LOS ANGELES – Film permits requested by the porn industry have all but ceased in Los Angeles County as producers decide how to work around much opposed law that requires actors to wear condoms during shoots.
Film LA, the non profit organization that processes permits for motion picture, television and commercial production across Los Angeles, has seen applications for permits from the adult film industry plummet to only two so far this year. In previous years, an estimated 500 film permits are requested by the adult film industry annually.
“Most production companies have ceased shooting in LA County,” said Diane Duke, chief executive officer of the Canoga-Park based Free Speech Coalition, the trade organization for the adult film industry. “They have other options in other states and communities.”
In March, calls and inquiries from the adult film industry bombarded the city of Camarillo asking if there was a condom ordinance there.
As a result, the City Council placed a moratorium on adult film shoots for 45 days until it could decide, possibly later this month, what it will and won’t allow.
“All I can say is a number of inquires led us to be concerned that we should look at this and decide if this is something we want to do,” Don Davis, assistant city attorney for Camarillo, said of the adult film industry’s sudden interest.
The decline in film permit applications and the porn industry’s interest in Camarillo is an example of the ripple effect of Measure B, the ordinance that Los Angeles County voters passed in November that requires actors involved in explicit shoots to wear condoms. The law also requires adult film studios to apply for public health permits and for the county Department of Public Health to lead inspection and enforcement efforts. Health permits need to be attached to FilmLA applications.
As quickly as the ordinance passed, producers at many adult film studios threatened to leave the San Fernando Valley, where most pornographic movies have long been made, and, if possible, the state.
“Whether it’s Camarillo or another California city that is in the news because of Measure B, we strongly believe that the law is wrong, which is why we are challenging it,” said Steven Hirsch, founder and co-chairman of Universal City-based Vivid Entertainment. Hirsch and others have said the industry is watching and waiting for the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Vivid against Angeles County. The suit calls Measure B unconstitutional, saying it violates actors’ rights to free speech and expression.
Arguments are set to begin next month in U.S. District Court.
“We now need the court to rule on our case,” Hirsch said.
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, said it’s too early to tell if the industry is moving out. But the region will feel an economic impact if studios and production companies leave. Waldman said VICA was opposed to Measure B because it meant an estimated loss of 10,000 production jobs that the adult film industry attracts, including makeup, lighting, carpentry, transportation, food service, payroll processing, Web design and actors. The adult film industry has been estimated to generate between $1 billion to $11 billion a year.
“I think the industry is still trying to figure out what it’s doing,” Waldman said. “I think it’s going to be a trickle effect, but one day we’ll all ask, where did all this money go?”
He said the industry likely wants to stay in Los Angeles because it already has a built-in infrastructure and relationship with the San Fernando Valley. But the law may eventually squeeze filmmakers out.
“At some point they would have to make the decision to move to another state,” Waldman said. “I think it’s coming.”
So far, cities in Ventura County have not exactly held up “Welcome Home” signs to pornographers. Police were called to an unsanctioned film shoot recently in Newbury Park. Fearing the industry would move to their neighborhoods, the Simi Valley City Council passed its own condom ordinance that also required the use of dental dams to protect performers from oral sex. The ordinance was passed before Measure B became law.
And Thousand Oaks has a rigorous signature requirement, which would prompt the adult film industry to tell neighbors if any nudity were occurring. “We have signature requirements on all filming, and that might be a hindrance,” said Geoff Ware, co-compliance manager for the city of Thousand Oaks.
The issue is under consideration by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, an official said.
“We’re just looking into it now, but there hasn’t been any formal action taken by the Board of Supervisors,” said Michelle Yamaguchi, with the county executive office.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation introduced and supported Measure B – the “Safer Sex Initiative” – to prevent sexually transmitted diseases spreading from the industry to the mainstream public.
The ordinance took effect immediately in the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County and in the city of Los Angeles, which passed its own ordinance. But how it is implemented in the 85 cities that contract with the county’s health department remains uncertain. In addition, the law does not apply in Pasadena, Long Beach and Vernon because those cities have their own municipal health departments.
None of those cities have received inquires from the adult film industry, officials from those municipalities said. And none seem to want to be the next San Fernando Valley.
“We haven’t seen (film permits) by the adult film industry to my knowledge,” said Robert Shannon, city attorney for Long Beach. “We’re free to enact a similar ordinance to Measure B and it wouldn’t really be a big issue to remedy the issue.”
Vernon spokesman Fred MacFarlane also said his city has received no inquiries. He thinks it’s because Vernon is an industrial area, with only 120 residents and 1,800 business, mostly factories.
“I don’t think there’s a niche group out there wanting to see explicit sex acts done in a factory and Vernon is full of factories,” MacFarlane said. “I don’t think you’ll see a ‘The Girls of Farmer John’.”
MacFarlane said the city is waiting for a staff report by its health department to be presented within the month.
“I don’t know a community in Los Angeles that is looking forward to becoming home to the porn industry,” MacFarlane said. “I think everybody recognizes it’s a revenue generator, but it’s not something we want.”
Meanwhile, AIDS Healthcare Foundation continues to press the industry into following the law. In March, the group filed a complaint with the Los Angeles County Health Department against Chatsworth- based Immoral Productions, saying the company produced adult content without the use of condoms.
In February, on Valentine’s Day, AHF supported a proposed bill by Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, that would require actors in porn films shot anywhere in California to use condoms.
Adult films are protected under the Freeman decision of 1988, when the state of California tried to prove that Harold Freeman, a producer and director of adult films, was pimping actors. The California Supreme Court disagreed. As a result, the making of hardcore porn was allowed in California.
Only New Hampshire has a similar law. But Matthew Newton, director of the New Hampshire Film & Television Office, said he has received no inquiries.
“All inquires have been from the media,” he said. “I haven’t received one call from the industry.”
Newton said he is uncertain how his state would react to an influx of adult film production.
“It’s not an industry I’ve ever dealt with and it’s not a sector of the film industry we’re looking into having,” Newton said. “It’s a little bit out of scope of what we’re trying to do here.”
Officials from the Film Office in Nevada, where many think porn production would fit in because of the state’s progressive views on prostitution, have said they have received no inquiries and have not courted the industry.
The adult film industry largely opposes mandatory condom use because they say viewers who turn to porn to watch sexual fantasy would be turned off. Actors also have said self-regulation – which requires porn actors to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases every 15 to 30 days – works well. Once an actor has completed testing, his or her name is entered into a confidential database, viewed only by directors on sets. Performers also fear that the industry will move underground to avoid government regulation, which could place actors and actresses at risk from those who avoid getting tested for STDs.
But besides Measure B, the industry also feels shut out in general, Duke of the Free Speech Coalition said.
“Whether warranted or not, California has a reputation of being unfriendly to business and this senseless crusade against the industry does nothing more than support that reputation,” Duke said. “This is no time to play Russian Roulette with a vital industry that provides tens of thousands of living wage paying jobs for Californians.”
Davis, the assistant attorney from Camarillo, said his community likely isn’t looking to become the next porn capital of the world.
“I would suspect given this community, they would not want that,” Davis said.
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