LAS VEGAS—If moving the Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE) from the Sands Convention Center to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has proved one thing, it's that real estate agents are right: It is all about "location, location, location." With three separate exhibit halls, more than a dozen of the major-company suites which proved so successful last year, no half-mile long hallways to walk, and a venue that actually likes us, AEE 2012 is shaping up to be AVN's most successful convention since the recession started.
So for a taste of the diversity that characterizes this year's exhibitors, we take a look at two companies, one mainstream company seeking to make further inroads into the adult industry, and a multi-award-winning adult business that's been exhibiting since the '90s, before AEE split off from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
"This is our first time at the Expo," noted Samy's Camera salesman Louis Feldman. "I'd like to network with some of the companies that don't know Samy's Camera and possibly do business with them. We've met with Girlfriends Films, we've met with Digital Playground, and they've been very receptive, and we'll be visiting Vivid in their suite on the second floor once the person we need to talk to gets here."
We saw several pieces of equipment on display at the Samy's booth, including top-end camcorders, monitors and editing equipment—just about anything a video or internet production company could need.
"Well, we've got whatever they're looking for," Feldman confirmed. "Some of them want better webcams and updated equipment, and we'd love to do business with them because we are full service, rentals and sales—in fact, we have the biggest rental department on the West Coast—and we would have everything they need to make a production, and we carry house accounts and we'd love to do business with these guys."
Samy's has seven locations in the greater Los Angeles area, including stores in Culver City, the Fairfax district, Pasadena, Santa Ana, Playa Vista, Santa Barbara and Beatrice.
But while Samy's booth seemed busy enough, it was not in the same league with their neighbor a couple of aisles over, perennial exhibitor Girlfriends Films, which on the convention's opening "trade only" day saw reporters and news crews vying for the attention of owner Dan O'Connell and top contract stars India Summer and Prinzzess.
"Yeah, it's been busy," O'Connell agreed. "I've never had media attention like we've had this year. I've always said, when we come to the AEE show every year, we're a little bit bigger and more important, apparently, than I thought we were, so it ratchets up even without me watching, and I've come to realize that, 'My God, I've just had a string of people interviewing me today,' so it's very flattering."
"I'd say we've probably done about a dozen interviews so far, and from all different walks, from mainstream publications to companies within the adult business," he continued. "It's amazing how the outside world is interested in the porn business. We're sort of like professional wrestlers, in that nobody quite understands what's going on behind the scenes. They ask questions like, 'Are these girls really having sex?' And 'what are these girls like off-camera?' But I strongly believe in our product, in the adult industry's product, and my company's product, but everybody here, they put out a product to give people happiness and contentment and pleasure, and who'd want to deny those people that?
"Yet on the other hand, there are so many people who are against our industry," he warned. "What I can't understand, with the mandatory condom issue and that sort of thing—say we're Group A over here; we're pretty much sequestered off by ourselves and keeping to ourselves and doing what we want to do and not hurting anybody. And then there's Group B over here, no more intelligent than our group but yet they just can't wait to get in and tell us what to do. That's totally foreign to me because I'm agnostic or atheist, depending on what day it is, I guess, but I'm not a religious person, but I would never tell anybody they have to be an agnostic or atheist, or they have to vote for the same people I'm voting for, so it's foreign to me that people would try to stick their noses in our business. I think our industry suffers from that more than any other industry in the country."
Indeed; with three of the top Republican presidential contenders affirming their anti-porn stances to Morality in Media, and others likely to join as the Republican convention gets closer, according to O'Connell, more video and internet production companies in the industry need to get on board and support the upcoming legal fights—just like Girlfriends has done for years.
"I think it's so important that we start thinking about the industry setting a good example, and I'm very happy that they made the selection because we are a good example," O'Connell said, referring to his "Man of the Year honor from Xbiz and his "Studio of the Year" honor from Xcritic. "I don't think you hear anything negative about Girlfriends Films. We treat the girls well and homeowners well when we rent; the employees all have 401K's; nobody's ever quit or retired from our company."
"We'll still fight for the condom issue, because I still believe in the industry," he assured, though there are no penises featured in Girlfriends movies that would require them. "I just committed some money earlier today to fight this condom thing even though we might be involved, we might not. I don't know, but I wish the rest of the industry would jump on the bandwagon and put up the fight because it seems like 99 percent of the people have their heads in the sand during these CalOSHA and .XXX and 2257 fights. So unfortunately the industry just doesn't coalesce and don't want to contribute money to these things, and it's just so important. Because, of all industries in this country, we're probably under more fire than any other industry. When I give $1,000 to Free Speech Coalition, it's like giving them $5,000 because they do so much with so little. Diane Duke, I'd say she could take over any company in this country and probably do as well or better than the management they have. They do a great job, as small as they are and as big as the battles they have to fight are."
As AVN readers already know, Girlfriends has a monthly program where one actress is given the chance each month to select the charity of her choice, and Girlfriends donates $1,000 to them in the actress's name.
"We've donated to Doctors Without Borders, Cancer Research Institute; we also give to Boys and Girls Clubs of America," O'Connell detailed. "I like to give to causes that help our customers, the people that buy our videos. Take Cancer Research Institute; almost everybody has cancer in their family—I've had it in mine—and it's something we have to fight. I've had the advantage of traveling to poor countries, and that's why we give to Doctors Without Borders. A few months ago, we gave $1,000 to a group up in northern California that—it's a good charity that helps young girls, but they sent it back just because of the image of our industry. They didn't know anything about us but they didn't want to be associated with the porn industry because they're a group that helps young girls and maybe people would say, 'Oh, they're recruiting them,' or 'They're going to push the girls in that direction,' so it's sad; that $1,000 could have helped them a long ways. Another thing I do is to encourage our models to continue their education, and I'm so proud of the ones that do, that are going to school and do this part time. Life can be so much happier for the educated person."
O'Connell said he isn't promoting any particular Girlfriends titles here at the convention... but he does have his favorites, and he doesn't mind talking about them at length.
"I like our new Lesbian Sex line, which is basically, we get two girls who are off-set friends and who are articulate to talk about sex or some particular aspect of sex like breasts or orgasms or something for a half hour; then they go and have sex; there's no pretense of a storyline," he detailed. "And I like our Please Make Me Lesbian series because it's sort of a film noir dark type of thing, and Zoe Holloway and Lily Carter do a great job of holding that one down, turning ordinary women into lesbians. I also really like Pin-Ups. Pin-Ups is very difficult to shoot because of the costume requirements. That's my basic fetish in life, is the '50s lingerie, but it's such a difficult job to shoot that, because you'll have four girls on set, all with different heights and different chest sizes, and you have to bring a huge amount of wardrobe that you don't know whether it's going to fit or not, so you have to bring every stitch of wardrobe you have, and it's just a huge job. All our props and costumes for that are off of eBay; took about a year to get everything. I think we have an asset there that we could probably do more with than we are doing with our Pin-Ups series."
"Budapest is doing very well," he continued. "Americans like seeing the overseas backdrop. Every time I go on location anywhere, I always try to include the background in there, because too many of our movies have swimming pools and palm trees in them, and too many people live where there aren't swimming pools and palm trees and they want to see something different. I think, if you want your movies to feel different, you have to put a little different backdrop in them. We hope to go back to Budapest in May; we plan on going out to Florida to shoot at the end of February, and at the beginning of February, we're going to go up to the San Francisco Bay area and shoot a movie up there. I like to go out on the road and show different backgrounds. Road Queen is another series where we show different backdrops, all over the southwestern U.S.; it's a rural type of setting. We just went up to the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara."
Attendees who drop by the Girlfriends booth surely will be happy they did, since O'Connell has arranged for about 15 of his stars to sign autographs and talk with fans over the course of the convention.
"We've got India and Prinzzess; we're going to have Brandi Love, Elexis Monroe, Samantha Ryan, Jelena Jensen, Veronica Avluv, Maggie St. Michaels and there are probably a few I've forgotten," he said. "We wanted to have 'Poor Little Shyla' [Jennings] here in her leg braces and everything else, but she had something else to do this week."
That's OK; fans can see her on-screen in one of Girlfriends' latest releases, Poor Little Shyla 2.