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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A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck

By Josh Eliot

 

Videotaping the International Mr. Leather Contest each year in the late '90s was especially fun for the Catalina crew. There were so many highlights over the years, and each time we traveled to Chicago we became more familiar with the city. We always stayed at the host hotel, the Ramada Congress, which had two towers facing each other. It was Hitchcock’s Rear Window (or John Travis’ Undercover - same premise) on overload. Open your curtains and there was always a live show going on.

 

IML contestants on stage

IML contestants on stage

 

On one day in particular, Brad Austin, my lead videographer, spotted a huge dildo in one of the windows with a half-dressed man walking around the room. The guy was hot with dark hair, a mustache and a hairy chest. We were all obsessed with Steve Kelso, who was the hot model of the time, and this guy looked just like him. Brad Austin was determined to get his attention and asked Jeff Burton (our photographer) to use his camera to repeatedly flash out the window. When the flashing got the guy's attention, Brad held up a sign with our room number on it. Within minutes, the man called our room and Brad told him who we were. They chatted about porn and then Brad went over to the guy's room while we watched from our window. Brad came back a little while later and said the guy was definitely interested in doing porn. We met the man for drinks in the lobby bar and this was where I made a handshake agreement to hire Catalina Exclusive Ray Harley to a contract, starting with a future shoot in L.A. He became one of our personal favorites and one of our most popular Catalina Exclusive models.

 

The night Ray Harley was discovered at the Congress

The night Ray Harley was discovered at the Congress

 

Ah yes, great times, until it wasn’t. The following year, we booked in the Dunes Resort in Saugatuck Michigan, which we planned on traveling to after we shot the IML contest.

 

Dunes Resort in Saugatuck, MI

Dunes Resort in Saugatuck, MI

 

We departed Chicago in a couple of rental vehicles and headed to Michigan to film my big budget movie of that year called Thrill Me! Steve Rambo, Ray Harley and Donnie Russo were headlining the extra-large cast. The movie was a cross between April Fool’s Day and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but with an all-male cast – and XXX Rated, of course.

 

Thrill Me promo
Thrill me promo 2

Thrill Me promo images

 

Donnie Russo received much acclaim for his role in Bijou Video’s Beat Cop, and we’d had the pleasure of working together many times in the past. He was a bright light on the set, always holding court, and was fun to be with outside of work, as well.

 

Donnie Russo in Beat Cop

Donnie Russo in Bijou's Beat Cop (on DVD and Streaming)

 

One time, Catalina’s general manager flew all of the staff to New York for a trip to see the AIDS Quilt as it was paraded throughout the city. Donnie joined our crew for a night of club hopping and we all had a blast. One time on the way to Palm Springs for a shoot, I was driving the van with Donnie riding shotgun. Donnie suddenly started jacking off on the I-10 Freeway, raising his hips up in the air to show the passing big rig drivers his hard on, which had us all in stitches. He even let us call him “MaDonnie Russo” on that shoot. We had tons of great memories before and after our trip to Saugatuck where he and Rambo started behaving… How do I put this?… TWAT-ish.

Somehow he and Rambo got into a screaming match over the fact that one of them let a bumblebee in the house rental, and it escalated from there. I’d never seen the two of them act like this, and what is worse is they had a sex scene scheduled together (for a different movie) the next day. The stress was killing me and, as predicted, it was a disaster. They got through it, but psychologically the crew felt scarred by their bad behavior. I think things took a turn when Donnie was fucking Steve Rambo – sorry, I shouldn’t say “fucking,” I should have said “pounding.” This seemed to help Donnie get over his fury and Rambo acted like it was uncomfortable, but secretly Rambo lives for a good pounding, so actually he was enjoying it. Reverse psychology, I suppose. They actually were laughing with each other by the end of the scene.

It was a miracle, I thought; we could shoot the rest of the movie stress free. Well, not really. The next day they were at it again and I was over it. We were shooting a dialogue only scene for Thrill Me where Rambo’s character accidentally runs over Russo’s character with the SUV. I wasn’t about to have Rambo behind the wheel of that car, so I shot each person individually. When Rambo finished his lines, we sent him to his motel room and got Donnie on set, and so on. They have a number of scenes together in the finished movie, but were nowhere near each other. Ray Harley, always the peacemaker, worked hard at playing mediator between the two of them, and by the time we all got to Chicago O’Hare Airport to fly home… you guessed it… they were still mad at each other.


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

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