At 1 a.m. on a drizzly Friday night east of Western Avenue, a film crew of four steals into an empty repertory theater, flicks on the lights and makes for the dressing room.
"Oh, this is perfect," says Jack Kona, the director. Two actresses take their seats in front of the mirror — fetish star Ashley Fires (Jack's wife) and her friend Aaliyah, a webcam model, both of them blond and excitable. As they fix their hair and makeup, Jack's assistant Daniel puts the props on the table in front of them: tweezers, white pepper, Q-tips, a box of tissues.
"OK, so I want to do one continuous shoot with you guys talking as you go," Jack says. "Really candid. You know — like, 'When I'm riding my boyfriend and I sneeze, my pussy really contracts. ...'"
"What about, 'If I sneeze I get goose bumps'?" Ashley suggests.
"Perfect. You can even do a little shiver afterwards."
The goal is to shoot a 10-minute clip of the girls sneezing, which Jack then can sell for $15 or so on clips4sale.com, a Walmart of niche fetish snippets. For his sneezing clips, he makes anything from $500 to $1,000. And sneezing is just one of 473 categories on the site, of which Jack's company, Rebel Base Studios, has ventured into about 100, including pee, tickling, balloons, ball-busting, small-penis humiliation and robots.
For sneeze fetishists, it's all about keeping it real. Their online forums are full of voyeuristic comments — blow-by-blow accounts of watching unwitting members of the public succumb to sneezing fits. The man outside the museum who sneezed 10 times in a row — 10! The girl at the party who was allergic to cats — oh, the joy of allergies.
The stories dwell on the details of runny noses, streaming eyes and the convulsive, helpless spasm of a sneeze. The bodily reflex.
Many clips feature heavy senior citizens in drab apartments unloading into their hands and displaying it to the camera. A proper spray or snot shot is key to sneeze porn, as is a good sneeze face, preblast, with the nostrils flaring and that look of faint disgust. For the connoisseur, these moments are irresistible.
Jack recalls that one of his early attempts featured a sneeze that seemed contrived. "You should have seen the e-mails. They were like, 'It's not realistic, the sneeze was fake, how could you do this. ...' Sneeze fetishists are probably the most vocal of them all. Even more than tickle fetishists. If they don't like what you're doing, they'll let you know."
Now his work has more polish. "Vulnerability is important," Jack explains. "For that wrinkle in time, she's not in control, the sneeze takes over, kind of like an orgasm. Sneezing is a moment of weakness. And it's also an intimate moment, like farting — it's private and embarrassing. The sort of thing that only your girlfriend would be comfortable doing in front of you. Which I suppose is the fantasy."
But Jack won't do fart videos. Or burp. Neither will the girls. They draw the line.
Jack calls "action." The girls start chatting about that time Ashley had a cold and how Aaliyah pees herself when she sneezes. They pass the pepper around and pluck their nose hairs out with tweezers and soon they get that look — the wet eyes, the sniffling, the catching breath. Aaliyah is the first to blow.
"Oh, my god, that was awesome," Ashley says. "Have you ever sneezed during sex?"
Aaliyah shakes her head — she can't talk. Her eyes are closing, there's another sneeze coming, and she can't do anything about it. Jack's camera swoops in for the close-up.
Now if only Ashley could do the honors, this shoot would be a wrap. But minutes pass without a blast. She's on the precipice, you can tell — rummaging around with a Q-tip and snorting pepper like cocaine, yanking her nose hairs out with abandon. Then at last, she lets rip — all over Aaliyah.
"Ewww, you got it all over my foot," Aaliyah squeals. She holds her splattered foot up to the camera.
"That was actually really gross," Ashley says. "I'm a little embarrassed now. Hey, cute toe ring!"
"OK, cut." Jack puts the camera down. "The spray on the foot was perfect. They're going to love it." He kisses Ashley. "Great sneeze, honey."
She's sniffling, her eyes and nose red. "I tried to do more, but it's hard. I can fake a lot of stuff on camera, but not sneezing."
Ashley blows her nose. "If this was small-penis humiliation, I would have knocked it out of the park."