Breathing Fire: The Dynamic Duo Behind Dragon Media
It’s almost like it was destiny, these two icons of the gay porn world joining forces. The career paths of Joe Gage and Ray Dragon have followed similar trajectories, with instant industry success interrupted by a break to pursue endeavors in other areas — where they found more success before jumping back into it like they never left. In many ways they are outsiders — following their own paths without any concern for what everyone else is doing, defining their own careers in their own terms.
In the process, they continue to create some of the best porn the industry has ever seen as business partners at Dragon Media — a fitting full circle considering that nearly 10 years ago, Gage directed Dragon in some modern day classics for Titan: “110° in Tucson,” “Deep Water Beach Patrol” and “Lifeguard! The Men of Deep Water Beach” (“I had fun with the dialogue,” Dragon recalls of the experience).
“A decade before we joined forces, I cold-called Ray, who I didn’t know, for advice about the Internet. I had spotted his site online, and was considering coming out of retirement and starting some kind of ongoing serial. JoeGage.com was the eventual result, a site which is devoted to ‘Men, Sex, Art, and America,’” says Gage, who soon got Dragon in front of the lens. “He was my favorite kind of performer: I told him what I wanted, and he did it, with panache. He continued to grow as an actor over the years we worked together, and though he has retired from his place in front of the cameras, I still bug him occasionally about returning to play a role or two. So far, no dice.”
Dragon insists his time in front of the camera is done, a fact that distresses the legions of fans that recall his image and performances — whether during the 1990s when he caught Colt Studio Group’s attention, or during his second stint in the business that started in 2001 — and included the classic “Gorge,” a Titan smash directed by Bruce Cam that remains one of the studio’s and industry’s all-time classics. Instead, he has carved a patch as a director and business man, forming Dragon Media in 2002 before teaming up with Gage in 2008 (the two briefly operating under the name D/G Mutual Media) with the release of Gage’s “Closed Set: Oral Report.”
“It has been challenging. We started six months before the big crash, which completely blew apart our business plan. It’s only been the last two years that we have really hit our stride. People are looking for our next movies now,” says Dragon, who debuted as a director with 2002’s “Ray Dragon Presents Vol. 1,” a group of four solos. “Once I got into the business, I found I did not care for directing — I like running businesses. That is one of the main reasons I stared working with Joe — together we make a very clever creative team.”
But that didn’t stop him from helming his own hits, with the likes of “Highway 9,” “Truck You,” “Splittin’ Wood,” the recent “Bryan Slater’s Wet Dream” and the awardwinning “Whiplash.” Those features have been interspersed with Gage’s growing library, including continuing installments in his “Sex Files” series (the latest, “Off-Duty Cops,” is Vol. 13) and acclaimed features like “Dad Takes a Fishing Trip,” “Dad Goes to College” and “After the Heist” — a collection that has helped the legend win multiple Best Director awards (including two of the last three XBIZ trophies) and catapult the studio (which Gage refers to as “the little engine that could”) into the spotlight.
“We had a game plan and basically stuck to it, starting with small, tightly controlled efforts like “Closed Set: Oral Report” and a continuation of the gonzo “Joe Gage Sex Files” line. The success of “Dad Takes a Fishing Trip” bumped us up to the next level,” says Gage, who also had a successful career in the film industry away from gay porn (among other careers). Renaissance man Dragon also excelled in everything from gymnastics to the performing arts (with performances on stage and in film) before starting his own fashion label.
“We both made our livings at various times outside the industry,” Gage continues. “He, in the clothing design world; me, in publishing. Separately, we came to a similar conclusion — since all businesses have a certain cutthroat quality about them, we may as well occupy ourselves doing something we enjoy. The industry seemed to have an opening in the field of well-produced material with a gritty, dynamic, almost amateur feel to it. MSR was one such supplier — Ray and I had both worked for MSR’s late, lamented proprietor, Tony Alizzi, and decided to try mining that field.”
Gage directed a trio of classics in the late ’70s: “Kansas City Trucking Co.,” “El Paso Wrecking Corp.” and “L.A. Tool & Die.” The next phase of his career in the adult industry burgeoned in 2004 with “Men’s Room: Bakersfield Station,” the first in a long line of hits he helmed for Titan after doing some work for MSR.
“I basically make two different types of movies these days: the “Joe Gage Sex Files” series, which for the most part are light on plot and concentrate on sex, sex, sex. Recent examples are “Doctors and Dads” 1 and 2, and “Lunchtime Milking Club”; the other projects — most recently “Dad Goes to College” and “After the Heist” — are story-based, with the men involved playing fictional characters in dramatic situations,” says Gage, whose most recent release at Titan was “One Thing Leads to Another” earlier this year.
“While I continue working with Titan Media on a project-by-project basis, I have found another outlet for my efforts with Ray Dragon and it has proven to be very beneficial for both of us. I’ll always be grateful to the folks at Titan for their friendship and generosity and for helping me rebuild my brand on my return from a long hiatus. Working at Dragon Media allows me to be in almost continuous production as well as to move forward with my blog JoeGage.com, which serves as both a marketing tool and a way to keep in touch with everybody out there. I’m a very fortunate guy.”
He also considers himself fortunate to work with Dragon — the duo mostly relating to each other from two different East Coast locations, communicating via phone and email. “Our friendship continues to evolve,” says Gage, who describes Dragon as “quiet and introspective with a sly sense of humor” and envisions the two as yin and yang. “We fill each other’s dramatic and artistic strengths and weaknesses.”
Dragon describes his comrade as “funny with an amazing cultural understanding”; the two share a desire to get their hands dirty in vegetable gardens (“more than that is probably left to the imagination,” says Gage of their shared interests).
“We each have a unique world view, are highly creative and are both very dedicated to our work,” says Dragon. “I manage the technical end and run first camera; Joe is directing and watching the action on monitor. I have absolute faith in Joe’s directing — he is a master editor, and the two go hand in hand. Joe is amazing as a director — he knows exactly what he wants and knows exactly when he has it filmed, and we move to the next shot. I know we always have a good edit once we are done shooting.”
Up next is Gage’s “Dad Gets Into Trouble,” a film they have high hopes for: “It’s a really great movie sexually, and one of the best technically for us also,” says Dragon. “We’re excited about the release.” Given the success of his two previous ‘Dad’ outings with model Allen Silver, it’s a foregone conclusion — fans and critics alike have flocked to Gage’s intense encounters and unique style.
“Joe Gage is a brilliant storyteller,” says Brian Mills, who frequently worked with Gage when both were at Titan. “That’s what makes him great. As a friend, I’ve always been impressed with his honesty and ability to discuss what some would consider obscure topics.” In particular, Mills says, is the director’s ongoing exploration of the various incarnations of man-on-man, manon-boy or boy-on-man sex.
“As I grow older myself, I’m learning that he fully understands the range of dynamics that exist among men regardless of our age and the labels we apply to ourselves and each other. I believe as a culture, our ‘gay male community’ will someday see itself more as a facet of the whole community with many connections between ourselves and men not identified as ‘gay’. Personally, I think we rely on these labels too much. Mr. Gage is ahead of the curve on this aspect. He’d be the first to admit that there is a difference between what a man claims he is and what he’ll do when circumstances invite him to explore something beyond his everyday identity. It’s this tension that makes his movies interesting and fun to watch.”
Gage notes that Dragon Media will continue to produce a mix of down-and-dirty features, with slightly more epic entries once or twice a year as well (something he’d still like to tackle: a big-budget western).
“From the beginning, 37 years ago, I have always sought out what could be described as everyday men off the street. While I mix in all types of male performers in my projects, I basically celebrate the ‘average guy.’ Ray works with a somewhat grittier palette,” Gage says. “I have always liked to take contemporary situations and allow them to get out of hand as lust arises. Did it then, do it now.”
Dragon describes their library as “gritty, real with a wide variety of men,” and notes that he is always refining whatever work he is doing in an effort to get better at his craft (“Joe taught me how to tell a story with film,” he says, adding he is always looking to document unique sexual acts for his website). He doesn’t look at other porn (“everyone has their own thing”), spending his free time in more rewarding ways.
“Two years ago I moved to upstate New York, way back in the woods with three streams, waterfalls and a big beaver pond. Spend a lot of time with my dogs, Lola and Vinny, wandering the woods. I have a great veggie garden and 10 chickens,” Dragon says. “The rest of the time is spent in front of the computer. It’s a very quiet and isolated life right now.”
If Gage has any influence, he can hopefully find a way to make life in front of the camera equally serene for the secluded stud.