“This is one of the best shows,” Phoenix-based adult website operator Paul Pilcher says enthusiastically. He’s taken a breather from the action inside the stately Mission Palms Hotel to snap some photos in the parking lot. Nearby, a blonde slip of a woman lazes in the front seat of his candy-apple Ferrari. “There’s Vegas. There’s Amsterdam. Both of those are great. This one is great, too.”
The timing of the convention couldn’t be more ironic; it comes just two weeks after Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery fired a warning shot across the bow of the adult-entertainment industry, declaring porn production off-limits in greater Phoenix. But the Phoenix Forum is hardly the only porn-affiliated entity in the Valley. There are also myriad adult-only websites and production companies. So how realistic is Montgomery’s no-porn vow? Could Arizona become the next porn hotbed, as some industry insiders have speculated?
Montgomery’s March 13 statement was precipitated by the February passage of a law by the Los Angeles City Council mandating the use of condoms on non-soundstage adult movie sets. The law is seen as a business killer by many in Los Angeles’ sprawling, billion-dollar adult-entertainment industry. According to Adult Video News senior editor Mark Kernes, an industry-imposed condom requirement in the late 1990s was quickly scrapped when “sales plummeted.” Evidently, watching safe sex is a major turn-off for porn consumers.
Within days of the law’s passage, the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets quoted adult-entertainment insiders who speculated that film productions would migrate out of town – possibly to Arizona, where sunny weather and theoretical Libertarian anti-regulatory permissiveness would seem an ideal match for adult filmmakers.
Not by Montgomery’s estimation. In no uncertain terms, he stipulates that porn filmmakers and actors would be subject to Arizona’s tough prostitution laws if they dared roll camera in Maricopa County. “[A]nyone involved in other aspects of producing pornographic movies… may also be guilty of committing one of several felonies in the state of Arizona,” a MCAO press release broadly warned.
The statement also acknowledged what many in media and the world of adult entertainment already know about Arizona – that low-profile porn companies have been operating here for years. Porn journalist Kernes points to Scottsdale-based website Backroom Casting Couch and Tucson-affiliated production outfit Pink Visual, among others. Adult film star Taryn Thomas shoots and produces movies here. Then there’s the Phoenix Forum. Featuring such intriguingly-titled workshops as “Extreme Networking” and “Naked Dodgeball,” the eight-year-old convention does not generate product, but it is hosted and organized by Tempe-based CCBill, regarded by some as the paymaster of the Internet porn world (adult industry trade magazine XBIZ named them “billing company of the year” five times). The company – founded and owned by Brophy Prep alum Ron Cadwell – is an industry leader in “third-party billing solutions” – i.e. it helps websites collect money by way of credit cards, e-checks and other accounts. According to company literature, CCBill has supported more than 32,000 websites since its founding in 1998.
Montgomery says that any Arizonans currently producing porn “are also subject to prosecution” – not just L.A.-based carpetbaggers. However, according to Phoenix criminal defense attorney Richard Gaxiola, any porn-related prosecution in Maricopa County would inevitably collide with the same First Amendment issues that informed “People v. Freeman” – the landmark 1988 court case that exempted adult filmmakers from prostitution and pandering laws in California. “In that case, the court arrived at one important issue: There was no customer and no prostitution,” Gaxiola says. “In essence, the [California Supreme] Court found that the actors were not paid to have sex, per se, but to appear in a movie that happened to have sex in it.”
Until such a case is prosecuted in Arizona, no one can say exactly how our courts would rule, but Gaxiola would advise any production company to file a preemptive “declaratory action” in U.S. Federal Court specifying a First Amendment grievance. Thus far, no out-of-town smut kingpin has taken his advice. The Southern California porn-filmmaking community has more or less stayed put, according to Kernes, as they await the criminal tallies of February’s condom law.
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