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August 23, 2014

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Las Vegas vs. L.A.: The pros and cons for the porn industry

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Andrea Domanick

Joanna Angel and other BurningAngel performers prepare for the 2012 AVN Awards in her room at the Hard Rock Hotel on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012.

Second Annual Porn Brunch at Rattlecan

Chef Sammy D poses with adult film actresses and food critic Al Mancini during the second annual Burning Angel porn brunch at the Rattlecan restaurant in the Venetian Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. Guests received a copy of Eating Las Vegas: The 50 Essential Restaurants written by Las Vegas food critics Mancini, John Curtas and Max Jacobson. Actresses from left are: Kleio, Jessie Lee, and Joanna Angel. Launch slideshow »

The adult entertainment industry has wrapped up its annual sojourn from Southern California to Las Vegas, where it promotes business and hands out awards.

What is stopping porn filmmakers from setting up business here year-round?

The possibility of the industry abandoning Los Angeles County was triggered when voters there in November passed a law requiring performers to wear condoms during sex scenes. The industry isn’t thrilled, saying it would be off-putting to viewers.

What might compel producers to move their businesses to Nevada, which has no such law, and what might keep them away?

Pro: Lower production cost

Nevada doesn’t require a permit for porn producers to shoot films on private property, such as houses (the favored set for producers). In Los Angeles, producers on average pay $800 a day to shoot on private property.

Dan O’Connell, president of the porn studio Girlfriends Films, said he typically pays a minimum of $100 per hour to use a house in L.A. and estimates he’d pay less in the Las Vegas market. He said it would be an attractive revenue stream for homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure.

“If somebody’s losing a house, they can probably rent it out for two days a month (to us) and keep that house,” he said. “We don’t rent just any house; it has to be nicely furnished, good-sized rooms, no clutter and so on. Just very plain, average houses. So in this market, that would be huge.”

Production costs could also be reduced here because equipment rentals and location fees also cost less in Las Vegas, producers say.

Add to that the benefits of no corporate income tax, no unitary tax and room tax abatement after 30 days (well-suited for commuting talent), and the argument could be made that moving to Las Vegas would be a smart business, regardless of the condom issue.

“From strictly a production standpoint, it probably makes even more sense to be in Vegas than L.A. because everything is so expensive in L.A. and things are getting kind of difficult — living, renting out a studio, getting a film permit, production insurance, getting anything,” said Joanna Angel, founder and co-owner of the alternative porn website burningangel.com.

Con: No mainstream industry ties

The porn industry and the mainstream film industry in L.A. are more closely married than their content suggest.

2013 AVN Awards: Red Carpet at The Joint

The 2013 AVN Awards red carpet at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. Launch slideshow »

“People forget that there’s a lot more to porn than just people having sex and somebody shooting it,” Angel said.

For instance, they draw from the same pool of off-screen workers, including lighting crews, production assistants, set designers and caterers.

Angel said she’d be able to find comparable talent and resources in Las Vegas but that there’s value in the long-standing relationship she has with her regular crew.

“I’d be very upset if I had to change my crew,” she said. “I don’t think I could do that. If I relocated I’d have to bring them with me, and uprooting them wouldn’t be easy.”

Hollywood’s proximity also offers crossover opportunities and resources for porn actors interested in the mainstream film industry.

In addition to playing more conventional roles, porn stars frequently are sought for scenes that might be too risque for most actors.

“If the industry moved to Vegas ... I think it would make it like porn is putting itself in its own ghetto, kind of,” Angel said. “It would block itself off from being the part of the film industry that it is. L.A. is the place for film; you move there whether you want to do porn, commercials or anything in that genre.”

Pro: Cost of living

With no state income tax, a favorable housing market and lower gas prices, the cost of living in Las Vegas compared with L.A. is a powerful draw for industry players.

“L.A. is an expensive city to live in. When I hear my friends in Vegas talk about what they pay to live out here, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I could live like a king!’” Moore said. “The (lower) taxes and just the nature of the economy here is a huge pro for sure.”

Con: Legality

California didn’t become the global mecca of porn by coincidence; it’s the result of California vs. Freeman, a 1988 California supreme court case that established a legal distinction between making pornography and criminal activities like pandering.

The ruling has been cited to support similar cases in other states like New Hampshire, but California remains the only state where it is explicitly legal to produce and shoot pornographic movies; though porn is certainly filmed elsewhere in the United States, the legal gray area beyond California has some producers hesitant to cross state lines.

“We could move to Vegas, but there is a chance that they could come after you in the same way back in the ’80s they went after a lot of producers, which is trying to charge them with pandering or prostitution,” said Kevin Moore, a producer and director for top porn studio Evil Angel. “Whether or not that would happen, I don’t know. ... Obviously porn is shot in other states and it’s never been an issue. But it’s different when you’re doing this and you’re trying to do it in a legitimate sense. That hanging over you is never a good thing.”

Pro: Proximity to L.A.

Filming in Las Vegas may mean having to cross state lines, but for many in the porn industry, the city’s proximity to Los Angeles makes it a more appealing option for production than some in-state relocation options being considered, such as San Francisco and Orange County.

While the former is home to some established porn studios, Moore said both production and living costs are impractical when compared with Las Vegas; Orange County, he said, is simply too conservative.

“(Las Vegas) is not a difficult move; we’re talking about a four-hour drive. And there are already (porn) producers shooting in Vegas; it already exists as it is. So it’s not a huge leap for people to start moving out there if it became a true necessity,” he said.

Others say Las Vegas is close enough that it wouldn’t require relocating at all.

“The distance between Las Vegas and Los Angeles and the ease with which one can travel is such that that’s not going to cause anyone that’s currently working in the industry to cease,” said Derek Hay, president and owner of LA Direct Models, the largest adult talent agency in the U.S., and a former porn star. “I think that should (the condom law be enforced), many of them will choose not to move to Vegas and they’ll stay living here and travel to Vegas for work, whether that’s for a few days or a week or two weeks, whatever.”

Cons: Relocating

Las Vegas may be close, but places like Ventura County — about a 40-minute drive from the industry’s hub in the San Fernando Valley — are closer. The flight to Las Vegas might be comparable, and the living and production costs are cheaper, but producers and talent are loath to uproot themselves and their crews.

“People are talking about moving productions to Ventura because nobody would have to move, it’s as simple as that,” O’Connell said. “People have to uproot themselves and leave friends, family ... they might have leases, then what happens?”

If the condom law is enforced, “I’d start shooting somewhere outside of L.A. County that is still in California,” Angel said. “I have to think of my crew. There’s my camera guy. He’s got a wife and kids; I can’t just ask him to get up and move. And yeah, I’d rather stick with my own crew than start from scratch. I’ve been working with them for a long time, and having a crew that you like is difficult to find.”

Dealbreaker: The talent

For producers like O’Connell, the rule is simple: “I go where the talent goes. I would rather be in Los Angeles to shoot, but if there was to be no talent there to shoot, then I’ve got to be in Vegas.”

But the talent follows the opportunities. Even if a large percentage of L.A. studios were to relocate, Hay said, he doesn’t foresee a mass exodus of talent relocating permanently to Las Vegas but rather a leveling out of talent in both cities. He points out that even if the condom law was to be enforced, its impact would be relatively limited within the broader industry.

“There will always be a large number of studios here. People forget that there’s so much work that either does not involve sex at all or is not centered around (intercourse) between males and females,” he said. “And as long as that’s the case, there will always be a porn industry in L.A.”

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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  1. The porn industry "threatens" to move periodically. But it's simply an empty threat. It's simply NOT practical. Will never happen.

  2. "Wear condoms!"

    missd -- that would be up to the talent and their contracts. If it's no big deal to them why would it be to you?

    "The majority of consumers want to see sex without condoms so if L.A. can't provide that other places will."

    AmLowLife -- good post

    "I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least'; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically." -- Henry David Thoreau 1849 "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"

  3. The pornos are coming the pornos are coming!!!! (no pun intended). It's not like they're going to stand out in the crowd as in comparrison to what you see walking up and down the strip or hanging out in the night clubs. Oh,, maybe they will have a scene where someone is leaving Las Vegas via Red Rock Canyon like all the other movies shot here. Hey don't worry all you self righteous bible thumpers there's a lot of elected and appointed officials that belong to a certain religous denomination that will fight this all the way.

  4. In a Capitalistic society, we all prostitute ourselves. We just do it in different ways.