Rough & Wilde: Director Paul Wilde Has Stepped Out of the Shadows
It’s fitting that after Paul Wilde discovered his interest in fetish in the 1990s — when his first boyfriend introduced him to the AA Meat Market and the old Touché in Chicago — the first adult film he purchased was “Fallen Angel.” Little did he know at the time how influential that Titan film would have on his life — and how influential a voice he would have for the powerhouse studio.
“Thank you, Bruce Cam,” says Wilde of the “Angel” helmer and his eventual boss. “I pretty much played that VHS tape until it gave out. It introduced me to a fantasy world that has become a very real part of my personal life. There’s a level of intimacy and connection inherent with kink that often isn’t a part of more vanilla activities. It has an intensity that I love. We have a vibrant kink community here in San Francisco, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
It was a long road he traveled from his beginnings on the other side of the country, where Wilde grew up in central North Carolina the youngest in a family of five.
“The area was very conservative and intensely religious, so growing up as a gay kid wasn’t easy. Theatre became an interest of mine in middle school — it was a place where I could be myself and still be accepted. It was a safe space through my high school and undergraduate years,” he says. “I was a late bloomer as a gay man. I remember watching ‘The Wild Wild West’ as a kid. Here was a handsome, hairy man in skintight pants with his shirt off, tied up (usually spread eagle), drenched in sweat and being tortured by a little guy. No wonder I’m kinky. Robert Conrad, Sam Elliott (remember “Lifeguard”?) and Sean Connery were my childhood crushes. I didn’t know about Daddies or bondage back then, but I did know it turned me on.”
But growing up in the South at that time, there weren’t many places to learn about being gay. There was no Internet, but there were tearooms and adult bookstores, so that’s where Wilde went to explore his sexuality.
“Porn was my introduction to gay sex. The men I encountered taught me how to navigate the subculture and the importance of looking out for each other. This was where I learned about cruising, sex and relationships. Fortunately, there are amazing resources available online today that help men explore their sexuality in a safer environment.”
After earning a BA in theatre, Wilde headed to graduate school in Bloomington, Indiana — where he conveniently bloomed into the man he would become after finding the fetish community and beginning his transition from college life to the professional world. He taught technical theatre at a small liberal arts college south of Indianapolis, moving up through the hierarchy during his 15 years: receiving tenure, designing and building over 60 productions, and working as an administrator. Wilde describes it as a great experience, and about seven years ago he (along with his partner) decided to move to San Francisco and begin a new adventure starting his own life-coach practice.
“It was difficult to make ends meet, so I went searching on Craigslist for a part-time job. Fortunately, Titan was looking for a production assistant with experience building sets. It was a fast track: I applied on Monday, interviewed on Tuesday and started on Thursday. I’ve been here ever since.”
Wilde started out in 2006 as a part-time production assistant building sets and “holding crotch lights.” It quickly became a full-time position, and he began to learn the business side of the industry. Wilde expressed an interest in directing in 2008, and fetish seemed the natural place to start. He co-directed a number of projects with Brian Mills and finally directed his first feature in 2009. Wilde also moved into managing and co-directing the Rough line with performer/director Tony Buff about the same time.
“When Brian retired in April 2012, I was asked to take over as the production manager and primary director. It’s been an interesting journey from an entry-level position to where I am now. I have been fortunate that, as my skills and interests expanded, I’ve been able to move into more challenging roles,” says Wilde, who vividly recalls his first foray into solo directing. “‘Triage’ was my first title, and my first scene was directing a six-man group scene including fisting, watersports and scrotal inflation. In the scene, I remember thinking to myself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ Aterwards, I realized I had a blast!”
Wilde cites Mills as having the most influence on him as a director: “He taught me the mechanics of lighting and shot lists, but he went further to show me how to incorporate my own artistic interests into the mechanics of production. Brian encouraged me to find my own way of directing that meshes with my personality and style. I’ve been fortunate to work with Joe Gage as well. I’ve always admired his skill in creating a sexual tension within his scenes. Joe has been in this industry for a while and he’s watched it evolve. He’s helped me put what I do as a newer director in perspective and to look at the larger picture rather than the details.”
Gage remembers the day he met Wilde — it was on a Titan sound stage where they were starting production on “The Road to Redneck Hollow.” “Paul had designed and built the main set, and I was knocked out by the craftsmanship that had gone into it. Turned out we both came from theatre backgrounds, and we bonded pretty quickly as we shared our past experiences in the trenches. When he began taking on camerawork, his eye for detail was revealed to be both sophisticated and gritty — just the way I like it. He is a gem.”
Wilde notes that he tries very hard to keep the Rough scenes as authentic as possible. He has been a part of the fetish line since its launch in 2009 with “Shock Treatment.” Since then, the offshoot has explored the extreme in titles like “Bound and Beaten,” “Kennel Master,” “Fist Deep” and “Smack” — perhaps an odd collection of titles coming from a man with such a genuine, inviting smile and affable, friendly demeanor.
“This scene might be someone’s first foray into the fetish world, so I want to keep it accessible. I try to work with skilled players doing the things they like to do so their connection and enthusiasm comes through. I’ve been in the fetish community for over 20 years, and I’ve experienced just about every activity I’ve directed in a Rough scene. The play in my personal life is certainly reflected by what I put on the screen,” he says. “Obviously, I enjoy fetish play and exploring power relationships. What could happen in a fantasy world when a cop, coach, supervisor or teacher crosses the line most of us shy away from? I’m also a big voyeur. I like to watch people having sex, and I want to present sex in a way that’s worth watching.”
For his own part, Wilde notes that he has loosened up as a director over the past few years.
“In my theatre days, each project was scripted, blocked and rehearsed. Everything was very structured. My work with the Rough line has taught me to work with what’s in front of me and to collaborate more with those around me. No director ever captures the scene playing out in his or her head. I’ve learned just because it’s ‘different’ doesn’t mean it’s less exciting. I still have more to learn when it comes to starting a scene and incorporating dialogue. How do you establish a scenario that doesn’t peg the ‘cheese meter’ or have the viewer reaching for the remote to fast forward? I’m working on that one.”
Wilde adds that he takes a different approach with TitanMen features than with Rough projects. He has become more aware of the challenges it presents, being careful not to “direct the spontaneity out of the scene” — a trap he notes is harder to fall into in the fetish projects. His workload on the more mainstream features has increased over the years, with hits like “Surveillance,” “After Hours,” “Powerstroke” and the recent “Scruf.” Wilde notes he would love to tackle a ’60s- or ’70s-themed porn, or another stylized project like “Folsom Funhouse,” “H2O” or “Flux.”
“One of the reasons I enjoy this industry so much is that sex is a passion for me. I’ve worked with a number of organizations to develop content or present workshops dealing with sexual expression and alternative lifestyles. I’ve been with my husband for over 15 years and part of a poly family of five for over six years,” he says. “Everyone who works in the industry has his or her own war stories and inside jokes. My favorite memories come from the extended times we spend on location. When you’re living with someone for a week, you have the opportunity to see the person behind the persona.”