Porn superstar Michael Lucas is excited about the 10th anniversary of his company, but he's just too tired to show it. Embroiled in yet another controversy, the 35-year-old president and CEO of Lucas Entertainment admits that he is "drained" by this latest ordeal, but he's always ready to talk about himself and the New York-based business he founded in 1998.
"I wanted to get to the top," says the Russia-born entrepreneur, who decided to go the porn route when he figured he had a better shot at succeeding there than in the world of legit showbiz. "I was 23 when I looked reality in the face and was very real about my chances. You see, I don't like to fail."
And Lucas and his company have done everything but fail in the past decade. Starting in his one-bedroom Greenwich Village apartment, Lucas produced his first movie, Back in the Saddle, in 1998, using his own money. "I wanted to be my own boss," says the model-turned-director, who rose to fame in films for French auteur Jean-Daniel Cadinot and Falcon Studios. "I saved up my money and used it for that first movie. It was a slow start for the company. We would use the money from the previous movie to finance the next."
Although Lucas says he watched and learned from the pros he worked with when he first entered the business, directing was not the hardest part of his job. "It is not difficult to direct porn," he says. "It was much harder learning how to be a good businessman. I had had my own business back in Russia, so luckily I knew what I was doing. As the sole owner, it was up to me to make all the decisions."
In 2001, he decided to move the business to an office in Chelsea because it had outgrown his apartment. "At first, it was just me," Lucas recalls. "I did everything - from A to Z. Then I got an assistant, then another." In 2005, the company took a second space on another floor, which it used as a studio to shoot scenes and photo layouts. The following year, Lucas Entertainment, now with a staff of 12, moved to its current 5,000-square-foot home in New York's Times Square. All aspects of the company are housed on one floor, which has offices, a studio, a warehouse area and an editing bay.
As his porn output became more prolific (by 2003, the studio was producing two movies a month), Lucas wasn't happy with the way it was being distributed, so Lucas Distribution was born in 2004. "No one will handle your product better than you can," Lucas says. "I had had problems with distributors in the past, so I knew what I was getting into."
After figuring out how to successfully sell his own movies, Lucas took on the distribution of other companies, including Lucas Kazan, Matt Sterling and Dragon Media. Today, the company has scaled down that side of the business and refocused on its own product, along with movies from Fierce Dog and El Dorado. "Distribution is a risky business now," says Lucas, citing the rise of pay-per-view and Internet sales.
Lucas's Web site, LucasEntertainment.com, has kept the company well-represented in that area. He attributes about half of its sales to online business and says that his site also has a large number of paying subscribers. Lucas's blog (which he calls his "personal toy") is a popular feature and gives him a chance to air his views on politics, movies and current events, and to communicate with his audience. "This is how I know what the fans want," he says. "They write to me and let me know what they want to see more of in the movies." The company also sells video-on-demand scenes and movies through MaleFlixxx.
In 2004, with so much of his time devoted to the business side, Lucas hired creative director Tony Dimarco, who took the company in a new direction with productions such as Manhattan Heat and Lost. "It was just a matter of learning Michael's style and tastes," say Dimarco, who had previously worked as a graphic designer and cameraman, "and then taking it to the next level with higher-quality, better-made films."
In 2005, Michael Lucas' Dangerous Liaisons created a stir with its lavish sets, celebrity cameos and big budget. The following year, Michael Lucas' La Dolce Vita upped the ante with its glamorous fashion show sequence, and eventually won a record 14 GAYVN Awards. (It also landed the company in a copyright infringement lawsuit.) The Intern, the company's first sex comedy, and Gigolo, a return to the dramatic for Dimarco and crew, followed in their footsteps. "We always try to balance the story and the sex," Dimarco says. "We like to have characters, plot and depth in our movies. I think that only adds to the hotness of the sex."
Also adding heat is the studio's stable of top models. Lucas says that some of their success is due to porn stars such as Chad Hunt, Wilfried Knight, Wilson Vasquez and current exclusive Ben Andrews. "Sure, I looked at other companies," says Andrews, who hails from Ohio and stars in The Intern, "but Lucas was the best in terms of quality, marketing and promotion. They also have a great team of professionals - the best photographers and lighting and makeup people who make us look great. I mean, my mom sees these box covers. I want them to look good!"
And the company's numbers are looking good too. According to sales director Richard Mungia, "After Dangerous Liaisons, we weren't looked at the same way. Our sales went up and we developed in areas we hadn't been in before." Now, aided by a staff of three salespeople, Mungia oversees the shipping and distribution of Lucas product to stores. He reports that there has been a surge of interest in the Midwest recently and says that a new deal with Castle Mega Store, which fancies itself as the Wal-Mart of the adult bookstore industry, will put Lucas's famous pout on more shelves than ever. The popularity of the mainline big-budget releases, along with the Fire Island Cruising, Auditions and Encounters series and the new Cruising Budapest international line, have all added up to solid sales. The Michael Lucas dildo and newly released Ben Andrews dildo have both done big business. And last year the company got into music distribution, selling CDs from former porn star Colton Ford and singing duo Nekked.
But for Lucas, it's about more than dollars and cents. "We want to be the best," he says, "creatively and financially. I want Lucas Entertainment to be the number-one company, the most popular, the most talked about, the most nominated."
Even though he has won his fair share of awards, Lucas isn't sure that awards actually sell movies. "It is just satisfying getting nominated and winning, to be acknowledged by the industry. But with that sometimes comes jealousy and one becomes a target." Lucas is clearly still smarting over his latest controversy. "Sometimes victory can be bittersweet."
CONTACT INFO: LucasDistribution.com, (888) 562-9125; LucasEntertainment.com, (212) 924-5892 (office); LucasBlog.com.