As a Staples junior, Mike Kulich got suspended for selling Playboys out of the trunk of his car.
Recognizing all the sales Mike had made, a staff member joked, “Maybe you can make a career out of this.”
Today he is one of the biggest names in the
porn adult entertainment industry.
Based in California, he is the owner and CEO of Assence Films. He also owns OGEE Studios. Hustler Magazine calls Mike a “veteran (who knows) how each segment of the business works and how to best apply effective strategies.”
Not bad for a 25-year-old.
Like many teenage boys, Mike was fascinated by porn. Unlike many, though, he decided to make a career of it.
“I read books about the ‘golden era’ — Marilyn Chambers (a fellow Westporter), the Mitchell Brothers,” he says. “It was an industry where I could swear on the phone, do something interesting, and still make a lot of money.”
After graduating from Staples in 2004, Mike spent a semester at John Jay, studying criminal justice. But the lure of his youth was strong. He soon headed west, got an apartment in Marina del Ray, and knocked on the door of industry kingpin Howard Levine.
“I was 18 or 19, a cocky kid,” Mike says. “He told me to get out.”
Today, Levine is Mike’s distributor.
The dogged Mike landed a job with International Video Distributors. He made cold calls, selling videos to adult stores, liquor stores — and, memorably, Westport’s Merritt Country Store.
As the growth of internet porn slowed sales of videos, Mike started a company that printed and replicated videos for big studios. After a big payout, last year he began producing his own films.
What does “producing porn” mean?
“I choose the girls and the story lines. I write the scripts, and shoot them,” Mike says. “Everything is done in-house.”
Mike is happy to explain that his success — and he is huge — is a result of hard work.
“I knew from high school on that this is what I wanted,” he says. “I researched the industry, went with reputable companies, reached out, and built my reputation.”
Many people have misperceptions about the adult entertainment industry, he adds. “They think porn stars are hookers. But people here are really monogamous. Being on set is like another day at the office. People work, then they go home to their significant other. It’s just one niche in the entertainment world.”
His family, he says, is “very supportive.” (Well, he’s “not sure” that his grandmother knows what he does.)
“I’m a studio owner at 25,” he says proudly. “For me to get to this position in banking or marketing would have taken most of my career.”
As for his Staples classmates, “the guys think this is the coolest thing in the world.”
The girls? “Not so much.”
Though adult entertainment is a multi-billion dollar industry, Mike calls it surprisingly tight-knit. “Everyone knows everyone. We see each other all the time. We pass along leads, and help each other out.”
This winter, Mike and his studio made headlines. Assence’s debut film featured Sasha Grey‘s final scenes. She had gone mainstream — including a stint on “Entourage” — but a public uproar arose last November after she read to a Los Angeles classroom.
Assence announced it would donate a portion of the film’s proceeds to the National Education Association’s “Read Across America” program. The NEA refused the gift. That caused an uproar of its own, covered by CNN, Fox News, the Huffington Post and TMZ, among others. So Mike offered the funds to a UC-Davis institute that studies and supports sexually positive media portrayals.
Mike understands he has a chosen a path that’s not for everyone — and that not everyone understands.
“A good portion of society thinks the adult industry is taboo, and/or controlled by the Mafia,” he says. “We’ll, it’s completely legal, it’s taxed — it’s just another industry.”
And, like most industries, it has its rewards. No, I’m not talking about titillatingly close encounters with very naked women.
The Xbiz Awards -- just another day at the office.
Every year, the Xbiz Awards honor the “the Oscars of porn.” There are presentations for Best Actor, Best Actress — and Best New Studio.
Mike Kulich thinks he has a shot at that last award.
If he wins it, he may even give a shout-out to the Staples staff member who, less than a decade ago, jokingly suggested he make XXX-rated movies his career.