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Erotic Ladies [The Pacific Sun]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
The Pacific Sun
Marin County, CA

Deborah Shames slowly reached up and turned off the light. Her hands were shaking slightly, so she reached for a glass of champagne to calm her nerves. She paused a moment, took a breath, then slid in the movie into the player.

“Cabin Fever” flashed on the screen. Director: Deborah Shames.

Feeling nervous before a showing of her erotic films not typical for savvy Sausalito, CA film-maker. But this evening the director was in Chicago showing it to her parents.

“It wasn’t like those sleazy porno movies Bernie and his pals watch,” said Shames’ mom, Mickey. Her father, Bernie, just jumped up and down: “I like it. I like it.”

“I really wanted them to approve,” admits Shames, 44. “I had invested everything in this movie and it’s really important to me that people of all ages enjoy it. Who better to test it out than my parents?”

That was two years ago. Since then, Shames has made two more films, “The Voyeur,” and “The Hottest Both” are scheduled for release this summer.

Bringing erotic movies into the mainstream is Shames’ goal. She and pal/part-time business partner Lonnie Barbach, Ph.D., produce erotica—steamy, sexy stories designed to excite women and give couples some new ideas.

Barbach, known as one of the country’s foremost experts on sexuality and relationships, has been working with Shames for more than 10 years to come up with the appropriate scripts and adequate financing for filming erotic fiction. In 1993, “Cabin Fever” made it to video.

The script was based on a story from one of Barbach’s anthologies, Erotic Interludes. She has published three anthologies. The first two, “Erotic Interludes” and “Pleasures,” were written by women; her latest release, “The Erotic Edge: Erotica for Couples,” is a compilation of stories by men and women.

What is the distinction between “erotica” and “pornography”?

“The major difference between what we’re doing and what’s out there in the pornography industry is that you can identify and relate to the characters,” says Shames. “Pornography has over-accentuated women’s bodies. men are totally uninvolved and unengaged. There are real relationships.”

She adds that an Erotic Escapades Presents film has no frontal nudity, no violence, nothing to do with children, no sodomy and there is also no “doing it’ to women. And Shames never shows her actors completely nude. “We always have a piece of clothing or a sheet or gauze or something in the way. It’s voyeuristic, sexy, romantic and gives viewers the sense that the actors are being viewed from somewhere else.”

Sex sells, but respectful sex? Who wants to watch that?

Women do, says Barbach. “That whole feeling of mystery and being veiled is very important to erotica,” says Barbach. “It’s the female point of view, and it’s full of fantasy.”

THE UNKOWN, the suspense, the buildup of tension keeps women interested, she believes. Men, on the other hand, tend to have different desires.

“Men want to have a sex scene every seven minutes,” says Barbach. “But they will watch anything that their partner will watch, anything that will be a turn on for her because then it becomes something they can try together. If anything works for him and it turns her off, it doesn’t make much sense. So he’s more willing to go along with what she finds erotic.”

Barbach acts as a consultant on sexuality for Shames’ films. She reviews the scripts and consults with the actors to open them up. “I ask what they like, what turns them off, and I try to make them comfortable,” says Barbach, who is also on hand to advise the director about the sex scenes. “I often say the sex scene needs to be longer and that there needs to be more sex. I get to comment.”

Barbach’s expertise come from years of talking to clients about their sexual habits and hang-ups’. Her first book, “For Yourself,” revolutionized the field by talking to
women for the first On-ie about masturbation. To this day, Barbach says women approach her to thank her for writing
die book that changed the way they feel about themselves
and sexuality.

Four other clinical sexual books have emerged from Barbach: “For Each Other, Shared Intimacies, The Intimate Male,” and “Going the Distance.” Her most recent book is “The Pause: Positive Approaches to Menopause.”

Barbach says she and Shames want to produce books and movies that will break down barriers and encourage people to feel more comfortable about their sexual selves.

“Through the movies, we want to create something visual for women that stimulates them sexually and is sustained. There were sexy scenes in movies, but nothing that had a sensual quality throughout.”

Shames, an archeologist by training, started her career as a writer and photographer. She worked on an dig and ran a newspaper on an Indian reservation before heading to film school in Chicago in 1977. While there, she worked for PBS on a popular talk show,
but was bored.

So in 1981 Shames drove her Toyota to Sausalito. She worked as a freelance videographers before joining forces with Barbach. They founded Focal Point film company. In only two years, Shames won 29 awards for her documentaries, which ranged in subject from chemical dependence to ophthalmology. But she really wanted to make an erotic film.

“There was plenty of interest in creating pornography,” she recalls, “but nobody wanted to pay for creating the new erotica genre.”

So the filmmaker invested $75,000 and hoped for the best.

“I had to do it,” she says. “You reach a point in your life where if you don’t jump off a cliff, take a risk, you’ll be saying if I don’t do this I will regret it for the rest of my life. I got to the place where professionally I know that if I didn’t do it now, I’d never do it.”

Rick Zea of Borderline Entertainment in Santa Clara says he’s glad Shames took the leap.

“People are hungry for this type of film,” he says. “Women love it. Men love it. It’s a growing market. I think we’ll be seeing more erotic films come on the market. Debra and Lonnie are on the cusp of something big.”

The filmmakers agree, but know there will be obstacles. The idea of erotica still makes some people uneasy, including a handful of post-production houses that won’t let her cut her films at their shops.

That’s an obstacle Shames says she has overcome. Ditto for men who want to date her—until they find out what she does for a living.

“When I first started in this business, I was dating a guy and he just couldn’t handle me going from making nice, boring documentaries to doing erotic films—and that was fine,” she says. “But going forward I made a decision to only date men who were supportive.”

There are perks for him, of course. “When I do a rough cut, if he gets red in the face, I know it’s working.”


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.