For several years now, I have gone on what amounts to a porn pilgrimage to the real Sin City, Las Vegas, each January. The event that draws me there is the Adult Entertainment Exposition (AEE); clearly the biggest collection of porn stars, production companies, and those involved in the industry you will find in North America (and arguably as good as any show elsewhere, including Berlin). Without going over old territory discussed in my 2006 AEE Show Report too heavily, the show is designed with a dual focus; to allow businesses to come together and make deals as well as allow fans to meet some of the objects of their desires in the flesh. The performers get the benefit of tremendous media exposure, including lots of mainstream media prowling around looking for a new angle, as well as the adoration of hordes of fans that literally support the industry by buying the movies, toys, and website memberships that keep the engine running.
Every year there are numerous accounts of the show by those inside the industry who always remember the so-called "good old days" being so much better and the multitude of bloggers who find the sights, sounds, and smells of the experience to be almost overwhelmingly wild (and positive). As one of the most prolific reviewers online for years now, I fall somewhere in between such accounts; recognizing the limitations any show of such magnitude would have while appreciating how much work goes into making it happen. Here goes:
The show is held in the Sands Exposition Center attached to the Venetian Hotel on the Las Vegas strip. The hotel is beautiful, classy, and well out of my price range but it cannot be overstated how the venue adds something to the show that a standalone civic center somewhere in a low rent part of town simply could not provide (perhaps validity, for lack of a better term). Having pre-registered weeks before the show started for my press pass, I got to see some of the behind the scenes action involved in setting up the show. Vegas is a union town so that meant the majority of booths and displays were set up by locals, a great number of which were busy as could be the days before the show. I arrived in town early to settle in, enjoying some limited exposure to the massive Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that started that Sunday, but made my way to the show floor as the massive effort was underway to prepare for the new schedule of the show. This year, the days were moved in order to accommodate for the fact that so few would show up for the day after the awards; making the show run from Wednesday to Saturday. I assisted with setting up the Press Room (sponsored by Digital
Playground) as I have done several times in the past, keeping a harried Adella O'Neal from going crazy as the demands on her time grew increasingly frequent as the day wore on. The biggest change this year was the promotion of Sean Devlin, the go-to man from previous years, to being in charge; a move that really benefited all considering how much smoother things ran. When I finally went in line to get my press pass, it was in my hands within moments, a stark contrast to previous years under a different administration. Most others who pre-registered enjoyed similar experiences, contrary to what I have seen written elsewhere, and that made life much simpler for me. Most of the booth construction seemed to go smoothly for the companies that planned ahead too, a testament to thinking ahead over winging it as some companies figured they could get away with (and trust me, I could hear the loud howls of complaints from the latter all across the showroom floor).
Later that night, I enjoyed the yearly dinner Digital
Playground throws for select members of the media, sitting at the table with company bigwigs like Joone and lovely Samantha Lewis, fellow reviewer Dr. Jay (from the Houston area as well), the two Lisa's from Club Magazine, and the breathtaking Jana Cova when she finally arrived.
Jesse Jane and hubby Rich were present initially, as were some of the more colorful media types like Gram Ponante, Scott McGowan, and others; most of the contract gals and director Robby D. joining us late thanks to late flights into town. It was a good way to informally discuss a number of topics off the record as well as joke around about different perspectives, rarely hitting a nerve on some of the more sensitive types present. The food was great but it could have been terrible since the atmosphere was so conducive to the flow of information. The walls that typically go up during formal interviews (with the guarded answers they
provide) were not present and with regard to upcoming projects and the direction the company is heading in the near future, I felt fully informed. I only wish I had similar opportunities with some of the other trendsetting companies in the industry. Hearing Joone discuss his difficulties with getting his movies released on Blu-Ray, especially having been the biggest advocate in the industry for the format last year, how the company intends to continue fighting bootleggers and pirates in 2007, or even some of the planned spotlight projects for their new contract hotties like Lacie Heart, Katsumi, and Shay Jordan, nearly put me into overload though it still ended too soon for my liking.
The next day was the opening of the show, complete with Jenna Jameson and the Vivid/Club Jenna contract gals present to cut the ribbon that formally signified the start of the festivities. Opening day is for trade and press only so I immediately head for the back of the show floor, knowing that the bigger companies would still be setting up. In many ways, 2006 was a depressed year for the industry with many production companies taking time off from formerly busy shooting schedules, with the exposition reflecting that. A number of big name companies did not have a presence in the main hall, including Digital Sin/New Sensations, Mercenary Pictures, Shane's World, and Zero Tolerance, with some of them offering a small suite beside the press room for business only. The expense and logistics of a large booth proved too much effort for some and simply a waste of valuable resources for others in such a tight year but many of their people wandered the floor visiting their friends so I made sure to say hi.
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On the other hand, some companies expanded their presence or took on a life of their own, most notable of which being Jules
. Jules left his former distributor last year and his success has proven to be amazing as he continued to expand his roster of directors while many, maybe most, of his competitors scaled back operations. Another major success story was Sex Z Pictures as they ended up with the best location in the show (by the front doors), having taken the spot from Sin City (also not present) in order to promote their newfound affluence as a result of their release of Corruption
The third company that really seemed to expand well beyond previous efforts was Bang Bros. Their centrally located spot was very large and stars like Gianna and Sara Jay received a lot more attention because of it. The spacing of the other booths seemed to be an attempt to maintain the illusion of density of years past but there was no mistaking the fact that in terms of open space, there was a lot more of it. Still, the crowds filled in all the spaces on the days when fans entered the floor, repeating the usual rivers of people, complete with tides that could wash you away if you did not like being bumped around by masses of horned up fans intent on seeing every last one of their favorites that were spread around in different booths.
Meeting scores of performers, both newcomers and fan favorites, is the main reason why anyone would brave the lines and crowded conditions of the show. The fans were given access after the first day, getting more hours until Saturday when it was open season for anyone (press, fans, and trade) all day. In previous years, the final day of the show was Sunday but the after parties from the award show and desire to make it back home before the crowds always tended to truncate performer attendance so the initial idea was that moving the last day to Saturday would solve the problem. Unfortunately, the change in venue for the awards show to a hotel clear across town meant a number of performers leaving early on Saturday in order to get dressed, apply make up and otherwise prepare to look their best on the red carpet. Still, the additional room from the lack of booths was filled up by hordes of horned up fans most days, each displaying a different idea of what constituted proper show etiquette. Future visitors should bathe, ask before pawing the ladies, keep in mind that cutting in line makes others really mad, and that hogging the time of the performers will not impress them with your prowess, nor get you any closer to bedding them as a faceless mope (no matter how gracious they may appear to you). Press and trade visitors should keep in mind that the same rules apply to you so no matter how popular you think your website or magazine is, or how many copies of the latest movie you sell, a little common courtesy and understanding will go a long way to making the show better for all involved.
Anecdotes From The Show:
Okay, each day at the show provided a different dynamic thanks in part to some companies saving money by only providing performers on certain days, the amount of fans in attendance, and the design by various publicists to create a buzz about their clients. As a result, the feel of the show varied considerably each day, more than can be put easily into words in a single article. I hope to address some of the major topics discussed in future Blue Room Columns but here is a recap of some of the highlights from the show:
Steve Orenstein, the owner of my favorite features producer Wicked
Pictures and partner of favored gonzo studio Vouyer
Media, and I had a lengthy talk outside the business suites. While I had not planned for this discussion, I found him to be one of the most articulate, intelligent people at the show. A quick glance at our reviews of their titles show we appreciate how his company sets the standard for the niche and he seemed appreciative of the amount of work that goes into our reviews. Both companies have a lot of plans for the future, showing that while many others are scaling back, Wicked is charging into the future in many ways, even releasing the first truly HD DVD porn title just before the show (review forthcoming). Scoffing at the idea that the feature is dead, Mr. Orenstein pointed to the recent successes of Manhunters, Curse Eternal, and a few others, as evidence that fans still appreciate what his company offers. HD, piracy, and the challenges of the internet were discussed, as well as the declining quality so many of his competitors have been providing of late; making it an enjoyable discussion.
I also got lucky in discussing the state of the (porn) union with one of the movers and shakers of Shane's
at the end of the week in a small business suite. She pointed out that piracy online was extremely harmful to smaller companies, reminding me of how many software publishers went out of business in the early days of the personal computer thanks to a similar mindset.
Coordinated efforts to fight bootleggers have yielded some success but the end result is that many producers spend less money to make movies if they lose too many sales this way. There are a number of ways to combat online piracy that her company has resorted to and the advent of HD porn may assist them since the amount of time it takes to download a full HD movie is almost prohibitive at this time. The conversation went all over the place about trial runs with directors that didn't work out, some of the upcoming efforts by their newest director, Devon, and look for more titles starring contract hotty Casey Parker
coming up in 2007.
The internet came up a lot by various producers and directors as their biggest challenge to face in light of file sharing, sales via VOD, and the possibilities it offers. Kylie Ireland and partner Eli Cross (director and star of the multi-award winning Corruption)
have started up a new company where they will provide ultra hardcore downloaded versions of movies they shoot with DVD sales being incidental (having less explicit sex). Rather than fight the coming wave, they have sought to embrace it since the energy and resources needed to fight the thieves is so wasteful that they would rather just focus their efforts on making the best porn they can, hoping that they make a go of it.
Having seen how edgy some of their work has been in the past, I can only imagine how much further they intend on going to satiate the jaded masses but without some of the silly restrictions placed on them by outside production companies, I have the feeling they will succeed on some level. Eli was the head man at AVN for a long time before directing so if anyone can pull it off, he will be the one to lead the pack, not hurt in the slightest by Kylie (a force to be reckoned with in her own light).
A number of other directors candidly pointed out flaws in the antiquated distribution system too. Erik Everhard railed at limitations imposed on him by distributors and a lack of marketing as the reasons for joining his old pal at Jules
Jordan Video, as did Travis Knight. Some, like Robby D. of Digital
Playground or Eon McKai at Vivid
Entertainment expressed gratitude at the chances they have been given to present something different then the generic porn (I refer to it as generi-porn) so prevalent at other companies but they were exceptions to the rule when folks were talking off the record. While the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, too many of the complaints were common to a variety of companies for me to think some might find a better deal elsewhere.
There were numerous parties all week long too, including Tera Patrick's Fashion Show (which seemed to emulate her role in the highly praised Tera Patrick's Fashion Underground
), the massively overcrowded Pornotopia party, and the best of the bunch being the Player's Ball sponsored by the nice folks at XFanz
, a welcome newcomer to the world of porn news, reviews, and fan friendly forums where industry types hang out. They had rapper Too Short in the house at the Empire Ballroom with the widest array of performers and industry icons on hand to mingle with guests (unlike most parties where the biggest names stayed behind secluded areas where they could not be seen). The Corruption
party was a hit as well but the masses converged on the event (it had been moved repeatedly after the Venetian canceled earlier in the week) and that drastically limited the appeal of the handful of stars that stuck around (even Eli and Kylie left early). A party bus to the infamous Chicken Ranch provided some of the best thrills of the week as some of their ladies offered up great experiences on route to the brothel so many have written about in the past, certainly a fun journey worth the ride even if your budget was as limited as mine. There was no shortage of fun at the Circle Bar too, the best place outside the show to meet and hang out with those in the industry throughout the week.
Internet hotty Dana DeArmond was one of the nicest ladies at the show, providing me with some great laughs over the course of the event. It took her awhile but she won me over last year as a fan after a rough start. Meeting with her and director Eon McKai (who had a habit of introducing me semi-kiddingly as "the guy who hates our stuff" to
people) was enlightening for both sides of the alt-porn debate since I have been on record as a detractor from the earliest releases. He seemed genuinely surprised at my active role in this year's 2006's Top Alt-Porn List and I promised him I would try to revisit some of titles I had deferred to my pal, the alt-expert Mooninite if they came in. Director's Winkytiki and Tristan Taormino were also on hand thanks to Vivid executive Howard Levine, who made sure I had a chance to speak to them and all the contract ladies the company had on hand at the time (including talented Savanna Samson, hotty Sunny Leone, and curvy babe Sophia Rossi among others). It should again be noted that the Vivid/Club Jenna gals were the only ladies dressed up really nicely the entire show, foregoing uniforms or street clothes in favor of maintaining their glamorous appeal (the Vivid-Alt gals like Dana and Charlotte Stokely proving to be exceptions to the rule as they dressed in appropriately Alt outfits).
The Awards Show:
This year the awards show was more open to the public than ever before with the stadium seating of the Mandalay Bay Casino providing the new location for the show. The good news was that a lot more tickets were available since it was a larger venue than the usual spot at the Venetian (the show has been held all over Vegas throughout the years, each location providing unique challenges) and fans were actively encouraged to go to the show this year. The bad news was the distance from the Venetian where the convention was being held caused many performers to leave early on Saturday and the seating arrangements.
Apparently, someone did not think things through and the performers were mixed with fans. As a fan, this sounds like a great idea but performers wanting to enjoy the show, pick up an award, or not worry about their safety probably had a different outlook on the matter. Some performers reported being chased by overzealous fans before and after the show too, leaving a sour taste in their mouth not unlike some of the work they do.
This will likely change next year but the show itself, hosted by beauty Jessica Drake, better music this year, and the same lengthy bouts of boredom that any major awards show can cause before eventually ending.
Many of the titles on our own 2006's Top Porn List won the elusive awards, numerous others being reviewed over the year (a quick glance shows we covered most of the nominees in reviews last year).
Okay, my mandate was clear to provide as many pictures as I could at the show, trying to provide shots of the performers, directors, and industry notables as best I could. Some people were camera shy, other times shots did not work out, and I did my best to address criticism from the fetish people that I did not get enough pictures of feet last year. There were not as many black performers this year and a lot of performers were simply roaming the show floor instead of signing at booths so I tried to cover them as able. I did not have the special clearance needed to cover the Red Carpet at the awards show (it is very limited and handled by a different person than my usual contact) but I'll work on that for next time. Here are the hundreds of pictures I took at the show (initially, well over 800 of them), some of them deleted due to explicit nature, and others proving too weak to provide anything fans might care about, captions & editing provided courtesy of Das Monkey and Chris Thorne:2007 AEE Photo Essay.
Porn may have had some rough economic times in 2006 but Darwin's theories about survival of the fittest will likely result in some weaker companies being culled from the herd. The companies that listen to fans and provide what they want to see will reap the rewards and others will simply be absorbed in an effort to take advantage of economies of scale.
The doom & gloom crowd always seems to forget the adage about building a better mousetrap and a number of companies seemed ready to push the limits in one manner or another to do just that. The glut in product resulted in lower prices, attempts by some to differentiate themselves, and some truly seem ready to listen so the coming year will likely see a lot more high definition porn and companies using the internet to their advantage to serve your needs even better. Let them know what you want and you may find they are more willing to listen than ever before. Until next time, enjoy the pictures.