Yo ho, yo ho ... oh no!
A pirate movie shooting on a ship at the Pier raised eyebrows all summer. Now it's a bestselling porn DVD, and local officials feel plundered.
By JAY CRIDLIN
Published January 18, 2006
The rumors started swirling last June, when a slew of beefy actors and comely actresses showed up at the Pier in St. Petersburg to film a TV movie aboard the HMS Bounty.
Those who weren't lugging cameras and cables were decked in full-blown pirate garb, which didn't faze Bounty officials. Lots of pirate films shoot scenes aboard the historic tall ship; in fact, the Bounty crew had just rented the boat to Disney for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.
But as families, fishermen and tourists passed throughout the Pier, people began to suspect that this pirate movie was different.
You know what they're doing there, right? workers would whisper. You know they're shooting a porn flick?
Months later, the rumors proved true. The HMS Bounty, built in 1960 for Marlon Brando's Mutiny on the Bounty and featured in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, became the setting for Pirates - a hard-core sex film. Released in September, Pirates has sold well over 100,000 copies, making it one of the biggest adult movies of all time.
How did the Pier and the Bounty, two of St. Petersburg's most family friendly landmarks, end up with supporting roles in a million-dollar porn movie?
"They told us the story, we took them at face value, and they lied," said ship owner Bob Hansen. "What are you going to do? It happens. Not everybody is truthful."
The movie plot involves a murderous pirate seeking world domination, the pirate hunter who vows to hunt him down and a cast of voluptuous first mates and wenches. Along the way, everyone enjoys a healthy dose of graphic, pirate-themed sex.
With a budget of more than $1-million, the two-hour film has been hailed as a pornographic mold-breaker. It was filmed in high definition, and its special effects, including an army of computer-generated skeletons, took months to create.
This month, Pirates won 11 of the record 24 Adult Video News Awards for which it was nominated, including best video actor, actress, director, special effects and feature.
In a business where a film that sells 5,000 copies is considered a hit, Pirates' mainstream success is "almost unprecedented," said Paul Fishbein, president and publisher of the Adult Video News.
"It's another link in the fence between adult and mainstream. This has production values, special effects, and it sort of looks like a real Hollywood movie."
But none of this success would have taken place without the Bounty - or, as it's known in Pirates, the Sea Stallion and Devil's Rose.
While most of the film's sex scenes were shot in a studio in California's San Fernando Valley, producers wanted plot and action sequences to be filmed on the deck of a real tall ship, for realism's sake. "The hardest part of making this movie was finding the boat," the film's director, who goes by the name Joone, says on Pirates' DVD commentary.
Last spring, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Area Film Commission got a call from California-based Brain Zoo Studios, asking for information on shooting aboard the Bounty.
On May 2, a Brain Zoo representative named Ali Davoudian e-mailed this film synopsis to Bounty officials (complete with misspellings): "The movie is a comedy Sinbad type of film in quest of a magical scepter with lots of special effects and sward fighting with skeletons etc . . . It is not going to be released in the theater it is going to be on TV like showtime. As far as rating I would say PG-13." The Pier, which is owned by the city, rented Davoudian a room for cast, crew and equipment storage from June 1 to 5, at a cost of $1,872.50, and roped off areas near the boat for camera equipment.
After the first night, the Pier got a tip that some of the actors on the ship resembled well-known adult film stars. Hansen said film reps admitted the actors were popular porn stars who might draw extra attention to the project, but the film was definitely not porn.
"We actually looked at the concept of canceling it, but with the contract, I couldn't do it for no reason," Hanson said. "Just because they're porn stars doesn't mean they can't come on the boat or walk down the Pier."
What Pier officials did was have Davoudian sign a letter, dated June 2, promising not to mention the Pier, the Bounty or the city of St. Petersburg in any credits or materials associated with the film.
Flash-forward to September, when Pirates' release was celebrated with a red-carpet premiere at Hollywood's Egyptian Theater. The event was covered by Variety, and the film's legend grew from there. It is now listed as the No. 1 seller on AdultDVDEmpire.com.
When Ali Davoudian contacted Pier and Bounty officials on behalf of Brain Zoo, the company's innocuous Web site offered no cause for suspicion.
Visitors to the site are greeted by images of Kermit the Frog and Shrek. A client list includes companies ranging from Intel and Microsoft to Disney and the Jim Henson Co.
But Brain Zoo appears to have ties to the porn industry. Stephanie Schopp, who handles public relations for Brain Zoo, said Ali Davoudian is the brother of Brain Zoo president and CEO Mohammed Davoudian.
"Joone," Schopp said, is Ali Davoudian's pseudonym in the adult film world. Joone is considered a pioneer in the world of interactive adult technology; in 1993, he founded Digital Playground, the adult film company that co-produced Pirates.
Pier and ship reps say they never heard anything about Digital Playground - only Muppet-friendly Brain Zoo.
"They gave us credentials, they gave us a Web site, they gave us information and pretty much laid out what they were doing, just like everybody else has done for numerous years," said Pier spokeswoman Susan Robertson.
Ali Davoudian did not respond to interview requests through Schopp. Numerous calls to representatives from Digital Playground were not returned.
Hansen, president of the Tall Ship Bounty Organization, said he watched the finished product. "I was fast-forwarding through the naked stuff to get to the boat. It was an interesting story. I thought it was kind of good. I thought they did a nice job with it."
On the DVD commentary track, the director and stars talk about filming in the Tampa Bay area - sightseeing at Legends Field and Raymond James Stadium, shopping at International Plaza, drawing curious crowds while shooting on the boat. A still photo gallery on the DVD includes fully-clothed shots on the Pier and in front of Tropicana Field.
True to their word, the filmmakers don't mention the Pier, the Bounty or St. Petersburg in the film or credits.
"Quite honestly, if you look at the movie, unless you physically know this boat intimately, you would never know it was the Bounty," Hansen said.
Hansen said he has changed the wording of the Bounty's film contracts, giving him the power to terminate shoots in the event of a "complete misrepresentation," as he said took place with Pirates.
As for the Pirates crew, they're moving full steam ahead, powered by the film's momentum. As Joone notes in the Pirates DVD commentary: "I already have the story for 2."
It's a safe bet that Pirates 2 won't be filmed on board the Bounty. "We were misled," Hansen said. "It made us a little smarter for the next time."
- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.