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Filmmaker's Forum: Director Sal Bardo on His NSFW Short Film 'Chaser' (Which You Can Watch Here)

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by Sal Bardo
February 18, 2014 10:29 AM
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"Chaser"

This is part of a series of first person posts in which we provide a forum for filmmakers and other artists to discuss their process, their influences and/or their experiences showing their work. In this edition, Sal Bardo talks about "Chaser," his short film that after playing dozens of LGBT film festivals was released online yesterday.

My very first film, "Requited," made its world premiere as part of Seattle International Film Festival's gay shorts program in 2011. I invited my friends from the surrounding area, some of whom were straight men, and I was feeling a little anxious about how they would receive my film, which was not only semi-autobiographical, but featured two guys making out in their underwear. 

"Requited" was immediately followed by Travis Mathews' 14-minute short "I Want Your Love," more than half of which consisted of real, honest-to-god, hardcore fucking. The film was well-made, the guys were scruffily authentic, and the reaction, at least in my circle, was decidedly mixed. My straight buddies were split, but ironically, it was my gay friend who objected to the film's inclusion in the program, dismissing it as "pornographic." Watching eight minutes of blow jobs, rim jobs, and anal penetration with mixed company on a Saturday night isn't exactly my fetish of choice, but I defended the film's right to exist—even if I wasn't entirely sure why at the time.

Travis and I (or at least our work) crossed paths again last year, when my short film "Chaser" was bundled with his micro-feature "Interior. Leather Bar," a pseudo-documentary co-directed by gay ally and professional provocateur James Franco, at the Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival. The film purportedly re-imagines the rumored lost footage from the controversial 1980 gay thriller "Cruising," directed by William Friedkin and starring Al Pacino, and many will no doubt see the project as just another exercise in the self-queering of a straight white dude whose career might have otherwise gone the way of a hundred other heart throbs' by now. But it's first and foremost an examination of homophobia in Hollywood, with James sounding off on what he deems to be a systemic, hypocritical fear of sex, particularly of the fringe variety. Almost everyone has fucked, been fucked, or at the very least watches porn on a regular basis. But most people haven't blown another person's head off with a gun. And yet, the image of two (or more) people having sex on screen is infinitely more frightening to many. 

Having just made "Chaser," for which "Cruising" was likewise a touchstone, the scenes in "Interior. Leather Bar" in which "James" counsels his actor buddy (Val Lauren, also playing himself) on these issues resonated with me. Although they were loosely scripted, the conversations were strikingly reminiscent of the kind I had with actor and co-producer Max Rhyser leading up to our film. When a straight actor kisses a man or dresses in drag, he's handed a trophy; when a gay man plays straight, as countless have for decades, it's shrugged off as no big feat (after all, most of us have had years of practice, right?). Max is part of a new generation of openly gay actors proudly rejecting the confines of the celluloid closet, but the pressure not to get typecast as gay—or, worse, conflated with his character, a high school teacher who likes to get fucked by multiple men at bareback sex parties—is irrefutable. 

From my position seated safely behind the camera, I was much more willing to push the envelope in terms of the sexual content in the film than Max. And having already coerced him into adding a sex-party scene to the script, I reluctantly agreed to a strict "no cock" policy. I wrestled with the decision and nearly walked away from the project once or twice, as self-imposed creative constraints are artistic death, but nudity—specifically full-frontal nudity—was never my objective anyway. I wanted to start a conversation, and that was our common ground.

My skilled but apparently sadistic assistant director, Jeremiah Kipp, scheduled the sex-party scenes for bright and early on day one of the shoot. I walked onto a set filled with a dozen background actors standing around in various stages of undress, waiting for me to tell them what to do. I'd never staged anything like that before, and I'd never even worked with that many actors at once. And so, just as I had on the first day of Requited, I improvised and pretended to know what I was doing. Sex and everything leading up to it is ultimately just choreography, and so the whole thing was treated like a dance. A sideways glance here, a nod of the head there. Boys and men strategically placed around the room. And then the clothes come off. 

When it came time to shoot the climactic gang-bang scene, director of photography Nickolas Rossi and I focused solely on Max's face. After a couple of dry runs (no pun intended), the scene was shot in one continuous, three-minute take…of Max's face…in close-up…as one man after the next enters him, comes, and walks away. Of course, none of it was real, but at the end, the room, filled only with the actors and the predominantly straight male crew, was breathtakingly silent. "Well, I think that'll do," someone eventually quipped, breaking the palpable tension.

There's a fine line between making your audience squirm and completely alienating them or pulling them out of the film, so my editor and I cut the shot down to two minutes. But it's still my favorite part of the film. And not just because of Max's brave, bold performance. If you watch closely, you can catch a quick glimpse of cock.

Watch "Chaser" below (note again that it is NSFW):

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1 Comment

  • Frank McPherson | July 3, 2014 10:29 AMReply

    Here are my thoughts about the short movie:

    The truth is many gay men have secret lives within secret lives within secret lives within secret lives .For far too many many it is like peeling an onion. We wear these happy faces but we do not share our lives with even our most trusted friends. Too many gay men still in 2014 compartmentalize various aspects of their lives.

    1. Some gay men are not out (for a variety of reasons to friends, co-workers, family, etc.). For all of this push that we are normal we tell ourselves that our world will collapse if the wrong person/group found out. It is an understandable thought however it is the first crack in our facade. I recently had a conversation with a fellow co-worker (who is gay but hides it) after I started wearing my wedding ring. He said sharply, “Why make that announcement?”. I said it is my life and I am proud of, it took me a long time to get here with someone so I am not backing down.

    2. Some gay men are HIV positive (because the truth is unless you are having sex with that person…it is not your business). Also we have lost the idea that it is SAFER sex. We think the ONLY way to get HIV is bareback sex. Unforeseen mistakes (condoms break, impaired judgment and the killer of misplaced trust). YES bareback sex is probably the highest reason today in 2014. I can’t tell how many friends have shared they trusted someone who lied about their status and their need to keep the relationship going for a variety of reasons. Also I can’t ignore the acceptance and endorsement of high gloss muscled bareback porn (Sean Cody and Corbin Fisher) vs. the stigma crushing Treasure Island Media; we are more polarized than ever. Also the drugs of today do not create that identify look..coupled with the sensation that “I should have known better” many are silent about their health to other partners.

    3. Some gay men are drug users (oh yeah the dirty little secret of party drugs, steroids, viagra and a entire array that no one talks about). We have the most talked about movies (“Weekend and Keep the Lights On”) in the past two years in the gay press “showcases” drug use with NO downfall. You still get the beautiful guy (he will even stay with you for 12 years), keep your job, all of your friends, remain pretty, get any guy you want in a back room, pay for escorts and most importantly still remain HIV+ and/or disease free no matter how many dark rooms you visit…THAT IS IMPRESSIVE!!

    4. The latest films (The Normal Heart, We Were Here, The Dallas Buyer's Club, etc) out there are all dealing with AIDS providing a history lesson but the truth is HIV is happening now and the conditions are changing of how gay men are acquiring it. Many gay men do not see HIV as a “death sentence” and therefore it is manageable in their lives but rest assures there are many issues that are present with this diagnosis. Some gay men have condom fatigue, they are tired of worried about catching something and plunge head first into acquiring HIV.

    5. Some gay are sex addicts (because the greater gay culture is designed to exploit and enhance that). Go ahead and look at your phone and/or computer see all the hook up apps or sites you have visited in the past week. How about your memberships and/or visiting of sex clubs/ circuit parties yeah because they raise money for HIV/AIDS research while promoting it at the same time…

    As always be encouraged!!

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