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Friday, Jun 9, 2023


By LARRY KANTER Senior Reporter Kenny Small is not a pornographer, but his livelihood depends on pornography. The Reseda-based graphic artist designs boxes and promotional materials for videos including adult videos. And thanks to an insatiable demand for sexually explicit material, Small’s tiny six-employee shop, Art Attack Design Studios, now churns out as many as five new boxes a day and its calendar is booked solid for the next three months. Although Small still has clients from Hollywood’s mainstream, he has pretty much cast his lot with the adult side of the industry which provides him with some 75 percent of his sales. “It’s endless; the business comes in like clockwork,” says Small, a bearded, 37-year-old father of two, pausing briefly to inspect the proofs for a video called “Professor Mike’s Freshman Fantasies #4.” “In the real world, it’s more feast or famine,” he says. “If you have the right clients in the (adult) business, they really have the money to pay the bills.” Much has been made of the San Fernando Valley’s status as the pornography capital of the world. And the enthusiastic response to New Line Cinema’s recent film “Boogie Nights” an exuberant epic about the Valley’s porn industry in the 1970s is likely to cement that status even further. But despite its seedy reputation, pornography these days is big business and perfectly legit. As Small’s experience demonstrates, the explosive growth in adult videos helps support a range of businesses not generally associated with the sex industry and may in fact constitute the Valley’s least likely economic engine. Billion-dollar industry Last year, Americans spent almost $4 billion renting or purchasing adult videos, according to Adult Video News, an industry trade publication. An astonishing 7,852 new hard-core titles hit the market in 1996 a 40 percent jump from the 5,575 released in 1995 and a 515 percent increase from 1990. An estimated 75 percent of those films come from Los Angeles County and the majority of those are produced in the adult dream factories tucked away incongruously in placid, middle- class neighborhoods like Van Nuys, Canoga Park and Chatsworth. The Valley currently is home to 104 of L.A. County’s 152 manufacturers and distributors of hard-core videos, according to Adult Video News. That has meant a steady source of commerce for all manner of local businesses, such as videotape suppliers and duplicators, equipment rental shops, photographers, musicians, artists and printers the majority of whom also work on mainstream productions. Not surprisingly, very few of them care to broadcast their double life. But industry sources from both sides of the divide say the crossover is considerable. “Everyone uses the same suppliers,” says Stephanie Hershey Liner, a spokeswoman for the L.A. Film Office, which grants permits to film and video producers seeking to shoot on location in the city. “If (adult productions) have needs for lights or cameras, they go out and rent it just like everyone else.” Adds Susan Yannetti, director of marketing for Van Nuys-based Vivid Video, one of the largest producers and distributors of adult videos: “I don’t think any of our vendors could make a living just doing adult stuff. They have to do mainstream work as well.” It’s a fact that even the industry’s opponents are willing to concede. “I definitely am not pleased to have the adult entertainment industry headquartered in the Valley,” says L.A. City Councilwoman Laura Chick, who represents the West Valley and has been a strong advocate for women’s issues. “But I don’t have any grounds to challenge what they’re doing. These are legitimate businesses and many of them support a variety of businesses that have nothing to do with adult entertainment.” Graphics goldmine Kenny Small certainly never intended a career in the porn business. Small was a struggling student at Cal State Northridge when he took a low-paying job in a Van Nuys warehouse operated, it turned out, by a producer and distributor of hard-core films. When a manager noticed that he possessed computer skills, Small was moved to the company’s design division. Within 18 months, he was earning $60,000 a year as the firm’s production manager. Now he runs his own shop in Reseda, creating artwork for both hard-core and mainstream films. His handiwork hangs on the walls of his studio posters for B- and C-grade movies like “Riders on the Storm” and “Virgin Among the Living Dead” hanging alongside far raunchier work with titles like “Beach Bum Amateurs” and “Man Eaters.” Small has seen a number of years when he had no adult clients at all. But these days, his 21 hard-core customers account for the bulk of his nearly $1 million in annual sales. He wouldn’t have it any other way. Working with mainstream studios usually means haggling with a team of art directors, who often demand as many as 20 revisions of a project before finally deciding on a final version. Hard-core producers, on the other hand, are far less finicky. “It’s steady, stable production,” he says. “From our standpoint it’s a better business, to be able to get onto the next project.” Canoga Park artist Michael Bushler, owner of Phase One Graphics, agrees. Half of Bushler’s business is with hard-core clients. And while he charges them only about two-thirds what he charges mainstream customers their standards of quality are far less demanding, he says the quick turnaround provides him a steady stream of revenues to invest in new computer equipment and keep his eight-employee shop afloat. In Hollywood, Bushler says, “everything is done by committee, and I just can’t take it.” Industry’s growth The crossover between mainstream Hollywood and the adult entertainment industry is a far cry from porn’s early days in the 1960s and ’70s. Back then, the hard-core business was largely underground, with the majority of producers churning out low-quality, eight-millimeter loops that played primarily in coin-operated peep show booths in adult book stores. That changed with the advent of video in the late 1970s. Suddenly, hard-core moved out of the peep shows and into the living room. It was at about the same time that L.A.’s porn community, wary of high-rents and weekly police raids in Hollywood, found they could escape into industrial parks located in the Valley’s quiet suburban neighborhoods. Besides, they needed the warehouse space to store the growing number of videos they were shipping to distributors, retailers and mail-order customers. As video technology became increasingly inexpensive, scores of would-be porn moguls in the Valley discovered that their backyards and turquoise-blue swimming pools were perfect locations to shoot hard-core films, as well as attractive alternatives to the pricey sound stages in Hollywood. Indeed, a porn video could be shot for several thousand dollars and, if properly marketed, earn as much as 30 times that amount. As the profits surged, so did the Valley’s status as the industry center. By the mid-1980s, the region had become the undisputed porno capital of the world. Subsidiary businesses But it’s not just videos that fuel the Valley’s hard-core economy. The Valley, for example, also is one of the world’s leading suppliers of rubber sex toys and novelty items, according to industry officials. Indeed, while much of the area’s manufacturing base has fled the area for cheaper environs in Asia and Latin America, the sex toy industry remains very much a home-grown phenomenon. At Vast Resources Inc. in the city of San Fernando, 500 employees work two shifts a day manufacturing everything from rubber genitalia, vibrators and blow-up dolls to less risqu & #233; items like key-chains and mousepads bearing the logos of Penthouse and Hustler magazines. The company also makes children’s toys, including flexible rubber Incredible Hulk and Tasmanian Devil dolls, which are sold by retailers like K-Mart and Toys R Us. Vast Resources is owned by Marty Tucker, a UCLA-trained chemist and former researcher at Douglas Aircraft. Tucker stumbled into the business 26 years ago when he purchased a small factory that made rubber spiders, snakes and other toys. He soon discovered that there was more money to be made in rubber goods of an entirely different nature. Now, he operates a 200,000-square-foot factory and boasts annual sales of about $30 million. “We’re supporting a lot of people,” Tucker says, citing his numerous vendors who supply services like packaging, injection molding equipment, petroleum products to make PVC and other polymers, as well as plumbers, electricians and other contractors. “Every single trade gets involved here,” he says. Indeed, there are scores of companies in L.A. that stumbled into the adult entertainment industry very much by accident only to find that porn producers can be very lucrative customers. That was the case with West Valley computer consultant Mark Levin. Levin was building his small business when a client gave him a referral for an entertainment outfit called Leisure Time Productions, which needed a new desktop publishing system. Arriving at the company’s Van Nuys headquarters, Levin was impressed by the disproportionate number of Ferraris and Porsches in the parking lot. Inside, the offices were clean and stylish, the staff professional. It was only when he turned on the computer that he realized “Leisure Time” was not a reference to golf or shuffleboard, but was one of the Valley’s largest producers of hard-core materials. The company fast became one of Levin’s largest clients, providing about 10 percent of his annual revenues. “It didn’t phase me. They had money to spend and they paid their bills on time,” Levin recalls. Unintended costs But others have found that leading that kind of double life can constitute a severe liability. In 1995, for example, Frank Barbarino, president of FB Productions, a Chatsworth printing plant, was forced to resign from a mayoral task force on the printing industry when it was discovered that a small portion of his business came from producing packaging for sexually explicit films. Since then, Barbarino has shed all but two of his adult clients, but he still sounds haunted by the incident. “It’s been tough for our (mainstream) clients,” he says. “The word gets completely spread out in the wrong direction.” But with the adult entertainment industry continuing its rapid expansion, with hundreds of new titles being released each month, Barbarino’s experience appears to be more the exception than the rule. “There are so many little businesses that feed off of the X-rated industry,” says William Margold, a former porn performer, director and talent agent who now serves as the industry’s unofficial spokesman. “It is a tree with many, many branches.”

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