VOYAGER of the Damned

By Josh Eliot

 
Cover of Catalina's Voyager

Cover of Catalina's Voyager

 

In 2000, Catalina Video was invited to shoot a movie on board the Pillage & Plunder Gay Cruise, departing from Tampa. As with the maiden voyage of the Titanic, the Pillage & Plunder's initial venture at sea was just as much a disaster for the Catalina Crew. Don’t get me wrong, the cruise itself was a smashing success for the passengers and organizers of the event, so much so that it was repeated for many years to come. My experience however, through no fault of the Pillage organizers, was one that I tried hard to “douche” from my memory. I’ve never been so stressed out and distraught while on a “vacation” of sorts. The flight from Los Angeles was uneventful and we had a nice overnight stay at a Sheraton in Tampa. The next afternoon we made our way to the port.

 

Catalina Crew: Mark Jensen, Brad Austin, Peter Romero & Josh Eliot

Catalina Crew: Mark Jensen, Brad Austin, Peter Romero & Josh Eliot

 

Arriving on board the Regal Empress was like: “Are you kidding me? Is this girl even seaworthy?” I referred to her as a “rusty barge,” and that was a compliment. The Regal Empress’ maiden voyage was on October 15th, 1953 and she was put out of service March 9th, 2009. For my sake, couldn’t she have been put to rest 9 or 10 years earlier? The ship ended up leaving port six hours late, which I could deal with, but for some reason unbeknownst to me (until we were on the ship and ready to shoot some dialogue) we were told that we could not shoot anything until we were in international waters. A majority of the storyline setup was to take place on deck as the ship was leaving port, with the background of the passengers on deck celebrating. Because the ship left port around 10pm, we did not get to shoot our footage, so a whole chunk of the storyline which I set up in Vermont, Los Angeles and the Tampa pier went bye-bye. The schedule was so tight on this cruise and this, coupled with the fact of only being able to shoot when we were told we were in international waters, made it impossible to reschedule these crucial scenes. I thought fuck it, we’ll fix it in post-production as we so often did. I’ll make some montages or something. Always troubleshooting on my toes, I pulled out our third camera, the L-1 that looks just like a home movie camera with less than desirable quality, and ran around the ship shooting generic shots of the passengers while I pretended to be a tourist shooting home movies. I needed to have something!

Now like I said, I douched a lot of this out of my brain, but I do remember seeing porn star Enrico Vega on one of the decks running around in barely anything, flashing his dick to the passengers. That footage of us stumbling upon him is in the finished movie. I honestly am not sure if we hired him “on the spot” to be in the group scene for the movie or if we had already booked him. I really think we added him into the cast after meeting him, turning our upcoming five-way into a six-way. This all doesn’t sound too bad, right? Guys running around flashing their hard cocks to anyone who wants to see them, unlimited drinks, sailing the coast. Well, things went cock-eyed the morning of our big group scene on the main deck.

 

Regal Empress, cast in action, Josh with Steve Rambo

Regal Empress, cast in action, Josh with Steve Rambo

 

Steve Rambo, Tuck Johnson and Caesar, three of the six models in the big six-way, came to me while Ray Harley, Mike Radcliffe and Enrico Vega were in make-up or having their stills done. They dropped the bomb on me that there were too many passengers piled up along the railings to watch the filming and they didn’t want to shoot their scenes in public. I was a bit annoyed because they knew from the moment I cast them that this was the deal. But from a humane perspective, I personally wouldn’t want to lay it all out there in front of a crowd either, so I found a hallway with emergency doors that we could close to give them a spot out of the public eye. They were grateful and I was fine with it, except the beautiful background of a cruise ship on the open seas and the majestic scope was now a small cramped hallway that could have been built on a soundstage. In addition, I couldn’t shoot the six guys together in that hallway so I split it into two groups of three. This was less than ideal… bye-bye six-way, hello two three-ways - twice the work! The other three models were all exhibitionists so they thrived on the fact that they were being watched. Oh happy day until we heard the sudden roar of a horn and the ship’s smokestack started blowing out black engine exhaust! As soon as that horn blew, so did one of my two cameras and its videotape deck. There was a surge from the ship outlet that destroyed the camera and deck! Luckily, camera two wasn’t plugged in yet and was still working. This was a disaster; we’d been shooting with two cameras on every shoot since 1987! You can capture twice the shots in half the time, plus two angles on the cum shots, which was what we were known for at the time. Well, we were down to one camera and I was too afraid to plug it into the wall, so we used battery power. Because we were on battery, we could not use the TV monitor to check lighting, exposure, framing and focus, so I was forced to do the camerawork myself because how else would I see how it was framed? I shot and hoped for the best.

 

Ceasar in Voyager

Ceasar in Voyager

 

I shot the first group of guys in front of the passengers , then re-set up everything and shot the guys in the hallway. The crowd wanted to see Caesar so badly they kept pushing open the emergency doors while I was filming, ruining my shots and annoying the boys. It was like a slow painful death that day, and when we wrapped all I wanted to do was throw back a few shots at the bar with the crew. But that wasn’t in the cards. In 2000, it was common for models (at their own choice and discretion) to use Viagra or a penile injectable to keep an erection. Well, with all the stress of working in front of a hungry crowd, one model gave himself a little too much of the injectable. His erection would not go down, so we took him to emergency on the ship. The erection lasted for hours and the doctor on board was concerned it could cause long term damage to his functionality. It was horrible. I felt so bad for him. I kept going in and out of the medical suite to check on him, until finally around 11pm the erection subsided.

The next day, we laid anchor in Key West, made our way to the Oasis Guest House to shoot our final scene (with one fucking camera), then spent the night at a go-go bar that DJ Tommy Rocker (Catalina promotions associate) was spinning records at. We had a ball, then went back to the rusty barge, slept and were first in line to get off that Muther-Fucking Ship in Tampa. Never to return.

 

 

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
(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?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone
Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD
SCANDAL at the Coral Sands Motel
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Midnight Sun
RSVP: 2 Weeks Working on a Gay Cruise Ship

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RSVP: 2 Weeks Working on a Gay Cruise Ship

By Josh Eliot

 

Working on the Catalina Video crew for 22 years from age 25 to age 47 was probably what some would think is the epitome of a dream job. To an extent the first 15 or so years were just that, but towards the end of my days with the company I was exhausted, burned out, idea-less and for the most part just ready to retire. For the majority of the years, especially once Scott Masters and John Travis left to start their own company Studio 2000, I became producer and was expected to “pump-out” two movies or more a month. All of the movies had a maximum of $13,500.00 budget except for our big budget “movie of the year,” which was allowed $25,000.00. The big budget movies had the luxury of having twice the amount of shooting days, so on day one we shot the oral and cum shots then on day two the anal and cum shots. Having each model cum twice in a scene really added some polish and made them appear more “stud-like.” Because the crew's salaries themselves were not part of the budget, we were able to stretch the dollar pretty far to add all the bells and whistles of a major production. All of the Catalina Crew were paid separately according to how many shoot days they worked per week.

Even though my youth helped me get through this vigorous schedule, it did take its toll over the years. Not much of a dream job, right? Well, from time to time the management did surprise and delight us with out of the ordinary adventures. William Higgins' main man in the states, while he lived in Prague, was David Weiss. David ran a distribution center called House One, which was literally in a special wing of his Burbank home. I would say David was the “boss” of Catalina’s general manager and facilitated all of Higgins' wishes. For some reason David really took a liking to me and had my best interests in mind. He was always offering to take me to Prague with him whenever he was going over to see Higgins but it never worked out for me to go because of that damned two movies a month schedule! He did however show up one day to tell me he had met with the owners of RSVP Cruises and arranged for Richard (an editor for House One) and myself to work a two week stint on an upcoming Mexican gay cruise leaving from San Diego in a couple of weeks. I was blown away, especially because our GM agreed to postpone production to allow me to go!

 

Richard, Josh & two RSVP Cruise employees

Richard, Josh & two RSVP Cruise employees

 

Richard and I arrived at the port mid-afternoon, as the ship would depart at 5pm sharp for Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán and Cabo San Lucas. We went aboard immediately as part of the RSVP staff. The first person we met was Danny Williams, a San Francisco comedian, who I remember seeing at the Castro Street Fair every year. In 1989, Danny began what was to become a 22 year career working as master of ceremonies and cruise director for RSVP Cruises. He introduced us to all the other staff, who were a wonderful group to work with. Richard and I went up to his editing suite, which was also the green room for the performers of the nighttime shows. Once there, I inspected my video camera equipment for my job on board. I was to shoot every event, cocktail-underwear party and land excursion, always bringing the footage back to Richard each night so he could edit it into a VHS tape each passenger would get as they disembarked the ship at the conclusion of the trip. I checked out my quarters and it was a private room! That’s like striking gold, because I was very single at the time! I think I had sex almost every day - I guess our ship uniforms helped with that!

 

Tea dance, underwear parties & nightly entertainment
Tea dance, underwear parties & nightly entertainment

Danny Williams, comedian

Danny Williams, comedian

 

I started shooting footage of all the passengers as they came aboard the ship on the main deck. I noticed two familiar faces amongst the crowd: Bob and Larry, the owners of The Vista Grande and Atrium in Palm Springs. We shot at their men-only clothing optional resort a lot over the years for movies like Big Guns 2 and Palm Springs Weekend. I just loved those guys and we were all thrilled to see each other. The warmth and excitement of seeing them suddenly dropped to “icy-cold” when a strange woman with a long wrap over her head approached me. I said hello and tried to start a pleasant conversation when she cut me off and asked if my camera was turned on. I started to explain what I was shooting but, without missing a beat, she stepped right up to my face, pulled her wrap from her head and said: “If you point that thing at me, it’s going over the side of the ship,” then she promptly walked off before I could even respond.

It turns out the woman was singer Jane Olivor and her reputation (that I later learned of) did not disappoint. Evidently when she walked into Richard’s editing room, also her green room, she demanded that everyone leave immediately. How very Gloria Swanson. Jane Olivor has a huge almost cult-like gay following and I have to say when I shot her performance I found her voice to be amazing! I even bought tickets, years later, to see her one summer in Provincetown. Betty Buckley was also aboard, and I’ll tell you she was fabulous and even let us watch her rehearsal! The work of shooting the passengers was pretty “full-on” because the cameras back then weighed a ton and required a separate video deck on a strap over my shoulder. I remember literally almost passing out from heat exhaustion, when I discovered a sanctuary in Puerto Vallarta called “The Blue Chairs.” The Blue Chairs is a beachfront gay resort with a bar along the beach offering 2 for 1 margaritas and, after 3pm, 3 for 1 margaritas. The place was packed with almost everyone I knew from the cruise ship. I plopped myself down and spent the afternoon there, every once in a while picking up the camera to shoot the passengers at play!

 

Cabo San Lucas beach party and The Blue Chairs in Puerto Vallarta

Cabo San Lucas beach party and The Blue Chairs in Puerto Vallarta

 

After seven days in Mexico and at sea, we returned to the San Diego Port. The passengers disembarked, then a few hours later a whole new set of guests boarded and we took off to do it all over again! Now this was the “real deal” dream job, with a whole new selection of hot guys coming aboard! Years later I was sent by Catalina Video along with my crew to board another cruise ship for an event called the Pillage & Plunder Gay Cruise - this time not to videotape the passengers, even though it was impossible to keep them out of my frame, but to film our big budget movie of the year, Voyager. Caesar and Steve Rambo were the leads, along with about nineteen others. In my next blog I will talk about how what started off as another dream cruise ended up being more like a nightmare!

 

Caesar in Voyager

Caesar in Voyager

 

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
(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?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone
Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD
SCANDAL at the Coral Sands Motel
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Midnight Sun

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