Nova was at forefront of hardcore scene for a decade

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Nova was at forefront of hardcore scene for a decade

If you still enjoy hardcore gay porn (and we’re betting you do), you have Nova Studios to thank in part.

The now-defunct studio, whose star shone bright for a decade between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, established many conventions considered standard in porn today. But despite its pioneering themes and practices, the studio found itself mired in challenges and controversy throughout much of its history.

By 1976, the year Nova was founded, porn magnate Robert Walters was no stranger to an industry that was rapidly changing. Walters, under the pseudonym Scott Masters, began producing gay porn magazines in 1969, shortly after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing nudity in art. His first film came a mere year later, distributed under his fledgling adult business, The Stephens Agency. The agency closed after only two years in business due to lack of profits. 

Masters continued to work through the industry throughout the early and mid-1970s, having produced more than 100 silent hardcore loops – all of this despite a conviction for obscenity earlier that decade. It was a charge that the men who came before Masters knew all too well.

As he continued to produce hardcore loops – some featuring his flagship star, Jimmy Hughes, Masters continued to flourish in the printed material business, founding the softcore porn magazine In Touch in 1973.

According to a series of summer 1997 articles that ran in the porn magazine Manshots, Masters founded Nova Studios in 1976 and immediately realized he could improve the quality of his hardcore loops by distributing them via direct mail, as was the practice by competitor Falcon Studios, which had been founded only four years earlier in San Francisco. Masters marketed these loops by producing slick film brochures featuring small or thumbnail images of his models. These brochures, which usually numbered 16 pages, offered dozens of photos of models in upcoming films.

From the start of Nova’s first feature, “Tubtricks,” it was apparent that Nova’s offerings were vastly different from its competition. Masters developed and championed the “West Coast Look” style of filmmaking, in which viewers were treated to up-close shots of the sex between the models, making viewers feel as if they were at the center of the action. Linear storytelling and obvious transitions made the films seem more like a stage production than a mere porn film.

According to Manshots’ serial, Nova heavily used the element of sexual fantasy in its films. The concept of sex between straight men was ever present in these movies, and the movies included an emphasis on the youth of the models depicted. Structured storylines were the norm for these films, and Masters actively sought out men who expressed excitement and enthusiasm for on-camera sex with other men. The look of these men was a departure from the muscular physique touted in Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial. Nova’s models were more ‘natural’ in their physical appearance – lean, sometimes rugged, and with a friendly smile.

Masters’ success was, unfortunately, short-lived. Nova’s status as a porn industry giant began to erode with the arrival of the 1980s, when Masters’ partner began licensing Nova films to other customers wthout Masters’ consent. In an attempt to recoup his losses, Masters, who had previously only produced silent films, began incorporating sound into his movies. It was a needed move, but one that was too late – according to the Manshots series, Falcon had begun recording dialogue and synching it to the actors’ lip movements as early as 1979. 

The process frustrated Masters, who shot the universally-panned “It’s the Life” with star Giorgio Canali, for whom English wasn’t a first language. Canali had difficulty both speaking his lines and performing sexually, leading to Masters giving up on the film’s auditory challenges and shooting the rest of the film without sound. 

The studio’s next film with sound wasn’t shot and released until 1983. By that time, Nova continued to hemorrhage funds. The addition of rising porn stars like Jim Bentley and Rick Donovan didn’t help matters much, nor did Masters’ new practice of dubbing sound over some of his older, silent film loops and re-releasing them. 

The year 1984 was laden with scandal that only hastened Nova’s deterioration. Masters’ partner embezzled the company’s funds and stole Masters’ latest film project, “Boys Town.” Masters later learned that Nova hadn’t paid its taxes in many years. In a short time, the fledgling company had racked up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. 

A third party company absorbed the remainder of Nova’s products, and the studio released its last film in 1986. Masters survived the end of Nova and went on to work for Catalina Video, even hiring former Nova editor Chet Thomas, who went on to work as a film director himself.  

Though it dominated the landscape of gay porn in the industry’s formative years, the techniques and practices adopted by the studio can be found in pornographic films ever since.