Several major adult movie companies -- including the industry’s largest, Vivid -- announced Thursday they would stop filming for 60 days after two stars tested positive for HIV.
The shutdown followed an urgent plea by health advocates to halt unprotected sex in the pornographic industry, which employs more than 6,000 performers and production personnel in Southern California. The positive tests have reverberated throughout the industry, sparking a mix of anxiety and indifference at movie sets, talent agencies and testing clinics.
Vivid and other companies announced that they would stop filming in hopes of heading off an outbreak of HIV in the multibillion-dollar business.
Production would stop until those actors who had worked with actor Darren James and actress Lara Roxx could be tested, company officials said. The pair, who had worked together in at least one movie, tested positive this week.
But other companies dismissed the plea for a moratorium, calling it “paranoid” and “knee-jerk,” and vowed to keep their cameras rolling. The industry, they said, was perfectly safe.
“I’m against any stop in production,” said Tyler Cash, a producer with Sinamotion Pictures in Chatsworth. “It will put a lot of people out of business. You’ll have people who will start losing their apartments. It’s just not fair.”
The call for a halt to filming of sex scenes without condoms was made by the Sherman Oaks-based Adult Industry Medical Heath Care Foundation, which listed on its website about three dozen actors who may have been exposed to the virus recently, and urged them to get tested.
Other top adult-entertainment groups, including the leading industry news website, endorsed the proposal.
Cash’s company, along with a few others, allow actors to use condoms during filming, although filmmakers say their use “kills the fantasy” and actors are often paid more to perform without them.
James has worked for producers who don’t require condoms. He reportedly contracted the virus in Brazil.
Several of those producers Thursday said they were stopping production. One of them is Jill Kelly Productions, a Hollywood company that makes four to eight movies a month.
“We’re not shooting until June 8,” said owner Jill Kelly. “We’re just sitting around, afraid. The most important thing is safety. Safety comes before money.”
At World Modeling Talent Agency in Sherman Oaks, which represents many adult actors, the phones hadn’t stopped ringing Thursday from worried clients and producers. “We’ve gotten calls from 15 companies who are shutting down. We [the porn industry] take these things seriously. Right now, there are companies who are not only canceling future projects, but also canceling movies already in production,” owner Jim South said.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for Los Angeles County, said that although the porn industry in general has been diligent about screening actors for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, the root problem is the continued practice of unsafe sex.
“This is another illustration that unless all the sex you’re showing is safe, that actors will continue to be put at risk,” Fielding said. “Even good industrywide efforts would be hard to be 100% successful because people are having sex outside the industry.”
Sharon Mitchell, a former adult film star who describes herself as the “auntie of porn,” helped found the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation with Northridge doctor Steven York five years ago.
The clinic’s main goal was preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV, in the porn industry.
The industry recommends that all actors and actresses be tested every 30 days. AIM tests about 1,200 performers each month and shares its data with major porn film producers, the foundation said.
On Thursday, actors and actresses streaming in and out of the foundation’s Woodland Hills office to get tested for HIV said they felt unnerved.
Some pored over a flier handed out by AIM that named those who had sex with James since his last clean test, and those who had sex with James’ sex partners, looking for people they knew.
“I haven’t worked with any of them, thank God no,” said one actor after reviewing the names.
Actress Summer Tyme, 25, said she has worked in the industry only two months, and that the news has rattled her.
“I’m going to change the way I do things now -- probably just girl-on-girl shoots. Guys, but with condoms,” Tyme said. “No money is worth risking your life.”
The actress said she was scheduled for a video shoot that afternoon, but panicked when she learned that one of the male performers was “quarantined” -- on the list of performers who may have been infected. Although that actor later was replaced, she called and left a message saying she would only perform protected sex.
“They never called me back,” Tyme said. “I guess they didn’t like that.”
James, friends said, was stricken by the news. “He’s resting and lying low. He’s very sad,” Mitchell said.
Friends and colleagues described James as friendly and gentlemanly. He was tested Friday and AIM received the diagnosis on Monday. AIM sent out an alert Tuesday morning.
Roxx is a relative newcomer to the industry, health advocates said, and appears to have performed with only two or three actors before testing positive on Thursday.
“Luckily, there’s a small number of people,” said AIM healthcare worker Scotty Phillips.
Roxx had not worked for the last few days because she felt ill.
Despite the HIV scare, Kelly said, porn workers are still sexually healthier than non-porn people who are promiscuous.
“People are aware about their health in this industry,” Kelly said.
Times staff writers Lisa Richardson and Lisa Girion contributed to this report.