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My first week in porn

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Actresses and cameramen get ready to shoot a scene for Pink Visual
Levi "Big Red" Chronister

I'll admit it. I've seen my share of porn.

Hell, I've probably seen your share, too.

That said, nothing really prepares you for attending porn shoots and interviewing adult talent. The shoots are completely different when there's no monitor between you and the actors, and the people in the industry (at least the ones I interviewed) are far nicer and more normal than one might expect.

Over the past week, I feel like my Vegas cherry finally has been popped. Sure, I've had nights where I drank far too much. I've lost more than I'd like to admit on gambling, and I've seen more neon and call girls than I once thought possible.

Now that I've exchanged dozens of phone calls and e-mails with porn stars, been within spitting (or spurting, to use a more appropriate term) distance of two scenes and have been invited to industry parties (which I unfortunately was unable to attend), this small-town Kansas kid really feels like he really lives in Vegas.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday

When I'm not catching up on sleep from working through New Year's Eve, I'm looking at porn. Not for pleasure (for once), but trying to find local talent for a story about porn stars who live in Vegas instead of Los Angeles. Looking all over MySpace, xPeeps, One Model Place and Model Mayhem feels a bit stalkerish, but everyone I write to gets back to me in near-record time. The flakiness typically associated with people in the adult industry is nowhere to be found.

I get at least a half-dozen interviews set up and ready to go for before the conference, and a handful more to take place during the Expo. Things are looking good for all my story ideas, and I'm looking forward to getting back to a week of reporting after years on the technical side of the industry. The newspaper industry, that is.

Monday

2009 AVN Awards co-hostess Belladonna.

2009 AVN Awards co-hostess Belladonna.

The calm before the storm. I have an afternoon phone interview with Belladonna about technology in the industry and adult actresses getting jobs in mainstream projects. It goes well and I get some nice material from her, despite forgetting to turn the recorder on. I thought I was only supposed to fumble with electronics and act flustered when I talk to these women in person? Her PR person calls me later to let me know she enjoyed the interview and told him she was worried she came off sounding less-than-intelligent on the technology topic. It was a nice humanizing moment about someone you (fine, I) have seen do some pretty dehumanizing things.

That evening I talk to a newcomer to the industry (names have been removed to protect the anything-but-innocent) who I catch in the middle of making dinner for her and her husband. Despite the intrusion, she answers the questions like a champ. There's an "I've never done this before" naivete in her voice while she answers.

Tuesday

This is when all Hell begins to break loose. A coworker and I go to the Green Door to interview an actress on set, and I end up getting a VIP tour of the club, including the Dungeon Room and Golden Shower room (or, as an employee liked to call it, the "R. Kelly Suite"). After the tour, the cast and crew (a group of just five at this point) decide to start shooting some photos before filming the real action.

Morgan, D. Wise and Alexis prepare for a friendly game of naked billiards.

Of course, just a few moments into the still shots a lot of real action breaks out as tops and pants drop and there's naughty bits everywhere. It was such an absurd situation that it was impossible not to enjoy. Not erotically, necessarily, but rather the same way you look at a car crash - fascinating, intimidating and enthralling. That's not to say there was anything unattractive about the scene or the people in it. When you're standing maybe 15 yards away you can't not look.

We leave before things get really crazy and drive across town to interview another actress who demurely answers our questions. Less than a block out of her driveway she calls us back to ask if we'd like to come back to a fetish shoot at her place that night. "Yes, of course." If I had learned anything from all of this so far, it was that you never turn down a chance to be on a shoot because you never know what might happen.

As coincidence would have it, when I get back to the office an e-mail is waiting asking if the Weekly would like to come to an all-girl shoot the next night. My new rule still in effect, I say yes and round up a videographer and photographer to come along.

Wednesday

I do two more good interviews with locals in the industry in the afternoon, but the only thing I'll likely remember from this day was the all-girl shoot that evening.

It takes a surprising amount of luggage to get ready to take your clothes off

When our video guy and I first show up at the house Pink Visual had rented for the week of AVN, everything seems pretty normal. People are snacking, wandering around, setting up lights and getting into costume. Even as it gets closer to the actual shoot and the girls start shooting bonus softcore scenes for future DVDs, things seem no crazier than a well-lit, smokeless, free strip club.

But that changes very quickly as soon as the real shooting begins. The idea behind the scene is that the girls are attending a typical college party when things start to get out of hand. Nakedly out of hand. Maybe I went to the wrong school, but I've never been to a college party where six girls arrived in nothing but bras and panties with a box of sex toys and started going at it while others watched and cheered them on.

Still, like Tuesday morning's shoot, this one doesn't get a rise out of me. To paraphrase the AEE slogan, it is sexy (six beautiful women naked can't help but be), it is definitely powerful (the skin-on-skin action and heat building up in the room is impressive) but it is business. The girls are enjoying it, certainly, but the two cameramen getting close up to the action for the best angles and the frequent stops to reposition girls kept the event from ever reaching erotic status. It is, after all, a film shoot, not a party.

AEE - Wednesday in Vegas

It wasn't until leaving, about 30 minutes into the shoot, that what just happened hits me. Maybe it was the brisk night air. Maybe it was exiting a brightly lit, self-contained porn shoot and entering back into dusk in the normal world (or at least as normal as Las Vegas gets). Whatever the reason, our video guy and myself both feel the need to go home and shower. We realize how hot, sticky and sweaty it had been in the house, and, as he puts it, "I feel like someone just poured a bottle of liquid sex all over me." We hadn't talked much after the shooting started, and we certainly weren't part of the scene, but it was a bonding experience unlike any other.

Thursday

A day without porn! Well, an afternoon without it, at least.

I spend all day Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show, covering a couple angles and trying to take it all in. Last year I wandered the halls checking out whatever seemed interesting, and the show seemed too huge to fully appreciate. This year I have specific booths to see and companies to talk to. Nothing can be as overwhelming to the senses as what I had seen the previous night.

That night I attend the Paradise Visuals party at Wasted Space in the Hard Rock Hotel. The company's talent got up on stage for introductions to begin the night, but otherwise they hung out in the club's front-and-center VIP booth and just posed for photos. In fact, if they hadn't been introduced to the crowd, some of the people in the club would likely have had no idea who was standing right next to them. In fact, a handful of young ladies not in the industry (not that I'd seen, at least) were dressed even more suggestively than the adult talent.

Friday

My first day at the Expo and the biggest blur of the week. Six scheduled interviews, a handful of impromptu ones and helping out with a video piece makes the day fly by and keeps everything business despite the amount of skin and suggestive dancing surrounding me.

Sapphire dancers Belladonna Suicide, left, and Electronica pose for fan photos at the Adult Entertainment Expo.

I see two nipples all day, not counting ones on posters, photos or videos. One was that of an actress who had snuck around the side of the booth to pull one breast out of her bra for some photos with fans, and the other was in a company's business-to-business room when their booth girl came back to replace the stickers keeping her right breast within convention rules.

It would have been four, but I keep things professional (and my eyes up) during an interview with a veteran of the industry, even when she takes off her bra (her only piece of clothing above the waist), turns it inside out and puts it back on all while answering my question without missing a beat.

Otherwise, the Expo itself is pretty calm. Lots of people hand out promos and informational packets. Lots of photos are taken, by media and by fans. Lots of businesses try to get press for their products. It is the same as CES, just with a lot more skin and more interesting footwear.

In Review

After immersing myself in the porn industry as best I could for a week, it's nice for the journey to be over. It was fun, and I'm sure I'll enjoy covering the Expo again next year, but it was a consistent level of craziness that I'm glad comes around only once a year.

The most surprising thing to me was the size of the Expo. Maybe it was just the comparison to the hall-after-hall expanse of CES, but having only two convention rooms with exhibitors made the Expo seem a lot smaller and less impressive than it really was.

A porn convention's do's and don'ts.

A porn convention's do's and don'ts.

I also was shocked at how fans were handled before entering the main exhibit area. The ticket booths were stashed way in the back of the lower level, and the entrance into the event was via a small, roped-off trip outside and up some stairs. Considering they're the ones pumping money into the industry, giving them a big glitzy entrance like the trade and media people had might have made some sense.

So now, having watched a scene in person and interviewed maybe two dozen people in the industry, will I watch porn again in the same way? Definitely not. I'll be thinking of the lighting, the directors, the makeup artists, the PR directors and the all the other behind-the-scenes people who make it happen.

It's not the same as seeing how a hot dog is made, though.

By which I mean I'm still going to watch.

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