Every industry has a trade organization that represents, on some level or another, it's best interests to the public at large. Often enough, those organizations spend time lobbying politicians for favorable legislation, attempt to present the industry in the best possible light to outsiders and consumers, and provide a clearinghouse of information for the companies they serve. Such is the case with a publication known as AVN (Adult Video
AVN started out as a little periodical designed to give video storeowners a heads up on the newest releases, the newest performers, and some idea of the latest trends in the adult entertainment industry. Those of you old enough to remember a time before such magazines (long before the internet provided a wealth of sources to ferret out the best titles) will probably remember how most porn was released with a flashy box cover and a really lame movie.
Most of the magazines on the shelves were designed for consumers and all the reviews seemed glowing praise since few of them wanted to offend their advertisers. As time progressed, AVN became the de facto representative of the porn industry, providing advice on more than just which titles were hot sellers, what starlets were the next big thing, and the trends because the country was in the midst of the Reagan years in the White House.
Those of you around long enough to remember the many criminal prosecutions directors, performers, producers and even storeowners went through during the 1980's for providing adult entertainment will understand the context for the rapid growth of AVN from a fluffy little handout to the hugely circulated monthly magazine so many in the industry look to for information.
Even today, in the midst of the internet-based wave of content providers, AVN has expanded its reach by offering several websites that include legal advice, daily updates on industry events and still it manages to provide the same type of coverage it was designed for. For all this, porn fans are more likely to know AVN for its yearly show, The Adult Entertainment Exposition and AVN Awards Show that take place in Las Vegas, Nevada every January.
The AEE show is hailed far and wide as "THE" place to go to meet porn stars, industry icons, directors, producers, and companies that generally keep their affairs private. Every company that wants to get their name out to the masses has some sort of presence at the show. It starts off on a Thursday and runs through to Sunday (during the second week of January) with some industry hours (in the morning) and fan hours (in the afternoon, except for Sunday's free for all). The show has been held at the Sands Expo Convention Center for years now, with the awards show located in the adjacent Venetian Hotel on Saturday night.
The floor plan appears to the casual observer as something out of Dante's Inferno, with the biggest exhibitors located out front, near the fan, exhibitor, and trade entrances, and as you get further back into the hall, the companies tend to be lesser known. Placement is a function of cost, with the companies wanting the prestige of a prime location paying through the nose for it. With fairly limited hours (11 AM on opening Thursday and 10 AM the rest of the week to between 4 PM and 7 PM, depending on the day, for the close), there were an awful lot of exhibitors to check out (around 200 or
so) and precious little time to do so. The exhibitors included all the major porn producers like Wicked Pictures, Vivid, Hustler, Digital Playground and so many more, smaller companies like Cherry Boxxx, Zero Tolerance, Anarchy, and Simon Wolf Productions. There were also a lot of companies that sell sex toys (usually called novelties for legal reasons) like Las Vegas Novelties (owned by the beautiful Serenity), California Exotic Novelties or even the good folks at Doc Johnson. Filling in the other booths were a mix of industry representatives like the Free Speech Coalition, AIM Healthcare, AVN itself, as well as related companies selling satellite services, internet deals, and DVD mastering services.
If the number of exhibitors sounds daunting, keep in mind that the number of porn stars was easily twice that, with some golden oldies like Ginger Lynn and Randy West to gals that were so new, like Simon Wolf's Kelly Kline, they hadn't been in a released movie yet. Unlike the local strip clubs that offer feature dancers from time to time, the show had more performers than you could possibly meet in a single day, or even during the entire show. I scored a press pass and had three days (and nights) to explore this year's show but even I couldn't see everyone. The security measures this year were designed to prevent some of the misconduct of years gone by, when those with passes would swap out so their friends could attend for free. It seemed like many of the participants were unhappy with the measures but most of the ones complaining were attendees from the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) that have been able to attend for free, regardless of their connection to the adult industry. I'm told that over 8,000 industry professionals attended and nearly 18,000 fans so you can understand the kind of chaos that took place in the large but relatively small convention hall. Regardless of the crowds though, if you want to meet porn stars from a variety of companies, this is your Mecca and true fans simply must make a pilgrimage in order to attain nirvana.
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I could write a book about the experiences I had at the 2004 AEE but you'd still never get a feeling for the show that comes from having attended yourself. I flew into town earlier in the week, figuring I'd partake of the atmosphere Las Vegas is known for. The show didn't start until January 8 and getting in before the crowds sure made the airport experience easier to handle. All of the hotels in town were booked due to the combination of the AEE and CES being in town so my reservations at a local motel paid off. At under $20 a day, with a free daily breakfast buffet and other amenities, I got off cheap.
Having lined up several interviews before getting into town, I learned how flexible the scheduling would be by companies that insisted "any time" meant just that. I learned the truth later but I was psyched for the show and make no apologies for the grand visions I had going into it as press. I arrived at the early registration for press on Wednesday, finding out how flexible the arrangements would be for the rest of the show at that point in time.
While waiting in the downstairs lobby, I ran into Jenna Jameson and her bodyguard/husband, even holding the door open for them (she was looking sweet!). I then spent time with a host of reporters, internet guru's, and photographers while waiting to get my credentials for the show. Most of them had interesting stories of covering the AEE from previous years and I soaked it all up like a sponge as they regaled me with their feats of daring do (and don't). The common thread for all of us was to get our stuff and leave as quickly as possible but technical considerations prevented that from taking place. Getting to meet director Mike South, also waiting in line, and the attractive publicist for Digital Playground, Adella (although company owner Samantha Lewis was a hotty too), helped make the wait more bearable. I suggested putting some of us to work (keeping busy makes the wait go by quicker) and before long, several of us helped deck out the pressroom. My claim to fame there was preventing performer Aria from getting hit by a falling cardboard display (okay, I never claimed to be a hero of epic proportions). After many delays, and much idle talk, everyone secured their badges and went off to prepare for the coming show.
The Floor Of The Show:
Arriving early in order to make a scheduled interview proved difficult since there were no cabbies coming to my motel that morning. Most of them seemed to stick around the easiest spots for the CES convention. My thoughts ran to telling the AEE organizers to hold the show at a different date in the future in order to take advantage of the off-season rates and to make the show less of a competition with that show. Surely there are better dates available that would work for the industry although I know why the show is held at the same time. Originally, the AEE was an offshoot of the CES show, delegated to a back corner of the show. With the increased popularity of the adult part of the show, it split off on its own but the shows organizers seem to enjoy the host of mainstream stars and personalities that visit the CES and sneak over to the AEE show, perhaps thinking it lends credibility to the adult activities.
My musings aside, I arrived on time and heard that my pal, Geoff was stuck in Oregon, iced in by the storms sweeping his part of the country. Figuring I'd try to help out with whatever opportunities he had planned to promote DVDTalk (the original and still the best), I spoke with him on my cell phone. I arrived on time and held a few interviews with the folks at Cherry Boxxx and Digital Playground as well as some other people that were willing to grant them. My mission was to get as many pictures as I could, and some interviews as able. Look for those interviews in the near future, some of which were more revealing than I expected.
In any case, hob knobbing it with dozens of stars proved quite taxing for me. I had some great times as performers really perked up when they saw the press credentials hanging around my neck. They were friendly with the fans later on in the day too but something about the way the show caters to those who potentially promote their goodies really interests them. In an industry that follows the adage, "Any publicity is good publicity", it really is difficult to overemphasize the value of treating the press right, even internet press such as myself. Some companies, such as Cherry Boxxx, went all out to invite fans and press alike with their open booth and horde of performers signing and posing for all comers. This was easier for them since they are so new to the industry and didn't attract the kind of crowds some of the larger, more established companies, like Vivid (put Jenna in a room and all attention seems to draw her way), or JKP (whose scheduled appearances seemed to be the result of some sort of casino game of chance) did. Any time a company cordons off the area around their booth and limits the time their performers will sign/pose, it creates problems.
In all though, most of the time I was at the show, people were courteous and willing to assist one another, be it taking a picture (I helped out a number of people this way myself), giving directions, or pointing out a star sighting. Rubbing elbows with celebrities like Mike Tyson (he looks a lot smaller in real life), various rock stars past their prime, or even some of the celebrities not signing for a company (just hanging out) was a lot of fun. By the time every day ended, it was a madhouse at the expo and many of us just wanted to crash for a few hours to prepare for the parties that came
Suffice it to say, the atmosphere of the expo center was a bit big on rules, mostly due to the large crowds of horny people (mostly men, no matter what anyone else tells you about the influx of women). While there were a number of times that performers would flash for your camera, play with you a bit, or let you go a bit beyond the stated rules (no nudity, no sexual contact, and more), most of the time, you'd have to settle for lots of skimpy cleavage, thong shots, or sexually suggestive behavior at the show. This was not the case at some of the parties however.
It seemed as though every major company or performer was associated with at least one party. Be it the topless Sky Lopez Dj-ing at the New Sensations party, Ed Powers little shindig (how he got away with some of the gals doing so much is beyond me), the JKP party (which was classy but subdued compared to the other parties), or the number of smaller, unadvertised get togethers in hotel suites (where anything was possible, cough cough) both before and after the awards show, the real fleshy fun took place outside the convention. Some of the parties catered to big dollar distributors, a couple of whom had point of view footage of them getting orally pleased by performers I recognized but I really didn't ask a lot of questions (old guys having sex with women young enough to be their granddaughters has always struck me that way with few
exceptions) and saw just enough of their digital videotapes to convince me that I need to win the lottery and become a big time distributor.
Most of the time however, the parties were over crowded, smoky, way too loud, and had male/female ratios similar to gun shows (not in Texas) or comic book conventions. In essence, a lot of horned up guys thinking they'd have a shot with loose women (boy were they disappointed) went to the parties and while they could have fun, the professionals lurking about weren't cheap (it was my job to find these things out) and, for the most part, weren't anything you'd pay for. The best parties were the ones that have gone unreported and my limited access to a couple of them leads me to believe that copious amounts of alcohol and/or other stimulants were abundant (when people threaten someone my size with shoving my camera up my ass, I take it seriously, even if I know they're talking smack since I could have torn them limb from limb). I made a few promises about not publishing those pictures so when the photo essay comes out, let me know if any slipped through undetected.
The AVN Awards Show:
The Awards show on the Saturday night of the convention was somewhat of a letdown for me. With thousands of people in attendance, and lots of interesting outfits to gawk at, you'd think this would be a highlight of the week but the reality was that aside from seeing all the gals one last time, usually from a distance because the rules prevented you from mingling too much, the buffet was fair at best, the cost way more than any sane person would pay (thankfully that storm in Oregon netted me a free ticket), and the awards themselves were anti-climactic.
Movies like Beautiful tying for best video, My Plaything Jenna Jameson 2 winning best interactive DVD, Barely Legal winning best vignette series, No Man's Land winning best all girl series, and performers like Stormy winning best new starlet and Ashley Blue winning best female performer (there were nearly a hundred awards), you got the feeling that the selections were based as much on unrelated reasons as on the stated reason. Having participated in a recent awards process myself, the Best of DVD Talk Porn 2003, I can appreciate the complexities of selecting a handful of choices from the selection of ~12,000 releases in a given year. For all the bluff and bluster about the validity of the AVN Awards though, pretty much every company advertises with their wins and nominations as though it were the sole criterion for quality. Whatever the reasoning, this is the one awards show the industry really pays attention to and the parties afterward made those taking place earlier in the week seem almost tame by comparison.
A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words So How About 246 of Them?:
No description can really do justice to the Adult Expo, so maybe that's why when I started taking pictures, I just couldn't stop. So for a real look at the AVN Expo take a look at my photo essay with 246 photos from the event.
I would highly recommend any fan of porn make the trip to Las Vegas for the AEE, no matter what deficiencies may exist with the rules, the structure of the show, or the chaotic nature of all that takes place. I would suggest that you rest up long before you make the journey, bring lots of film or memory for your camera, and bring some money to enjoy the surroundings of Sin City (Las Vegas). Look for my interviews in coming weeks - I paid a heavy price to obtain them (catching the flu while there) and I'd appreciate any feedback you have to offer. Oh, and if anyone caught the number to Cherokee or that blonde in the pressroom, feel free to send it along. I'd be rightly obliged to you.
- Don Houston