Los Angeles has been a fighting a tide of runaway production of big-budget movies and television dramas.
Now it may face an emigration of another homegrown industry – adult entertainment.
That's the specter raised by some of the hundreds of porn producers in L.A. after voters approved Measure B, which requires performers to wear condoms and establishes a new permitting system for adult entertainment shoots.
The law was advocated by AIDS activists who argued it would protect performers from disease outbreaks.
But the measure has been widely panned in the porn industry, which has argued that mandatory actor testing for HIV was already effective, and that the law’s real agenda is to put them out of business.
While it remains unclear exactly how the new permit system will work, county officials have estimated it will cost nearly $300,000 in the first year to be enforced. Industry executives and producers contend that will saddle them with high permit fees and force them to create entertainment for which there is no demand.
"People who enjoy adult films do not want to watch actors using condoms – period. So there’s no market for it," said adult entertainment veteran Larry Flynt, whose Hustler publishing and adult video empire is based in Beverly Hills. "We won’t be doing anything in Los Angeles.”
Flynt said he’s already making contingency plans to shift more production to Mexico, Arizona and Hawaii. Smaller companies may follow.
"The bill will make it too complicated and too expensive to shoot in L.A.," said director-producer Glenn King, owner of Encino-based MeanBitch Productions. "We’re a small business just like anyone else. If we can’t exist under this new law, we’ll have to look at other options.”
Some have already threatened to move their businesses from the San Fernando Valley to other California counties, or to Las Vegas, Miami and even Budapest, Hungary -- Europe’s porn production hub.
"These companies are not going to take a chance of losing sales for the sake of complying with Measure B, so they will undoubtedly up and leave," said Alec Helmy, president and publisher of XBiz, a trade publication for the adult entertainment industry. "There’s no shortage of locations when it comes to shooting porn. It doesn’t take a lot of equipment and it’s not like shooting ‘Jurassic Park.’”
Christian Mann, general manager of Evil Angel Video, a Van Nuys-based distributor of adult entertainment, predicted "a lot of the content we distribute will be shot in Europe or outside of Los Angeles.”
Steve Orenstein, president of Wicked Pictures, whose company has had a long-standing practice of requiring performers to use condoms, said Measure B puts a further squeeze on an already struggling industry.
"They are going to potentially charge thousands of dollars per shoot so they can manage what we’ve already been doing for 14 years,” he said. "This is a bad time to be doing this.”
Adult entertainment boomed after the advent of home video in the 1980s. A decade ago, local economists estimated that the porn industry in the San Fernando Valley generated 10,000 to 20,000 jobs annually and had $4 billion in annual sales.
But declining DVD sales and the availability of free porn on the Internet have hammered the local industry. The number of porn producers in L.A. has fallen to about 300, down from approximately 500 at its peak in 2005, Helmy said.
Although porn production accounts for less than 5% of all film permits in the county, the industry is an important player in the local entertainment economy.
In all, about 5,000 adult films are shot in Los Angeles County each year in warehouses and private homes, according to industry estimates. FilmL.A., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and the county, issues about 500 permits a year for adult entertainment shoots. A survey of FilmL.A. data identified a Penthouse Studios building in Chatsworth among the busiest sites for on-location filming in 2010.
"I don’t know how many of the companies will leave, but there would be an impact for the region if the adult film industry were to truly pack up and leave California,” said FilmL.A. President Paul Audley.
The films mostly fly under the radar, but occasionally cause a backlash. In 2006, residents of an Encino neighborhood complained to city officials about an onslaught of porn filming in their enclave, including one during the Easter holiday.
The Free Speech Coalition, the adult film lobbying group that has threatened to file a legal challenge against Measure B, estimates that its industry currently generates about $1 billion a year in economic impact to Los Angeles County and employs about 10,000 people. Among them are makeup artists, hair stylists, audio engineers, lighting technicians and other crew members, many of whom moonlight on porn shows to supplement their income from conventional film shoots.
"What’s kept the adult industry at the technical level it’s at is the fact that we’ve got access to all these people who are working on these big pictures," said Jimmy Broadway, co-owner of L.A.-based Severe Society Films. "They’re going to have to find other work, or be willing to travel.”