For a feature on storytelling in the adult industry that ran in the April 2014 issue of AVN magazine, reporter Jason Lyon interviewed a dozen big names in the business, including veteran director James Avalon, whose most recent work is being released by Mile High Media studio Sweet Sinner. AVN is posting longer versions of the interviews as separate stories online. Click here to see the digital print edition; see bottom of article for links to individual interviews online.
There’s something wonderful about chatting with an accomplished storyteller about the simple mechanics of writing. Take my interview with writer/diretor James Avalon, for example. It’s 10:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, and Avalon and I are talking on the phone about typewriters.
“I come from magazines,” says Avalon, responding to my question whether he uses pen-and-paper or a computer to compose his stories. “I got my first job on a Model A Typewriter.”
“Back then it was literally cut-and-paste.” Avalon continues. “If you wanted to move a paragraph up, you pulled the sheet out of the typewriter, cut it, and taped it up higher. And a lot of times I had manuscripts that were just all cut out and retaped with Scotch tape. You lay that out, and then you retype it from the top to bottom.”
“So when computers came along, it was: “This is great, man!” he laughs.
Moving from the mechanics of writing to the more elusive aspects, such as ideas and the creative process, Avalon says. “I do a lot of the thinking by just going out and doing something. Driving is a really good time—especially when you get stuck in traffic in L.A.—to work out your stories and the ideas. I just re-figured out this script we’re working on now driving to location.”
I ask James Avalon how he keeps track of ideas that come to him while driving.
“I have an interesting theory about that. I work them out, and I figure if I forget them or get confused, then they were bad! So I don’t feel bad if I forget stuff. But the cool thing is that I tend not to forget the key points.”
Earlier in the conversation, I asked Avalon if he feels he can express things in porn that cannot be expressed in other forms of storytelling.
“No,” he replies, taking a moment to consider. “I think in some ways porn is kind of limiting. The objective is to get to a sex scene. And in mainstream stories you can be very perverted and very sexual, and the characters actually never get to sex, because it’s all about getting there. But in adult, you have to occasionally get there. So I think in some ways it’s limiting, but if you want to tell a story that is very sexual, there are certain situations in adult where you can deal more with graphic language and graphic talk between people about sex, whereas in mainstream that would be considered really risqué.”
I ask Avalon if he finds it limiting or a compelling challenge to work through the four-or-five sex scenes that are so often expected in adult productions.
“It’s both,” he replies. “It’s challenging, but you feel good when you make it work. Sometimes there’s one sex scene,” Avalon adds with a laugh, “that you have to put in that shouldn’t quite be there. But even though we’re doing feature-length, which is over ninety minutes, I’ve always approached them as short stories. And so basically you want to create your conflict and the dramatic action right away, and you resolve it fairly quick, because you have so much time taken up in the sex.”
Thinking back to Avalon’s beautiful Red Vibe Diaries (1997) and Les Vampyres (2000) all the way to his current Sweet Sinner scripts, I ask him if the nature of adult stories has changed over the years he has been writing.
“Yes … I mean, it’s always a stretch. We have to introduce the people and get them into some kind of perverted sex act—cheating or whatnot—pretty quick. So we don’t have a lot of time for development. But a lot of the difference is the Sweet Sinner scripts are all character-reliant. I’m really not trying to do a big involved story, and with Sweet Sinner the stories are coming out of the characters more than they had been. Before, I think I was dealing with more plot, and then backtracking the characters to fit them.”
I finish with my usual last question: what does it feel like to see your finished product on screen:
“A lot of the time when I see my stuff, after you’ve shot them and all that, you’re just reminded about all the problems you had shooting it.”
“Just about everyone I’ve spoken to has said that!” I remark.
“Is that right?” Avalon laughs. “So it’s kind of hard to watch it. But there have been a few films—like I did Asa Loves Girls for Sweetheart Video about a year ago...”
Avalon describes how the film consisted of alternated interviews and sex scenes. But when Avalon initially arrived at the shooting, he realized he hadn’t thought of a way to start the movie.
“When I got to the set,” continues Avalon, “I started shooting some footage of Asa in make-up. It was all backlit, looked really nice, and I ended up cutting the title sequence with that. And then when I looked at that, I was really pleased with it, because it looked really, really good … You see this little mini-transformation of Asa from looking like a regular girl to looking like porn-star Asa. And if you haven’t seen it, check it out! The title sequence of Asa Loves Girls is something I can watch and I go, ‘Wow, that was that came out!’ because I had no idea what I was shooting when I shot it. That was just created in editing.”
“But for the most part,” Avalon concludes, “if it was good and I stuck with it, I look at it and feel good about it. It’s a good feeling.”
Before we end our conversation, I ask James Avalon if there is anything else he would like to add.
“I just think basically sex, or the desire to figure out how to have sex with somebody you’re attracted to, is basically a story. It’s already built in. So you just have to run with it and fill in the missing parts. And if someone’s shooting a sex scene and there’s no story or build, it’s just mechanics. It’s like looking at how the parts of an engine fit together … you really don’t get the sense if it’s a Ferrari or if it’s a Honda Civic, because you’re looking so much into the mechanics of what’s happening that you loose track of the bigger picture, the attraction.”
Links to other interviews:
Wicked Pictures directors Brad Armstrong, Stormy Daniels and Jessica Drake
Actresses Jesse Jane and Veronica Hart
New Sensations director Jacky St. James
Girlfriends Films founder Dan O'Connell
Skow for Girlfriends Films director B. Skow
BurningAngel Entertainment founder Joanna Angel
Girl Candy/Hard Candy director Nica Noelle