South American Shooting: 1

John Scura
In business, there is one immutable law: Lower costs yield higher profits. It's a truth that has prompted countless American corporations to build factories in Third World nations. It's also the reason why many in the adult entertainment industry have chosen to produce movies in South America.

While Europe was once the primary foreign venue for production, companies are looking to South America as the new El Dorado. And like 21st century conquistadores, they're finding gold again in the land of the Andes.

"I'm saving about 40 percent by shooting in South America," Lexington Steele, owner of Mercenary Pictures, tells XBIZ. His company and its subdivisions, including Black Viking, are mining the Brazilian talent pool in both the heterosexual and transsexual genres.

"We're paying in U.S. dollars," he explains, "so in Brazil, we're able to pay the performers about 50 percent of what it would cost in the U.S. If a standard boy-girl costs $1,000 in the U.S., it would cost me $500 in Brazil. But to the performer in Brazil, that $500 may be worth $1,000 down there. Right now, the strength of the American dollar against the euro is diminishing, so in Hungary or Prague, the performers get about the same as you'd have to pay in the U.S. You used to pay a Czech girl $600, but now —because she has to change those American dollars into euros — she needs $1,000 American."

The continuing strength of the U.S. dollar against Latin American currencies has helped production costs remain lower in such countries as Brazil and Argentina. In fact, the savings are so significant that many company owners don't like to admit it, for fear of letting the cat out of the bag and inviting competition.

"It's cheaper, there's no doubt about it," Colossal Entertainment President S. Baer says. "The prices you pay for talent in the U.S. are insane. Shooting here is insanity. The locations are expensive, the talent is expensive, and the directors are expensive, so we have completely stopped shooting here in the U.S. It's at least 40 percent less to shoot in South America, if you have the right people. If you don't, it's going to be costly."

Colossal, like many successful companies producing in South America, employs directors and crew who are resident citizens of the region. They work specifically for Colossal, which also furnishes its own production equipment. As a result, performers don't necessarily know they're working for an American company, which can make a huge difference in their asking price.

"If the talent knows you're shooting for an American company, they want everything," Baer says. "If you're shooting for a Brazilian company, they don't try to get you."

Hidden Costs
The company with perhaps the most complete Latin American infrastructure is UrgeXotica, whose co-production companies have offices in nearly every nation south of the Rio Grande, including its main office in Uruguay. But Baron, UrgeXotica's producer-director and principal liaison to Latin America, insists that hidden costs for shooting "down south" eat up most of the advantage gained in performance money.

"It's true that models are cheaper in South America," he admits, "but there are costs that you don't have in the U.S. These girls don't even have money to get a taxi to your location. We've had to fly girls to different cities to shoot them. You have to dress these girls. We have to do their hair, their hands, their feet. We have to pay for their (medical) tests. Also, down there we have to pay triple the U.S. price for lighting equipment. So today, we have to spend just as much on a production in Latin America as you would spend in Chatsworth, Calif."

Despite the hidden costs, UrgeXotica's "Girls of Latin America" series has been a big money-maker. The company has filmed in 20 cities so far, and whenever employees leave their Miami home office for a shoot, they have production support already in place, thanks to Baron's extensive Latin American contacts, garnered during his 17 years as a sales director in that region for a multi-national corporation.

"We have companies in various cities that co-produce with us," he says, "so before we even arrive, our crew down there has already helped us cast all the girls we'll need for that particular production. It's all electronic. They email us hundreds and hundreds of pictures, and from those pictures, we start picking girls. If we're not sure about some of the girls, they'll send us 15- or 30-second clips so we can see the girl moving around and get a sense of her personality. We want a girl who's more than pretty. If she's pretty and she's a lame performer, what do you do with that?"

In part two, we'll continue our look at the cost, benefits and pitfalls of shooting in South America.

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