Last month, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed a new law that requires porn performers to use condoms during film shoots in Los Angeles. Industry leaders have warned the new ordinance could force them out of the area. Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson asks how will they enforce the law? And what will the consequences be on one of the region's big entertainment sectors?
The law doesn't affect all adult film shoots here in Los Angeles – only those shot outside of a licensed sound stage. So it isn't an issue for most of the major adult film studios. When the city council voted on the measure, San Fernando Valley councilman Mitch Englander was the only no vote. Many of the studios are in his district. He said he didn't have enough information.
"What's it going to cost us for enforcement? What's it going to cost us if they leave Los Angeles?" Englander asked.
"We've driven out every other type of business, out of L.A., and industries as a whole. What's the cost? And the answer fell on deaf ears. Nobody knew. It was crickets in the room. And they said they've done no analysis."
There's a new committee that'll determine how they'll enforce the ordinance and who will be in charge. Once that starts, the industry says it expects the new regulation to be more of a nuisance than anything else. Diane Duke heads the Free Speech Coalition – an adult entertainment trade group.
"When it comes to how we make our productions, government should not be involved in artistic expression," she said.
"I don't know if people really want a whole entity, a whole bureaucracy to check if people are wearing condoms. Especially since this is a real non-issue. We haven't had a case of case HIV transmitted within the industry since 2004."
Two actors were found to be HIV positive, but Duke says they got it off-set, not during filming.
Those who support mandatory condom usage in adult films, like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, are working on another law that would take things to L.A. County. That law would let the county health department inspect adult film shoots the same way it does restaurants – and regulations may get even stricter.
But L.A. economist David Bergman thinks it would take an awful lot to run the industry out of town. "For something like the adult film industry, the labor force is really important. People who have the technical skills to shoot film and video and then distribute it and package and market it," he said.
"Plus, unfortunately, with this industry, right, you have the glamor factor of Southern California, which means there are presumably lots of young people who want to come here and be in show business. I mean, all of the technical inputs that you need for putting a story of any kind on film can be found here in Southern California and in Los Angeles in a much more well articulated, price-competitive environment."
Porn star Ron Jeremy says this isn't a fight about condoms, but an attempt to get rid of the entire industry. Mark Kernes, an editor for Adult Video News (Warning: Link contains explicit images), agrees: "People are scared of sex. People don't want to deal with sex. And they'll do pretty much anything they can to avoid it," he said.
Regardless of the motives: what would happen if the industry made good on its promise to leave the city or county of L.A.? That's much harder to answer. There are no studies on the local industry, and when I called around, most economists shrugged their shoulders.
"It's frankly a little bit difficult to track," said Mark Kernes. "Especially since the recession. For instance, what we do know is video sales are off about 50 percent in retail stores."
Adult Video News – along with XBIZ (Warning: link contains explicit images), another adult industry trade publication – both estimated that the industry employs somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 people full time.
"We're talking everything from company producers to directors to warehouse people to secretaries, that sort of thing," said Kernes.
But performers work more sporadically. They number between 800 and 1000 at any given time. Again, these numbers are rough, but by comparison, a company like American Apparel employs about 5,000 people here. What else could Los Angeles stand to lose?
Mark Kernes warnes the area would lose taxes paid by employees.
"It'll be a loss of the money that comes into the studios as profit for selling the movies, there's also a large number of distributors in the LA area. If they move out, the money that they make distributing the movies, the taxes that would paid on that would be lost. Property taxes would be lost," Kernes said.
In total, Kernes and XBIZ estimate the adult entertainment industry nationwide brings in between $5 and $6 billion each year – 90 percent of that is based in Los Angeles. So we know the industry is a significant part of our economy, but what other profession has roving support groups?
Crissy Moran worked in the industry for six years. At first, she liked it.
"We were doing our scene on the marble floor, and it was beautiful," she said. "But then when I opened my eyes and I looked around me, and I see cameras everywhere and I see other guys with no clothes on watching me, it quickly changed my attitude. It was really, really uncomfortable."
Today, Moran works for an organization called Treasures, which sends gifts to women in the industry and helps them get out of porn if they want to. If L.A. lost the adult film industry, it would lose a couple thousand jobs, some expensive tenants, and tax revenue. But it would also lose the need for groups like Treasures.