He’s definitely not a household name, but if you’ve ever bought anything over the Internet, Christopher Mallick has had an impact on your household. If your purchases include an occasional picture of illicit sex or gratuitously naked people, that goes double.
Mallick is the producer and inspiration for the highly fictionalized new film, “Middle Men,” which covers the early days of Internet porn as seen through the eyes of businessman Jack Harris (Luke Wilson). Harris makes millions and gets in way over his head after meeting up with a couple of drug addled fools and geniuses (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht), who, in the process of selling dirty pictures, have developed a way to safely and securely collect credit card numbers over the Internet so they can sell dirty pictures.
In real life, the one-time chief executive of Paycom pioneered the technology that makes buying anything from a DVD to a raincoat to a monthly membership in ButtBusters.com easy, safe, and more or less confidential. He is said to have many outrageous and hilarious behind-the-scenes tales that provided background for the fictional film.
“Middle Men” is actually just the start as Mallick appears to be very serious about the film industry. He’s got more projects coming along the way including films with writer/director George Gallo and a documentary about former porn people, “Exxxit: Life After Porn,” directed by Bryce Wagoner and written and produced by “Middle Men” co-writer Andy Weiss.
I met Mallick during a recent press day at the L.A. Four Seasons. There was a last minute change in the planned location of the room, from the second floor to the first floor, where we were to talk. When I arrived, I found Mallick — who is apparently slightly camera shy (that little picture to the right is it as far as available online photos are concerned) — in a wheel chair, wearing a leg brace, and, I am told, the company of a bodyguard, who apparently was so good at his job I didn’t even notice he was there.
Christopher Mallick: Sorry for the bum leg here.
Premium Hollywood: Did you have an accident?
CM: I did. I tripped and broke my knee and my ankle.
PH: Ooh. I sprained my ankle recently and that was bad enough.
CM: It’s not fun.
PH: Okay. Obviously [“Middle Men”] is largely based on your life experiences. I’ve read on the Internet that you were telling a lot of hilarious stories, but they all were off-the-record, they couldn’t be told. I need to know what we can talk about, on the record.
CM: Anything you say with that recorder is on the record.
PH: That’s very true. Of course, I’m presuming that you didn’t actually cover up the murder of a Russian gangster.
CM: (Smiling) Not as far as you know.
PH: Or [accidentally] got involved with underage…
CM: No. We were actually very instrumental in stopping a lot of child porn. We were one of the original funding entities for a large web group that’s out fighting for children’s rights and protecting children on the Internet. We’ve actually worked with the FBI. We had an office with the FBI within our office and we actually recovered children as a result of some of the work that we did.
PH: That’s very good. I’m trying to remember the name of that organization. Believe it not I’m actually aware of them.
PH: I actually interviewed there once.
CM: Really. It’s Joan Irvine [who’s] the woman who started it.
PH: So, as much as you can, tell us, what is the real story of “Middle Men”?
CM: I think generally as you see it in the film it’s portraying my life fairly accurately during a 5-6 year period in terms of what happened to me economically, socially, in pretty much most of the areas of my life. Of course, George Gallo and Andy Weiss, who wrote the script, exaggerated certain things and made things far more interesting and more cinematic than just a guy sitting down and saying, “Hey, guess what happened to me?” or what I did. So, I think that it’s based on a true story, but it doesn’t mean it’s all true. A lot of the characters are composites of people I’ve known and some made up out of whole cloth by the writers.
PH: So, to try to sort of tease things apart…One thing that was interesting to me about the movie was that the Luke Wilson character… he’s a straight arrow, but he does work with [sketchy individuals]. First we see him with the character played by Robert Forster, who loves to kneecap people. Later on, he doesn’t seem too nervous about getting involved with this very scary Russian gangster [played by Rade Serbedzija]. Was that something that you would have been comfortable doing?
CM: You know, I’ve had a wide and varied set of experiences in my life. I learned a long time ago, especially from my father, you can deal with all sorts of people. It’s what you do in your dealings with them. You can deal with gangsters and not break the law. People do it every single day, all over the world. If you have a store in New York City, somebody’s picking up your trash. Those guys may or may not be affiliated with some other industries that may or may not be illegal. Does that make you a part of organized crime because you’re paying someone $500.00 a week to pick up your garbage at your 500 square foot store in Soho? I think the answer is “no.” It’s just part of your life. I sort of view things that way. It’s what I do is what I’m responsible for. I don’t feel like and I know certainly that I haven’t done anything to my knowledge that’s illegal. But I’ve dealt with some rough guys and I’ve dealt with some very professional and nice people and everyone in between.
PH: Of course, in the entertainment industry, aside from the adult industry, there’s a long tradition of [involvement by organized crime].
CM: The entertainment industry is made up of saints. All we do is tell the truth 24/7, and when we leave our offices, we go home to our families, and then we give money to charity. That’s it, that’s all that happens with these guys.
PH: Well, tell us one of your favorite stories that you actually can tell.
CM: I think the terrorist plot in the film [in which G-Man Kevin Pollak recruits the Luke Wilson character to gather intelligence on Middle Eastern bad actors] while it’s a little askew from what happened [is one]. An interesting story is right after 9/11, CNN ran a list of the [hijackers] and people who had tickets who they suspected of being [hijackers]. Back then — this is ten years ago now — we recorded it and I took it into one of my partners and said, “Let’s run these names through our database.”
He said, “You’re crazy.” “Let’s just see what happens.” We had a hit and it was a guy that subsequently was arrested. One of the [hijackers] who went down with the plane had bought a membership to a site with an online check. We traced the check to a bank in San Diego, called the FBI, who was down the hall from us, and said, “We have a hit.” These guys are apparently sitting in an apartment, ordering pizza and porn on their way to meet Allah…I have a great deal of respect for anyone’s belief, but that takes it a little far. [Anyhow], they found the check, went to the apartment, found the phone record, found the cell phone number that one of these guys was using. One of the would-be bombers in Chicago was holed up in the Hyatt in Downtown Chicago and the FBI raided it, on CNN, and arrested this guy. I think it helped in some other things. So, that to me was one of the more interesting aspects of my career. It was always the same story. No one had ever bought online porn. No one ever used their credit card to buy anything. I would go into a car dealership, for example, and I would have my company logo on my polo shirt or whatever. I’d see the salesman. They look at the shirt, they look at the name of the company, and then you’d see a light go off. Then they’d realized, “Oh, that’s the name I see on my credit card bill.” I think the terrorist story and things like that sort of speak to what the movie is based in, which is hypocrisy. Everybody’s saying one thing and doing something else. For me, the theme of the movie is hypocrisy, and redemption.
PH: Speaking of being honest, I have gone to certain sites…
CM: No, say it’s not true.
PH: And seen ads for the movie.
PH: You guys are advertising — or somebody’s advertising — really heavily on free porn sites.
CM: I think it’s the porn community. Because, to my knowledge, we’re not writing any checks. Paramount certainly isn’t. But I think you’ve got people that see this is a movie that’s going to promote their business and promote traffic. The trailer is pretty amazing. So, we’ll see. I have seen e-mails from people saying, “Hey, what’s this about?” As far as I’m concerned, great. Those people buy tickets. The same guy whose going to “Toy Story 3” is going to come to “Middle Men.”
PH: One of the things which is not specific to porn is that you and your partners really did revolutionize e-commerce. This is a huge part of our economy now.
CM: I think it’s something everyone takes for granted. Kids now, and even people my age, you forget when you couldn’t by something online. The technology that was developed as a result of this business and being able to do things in real time. You’d go to Amazon when they first started and you’d buy something and they’d say it’s going to be shipped, and then two-days later you’d get an e-mail saying your credit card’s been declined, because they weren’t doing real-time transactions. This business, because of the volume, set up all the fraud parameters for Visa and Mastercard… The money that is generated from this industry is put back into a lot of technology and research and development by the people developing the content. And it’s for one purpose, to keep more of the sales than they had in the past. It’s evolved to the point where we worked actively with Visa and Mastercard for setting up rules for how e-commerce would work and what they would allow and what they wouldn’t.
PH: But now you’re a movie producer.
CM: I am.
PH: One of the things we want to talk about before I forget is the documentary, “Exxxit” with three Xs…
CM: “Life After Porn”
PH: What is the story on that right now?
CM: It’s going to be released in October, I believe, in New York and L.A., maybe a few other markets and then we’ll do a day-and-date video-on-demand release through a distributor that we’re working with. We’re getting pretty good feedback on it. We think it’s very interesting. We’ll have a press screening or two for it and have all you guys come out. It’s a very interesting account of what happens to these people who were actually performers, actors, however you chose to characterize it.
PH: Are you in the film at all?
CM: No. It’s all “BC”: “Before Chris.”
PH: Can you name any big names that we might know who’ll be in it?
CM: 15 or 20 including Mary Carey, Houston, Nina Hartley, Asia Carerra. Their stories are amazing and heartbreaking and interesting. As odd as it sounds it’ll tug at your heartstrings if you have them.
PH: Oh, that’s not so odd.