Director Travis Mathews Talks About James Franco, ‘I Want Your Love,’ and His New Projects
March is shaping up to be a busy month for my friend, director Travis Mathews. First he’s flying to New York this week where his controversial hybrid documentary Interior: Leather Bar is premiering along with co-director James Franco’s gay-teen-gang-bang short The Feast of Stephen and Mathews’ beautiful 10-minute version of I Want Your Love. Then NakedSword, who produced both the short and the ultimate feature versions of I Want Your Love, is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the release of the film by rereleasing the film online on Wednesday, March 19th on NakedSword.com as well as on IWantYourLoveTheMovie.com. I spoke to Travis about the making of both films, his upcoming projects, and the strange irony of cutting Interior: Leather Bar to be more Netflix-friendly.
When Looking premiered, Saeed Jones at Buzzfeed tweeted a comparison to I Want Your Love. I’m curious how that struck you. It felt sort of unfair to me after one episode to throw that up in the air.
Yeah. I think Looking is its own beast. There are a lot of things that are on-paper similar. It’s San Francisco, it’s about a group of gay friends, but they both go in totally different, good directions. I think Looking really showcases San Francisco in a way different than people normally do. We haven’t gotten to the Golden Gate Bridge or taken a trolley car, thank god. [Editor's note: The Golden Gate figures prominently in last night's Episode 7.] I think one of the great things Andrew Haigh did was be really firm about wanting to shoot in San Francisco and not on a soundstage in LA.
Did you ever get a sense what the reaction to I Want Your Love was in famously picky San Francisco?
I think the biggest consistent response I got from San Franciscans was that it captured a texture and a milieu that people who are from there recognized. I’ve lived there so long now that I think the choices I made felt like second nature. A lot of production choices were deliberate, but a lot were just in my DNA as a San Francisco person. But all these things that I’m talking about are anecdotal things I’ve heard from other friends. Within San Francisco it wasn’t treated like a film release where there were reviews and a lot of discussion about it.
What was the first real sex, on film that you watched, and when was the first time you filmed somebody doing something sexual?
It’s funny because I’m at Ohio at my mom’s house and I’m in her bedroom so I can have some privacy to talk to you, and what’s funny about that is the first real sex I ever watched was looking through their drawers in here and finding my Dad’s VHS tapes of porn. He had one that was a compilation of different things. I remember there was a really dark skinned black man having sex with all these blond women. But the first thing I ever sought out was on my 18th birthday, I drove to Columbus, which is about an hour away, to the Lion’s Den, which was this local chain of X-rated video shops, and I went and rented Score 10, which is a Falcon release, and I got something else which was construction workers fucking, and I brought it home and had a 12-inch TV/VCR combo and I stayed there for the next day or so jerking off. Now the first time I ever filmed anything that was actually sexual was In Their Room: San Francisco, and that would have been Parker and Jesse. I don’t have a long history of shooting sex prior to that.
And In Their Room: San Francisco led to I Want Your Love right? How thought out was the story when you made the short?
The whole story is I did In Their Room: San Francisco and Jack Shamama and I had a mutual friend named Mary and she recommended to Jack that he should watch it, and he didn’t, but then it was her birthday, and he watched it because he knew that we would meet at this birthday party. He really liked it, and he asked me if I had anything I wanted to pitch him, and I had been writing I Want Your Love. NakedSword wanted to put money into it but they wanted me to do a short first. So I pulled out a scene and workshopped it with Brenden and Jesse which was much more prominent in the original draft.
With the sex itself, how much was it specified and described what you had to do?
None of it. I remember having lots of initial conversations with NakedSword like “We should have a conversation about what you’re expecting.” I was always thinking two steps ahead, and I didn’t want to do this without having a conversation and then have them be furious with me later because there wasn’t enough cumshots etc. But I don’t remember us having a conversation at all about it. They read the script and didn’t have a problem or they would have said something. In terms of the feature, there was so much enthusiasm and goodwill behind the short, which was mostly sex, that they trusted me.
You’re coming to New York this week for the theatrical run of Interior Leather Bar. Are there plans for the film to keep traveling around doing theatrical?
This is it in NYC. It’s a one-week thing at IFC. There are 28 screenings which is an insane amount of screenings in one week. James’ short The Feast of Stephen is going to screen before it along with the I Want Your Love short. Then, believe it or not, we’re going to have a Netflix release.
Really? That’s crazy. Did you have to cut stuff out of it?
Yeah, I already had to as part of the deliverables. The irony of having to re-edit the movie that’s about censorship in the first place. But to be honest there’s not a ton of sex in Interior Leather Bar. For some people that was what upset them about it, and for others there was too much sex. It depends on what your starting point is. In terms of what I needed to re-edit for the Netflix cut, it was only a minute-and-a-half I had to edit out. I entertained at one point putting large censored blocks over what they wanted me to edit.
Like Lars Von Trier did with The Idiots?
Yeah. But I was told either Netflix or iTunes doesn’t allow that. Really it was only iTunes that I really had to do it for, but I was told that with Netflix, they’ll put anything on, but the moment that people start getting vocal about it they’ll yank it without any discussion. So I just was not at all interested in dealing with that, and since I had to deliver the cut to iTunes, I just said lets deliver both cuts.
What was the most unexpected sexual situation that arose on set in Interior Leather Bar?
Everything was pretty well blocked and choreographed that was sexual. One unexpected thing was that AJ who is getting paddled in the bar scene, he actually got some gnarly purple bruises, welts, really, on his butt. I was uncomfortable about that. But he wasn’t overly concerned about it. A similar sort of thing happened, interestingly with Brenden, who was in the I Want Your Love short, and his boyfriend Bradley. I approached him to be in Interior Leather Bar and I wanted him to be in a scene with his boyfriend which was tender and sexual that would surprise Val. Brenden had reservations about doing that because it was the third movie that he’d been in where he got naked. I knew he was ambivalent but we talked about it enough that he felt comfortable enough to come on set. We planned to have these onscreen conversations about what he was comfortable enough to do, either before or during the sex scene. But what never made it into the film was we tried to film something more on the S&M spectrum — spitting, blindfolding, punching, and flogging. So we filmed it and I’ve filmed enough sex that I can tell if somebody’s uncomfortable when they’re doing something. They just don’t have that kind of sex so it was really awkward for them. Then we began negotiating more, and the sex that they had was basically what ended up in the film.
Can you talk about some of your upcoming projects?
I’m really excited about both of these projects because they take parts of my personality and go in extremely different directions. I’ve been working on them both at the same time. I feel very balanced. If I was just working on one I would be worried it would consume me. The first project is Oscillate Wildly, which I co-wrote with Keith Wilson, my producing partner for over 10 years now, and which I’m going to direct this summer. It’s about this young, very angry gay guy with cerebral palsy who is on his own without a lot of support or resources. He has a very fuck-you attitude towards the world and he unexpectedly finds himself falling in love with another guy with cerebral palsy who’s more disabled than he is and it’s the first time he lets himself be vulnerable. Things don’t go according to plan and it spirals to a very dark place, and the climax of the film is him deciding whether he’s going to get himself out of the dark place he’s in or if he’s going to climb out of that.
Is this going to have real sex too?
It’s not going to be X-rated. It’s going to be a hard-R. There’s one big sex scene in the film between these two guys. I think it’s going to be really gorgeous. The way we’ve approached it on paper between the two guys, it’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s a first love story, and that in an of itself is something people can relate to, but it’s also these two disabled guys that are trying to negotiate how they’re going to have sex together. I have approached it in a way where I want to slow time down, and I think about all the real life negotiating that goes on, and the adjusting to bodies and the things that you can and can’t do at varying levels of disability. There are a lot of big pieces that are going to see in the film. I’m not shying away from anything, but it’s not going to be banned in all these countries.
The other project is with James Franco, right?
Yes, I just sent a draft to James. It’s called The Insatiable Ones. It’s a social satire/black comedy and I hope that it’s super entertaining. It’s a little bit of a send-up of what’s going on in San Francisco now with this culture war ridiculousness. But it’s not — in describing it here I don’t want it to be confused with something that’s overly earnest and browbeating. I haven’t talked about it yet, so I haven’t come up with how I want to describe it. At the moment I would say it’s a little bit like A Clockwork Orange in its approach, with early John Waters, and my boy Radley Metzger thrown into the mix?
Didn’t you tell me it had something to do with Salo?
I kind of resist talking about that. Because anytime you say something about that film and say like James and Travis are doing a project inspired by Salo, it immediately goes to a place that it’s not.
It’s not going to be like a sequel of sorts to Interior Leather Bar — like James and Travis remake Salo?
No. This has an actual narrative, it’s crazy and all that, but it’s not going to be a docu-fiction like Interior Leather Bar. Salo was initial reference point with James and I’ve kind of taken it and ran with that and moved it away from that.
When James first approached you about doing Interior: Leather Bar, at any point during the process did you have a conversation with him where you asked him why he’s made so many gay movies?
Yeah. What first happened was I got an email of a producer of his and then the next day he and I were on the phone. The bare minimum I knew was “Cruising, explicit project,” and when we first talked on the phone I was really like “This is so surreal,” but I wasn’t starstruck or anything because I don’t think I had seen any of his movies. I knew him and Freaks and Geeks but not Pineapple Express or anything. So I had a lot of questions and they were the same questions that I knew were going to come up throughout the process. I had to say, “These are things people are going to ask and also I’m curious about it too.” Ultimately, though I think the answer is in the film.
Adam Baran is a filmmaker, blogger, former online editor of Butt Magazine and co-curator of Queer/Art/Film. His short film JACKPOT, about a porn-hunting gay teen, won Best Short Film at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and was recently featured on The Huffington Post, Queerty, and Towleroad, among others. He is a features programmer at Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival and NewFest in New York. In his spare time, he complains about things to his friends. “Fisting for Compliments”, his weekly musings about the intersection of sex, art, porn, and history, will appear every Monday on TheSword. You can contact him at Adam@TheSword.com and follow him on Twitter at @ABaran999.