On Location

Sherman Fridman
Idyllic waterfalls surrounded by colorful birds, lush water gardens teeming with reptiles, a backdrop of panoramic cityscapes — all of these visual enhancements to an adult film are available on location. But at what cost? And are they worth it?

"Everyone desires to shoot in an exotic location," says Drew Rosenfeld, creative director for Hustler Video, which releases 20-25 movies a month.

This is also the view of Roy Karch, a producer-director- writer with more than 35 years' experience in the adult film industry. In fact, Karch says, locations are so central to his films that he often will adapt a story line to fit the locale.

"I see what a house wants me to do with it," Karch says, adding that he prefers to shoot his films on location in fully furnished houses because most of what people do together in real life occurs in homes. Two of Karch's favorite locations are the former Howard Hughes estate in Palm Springs and a downtown Los Angeles swingers club.

Rosenfeld says that, subject to a film's story line, he prefers using richly furnished, luxurious homes in the Hollywood Hills, some featuring lavish indoor swimming pools and waterfalls. But he has begun to question the economics of forgoing the soundstage for unusual locations. He says that justifying location use is the "challenge this month" at Hustler, that he often has to remind the company's cadre of directors that they are in the adult film business, and that it's the onscreen interaction between the film's stars that drives people to buy Hustler's films. If adult film purchasers want to see interesting destinations, there's always the Travel Channel.

"Personally, I'm not interested in seeing beautiful mountains or waterfalls," Rosenfeld says. "I'm interested in putting the money into the talent." And when it comes to location shoots, the money can be considerable, with some locations commanding rental fees as high as $4,000 for a 12-hour day.

Adam Ben-David of AAA Film and Studio Rentals agrees that there's money to be made in renting locations for adult film shoots. Ben-David is a housing construction contractor who found that building houses for rent could be more lucrative than selling or leasing them. He currently has three houses in his rental portfolio, with more in the planning stage.

Sweating the Details
Rental fees are only part of the cost of shooting a motion picture outside a soundstage. There are additional costs, such as film permits, insurance, transportation, setup and related expenses.

In the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood, as well as the unincorporated portions of Los Angeles County, a permit is required for filming or taping any commercial motion picture, television program, advertisement, music video or other similar production outside of an approved studio. Similar regulations apply in other cities around the country and in open spaces, such as the Angeles National Forest.

"Operate without a permit and you'll be shut down," said a spokesperson for Film L.A. Inc., the organization designated by Los Angeles city and county to issue film permits on their behalf. All it takes is a complaint from a neighbor about any of a host of problems — parking, noise, visual nudity — and the police will quickly terminate a non-permitted shoot.

Because of this fact, both Rosenfeld and Karch agree: Stay legal and get a permit. However, they also acknowledge that while additional paperwork and expense are involved, Film L.A. provides a helpful resource, making it a "one-stop shop" for permits without any prejudice or distinction made as to the genre of the motion picture being filmed.

At Film L.A., a permit for an indoors adult film shoot runs about $900, of which the basic fee of $450 is non-refundable in case filming is canceled. There may be additional fees associated with the permit depending on the choice of location and other services required, such as posting and notification of the neighborhood in which the shoot is to take place. Because of these extra requirements, it is best to apply for a permit well in advance of Film L.A.'s minimum guidelines of four working days, notice prior to the start of filming if posting in the neighborhood is required, or three working days if posting is not required.

In those locations within Film L.A.'s area of jurisdiction, standard production days are Monday through Friday, and normal hours of activity are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Any activity, even a truck idling, outside normal production hours usually requires that affected residents be surveyed to identify specific concerns or problems with the proposed activities. Surveys also may be required for weekend filming in residential areas, or when filming at a location for an extended length of time.

While not every proposed location shoot generates a survey, Film L.A. does require that every neighbor — businesses as well as residences — within 500 feet of the filming activity and within 200 feet of production- related parking, receive formal notification. The form used for this notification contains all relevant information about the production's activities, including a description of the scenes being shot and the cell phone numbers of the location and production managers.

Avoiding Trouble
However, not all pitfalls are avoided by the permitting process. According to Rosenfeld, "Some homeowners can work you pretty well," with claims made for filming-related damage that range from questionable to fraudulent. Therefore, he recommends a walk-through of the location property prior to filming; bring along a camera to document the condition of the areas and furnishings in which filming is to take place.

Karch, too, has had his unpleasant experiences with property owners. He's had homeowners who denied the cast and crew access to the home's kitchen for food preparation, as well as those who got a vicarious thrill sneaking a peek at the talent while they performed. Two ways to avoid these problems: Make sure your location rental contract covers all the bases, and use locations that have proven to be hassle-free in the past.

A third method of avoiding problems with homeowners who consider renting their house more of a lark than a serious business transaction is to use a location- finding service. Such services exist in all major motion picture localities, and some, like 818 Locations in Los Angeles, specialize in having properties suitable for filming adult productions, with on-site props ranging from a vintage gynecological table and fully stocked dungeon to T1 broadband access.

While shooting an adult film away from the soundstage can enhance the quality of the finished product, caution is required to ensure you're not taken for a ride that goes far beyond the desired location.