LOS ANGELES—Derek Hay used to go months at a time without taking a day off, but now once a week he escapes the hustle of the San Fernando Valley for a soccer field in Santa Monica.
“My only real passion is football on Sunday’s with Vinnie Jones,” says Hay, the owner of LA Direct Models who hails from North London, where football (American soccer) is king. “Vinnie runs a football team called the Hollywood All-Stars. He’s an ex-English Premier League player and now he’s a very successful actor. I play on the team and actually so does Danny Mountain and Kieran Lee.”
Hay jokes that he plays defense “because I’m too slow to play anywhere else now.”
“The Santa Monica adult men’s league is not age restricted so there’s quite a few 20-year-olds in that,” he says, adding that Jones’ high profile often attracts some notable players. “… If there’s an English celebrity in town they usually end up on our football team. … That and the UFC are my only pleasure activities.”
It’s a work ethic that has paid dividends for Hay and his talent agency, which this month is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. LA Direct Models will toast the occasion on Monday night with a party at Les Deux in Hollywood that begins with red-carpet arrivals at 9:30 p.m.
Hay ran Direct Models for a year in his native England before quietly launching in the U.S. in 2001 with the help of his former significant other Hannah Harper. He says he never had a business plan going into it.
“I just wanted to do something that I would find equally as fun and interesting as working for major rock n’ roll artists that I had done for nearly 20 years before I started Direct Models, and I found it in the adult industry,” says Hay, a former stage manager in London for touring acts such as the Rolling Stones. “So I just took my upbringing and no better than a high school education, and just took what I knew from that and what I learned in the music business and started an agency catering to the adult industry.”
And even Hay admits he never thought LA Direct would get this big.
“How could one have imagined,” he says. “Literally, the American version of Direct Models started in a one-bedroom apartment just down the street there on the corner of Vineland and Ventura [Boulevard]. Before we left that one-bedroom apartment we had four employees in a semi-circle of desks and that took up the entire front lounge before that apartment building very kindly told us, very politely said that our welcome had run out. And they had been gracious in extending us as much time as reasonably could have been expected because they knew that we were running a business out of our apartment.”
Now Hay & Co. operate what has become one of the largest and most prolific agencies in the history of adult entertainment right in the heart of Universal City, just down the hallway from Vivid Entertainment Group. At any given time LA Direct Models represents around 120 female performers and about 30 guys. The agency more recently has also begun representing production professionals such as makeup artists, videographers, directors, a still photographer and an editor. Open seven days a week, LA Direct books an average of 30 to 40 jobs per day.
“In terms of the talent that we represent, our greatest achievement has been long-term career success, longevity in a girl’s career as well as helping them achieve success at the highest level,” Hay says. “I think in terms of the company, I think we’ve done a lot to change the face of the agency business and its place in the industry, and talent representation as a whole. We have many competitors now and many of those competitors sort of follow in our footsteps or conduct their business in very similar ways to us.”
He adds, “We often get complimented by our clients, by our producer clients from their experience in working with us, which is nice.
“Being an agent in the adult business you’re really providing a service to both sides. I mean our clients of course are the talent that we represent. And by the very nature of our business we have some obligations and responsibilities to live up to the obligations of the studios and producers that hire our talent. And living up to those normal business relationships, responsibilities and obligations is what set us apart I think.”
Hay works round the clock on LA Direct business, and so does his staff which has long been anchored by Francine Amidor, whose job title is “accounting and finance” but whose role within the company can’t be overstated.
“I’m known as The Oracle, the all-wise, all-knowing person here,” Amidor says. “I’m part bookkeeper, part babysitter, part guru.”
The native of North London says she came to the U.S. to “to seek fame and fortune and mingle with the rich and famous.”
“The first eight years went fine because I worked in a studio for rock n’ roll bands,” Amidor says. “That was eight years and then I worked for somebody else for about seven years, and I’ve been with Derek since. How did I meet Derek? I was working for Jerry T. who used to shoot for Teravision and Hustler. Jerry T. used to have a printing shop and when he closed shop he decided to go back into pornography because he left for 20 years. And he said ‘if you ever want a job come on set, come be a [production assistant],’ so that’s how I got onto a porn set is through Jerry T.”
Amidor continues, “And then I met Hannah Harper who was dating Derek Hay and Derek Hay said to me, ‘Oh, interesting talking to you. Hannah and I are thinking of starting a small agency. I might have a part-time position for you.’ Part-time lasted about three minutes and I do 63 hours a week now.”
She vividly recalls the agency’s humble beginnings.
“We had six girls, so I did everything from collecting money to driving girls to shoots to housekeeping services. We had one apartment and then we had two apartments. …And then it just escalated.”
Depending on the day, Amidor may find herself doing just as much life coaching as accounting.
“These girls need some goddamn advice, not that they take it but I can’t see someone throwing their life down the toilet. I don’t mean to do porn, I mean the money that they earn,” Amidor says. “They’re too young to earn the amount of money they earn and then they just piss it away. They haven’t got 120 dollars for a test but they’ve got a $4,000 handbag.”
Hay says Amidor was his first-ever full-time hire nine years ago.
“She’s still here as everybody knows, Thank God,” Hay says, “so that’s remarkable, obviously.”
Hay employs two industry veterans as his top agents, Robert Moran and AVN Hall of Fame director Bud Lee, who recently hit the two-year mark with LA Direct. A native of Indianapolis, Lee first began coming to LA to work in adult in 1981. With 29 years of experience, he has seen generations of talent come and go and watched the agency landscape evolve.
“When you’re a director you’re very company-and project-oriented and when you’re an agent you’re very talent-oriented,” says Lee, who still occasionally directs. “Sometimes I feel like I’m wearing a different hat. Producers are extremely important to us but at the same time we’re hired by the talent.
“I think that what has happened with the talent agencies is a good thing. I think it helps keep down unscrupulous producers and with LATATA [the Licensed Adult Talent Agency Trade Association], that’s a perfect example of being able to merge those resources together.”
Lee says one of LATATA’s positive impacts has been how it protects the girls.
“There’s too many talent that I’ve seen over my last 30 years that have gotten chewed up and spit out by producers. I like the fact that it’s brought up the level of professionalism in our business,” he says. “I think no offense against any of the older agents who were here 20 years ago, but they didn’t operate on the same level of professionalism that it is now. And I think LA Direct Models and Derek have set that bar as far as professionalism goes. I think the more professional we look as an entertainment entity the more we are palatable to the public.”
The Dallas native Moran says the keys to LA Direct Models’ success are “reliability and accountability.”
“We say our talent is going to be here and going to be tested and that is something we follow through with,” says the 31-year-old agent, who has been with LA Direct since 2005.
Moran got his start in adult as a production assistant at Jill Kelly Productions and Sin City. Then he worked as a production manager at Metro as well as Vertigo, American Harcore, Defiance and Torrid, the last four of which have since closed.
“I was doing the five companies all at once, like two days I’d be on set with one and the next two days I’d be on set with another. I did all that and talked to Derek on the phone all the time,” Moran says.
Then after reading about an opening at LA Direct one day he called Hay, who brought him in and started him out at the front desk.
“So I worked at the front desk I want to say for about six weeks and then I got promoted to agent and I’ve been here ever since,” says Moran, who like Amidor works roughly 63 hours a week, give or take. “It’s cool, fast-paced I would say.”
Moran says that being a good agent is not about trying to bang the girls.
“I think the outsider, people who aren’t agents just look at the girls and think they’re really hot, and they just want to bang ‘em, but I look at it as, what are we going to have to do to get the girl to set today?”
Moran continues, “I don’t look at the girls as someone I want to have sex with. I look at them like what do I have to do to get this shoot done this day and take care of the directors that book with us…”
The LA Direct owner points to a couple other team members who have worked for his company for many years. Tracy Araki, who does accounting and human resources, has been at Direct for over five years, while Veronica has been a mainstay on the front desk staff over six years.
Hay, also known throughout his career as performer Ben English, recently stopped doing scenes after appearing in close to 800 movies. He won a pair of AVN Awards, including Best Male Newcomer (2004) and Best Supporting Actor (2009) along the way, but says that the agency “was always my focus.”
“This was always my priority,” Hay says. “I’m 45 and I just wanted to go out, to end performing gracefully, and at the same time we’ve been diversifying into some other areas and I wanted those things to have my full attention.”
Indeed, LA Direct has been steadily expanding into other areas, especially web-based endeavors.
“We have a vibrant division of the company with producing solo girl websites,” Hay says. “We have I think 10 sites approximately active now with many of our bigger name girls. Many of the sites we have are through Premium Cash (Alexis Texas, Lexi Belle). We also work with Blazing Bucks (Hanna Hilton) and Brand Danger (Kagney Linn Karter).”
Hay says Belle’s website has taken off.
“Lexi Belle is notable. We’ve had Lexi for three or four years. She’s pretty well-known as the ultimate teen girl. She’s the teen queen if you like. We’re very pleased and so is she that Lexi’s website does extremely well.”
He continues, “We also provide editing services now for movies. We do editing for Immoral Productions, Sweet Sinner, Harmony Films...That’s an expansion of our business. About a year ago we started representing production stuff…And there are several companies that we do webcam through. That’s an important part of it as well.”
On May 4, LA Direct will bring back its Rouge Night, which showcases its models in a feature-dance setting as most of them make their dance debuts at the Rouge Gentlemen’s Club in Van Nuys. Their newest one-night only event is dubbed “Stripped” with rising stars Breanne Benson, Amy Brooke, McKenzee Miles, Sadie West and Angel Vain all taking the stage.
“Rouge Night is coming back once a quarter now,” says Hay, whose office also includes the Southern California headquarters of the well-known feature dance agency, The Lee Network, which launched an LA branch a year ago.
Hay tells AVN that LA Direct is comfortable with the number of models it represents and has no plans for any significant increases.
“The goal was always to diversify and expand the amount of work we can offer those models, not to increase the number of models,” he says.
However, building the Direct Models brand in other locales is something that interests Hay.
“You’ve always got to have goals. For some reason I have a hankering to do something in Australia. I think it’s really an untapped market,” he says.
Several of LA Direct’s guys are continuing on an upward trajectory, such as 2009 AVN Best Newcomer Anthony Rosano, Danny Mountain and Bill Bailey, who was booked more than 20 times in March.
Meanwhile, Hay represents numerous AVN Award-winning girls and exclusive contract stars.
“The thing that continually inspires me to work as hard as I have in the last 10 years and continue to do so is to see the real career success, such as Tori Black of course who was on the cover of your last edition,” Hay says, referring to the 2010 AVN Female Performer of the Year who won multiple AVN Awards in January.
Kagney Linn Karter, a Zero Tolerance contract girl, is one of LA Direct’s recent big achievers, winning the 2010 AVN Best New Starlet award in January on the heels of numerous magazine and box covers. The Missouri native says her agency played a “huge role” in her career development.
“Thank God for Derek Hay, I said that on my speech for AVN, one of the, if not the most powerful agency ever in the adult industry. It took a lot of dedication and work to build something like that,” Karter says.
“If I wouldn’t have had all the elements that Derek Hay and LA Direct Models bring as a team, I would be here, but where? They have played a major, major role. I think that now—and I say this in the nicest, kindest, most humble way—now I would like to think that because of girls like Tori Black and me and Alexis Texas it’s clear to see that LA Direct is a star-creating foundation. There’s a generation that’s being created here and it’s really awesome.”
Pictured from left: Bud Lee, Robert Moran, Felecity, Francine Amidor, Krystina, Teresa, Derek Hay and Scott Alexander.
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