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September 18, 2014

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L.A. porn permits fall but films keep being produced

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Mark J. Terrill / AP

In this Oct. 9, 2002, file photo, adult actors Dasha and Eric Masterson prepare for a scene for the Vivid Video adult film “The Alley” in the San Fernando Valley. In Los Angeles County, for years the Porn Capital of the Country, records reveal that only 20 permits to make adult films have been acquired so far in 2014.

LOS ANGELES — It has been known as the nation's porn capital for years, but if recent film-permit records are to be believed, fewer than three adult movies a month are being made in Los Angeles County this year.

So where are those hundreds of films available for instant download on the Internet coming from?

Many are still coming from right here, say industry officials, acknowledging that when Los Angeles County voters cracked down on filmmakers in November 2012 with an ordinance requiring that actors use condoms, quite a few filmmakers went underground.

"A lot are simply shooting in out-of-the-way places where they won't be caught," says Mark Kernes, senior editor at Adult Video News, which tracks industry trends. "Normally it's in people's homes who are willing to rent them out for a day. Sometimes it's out in the woods. There are vacation cabins far away from anything that you can shoot a movie at."

Others have traveled outside of Los Angeles County, either to neighboring counties or sometimes even out of state. Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, an industry advocacy group, said she knows of a handful that have moved to Las Vegas, although none want to be mentioned by name for fear of bringing condom activists after them.

Although a few porn producers do require that actors use condoms, the majority do not, saying fans have made it clear they don't want to see them.

Wherever the filmmakers are working now, only 20 have applied for permits so far this year, according to Film LA, which issues them.

Last year 40 adult filmmakers took out permits, compared with 485 in 2012, the last year before the ordinance took effect.

One filmmaker that is staying put for now is the Vivid Entertainment Group, one of the industry's largest. Chief executive and co-founder Steven Hirsch says that could change quickly, however, if the industry loses an appeal to overturn the county ordinance. Or if the state Legislature passes a similar condom requirement it is considering.

The latter measure, introduced by Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, passed the chamber earlier this year and could come before the Senate for a vote later this summer.

"There are several places we're looking into," Hirsch said Wednesday. "Some people are already shooting in Nevada, and that's something that's certainly on our radar."

In the meantime, Vivid has closed its Los Angeles film set and is making movies outside LA County, Hirsch said, declining to reveal exactly where.

He said his company would prefer to stay in the city it was founded in 30 years ago, adding Los Angeles' sun-dappled skies and iconic landscape give even a porn film a classic look that is hard to duplicate.

Hall and other condom advocates have said they don't want to run adult filmmakers and their $7 billion-a-year industry out of town. Instead, they say, they simply want to protect the industry's workers from sexually transmitted diseases.

Industry officials, citing their requirement that working actors be tested for transmitted diseases every two weeks, say there is no need for such a measure.

"There hasn't been an HIV transmission on set since 2004," Duke said.

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