This article originally ran in the December 2016 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition.
When Joe Gage first decided to get into the industry, he was ready for a change.
“I was eking out a living in New York as a TV commercial actor with roles in the occasional low-budget indie film,” he recalls. “I felt gay men were misrepresented in movies and decided to try and do something about it.”
That resulted in arguably the most influential of all films in the history of gay porn, which has come to be known as the Working Man Trilogy. It all began in 1976 with Kansas City Trucking Co., soon followed by El Paso Wrecking Corp. and L.A. Tool & Die.
“The first gay porn I saw as a young gay man was Kansas City Trucking Co.,” says Titan Media Vice President Keith Webb. “It helped to form my idea of what gay sex and gay sexuality was. Remember, we had no role models of what ‘gay’ meant or what gay sex was. For many of us, the first time we saw gay sex was on film, often before many had even experienced it in their own lives. So what you saw on screen had a huge impact on forming your sexuality and how you saw gay sex. The Working Man Trilogy is to this day the most important gay porn films ever made.”
Webb was at Titan when Gage signed on in 2004 for a three-movie deal starting with Mensroom: Bakersfield Station. It proved to be a fruitful relationship that continues today. In some sort of cosmic coincidence, Webb notes that Titan’s release of Stopover in Bonds Corner in December marks the 40th film Gage directed for the studio in the same year Gage celebrates his 40th year in the industry.
“It was a happy coincidence that played perfectly into the marketing for the film. We have the largest library of Gage-directed films in the industry and are very proud of that fact…from our research, we believe he is the longest running gay porn director in adult history,” he says.
“Besides the Working Man Trilogy, my favorite old-school Gage film is the original Closed Set. The group sex and camera work was amazing. Some of my personal TitanMen favorites are 110 in Tucson and Arcade. I love his father/son themes where he walks right up to the edge but doesn’t cross the line.”
Gage also appeared in a few films himself before taking the leap behind the camera back in the ’70s: “Where Joey Lives, and something with a title I can’t remember [Morning, Noon and Night]. I was planning to direct this kind of material by then and thought as an actor I should see what it felt like.”
But in the early 1980s, life in the form of a wife and kids (he is no longer married)—and a career directing more mainstream fare under a different name, primarily low-budget action, horror and sci-fi films—took him away from the industry…until another legend helped draw him back in.
“I was glad to see that audiences were responding to my point of view, for the most part,” Gage says of his work. “I was itching to start an internet series of some kind, and asked my old director pal Jerry Douglas who to approach for advice. The next thing I knew, I got an offer to direct again, and I leaped at the chance.”
Gage got back in the saddle with Tulsa County Line for Men of Odyssey in 2001, soon directing a handful of titles for MSR—including Closed Set: The New Crew, his third entry in the series that started with the 1980 classic. Titan soon came calling (the studio also released his MSR titles), and the hits started pouring out as Gage enjoyed a long career revival that continues today—with his work also being showcased at Dragon Media, the company of former TitanMan Ray Dragon.
“Joe Gage is an icon in the industry. There are few that have had more influence,” says Dragon. “His films get into your head in just the right way. It is about the abuse of power and the dynamic that goes with that. He is a great director because he is always willing to explore new ideas and try different things. We are always looking for new ways to edit, new camera angles, new concepts. Always willing to learn and explore.”
Gage quickly made a mark with his Dragon Media work. His 2009 Dad Takes a Fishing Trip landed him a GAYVN Award for Best Director. “Dad” returned to go to college, get into trouble and go out West in three follow-ups, while TitanMan superstar David Anthony headlined After the Heist and some of Gage’s hits in his long-running Sex Files series, including Weekend in Phenix City (Vol. 15), Runaway Sons (Vol. 18) and The Runners (Vol. 20).
“We have the greatest respect for each other, which has only grown over the years,” says Dragon. “We are very similar in many ways. We both live out in the country—love gardening and animals. It’s amazing how well we work together. It’s all about being organized and prepared—we like to keep the ‘drama’ for in front of the camera. We always know what we are working towards but can change direction in a minute. The one sure thing about porn shoots—shit happens…make it work.”
The latest Dragon Media feature serves as the prelude to Titan’s latest Gage effort.
“The lead is played by Dallas Steele and the character is one from Joe’s Dragon Media production Doomsday Bunker. We loaned Dallas to Joe for his production, and then had Joe write our movie to include the crossover of the character into Stopover in Bonds Corner,” says Webb. “It was pre-planned as a future marketing tool to cross-promote across the two companies. The film also features all-time favorite TitanMan David Anthony, and newest fan favorites Bruce Beckham and Luke Adams. The film drops in December to coincide with Joe’s 40th-year anniversary directing gay porn.”
For Gage, it’s an open marriage he has been thrilled with. “I’ve only worked with Ray Dragon and Titan for the last decade, and both take a clear-eyed, down-to-earth approach that I appreciate, as well as ‘got-your-back’ support and encouragement.”
Gage describes his lasting memories from his early years as “frustration and blind ambition with occasional bursts of joy,” and notes that he’s had to adjust to the changing times both in the industry and in gay culture.
“My deal from the start was a mix of gonzo, down-and-dirty shooting with some level-headed pro-planning—rehearsals, notes, sketches for the cameraman,” he says. “Man-to-man sex is not especially taboo these days, so the challenge is to find a way to build dramatic tension regarding overcoming odds that would otherwise keep characters apart.”
Gage says he can’t pick favorites among his films (“I love ’em all, for the most part”), and notes that he has been blessed to work with some of the most iconic men the industry has seen: “Richard Locke, Fred Halsted in the olden days, David Anthony and Andrew Justice today. They are all real, clear-eyed, no-bullshit men.”
He also cites a handful of men as being the most important to his professional career.
“Sam Gage was key, of course. He produced the original trilogy and several other movies early on. And Jerry Douglas has been a great sounding board—he knew everybody in the business and pointed me in the right direction,” Gage says. “Then there was the late, great Tony Alizzi, who helped me make the first of the Joe Gage Sex Files gonzo movies for his MSR company— the little business with the big tag line, Men Are Pigs. Erik Schut at TLA was also an early supporter when I came back into the scrum. Soon I was brushing shoulders with Bruce Cam, the visionary founder of Titan, where their big-dog executive Keith Webb still has my back.”
He’s excited for Stopover in Bonds Corner (“I have good feelings about it…shot some stuff with a drone for the first time”), and notes he is “proud…extremely” when he hears people describe his work as influential, iconic and important.
“Joe Gage helped to create the modern-day aesthetic that is gay porn. He created the first story-driven gay porn ‘movies.’ Prior to Joe, gay porn was basically loop scenes. He created masculine and powerful characters that were at ease with their sexuality, which was something we had not seen before in gay porn. Along with Jim French, founder of Colt Studios, Joe Gage is one of the most influential gay porn directors in the world,” says Webb.
“He’s a real movie director. He actually makes a movie that happens to include sex. His signature is building sexual tension and being able to say a lot without saying a word. His build-up of sexual tension in a scene is a hallmark that others can learn from.”
Adds Dragon: “He still gets excited about his work and has the best life stories—he has done so much in his lifetime. One of my favorite memories is being invited to Joe’s New Year’s Eve party. It was still early in our relationship, so we had not had much time to spend together personally. We met his wife, children and dogs and so many of his friends. It was a beautiful evening with the most amazing home-cooked food and interesting people. You could see this man has lived a rich life filled with loving people. It was certainly one of the nicest New Year’s Eve events I have been to.”
Webb, for one, concurs on the food: “He makes amazing enchiladas and fish tacos!” He says his fingers are crossed for more Titan output from Gage in 2017. In the meantime, Gage will focus on trying to capture the essence of a scene (“Seeing and experiencing two characters responding to one another in an honest, hot way…it is sometimes difficult to pull off”) as he continues to truck along at Dragon Media.
“I’m wrapping up the Joe Gage Sex Files series with entry number 24—a nice round number.
Then perhaps another bukkake, a new hospital project and a title that came out of the blue—Damn, Dad! We’ll see…”
Thankfully, so will his legion of fans.