A Director for All Seasons
It’s an admission that’s impossible to believe, but you get the sense that Ettore Tosi — an accomplished yet under appreciated director/performer — is actually that humble, which makes the Italian hunk even more appealing.
“I don’t think I’ve ever made for a strong performer, not with a director and a professional crew around me,” he says. “In fact, I’ve never won anything as a model. What I’m good at is … real sex in real time: no cameramen, no directions, no editing, just whatever is going on between me and my partner. We pioneered this format in 2002 and 2003, years before it became popular on Xtube. My own spin on reality porn, if you will — without any of the stylistic shortcomings of amateur porn and all its raw authenticity.”
“We” is Lucas Kazan Productions, where the Renaissance man has honed his craft on both sides of the lens. He started as a production assistant in 1998, moved in front of the camera, then went back behind it as Kazan’s production manager. In 2000, Kazan gave him a chance to helm his own DVD line, the LKP Casting series. In 2003 with “Mykonos,” Tosi won his first award for Best Pro Am video. Ever since, he’s been directing most online castings for LucasKazan.com and a number of feature films for the company.
“Everyone learns his craft from his or her own mentor. Lucas learned from Kristen Bjorn, Gino Colbert and John Travis; I learned from Lucas — his way of ‘blocking’ and ‘covering’ a scene, for instance,” says Tosi. “But I have none of Lucas’ background as a filmmaker, none of his baggage: I’m less concerned with F-stops, exposure, composition and more with the heat of a scene. Lucas would yell ‘cut’ if a model didn’t hit his mark; I’d let the camera roll if the action ‘felt’ right. I can shoot faster, more efficiently, in freer ways and more attuned to today’s audiences.”
He’s following in his mentor’s footsteps in more ways than one with his recent award nominations, which have helped the under-appreciated talent gain more exposure for a career that has flown under the radar.
“The XBIZ nominations for Gay Director of the Year and Gay Movie of the Year for my ‘Men for All Seasons’ was a big, big surprise” he says. “I’d have never dreamt of finding my name amongst legends like Chi Chi [La Rue] and Joe Gage. Whom am I rooting for? Luke Hamill, a young, talented director/performer who’s been making a name for himself at BelAmi.”
Tosi’s success continues with ‘Wagner & Darius,’ a project whose first scene debuted online in late 2013 — the first of three episodes filmed in the Sicilian village of Nicolosi, by the Etna volcano.
“I’ve worked with Wagner for many years. In fact I ‘discovered’ him way back when his name was ‘Bruno,’ his body much leaner and his boyfriend was a cute guy named Leo. I filmed him with Leo, then again with the following boyfriend (Thomas), finally with his current partner, Diego Lauzen. We kind of documented his sentimental life on LucasKazan.com,” Tosi recalls. “In Nicolosi, I wanted to try something different and to pair him with a performer he had never seen before. Producer Lucas Kazan contacted Darius Ferdynand in London — we thought he’d be a good match — and rented a quaint vacation villa for 10 days.”
The second episode filmed in Nicolosi features French model Will Helm and Spanish superstar Dario Beck. The third involves the return of one of the most popular amongst the studio’s Italian stallions (Tosi is mum on who that is). Other scenes were filmed elsewhere in Catania and Palermo with a bunch of Sicilian newcomers. The DVD will street sometime in the spring after online debuts of the scenes.
Tosi notes that the location benefits from no competition and a unique niche — both in Sicily and Italy. “We run our studio in Catania and often travel to Bari, Naples, Rome and Milan to tape applicants from all over Italy. We feature faces you won’t see anywhere else, dialects you won’t hear in an American DVD or a Russian DVD and the enduring myth of the ‘Italian lover.’ The many disadvantages? Italy is difficult, and expensive; Italians are difficult. And so every now and then, we get to charge our batteries in Brazil, or to take our castings on the road in Tunisia, Morocco, Spain…”
The culture of the various models also brings with it a set of challenges off camera.
“Where do I even begin? Italy is a Catholic country, we have the Pope, we have the Vatican, the ‘macho’ culture is everywhere and homophobia widespread. Now, imagine … gay porn! Prejudices abound and porn stars are looked down upon anything but stars; nothing like the glitz in the United States, really,” Tosi says. “It is no surprise that the few Italians working in gay porn today found their success abroad: Carlo Masi with Colt, Francesco D’ Macho with Hot House, Alex Marte with Menatplay and Titan. It is also no surprise that most applicants have no clue about this business: many expect to be paid tens of thousands of dollars. One guy asked for 50,000 U.S. dollars — I kid you not. Others may settle for a few hundred Euros for a solo video, but then think it takes no longer than their jerking off at home: five minutes!”
And the challenges can sometimes continue long after the scenes have been filmed.
“Dozens of models of ours have called us after their castings went live on LucasKazan.com, pleading with us and often threatening us: ‘Take the video down. My mother found out, my wife found out, my employer found out, my boyfriend dumped me.’ Nobody understands how the internet works — piracy, affiliates, bloggers, social networks — and many freak out when their pictures go viral.”
Tosi says that one Neapolitan newcomer couldn’t wait to get fucked on camera, but had a change of heart and told the studio he’d kill himself thereafter (he didn’t). “Another one underwent plastic surgery and had his lawyer pestering us for months. Nuisances aside, making porn in Italy feels like — and it often is — a gesture of political activism and of cultural disturbance. It’s an uphill battle, all the more in the only Western European country that does not recognize any form of civil unions for gays and lesbians. But a worthwhile battle.”
Despite the occasional challenge, the shoots are still a joy for all involved — even when what was supposed to be a sun-drenched Sicilian day turns out to be cold and rain: “Even by Darius’ standards — and he’s from Budapest. Yet everyone braved the weather — and the zillions of mosquitoes. In between takes, you could see the cast and crew keeping each other warm or putting a jacket on. Dario Beck was a lot of fun to be around: He speaks Italian fluently, I speak some Spanish; we got along.”
And even when the bad weather strikes, the lush locales prove to have an even greater benefit: relaxing the models and drawing out the best performances and connections possible.
“I can’t imagine filming in a studio in North Hollywood, with models showing up cold in the morning and going back home in the evening. Porn isn’t a 9-to-5 thing. We spend time together — we have to. We get to have dinner at the local restaurants, we kid around, we share the kitchen, the living room, the swimming pool, the TV, everything. On average, each model spends three nights and days on location with us. The night before filming, we just to get to know each other; day one, usually dedicated to the video shoot; and day two, entirely dedicated to stills and storyline. Lucas’ productions in the late ’90s to mid-2000s would last for weeks in a row. Imagine a whole month on the Greek isles, in Tuscany, Puglia, Lazio….”
Tosi notes that Eastern European porn has long been a mainstay of this industry, and he’s not just talking about BelAmi or Eurocreme. “What we’ve been seeing more of in recent years is U.K.-produced porn (like Menatplay, UKNakedMen, EnglishLads) and Southern Mediterranean porn: think of Staghomme and KristenBjorn in Spain, Lucas Kazan and I in Italy. All of these studios are doing interesting work. Which adds more variety, more colors, more flavors to what was once a U.S.-driven and far too homogenous industry.”
As a performer, Tosi also has an advantage: “I’d like to think it offers me a better understand ing of what it takes to direct sex. Which positions are feasible, which aren’t. What to expect from my cast, how to push them, when to pull back.”
And despite the studio’s draw for many American fans, he adds that ultimately it isn’t the background of the models that’s important.
“I think fans are simply interested in hot-looking guys and sexual chemistry. Regardless of anyone’s nationality. If anything, we offer a more diverse pool of models than your average American studio, and that’s always a plus. The minuses are no less obvious: try and direct a French model when you don’t speak French!”