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What Hollywood Could Learn From Porn During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic brought much of the entertainment industry to an abrupt halt almost overnight, and television and film productions are still struggling to develop protocols to prevent outbreaks on set.

But one sector is better equipped than the others, because of its history of dealing with a contagious disease. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic broke out in the 1990s, the pornography industry established a framework of protocols to cope with virus infections and protect performers.

Mike Stabile, who works for the Freedom of Speech Coalition, the trade organization which oversees adult entertainment, said: "When we first started 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."

"As this started to ramp up in the US in late February, early March, we started talking about the fact we had a population in place who understood the general outlines.

"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."

Testing came into place in the industry in the late 90s after a performer forged an HIV test and went on to infect several others.

In response, Sharon Mitchell, a porn star who was studying medicine at the time and is now a doctor, came up with a plan to test all performers and created a standardized testing system called AIM (Adult Industry Medical Clinic), which eventually evolved into PASS (Performer Availability Scheduling Services), the system the industry uses today.

The database does not breach privacy about performers' medical information but informs producers and directors who has been tested in the last 14 days and is available for work.

"All it tells us is a binary 'Are you clear to work or are you not clear to work?'," said Stabile.

Stabile is part of an industry taskforce trying to work on existing protocols to create a new model in light of the coronavirus. But, they have a few variables in their way before they can create this new model of testing.

"The tests that are available for COVID right now return different rates of false positives and false negatives so one of the things that we're looking at to try to determine is how accurate is the test? Which test should we use? Do performers need to be tested every two weeks or do they need to be tested weekly or do they need to be tested on the day of the shoot? If they're tested on the day of the shoot, does that mean they can't transmit it to somebody else if they have it? Will it detect it?" said Stabile.

The FSC says it's open to working with Hollywood to establish guidelines as to how to work in proximity with one another.

On the set of an adult film / ADULTTIME.COM

"The difference between a porn set and a Hollywood set where there's a love scene isn't all that different. You're still exchanging saliva. The same with a high contact sport where people are coming into contact with each other, there's heavy breathing, there's possibly spittle or other droplets trying to go into someone's mouth -- we're not all that different," said Stabile.

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.

In the porn industry, the task force in charge of protocols wants to emulate Sharon Mitchell's success by ensuring every voice in the industry is heard.

"Right now our task force is talking not just with experts but with performers, hundreds of performers who work on sets and crew members to try to get some ideas as to what might they see on the ground level that they'd say 'You know what? Actually this might help' because we have all of our ideas," Stabile said.

Some adult film performers who are currently unable to work on production sets are still able to shoot at home. As many of the performers live with or are married to other pornography performers and also own their own lighting and cameras, directors can produce new films remotely.

Bree Mills - Filmmaker and CCO of ADULTTIME.COM / Reuters

Bree Mills, who is both a filmmaker and the CCO of streaming site Adult Time, a pornography version of Netflix, continues to direct from the safety of her home.

She said: "We've developed virtually produced projects where our team of directors, including myself, are still directing. We're just using technology to do so while practicing social distancing."

She added "There's nothing that's holding us back from continuing to direct this way and actually, over the coming months, I would be much more interested in exploring that space than just going back to traditional production so that's going to be where my head's at.

"I've already got kind of a feature film in mind that I'm probably going to try and green light in the next few weeks because, again, I think it's going to be a great challenge."

Feature Image: ADULTTIME.com