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Inside the Oscars of porn

A HUMAN woman falls in love with a fish-man and they have passionate sex. That's a partial synopsis of Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water, which leads all movies with 13 Oscar nominations.

At an awards show Saturday night in Las Vegas, the film with the most nominations is Half His Age: A Teenage Tragedy. Its plot is very different from The Shape of Water and features even more passionate sex than its Oscar counterpart.

The sex is also much, much more graphic.

That's because Half His Age: A Teenage Tragedy is the leading nomination-getter, with 11, at the 2018 Adult Video News Awards - porn's Oscars.

For 35 years, AVN has been reporting on everything adult-related - from sex toys to porn companies - in the same way Variety covers movies and TV.

It's safe to say that AVN's current 20-plus staffers are some of the most knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to smut.

For those staffers, Half His Age: A Teenage Tragedy is clearly one of the best pornos of the year and it's competing against the likes of Confessions of a Sinful Nun and The Babysitter 11 for "Best Drama." It's also nominated for, among other things, "Best Boy/Girl Sex Scene," "Best Three-Way Sex Scene - G/G/B" and "Best Cinematography."

Those are just three of the 75 awards that will be handed out at the 35th annual AVNs, and just because there are lots of naked women involved, the process of picking the winners is just as fraught as figuring out Hollywood's finest films.

The path to porn glory starts in early October, when a panel of five men and four women meet at the AVN offices in California, to pick the nominees.

The committee's task is daunting: whittling down the 10,000 movies and scenes that get submitted to AVN in September to just the 15 best entries for each category.

Day after day, the committee, comprised of AVN employees and trusted freelancers, commutes to the company's beige and glass headquarters in order to sit together as a group and watch hours of porn. All day long, AVN senior editor Peter Warren orchestrates the action with a remote control, and the fate of each submission is sometimes decided in mere seconds.

"When you do what we do, there's a way to judge things really quickly," Warren says while laughing from what sounds like a place deep in his belly.

"You can start watching something and three seconds into it go, 'This is terrible, let's move on.'"

That kind of instinctive decision-making is at the core of the committee's process.

"We've all done this so many times, and seen so much stuff that you just know," Warren says.

Not all decisions are made in the blink of an eye, however. For better scenes, the room moves at a more leisurely pace.

"You can fast-forward through it and you get a general vibe and you're like, 'OK, this looks pretty good, let's slow it down a little bit.' You watch a little bit and you go, 'This one's really good,' so you keep it in."

"It's all very organic and in the end we all sort of go, 'We've got 19 here, which four do you want to get rid of?'"

Most of the time, the committee finds consensus pretty easily because the structure of the awards provides leeway. It's much easier to pick out the 15 best double-penetration sex scenes than it is to select the five best documentaries for the Oscars.

That doesn't mean it's all smooth sailing.

"It's pretty intense," Warren says. "The longer it goes on, the thinner people's nerves get for sure. It gets a little heated sometimes, people are a little rough around the edges."

"It's a grind, for sure, but we try to keep it fun. Like we're always cracking jokes and we'll pause to have little conversations and let a little steam out."

The reality, though, can't be avoided.

"We really do just sit there and watch a million scenes," Warren says.

That's how the committee's days go when they're considering the awards for scenes, performers, or technical categories like Best Editing or Best Makeup. For full movies, there is just so much to consider that the committee assigns homework.

"For full movie categories like Best Drama and Best Comedy, we kind of break it up among us," Warren explains.

"We'll say, 'All right, this person is going to take the first pass at Best Anal Movie.' And they go through and make their choice, narrow down the list a little bit, and they'll pass it along to another person that will narrow it down more and only then will we sit in the room and figure out what those top 15 are going to be."

Ultimately, though, just like with the Oscars, decisions get made based on the nominators' personal preferences.

Sherri Shaulis, who sits on the nomination committee and is AVN's senior editor of pleasure products, went into a little more detail about what she, in particular, looks for.

"I look for different things based on the category," she says.

"For a feature, I want a strong script, great acting and sex performances, if the director was able to get an acting or sex scene from a performer that showcases their talents and abilities.

"Granted, porn movies will never have the budget that a mainstream Hollywood movie has, but that doesn't mean everyone involved can't do the absolute best with what they've got."

With specific scenes and stars, Shaulis' decisions come more from the gut.

"I look for a scene that moves me," Shaulis says. "I love when I am surprised by a performer's intensity or the connection between two or more performers."

"Scene categories can have some wild variations among the nominees, from soft and sensual to very hardcore, so sometimes people vote for their personal preferences. I always understand that what I think is the best scene of the year might not be another voter's cup of tea."

Shaulis' G-rated description of what she looks for belies exactly what gets shared in the nomination room. Having watched so much porn together, the nine judges know each others' tastes intimately.

"We all know what each other's predilections are, 100 per cent," Warren says. "It's a bizarre world for us AVN folk."

Once the committee has finally finished their work, normalcy - by the standards of the adult entertainment world - returns.

Instead of meeting all together in a room, the people who ultimately pick the winners become "islands unto themselves," Warren jokes.

The 30 voters - who include all nine members of the nomination committee as well as outside reviewers and industry experts - are given access to all the nominated material.

They then make their own picks by ranking each category from best to worst. Their top choice receives 15 points, their second pick 14, and so on.

Once all the votes are in, the points are totalled and winners emerge. The entire process is a closely guarded secret to make sure the fix isn't in.

The Oscars is an equally secretive but much more complicated system because there are so many more voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Where the AVNs have 30 voters, the Oscar for "Best Picture" can be voted on by all 7,258 members of the Academy.

However, not all Academy members vote on all the awards. When it comes to more specialised awards, like "Best Visual Effects," only the members of that branch of the Academy get a vote.

Another big difference is that the awards for women - particularly "Female Performer of the Year" and "Best New Starlet" - are held in higher regard than their male equivalents.

First, there just aren't that many men working in porn.

Mick Blue, for example, has won "Male Performer of the Year" four years running and is nominated again this year.

And second, the industry, at the end of the day, is about titillating men with extremely sexy women.

The different treatment that women receive at the AVNs extends all the way to how some of the works are judged.

At the Oscars, it's all about a performance in one film; at the AVNs, it's about the body of work.

"I am looking for someone who brings their best to every scene, no matter whether they are exclusive to one company or shoot with a number of producers," Shaulis says.

"For 'Best New Starlet,' I look for someone who is turning in notable performances, as well as getting buzz for their talent."

According to Warren, though, everyone at AVN is so steeped in the world of porn that they basically know who is doing great work and who isn't.

"It's also a little bit of a guttural thing, but again, watching as much porn as we do, it becomes pretty clear who the biggest stars are and why," Warren says.

"If a girl is just everywhere and everything she does is incredible, that's who rises to the top of the voters' collective consensus."

The Oscars, again, are very similar. The difference is that instead of art and artists, the AVNs ultimately come down to girls and sex.

"Of course the sex comes first and foremost, no matter what," Warren says.

"If a movie has a cast of incredible girls across the board, that's going to win out over just about every other element."

This article originally appeared on The New York Post.

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