As COVID-19 cases in California continue to skyrocket, Downtown Disney, the shopping district area of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, officially reopened late last week. The same week, another place that could arguably be referred to as the Happiest Place on Earth also opened its doors: a gay porn set, specifically the set for Raging Stallion Studios’ No-Tell Motel.
“So far, knock on wood, everything is going well,” Adam Q. Robinson, Falcon Entertainment’s vice president of production and operations, tells Rolling Stone from the set in Las Vegas.
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Falcon Entertainment is one of a number of adult film companies that have gradually started to move back into production after more than three months of an industry-wide production hold. After Los Angeles County began reissuing film permits to mainstream studios last month, the industry advocacy group the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) lifted its own production hold. (Gov. Gavin Newsom has rolled back parts of reopening in response to rising cases in California, but it’s unclear at the time of this writing how that will affect film shoots.)
In a call with Rolling Stone, FSC spokesperson Mike Stabile says the group does not believe it is safe yet to shoot, and that it is encouraging performers to hold off on booking shoots if they can. The lifting of the production hold, he says, was motivated more by the principles of harm reduction than anything else. “We knew there were a lot of independent producers facing choices about whether they would survive financially,” he says. “Our plan all along was to provide guidance for the ways to reduce the risk, while making clear you can’t get close to eliminating the risk.”
Much like the mainstream film industry, which started granting permits for shoots last month, the FSC has rolled out a list of guidelines and recommended protocols for performers and crew members to adhere to, including requiring performers and crew to wear masks on set (performers are not required to wear masks on-camera, both for saleability reasons and because, as Stabile acknowledges, masks wouldn’t be particularly effective during sex scenes: “You’re already sweaty and in close contact with somebody”).
Performers and crew members will also have to obtain COVID-19 tests 24 hours in advance of shooting a scene; unlike STI tests, which performers must pay for out-of-pocket, production companies are largely assuming the costs of coronavirus tests. Falcon is also prohibiting performers from using rideshares like Uber to get to set, and is paying to have performers quarantined in a hotel overnight after their tests clear. They’re even monitoring performers’ social media accounts, “just to make sure something’s not a little funky, like, ‘Oh we think Bob went out over the weekend,'” Robinson says.
One of the chief industry guidelines is that the number of people on set will be limited to just a handful of performers and crew members. This means that, for many companies, group sex is out of the question for now. “We will be sticking to commissioning basic sex scenes between two partners,” says Ryan Cash, the production director for Brazzers, which is not currently shooting and says it has no plans to resume doing so soon.
Patrick, the content director for adult streaming service AdultTime (who requested his last name be withheld), says the company is issuing a temporary moratorium on “foursomes, gang bangs, multiple sex partner scenes, anything around swingers that has a lot of people on set,” he says. Certain sex acts will also be off the table for many producers, particularly those that involve the exchange of copious bodily fluids, such as spitting, urination, or squirting. Even kissing comes with an attendant level of risk: “If you’re kissing that’s the ultimate mode of transmission,” Stabile says. “Those were things we recommended: eliminate kissing. Here are positions that reduce face-to-face contact.”
Others, however, disagree that kissing is any higher-risk than any other forms of on-camera sexual activity. As performer and director Casey Calvert drily puts it: “I’m certainly of the opinion that if someone’s penis is going to go inside of you, that’s the same amount of risk as kissing them.”
For this reason, many performers are understandably “really hesitant to return to set,” says Stabile. That’s in part because many performers have turned to custom social platforms like OnlyFans to make money, with some top-tier performers making as much as six figures per month. “If they have a significant presence on OnlyFans or FanCentro they are content to stay there, especially with rising cases [in California].” This smaller casting pool has resulted in uniquely specific challenges during the casting process: for instance, “it’s a little hard to find MILFS right now,” says Calvert.
So far, the testing issue has been by far the biggest hurdle. Many of the clinics under the industry’s testing system, PASS, are unable to incorporate COVID tests, leading many performers and crew members to use an independent company, Talent Testing Services (TTS), which is offering tests for a relatively cheap $35 a pop. But TTS, some producers told Rolling Stone, has a substantial backlog, which has resulted in performers’ and crew members’ tests coming back later than anticipated, setting production back.
Further, because TTS is independent from the PASS system, there is a concern among some talent that there will be a lack of transparency around results, or that tests will be inaccurate, or even that performers will fake their test results. “It’s one of the reasons why I feel reluctant to work,” says Calvert. (TTS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Rolling Stone.)
These concerns were proven correct in light of a statement from the FSC on July 14th, a few weeks after it had removed the hold on production, saying it had received information that there were “at least a dozen” positive COVID-19 tests among performers and crew members, who had tested at non-PASS clinics and whose results had gone unreported. “We are not currently calling for a formal production hold, but are investigating the situation, and will advise the community as we learn more,” the FSC said in a statement, though it reiterated that “we do not believe it is yet safe to shoot.”
When reached for comment after the FSC statement, Patrick said that while the revelation of positive COVID-19 tests was “very unnerving to be sure,” the company planned to continue shooting with its current health and safety protocols implemented: “I am keeping a close eye on the situation and seeing where it goes.” Falcon, too, plans to continue to shoot, says Robinson: “No change in plans as of right now, but we do understand it’s a very fluid situation and are prepared to halt production if warranted.”
Even if another adult industry production hold is not called, it’s an open question whether performers and crew members will be willing to assume the significant risk. As the COVID-19 case count skyrockets — particularly in the Los Angeles area, where the majority of the porn industry is based, and Florida, which also hosts one of the foci of production — there is an abundance of reasons for everyone except the production companies themselves, which have been hemorrhaging money since the shutdown, to be wary of shooting. After three or four months of people in the industry being out of work, there’s also the possibility of producers offering an environment that pressures performers and crew members to put themselves at risk just to take a paycheck. Even Calvert, one of the industry’s top names, acutely feels this pressure. “I feel like if I don’t work, somebody else will,” she says.
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