SAN FRANCISCO - An epic drama with cowboys, forbidden love and hot sex? While the comparison may seem inevitable, make no mistake: Raging Stallion's To the Last Man is no Brokeback Mountain 2. But the studio's follow-up to last year's acclaimed feature Grunts is a strong contender for the upcoming GAYVN Awards, known in industry circles as the Oscars of gay porn.
"As I move into my second decade in the industry, I really want to make some films that will stand the test of time - iconic movies that touch upon the different genres in gay porn," studio founder/director Chris Ward told GAYVN. "With Grunts, I think we made the ultimate military movie. The western is also one of those porn genres - there have been many porns that featured cowboys and ranches. A fantastic location dropped in our laps, so we decided to go all-out and try to create the best western porn movie of all time."
And when Tony Dimarco - the award-winning director/videographer who established his name at Lucas Entertainment with work on hits like La Dolce Vita, The Intern and Dangerous Liaisons - joined the studio, his excitement about the idea helped the project blast off. "Tony is a real talent," Ward says. "By bringing him into a very talented team, we have created a real filmmaking force here."
With a budget around $200,000 (just shy of Grunts' total), Ward notes To the Last Man is the most expensive gay porn produced this year. Based on the Zane Grey novel and shot on location at ranches in Northern California and Arizona, the film revolves around the struggle between two ranches - one with water and one without - in the American West. A story about love, power, revenge and lust, the film features 15 accomplished industry stars, led by exclusives Ricky Sinz and Scott Tanner as ranch rivals.
"To the Last Man is unique in that this film has very, very high production values.... It is the closest porn will ever get to Hollywood in terms of script, acting, cinematography and editing," Ward says. "People will see a movie that sets a new standard for high-end gay porn. This is a real movie, kind of like Pirates was over on the straight side of the industry. Frankly, nothing like To the Last Man has ever been made in our industry."
Three directors collaborated on the high-def production: Ward, Dimarco, and Raging Stallion's other award winner, Ben Leon. Dimarco wrote the script and worked on B-roll shots with Ward, who also shot and edited a crucial shootout sequence. Leon shot all of the sex scenes and designed the lighting.
"Grunts was a pivotal moment in my career," Leon says. "When we shot Grunts, we focused on setting a context for the sex with minimal story. As we approached this project, we aimed higher by writing a script. A full-on script adds a lot of time and money to a project. We also aimed higher with the camera work: We bought a Steadicam, a small crane and a decent-sized dolly track to improve the filmmaking. We can see in our sales numbers and in the response from the industry that big-budget movies can be big successes. We want to continue to make big films and push our own skills farther."
One of the project's biggest challenges for Raging Stallion - and something sure to shock some viewers - was the gritty violence of the story.
"It was a major concern for me of how to combine violence and sex in a movie and not make it offensive or distasteful. In the western genre, violence is usually a driving force of the plot. I knew that I didn't want it to be all about violent sex, although the climax of the film is just that," Dimarco says. "In most cases, I made sure that the violence was separate from the sex. Sometimes sex grew out of the violence...the most concentrated part of violence is in the second half."
Dimarco notes that much of the killing is in a three-minute "death montage" and in the final shootout. "I did this for two reasons: One, because it's not easy to go back and forth between death and sex, asking the viewer to switch emotions; also, it's not very realistic. Secondly, I wanted to build the ending of the film as you would a Hollywood movie. The tension builds, which leads to the final confrontation," he says, adding one sex scene may divide viewers. "I don't think everyone will get off on it, but I know many will - more than who will be willing to admit."
Leon adds that as they developed the project, they decided to push their filmmaking skills by focusing on shooting, gunplay and bloody deaths, which all flowed from the narrative. "We wanted to aim high and push our production skills to a new level, and the story including the violence allowed space for that to happen. I think in the end we created a Hollywood-style western with blood, guts and lots of hot hardcore sex."
The demanding shoot - which often struggled with nature and the elements - proved a challenge for everyone. But despite the seriousness of the story, the shoot and the sex, the cast and crew were still able to laugh...but at the expense of one of their senses.
"The unpredictability of animals can be quite funny," says Dimarco. "We were shooting the scene at the barn in the horse corral with the horses in the shot. It was a serious moment, and just as Chris called ‘Action!', one of the horses started farting - not a care in the world, and not just a quick fart but one that lasted a really long time. Needless to say, everyone just busted up."
The outtake is on the special features, and that's something you certainly won't find on the Brokeback Mountain DVD (and they ate a lot of beans, folks!). So even though the films are vastly different (Leon notes To the Last Man is a "darker film that is more classical western"), they share a certain commitment to quality - one that could have Raging Stallion cleaning up on the awards circuit again.
"It is a movie about gay men who are cowboys, there is a secret love affair and there are beautiful, expansive landscapes," Dimarco says. "That's about the extent of the similarities. If people compare it to Brokeback, that's a huge compliment. But it's a very different film."
Ordering Info: RagingStallion.com, (877) 327-0707.