Porn Moratoriums: The Eventual Reality

Dec 27, 2013 4:00 PM PST

CHATSWORTH, Calif. — The psychological and financial impact of moratoriums are taking their toll in Porn Valley, where it is hitting home for those who ply their trade in adult film production.

In mid December, the Free Speech Coalition, the adult entertainment industry's official trade association, lifted its most recent moratorium on film production — the third such work stoppage in 2013 — and gave the green light to performers and production companies.

Indeed, 2013 was a year to remember over concerns about potential outbreaks of HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections, in the adult production space.

It also was a year that many adult performers — as well as directors, promoters, agents, publicists, camera people and makeup artists  —  saw their bottom lines keel over because of the stoppages.

A point that should be made, albeit negative, is that the pervasive attitude and motivation among nearly all performers is money.

Despite any and all regulations, industry sanctions, enforcement, etc., if an uncaring producer offers talent big money to shoot without condoms some (most?) will do it. It’s a harsh reality. It’s what drives the over-the-top anal craze and extreme BDSM.

And let’s face it, some performers escort on the side and if a client is paying them $10,000 for a night they’ll provide services without a condom.

And that danger comes back into the business — hopefully before they’re tested. It’s the shadow side of the biz.

The moratoriums, which allow the industry to help prevent outbreaks of HIV infections by pinpointing first- and second-generation performer contacts, play a vital role within the film community to reduce the risk of contagion.

But the majority of performers and production staff are freelancers or independent contractors who work in a  “gig economy” — and when they cannot work, that immediately affects their incomes.

And lately, those days without the opportunity to perform or work in a Porn Valley production have become more frequent with some lasting as long as two weeks.

Pair that with psychological risks of contracting an infection on the set, and most in the industry would agree the business is going through volatile times.

“The psychological toll has a much different effect than financial,” Mark Schechter, owner of Adult Talent Managers Los Angeles (ATMLA), told XBIZ. “It’s a long-lasting effect that is different for each and every one of us, depending on specific areas of involvement within the industry.

"I have seen drastic changes amongst many performers with regards to the limits of production activity.”

Vicky Vette, an adult star and webcam model who has 138 adult video credits to her name, said that the business has been shaken by recent accounts of infections involving performers.

"It is actually terrifying to the girls in the business because they just don't know who to trust," Vette told XBIZ. "Girls are definitely nervous, and at least one girl I know officially retired because, in her words, it wasn't worth the risk anymore. It certainly is making everyone think twice."

In August, adult performer Cameron Bay — one of Schechter’s clients — announced via the FSC that she had tested positive for HIV — and in September, Schechter organized a fundraiser on Bay’s behalf to help with her medical expenses.

“Coping with a moratorium mostly has to do with being able to decipher accurate information that is being proliferated upon these circumstances. The steps that are taken are different for everyone," Schechter said. "For myself and my immediate connection of staff and performers, it is to simply stay well-informed and to follow the suggested protocols issued by the FSC.”

When moratoriums are announced by the FSC, performers in Porn Valley find themselves in a very different position from the studios and from those who have full-time staff positions, according to Dan Leal, CEO of the Chatsworth-based Immoral Productions.

"A two-week moratorium isn’t going to affect a studio because the studio has such a surplus of content, but it’s going to affect a performer who is working an average of four times a month,” Leal told XBIZ.

Leal, however, doesn’t see moratoriums having an immediate impact on most production crew members.  "Editors are always going to have stuff to edit," Leal said.

But moratoriums put production schedules into flux and can affect the bottom line for studios, according to Rob Smith, director of operations for the Hustler Video Group.

"Production dates are pushed, and crews and talent cancelled or put on hold for later when you think/hope that production can resume," Smith told XBIZ. "Often, this causes you to lose the availability of the talent and crew that you were hoping to use.”

Currently, performers in Porn Valley are regularly tested for HIV via the FSC’s Performer Availability Screening Services (PASS) system, formerly APHSS.

Many opponents of mandatory condom use in adult films have described PASS as an effective way to protect performers, while proponents of mandatory condom use in adult films argue that even with PASS, condoms should be a requirement — not an option — in Porn Valley.

Peter Acworth, founder and CEO of the BDSM-oriented, San Francisco-based, said, “As soon as we get word from FSC production halts immediately. And then you wait for information."

"At Kink, our production staff is pretty much entirely employee-based; so it's a matter of keeping people busy for the week," Acworth told XBIZ. "They can shoot B-roll — non-sex shots — or try to take care of organizational things. But it’s a watch-and-wait time, for the most part.”

Acworth said that during 2013's moratoriums, the overall mood in Porn Valley was one of solidarity and cooperation — and most of the people he talks to have been faithful about participating in the PASS system and obeying the moratoriums when they are called.

“I think one thing we really learned this year was the importance of getting information out quickly,” Acworth said. “We live in an era of social media, and it was concerning to see so many rumors floating around. But what was also encouraging was to see how the community rallied.

"One producer announced he was bucking the moratorium, and he was roundly condemned and backed off," Acworth said. "While it was tough to deal with the multiple moratoriums, I think it stressed how important they are for protecting the performers and how important it is that we stick together.

"There are always voices in opposition — some producers don’t have content stored up, others don’t like being told what to do in any regard. But I think the overall trend has been [one of] greater cooperation.”

There has been an ongoing debate in the adult industry: Should Porn Valley have a condom-optional approach and screen for HIV via the PASS system, or should it go the way of Brazil — where condom use is the norm in adult films and the Brazilian Association of Erotic and Sensual Media (ABEME) — which is Brazil’s equivalent of the FSC, supports that approach?

Schechter said the PASS system has the potential of being a very effective resource and tool for production studios and crews to insure performers meet the required testing guidelines. "The more the industry continues to use and adapt to using the PASS system, it becomes more effective," he said

"A studio requiring a cleared PASS status on top of that can be a reassurance for a performer that a document has not been tampered. It is very easy to sign up for and use the system,” said Smith, who noted that PASS is very easy to sign up for and use, without getting into the complexities of sharing medical information.

Acworth said that kind of simplicity goes along way and that he hopes studios in other countries look at the PASS model to try to better protect their workers.

"In some countries, it really is a wild west," Acworth said. "One thing that we’ve been trying to communicate to those who really want to mandate condoms is that doing so will push production overseas, where there are even fewer regulations.

"I realize that some people will always think the porn industry is a dirty business — it’s been a punching bag for politicians and crusaders since it became legal in the late 1960s. But it’s actually highly regulated, and if you want to protect porn performers, it shouldn’t matter if they’re in the U.S. or outside of it. Pushing porn to places where it isn’t regulated at all isn’t a solution.”

Enforcement of condom laws, however, only affect studios that pull permits — and those would be ones that do it primarily for insurance purposes.

Leal, meanwhile, pointed out that what happens in Los Angeles’ adult entertainment community affects adult performers all over the U.S.

“The amount of performers who work in Los Angeles is under 500,” Leal said. “Four performers have tested positive out of roughly 500. Performers who perform in Las Vegas or Miami also perform in Los Angeles, and they are still part of what I consider the Los Angeles adult industry talent pool. It’s not like there are performers who are exclusive to Miami or performers who are exclusive to Las Vegas. Performers travel.”

Leal added: “There should be nationwide laws governing all commercial porn. It doesn’t matter if it’s shot in Southern California, Miami or Las Vegas — there should be nationwide laws governing all commercial porn. Now, the question becomes enforcement.”

One adult filmmaker in Porn Valley isn't settling for a system like PASS's where performers must test every 14 days in order to be cleared for work.

Tristan Taormino now requires condom use in all of her productions — a position she didn’t take until after Bay tested positive for HIV.

Taormino, in September, told CNN that she had decided to start requiring condoms in her productions because she wanted to give her performers “the safest work experience possible.”

The fact that a particular adult company requires condom use in its productions does not necessarily mean that it thinks condom use should be a requirement for other adult companies.

For example, Wicked Pictures — one of the top studios in Porn Valley and a leader in the couples genre — voluntarily implemented a condom-only policy for its films in 1998 and still adheres to that policy.

But Wicked founder Steve Orenstein has stressed that he opposes efforts to make condom use mandatory in all adult films. Whether a studio opts to use condoms in its films or not use them should be left up to the studio, Orenstein has said.

The debate within the industry over whether performers should or shouldn’t use condoms in films has been a largely heterosexual debate.

In the gay adult sector, condom use has been the norm both inside and outside of the U.S. for a long time — which is a result of the devastating affect that AIDS had in the gay community back in the 1980s — and proponents of mandatory condom use in straight porn have been arguing that if the gay porn sector can embrace condoms and still remain profitable, why not straight adult films?

But opponents of mandatory condom use in porn counter that because a lot of heterosexual porn thrives on pure, unadulterated fantasy — especially gonzo films — condoms are a turnoff for viewers and negatively impact sales.

The heterosexual porn audience, according to that argument, cannot be compared to the gay porn audience because they are two very different markets.

In the November 2012 election, voters in Los Angeles County were asked to weigh in on whether or not performers should be required to wear condoms in adult films.

The County of Los Angeles' "Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act," also known as Measure B, passed by a margin of 12 points and was aggressively supported by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which advocates that condoms in adult films should be mandatory rather than optional.

The FSC has been consistently outspoken in its opposition to Measure B and has been fighting it legally ever since it was proposed by the AHF.

Opponents of mandatory condom use in adult films argue that from a financial or business standpoint, condomless adult films from Porn Valley have a marketing advantage over the condom-only productions coming from Brazil, which is the largest adult film producer in Latin America — and that if Porn Valley’s adult films don’t distinguish themselves from foreign adult films, they lose that marketing advantage.

In the adult industry, there continues to be much talk of L.A.-based studios permanently moving to Las Vegas, Miami or another U.S. city in order to escape Measure B.

Some adult studios, including Vivid Entertainment, have said that they have responded to Measure B by filming outside of Los Angeles County.

And just this past fall, director Lee Roy Myers moved his entire WoodRocket operation to Las Vegas. WoodRocket joins other Vegas porn studios, including gay companies  Bait & Tackle and Corbin Fisher, and Brazzers. 

“The greater the restrictions placed on production here, the more production will flourish elsewhere,” Hustler's Smith said.

Leal is quite critical of the way the mainstream media have been covering Porn Valley moratoriums and performers who have tested HIV-positive.

The mainstream media, Leal asserted, often reports on those events with an alarmist, sensationalist tone — and that tone, he said, is bad for the adult industry psychologically.

“In the eyes of the mainstream media, there’s a massive epidemic — and perception becomes reality," Leal said. "The mainstream media all say the same thing: massive HIV outbreak in the porn industry. And people in the industry see the headlines: HIV outbreak, third time in six months, adult industry shut down.”

Moratoriums on shooting in Porn Valley have not only been a major topic of discussion among Americans who work in the adult industry — they are also being discussed in other countries that have an abundance of adult film production, including Brazil and Spain.

According to Leal, some adult film performers who work outside the U.S. are now avoiding Porn Valley because of the mainstream media’s “hysterical” coverage of the moratoriums.

Thanks to the mainstream media, Leal said, they are being led to believe that things are much worse in Porn Valley than they actually are.

“Now, a lot of the performers in other countries don’t feel safe coming over here. That’s because of the way we handle our moratoriums. There is no one explaining things to them.”

"I talk to people in Canada, I talk to people in Europe — and they all say to me, ‘Your industry has really got a problem in the U.S.’ That’s the message that they get.”

Instead of giving in to “mainstream media hysteria,” Leal stressed, people who work in Porn Valley need to take a deep breath, remain calm and do everything they can to assure the mainstream media and adult industry employees outside the U.S. that performing in Porn Valley is safe.

“There is no one who is going on radio, going on television and explaining to them the way the adult industry really works,” Leal said. “There’s no one who does that, and that is a massive failure on the part of the U.S. adult industry.”

Leal said that in the climate of “media hysteria” that surrounds a performer who tests positive for HIV, performers are unfairly demonized.

“The performers who tested positive have been outed because their privacy has been violated,” Leal said. “The person who is infected is made to look like a monster. It becomes mass hysteria.”

While moratoriums appear to be one way to stop STIs from spreading out of control, one adult film director said there are other potential preventative measures that should be taken by the industry as a whole, even though they might be controversial.

Will Ryder, who directs for Los Angeles-based X-Play, said that moratoriums are "very wise" but that relying solely on lists provided by HIV-positive performers might be woefully incomplete.

Ryder, who said he took a lot of heat at an FSC producers meeting a few months back, has suggested that the industry should make it tougher for active gay male crossovers to shoot straight porn.

Ryder told XBIZ that "it is time that the industry takes its head out of the sand and make real tough choices because there seems to be a consistent fingerprint to all of these exposures."

"I know we cannot know who is doing gay escorting or dating with exact certainty all the time, but we for sure can know which male talent is currently doing bi or gay scenes and not hire them," Ryder said. "No need for a witch hunt on male talent that have past gay scenes in their repertoire, but if you are currently shooting gay content today you have zero right to shoot straight porn and risk people's health.

"I don't give a damn if you have a current test and I do not care one bit if you feel that is discrimination. We don't hire blind construction crane operators, either.

"Would 100 percent straight porn industry condom usage have prevented the latest HIV positive from showing up? Doubtful and debatable at best but reducing the talent pool by eliminating current gay male crossovers performing in gay or bi movies today and/or active gay male escorts will make our straight adult industry safer.

"It is not only a smart business decision but a compassionate one as well. If that is discrimination, then so be it."

Asked how HIV-related events of 2013 will ultimately affect Porn Valley as well as studios operating outside of Porn Valley, Schechter said, the impact "will be widespread and affect individual performers and the decisions they make with regards to the details of productions they are participating in."

"There will also be stricter enforcement of existing laws in California that will have a tremendous effect on the industry as it relates to Porn Valley. In my opinion, it’s just a matter of time before the majority of production is maintained outside of Porn Valley, such as Las Vegas.”

Vette, who branched out to webcam work years ago, advises adult performers in Porn Valley who are starting to have doubts about the biz to break free from traditional film work

"Some girls I know are having a hard time making rent and car payments," Vette said." I hate that they are so dependent on others for their livelihood. It only proves the importance of having a popular website where the content you shoot today keeps on paying you for months and years to come.

"You have to re-invent yourself," she said. "It is not only safer but it's the future of porn."

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