Video game character Max Payne is a New York City cop who comes home to find his family murdered, the only friends who know his true identity dead. Seeking revenge, Payne combs the cold, mean streets of New York, navigating obstacles and backstabbers that pop up in every direction and attempt to get in his way.
Porn actor, director, producer and now distributor Brett Rockman of Rockman Entertainment compares Max Payne to launching a business in the adult arena.
“It’s a game of disguise; everyone’s betraying him, and he’s a renegade guy on the road,” Rockman said of Payne. “He’s loaded with guns, a great fighter, a macho guy. But he’s got his mission and has got to get from point A to point B. He faces one obstacle after another; he makes it through one level and then another and another.”
It’s a metaphor that makes Rockman laugh sheepishly, but he insists there’s a basis for comparing the game to running an adult content company. “You have to absolutely stay on your toes in this business; there are obstacles out there, and you have to stay on your toes.”
After performing in between 1,100 or 1,200 scenes (He has kept a careful log of who he’s done as well as for whom since he entered the industry in 1999, not only for financial reasons but for health ones, as well.), Rockman decided in 2003 to not only start directing, but producing his own movies. Thus was born Rockman Entertainment, which puts out several successful gonzo lines, including the AVN Award-nominated series Blowjobs Gone Wild and the best-selling Pissed Off Housewives series.
One year ago, not long after attending the 2005 Adult Entertainment Expo, Rockman decided he wanted to try distributing his own product, too.
“Last year was the first year I had my own banner up [at the Expo], even though I was being distributed by someone else,” he said in an interview at his home and office in the Granada Hills section of L.A.’s Porn Valley. “Then I thought, you know what? This could be my booth, as is, only I could be the distributor. I decided then that I was going to do it myself. I knew it was going to take a lot of work, but I also realized that if I don’t work hard for myself, I’ll just be doing it for someone else.”
Although not wildly enthusiastic about it, Rockman didn’t have anything particularly negative to say about his experience with other companies distributing the titles he produced. “I don’t want to say anything bad about them, but suffice to say that after four titles, I felt that I had it in me to try something that, as far as I know, no one else has tried: a male performer, who’s a director/producer, trying to distribute his own product.”
Skipping the middle man
How did he do it? The former marine and Ross University Medical School student (Rockman dropped out of a residency program in anesthesiology at the University of Southern California) started by making some calls.
“My slant was, I had a couple titles out there already,” he recalled. “I called up a couple people and said, ‘I’d like to continue selling to you, but I’d like to sell you my product myself.’ I went to the buyers who had already purchased my lines, with the logos on it, so they had already been picking it up anyway. So since day one, I had to work it from there.”
His approach was as straightforward, as Rockman seems to be himself. “One of my things is, there are no pushy sales people,” he explained. “That’s one of the things we offer is no pushy sales people, no big company hassles, you know, on returns, or releasing three, four titles a week — that’s what companies do. I release two titles a month. We market it that way, telling retailers, we’ll give you two titles a month; sit back, relax.”
He adds with a laugh, “Yeah, we poke at the big companies, but what else are you going to do when you’re small? I tell [retailers], ‘Hey, are you tired of the big companies with too many titles? Rockman Entertainment will provide you with two quality titles a month. Our release dates are on Friday; everyone else releases on Tuesday. That’s another way for us to be different. I kind of tie everything in. I want people to think of Rockman: Fun. Fun Fridays, T.G.I.F.”
Keeping up an aura of fun might be more important to Rockman than you might expect, given his view that the adult industry as a whole has become a great deal “more corporate” in recent years.
“Let’s just say that nowadays, a lot of the girls have to sit at the Awards show table based on what agency they’re with,” he noted. “And guess what? There isn’t one man in the history of porn who cares what agency a girl’s with.”
Rockman doesn’t have a very high opinion of agents, or managers, he said, pointing out that, “It’s a subjective term: a true agent is registered in the state of California. But anyone [in the porn industry] can call themselves an agent, although now we have a better term for it: ‘managers.’”
Still, he admitted, “If someone can bring you a really high-end girl that might take more effort than you would otherwise get, then, of course you hire her. It’s a convenience thing.”
Dare to be stupid.
Rockman said he was horrified when he first saw his picture, shirtless and camera-clad, peeking out of a little circle on one of his first DVD covers designed by former AVN designer Danny Estrada.
“I [had] told my art guy, let’s do something that we can brand, something that we can do every time that may look stupid the first time, but wait till a lot of covers come out,” he remembered. “When he first emailed it to me, I was upset that he took a picture of mine and I said, ‘Look, man, I doubt seriously that I will want to do this.’ And — this is something my art guy is good at — he always tells me very calmly, ‘I’ll let you think about it.’”
A day or so later, Rockman came around.
“It took me a couple days to digest it, but then I was like, that picture is so stupid that people will surely remember it. And that was it — it was a marketing idea. And I had to detach myself from the idea that I really think that picture is stupid, and I just had to let it go.”
Knowing when to trust his people is something Rockman, although fairly new at having a team at all, seems to be good at. Knowing when to relinquish power is a skill many successful but stressed out entrepreneurs don’t have. But despite the stress of launching the distribution arm of company just one year ago, Rockman seems both focused and grounded.
“I’m sure there are people who would like to see me fail; it’s human nature,” he mused. “Like, ‘Oh, you’re just talent,’ I mean … the chances of failure in this business are pretty good.”
Expect the ex-Marine, like Max Payne, to soldier on, however. Not to mention have more fun than his video game counterpart while doing so.