In advance of the potential passage of a state law that would require condoms on all pornography sets in California, Kink.com (NSFW!) has made good on a threat to leave San Francisco by renting a new office in Las Vegas and taking an exploratory mission there in the last week. Kink CEO Peter Acworth has issued a statement about the trip, saying the company did two full feature shoots there and did some feeling out of Nevada's permitting rules, all in preparation for a possible move if AB 1576 passes the Senate and gets signed into law.
Kink bought and took over the long defunct former National Guard Armory complex in the Mission district in 2007, after the building was found to be basically impossible to reuse for most redevelopment purposes and historically protected. It had been vacant since 1975, with activists long fending off the scourge of developers looking to turn it into condos. Acworth bought the building with earnings from his then 10-year-old company for $14.5 million. The rapidly growing porn company made use of the Armory's warren of basement rooms and large upstairs spaces for various S&M internet porn brands, and gained publicity for its titillating public tours of the place.
In 2012, they expanded with the Armory Club, taking over a dive bar kitty-corner from the Armory at Mission and 14th and transforming it into an upscale cocktail bar with an underlit amber bar, textured wallpaper, and S&M artwork.
Condoms have never played a large role in the heterosexual porn industry, and industry wisdom has been that porn is about fantasy, and condom porn doesn't sell. Tensions have arisen in the gay side of the industry since the late 1980s after all the established studios ultimately agreed to shoot only with condoms in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. Those rules have become more lax in recent years, however, as so-called "bareback" studios have taken a large portion of the market share among those gay customers who still pay for their porn online. Nonetheless, most of the largest studios making gay porn still adhere to the condom rule.
And, of course, California has a history as the country's home of porn production, dating back 40 years. While not all production occurs here, the majority of it still does, with much of the straight side of the industry based in Southern California, and the gay industry split primarily between San Francisco, L.A., San Diego, and New York.
The fight over condoms and the CA porn industry heated up last fall when the entire statewide industry had a moratorium on shooting after two performers employed by Kink were found to be HIV-positive both were in an off-set relationship and it was determined they were both infected off-set. The ensuing panic was fueled in part by the L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which was instrumental in passing a similar law in 2012 requiring condoms on all porn shoots in Los Angeles County, which resulted in most companies moving their operations to the San Fernando Valley. Kink.com has long maintained a condom-only policy for gay shoots, and condom-optional for all other shoots, and like the rest of the industry requires active performers to get HIV tests every 14 days. The testing policy, which previously had been every 28 days, was instrumental in preventing transmission of the virus to any other Kink performers after discovering the status of those two individuals last August.
Earlier this year, with help from the AHF, CA Assemblyman Isadore Hall introduced his "condom bill," AB 1576, ostensibly seeking to keep porn performers from getting infected with HIV while working on porn sets. The bill also requires regular STD screenings, but would for the first time require condoms as mandatory for all porn, and making condom-free porn a crime in California. The industry cried foul, saying this was a law in search of a problem, and noting that there have been no recorded instances of on-set HIV infection since the testing requirements were self-imposted by all studios. The bill passed the Assembly and last month also passed by one vote in the State Senate's labor committee, meaning that if it passes a vote by the appropriations committee next month, it will go up for a vote in the full senate.
The issue has been a complicated one for legislators, because on the one hand one might see this as a fight for worker protections (which is how the AHF has been framing it). However most of the workers themselves, porn performers, have come out against the law because of the industry's own self-imposed safety measures, and because the law has the potential to drive non-condom shoots underground in California, and drive the more established players out of the state. Further complicating matters is the fact that many performers on the gay side of the industry are already HIV positive, are on medication, and willingly perform with each other with and without condoms.
Back in April, Acworth already told the Chronicle and others that Kink may just decamp to Vegas and lease out the Armory as office space, if the law passes.
Today Acworth issued a statement saying, "Vegas is looking more and more attractive as time goes by," noting that the cost of doing business in Nevada is considerably lower. He adds, "We don’t want to move out of California, but we will if we have to. This bill not only denies performers choice, it would effectively render most existing adult film production illegal." As spokesman Michael Stabile tells SFist, the company feels it had better get a lay of the land head of the bill's possible passage, because if it passes there won't be adequate time to relocate the business there.
And, as is his wont, Acworth has released the following video release discussing the Vegas trip.
Previously: Kink.com's backup plan for S.F. Armory: office space [Chron]