LA's great porn exodus

LA's great porn exodus. (AFP Photo / Mark Ralston)
The City of Angeles could soon be saying “sayonara” to skin flicks — and the tens of thousands of jobs it brings with it.

Should pornographers follow through with threats to wave goodbye to LA, Southern California could soon be seeing an economic blowback of epic proportions. A new law goes into effect next month in Los Angeles that will make condom use mandatory in many adult films there, and the producers behind those pornos are concerned with how their consumers will respond to the ways the industry adapts.

Some are now warning that, rather than complying with the regulations, they are ready to pick up their porn operation and put it somewhere else.

With tens of thousands of jobs at stake — and much of the world’s pornography on the table — the impact could affect more than just your monthly smut subscription.

"The viewers out there don't want to see movies with condoms," Steven A. Hirsch tells the Los Angeles Times. Hirsch co-founded Vivid Entertainment in 1984, and the company, headquartered in LA, has produced an unimaginable plethora of pornographic films there since. Reuters has described Vivid as one of the “handful” of privately-held studios that dominate the US porn industry, and with Forbes estimating that that industry generates around $14 billion annually, a good chunk of that could be credited to Hirsch’s company.

Around 90 percent of pornography is believed to come out of the Los Angeles area. On March 5, however, condom use will become mandatory for on-location shoots and Vivid is among one of the companies that is considering leaving Los Angeles. Hirsch adds to the Times that the requirement is “a nuisance more than anything else,” but cautions that that might be enough to have him move his operation elsewhere.

“We will continue shooting the movies, and if that means outside of the city of Los Angeles, so be it,” says Hirsch.

The legislation comes after the LA City Council last month agreed to make condom use mandatory on camera. Although the decision was slated to be decided by the voters of Los Angeles, lobbying from activism groups such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation yielded the council to nix the measure from the ballot and vote on the decision themselves. In its initial vote in January, councilmembers approved the condom law by an 11-to-1 vote.

AHF President Michael Weinstein called the move “a huge leap forward” after a “long struggle to move us to a place to make Los Angeles” safer. Others concerned with the porn industry spawning an AIDS outbreak have saluted the decision as well. Actually inside the industry, however, those who are directly impacted by the ruling aren’t as excited.

“People will not want to see people fuck with condoms. At least that’s what I think,” adult film actor Richard Mann told RT earlier this year. In a separate interview, adult film performer Alia Janine called the ruling “unconstitutional” and “against our human rights.”

“You want to see the nastiest grittiest stuff you don’t want to see some condom,” added transsexual performer Domino Presley.

Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, already acknowledged last month that the ruling could prompt producers to bring their business elsewhere. “It’s quite possible and probable that the producers will move out of the area and there will be a significant amount of revenue loss for the city,” she said. Now with the clock counting down until the condom police are dispatched from shoot to shoot, that possibility is close to becoming a reality.

As of March 5, any film that is awarded a permit for production will also be added to a list of sites that law enforcement can inspect on the spot to make sure that the latest legislation is being abided by. As if differentiating legitimate police officers from costume-clad adult entertainers wasn’t confusing enough, the red tape is already being reamed as enough to kick pornography out of Los Angeles — and with it a good deal of jobs. The Times estimates that between actors, artists, cameramen and caterers, upwards of 20,000 jobs exist in Los Angeles thanks to the adult film industry. If other producers ponder the route that Hirsch is considering with Vivid, the result could be a mass exodus of x-rated talent.

"This is the first step of government overreach into the way we make movies," Diane Duke tells the Times this week. "It's clearly the government interfering where it really doesn't belong.… Because our industry deals with sex … we're vulnerable and easy to attack."

Within days of the LA City Council’s in-house decision, others have already begun to follow suit. The neighboring city of Moorpark, California is currently considering enacting a legislation of their own that will make sure that once adult films leave LA-proper, they won’t stop to see what other towns have to offer in terms of porn production.

“What’s going to happen is . . . they’ll just keep going farther out and farther out and I’m sure we really don’t want the porn industry looking at Moorpark, with lots of vacant commercial space and industrial space, and picking us as the next spot," Moorpark city council member Mark Van Dam told fellow lawmakers last month.

Vacant spaces — and an abundance of them? Even with the adult film industry among the best grossing of American exports, the crusade against pornography has some, like those Moorpark’s Van Dam, willing to forgo profits if it means no pornography, whereas in LA the City Council is using a potential AIDS outbreak as the impetus for their decision. With thousands thinking of leaving town, is it becoming an action motivated by health concerns or installing the government in private lives?

“I don't want anyone telling me how to have sex,” Richard Mann told RT. “Next thing they will do is tell me who I can have sex with. Hell they might even tell me the time of day I can have sex.”

Adult actress Nikki Benz was a dancer in Toronto, Ontario before she packed her bags and headed south to Los Angeles. The Adult Entertainment Association of Canada called her “one of the top adult stars in the world” and she tells the Calgary Sun that she was able to “break through” into the industry only after relocating to LA. With hundreds, if not thousands, of other budding performers operating with the same mindset, LA has become in recent years a launching pad for the careers of many. When the springs are taken off, however, where else will would-be starlets flock to form a career?

Mark Kernes, senior editor at the Adult Video News(AVN) Media Network, tells the Times he isn’t sure what will happen next. "Frankly, it's hard to tell,” he says.

Even officials linked to the city aren’t too sure either. The Los Angeles Police Department, the city attorney's office, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and others are already figuring out a formula for how they will roll out the condom law. Jeffrey J. Douglas of the Free Speech Coalitions told the LA Weekly in 2010 that "They don't have a prayer of enforcing this against the industry,” when a similar issue was up for debate. Two years later, however, the council has spoken.

Whatever the outcome, take a harder look at the next costumed cop that makes a cameo on the set of your favorite star’s next flick. If it’s made in LA along with thousands of others ever year, producer may begin adding an extra dose of authenticity to their films. If, that is, they end up staying in Los Angeles.