(Un)Easy Riders

By Josh Eliot

 

Who doesn’t like a good road trip? Our very first one for the Catalina Crew was when we drove from L.A. to San Francisco in 1992 to shoot a movie called Easy Riders. Randy White and Bill Marlowe headed the cast, and we shot their scene in the downtown flat my producer Scott Masters (Nova Video) rented for us. I lived in San Francisco from 1980 to 1989 until Catalina closed their studio and moved me, with them, back to Los Angeles. Since my producer did not join us on this trip, I took advantage of leaving his watchful eye back in L.A. and cast a bunch of my San Francisco friends as extras in the movie. I would typically turn in a very generic script for Masters to approve and then on shoot days I would bring my real script to set. Nothing malicious, he was just from a different generation and had a hard time seeing my vision on things. The version I showed him did not have the sequence I was shooting with my friends and Randy White. We found an amazing spot with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background and shot the “movie within a movie” scene. A ranger came by and asked us if we had a permit, but when I told him we were students from the Art Institute working on a class project, he said to have a good time and let us continue. My San Francisco friends, the crew and I drank quite a bit the night before on Castro Street and we were all pretty hung over. We were all still in our 20s, and when the producer's away, the kids will play.

 

Josh Eliot and friends with Randy White

Josh Eliot and friends with Randy White

 

From San Francisco, we went to the Russian River in Guerneville (Sonoma County). We checked into the Fifes Resort and the gracious owners told us to do whatever we wanted to as far as filming. We had free roam to film fuck scenes anywhere, any place, any time. Midweek, Chi Chi LaRue drove into town from L.A. with more models for the additional scenes we needed to shoot. Chi Chi worked in the marketing department for Catalina at the time and was not directing yet. I recall she came to get familiar with how we shoot the scenes. The first night, we all ended up at the Rainbow Cattle Company in the middle of Main Street and again we “Tied One On.” The River is very rural and “hillbilly-ish,” but a gay mecca at the same time. A very interesting combination. While walking down Main Street to the restaurant for dinner, Chi Chi was in full drag and acting out. It was like that scene from John Waters' Pink Flamingos where Divine is walking through downtown Baltimore to the song “The Girl Can’t Help It.”

 

Rainbow Cattle and Fifes Russian River

 

Rainbow Cattle and Fifes Russian River

 

The next couple of days, the filming went great, but we were definitely hung over (again!) so it was “slight” torture. I got the idea to write an additional scene featuring Chi Chi as the town drunk wandering through the forest. It was taboo in my producer’s eyes to include a scene like this featuring a drag queen, and trust me, I never stopped hearing about it once he saw it in the final cut. I don’t mean to rag on Scott Masters, as I have such great memories of our time working together and I learned so much from him in the process. I will dedicate an article to him soon. It’s just that he wasn’t exactly flexible and I was still in my rebellious stage, wanting to see how far I could push things.

 

Easy Riders poster and Chi Chi LaRue with Josh Eliot on set

Easy Riders poster and Chi Chi LaRue with Josh Eliot on set

 

Later that night, the cast and crew ended up at the Rusty Nail Bar just outside of town. Chi Chi was ruling the place, as always, and we were all two sheets to the wind. There was this hot guy in a brown pick up truck I spotted when we arrived who was staring me down from across the bar. I had my liquid courage, so I started talking to him. Before I knew it, I was tossing the van keys to Orlando Bello (my 2nd Videographer) so he could drive everyone back to the resort. Suddenly, I was zooming down a dirt road in the passenger seat of that brown pick-up truck. That dirt road turned into something that no longer looked like a road, but still we kept driving. It felt like we were going straight up a mountain and I was being tossed around like a ragdoll. This is where my nerves kicked in. I was very uneasy and thought, oh shit, this guy’s a serial killer and I’ve made a huge mistake. I tried not to freak out, but inside I was tripping. The drive lasted forever when we finally got to level ground. I could tell the elevation was high even through everything outside was pitch black. We passed what looked like a shanty shed, then drove another 500 or so feet, when we came to a stop. It was another shanty looking building. We got out and went inside. It was definitely a homemade shack but it had generator power, some bits of furniture and a TV/VCR with porn tapes lying around. How appropriate! I’m not going to get graphic, but the sex was amazing. This guy was hot and handsome with abs to die for. Well, hopefully not. I realized he was just a hot corn-fed hick with a killer piece, but it wasn’t made of metal, it was between his legs.

In the morning, we woke up, did it again, then he offered me a shower before taking me back to the Fifes Resort. The shower was a bit of walk outside and up a hill, consisting of a cinderblock base and a garden hose that spewed out freezing cold mountain stream water. As I was shivering through my shower, I looked off in the distance and now everything made sense. A field of dreams, if you will. Marijuana growing as far as you could see. I was smack dab In the middle of a pot farm. When I got back to the resort, Orlando was a bit pissed at me because I ditched them all, leaving him to buy the drinks. I told him I would pay him back from the budget. He was happy and said, “So how was it?” I replied, “You tell me,” as I pulled a gallon sized Ziplock bag stuffed with weed out of a brown paper bag. A gift given to me before I left the “farm.” He was thrilled, all was forgiven and we lit up before going to shoot our final scene in the bunkhouse with Tom Farrell and Adam Archer. (The best scene in the movie, I might add.)

The point of all this? Easy Riders went on to win Best Picture at the Grabby Awards in 1993, so I guess being stoned, hung over or tipsy when shooting a porn movie didn’t turn out so bad.

 

Josh Eliot, Jeff, Randy White, Bill Marlowe and Orland on the Easy Riders set

Josh Eliot, Jeff, Randy White, Bill Marlowe and Orlando on the Easy Riders set

 

Thank you to Josh Eliot for use of the photos.

 


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
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment

That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor

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The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor

By Josh Eliot

 

FLASHBACK, 1987: I was 25 years old when I started working with Catalina Video in San Francisco. Dan Allman was in charge of the new studio, which he ran with his new boyfriend, John, who he met on the set of a movie he recently directed called Bad Boys Club. Catalina Video moved their productions from Los Angeles/Ontario to San Francisco after the video crew got busted in a Ralphs Supermarket parking lot while shooting the movie Bulge. That’s really the extent of the information I was given at the time. All of the camera cases and equipment still had remnants of the “evidence” tape from the police department. The story I was told is that it was no longer viable to shoot in the L.A. County limits until a pandering case was resolved in the courts. So they set up shop in San Francisco. The Catalina Producer/Director was Scott Masters (Nova Video) and the VIP Director of the company was John Travis (Brentwood Video). William Higgins had recently moved to Europe.

 

Catalina equpiment with evidence tape

Catalina equpiment with evidence tape

 

John Travis started off in the industry shooting 8mm loops including the two infamous John Holmes gay porno scenes. He also shot the ever enduring Brentwood Video library of films, which are best sellers to this day. He was hired by Chuck Holmes and started a decade-long tenure with Falcon Studios. His work as cinematographer in The Other Side of Aspen 2, A Matter of Size, Big Guns and The Young and the Hung elevated those movies' statuses. He became lovers with and was credited for discovering Jeff Stryker. Travis’ Powertool starring Stryker became the most successful and best selling movie of its time. Travis won Best Director/Best Picture for Powertool in 1987 at the Adult Video News Awards. (The same year, I started working with him and he never mentioned it for months! That’s how unpretentious he was.) He also won an AVN Award for Best Director/Best Picture for Undercover in 1989.

 

John Travis and Jeff Stryker

John Travis and Jeff Stryer

 

Most of my days at the studio consisted of “woodwork”: building sets, then dressing and lighting them for upcoming shoots according to the specifications we got from Scott Masters in Los Angeles. The night prior to filming a scene, the director and models would fly in from Los Angeles and Dan would pick them up and take them to an apartment Catalina rented and furnished. It was always a nail biter when we would show up for the shoot in the morning. If it was a set for a Scott Masters movie, you can bet your ass that there would be major changes that would delay the beginning of the shoot. Scott would always have outrageous requests that drove us nuts. Things like, “I don’t like that end table, it’s too small to fuck on. Can we run out and buy another one?” - instead of just modifying his plans for the scene and fucking on the roomy couch instead. But when John Travis came to direct, he always had positive things to say about the sets. If anything, it was the lighting that needed modifications, which always made the set look better. His experience showed. He would always find creative ways to modify things on the fly and avoid situations that could make a shoot day come to a dead halt.

John Travis ALWAYS showed up to the set with two brand new packs of Benson and Hedges 100’s menthol cigarettes. He would smoke almost every one down to (and into) the filter. In the early days John was always directing from behind the camera as he had done for years and cigarette smoke was always creeping up into the shots! After the first couple of movies, we built him a beautiful deck and monitor station on wheels so he could direct from behind the monitors while Dan and I performed all the camera work. I think, for the first time in his career, he was able to get out from behind the camera and direct from the station at a distance, and he LOVED it! One would think that his movies would have a different look if he wasn’t working the camera himself, but he was very specific on the framing 100% of the time. “Pull out wider…No... too much... zoom in… but just a cunt hair.” That was one of his favorite lines and I kept using it when directing my own movies for the next 20 years. It was one of many classic lines John put out into the world. I credit him for my first award in 1992 for Cinematography on a movie called Sterling Ranch at the Gay Erotic Video Awards. He was in the audience and when I thanked him personally, my voice cracked and I nearly lost it, but after all, he did put me up there.

 

Josh Eliot at the Gay Video Guide Awards

Josh Eliot at the Gay Video Guide Awards

 

The crew was always enamored with him and we always laughed our asses off. This man was so relatable and sincere, he would give you the shirt off his back. This guy directed Powertool, for God’s sake, and had zero attitude about it. He shared all his experience, shooting secrets, and directing techniques without even giving it a second thought. I truly was the luckiest guy in the industry to have such an icon take me under his wing and mold me.

On a movie called Powerline with Tom Steele, we built a rooftop set, which he thought looked too clean and sterile, so at one point he walked on the set and tossed his full ashtray of cigarettes onto it. “There you are… it’s called seasoning… I’m seasoning the set... It’s too fucking clean.” We roared! That is John Travis in a nutshell. Truly inspirational, down to earth, generous, one of a kind, and an old soul who made the industry a much better place.

 

Magazine featuring rooftop images from Powerline

Magazine featuring rooftop images from Powerline

 

John sadly passed away in January of 2017 but his work will stimulate and entertain forever.
 


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
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment

That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!

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Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!

By Josh Eliot

 

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I get asked about fluffers on the set. It seems once someone found out what I did for a living, their first words were, “Do you need a fluffer?” or “Are there really fluffers for the actors?” It’s almost like the impression of a fluffer is a cool and positive one. Well, let me tell you, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the only thing worse than needing a fluffer on the set is when you need to hire a stunt dick (yes, that’s a real thing). I’d like to think that when I hear the word fluffer, it takes me back to the time when my mother packed our school lunches with a fluffernutter sandwich. A peanut butter and fluff sandwich on Wonder white bread, a true American classic and staple of the East Coast. The only place you can buy fluff in California is at a specialty market, and every year or so I have a craving for it. The sandwich is dripping with white creamy marshmallow fluff, the complete opposite of what we want to happen when a fluffer goes to work.

I’ve said “fluffer” so many times in the last paragraph that I’m starting to have anxiety, so let’s just change the word to Mr. F. As a director of gay porn movies, when a model needs the services of Mr. F, we know our shoot day will extend from 5 to 6 hours for a full scene to anywhere from 8 to 10 hours. Your heart drops and you realize that all your hopes and dreams of a hot sexy scene have gone right out the window in an instant. The worst part of shooting porn is when there are erection problems, especially in gay porn where there is not a cute “vag” you can shoot to take up some screen time. You cannot move forward without a hard on, and all the momentum is lost. There is a place and purpose for flaccid dicks to be photographed and a porn movie is not that place.

 

fluffernutter

 

In the late 1980's when I started with Catalina Video, William Higgins' vision for the company was to cast young collegiate men with fit bodies and All-American looks. The model pool in the late 80’s with Scott Masters (Nova Video) as our producer and sometimes director was mostly made up of guys who were gay for pay. This made the chemistry on the set between the models very wooden. If we matched a gay guy with a straight guy, sometimes things would work out, but straight with straight... forget it. Because of this dynamic, our sets had no similarity to what I (and probably everyone else) thought a porn set would be like. I’d always envisioned Joe Gage’s Closed Set as the epitome of a California gay porn shoot. Or even 1984’s Best Picture Winner, Steve Scott’s classic Screenplay, with hot sexy gay actors portraying directors and casting agents. Our sets did not have that sexual energy.

 

Stills from Closed Set
Stills from Closed Set (DVD | Streaming)

Screenplay VHS cover

Screenplay VHS cover (DVD | Streaming)

 

With our gay for pay models, Mr. F was not a man but a VCR, unless one of the model’s girlfriends happened to be on the set (I can count on one hand the number of times that happened). A man’s mouth would not do the trick, so we would wheel out the TV/VCR combo from the make-up room onto the set. We would shut off the 1k soundstage lights to make the model comfortable and let him watch a porn scene to get hard. Oh the hideous memories of models rewinding and fast forwarding the tape, trying to find their “perfect shots to watch.” The clock is ticking! Take your hand off that fucking remote and put it on your dick already! Once the model was fully erect, we would turn the lights back on and run to our cameras as the model jumped into the set, stuck his dick in his co-star’s mouth or ass, while we'd shoot for 10 to 15 seconds until it was flaccid again. Over and over and over, angle, after angle, after angle. Torture.

As time progressed, more gay guys with the All-American look got into the model pool. Sexy passionate sex was now a regular occurrence on our sets because the guys were actually into each other. That’s not so say that Mr. F wouldn’t show his ugly face, but that was usually in the form of a magazine to help a hard dick get rock hard or, on the rare occasion, a crew member’s mouth (or piece) would come in handy. Then on March 27th, 1998, a miracle happened in the form of a little blue pill. This was awesome! The cob web covered TV/VCR combo was thrown right into the trash and we could make real plans for the evening because we knew we would get out of work on time. Hell, we could even add a third fuck position into the scene we were shooting, just because we knew we could! Mr. F simply faded away out of our lives and took all that anxiety with it.

 

Man holding Viagra pill

 

Fluff now has it’s good name back and Mr. F is more than welcome on the set... as a sandwich.
 


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
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment

That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck

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