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COLUMN ONE

Lights! Camera! Viagra!

When the show must go on, sometimes a little chemistry helps.

July 06, 2001|P.J. HUFFSTUTTER and RALPH FRAMMOLINO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

When 43-year-old porn actor Tyce Bune goes to work these days, he makes sure to pack something extra in his briefcase along with the usual script and change of clothes: a vial of Viagra tablets.

On a typical day, when filming can stretch on for 14 hours, Bune will strip down and have sex in front of a camera crew as many as three times. During busy times, he might work five days a week.

It's a grueling schedule, and Bune has popped so many blue diamond-shaped Viagra pills that one film director said some crew members have teased him about his "blue tongue."

"I don't think men should be ashamed that they do use it," said Bune, who often relies on Viagra for film shoots. "I'm not ashamed of it. People know that I use it. It doesn't make me any less of a man or a person."

Call it better porn through chemistry. Viagra, the drug that has transformed the sex lives of the elderly and the impotent, has swept through an industry that arguably needs it the least.

From aging male actors seeking to further their careers to anxious directors pushing to cut production costs by eliminating awkward performance delays, the wonder drug of sex has become a critical tool for today's adult entertainment industry.

Bune (pronounced boo-NAY), who has become a regular on porn sets throughout the San Fernando Valley, said he has taken as much as 100 milligrams a day--about twice the normal dose--and knows of peers who have used even more. With the current hectic pace of film production, some actors are taking the pill for every shoot, turning the industry into an unwitting mass experiment for Viagra usage.

Some actresses and directors are getting fed up with it all, rolling their eyes whenever they see the telltale signs of a Viagra-amped actor: the flushed face and chest, the glazed look.

"They're using drugs designed for men with particular problems, and these guys don't have that particular problem," said veteran actress Nina Hartley.

Yet the pill has helped create dozens of male stars and eliminated so many annoying production snafus that industry players say they are willing to put up with the occasional lapses and potential health problems.

"I put Viagra right up there with the polio vaccine, as far as making my job easier," said director Michael McCormick of Metro Productions.

Viagra, which was introduced in 1998, treats men with erectile dysfunction, a physical condition afflicting about 30 million Americans, according to its maker, Pfizer Inc. Touted in testimonials by 77-year-old former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, the blue pill racked up $1.34 billion in sales last year, making it one of Pfizer's top moneymakers.

The drug is available only through prescription, in part because it can aggravate some heart and blood-pressure problems and can be fatal when mixed with other drugs, medical experts say. But Viagra has become easily available on the Internet, where dozens of Web sites sell the pill for $10 to $13 each to anyone who fills out a questionnaire.

A Pfizer spokesman said it was inappropriate to use Viagra for anything but erectile dysfunction and in excess of one tablet per day. Medical experts consider it highly unethical for doctors to prescribe the pill to adult film actors for that extra edge at work.

"It's like giving growth hormones to kids who do not have a growth deficiency, but their parents want them to be bigger to play basketball," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Washington-based Public Citizens Health Research Group.

Drug Provides Quality Control

In its short history, Viagra has morphed into a recreational drug for the mainstream, especially among aging baby boomers.

Yet in the adult entertainment world, Viagra use is anything but casual. It has brought an industrial level of quality control to a business notoriously vulnerable to the whims of biology.

"It's part of the larger mainstream pressure of a performance culture," said feminist author Susan Faludi, who wrote "Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man."

"It's reflective of what's going on in society," she said. "People are encouraged to view themselves as commodities that are marketed and fine-tuned with chemicals, whether it's Viagra or Prozac or Botox injections."

Indeed, even the most virile men have an off day. Bune said he uses Viagra whenever a scene lasts more than an hour or if he has to don a condom "because I just can't work with them."

Cheyne Collins, a 34-year-old actor who occasionally uses the drug, said he has to perform intimate acts even if he's not in the mood "or if I'm tired or sick that day."

"It helps, but it's not a miracle pill," Collins said. "For some guys, there are days when nothing, not even Viagra, will work and everyone's waiting."

Such delays cut into a sex film's production budget, which typically ranges between $5,000 and $35,000 per film. A shoot could be postponed for several hours or delayed for so long that the crew would scrap the day altogether.

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