It's award season again and somewhere behind closed doors a committee of faceless men and women are deciding which of 2015's cinematographic triumphs will be validated with the industry's top honors. Yes, the AVN (Adult Video News) Awards in Las Vegas are upon us, and unlike the stuffy boys club that is the Oscars, at this ceremony women are on top and calling someone stuffy is a compliment.
I've operated on the fringes of the porn world since working for Larry Flynt's skateboarding magazine Big Brother from the 90s until the early aughts. Yet for all of the friends I've got inside the industry, many of whom have won awards for their good fuck moves, I'm ashamed to admit that I've never understood what exactly makes a porno award-worthy. In my naivety I assumed that it was a pay-to-play system and that the only surefire road to a nomination ran through the AVN committee's pants. The reality, however, is a fair and democratic voting system featuring a panel of men and women binge watching sex scenes for weeks on end while goring on a constant supply of snacks and debating the finer points of lesbianism and BDSM.
I recently sat down with AVN senior editor Peter Warren, who oversees all nominations, at his Chatsworth office to better understand the voting process for the awards and to find out just how many blow jobs would win the committee over. (Spoiler: The answer is zero.)
VICE: Peter, I'd like to know all about the process of getting nominated and winning an award. An outsider looking at the sex industry might assume that a blowjob would curry favor among the judges. Is that the case?
Peter Warren: No, sadly. If only it were that easy. I mean I'm one guy and we have a committee of about nine people who meet for weeks on end. We went for five weeks this year of intense watching and arguing and whittling down everything to the nominees for each category. And then when we emerged from that hell, we announced the nominees to the world. There's a larger pool of voters all over the country, too. It's a little smaller this year than it has been in the past, but there are about twenty-three voters or something like that. All of the nominated movies get sent out to all the voters. They have their own unique passwords to a private website where they do the voting. Basically, majority wins.
What criteria do the initial nine look for?
That's a tough question to answer. We kind of break it up initially. Each of us has our own special genre we're particularly interested in or experts on, so we'll say, "You take the BDSM movies, I'll take the all-girl movies." Ultimately we come together as a group, and we very democratically go through everything. Sometimes it gets ugly. Sometimes we scream at each other. Sometimes we throw things. One way or another we get it down to the 15 final nominees in each category.
Are you sitting in a room watching films together?
What's that scenario like? Is there popcorn?
There are snacks. There are a lot of snacks. The room gets very littered with snacks. We get lunch. That's the one nice perk, we get lunch every day, catered for us. We get a little sick of each other's faces as the weeks wear on. All of us have been a part of this for years, so we know what each other's quirks are, what each other's likes are. In the end, we're all very proud to be a part of it.
Has anybody, even as a joke, pulled out his dick and started jerking off during the course of this?
No. I don't think anybody would be very happy with that.
After weeks of watching videos around the clock, are you sick of porn? Do you need a breather?
You need a little breather, yeah. Luckily the way it's always timed, we wrap it up just before Thanksgiving so we get a nice little break around Thanksgiving. But then it's kind of right back into it because we have to start voting. Voting is about a month, give or take.
You said everybody's got their specialty or category that they prefer. You're the Girl/Girl expert. What do you look for in your nominees?
It's not rocket science: hot girls that are very into what they're doing. I'm very notoriously against using toys. I think toys in a lesbian scene is blasphemous. I always get accused of being into stuff that's like fake-lesbianism, but I don't really think that's true. I don't like to see girls who are very obviously there to collect a paycheck. I want to feel like they're into it.
We're seeing fewer extreme sex acts in videos than we did a decade ago. Does that garner favor these days? Does doing extreme acts get a girl closer to winning Performer of the Year, or is it more the style and the passion that they show on-screen for the committee?
You see this ebb and flow over the years. When I first started it was going through a super extreme period, then things tamed, now they're starting to get more extreme again. I think girls and companies are competing very intensely against each other in this industry because there are so many girls and so much product out there that they have to do something to stick out. In a lot of cases, that something turns out to be the more extreme the better. It gets our attention, no doubt about it. Whether or not it carries them any favor for being nominated for awards I think it depends on what their overall body of work looks like, because we are looking at everything that they do, not just one thing. If there's a girl whose whole shtick is to shove the largest objects on the planet up her ass in every scene that she does, that's not a lot of range. Also, again, is she into it? We like to know that girls are really after something and that they really care about establishing themselves and loving what they're doing, and caring about the awards. We probably do favor someone who really, really wants to win an award over someone who just says, "Fuck the awards. It doesn't mean anything. It's a paperweight."
Are web-only scenes eligible for nomination, or is it a hard rule where only things distributed on DVD can be considered?
We have started to expand that. We've kind of made a major shift this year. For the first time, we took our four biggest sex scene categories and said, "OK, we will allow scenes from websites to be eligible for these four categories." I expect that next year after it registers with everybody and they see that we're announcing, "This is a scene at such-and-such .com," not from the Gangbang Me 2 movie, that it'll probably click and we'll get flooded next year with a million web scenes. That's not going to be fun, but it's the world that we live in now.
If you were a betting man, who do you think is going to win Performer of the Year this year?
That's actually a really tough one because there are a few really big contenders. I think for sure it will be between Adriana Chechik, Riley Reid, and Carter Cruise. I think those are the big three.
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