A Minute With Director Jim Tushinski

Jim Tushinski

Jim Tushinski (Photo courtesy of J. Tushinski/Gorilla Factory Productions. Used with permission.)

By Flash

Jim Tushinski is a filmmaker and writer, who resides in Southern California. His newest documentary I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole is getting its wide release of the director’s cut on video on demand this July. Based on Wakefield Poole’s autobiography Dirty Poole, I Always Said Yes tells the life story of Poole starting with his childhood and concluding with him revisiting the shooting locations from his 1971 landmark gay adult film Boys in the Sand in 2010.

Tushinski grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and received a BA in English with minors in Film and Computer Science from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. He also received an MA in English with an emphasis in Writing from San Francisco State University and started an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California Irvine. Tushinski left the MFA program over pressure to make his protagonist straight or bisexual so that the work would be more marketable.

Prior to making I Always Said Yes, Tushinski, who is the owner of Gorilla Factory Films, made 2005’s That Man: Peter Berlin, a documentary on gay adult film star Peter Berlin. Through Gorilla Factory Films Tushinski has also distributed Poole and Berlin’s movies on DVD. Recently, working with Vinegar Syndrome, he has worked on the releases of the films of Poole on DVD.

Tushinski is also the author of the 2004 book Van Allen’s Ecstasy, a dramatic work of fiction that show’s the titular character Michael Van Allen, a gay man, and his descent into madness, and the co-editor, with Jim Van Buskirk, of the 2006 creative nonfiction collection Identity Envy: Wanting to Be Who We’re Not, a collection of essays by gay and lesbian writers. He is currently working on a biography of Tom Graeff.

Flash: What first piqued your interest about Wakefield Poole?

Jim Tushinski (JT): It’s funny, I was in college, and this was in the late 70s early 80s, and I was very into musical theater; that was one of my passions. I was just coming out or had just come out – I came out pretty early in college – but didn’t really know too much about porn or Wakefield Poole or anything like that. I’d heard the name but I hadn’t seen any of the films. I remember a friend of mine gave me a recording of the musical Do I Hear A Waltz? and on the record album, it said choreographic associate Wakefield Poole and I looked at it and thought well it can’t be the same guy who made the porn movies. There’s no way! I found out it was and I became fascinated, not only with the musical which I kind of became obsessed with, but also I ended up seeing Bijou on video and kind of losing my mind because I never really thought that explicit gay sex and art could work together. That you could watch something like this and your first reaction wasn’t to get hot and bothered but it was to kind of think about what the hell just happened and why am I reacting this way. Yes, I got very excited but not in the way that I wanted to like whip it out and start masturbating. So it was kind of an eye-opening thing. And then to find out that he had this career on Broadway was amazing to me. But I didn’t really do anything about it until many, many, many years later when I met him.

Flash: What first caused you to want to make a documentary about Wakefield Poole?

JT: Well, meeting him, that is what did it. We were looking for people to interview for my first documentary That Man: Peter Berlin. My co-producer said well what about Wakefield Poole? And I thought oh that’s great, does he have anything to say, etc, etc. Initially, I talked to him on the phone and then I went down to Jacksonville to shoot the interview with him. We just had such a great time. A lot of the time I spent asking about Broadway. We sort of bonded and when That Man: Peter Berlin came out and it was somewhat successful, I was being asked what are you going to do next, I had read Wake’s autobiography Dirty Poole and I thought oh my God this would be perfect. What a great story with so many things going on. Broadway. Porn. It would be perfect. That was what really got me started on it, I wanted another project and this one just seemed perfect.

Flash: Having Wakefield Poole narrate the majority of his life story causes the film to be far more emotional than it could have been. What lead you to that decision?

JT: It was the voice I heard in his book and that’s what I wanted to capture. This is in a lot of ways a documentary about history; about the history of being a gay man in America, about the history of independent filmmaking, about the history of porn. History is always more interesting when it’s personal. When there is somebody telling you what they went through and what they saw and what they did during historical moments. And Wake’s story, it just touched on everything. I think that was my main thing and I had used this on the Peter Berlin documentary too. I had Peter basically narrating his life. To me it just worked so much better, it ends up being not as dry. Some people may find that it becomes too emotional or it’s not distant enough; that’s more of a – a word that I hate – hagiography. That it’s more enshrining him than it is being critical but I didn’t think that was the point. I thought the point was, here’s an amazing story from an amazing man that covers so much of what went on in the United States and in his life and in the life of most gay men of his age and even a little younger that I knew of so it just seemed natural to have him narrate it.

Flash: In retrospect, if you could change anything about I Always Said Yes, what would you change?

JT: I would have made it faster; it took way too long to make. A lot of that had to do with there was no money and there was no budget. We never had the budget we needed. It was always film some stuff, wait, try to find some money. Film some stuff, wait, try to find some money. I would want to make it faster and with a budget that we actually started out with.

Flash: What was the most rewarding aspect of making I Always Said Yes?

JT: Getting to know Wake. That was probably the most rewarding thing. He’s become a friend, a mentor, somebody I look up to. Also just telling a story that to me seems so important but so unknown. Most people have never heard of him these days which is so strange to me because he was so important and we wouldn’t have a lot of what’s going on in independent film, gay and lesbian film, porn, anything, sexually explicit films, gay and lesbian film festivals. None of that would exist unless Wake did what he did. Wake is an incredible person to get to know, so that was really rewarding, but also just getting that sort of out there and hoping that more people will found out about it and start looking at his work.

Flash: What was the most challenging part of making I Always Said Yes?

JT: Money, support, those were probably the two biggest challenges. The subject matter still causes a lot of really strange reactions and getting grants was pretty much impossible because as soon as you talk about somebody that was involved in pornography, people shut down. It’s not respectable, even today it floors me that this still goes on. Wake’s films are not traditional pornography – some of the later ones are – but the early ones, the ones he is most well known for, are not. In fact, if you show them to an audience today it is like this isn’t porn, what the hell. That’s probably the strangest thing.

After the success of That Man: Peter Berlin, I was asked to pitch another project for several gay distributors and entertainment companies. Every time I would pitch this project to them they would kind of look at me really blankly and pass because it is like I’ve never really heard of this guy I don’t know what you are talking about and oh gosh porn boring or well we don’t want to be involved with porn. A lot of the U.S. festivals passed on the documentary because they didn’t want anything porn related because of sponsors or because they didn’t see it as something that would bring in young people to the theater. And when we did get screenings a lot of times festivals would refuse to promote the documentary, even when Wakefield was attending or they would discuss it in their programs and in any press releases they put out as like a porn documentary. Not a documentary on history or independent filmmaking or even a bisexual artist. So it has been a challenge to get the doc in front of audiences. Wake’s not well known anymore, his work is not well known. And I think a lot of people expect to see a sleazy documentary about some pathetic gay porn guy. But when audiences did see the documentary they loved it, especially younger folks who are interested in LGBT and independent film history. And you would think that any documentary combining Broadway and porn would be a no brainer for gay men to go see. But you would be wrong. In fact, the most excited audiences have been from straight folks who knew nothing about Wake or early porn. But then again most straight audiences are probably too worried because it is too gay. And I have to tell people that hey there’s female nudity as well as male nudity and Wake was bisexual and it isn’t just about gay porn. It is always difficult to get folks to see something they know nothing about that doesn’t seem to have much to do with their lives.

So I guess that has been the biggest challenges is getting it in front of people now that it is made. The biggest challenge making it was I didn’t have any money so I couldn’t hire a producer, I couldn’t hire anybody really except when we were shooting and I needed crew to shoot the interview or to shoot b-roll or something like that. A long answer to say money and support were the two biggest challenges.

Flash: What did you learn about Wakefield Poole while making the documentary that surprised you?

JT: Certainly none of the facts surprised me because I knew all the facts and I knew Wakefield somewhat before we started working on this but I think the thing that really surprised me was I couldn’t get anyone to say anything even slightly bad or negative about him. And we tried. Both Wake and I tried to find somebody who would say something kind of negative because who wants to hear somebody say oh he’s a great guy he’s a great guy over and over again. But we couldn’t find anybody. We even tried to hunt down his co-producer for Take One Ed Dundas. They had a huge falling out. Ed refused to release the elements of the film to Wake and accused him of stealing from him. Over the years it has been always a rocky relationship. But I could never get Ed to respond. I don’t even know if he is alive anymore. So we were actively looking for people to say something negative and couldn’t find anybody so that surprised me because everybody has got somebody who will say something bad about them.

Flash: What is the one big takeaway you’d like people to get from I Always Said Yes?

JT: I think that the most important thing in life is to take chances and to not let failure, or personal problems, or tragedy stop you from moving forward. It’s one of the big reasons I wanted to change the title from his autobiography title of Dirty Poole to I Always Said Yes, which he said in an interview and it just struck me, oh my God that’s Wake. That’s what I’d like to take away from it and I’d like other people to take from it. It’s certainly what I’ve tried to remind myself of when you get down or when it is like nobody cares or nobody wants to see this, or whatever personal problems you’re having is there’s always a way to get past it and to think differently about situations to move you forward. And I hope people get that out of it but if all they get out of it is hey I want to listen to the Do I Hear a Waltz? original cast album I’d be happy.

Jim Tushinski’s newest movie I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole is available now or coming soon to your favorite VOD or download service.

Flash is an adult film reviewer and can be reached via e-mail at adtflash@gmail.com. Flash’s adult film reviews can be read at www.adultdvdtalk.com/reviewer/flash. Flash’s other interviews can be read at interviews.adultdvdtalk.com/category/interviews-by-flash.

Jim Tushinski’s website is www.jimtushinski.com. The website for I Always Said Yes is www.ialwayssaidyes.com and the Facebook page for I Always Said Yes is www.facebook.com/IAlwaysSaidYes.

I Always Said Yes review

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