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May 05, 2017

Porn Producers Find Attractive Alternative to L.A. in Sin City

This article originally ran as the cover story of the May 2017 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition.  LOS ANGELES—It turns out shooting porn in Las Vegas is closer to a sure bet than a gamble. Adult entertainment remains a global marketplace with its epicenter in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, but Sin City makes a strong case for being the second most active destination for hardcore productions. Several industry veterans say the positives of setting up in Vegas far outweigh the negatives, citing advantages such as breezy commutes, untapped locations, no state taxes, affordable housing and an overall welcome atmosphere. “I love it out here,” says B. Skow, the seasoned producer/director who moved from L.A. to Vegas earlier this year. “Nevada is very easy, very open. It’s an amazing place to have a company.” Now in his 26th year in the adult business, Skow directs at least two movies a month for his namesake studio that is distributed by Girlfriends Films in addition to shooting select projects for other collaborators. A native of New Jersey who lived by the beach in L.A. for more than two decades and then more recently resided in Valencia, California, Skow is the latest high-profile content creator to take his talents to the expanding porn community in Vegas. But Skow tells AVN his decision to relocate was not at all related to California’s pesky condom politics that made “the porn business is moving to Vegas” narrative more hype than reality in recent years. “It had nothing to do with my decision to come here at all. I was looking out here way before that. I bought a property out here a year-and-a-half ago as an investment,” Skow says. “My decision was more that it’s just easier to run a company out here.” Whether it’s accountants, attorneys or essential items, “everything is less here and more available,” he adds. “Even at the grocery store—you can get a gallon of milk and it’s a buck cheaper. Everything you buy in a month—take 10 to 15 percent off it. The property tax on a home is so much less. “And you can live anywhere you want here. You don’t have to live right by the city. You can drive 30 miles in 30 minutes. Thirty miles in L.A. is two hours. There are a lot of benefits.” Indeed, the buzz about a mass porn migration 270 miles northeast generated numerous headlines in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election as producers weighed the potential outcome of the mandatory condom initiative, Prop 60, that was contested on the November ballot. The conventional wisdom then was that if it passed, most porn producers would be forced to leave the state due to the suffocating regulations. But when California citizens voted against the measure sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation—titled “The California Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act”—one of the most significant political victories in industry history also kept the majority of adult industry professionals in L.A. “We have seen the hysteria on and off the past three or four years where it looked like everyone was coming, but then [AHF President Michael] Weinstein kept getting defeated and the hysteria continuously died down,” says veteran Brazzers director Vic Lagina, who has been shooting porn in Vegas since 2006. “Since I know the cost and logistics of moving and setting up a business that is acknowledged and accepted by Clark County, I would not expect anyone to make that move unless they wanted to or had to. If there is no impending doom in Southern California, I expect things to stay the same in the years to come.” Lagina is one of Brazzers’ most prolific shooters, beginning with the original incarnation of the company. “I started shooting adult in LA back in 2002-2003 and moved back to Florida, where I grew my business,” Lagina recalls. “I started working for the original owners of Mansef around that time, and when I decided to pick up stakes and head to Vegas, they were ready to grow their network. Timing was perfect. So you could say I have been shooting for Brazzers for close to 15 years, even before they were Brazzers. “I didn’t want to live in L.A. again as I felt the cost of living was high and one could stretch their dollar in Vegas. Based on a strong feeling in my gut, I bought a house I had no business buying in Vegas in 2006 because it felt right. Business boomed immediately and I have enjoyed lasting success and employment out here.” A native of Philadelphia who has a master’s degree in film production and even taught college classes in South Florida before porn, Lagina shoots his scenes almost exclusively in a 7,200-square-foot studio licensed under Clark County. “I love shooting out here and have no plans on relocating anywhere else,” Lagina continues. “The biggest challenge we face is when we have talent cancel on short notice, but with enough time and because me and my team have been doing this for so long, we can rebound quickly and fix the problem so we don’t lose the shoot. “Summers can be tough to shoot due to the heat, but my soundstage has climate control and we make it as painless as possible for our talent.” Without question, just about everyone interviewed for this story agrees the single biggest challenge to shooting in Vegas is the logistics of getting performers from their homes in L.A. to the set in Vegas—on time. One producer/director who asked not to be identified says that because the performer pool in the city is so limited, flying girls in from L.A. is unavoidable. “There’s not a lot of talent out there,” the source says. “There’s some. There might be 10 or 15 girls living out there at any time—probably five good ones, five terrible ones and five OK ones. “You go through them really quickly. So now you have to have a travel agency to get everybody out there. Let’s travel the most irresponsible people in the world for getting anywhere on time. If you book 100 shoots, probably 20 of them get done like they’re supposed to get done. And you gotta bring the male talent and all kinds of things can happen with that. Travel isn’t that expensive, it’s just more a pain in the ass.” Brazzers performer/director Keiran Lee echoes that sentiment, noting that it’s the cancellations and endless travel mishaps that tend to put the Vegas crews in the toughest spots. “It has its pros in the sense it can be a little cheaper, but then it could also cost you a lot of days, too,” Lee tells AVN. “If a girl misses her flight and for example it’s a boy/girl anal scene, to try to get a girl to fly out to Vegas to do anal at the last minute is really hard. And Brazzers is very particular. Obviously, we have certain sites that we have to shoot for. “If we’re shooting for Teens Like It Big, we need a teen girl. I can’t be just like, ‘Oh I’m going to shoot this girl instead.’ A lot of people can be like that where they can swap girls and shoot whoever, but with us it’s very specific. Vic might want to book for example Elsa Jean but I just shot her last week. Elsa Jean could be available to fly out but I just shot her for Teens Like It Big last week so Elsa Jean is out of the equation now so they have to find another teen.” Lee, who considered moving to Vegas and even back to his native England last year, doesn’t see the Vegas contingent getting any bigger. “I think everybody’s settled in L.A.,” Lee says. “Yeah, there is a lot of people who have moved out there and it’s cheaper and everything like that, but what you’re finding is a lot of them are regretting the move because they’re missing out on so much work.” All things considered, Vegas-based producers say the talent agents do an excellent job accommodating their needs. One agent who knows the intricacies of the Vegas market well is Derek Hay, the owner of LA Direct Models, who opened an office there in September 2013. “It’s always changing just a bit,” Hay says. “When I’m explaining to a newer model what they can expect, I tell people these days I think Los Angeles accounts for about 75 percent of all adult film shoots; Vegas 15 percent and Miami about 10 percent. “Vegas has expanded enough to be more important than Miami just in terms of volume, but also because in Miami they are very focused on shooting new girls.” Hay notes that a typical new girl may do four or five shoots in Miami and an exceptional one might get booked for 10 in a two-week span, but after that the South Florida circuit tends to be all but exhausted for that performer for the rest of the year and often just period. “Whereas with Vegas and L.A., producers do have an interest in brand-new girls, but it’s not centric to that,” Hay adds. “They’re hiring models for the most part because she fits the role for any particular scene or movie.” Hay travels back and forth between his L.A. office but he finds he now spends the bulk of his time in Nevada. “There’s a personal element with me for this. I could never have anticipated I would enjoy Las Vegas as much as I do. I bought a house in Vegas and opened up in Vegas primarily because of condoms. I thought there would be a big rush of companies going to Vegas. We were already doing a significant amount of business in Vegas. I think it was the right move to do in hindsight,” Hay tells AVN. He says it also helps to maintain relationships with Vegas-based producers when you can see them in person on occasion. “In this day and age we have this plethora of different ways to communicate with one another but still nothing can beat shaking someone’s hand and just chatting with them for a while,” Hay says. “You can still learn a lot more from that than other forms of communication, including the phone. Not just that, living in Vegas and working in Vegas you understand Vegas much more than you ever could from L.A.” Hay says in Vegas the adult industry is not subjected to the kind of scrutiny it often comes under in L.A. “There haven’t been any problems with film permitting issues or police issues or OSHA issues, nothing at all,” he notes. “I think Vegas is going to be bigger and continue to grow incrementally. But it’s clear there’s not going to be any big rush. Myself and many, many others were wrong about that. However it is growing slowly and maybe for slightly different reasons than we thought.” Adult film star Richelle Ryan moved to Vegas in 2015 and tells AVN she wishes she set up there a long time ago. “I love it out here,” Ryan says. “I just bought a house. I’m here for life. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made not only work-wise, but also too Vegas is growing. We just got an NHL hockey team, the Raiders are moving here; there’s talks about us getting an NBA team; recreational marijuana just got passed—this city is truly amazing.” Ryan, who grew up in Rochester, New York, and lived in Virginia for four years, says she can get just about anywhere in Vegas in 20 minutes. “People don’t believe me when I tell them it’s actually a very quiet city,” Ryan says. “You’re starting to see a lot of performers move out here. I am a huge cheerleader for anybody that wants to move to Vegas.” The two-time winner of Exotic Dancer’s Adult Movie Feature Entertainer of the Year award feature dances two weekends out of the month in between doing porn. “Feature dancing is kind of like my love. Before I got into the porn industry I started off as a dancer and I’ve built up a lot of movie credits,” Ryan says, noting she recently shot her first virtual reality scene—for Naughty America and director Mia Lelani in Vegas. Her next stop on her U.S. feature dancing tour will be May 18-20 at Scores in Houston. Lee Roy Myers, the creative force behind WoodRocket.com who produces and directs parodies such as Ten Inch Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Muffin Pounder Rangers as well as several viral videos featuring porn stars, has been based in Vegas for the past four years. “I think that it is local business friendly and not afraid of a little sexiness, so it feels like it is the perfect place to produce adult content because of all of the sexy businesses that are out there such as adult stores and strip clubs and nearby brothels,” Myers tells AVN. “It’s like we’ve found a place that is a new home. “When you’re in L.A. in the Valley, you run into a lot of porn people and you converse and you feel like you’re at home. This has that same feeling. It’s very welcoming to new businesses. It’s not afraid of adult businesses and there’s enough of us out here that a community is starting to grow.” Myers co-owns Mission Control, a 10,000-square-foot studio in Vegas that he also rents out for commercials, music videos and more. Launched in January 2013, WoodRocket is nearing the release of four new web series, reveals Myers, who is also working on new YouTube channel in the pop culture and entertainment realm. He says his reasoning for going to Vegas was not about the condom legislation in California. “To be honest if you put a ‘Strokemon’ costume on someone, people don’t really care if you put a condom on the performer. It’s just another piece,” he says. “We’ve shot a ton of scenes with condoms. We don’t worry about how people feel about them because our fan base doesn’t seem to care whether we have them. It was about the difficulty and cost of shooting in Los Angeles. It’s very expensive to live and shoot in L.A., especially when you shoot as much as we do and give it away for free.” Myers adds, “And the paperwork you have to fill out to get a film permit and money for a film permit and the possibility the day you shoot with a film permit is still a day you have police and fire departments and everybody coming in to stop your production to check on your permit—not even to check on if everything’s safe—takes a chunk out of the day.” He says that while there was “a lot of bluffing” in the past year from porn companies threatening to leave for Vegas if Prop 60 passed, many still are planning to come. “We have six tours of our studio scheduled for this week for adult companies,” Myers says. “It’s growing very quickly. I think in five years at least half the industry, if not most of the industry, will be living in Las Vegas.” Director Brett Brando, a native of the Inland Empire in Southern California who worked for Miller Brewing Company before porn, tells AVN he has shot 16 scenes a month for Brazzers in Vegas for the past five years. He got his start with Naughty America almost 15 years ago in San Diego, where he was the studio’s only director for the first three years, shooting three scenes a day. Many of Brando’s scenes showcase the local color of Vegas, such as his sweeping shots of the desert in Metal Rear Solid: The Phantom Peen (A XXX Parody), featuring Casey Calvert; his gorgeous setup and tease with Abigail Mac on the Strip in My Night With a Porn Star; and his gritty street pick-up sequence with Jillian Janson in Jillian for Sale. “It’s been fantastic for me,” says Brando, who shot in L.A. for nine years before leaving. “When I had left L.A. it was when the condom issue just came into effect and I was having to shoot outside L.A. County. It became extremely tedious and we were also dealing with very high location costs. I was going crazy in L.A. and I was always concerned there was going to be a knock on the door from a cop.” Like most everyone in porn, he felt relief when the condom law didn’t pass. “I was concerned about that mass exodus,” Brando says. “A lot of porn companies, not all of them fly under the radar. Some don’t care if they raise any red flags. I was worried that was going to ruin it for Vic and I out here. “There are still some companies filtering in. Vegas is so big, people don’t realize how big it is. They’ve welcomed us with open arms. When I went and applied for a business license—zero issues—and they knew exactly what I was doing.” Brando carries his motion picture permit with him when he’s on location and it notes that he shoots adult. “I did the right thing and I put adult on it. I didn’t want to come out here and do anything illegal. It’s all on the up and up,” he says. Glenn King, the owner of MeanBitch Productions, who relocated his operation to Vegas last year, says even though Vegas is less risky than L.A., producers should use common sense. “I’ve been told, stay out of residential neighborhoods where somebody can call the cops on you,” King says. “… If you’re going to do a production where you have eight cars, some of them are blocking the neighbors; you’ve got girls standing out smoking with their tops off; you’re dumping trash all over the yard or you’re making noise, it doesn’t matter what city you’re in—you’re going to have a problem.” Meanwhile, Ivan, the head of production for the Vegas-based Puba network of porn star sites, says he enjoys shooting inside some of the town’s upscale hotel rooms that are typically less expensive than renting a location. He also utilizes the home he rents in Vegas, where he’s shot a clown-themed scene and a Christmas scenario, among others. “It definitely feels safer there and just more relaxed,” says Ivan, who still owns a condo in L.A., too. “[In L.A.] you go to a location and you’re stuck in traffic for god knows how long. I want to shoot more there.” Ivan continues, “I think most people who don’t know anything about Vegas who are not in porn assume Vegas is like a big orgy, that it’s a free-for-all. I think everybody assumes that Vegas is this party of hookers and drugs and partying. Vegas is very conservative.” He says the only thing L.A. has over Vegas is “the beach and weather.” “It should be logical for people in porn,” Ivan reasons. “I think what DVD companies should do is they should start hiring freelance producers and directors to shoot in Vegas. This way you’re protected. So you’re not worried about the condom law.” Johnny Castle would agree; he’s been doing just that as an independent producer based in Vegas for just over three years. Castle, who is one of the busiest men in the city and likely all of porn, recently bought his second house in the area. The 11-year veteran has produced between 30 to 40 scenes in both the past two months alone in addition to performing in 25 scenes per month. “I’ve been doing this every month for the last three years,” Castle tells AVN. “I’ve been very busy, very fortunate.” One of Castle’s biggest clients is Naughty America. “Technically I don’t work for them, but realistically they buy all my product,” says Castle, one of the resident go-to guys many Vegas newcomers seek out for guidance as they’re learning the territory. “I’ve got a pretty good handle on it. A lot of people come to me for help. I have locations. I’ll offer to help all the other independent producers out here.” Castle says he loves Vegas and it’s “got just the right amount of people to let me do my thing.” “I kind of stay under the radar,” he says in an understatement. “A lot of people didn’t want to move to Vegas but for me it was just about the money.” Castle bought the first house he moved into because “it’s easier to shoot out of your own house if you are the owner.” “You kind of need to know what’s going on, especially for the volume that I shoot and every day trying to figure out a different location. There are not a lot of locations that are porn friendly.” A native of New Jersey who has a degree in psychology from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, where he also played on the soccer team, Castle says the porn business has treated him well. “I love it more today than when I first started,” he says. “People get burned out but I enjoy it more now than ever and I’m going to do my best to keep riding the wave.” The 37-year-old says at this point he can pick and choose the jobs he wants to do. “I put up all the money for these shoots up front and I’m shooting 10 scenes a week at times, so I juggle a lot but I am focused,” Castle says. “Everyone doesn’t understand how I keep shooting and performing year after year and add production into it. There’s a lot that goes into these scenes, with booking the talent that are not local, cancellations and last-minute changes. I always hope it’s going to be smooth day, but I know it’s not going to be a smooth day.” Miles Long tells AVN he has owned a house in Vegas for 14 years and lived there full time for the past five. The versatile producer/director says, “I always knew I wanted to live in Vegas.” “I was planning on retiring in Vegas,” Long says. “When California became more restrictive, more anti-business, more anti-Second Amendment and consistently encouraged people to become victims instead of protecting the average citizen I thought it was better to divest out of this state sooner than later and Nevada represented everything I wanted to have in a state.” Long produces and directs scenes for his own production company as well as Nikki Phoenix’s Little Dragon Pictures. He also runs his own record label, Sights & Sounds, out of Vegas. “I’m in a unique situation,” Long continues. “Thankfully my skill set is broad enough that I’m able to transition well to a lot of other things besides porn. I shoot billboard campaigns for nightclubs and jewelry brands. I run a social media marketing company and I own a record label. There’s a ton of opportunity up there for me that doesn’t necessarily translate to the rank and file of shooting porn. There’s a nice little community of content producers in Vegas and a number of other folks, including cam girls and website-only-type girls, fetish girls, alt models, those kind of folks as well. “When those girls are not producing or starring in content, they can go to a strip club and make 500 bucks a night during conventions. If you go to the Spearmint Rhino in L.A. you’re lucky if you can make 200 bucks a night. It’s not the same market.” Nikki Phoenix, the adult performer/producer who is also an up-and-coming EDM artist and aerialist, made the jump to Vegas from Seattle four years ago to be in closer proximity to her passions. She says it’s hard to beat the opportunities she has to partner with other artists in the Vegas club and DJ scene, not to mention honing her aerial training with world class pros. “I train at L’Oracle with Cirque performers on aerial straps and Lyra, and my coach is a well-known performer and coach in the aerial community with performers flying in from other countries just to train with him,” Phoenix tells AVN. “And of course, my ability to pursue both performing and producing content for my websites and distribution deals.”

 
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