Inside Toronto's XXX industry

"Toronto is really big with exporting porn," an insider says. "It's growing but it's not huge yet." (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/SUN MEDIA)

JENNY YUEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

TORONTO - Jezabel Knight is standing in front of a full-length mirror, retouching her cherry red lipstick in between shots.

She's wearing black stockings, hot pink heels she got at the Dixie Outlet Mall and, well, nothing else.

The 5-foot-3 model could double for Bettie Page with her jet black hair, except for her tattoos -- a star and a cupid's heart pierced by a knife instead of an arrow.

Jezabel is preparing for her next scene involving another woman. But there are no scripts to memorize.

This isn't a Hollywood set. There are no fake walls or extras. It's the real-life bedroom of porn star and director Scott Rhodes and his porn star wife, Maxine X.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of porn videos are produced in Toronto every year, feeding a growing appetite in this country for homegrown adult entertainment.

Local porn producers rank Toronto as the second- or third-largest Canadian hub in the country after Montreal and Vancouver.

While not yet on par with either of those cities, or the continent's porn capital in Los Angeles, Toronto has a large and growing porn industry, one that's largely invisible and self-regulated.

The video being shot in the bedroom of this east-end home will end up on XXX store shelves and online websites. It's a small, two-storey house near Little India but the garage at the end of the driveway is a porn studio.

Porn paid for the new $6,000 cherrywood floors in the house owned by Rhodes and his wife. In the last three years, more than 110 adult videos have been shot here.

And they're not alone.

Porn is filmed daily across this city, some in studios but the majority in private homes that are often rented out to production companies. Porn shoots also take place in office buildings, hotel rooms and even outdoors.

Mark Stever, CEO of Velvetgate Entertainment Group, said he prefers to film in Canada because this country's laws are more liberal than in the U.S.

Stever owns a big warehouse studio in Kitchener and is also based in Sarnia, but has filmed his Black Velvet series - named after a hearse that people have sex in -- on the streets of Toronto.

"We also have a tribute to Newfoundland, which is the naughty Newfie series," he said. "You see a good looking guy off the side of the road and the magic of Black Velvet overcomes him."

Rhodes, 47, and his wife got into the business by producing their own amateur home movies. Over the past several years, they've created 75 titles, three websites and their own exotic clothing line.

"We have movies on Venus TV and there's been a big demand for Canadian content in Canada and we're happy to fill that need," Rhodes said.

Part of a worldwide industry worth $57 billion, Canada's porn industry reels in hundreds of millions of that, Rhodes said, though it's difficult to find accurate numbers.

Like every other industry these days, porn is being hit by the worldwide recession.

"I think people have less money, so they're spending less money on porn," said Ted Blitt, president of Mile High Media, one of Canada's largest porn distributors. "The (shoddy) stuff is still free.

"We've taken our (business plan) two years ago, so we know what we're doing." And the web, as far as porn is concerned, is where much of the industry growth is happening.

Familysafemedia.com estimates there are more than 4.2 million porn sites on the web -- 12% of total sites in cyberland. The online porn industry is said to bring in $2.5 billion to the States and in Canada, a 10th of that -- $250 million.

In fact, the web is a primary destination for much of the locally produced porn.

However, part of the growth in Canadian porn is being created by Northern Peaks, a new digital porn channel approved by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in August.

CANUCK CONTENT

The Canadian porn station is set to launch on cable later this year and half of their content has to be Canadian under the conditions of their licence.

Northern Peaks, based in Alberta, at 200 titles and growing is already shooting videos and reality TV shows using home-grown talent.

Canadian porn consumers are also keen for northern porn, said Real Productions president Jason Danilak said. "It's just the natural inclination to watch something -- when you see a Canadian girl that you could run into at the supermarket instead of knowing that 99% of these movies are coming out from Los Angeles," Danilak said. "I think it adds to the fantasy of watching an adult film," he said.

The market for homegrown porn is real, Danilak said, and there's no shortage of Canadian actors willing to star in porn films.

Porn workers in Los Angeles typically start out trying to become mainstream actors and turn to the adult entertainment business when that doesn't work out. "But a girl in Winnipeg has no illusion that she's going to become the next Julia Roberts," Danilak said.

Neither is there a shortage of businesses in this country willing to host porn shoots.

"We've been in hotels and they're fully aware of what we're doing and are pretty supportive of it," Danilak said. "We were allowed to shoot in common areas with the storylines and use bars and shoot in there. They were quite receptive to it."

A standard porn shoot lasts two to six hours. In Los Angeles, porn actors can make $800 for a lesbian love scene while a heterosexual love scene starts at $1,000. Porn stars can earn a whole lot more while amateur actors can be paid as little as $250 to $300 for shoots.

Canadian rates are much lower -- $300 to $400 and a boy-girl shoot as much as $600.

There are a handful of professional studios in this city but the majority tend to be amateur, Maxine said. Which means that anyone who spends a few hundred bucks on a Handycam or a webcam and Internet connection can now be a porn director or star.

"Toronto is really big with exporting porn," Maxine, 34, said. "It's growing, but it's not huge yet." But along with the growth are concerns for the exploitation of industry workers, including minors, as well as health concerns related to sexually transmitted diseases.

In this country and this city, there is no oversight and the porn industry is almost entirely self-regulating.

In fact, the adult porn business isn't even on the radar of Toronto Police, said Det.-Sgt. Howie Page.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that we're getting more relaxed with it," Page said. "More of our morality type crime is street-level prostitution, body rub parlours and strip joints."

Page said the biggest complaint about porn he's received since joining the force's vice squad seven years ago came in 2000 when mom and pop convenience stores across the city displayed sex videotapes where kids could see them.

Neither is the city particularly interested in the activities of Toronto's porn business.

While Hollywood blockbusters tend to take up public spaces and require road closures, you don't need a permit to film on private property, according to the film office at city hall.

"We're not concerned with content," Toronto film office manager Rhonda Silverstone said. "I would think people who want to (shoot porn) just do it and don't apply for anything." City councillors seem split on the need to keep tabs on the local porn industry.

Toronto Centre-Rosedale Councillor Kyle Rae doesn't have an issue with XXX videos and, in fact, believes that people watching porn is a form of safe sex.

"I don't find it controversial," Rae said.

"I don't think (city council) has a role in this industry. It never has and imposing puritan standards isn't going to get you very far. If they're complying with safety and age restrictions and paying taxes, and using condoms ... as an adult, one makes choices."

Councillor Rob Ford, on the other hand, said the city should be kept as a family space. While the city boisterously lures the glam of Hollywood to shoot at its studios, it has no room for the T 'n' A from Los Angeles to immigrate to "Toronto, the Good."

"I don't want Toronto to be a porn capital," Ford said. "It doesn't make the city look good for families."

Under the Criminal Code, creating and distributing "obscene" publications or possessing them for distribution can land you in prison for up to two years.

Same goes for Webcamming, people who produce live pornography over the Internet.

But the obscenity standard is flexible.

"In the porn industry, if there are consenting adults and there's not the violence, children, animals, anything like that, you haven't crossed the line in making or distributing it," Det.-Sgt. Page said. "If there was any information involving pornography and children or violence, we would be on it tomorrow."

Mile High Media insists a self-regulated industry works fine. It is standard practice in the industry to ensure actors are of legal age and are regularly tested for STDs.

"Self-governance works very well," Blitt said. "Not only do we check IDs, we keep files of them forever. Anyone who's exploiting minors is not in the regular adult film industry, they're total criminals.

"It's like comparing a drug dealer to a Shopper's Drug Mart," he said.

All porn produced for sale in Ontario has to be reviewed by the Ontario Film Review Board and porn shops need a special licence from the ministry of small business and consumer services to sell or rent adult sex films to the public.

However, Toronto doesn't impose any additional restrictions on the porn production in this city, said Mark Dimuantes of Toronto's municipal licensing and standards department.

The porn industry in the U.S. is far more mainstream.

According to HBO series Porn Valley, nearly 90% of all legally distributed pornographic films made in the States are either filmed in or by studios based in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.

In the City of Angels, porn producers need to obtain location permits from Film L.A., the city's film office. Along with regular filming permits in private homes, adult movies tend to require extra permits including covering the sets up enough so neighbours don't peek in and have a heart attack, Film L.A. spokesman Todd Lindgren told the Sun.

In Montreal, like Toronto, the rules seem to be more lax. None of the 6,000 film permits issued each year in Canada's porn capital is for adult sex tapes.

"If adults are filming each other in an apartment, there's no problem," Montreal film commissioner Daniel Bissonnette said. "The industry is very hidden but it's also under control."

But some adult video store owners said that Canadian porn isn't high in demand.

"(Producers) just think that guys might see a dancer that they know starring in it and they're going to buy it," said Philippe Gauthier, general manager of Seduction on Yonge St. "You're basically targeting no one. It's not a smart marketing technique."

Gauthier said that buying and watching porn is becoming more widely accepted. "There are a lot more couples and women coming in here, knowing what they want," he said. "They're not shy about it."

Back at Rhodes and Maxine's house, Sylence, a 21-year-old brunette who just completed her first video shoot, said she wants to make a career as a porn star.

DARKER SIDE

"I was really tired of corporate nine-to-five boring existence," she said. "You only get to live once, so I thought, I'd make the most of it."

Still, porn also has a darker side.

Penny Lawson, a sex addiction therapist at the Bellwood Centre in Scarborough, said studies in the U.S. suggest 6% to 8% who view porn have an addiction, and those numbers are likely to increase based on more porn being available.

"We have a natural curiosity to peek at the forbidden so this availability has greatly widened the use of pornography," Lawson said. "Viewing pornography also increases the sexual drive. Many who come to my office state that they are shocked by what now arouses them or that they found themselves acting on what previously had only been fantasy."

But Rhodes argues porn is good for the soul. While he's not looking for a cure for cancer, he's optimistic that porn -- and those who enjoy watching it -- will eventually become the norm because of more exposure.

"It's only going to get bigger and bigger and we want to be part of that," he said. "We're the number one fetish producers in North America. We want to be part of the mainstream revolution as well."


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