mainstream movies that are more offensive than those two. I've seen books that are more offensive. I've turned on my television and seen the footage from Klan rallies and stuff that is more offensive than that.

Could they have arrested you for that tape? Do you have that tape?

Yes. We've got tons of stuff they technically could arrest us for. And when this happened, I put on our website -- I made a big speech: "I welcome the LAPD to come on down." I said, "Come and get me," I said, "Because we won't go down without a fight. We will fight this. Regardless of the cost, we will fight it. We will take it to the airwaves."

I ran for mayor a couple months back, and I was on a lot of radio stations in L.A. And they were intrigued by the adult aspect. I said on the Web, "I will go on every radio station that had me on before, and read the report of what they're going. ... I will basically document this case." ... And that aspect is what Larry did.

And back then, it eventually worked, and he went, "You're right." But that was ages ago. We're talking about year 2001. I just can't see them coming after us, wasting millions of dollars -- taxpayer money -- to come for a videotape. That's ridiculous.

Are there things you would do to encourage them to come? Are there limits you would push to make them come? ... You're not going to back off because of Cambria's list?

No.

Why?

Because I don't think a black man having sex with a white woman -- videotaping that and selling it -- I don't think that that's grounds to go to prison, and be arrested. I will fight that right of artistic freedom to do something like that. There's only two things that we don't do, that I feel completely ... is children and animals. That's it. Other than that, it's a movie.

But if I want to do a scene where a guy walks into a room and has sex with a woman, and then shoots her in the head and steals her money, why not? If you take the sex out, there's millions of movies made a year of guys shooting girls, girls shooting guys. ...

Do you have trouble getting the girls to do this?

No. Because it's a movie. It's all fake. Everything's fake. When you watch it happening, it's fake. When the guy's choking the girl, he's got his arm on her like this, and he's like "Arghhh!" "Okay, cut!" It's just fake. It's no different than anything.

I've done scenes where girls rape guys. They clamp on strap-ons, and they rape the guy. I had two girls represented as prison guards who raped a guy in prison. We do. And when I say "rape," I mean we do scenes here and there. But when I bring that up as an example, I think that's like the most extreme form of what we do.

Another thing that is very taboo in our business that we started years ago was depicting drug use. That's very taboo. People don't do that. And I was like, "Well, why? Why can't you do a scene like in 'Scarface?'" The guy's face is in just kilos of coke, and he goes nuts and -- "You can't do that." "Well, why? What do you mean, 'You can't do it?'" "Well, you just can't." But nobody can ever tell me why you can't do it. So we just did it. That's what we do. And that's the other thing that we've been known for. We're known for all this taboo stuff that everyone's said you can't do, and we do it. And we sell it. ... People are bored with the other stuff.

So the thing about Legend pleading out on misdemeanor ...

Well, the whole string of events that the cops want is, they want Legend to plead ... "It's only a misdemeanor. Just plead out." They plead out. They're instantly guilty. They've got a charge. They're convicted. So now what that does is it opens the doors to the Justice Department to come in and make it a federal case, because it's already got one conviction. And now you can go at them on different avenues. You could go and have a cop in Arizona buy the tape and it crosses state lines, and now you've got interstate transportation and then RICO. So that's ultimately what they want.

But all it takes is one of us to fight it and win. It's over. It's done, because you set a precedent. If you're in L.A. County and you get found innocent of obscenity charges on taping girls peeing and rape scenes and stuff, what are they going to come at you with now? It's like, we already beat you once. And that's ultimately what Flynt did with everything. It was like they won, and it was like, all right, nobody ever came at anybody again. And the last time they came at us was years and years and years ago.

And you'd like to be that test case?

You know what? I don't want to be the test case. I'm not out there saying I want to be the test case. But I will be the test case. I would welcome that. I would welcome the publicity. I would welcome everything, to make a point in, I guess, our society. And people say, "Well, why should people care about pornography?" It's not a matter of caring about pornography. It's a matter of, do we have more pressing issues in our society that the government and your local government need to be addressing besides pornography?

Because we could go and document how much it costs, and then say to you, "Hey! You live in a school district where they've got to bus your kid an hour away. Why don't you take the money -- the $5 million they're using to try and come after me -- why don't you take it and use it to solve the public schooling problem?"

I don't want people to sit back and go "That's disgusting, they should go to jail." I just want them to sit there and go, "Listen, it doesn't bother me. It's like, who cares? They do their thing. But please, don't waste our money on this cause."

Worry about rolling blackouts. Worry about the riots. ...

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