Mitchell Spinelli’s, late dad, Anthony, is still very much with him. Pictures of the renowned porn director and producer of the Oscar-nominated One Potato, Two Potato (a 1964 mainstream film) adorn the office of Mitchell’s Chatsworth, Calif., office along with ones of his son, (also named) Anthony.
“There's my dad up there,” Spinelli, owner of Acid Rain Productions, said, pointing. “He's with John Leslie. … John Leslie's like the premier director now. John Leslie, Joey Silvera, Randy West … they started out as kids, and my dad was their mentor. He taught them a bunch of stuff — how to act, how to be professional.”
“My dad, I think, set the template for the video feature, ’cause back in the day, he was the first guy willing to do scripts and to rehearse actors,” Mitchell, like Anthony, an AVN Hall of Fame member, continued. “He came from the ‘real’ world …One Potato, Two Potato was about an interracial marriage in the ’60s — very controversial at that time.”
It isn’t mere sentiment that makes Anthony figure so prominently into Mitchell’s career history. After the elder Spinelli shed an encyclopedia sales gig after being spirited into porn when he saw Mona at a naughty movie theater in Hollywood in the early ’70s and rose to prominence as an adult film director, Mitchell practically grew up on porno sets.
“We were very close, and I wrote a lot of his scripts back then, when I was 17,” Spinelli explained. “I think if my dad was a carpenter, or whatever he would've chosen to do, I would've done also.”
Although today Mitchell is affable and widely regarded as one of the nicest people in porn, there’s a quiet thread of mistrust in him. Reserve that again finds root with Anthony.
“He made some bad decisions and took some bad advice,” Mitchell acknowledged about his father. “My dad got fucked in the end. … I don't care how many contracts you have [with people] — if you're gonna get fucked, you're gonna get fucked. So try not to put yourself in that position.”
“I've always been introverted,” he went on. “It took a long time to be assertive … but I learned just what I needed to control: Keep your own product; no partners, it's just me and my family. … The main thing is to just control your own destiny, if possible.”
But Spinelli had to learn a few business lessons on his own, as well. After Anthony was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1994 (he died in 2000), Mitchell, a high-profile director in the early ’90s, sold his production company, Plum, to Pleasure Productions, a move he later regretted.
“I felt I had enough other businesses, so I took the quick money,” he said. “But the regret is I had so much inventory as far as empty boxes and stuff; I could've made a cool catalog deal through a distributor and got myself out of debt. I could've liquidated the inventory.”
So Spinelli took a two-year hiatus before launching Rain in 1997. But when the company, after a reasonable window of opportunity, failed to make any money, Spinelli realized he needed to re-think things. Taking himself out of the picture was part of Spinelli’s “new guard” approach: He hired young directors with vision and realigned himself in more of a producer role. A new playbook and players in place, Spinelli launched Acid Rain in 2004.
When asked why a guy with his illustrious background in classic porn with full-length scripts would want to focus on hardcore gonzo, Spinelli exhibited the pragmatism of someone who has been around the biz block more than few times.
“I did gonzo because if you wanted to survive, you did hardcore gonzo,” he said simply and added, “Gonzo is much easier. At my end, the production end, it's easier: There's no script, no costumes. …You just have to get the right people, and it’s harder because the sex has to be real.”
Spinelli explained that the girls today “can’t fake it” like they used to; therefore, if you want a girl to do some slammin’ anal, she’d best be into it in real life.
“I make sure I get the talent that’s enthusiastic about the program … you can't fake it, because it is intense,” he said. “What's amazing is that these girls today, like Katsumi and this beautiful little girl here Jasmine Byrne, who's 20 years old, where did they learn this stuff?”
Spinelli shakes his head in wonder at “these kids today,” like the dad he is now, except he’s not talking about their loud rock music but rather the unbelievably big cocks these very young ladies happily take up the arse.
“Even when people give a blow job, it's like gagging, and sloppy and voracious,” he said. “There are a couple of girls who like to get to the point that they may pass out: Melissa Lauren, Taryn Thomas …”
In the old days, Spinelli said, a “young” girl was 25. “[Straight porn] was really taboo then; today, it's ‘the more shocking, the more people will watch.’ But if you want to make the money, it's like being a ball player — the more positions you play, the more chance you'll be in the game. The more money you'll make. It's almost like anal is like the norm now.”
Singing still more praise about modern porn princesses, he added, “They have a good attitude. … but then there's other girls from the old days that won't conform now, they won't give me the enthusiasm … a lot of girls from the early ’90s were like that.”
Spinelli’s push to compete with the big companies today doesn’t end with casting, of course.
“You've got to spend $20,000-to-$25,000 on your productions,” he asserted. “You have to get the top talent, you have to get the d.p.s and the anals, you have to have a make-up lady, you have to get the nice house, you have get the publicist. You have to do the promotion, because it's all about branding your line, now. You can't be anonymous if you want to be successful.”
As part of that branding effort, Spinelli signed Benjamin Bratt as a contract director in April.
“I've worked with him for three or four years. He's a very sensual person, but he's a pervert,” Spinelli said. “He just brings a classy edge to it, really suave, very sensual. He's got some really cool ideas.”
Projects in the can include Benjamin Brat Filthy POV with Brooke Haven and Courtney Cummz, and Cameltoe Obsessions, “which we're going to release in a couple of months, probably June,” Spinelli said. “Superfreaks Gangbang [was released in] May; that's with Carmella Bing and Jasmine Byrne.”
Another player on Spinelli’s team is publicist Brian Gross, who, along with Acid Rain salesman Russ Pascale, Spinelli credits with a significant increase in company sales. “Getting the name out there so people are aware of your line is so important,” he said. “Brian helps me, makes sure the screeners are sent, puts out any news. They're seeing the product; it's all about brand recognition.”
Next on his to-do list is signing a contract girl.
“They serve as a spokesman, as a representative, an emblem of the company,” Spinelli said. “I would take Brooke Haven in a second. That's the next level. Somebody like Brooke, who's vivacious, smart, professional, she would do a good job. … I could send her all over the world.”
Aside from porn company branding and marketing pressures like never before, the younger Spinelli has to deal with a far more scrupulous federal government than Anthony ever had to.
“What's really hard is that you've got this ‘angelic’ base that pretty much controls policy, even morality, the moral tone,” he said, referencing the religious right.. “And the things they’re trying to pass in Congress and in the Senate … when you get this radical group that controls the industry and can easily pass laws … that’s really scary. With this 2257 thing, they're up to their ears in corruption. Just give us our porn and leave us alone.”
Spinelli, who had one eye on his computer screen for a healthy portion of this interview, is genial and unhurried while pointing out the framed treasures around his office, which, in addition to photos of his family, include the Beach Boys’ first business card, a rare copy of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today “butcher” album cover, a movie poster signed by Charlie Chaplin and a company baseball jacket that was his Dad’s.
“I keep it here, just in case,” he said fondly, patting the shoulders, creating a discernible cloud of dust that hung above it as Spinelli opened the door to his office to let AVN out, and got back to business.