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 Gay DVD Review, a part of the Adult DVD Talk community...
Joeblow69 Interviews The Bear
December, 2001 - just after the DVD release of Moscow: The Power of Submission
See Joeblow69's review of Moscow: The Power of Submission

As far as I can remember, on every Kristen Bjorn film I've seen, you've been there in the credits. How long have you been working with Kristen?

I started working with Kristen in 1993 on Jungle Heat, which we filmed in Brazil.

How did you meet up with him?

I was a purser/flight attendant for Pan Am and was shooting male nudes as a hobby. One of my friends/models in Rio introduced me to him about 1984. I was flying to Rio almost every week and we started a friendship. I was very familiar with his work and kept doing my own amateur work. When Pan Am went out of business in December of 1991, he called me and suggested that I start photographing men for some of the male magazines. About year later I went to Brazil for six months to photograph some of the beautiful men there. I also was able to scout models for a new production for him. He asked if I wanted to work as his production assistant and I started helping out.

How did you get started in gay erotica?

I liked photography, travel and men. Through my photography and travels, I started photographing men, nude, mostly B & W about 1981. Models started coming to me and I asked friends, swim pals and work out buddies to model for me. Through this amateur work, I gained a lot of experience posing models, lighting bodies, portrait composition, and interacting with nude models. I also became experienced working with flash equipment, lenses and different types of film. This was important experience to have and helped me move into shooting models with full erections for magazine layouts. The step from shooting friends, boyfriends and work out buddies artistically, into hiring models to pose nude with erections was big enough. It would have been more difficult without this experience and confidence behind me.

Do you have any examples of your early photo work that you could share with us?

I have just had a book of my early work published by Bruno Gmünder in Berlin: The Bear: Essentials. It's available at bookstores in the USA and through mail order with web sites like TVA. Much of my early work has appeared in cards, calendars, and magazines. I have a lot of black and white photos too which have never been scanned.

How did you get the nickname "the Bear"? I saw a picture of you in a recent issue of Unzipped, and was surprised at how un-Bear-y you look.

Thanks for the compliment. I swim and compete in United States Masters Swimming and lift weights to stay in shape. My real name is Barry; a diminutive for this name is "Bear". It was a nickname I had as a child long before hairy leather men began calling themselves bears.

Are you currently involved with anyone right now? Are they supportive of your profession?

No I am not, I am single by choice. If someone were unable to understand, accept, or appreciate my work, it would be impossible for me to have a relationship with them.

Do you have any rough figures on sales of VHS versus DVD? It seems that even some of the most stubborn studios are starting to put out DVDs now, and I even heard one studio is switching to DVD only!

That would be Kristen Bjorn's department. I am involved in the publicity but pay little attention to the sales figures.

Has the price of mastering DVDs coming down much yet? Is it still much more expensive to produce than VHS?

It is still more expensive than both producing and duplicating. Since we use a copy guard, the cost is even more expensive. Without this, it is possible to make a duplicate that is identical to the original DVD. We use it on VHS tapes too but the copy of a tape never looks nearly as good as the original.

I have to say, everything about Moscow: The Power of Submission impressed me. Everything from the models, set locations, amazing cum shots... even the DVD menus look great. How does it feel to finally get your first movie out?

It was quite a mixed bag of emotions. It's been a project almost a year in the making fraught with more problems than I could have ever imagined. I don't think that I have ever done anything this difficult and stressful in my entire life. Even after the nine week production was finished in Moscow, and I thought the worst was over, there was a nine week editing period that was a total nightmare. It continued from there. No one seemed to understand from the beginning what I wanted to do until the project was finished so I felt alone and isolated throughout most of the work. It was a constant battle all around. On the other hand, I needed to make this film. My contribution to the Kristen Bjorn Product over the years, has received scant recognition. Publications often incorrectly credit my photo shoots to Kristen Bjorn. Almost all reviews of the films that we have worked on together refer to Kristen Bjorn in the singular. It gets very disheartening, after working on about 15 films in various parts of the world, each taking about 2 months of total commitment, to hear people refer to "his work" as though it were all being done by one person. I think at this point, I too was doubting my own contribution to the product. Therefore I needed to prove something to myself. In that respect it is gratifying. Still today, however, Moscow is obscured and misunderstood. HX magazine in NY began their review of Moscow thusly: "Moscow: The Power of Submission is not your average porn flick... but then again, Kristen Bjorn is not your average porn director...."! One porn director wrote a review of my directing saying that: The Bear needs to "find more of his own voice... Barry seems an imitator." Actually many of those ideas that one might see me "imitating" in Moscow were my idea or partially my contribution or development to begin with. I am thankful to Kristen Bjorn for his incentive to make this film and I have received some wonderful reviews from Director Jerry Douglas at Gay Chicago Magazine, Director William Higgins, Brent Blue at Mannet.com and Onan the Vulgarian at Xfactor.com.

Was the final result what you had envisioned?

Yes.

Was it difficult finding Russian men willing to have gay sex on film?

No.

Any problems shooting in Russia?

Russia is a country in crisis. Everything is difficult there. Moral and ethical issues in this situation take a back seat to survival issues. Money is basic to survival and the quality of life. It is difficult to get money through honest, hard work, unlike here in the USA. Corruption, bribery, scamming are easier and more immediate in their return. Working in Russia was working with bribery, corruption, red tape, scamming and more. The freezing cold weather, snow and ice, didn't add to the ease of this project either.

Is porn even legal in Russia?

Officially, I don't believe that there is a specific law that makes it illegal to make a porno film in Russia. Every country, however, has morality laws that could prove to be enough of a problem were someone interested in prosecuting. It is definitely something that has to be done covertly. In a place like Moscow, any reason, written or not would be enough to have police and officials detaining and threatening you until every last penny were taken in bribes.

I can't imagine gay sex is looked on very fondly over there either.

Time Out Moscow Guide notes that "in 1989, 33% of Russians advocated that homosexuals should be 'exterminated'..." [pg.127] Penguin Books Ltd. 1999 ( Time Out Travel Group Ltd. London). The law against homosexuality was repealed in 1994. Six years later, when I began this project, few people would admit to family or friends to being gay.

Of the 10 models, do you have any idea how many were really straight?

I really hate this question because "straight" and "gay" are not as black and white in most of the world as most North Americans make it out to be. It seems to be the most frequently asked question on the bulletin board ( BBS ) of our web site: www.kristenbjorn.com . These are socially relevant concepts and what one might consider gay or straight in one part of the world would not be considered gay or straight in another. In Brazil, many people can't comprehend that two gay men could have sex together because "gay" most often refers to the passive partner. Gay being defined in their minds as "the act of being penetrated". On the other hand, many Latin countries don't see getting fucked by a transvestite as being gay because "the object of desire" is feminine. At first, this may seem like a matter of semantics but our definition in this country is based as much on our own homophobia, and ignorance as it is on the need to categorize things into opposites, and the need to label everything. Sexuality is much too complex for this. Most of my models all had at least one girlfriend; their preference was for heterosexual contact. In America, we see this therefore, as mutually exclusive to having sex with men (other than for money). But why is it that we can look at two women intimately posed together in Penthouse Magazine without immediately labeling them as dikes, but when two men look and smile at one another in the USA, gay people often remark "queen" or "in the closet?" I believe it is because we are imposing our own rules and definitions on these people. Is it our own homophobia keeping us from admitting that because we prefer sex with women or men, that we can't, won't or don't allow ourselves to also enjoy sex with the opposite? Is it ego, fear, ignorance or intimidation that because I may not want sex with one gender, that no one else would want that either? Just because I prefer broccoli doesn't mean that I can't enjoy carrots! I interviewed all of these models for the behind the scenes video that is in the making. Rather than ask these men how they define themselves: gay or straight, which I think, at this point is totally irrelevant, since most of us don't understand Russian Culture 2000, I asked them questions like: "On a scale of 1 - 5, how often do you find other men sexually attractive? Or did you enjoy any of the other models with whom you worked sexually?" I believe I got honest answers and the numbers ranged up and down the scale and many of the men enjoyed the sexual contact they had with the other models. I firmly believe that many people want to explore same sex masculinity or femininity (and even for some gays, opposite sex sexuality) but are too afraid of the judgment that others will bring to that experience if they were to find out about it. I don't consider most of these models "gay for pay" nor are they necessarily "in the closet". Models make videos for many reasons other than just the money: ego, adventure, fantasy, unique experiences, curiosity, exhibitionism, and voyeurism among them. Let's quit bashing models that don't quite fit into our cookie cutter vision of gay and stop calling them "gay for pay" and "closet queens". If these models don't have a problem having sex with other men, why then, should we?

I agree that the whole "gay" vs "gay for pay" argument has been done to death. My main reason for asking about straight models, though, was that I love to think that I may be glimpsing a straight boy getting plowed for the first time! Are there any particular virgin bottom boys we should look out for?

I have worked with both gay and straight models who have gotten fucked for the first time on film. Yegor in the four soldiers scene is getting fucked for the first time in Moscow. He only wanted to be fucked by Sasha as he was his friend. He would not get fucked by anyone else.

Was there anything that any model flat out refused to do?

All models know prior to showing up for the first interview, and again during this interview, what is expected of them: active & passive kissing, touching, sucking, and rimming. They can be either active or passive for fucking or both. There is little negotiation about the sexual acts after that. But good directing isn't about forcing models to do things so much as it is about allowing the models to feel comfortable about themselves sexually: without judgment. Award wining Director Jerry Douglas describes it as: "building a nest for them to be able to perform in". I like to develop a character and his sexuality with the model. This is very difficult to do however, with a model that you don't know and have never, before worked. It is even more difficult when all communication must be done through a translator. Therefore, I can't work with a tightly scripted story since I don't know what the capabilities of the models are until I shoot their first individual photo session and begin working with them in the video. A tightly scripted story like those that Director Jerry Douglas has been so successful in carrying off would be suicide in this scenario. Very often the story and roles are sculpted during the filming itself. Many models with whom I work have not had nearly as much sex as most people imagine. They are often not sure if they are able to do something when asked. Therefore encouragement is tantamount to getting a good performance from a model. Their character or role is an alter ego that helps allow them the freedom to be creative and try something that they have never done before. This can be a very liberating experience for a model. At the risk of touching on that controversial subject again, this has a lot to do with how a man that prefers women can perform so believably with another man.

Did any model require any "special hands-on" instructions?

Most definitely. Almost everything for some models including, personal hygiene, douching, shaving properly, up through kissing, sucking, caressing and even walking into the screen. In over eight years of working on videos, I don't think that I have ever had the benefit of working with a trained actor. Some models are more natural and adept at this than others. Even with experienced gay models and escorts that are good at gay sex, they have to learn that doing it for the camera is different than doing it for their own or their partner's pleasure. Performing for the viewer's pleasure subordinates one's own pleasure for the erotic, visual titillation of the viewer. In real life, watching two people have sex for a long period of time can be pretty boring because the pleasure is between the partners and the novelty for the observer wears thin very quickly after the initial thrill. Making this interesting for the viewer for an extended period of time requires directing and training the models to bring the viewer into their sexual world, to become a part of that sex. There is a 40 minute duo in Moscow that I was concerned about running out of steam when I initially conceived it. The reviews about that particular scene however have been excellent. The models worked very hard and were aware from the beginning that the energy of this scene had to change, flex, build and subside. In order for this scene not to stall, they needed to demonstrate every conceivable type of sexual behavior available to them from primitive, physical, animalistic sex to intimate, psychological intensity and tenderness. All in a logical and linear manner that would be an interesting journey to keep the viewer locked into them. There was a lot of hands on training for that.

I noticed Kristen was the executive producer for Moscow... did he pretty much give you free reign to develop the story as much as you wanted to? Was there anything you wanted to add to Moscow that you weren't able to?

I stayed pretty close to the Kristen Bjorn "formula". I wanted to be safe my first time out. He sent an email to me in Moscow, warning me not to make this into a "niche fetish video". I think that he was worried that I would delve a little too deeply into my psychic wardrobe of darker ensembles and shock our Kristen Bjorn audience. He knew for a long time that I wanted to take things in a different direction. I wrote him an email once entitled: "choking on vanilla" ... I wanted to try something new. In the past when we were working together, I would give him my ideas. He did use some of them, but they ended up looking, well, like Kristen Bjorn in the end. That's not bad and I feel very much a part of that identity too... but I felt as if we were really doing very well in video and should try something different, a change. I also wanted my own identity and recognition for my own contributions to the productions. It was his suggestion that I direct this video and it was a really big budget for a porno film. Perhaps it was one of the largest budgets in straight or gay films, that a first time director ever received. I wasn't going to run off to Russia and jump off the deep end in this video. I think I need to show that I know the rules before I bend them too far. I think the only thing that I wanted to do differently was in the scene with the four soldiers. I wanted to make it a bit more like a fraternity hazing with one soldier telling the others what to do. My idea though, was rejected for this and I was told to make into a "playful" scene.

What's the difference between the Director's Cut (available only at www.kristenbjorn.com) and the retail version (that should be available at normal adult outlets soon)?

Twenty minutes of footage. It was a real struggle to have everything in this video that I wanted to include. The biggest problem was the extra expense of going over the 2:20 time limit, which requires a second VCR tape. Kristen in the end, agreed to allow it to go the full length that I intended it too and pay the extra expense of a second VCR Tape and different box for the two VCR Director's cut. This is available only from our web site: www.kristenbjorn.com. The national retailer will distribute the shortened version to video rental stores and local retailers. This is a one VCR tape version at the same price. I was not involved in the cutting and not aware of what was cut out of this version. The DVD is only the director's (2:40) cut and includes a slide show of glamour photos of the models and an optional narrative that I did about the filming. It sells for the same price as either of the VCR versions and is much better quality being in the DVD format.

Speaking of the Kristen Bjorn website... I've been reading those forums for a while, and noticed that you snuck a few things into Moscow that your fans have been requesting... little things like showing feet more, and you even had someone cum into a condom and pour the contents out. When you're filming a particular shot, do you ever think "This is for that one guy who requested seeing the model's feet?"

Actually, showing feet and shooting into a condom during fucking (first seen in A World of Men) were two ideas which I introduced to our videos a few years ago. I thought that these and other body parts and activities were hot, and I knew that others liked them too. I really had to push to get Kristen to try them out in the beginning. He introduced them subtly at first so that they wouldn't look like a fetish. The feedback from reviewers, and later from our bulletin board, was overwhelming. In Moscow, I was able to present these and other "fetish" ideas the way that I had been wanting to, and for quite some time. In many ways, this video was a product of my frustration of not being able to develop my ideas in those other videos. So they weren't ideas which I got from others in the first place. While I look at the BBS ( Bulletin Board System) and listen to peoples' likes and interests, I am not trying to make someone else's video. I am tying to hit as many buttons for as many people as possible. These things, however, come from within. I am open to other's ideas, but I think most people, if they are honest with themselves, have all the erotic content they need inside their own psyche. Many people though, never look within, probably because they are afraid of their off beat ideas. The other's however, write into our BBS and have these very specific fetishes that would be of interest to only a few people. Boot fetishes, for example, have been popular on the web site. The problem here is that one person wants to see the boots as they are taken off by someone else and the next writer wants them to stay on for the entire sex scene... or it isn't exciting for him. So you can see the difficulty of trying to film someone else's ideas. I did have someone from Australia write to me that he liked to see the tops butt move back and forth from behind as he was fucking someone. When I was filming Sasha's backside in the mirror as he fucks Slava, that person briefly crossed my mind. I would not say that I did this for him. I look at the composition after I put the models into position and then film the angles that look both beautiful and provocative.

Did you find it difficult switching roles from Photographer to Director?

Being a photographer is being a director of sorts, unless you are a photojournalist or capturing a sporting event. I have always posed models by finding and demonstrating each pose first, then having them find this pose. In the 15 videos that I worked on with Kristen Bjorn, we often found the positions for the models first ourselves and then put the models in them. Often I would demonstrate these ideas to the models or to him when I wanted to suggest something new. Sometimes he would ask me to show him my idea either using the models or myself and a model. The difficult part in Moscow was directing the camera man and his lighting assistant. I wanted to allow him to be creative as well, and this requires much communication between the three of us. So first there was the language problem; everything had to go through the translator. I had only worked with Kristen as a cameraman and he knew exactly what he needed to shoot for the directing and editing of the video. While the cameraman was familiar with editing, he didn't really know how these 25 hours of videotape were going to be assembled nor what takes we needed in order to make everything into a smooth and interesting video. This was our first time working together and my first time working with all of the models. In the end, there are over 700 edits in this 2 hour 40 minute video/DVD.

So what's next for "the Bear"? I understand there is a "making of" film in the works?

I am currently working on a narrative for the "behind the scenes" of how this video was made in Moscow. It has interviews with the models, as well as pictures of them preparing, playing around, rehearsing, and lots of candid moments.

I want to thank Barry taking the time out for this little interview. I encourage everyone to check out his directorial debut: Moscow: The Power of Submission... it's a great flick!

Also, Barry's Photo Book, The Bear: Essentials is available at Amazon.

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