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

By Sal Bardo | /Bent February 18, 2014 at 10:29AM

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.
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"Chaser"
"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):

This article is related to: Filmmakers Forum, Video