Lessons from porn industry could help Hollywood adapt to coronavirus

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As Hollywood tries to figure out how to resume production of movies and TV shows in the coronavirus era, one sector may be better prepared than others to deal with the challenges.

The porn industry in Los Angeles came up with its own testing system and database in the 1990s to protect actors during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Now it is using that system to develop protocols for making adult entertainment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we first starting talking about COVID, we felt very well prepared because we have a whole history of testing within the industry as well as contact tracing and production shut-downs,” said Mike Stabile, spokesman for the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the U.S. adult entertainment industry.

“This is obviously a different type of virus, this is a different type of threat, but we understood in general how it would work and what we’d need to do in order to protect ourselves,” he said.

The protocols were established in the late 1990s after a porn actor forged an HIV test and infected several others in the industry.

Sharon Mitchell, a former porn star who now holds a doctorate in human sexuality, created a system now known as PASS (Performer Availability Scheduling Services), in which porn actors are required to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases every 14 days. The results are entered into a database which informs producers and directors who is clean and available for work.

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“All it tells us is a binary. Are you clear to work or are you not clear to work?” Stabile said.

Stabile said the coronavirus, which is more easily transmitted, is a more complex problem but that the porn industry was open to working with mainstream Hollywood studios to share its expertise.

“The challenges for sports, for Hollywood and the porn industry are all different but in reality, we each have things we can learn from each other,” Stabile said.

Hollywood movie studios, television networks and groups representing actors and directors have been brainstorming for weeks on how to re-start production while protecting everyone from actors to make-up artists and camera crews.

Ideas include quarantining all cast and crew for the length of a shoot, medics on sets, temperature tests every 12 hours, and substituting extras and crowd scenes with computer generated imagery, according to leaked documents and industry sources.

Movie and TV production in Europe - including Iceland, Denmark and the Czech Republic, where many Hollywood shows are filmed - is expected to resume before the United States, according to the film commissions in those nations. But questions linger over insurance and how much actors and directors will want to travel when the outbreak has yet to be contained in many countries.

(This story corrects title of Sharon Mitchell in seventh paragraph)

Reporting by Rollo Ross, editing by Jill Serjeant and Rosalba O’Brien