Trash or Treasure? Treasure Island’s Liam Cole slams back at So So Gay
The world’s most controversial gay pornographer? As the UK head of the world’s most famous bareback porn company, Treasure Island Media, Liam Cole is well versed in controversy. With his new movie Slammed, which documents London bender weekenders, he’s pushed the boundaries even further. The very reasonable and articulate Mr. Cole spoke to Marc Andrews at his South London office about why he sees himself more as a documentary filmmaker than a porn director.
A small non-descript suburban avenue, tucked quietly behind Clapham High Street, is where most days you will find the man who might just be the world’s most controversial gay pornographer. His name is Liam Cole and he works for the world’s biggest bareback porn company, Treasure Island Media, which has its main headquarters just off San Francisco’s infamous Folsom Street.
Tall, fair and sweetly handsome, Liam has been hard at work, so to speak, producing porn movies for the company, which has not so much cornered the bareback porn market as created it.
His office, which doubles as Treasure Island’s London hub, features a wall chart of recent filmings and interview subjects, as well as potential couplings, threebies, fourgies and ‘gang bangs’. A discussion with his pert, efficient assistant ensues about one of the forthcoming gang bangs as if they were merely discussing what to order for the stationery cupboard in any other office.
There is a row of DVDs placed neatly above the mock fireplace – all the same title, Slammed, Liam’s latest work. It’s only recently been released, but already created major waves, many of them shock waves, around the globe. The movie records a weekend (and more) in the life of a group of London ‘sex pigs’, whose erotic encounters are fuelled primarily by G and crystal.
We delve further into the dark, dirty world of Treasure Island’s Liam Cole.
So So Gay: Slammed is sold as ‘the most extreme video ever’. Did you intentionally set out to make a different kind of porn movie?
Liam Cole: I moved to London last summer and realised there was this whole world of activity after 1 or 2am. To me it seemed like the most exciting sexual activity going on. The videos of people using drugs online were stuff people had made themselves. It was people smoking stuff in pipes, or shooting up and not having sex, though they might have just been jerking off. There would be one or two people in the room and they would film themselves getting high and the video stops before they’d do anything. I just didn’t feel like there was anyone recording the stuff I was aware of that was happening.
Do you think this scene has only recently proliferated?
People in the health profession say they definitely see more and more problems with gay people struggling with party drugs. These are drugs which don’t necessarily become unmanageable immediately. People can go for years regularly using things like G and crystal, then slowly it becomes a problem, but there wasn’t a time when everyone was having completely sober sex and no one was on drugs though.
Have bareback hook-up sites re-sexualised HIV+ people in some way?
The websites and videos are symptoms, not driving things. There are more people living relatively healthy lives with HIV, so it seems inevitable this stigma begins to erode and these websites occur. There needs to be a really big phenomenon to make a video of it because even if there are hundreds and hundreds of people doing something within that group, there will only be a very small group who are willing to do it on video and, um, people we would want to watch.
Guys who are sexually appealing?
It’s not a beauty contest, but it definitely helps if someone looks good.
The guys in Slammed – who are they?
They all have work, which is not escorting. They are probably not what people would imagine they are like. It’s not possible to be wrecked on drugs all day, every day and look fresh and healthy and turn up to a videoshoot on time. Although these are like home movies, you still have to be a bit more prepared than the hook-up.
Essentially you document the ‘bender weekender’ scene with Slammed.
That’s what this movie is about. I have to make porn from day to day, that is my job, and have to make a choice whether I churn out something like everyone else, or try harder to film something that really interests me.
When was Slammed filmed?
Last October. Obviously, people get high on porn shoots, but this was the first time I said, ‘Whatever you’re going to do, bring it with you!’. At least I would know what they’ve done. It was really fun at first, but there was a point I started to be like a parent. You’re sober and around people who are high. Even afterwards you think, ‘I hope they don’t walk in front of a car by mistake!’.
Essentially, you are just an observer in the room.
I definitely don’t direct. There’s no instructions on positions or anything like that. A lot of the time they forget I’m there. I don’t very often make eye contact because I’m usually staring into the camera and they’re focusing on each other. It seems to work. I have seen professional porn being made and that is definitely showbusiness. The closest thing to what I’m doing is Xtube.
How important is ‘the money shot’?
Too important! It really annoys me, but I know people love to see it. I understand it is very exciting to see an orgasm on screen, but in real life it’s not that important. If you had amazing sex for six hours then fell asleep at the end, it’s not like you would go away thinking that was a disappointment.
Isn’t that what people expect to see in gay porn?
It’s the one single thing left. Every other part of the process I’ve managed to strip away so it’s not done for the camera. People like to see cum and so do I.
What’s your response to the charge that Slammed glorifies drug use?
It doesn’t really show drug use very clearly. It was the sex that was exciting. You’re not going to learn how to take drugs from watching my film. It doesn’t dwell on the practicalities of taking drugs. It’s not like a drug experience or a trip. You just see a lot of people fucking basically.
Is this movie like the new queer underbelly – gay outlaws?
I like the idea that anybody can be an outlaw. Paul Morris (founder of Treasure Island in San Francisco) has written about how dubious the value of campaigning for gay marriage is, or campaigning for the right to be integrated into so-called straight lifestyles. I’m curious about why they want to get married. It’s like joining a golfing club that won’t allow black players.
How did you get into the porn industry?
I was a journalist. I thought it would be interesting to interview Paul. That was nearly five years ago. It was really fun, but more difficult than I thought it would be. I thought I could use what I’d learned and do it better, so I did another one, then another one. Almost immediately it was my full-time job.
Paul Morris funded the Meth documentary in 2006 and now you’ve made Slammed for him. How did he react to this project?
He wouldn’t want to limit the possibilities. I mentioned to him I have relaxed the rules on my shoots. Quite early on I suggested the title. It’s a double meaning – people who are in on it will recognise it and people who don’t like drugs will take it in the other sense of the word, which is just as true for the film. In London, it was the only word I was hearing. Most of the criticism of the film so far comes from a position that drug use is the same as drug addiction. That’s not what I see. Addiction is clearly a serious problem, but not the same as someone discovering it, experimenting with it, then realising they either have to not do it anymore, or rein it back to occasional usage. These chemicals exist and your body is made in a certain way. It’s pointless to pretend it’s not really that good, or that much fun, because it is. People are not going to leave that alone and never have done. The history of mankind and international trade is all to do with mind-altering substances like cocoa, coffee, tea, refined sugar and tobacco. It’s much more a part of life than some people realise.
How do you respond when people say bareback porn is wrong?
Wrong in what way? Treasure Island must be doing alright. otherwise we wouldn’t have the money to make new ones. You just feel glad it all came together and that interesting, exciting moments happened on video.
Can you wear the mantle of the world’s most controversial gay pornographer?
I don’t think I could snatch that off Paul so easily. In some ways it’s right Paul be recognised as significant. He wasn’t party to any of this being made, but it probably wouldn’t have happened without him. Over the years he has let me go my own path, always tending towards mischief.
What else do you need to tell So So Gay readers about your work?
They’re grown-up and make their own minds up.
Liam Cole’s next movie for Treasure Island is called Overload.