When Bears Attack
It’s noon on a Saturday and I’m upstairs at the Eagle, New York City’s cruisiest leather bar. The air still smells faintly of stale beer and armpits, but the lights inside are uncharacteristically bright, exposing the space’s pitch-black concrete floors and pressed tin ceilings, and the people milling about are shockingly sober. No, I didn’t just wake up in a graffitied bathroom stall after passing out drunk the night before — that’s a mistake you don’t make twice. I’m visiting the set of BearCity, a sexy romantic comedy that unfurls within the gay bear scene, cowritten by Lawrence Ferber and director Douglas Langway.
The mood on set is as warm and fuzzy as one would expect considering it’s August 29, the final day of an intense two-week-plus shoot. In the scene currently being filmed, a ponderous character named Michael (Gregory Gunter) asks a burly bartender, “Can I please taste your dirty jock?”
Pretty hot, right? Oh, relax: The dirty jocks in question are actually shots made of vodka, club soda, olive juice, and a single olive — mini martinis the filmmakers hope will be served at future viewing parties. After said shots are slammed, Michael, convinced he’s not getting a job because he’s too fat, tells his concerned friends he’s contemplating gastric bypass surgery, much to the horror of his lover, a hard-core chub chaser.
Unfortunately, I’ve missed out on all the steamy sex scenes featuring hirsute muscle daddies like Broadway stud Sebastian LaCause, but after only a few takes of the quippy barroom exchange I find myself sucked into the everyday dramas of this ragtag group of bears and their admirers. Though this ursine story of love and friendship was originally conceived as a series of webisodes, TLA Releasing, which will distribute the film next year, encouraged Ferber and Langway to create a furry full-length feature.
The pitch? "Sex and the City with bears,” says Ferber, an entertainment journalist (and frequent Advocate contributor) also known for his short films Cruise Control and Birthday Time. “Bears will now finally have their own date movie.”
“The New York bear community has come out in droves to support the film, which could not have been realized without their creative input and passion,” says Langway, who’s either a bear or a chub or something else entirely, depending on whom you ask. But along with manly men of all imposing shapes, sizes, and hair patterns, there are some suspiciously smooth and slender sisters on set.
Among a group of beefy, baseball-capped extras now emerging from their handsomely catered holding den is a tall, thin, full-bearded 20-something hipster-type rocking a necktie and white corset. He tells me he brought in his own corset from home “just in case” and that the wardrobe department loved it. Sure, his face looks like a schnauzer, but what’s this dude doing in a bear movie?
“It’s definitely for the bears, but we want our film to resonate universally,” says Ferber, who may or may not qualify as a cub. “Our lead character, Tyler — our ‘Carrie,’ if you will -- is actually a twink who enters this world of bears, so there’s an entry point for everyone. To me, a bear is a stocky, hairy, masculine guy, but there’s this whole politicizing of the labels that I’m not really involved in. My job is to make every line as witty and noncliché as possible. I’m somewhat familiar with the bear scene, but Doug is our bear expert.”
Though he’s not crazy about the label “bear expert,” stressing instead the idea that “bear is a state of mind,” America’s first bearcentric rom-com does appear to be in capable paws with Langway, who helmed the 1996 gay mobster flick Raising Heroes.
“BearCity is the story of my life, my experiences, and my friends, who all identify as a bear,” he says. “I’m very confident that we have told a story that will make the bear community proud because we made it all-inclusive, which is what the community was created for. The beauty of the bear community is its diversity, so it would have been unrealistic not to have the full spectrum of people represented. I don’t consider Tyler a ‘twink’ as much as a young man looking for love, and it was important to me to tell the story of a man coming to terms with his alternate view of beauty and sexual attraction.”
In addition to cameos by such local lavender luminaries as Village People cowboy Randy Jones and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, many of the major gay roles, shaggy and shaven, are played by openly gay men, including The Big Gay Sketch Show’s Stephen Guarino and CSI’s Gerald McCullouch.
“It’s a good thing, but it just kind of worked out that way,” Ferber insists. “We held normal auditions as anyone else would, and our casting director didn’t consider anyone’s sexuality either.”
But can we safely assume that the majority of actors in BearCity are gay?
“Let’s just say that there’s a lot of gay motherfuckers on this set, and the extras area downstairs is a pickup joint,” says Ferber, who wore a leather harness as an extra during a dance scene the previous afternoon. “You’ll see people making out, flirting, nipple-tweaking, and all the actors are constantly cuddling and massaging each other between takes. I even heard about some hard-ons the other day. There are a couple of straight guys mixed in, but actors are touchy-feely in general, so they certainly haven’t disrupted the gay vibe.”
Ferber adds that if BearCity is a roaring success as expected, his and Langway’s furry tales may tickle extras in other gay meccas like San Francisco in the future.
“The film ends with a hint of what a sequel might be — kind of like the Joker card at the end of Batman Begins — so you’ll have to wait and see,” he says.
And if that’s not good enough reason to suck down another round of dirty jocks, I don’t know what is.