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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