on the page magazine

issue no. 10, summer 2003


How to Pant to Porn

by Vincent Eaton

"Want to earn some easy money?"

"Always. Doing what?"

"Soft porn."

"I can't do that. With all those people watching?" One moment, I thought....All those people watching? "Maybe I could...try."

I envisioned being on the movie set with a semi-decent, silicon-fed babe ready and willing spread on a bed, and whatever naked maneuvers I made she would act as though she were two clouds beyond seventh heaven. Show biz.

"Not doing soft porn. Dubbing it."

"What, like a stand-in? The stud star does the labor-intensive stuff and then I come in and come?"

"I'm serious."

He was serious. Like most things, the proposition had arrived because I knew somebody who knew somebody who said, You want to make some easy money? And since I was a dedicated, impoverished creative writer, everything about me was for sale except my art, which nobody wanted to buy. The job seemed simple. Moan for money.

"Do I have to audition for this?"

"If you've ever had sex and enjoyed it, you qualify."

"I've had sex, but I couldn't say I enjoyed it. It was sex outside of marriage, so as a Catholic whenever I had an orgasm I denied the pleasure by going oooohhhh Goooodddd!!!—forgive me."

I was given a date, time, and an address on a wrinkled piece of paper. For three days leading up to the job I abstained from sex to be ready to give my all at the microphone, sincerely and ardently. I was thinking about becoming the method actor of soft-porn dubbing. Establish a rep, receive lots of offers, make a living. In future, people who met me would ask, "Don't I know you?" I would pant a bit and their eyes would widen respectfully. "You're him."

On a clammy, drizzly late afternoon in Brussels, where I lived and hustled, I walked down a neglected side street off an equally neglected canal, slipping slightly on the wet cobblestones, the well-folded piece of paper in my hand. I went along, matching the house numbers to the number on the paper until I came to the right one. A small worn, rusted plaque with the name of a recording studio was screwed into the cement between bricks. The door paint was chipped, and a bell hung loosely on a wire. I looked around to see whether anyone was observing me and taking photographs for criminal files, but I only saw a ratty cat dart across the street, going from under one parked car to another. I buzzed and waited and made sure my zipper was up.

A middle-aged, unshaven guy wearing sunglasses opened the door holding an unlit, half-chewed cigar—exactly what I was expecting. He sized me up, then warily glanced up and down the street—perfect. I liked this job so far.

"I've come for the voice-over?"

He gestured with the dead cigar, edging aside so I could slip in, and we went up some dusty, wooden stairs with bald overhead lighting. When we got to the top, he veered off to the right. I followed him down a corridor that meandered to the right and then hooked a left before abruptly stopping at a door marked "Studio."

"They're busy finishing a scene," he said. "Wait here. Someone will come."

I wanted to make a bad joke about his last line, but just watched him shuffle back into the darkness. Alone in the corridor, I checked my zipper again and glanced around, pretending I belonged. I looked out the window at the backs of brown buildings. It was twilight and still drizzling. I turned back to the door of the studio, curious about what was going on in there. Lots of panting, words spoken in low tones, indecent comments? I had been approached because I had performed half-decently in local amateur theatrical productions and someone thought I had talent. Barefoot in the Park, Death of a Salesman, and now Susie and Fanny Get Porked—a natural progression along the artistic ladder.

The door to the studio made a little air-locked whoosh sound and there was John, my contact, standing there, the man who was serious; he was a Brit, also an actor in the local amdram world.

"Vincent. Show time."

With one last check of my zipper, I stepped into a small, dark recording studio the shape of a basic black box. At one end, a screen covered most of the wall. In front of the screen, just to the left, were two microphones on stands. Behind me was a glassed-off recording studio where an audio engineer sat, glancing at his wristwatch, fiddling with the sound levels. Below this window, along the wall, were half a dozen chairs facing the screen. Empty egg cartons were nailed on every available wall space as a low-cost absorber of sound. The air was stale. A tang of perspiration hung in the air. So far, so good.

John asked, "Remind me again, have you ever dubbed porn?"

"Well...I've had sex before and faked it. Does that count?"

"At least you're not taking this seriously. That's good. It's fairly easy. We have about ten seconds of get-to-know-you dialogue followed by some slam-bang. All you need to do is make appropriate sounds, more or less in sync with what's going on on the screen."

"That I can handle." I thought, This is like taking candy from....Well, maybe not that simile in this context.

It was explained that these films were usually made in Scandinavia or Germany. They featured big blondes and beefy men. Once dubbed into English and fine-tuned with mouth sound effects, they sailed to the Far East where shorter men with dark hair sat in long raincoats in darkened cinemas making tiny drizzles into their pockets. It seemed that in the mysterious Orient they needed to hear their on-screen huffing and puffing in English, not with Swedish or German accents. Oh! instead of Ach!

"But it's not hard porn, so it's not completely repugnant."

"And the difference between the two...?" I was always interested in furthering my education on any subject.

"Hard porn shows penetration; in soft porn, there is no penetration. We never see the dick because the dick is soft. Hence, soft porn."

My education complete, John the director turned away to talk to someone standing over in a dark corner. There were three other people in the room, none of whom I knew. I nodded in their direction, not knowing the proper conversation starter in such matters. "So, you dub porn often?" "You fake coming a lot?" I left it at a friendly but distant nod.

They ran the film, but not from the beginning. Since time was money, they just ran the scenes we in the room were to pant in. As my scene came up, hand-scribbled dialogue appeared along the bottom of the film: when each word hit a vertical line on the left, that's when they needed to be spoken, which would approximately match the moving mouth of the hunk on screen. They ran the scene once, so I could get a feeling of the ambiance and action. It was an outdoor scene on a road somewhere in the middle of some hike where a blonde boy meets a blonde girl and they trade some stilted dialogue; then an abrupt jump-cut to a scene where the boy meats girl, sans dialogue.

I asked whether I could do a run-through, seeing where I might generate some feeling and emotion. John returned to my side to coach me on my line readings. "We don't do rehearsals. Just say it. Nobody gives a fuck because nobody's listening." My inquisitions about my character's motivation, his inner life, or what his childhood might have been like to drive him to unsafe sex for easy pocket money thus discouraged, I replied, "Oh. Okay."

A woman came in, obviously late, a bit wide-eyed, carrying shopping bags.

"Lynn!" said John. "What kept you?"

"My son's birthday is tomorrow, and all the stores were jammed and—"

"Doesn't matter. We're about to do your first scene. Lynn, do you know Vincent? You're together in this scene."

She looked like anybody—a high school teacher with a couple of kids and a safe car. I was hoping for a degenerate. We shook hands, our eyes met, and I asked, "So what's a nice, middle-class woman like you doing in a place like this?" No, I didn't. I just shook her hand and was at a loss for words.

Lynn hadn't seen the dialogue scene, so I got to watch it again. Then we did it. Which went something like—

"Hi. How are you? Walking long? You're cute. My name's Bob."

That was it, and I didn't flub anything. I even managed a little winsome chuckle to give my blond character a shade of humanity. Suave yet innocent. It was a thin artistic line I was treading here.

With this verbal foreplay out of the way, the scene jump-cut right to the humping and a-bumping. The couple was now suddenly half-clad in some gully underneath a bridge in the great outdoors and my character's teeth were gnawing amorously at his mate's neck. He licked. Did I have to make kissy-bite and slurping sounds? How did one slurp into a microphone and keep a straight face and voice? Fortunately, this was a five-second thing and I just went mmmm for a few seconds. They sprang into the slam-bang action and underneath the screen the dialogue stopped, and only one word raced by—Reactions—followed by a long, wavy line.

I observed the sex scene with Lynn with what I hoped appeared detached professionalism. They went at sex as though they were working out at a gym and hoped to break through some sort of pain barrier. I slipped my hand into my pants pocket, as though I had a sudden need to check whether I had any change to buy a candy bar, but really I was checking whether this scene was having any affect on my happy glands dangling below. Fortunately, I encountered only small change.

"Okay, let's do this."

Lynn stood at one microphone, I positioned myself at the other. We looked as though we were about to sing back-up on a pop song—leaning forward, mouths puckered, eyes straight ahead, tense and ready and bingo, here came the images again and the wavy line and our reactions began. Like a big bad wolf, I began huffing and puffing while my character on-screen pretended he got his house blown down. I took odd squints out of the corner of my eye at Lynn, trying to see whether she possessed a soft-porn panting method I could learn from to further my career in this business. Or whether she turned me on and I could incorporate that into the scene. It struck me that we had only shaken hands minutes before and there I was, next to this total stranger named Lynn, giving away all my secrets! She was finding out who I was when I was in bed with someone I loved. Because, like a good method actor, I was recalling previous experience, objectifying it, and drawing upon its reserves to produce a credible performance of a stud showing this easy lay the time of her life. Be. Be.

My character up there on the silver screen made lurching, banging movements against his partner's pelvis, and I made the same attempts to keep my breathing lurching and rhythmic. I went uhh and uhh and uhh and uhh over and over in time with his on-screen exertions and soon I moved into another dimension of pretend sex. My uhhs got weaker, slower, even though my character wasn't; I lost the tempo of his sexual stabs. My head was fogging up, the screen was going wavy on me; then the screen slowly slid over to the wall and went right around in back of me and swung back up on my left. My eyes rolled up in my head and, utterly dizzy, I had to stop and sit down on one of those seats behind me, explaining, "I...uh...I...uh...I...uh...."

"What's the matter?" John asked, concerned, coming over.

"Dizzy." To illustrate, I made weird finger-circling motions in the air.

"Ah." John straightened, nodding. "You were hyperventilating."

"I was trying to do my job," I moaned, hoping the four studio walls would just stop pretending to be a crazy carousel. The film flickered out as things slowly came to a blurry standstill. I bent over on my chair, hand against closed eyes.

"The trick here," John directed close to my ear, "is not to get involved in the proceedings. Calmly make sounds. Don't make those uh-uh-uh choo-choo-train sounds you were making. If you breath quickly in and out, you're going to hyperventilate, get dizzy, and hold up recording."

"You mean there's an art to this?"

John looked at me. "Fuck off. Don't hyperventilate."

I got it. Don't act. Don't be. Just fake it.

And, when dubbing porno, avoid hyperventilating. There's a technique to everything. Every paying customer in the Far East had his own rhythm, and we performers could not impose our interpretation and chance throwing it off. My task was to be encouraging background sounds, the Muzak of self-ecstasy. People would sit in certain cinemas and lubricate their loneliness while my non-directional soothing urged them on. Or they'd play videotapes at home, hitting the slow-mo on their remotes while playing fast-forward on their erections.

Lynn and I again stood side-by-side at our separate microphones and did it again to one another up there on the screen.

I did not hyperventilate. A quick learner, I drew on unknown instincts, reacted, and hummed and ah-ed along.

When the session was completed, everyone smiled, and Lynn rushed off to make a birthday cake. John greeted the next batch of heavy breathers in the studio for the next scenes starring different hunks and I was led out into the corridor where the unshaven, greasy guy with the dead stub of cigar stuck between his teeth had me sign a piece of paper marked "Payment in Full."

He counted three thousand Belgian franc notes onto the palm of my hand.

"You free next week?" he asked.

Outside it was still drizzling. It was dark. I had easy money warm in my pocket. I felt like going to the cinema and seeing a film, which I did, and during the sex scene I thought, I could do better than that.

Vincent Eaton, a novelist and an award-winning playwright, lives in Brussels, Belgium, where he earns his living as a digital storyteller. He has also acted on stage, in films, and on television, and is a voice-over professional and stand-up storyteller.

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