>> Variety / Film News
It's a wrap: Porn biz says it's fleeing B
Adult film producers, including industry giant Vivid, vow to ankle LA
By: Rachel Abrams
Posted On: Nov. 7, 2012
With runaway production already vexing the Los Angeles-based entertainment biz, the passage of Measure B could rub out what's left of L.A.'s $1 billion porn biz, as producers from industry goliath Vivid Entertainment on down are already planning to flee the county, where an estimated 10,000 people are employed making 8% of the world's adult films.
Passed by more than 55% of countywide voters Tuesday, the law requires condom use and costly new health permits for all porn shoots within Los Angeles County. Its jurisdiction covers the infamous "San Pornando Valley," which includes areas like Canoga Park and Chatsworth.
"The problem is that the way the law is written, we're considered to basically be a hospital where people have to wear gloves and masks," said Steve Hirsch, founder and co-chairman of Vivid, the largest producer and distributor of porn in Los Angeles.
Hirsch said Vivid plans to move production to another county in California and not out of state (California and New Hampshire are the only states where pornography shoots are legal). With about 100 employees, Vivid produces about 60 films per year at budgets typically ranging from $50,000 to $300,000 and from 10 to 40 people employed per shoot.
"We are putting a plan into place so that when and if it is time to move production, we can do it seamlessly," Hirsch said.
Local permitting agency FilmL.A. has issued about 500 permits to adult entertainment companies annually for the past five years. Each permit is good for up to 10 locations, and observers estimate that close to 5,000 adult films shoot in Los Angeles each year.
By contrast, FilmL.A. handed out about 6,000 commercial permits, 12,000 television permits and 4,500 feature film permits this year. Porn is a small part of its business, FilmL.A. president Paul Audley told Variety, but with runaway production already shrinking local shooting, it's a piece they're loath to lose.
"We don't want to see any part of the film industry leaving L.A.," Audley said. "It's not good for the economy to have this sector further injured. We don't know how much real impact this requirement will have ... we'll be able to tell you in a couple quarters."
Measure B requires porn producers to obtain permits from the Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Health, in addition to the filming permits already required by FilmL.A. According to preliminary estimates, the county expects the entire program will cost about $300,000 annually -- and porn producers will have to foot that bill.
"The price will be based upon the number of people who get these permits," said Michael Fattorosi, an adult industry attorney who also runs Adultbizlaw.com. "The fewer production companies that get the permit, the higher the cost for them."
The Los Angeles County Board of Public Health notes that there are potential additional costs associated with "confiscation, law enforcement involvement and administrative appeal proceedings." If 50 permits are issued, the cost per permit would be roughly $11,658, the board estimates.
But industry observers say the permits, which are good for one year, and associated costs could add up to anything from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands per producer. With so many porn producers threatening to leave Los Angeles County, adult film advocates are concerned it'll be on the higher end.
"Really, we don't know what the costs are because it'll be dependent on how many producers participate or if anybody does," said Diane Duke, executive director of the adult entertainment trade org Free Speech Coalition. "I've had producers that have already decided not to produce anymore in Los Angeles."
The coalition has staunchly opposed Measure B, dubbed "Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry," and is working with Vivid and other groups to appeal the measure. The org plans to ask the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to delay implementation; in the meantime, local officials are scrambling to figure out how to kick-start a program that has no precedent.
"This is a very one-of-a-kind law for us," said David Sommers, director of public affairs for L.A. County. He said officials will meet "very soon" to discuss practical enforcement, which for now must go forward regardless of any appeals process.
"I don't think we'll see any enforcement any time soon," said Don Perett, exec director of publishing for porn trade mag Xbiz. Perett estimates that about 200 exclusively porn-related studios currently operate in Los Angeles County.
Recently enacted state and city ordinances requiring condoms have led to fines, including more than $14,000 assessed against Hustler for a condom-free shoot in Los Angeles. But vague and spotty enforcement has hobbled those laws, which Measure B addresses via its requirement of permits issued through the Dept. of Public Health, leading to inspections and other enforcement efforts.
It's enough to have Hirsch looking to do business elsewhere.
"There's no way anyone could produce a move in the county of Los Angeles the way this law is written," he said.
(Eddie Kim contributed to this report.)