UNDER the COVERs with Tom Steele

By Josh Eliot
Undercover box cover


The movie Undercover, directed by John Travis, won Best Picture and Best Director at the 1989 Adult Video News Awards. The year prior he also won for Powertool, which starred his discovery, Jeff Stryker. To put things in perspective, 1989 was the same year that I directed my very first movie called Runaways. We shared a few of the same cast members including Danny Wade and Jake Corbin. Recently I cut a trailer for Undercover, which I posted on my YouTube channel as part of a tribute for John Travis, Scott Masters, Chet Thomas and Cameron Leight. The four of them really influenced me with their talents, all in different ways, and they really all were the pioneers at Catalina Video, so I thought that since they are no longer with us it would be special to add clips and trailers from their movies to keep their legacy alive. When viewing the footage from Undercover, I was surprised to see how young Jake Corbin looked. It made me remember that we were about the same age when we shot the movie. I was 27 and he was 26 and we both shared the common bond of being born and raised in the state of Rhode Island. When I met Jake Corbin, I remember thinking that he was very sexy and I was impressed by elements of his personality. He was very East Providence, as we would have said about a street-wise guy back in Little Rhody. He was like that hot guy in high school who could easily have been a bully, but the fact that he was gay and not “gay for pay” made him even more attractive. His accent was much thicker than mine, as I moved to San Francisco at age 17 and he still lived back east in Rhode Island. When I discovered that he had passed away at the young age of 29, on September 27th, 1992, I was in a state of shock. Just three years after shooting Undercover and Runaways. Scott Masters broke the news to me and we were both very upset and saddened.

On a positive note, when revisiting Undercover’s footage for the trailer, I was pleasantly surprised by the fabulous sets that Dan Allman (aka Cameron Leight) and I built for the movie. Shortly after building the sets, Dan Allman broke the news that he was leaving the company. I was suddenly the studio manager and their only videographer. The pressure was on. Thrown onto main camera for this big budget movie was terrifying, but luckily those cool sets gave me a lot of ideas visually, assisting me on finding the best angles. These sets were the bomb, and in addition to building life sized sets I had to build a miniature set of the apartment complex. The miniature set blows up at the end of the movie, which was fun to shoot! The life sized sets included: a fire escape where Butch Taylor lays out overnight on a mattress to beat the summer heat, but once asleep, a hooded leatherman (played by George Madera) climbs up and over him; a rooftop set where undercover cop Brad Phillips busts Paul Coder for rolling a joint, then proceeds to bust his ass; and an alleyway set between buildings where Jake Corbin and Danny Wade chase down, tackle and attack sweet young twink Danny Bliss. All these locations are watched over by Tom Steele and Doug Niles from their stakeout apartment set on a high floor overlooking the complex. Rear Window at its finest, emphasis on “rear.” Detective Tom Steele gets hornier and hornier watching all the action around the complex, causing him to give up his “straightness” to detective Doug Niles, shoving his oversized cock right up the keister. The final set we built was an exterior apartment, viewed through a picture window that housed Michael Britten, who was hosting a play date with Rick Stryker. Rick Stryker, the real life brother of Jeff Stryker, made his debut in Undercover, and the crew was very excited to be a part of what we thought was going to be very important porn history. “Stryker’s brother?…OMG I can’t wait!”


Jake Corbin Rick, Stryker and Tom Steele

Jake Corbin Rick, Stryker and Tom Steele


Well, the hype kind of fizzled while shooting the scene, so a stunt dick was brought in to handle all of the fucking. But not just any stunt dick – one who could match the length of Stryker and was a “true closer” to get in, get busy and make some magic. The stunt dick called to service was none other than David Ashfield (Surge's Therapy and Strange Places, Strange Things), already an icon in the industry. It was surprising how quickly Scott Masters could get stunt dicks to the set, almost like he had them on standby. This was my one and only time meeting and working with David, so I don’t have a vivid memory of things, but I do remember his rock hard piece going to town on cute Michael Britten, and he was also very friendly and personable.


David Ashfield in Therapy and Strange Place, Strange Things

David Ashfield in Therapy and Strange Place, Strange Things


Tom Steele was introduced to our team by John Travis when he directed the movie Powerline a month or two earlier. The first time I met him was at SFO Airport when he arrived on the “Midnight Flyer.” Scott Masters and John Travis were arriving from L.A. the next day, so I had to chaperon him for the night at the condo Catalina rented for cast members and out of town crew. It was a great two bedroom apartment, far away from the Castro and Polk Street districts to keep the models in check. One room had two queen beds for the models and the other bedroom had a king sized bed with a $1000 Airflex mattress that Masters splurged on for himself, pissing off GM Chris Mann. These days those mattresses start at around $4000. It was really comfy, but became much more so when during the night Tom Steele poked his head in and asked if he could sleep with me because the queen beds were as hard as a rock. Of course they were – Masters only let me spend like $200 on each of them. This was Tom Steele and I was 27 so let’s face it, I was hit with some major temptation. Right from the start when I picked him up at the airport I was comfortable around him. He is exactly like the character from all his movies that you see on the screen. Not too much of an actor, just him reading the lines. For such a handsome super hung stud, his personality is really sweet and down to earth, no hang ups and no attitude ever. I tried my best to be professional by offering to just switch beds with him, but he insisted on sharing the luxurious king size. King sized was right! But I did feel guilty when I saw Travis and Masters the next morning.


Powerline promo shot and box cover featuring Tom Steele

Powerline promo shot and box cover featuring Tom Steele


Getting back on subject, Undercover, in my book, was one of John Travis’ crowning moments. Just being on the set of this movie put him in a good mood. We experimented with the dolly tracks to get some cool shots. We lit the shit out of the sets with color gels and Travis taught me the importance of backlighting the models. At one point, midway through a scene, Travis said: “You know this is all going to look like mud once it gets down to VHS.” Going from 3/4 inch source material tape down to 1/2 inch VHS really took away so much quality. Thanks to modern technology, quality loss is a thing of the past. The cast and crew all felt like we were making something very special, so we tried everything in our power to make it look sensational. John Travis’ ultra-specific direction on framing each shot, lighting each shot and directing each shot was priceless to me. When you learn from the very best, all you can hope is that you can emulate their style and somehow make it your own. I was so honored to have worked on Undercover, and am so grateful to my mentor and idol, John Travis.


Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002. 


You can read Josh Eliot's previous blogs for Bijou here:

Coming out of my WET SHORTS
That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake
We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?
Don't Wear "Short Shorts" on the #38 Geary to LANDS END
How Straight Are You Really?
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone
Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD
SCANDAL at the Coral Sands Motel
RSVP: 2 Weeks Working on a Gay Cruise Ship
VOYAGER of the Damned
Diving into SoMa/Folsom: A TALE OF TWO STUDS
My 1992 “Porn Set” Diary
Out of Print
There’s a Gloryhole WHERE??!
LUNCH HOUR: When the Big Boys Eat
IN and OUT and All ABOUT

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