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Vivid heats up Hollywood with porn

By Abbey Goodman, Special to CNN
updated 5:42 PM EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
A sex tape featuring Kim Kardashian and former boyfriend, singer Ray J., has been a big seller for Vivid.
A sex tape featuring Kim Kardashian and former boyfriend, singer Ray J., has been a big seller for Vivid.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vivid is a well-known and respected company in the porn industry
  • Vivid puts big budgets behind its movies, not only to get talent and directors
  • The company has made a name for itself in the celeb sex tape market

Editor's note: This weekly series will profile those who capitalize on our obsession with celebrity, while always standing just outside of the spotlight.

(CNN) -- In August, while 450 of Hollywood's A-list guests gathered at a lavish estate in California to celebrate Kim Kardashian's fairytale wedding, about 2 million people honored the special occasion in their own way: by watching "Kim Kardashian, Superstar," the hardcore sex tape she made with musician Ray J. on the website of the adult video company Vivid Entertainment.

Vivid is one of the most well-known companies in the porn industry -- its superhero parody flick "Batman XXX" was the best-selling adult movie of 2010, according to adult video news (AVN).

"When we started this business about 26 years ago, it was completely different than it is today," says Vivid founder and co-chairman Steven Hirsch. "It was a very small business. The people in the business didn't really talk about it; they were sort of underground. Over time, it really started to change and I think we had a lot to do with that. We began to really court the media, go out there and talk about our movies and talk about our girls."

Vivid further distinguished itself from other companies by putting six-figure budgets behind its movies, not only to get talent and prominent adult film directors like Axel Braun and B. Skow, but for high production value, quality writing (yes, pornos have scripts!) and marketing.

In the '80s, a billboard on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles promoted Vivid's stars and the company hired a publicist and created media kits, all of which had never been done in that industry before.

"These things that were so obvious in the mainstream world, we brought to adult," Hirsch says. "We were able to get articles written in Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, where they were talking about the business of adult (films) and how much money there was in it. That turned the tide away from people thinking all of the girls are drug addicts and prostitutes and this is sort of the last stop."

Today, a top in-house Vivid production takes about six months from start to finish and can cost several hundred thousand dollars. Vivid also decided to follow the old Hollywood studio model of signing their female actresses, also known as Vivid Girls, to exclusive contracts.

"The theory being," Hirsch says, "that if we were going to spend the money on promoting them, we didn't want the girls to make movies for other companies."

Jenna Jameson, now retired, is still widely regarded as the most famous and successful Vivid Girl. Currently, Vivid has only two contract girls, Allie Haze and Capri Anderson, the latter of whom is best known for being the woman who was with Charlie Sheen at New York's Plaza Hotel last October in one of the well publicized events that ultimately cost him his job on the TV show "Two and a Half Men."

In addition to the skin-flicks that Vivid has produced over the last two decades, the company now has a very successful parody division that puts an X-rated spin on mainstream Hollywood blockbusters like "Batman," "Iron Man," "Spider-Man," and "Star Wars." In addition to its own productions, Vivid is also known for buying celebrity sex tapes.

More than 10 years ago Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee caused a stir when a sex tape from their honeymoon was leaked to the public. Vivid bought the Internet rights and that video remains Vivid's best-performing celebrity tape ever, according to Hirsch.

"Although at some point," Hirsch says, "I expect the Kim tape to surpass that."

Since then, Vivid has purchased Paris Hilton's famous "1 Night in Paris," and tapes featuring former "Girl Next Door" Kendra Wilkinson, actor Laurence Fishburne's daughter Montana Fishburne, former WWE wrestler Chyna, country singer Mindy McCready, "American Idol" finalist Jessica Sierra and reality show star Tila Tequila.

"With the Internet, people feel more comfortable with celebrities than ever before," Hirsch says. "They follow them on Twitter and on Facebook, so it's just a natural progression that they'd be interested in seeing them in an adult movie where they're much different than we're used to. The fact is that if you look at the celebrity tapes that have come out, if you look at Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, it's done nothing but help their careers."

Montana Fishburne cited Kardashian's meteoric rise as the inspiration for her foray into the adult industry. She told TMZ, "I've watched how successful Kim Kardashian became and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape."

Kardashian sued Vivid when Vivid first made the sex tape public. The legal battle ended with a monetary settlement in which Kardashian would share in the profits, Hirsch said.

Vivid puts a lot of resources into its celebrity division. "It's so important to have unique content," Hirsch says, because "the typical stuff" can be watched free on the Internet.

"When it comes to celebrity tapes, there are very few of them," he says. "Remember, there are a few thousand adult movies produced every year; there's maybe three celebrity tapes.

"There is not a single day that goes by that we don't get a phone call from some guy claiming to have some tape on some celebrity." Ninety-nine percent of them, he says, "are bogus."

What's his dream celebrity tape?

Hirsch once answered that question by naming Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Today he says, "Kate and William wouldn't be too bad."

But let's get realistic.

"We're often surprised by some of the people we don¹t think would do it and show a little passing interest," Hirsch says. "But I¹m not going to name any names. You'll just have to see."

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