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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Coming Out of My WET SHORTS

By Josh Eliot

 

My first sexual memory was at age 6. My favorite TV show was Lost In Space. Aside from loving the adventure the Robinson family was going through, there was just something about Don. Don West was a dark haired, handsome, masculine guy whose character had a love interest with the Robinson's daughter Judy. I would lie awake at night thinking about Don taking his shirt off, showing his muscular chest and imagining him rubbing and grinding himself on top of Judy. I'm sure it was not the kind of imagery Producer Irwin Allen wanted to achieve when he developed Lost In Space, and I wasn't sure at the time why I was feeling this way, but for some reason I was having the feels for Don.

My next big "red flag" about my sexuality was when I was around 12 years old. In 1974, streaking was all over the news in America. Living in rural Rhode Island, my brother, sister and I were best friends with our cousins of the same genders and age. We would build forts in the woods near our homes and streak naked through the fields. The summer of '74, I remember us being naked all the time! Not just in the field near the forts, but down by the train tracks, in empty factories. We were Free!

One day that summer, my cousin brought a magazine to the fort that he found between his mom and dad's mattress. The magazine was called Mama's Taste for Cock. I'm pretty sure it was all in black and white and maybe not even a magazine, but a newspaper. I don't remember much about "Mama" because it was all about the cock. This had to be the first time I saw photos of an erect dick and it was a real attraction for me. Somewhere towards the last few pages, we saw this white stuff all over Mama's face and we thought what the hell is this? My older brother said that this was semen, and explained it the best he could. He was three years older, so he was already able to ejaculate (with the help of Head & Shoulders) in the shower. A day or so later, my cousin and I were determined to “cum” so we got some shaving cream, took it over to the fort and rubbed it all over our cocks. Nothing happened, as we were too young to ejaculate.

At 16, my friend David and I were in downtown Providence when we walked into an adult book store. Shocked that we weren't kicked out, we started looking through the products. Most of my childhood I collected 8mm movies. Castle films, 50' reels that had about 3 minutes of movies like Frankenstein vs the Wolfman, Abbott and Costello and Dracula, to name a few. I was always shooting short movies on my 8mm camera, editing them and playing them back on my projector. So when I saw a Swedish Erotica 8mm movie for sale at this shop, I just had to have it.

 

Swedish Erotica 8mm reel

 

I saw one with two guys and a girl. I can't tell you what the girl looked like, but one of the guys was blond, masculine with a hairy chest while the other was brunette, bearded and handsome. I would watch that movie on my projector when I knew my parents weren't around to barge into my room. At one point the guys double penetrated the girl. This was eye opening for me; it was the first time I saw this or even knew it was a thing! The first thought that came to my mind was how each of the guys must feel when their dicks were rubbing against each other inside the girl's snatch. I imagined that it made them each get harder because they were touching each other.

My friend David and I were emboldened by our trip to the porn shop and raised the ante by sneaking into the Rustic Drive-in in Smithfield, RI. The Rustic showed a triple feature of XXX movies. David was tall and always looked older, so he would drive the car while I would hide in the trunk or the floor of the back seat with a blanket over me. We watched such classics as Eruption with John Holmes, Inside Desiree Cousteau and Pretty Peaches with Sharon Kane.
 

Rustic Drive-in sign and lot with screen
Rustic Drive-in
 
Sharon Kane in the 1970s (left) and in a still from Pretty Peaches, 1978 (right)

Sharon Kane in the 1970s (left) and in 1978's Pretty Peaches (right)

 

In 1980, after graduating high school at the age of 17, I moved to San Francisco. I attended The San Francisco Art Institute for film studies. One day in class, my instructor George Kuchar brought in a 16mm copy of a movie he wrote and starred in called Thundercrack, co-starring Marion Eaton. The move was shot in black & white, beautifully filmed, with elaborate sets and filled with hardcore sex scenes! This was shocking to me. Being from a small town and closeted about sex, the fact that this film existed and the instructor was showing it to a classroom of students made me feel like this was an art form that was perfectly acceptable to a wide audience. It really opened my eyes and made me see hardcore sex on film from a whole new perspective.

 

Thundercrack poster

 

My first few weeks in the city I lived at the Harcourt Residence Club, a place where you would share a room and receive free meals. The Harcourt was located on Larkin Street on the border of the Tenderloin neighborhood. When I looked out my bedroom window I could see a movie cinema in the distance. The marquee displayed the title: Wet Shorts. Wet Shorts? I was intrigued. This had to be an adult cinema. I was still 17 and could not go in, but I definitely needed to check it out. I walked past the cinema and saw an image that literally burned into my brain until this day. The Wet Shorts movie poster featured a close-up of a pair of blue jean short shorts with some hairy legs and a bulge. After turning 18, I worked for another cinema in the tenderloin selling tickets. It was called the Screening Room Theater. It was an All Male Adult Theater with live dancers.

 

Vintage Wet Shorts poster

Vintage poster for Tom DeSimone's Wet Shorts (1980)

 

Little did I know at age 12 when I was looking at a magazine called Mama's Taste for Cock that I would someday be shooting sex scenes and pulling hard core photos for magazines.

Little did I know at age 16 that when I watched Pretty Peaches at the Rustic Drive-in, I would someday meet Sharon Kane and establish a long working relationship with her.

Little did I know that the Screening Room Theater where I worked in 1980 was the same theater where Sharon Kane worked in the 1970s. Alex de Renzy, who owned the Screening Room Theater, made the movie Pretty Peaches and introduced Sharon Kane in it.

Little did I know that on my 25th birthday in 1987, I would be hired by William Higgins' company Catalina Video. The same company that produced and released the film Wet Shorts.

This is my first blog for Bijou World and I am excited to share some of my experiences and perspectives.


A Note from the Editor:

Little did Josh know that I (Steven Toushin/Bijou) purchased the lease for the Screening Room (at 220 Jones Street) during the time Josh worked there (the manager at the time was filmmaker Frank Ross). After a few months of extensive renovation and a name change (Savages), Savages had its grand opening.


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.  

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Sent through email from W.D.: To Josh Eliot. You're latest Blog, "Wet Shorts", took me on a parallel journey through my own becom... Read More
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Does Bigger Mean Better?: Thoughts About A Book for "Size Queens"

Does Bigger Mean Better?: Thoughts About A Book for "Size Queens"

In 1985, a book came out called How to Enlarge Your Penis. Yes, instructions on how to get that all powerful king of dicks that many men have always wanted. According to the book, by someone with a degree in history (what does history have to do with creating a big dick?), various types of vacuum pumps are apparently a particularly effective way to enlarge the cock.

 

Now, in ancient Greek and Arabic, there were manuals on the subject (I’m going to take from an Arabic manual) that proscribed that when an Arab boy reaches the age of six, his father initiates him into the practice of “JELQ”; This is where the boy slowly strokes his cock form bottom to top every day for an half an hour to enlarge it. Now this is a very good and understanding father.

Though the information in this book is quite fascinating in scope, it seems like the real appeal is for size queens. For example, the book includes a picture by Tom of Finland, whose drawings with exaggerated cocks play on the age-old fascination that a big dick is power, an aphrodisiac that makes all who come in contact with a big beautiful cock swoon. So to illustrate the point, the majority of the photos in this book are of famous porn stars with 11-inch dicks or longer: Cassidy, Dakota, Ray Fuller, and the legendary John Holmes.


Nothing is new under the sun or under the covers, for that matter. This obsession with a big cock and its potency is apparently something men never grow out of. That desire sublimates itself even today in the constant ads for Viagra and similar products. But as Dr. Ruth has advised, in a multitude of ways, bigger is not necessarily better.

But can big mean better, or even best, in certain contexts? In the case of the porn stars above, the big cock works in their favor as an immediately identifiable indicator of sexual power, prowess and sexual gratification. Isn't that why many gay men watch porn? To share in that power, and then enjoy good sex where the whole time your dick feels like it is 13 inches (even it it's not) because you feel good about yourself and your sexuality. So as I see it in the end (pun intended), sorry Dr. Ruth, bigger is better.

 

 

 

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