This article originally ran in the January 2017 issue of AVN. Click here to see the digital edition.
My name is Sean Paul Lockhart. Most know me as “Brent Corrigan.” You likely have never heard of me. Infamous and not famous at all, I have been referred to by many in the mainstream vein of the adult industry as “the Traci Lords of gay porn.” This is only one element of a salacious true-life tale of porn, money, murder and desperation. My past has played an integral role in my career as an adult star, producer and actor in LGBT mainstream films. In July 2016 I was made aware of a film being made about me, my shameful underage stint in porn, and the murder of Cobra Video owner Bryan Kocis. Spearheading the project (as producer and star) was actor James Franco.
Random? Not really. James Franco’s borderline obsession with gay culture is no secret. James, rumored to be gay for years, is not like the typical Hollywood leading man. With several credits as an actor and producer on films with gay subject matter, Franco seems unconcerned about a pattern of behavior that might call his sexual orientation into question. Milk, I Am Michael and Interior. Leather Bar. are just three LGBT films Franco has made.
His latest gay film is King Cobra. It haphazardly depicts the story of a young man growing up too fast as he’s caught in the crosshairs of two feuding gay porn companies. In Franco’s film, the character based on Bryan Kocis (played by Christian Slater) is a loner. He owns, produces, films and edits all content for his studio, Cobra Video. The real Bryan specialized in the production of bareback gay porn featuring young men who looked way too young to be legal. Bryan had a habit of cultivating inappropriate relationships with boys. Some as young as 15 years old.
It’s a tedious and maddening task abridging the series of events that led to Bryan Kocis’ murder. It starts with my first shoot for Cobra on February 3, 2004. My experience working underage for Bryan is fairly well documented. Simply put, Bryan was aware of my age before filming and moved forward with production despite the formalities. In no way am I proud of my underage work and have worked hard to show that I respect and value this industry.
By the time I turned eighteen, Bryan had coerced me into a sexual relationship. I was a young man fighting to define who I was and who I wanted to become, with Bryan leering over me. Porn was never meant to become a lifelong career choice. As I came of age on set it was the production and equipment that fascinated me.
By 2005, details about my start in porn began to percolate. As if they could smell the proverbial rotting leftovers of scandal on the verge of coming out, vultures circulating overhead made their move. Bryan began to lash out at me. He was disgruntled that I had not kept our secret better.
One of those “scavengers” was an attorney named Chad Belville. He offered to represent me as I prepared to contend with Bryan Kocis and address the matter of my underage content proactively with the industry. Belville went ahead to draft aggressive letters that would only embolden Bryan Kocis. Cobra Video distributor Pacific Sun pulled all of Bryan’s releases of Brent Corrigan (underage and of age) upon receiving documentation from Belville that proved I was underage in the DVDs. Pacific Sun refused to sell another Brent Corrigan DVD until Bryan and I had worked out whatever we were going through. By the time my partner, Grant Roy, and I were served papers for a million-dollar lawsuit, Chad Belville had ceased representation.
Bryan’s arrogance governed his choices. My actions were guided by a man, Grant Roy, with whom I’d fallen in love. Strong and loyal, Grant stood his ground and deflected attacks from Bryan. Together we endured the lawsuit and filed countersuit, citing Bryan’s claims against me as defamatory. Bryan charged that I had committed fraud and perjury regarding the specifics of my age. In the end, it was my word against his. I was a minor at the time and therefore was not considered liable. The FBI did not move forward with any form of investigation—in the end it was left to the lawyers to draw out an expensive, exhausting civil case. After one year of depositions, filings, briefs and discovery we all just wanted to move on. Bad blood or not.
During this time, Harlow Cuadra and partner Joe Kerekes were fighting to establish a presence in gay porn media. They watched from the sidelines while the embarrassing legal charade played out between Cobra Video and Brent Corrigan. It only made “Brent” more visible, more intriguing and more of a commodity in porn. Formerly in the military, Harlow and Joe had all the right stuff to be successful in the industry. It wasn’t lack of tenacity or talent holding them back—it was their spending habits. They were hemorrhaging cash made from their initial success of a company called Norfolk Escorts. Money not yet made was spent on a new home in Virginia Beach. They bought a Ferrari. All the while, their production company, Boy Batter, languished. They were seeking a solution to all of their gay porn obscurity and cash-flow problems. Obscurity was killing them quickly. They turned their attention to a wild quick-fix solution: hire the infamous Brent Corrigan.
Casual conversation online initiated by Harlow lasted for three to four months. It would lead to a fateful dinner in Las Vegas of January in 2007. While at AVN’s Internext Expo that year, Grant and I also agreed to meet with Bryan Kocis on neutral ground. For several days Bryan, Grant and I sat with a legal mediator to work out a settlement. The noose was loosening and I was breathing easier.
At the convention while not in meetings, Grant and I spent time with the other studios, producers and models. Collaborative interests abounded. Optimism was in the air.
Harlow and Joe were elusive in Vegas. We met with them twice—once on the convention floor at AVN and once at Le Cirque. The two came dressed up and treated us to a five-course five-star meal. Nothing seemed out of sorts about our dinner company. They were a very flashy couple and wanted to be seen as sophisticated and successful. Little did I know it was their lack of understanding and sophistication, and a lack of success, that would lead to their downfall.
On January 27, 2007 (one week after the civil suit with Cobra Video was settled out of court and agreements were signed), I received the worst call of my life.
It was Joe. He instructed me to go to WNEP.com. I complied. I hadn’t spoken to him in almost a month. At the top of the news website covering the Back Mountain region of Pennsylvania: “Body Found in Home Set Ablaze.” I clicked the link. Fire at 60 Midland Drive. I’d spent two summers with Bryan in Dallas, Pennsylvania, staying in his home. Bryan lived at 60 Midland Drive. My stomach lurched. I flashed back to a seemingly “off color” remark made by Joe while at dinner at Le Cirque: “Harlow has a client that will do anything for him.” I would spend more than two years trying to understand why and how Harlow and Joe could insert themselves into my life so briefly, yet cause so much catastrophe. Joe told me then, “I guess my guy went a little overboard.”
It no longer mattered who Bryan was in life. Grant and I committed to the efforts of the FBI and the Luzerne County investigators and district attorney to bring Bryan’s murderers to justice.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s what everyone was thinking when Bryan turned up dead on the heels of a nasty feud. Bryan and I—we had our differences. I was hurt by Bryan’s efforts to humiliate me. That being said, I never wanted him dead. The civil suit left us frustrated, broke and scared. When we finalized mediations with Cobra/Bryan Kocis, all of those fears had dissipated.
We spent two days in San Diego with Harlow and Joe almost an entire year after the murder. Grant wore a wire one day. The second day, we went to Black’s Beach. There, concealed in a GM key fob, was the recording device. It sat right on Grant’s key chain, positioned in the middle of the beach blanket. Joe let Harlow spill all the details of the crime. Eight months later, both were apprehended. A trial found Harlow Cuadra guilty of murder. His partner in life and crime, Joe, had pleaded guilty upon being captured and arrested.
Grant and I went on to produce a successful string of DVD releases together. We swept at the GayVN Awards in 2009 and 2010 as producers. At 23, I was given the award for directing the Best Professional Amateur film as well as being named Best Bottom. Once a pariah—uninvited and ostracized in the gay porn world for all the infamy and controversy I’d endured—by 2011 I was “accepted.” I went on to direct and star in LGBT non-porn films. Brent Corrigan is credited in the end credits of Gus Van Sant’s Milk, one of James Franco’s best credits in a long string of gay roles.
After four years as a filmmaker and actor in mainstream media, I’d lost interest. Everything you’d expect to happen did. Producers wanted to meet me because they were curious about my story and my background in adult media. They almost never took a chance on me. In the end I was content to be relegated to LGBT indie films where my porn roots and equitable name were a commodity. The roles in non-porn media came few and far between. The pay, even less so. LGBT media was like making gay porn without the penis, basically. I went back to porn, where I could at least get a decent blowjob at work every once in a while.
When I returned to porn I knew I was coming home. Adult media, as we all know, is what you make of it. We have so much control over our own path in life. Our destiny is two parts decision and personal actions and one part fate. However when it came to Hollywood and me it always felt ... well, not that way at all.
In the summer of 2015, weird voicemails started filling my inbox. Random filmmaker friends from my minor era in LGBT media were coming out of the woodwork, telling me someone was making a movie about me. When director Justin Kelly and manager Thor Bradwell cornered me in June, I was very suspicious.
Ten days before principal photography was slated to begin, the producers of King Cobra delivered their screenplay to me. Half-heartedly offering me a position as a consultant on set, they didn’t seem to know where I would fit into the equation. They suggested I take a small part with two to three scenes. It wasn’t until I finally was able to read the screenplay that I knew I would have to decline involvement. Key players in the story don’t exist in their movie (Grant, for instance). I felt uncomfortable with the material as a viable representation of what I went through. It felt cheap, unfinished, totally rushed and downright broke.
It seemed as though the producers were scrambling to fix a major mistake that August. They needed me but insisted they had virtually nothing to give. They’d developed an entire film and feature without permission to use the Brent Corrigan name. And now they were going to set.
I am unapologetically, fiercely protective of my story and my right to tell it my way. I lived it. I navigated the troubled waters and came out whole, more human, at the other end. Some might argue that the events (the underage controversy, public feud, murder of Bryan Kocis, the investigation into the circumstances related to his death, and the trial of Harlow Cuadra) are public domain in a sense. There is so much more that occurred that people have no clue about. There is an emotional reality and a mental state of mind (reflection, observation, internal narrative) that outsiders looking in (like the writers of the book Cobra Killer) could never even begin to broach the surface of understanding.
There lies within what it means to come out on the other end of something so harrowing that it leaves you looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life. Beyond all that, as a writer myself, I am protective of my story and the truth I have lived. I’ve spent the last decade writing a book called Incorrigible that I wanted to be the bookend to the events that I lived through.
After walking away from King Cobra, my resounding take was this: it’s offensive. As I read the screenplay, it felt like James Franco and the filmmakers of King Cobra were mocking gay porn. They created caricatures of major gay community archetypes. True, as porn actors and producers, we are a bit ridiculous at times. But we don’t need Hollywood mocking us for it. There were other major issues with the material, like Bryan being written as if he were a white lamb falling prey to idiot rival porn producers. In truth, Bryan was opportunistic and manipulative. But even his death deserves more respect than what King Cobra can offer.
In an age that has seen the rise of Sasha Grey and James Deen, are we open-minded enough to see the same sort of success for a gay adult star and producer? Hollywood has always treated the adult industry like the embarrassing red-headed stepchild. Like a neglectful, fair-weather stepmom, she collected the child support checks and scoffed at us. She never expected us to grow into the beautiful, prolific swan that we are. Now, at the family reunion, Hollywood (Stepmom) tries mightily to pull us close to suck up. “She” hates us but can’t help cozying up with one curious ear to our hip and wild stories. Oh, how intriguing and salacious our world is. But we know better. We don’t need Hollywood to tell our stories. We need them to butt out so we can go on being the storytellers and filmmakers we already are.
This is another example of why Hollywood thinks it doesn’t have to move over and give us due respect. We are a billion-dollar industry. They sell sex and package it in bullshit. We walk a straight and narrow line, look our consumers and fans straight in the face, and approach our lives and work with pride and dignity.
Hollywood thinks the truth isn’t enough. That everything has to be embellished. Choosing to ignore intricate and delicate themes of this story (death, coercion, coming of age) by addressing the broad notes sends a message to viewers. Every film told from a minority prospective has an opportunity to share and educate about a potentially misunderstood community. I was often told by Hollywood producers “It’s not our story to tell.” Meaning to say, if we hand our stories over to Hollywood, they’ll whitewash it, gloss over the more controversial themes, and get it seen by the mass majority. But what good is getting your story told when it’s not longer serving a purpose? What good is exploiting gay characters and making fun of an entire genre in media (gay porn) if the real-life lessons are ignored?
The filmmakers have gone on record saying I gave the film my blessing. No, what I did do was throw those suckers a bone. Realizing this was not the time to tell my story, I conceded. For a small amount of money I leased my professional names so King Cobra could go on making, promoting and selling a movie based on events I lived but butchering it in the process. Part of me felt like willing this film to be made was about letting go. Letting go and hopefully fueling interest in the real-life story.
My book is called Incorrigible. I wasn’t able to get it done before King Cobra was released. It’s taken me ten years to get through the process.
These days, I’m directing for Naked Sword. I am making the kinds of features I have always wanted to make. A lot of people have called bullshit with this whole King Cobra thing. “How can you turn down a James Franco movie if you want to be an actor/filmmaker?” Or “If you didn’t sanction the story why did you lease your names?”
No matter how exciting being a part of a James Franco/Christian Slater/Molly Ringwald film may seem to be, I have spent years standing my ground with my dukes up. We learn to fight for what we will and will not be in the porn world. We run in alternative circles, view the world vastly different than most people, and we’ve done a hell of a job carving out our own corner of media and creation. It’s part of what makes the adult industry so spectacular. It makes us into the right brand of different and tough. I didn’t need to make someone else’s movie about me to feel more important. Adult media has that covered, in my opinion.