This article originally ran in the July 2018 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition.
My career in the adult industry has been built on lies. I’ve faked my way onto porn sets by feigning competence as a publicist, a journalist and a production assistant (PA). I believe pretending is a precursor to becoming. Recently I pulled off my biggest con to date. I faked my way in front of the camera as a paid performer.
I arrived on the set of The Seduction of Heidi several hours early so my nervous energy had plenty of time to fixate on more pressing concerns, like forgetting my lines. I reclined on a chaise lounge in the dressing room, affecting a pose of supreme ease as I cycled between applying fresh layers of deodorant and reviewing the script that writer/director Kay Brandt adapted from Selena Kitt’s book, Heidi and the Kaiser, for this Adam & Eve Pictures production. The story followed a fashion mogul who convinces a lowly PA, Heidi, to sign a contract to be his personal assistant/mistress. I played the photographer on the photo shoot where these two met. I saw the script as prophecy. Perhaps I too would be discovered by one of the famed female performers in need of a personal assistant with benefits.
Kay surveyed my wardrobe options, which included several faux fur coats she insisted I bring.
“I was thinking the fur and no shirt,” she said.
“You want me to be half naked on camera with porn stars?” I asked.
She nodded. I tried to calm down, to remind myself that no amount of sit-ups would ever give me the confidence to appear shirtless beside professional body artists.
“I see your character as really into himself and pretentious,” Kay said. “In the book the photographer is a psychopath, but I had to tone her character down for porn.”
“Originally the photographer was a woman,” Kay said. “But then I thought of you and knew you’d be perfect for the role.”
Shawn Alff in character
With that Kay left to direct her crew on where to set up. It seemed she had cast me based on my curated Instagram image. To be fair, my social media persona did boast several photos of me draped in furs while flanked by porn stars. Perhaps she believed I was the guy I pretended to be online. Maybe I should have some faith in that guy, too.
My slow-motion entrance was slated as the first shot of the day. I dressed my anxiety in fur and huge Fendi glasses, both of which came from the women’s section of a thrift store.
“Pretend this studio is your house and you’re returning home,” Kay directed as I stepped outside to wait for my cue.
I had dreamed of having a grand entrance my entire life. Now the moment was here and I was left trying to remember how to walk, let alone how to strut while projecting all the confidence, power and wealth I lacked off screen.
“Action,” Kay yelled.
I threw open the door and sauntered inside passed the cameras. I dropped my fur coat and stepped onto the white screen to greet the lingerie models, Aaliyah Love and Bridgette B. Aaliyah had the ageless body of a college cheerleader topped with the face of a doll: large eyes and big cheeks framed by blonde ringlets. Bridgette looked like she belonged on a Miami yacht. She had deeply tanned Latin skin, bleached blond hair, enormous tits atop a toned frame, and an unflawed face dramatized by dark makeup.
“I’m sorry I’m late, my darlings,” I said in a bizarre accent. “I just flew in on a private jet from my home country: Paris. Maybe you’ve heard of it.”
This was a montage segment, so none of my ad-libbing would make it in the film. The accent, and my stage arrogance, disguised my anxiety. As best as I could tell, I was channeling the French accent of my porn idol, Manuel Ferrara, who was so suave he could make dirty talk about assholes sound like French poetry.
“You’re both extraordinarily average-looking,” I told Aaliyah and Bridgette. “I’ve shot better, but I will make you look beautiful, like me. This is my art.”
“Cut,” Kay yelled. “Perfect, Shawn. You’re a natural douche bag.”
Aaliyah Love, Shawn Alff and Bridgette B. on the set
My buffoonery was inspiring. Kay joked that she would make a spinoff about my character. Part of me indulged this fantasy. One compliment about my superior ass-clownery and I was already suffering delusions of grandeur.
We kept shooting more montage segments. I coached the models on how to make their asses pop like mine. Then I informed them that I had the completely original idea to photograph them grabbing each other’s tits. It would be my magnum opus.
Was I making fun of arrogant artists or living out a suppressed fantasy? How far could I ride my false confidence? Could I kiss them and pretend I was improvising? Could I dry hump them and claim I was method acting? If I really was a world-renowned photographer, what would keep me from becoming the dick I was pretending to be? Which came first, success or ego?
I whipped out my camera as a prop. Bridgette commented that my gear was surprisingly small for a photographer of my stature. I was unfazed. It wasn’t the camera. It was what you did with it. And what I did with my camera was take selfies.
Then my PA, Logan Long, stepped in to speed along the production. I reprimanded him. I told him I was an artist, that selfies were part of my process.
Logan was dressed in a plain T-shirt, jeans and Converse All-Stars—the exact outfit I wore as a PA. He was my porn doppel-banger. The meta scene created a funhouse of mirrors. I was the least confident and crucial person on set, and yet I was pretending to be the most prestigious. Still, it felt cathartic to get to strut and fret my hour upon the stage before I returned to the silence on the other side of the camera, to fetch coffees and deliver douches to performers.
“I’m so glad I cast you,” Kay told me when the montage sequence was wrapped. “Your accent is so bad it’s great. I want you to use it during your dialogue.”
She couldn’t be serious. My accent sounded like I had a culturally insensitive speech impediment. To make matters worse, my bad acting would be matched against Whitney Wright. She had landed the role of Heidi because she was actually taking dialect and acting classes, and because she could transform from a meek PA into a model.
What remained of my confidence vanished when the leading man, Ryan Driller, entered the scene. He fit the role of the fashion mogul perfectly. Wearing a tailored, purple dress shirt and matching purple loafers, Ryan embodied all the attributes my character masked behind fluff and fur.
As Ryan and Whitney’s characters met on screen, I filled the empty white space behind them by carrying a strobe light and fiddling with its knobs. Then I cut into their conversation to demand that Whitney fetch my models. I was ready to shoot. Ryan chastised me for speaking down to her. My humiliated reaction didn’t require much acting.
The sex scene that followed played out as though Kay had plagiarized my PA fantasies. Logan led Aaliyah and Bridgette to a poolside cabana with promises of pastries. When it emerged that Logan had falsified the pastries, the women still fucked him. The only explanation for why they would choose a PA over me, a famed photographer, was that the models were suffering from hunger hallucinations. I did not bring this plot point up with Kay. I just sat quietly behind the camera’s view, on the opposite side of the pool, and watched my furry reflection waver and dissolve in the water.
After the sex scene, the models return to the studio. Ryan and Whitney laid out dialogue that would lead to their first sexual encounter while I questioned the models in the background.
“Why would you fuck the PA over me?” I asked in my accent, “I’m like the Kanye West of photography.”
“I know,” Bridgette said, glancing at Ryan. “Wouldn’t we fuck someone more important, like the owner?”
“Cut,” Kay yelled.
Aaliyah Love, Logan Long and Bridgette B. Photos courtesy Shawn Alff
I continued with my questions, though I dropped the accent.
“Do performers ever fuck PAs?”
They said that off camera performers occasionally fucked costars, photographers, producers, directors—everyone but PAs.
With the scene wrapped, Aaliyah, Bridgette, and I returned to the dressing room to take off our costumes and climb back into the outfits we arrived in.
“So what do you do outside of here?” Aaliyah asked. “Are you a mainstream actor?”
I decided it wasn’t the best time to announce that I worked as a porn PA.
“No,” I said. “I’m just pretending to be an actor.”
“Isn’t that what actors do? Pretend.”
“I’m too shy to be a real actor.”
“What? You were the most confident person on set,” she said. “That accent was killing us.”
I smiled. I had assumed everyone on set could see through my act. I have a tendency to perceive in others all the confidence I want to project, and none of the shared insecurities. But maybe we are all pretenders, not nearly as confident as the public personas we project. The question is, which is more real: the inner self we hide from others, or the person that others see in us?
Kay Brandt's The Seduction of Heidi (Adam & Eve Pictures) will be released August 14.