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Unlikely Bedfellows in the Crusade Against Pornography

Adult filmmaker helps a Christian group seeking to keep children away from explicit material.

March 15, 2004|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

In a drafty warehouse in Chatsworth, veteran pornographer James DiGiorgio and his crew spent a recent Friday producing their latest low-budget flick. But there weren't any buxom young stars in sight. Instead, the production featured puppets and a wholesome message urging parents to keep their adult videos and magazines from falling into children's hands.

"It's kind of like you stepped into an alternate reality," DiGiorgio said.

DiGiorgio, also known as "Jimmy D.," is taping the public-service announcement for XXXchurch.com, a Corona-based Christian anti-pornography group that often finds itself at the center of controversy.

The group's last commercial, played on MTV, Comedy Central and the E Channel, featured a dwarf and the tagline "Porn stunts your growth." It was pulled after it was criticized by the Little People of America.

XXXchurch.com co-founders Craig Gross and Mike Foster make annual trips to an adult-industry convention in Las Vegas, which is where they first met DiGiorgio in 2003, when their booths were face-to-face. DiGiorgio was featuring porn starlets and a huge flat-screen television playing pornographic movies. Gross and Foster brought stacks of Bibles.

They chatted but never expected to cross paths again.

XXXchurch.com is the edgy brainchild of Gross and Foster, two youth pastors who saw a void in mainstream Christian churches' ministry: a lack of outreach to men who were struggling with pornography, at a time when pornography was becoming increasingly commonplace in modern society.

"The church for the most part has done such a poor job in getting the message out," said Foster, 32, who is on the staff of the Crossroads Christian Church in Corona. They "have made it so boring, so sterile, so institutional that nobody is paying attention. We up the ante."

The group's website proclaims that it is "the #1 Christian porn site." The website features hate mail from pornography fans who view the group as puritanical, as well as from the religious right. Its trips to the adult-industry convention draw blistering contempt from mainstream religious officials, as does its name. Gross and Foster said they are anti-pornography but also pragmatic.

"We're not going to shut down a $13-billion-a-year industry," said Gross, 28, who lives in Mission Viejo and is president of Fireproof Ministries in Corona.

In October, Gross and Foster wanted to do a commercial about keeping pornography away from children -- and they wanted the adult film industry to help out. They approached Vivid Videos, one of the largest producers of hard-core porn, as well as Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. Both declined.

Meanwhile, their "Porn stunts your growth" commercial was under fire.

DiGiorgio heard about the troubles and e-mailed XXXchurch.com in December, offering his services for free. Within a few weeks, DiGiorgio, Foster and Gross were discussing scripts and logistics.

On Feb. 20, the trio, plus a porn lighting gaffer and a post-production editor, took the project to the studio, a small warehouse and office for Smash Pictures in Chatsworth.

Surrounded by medieval-looking gear, a cage and hundreds of videotapes, they filmed the adventures of "Pete the Porno Puppet," who warns of the dangers of children discovering their parents' porn collection.

The footage has been edited into a 30-second public-service announcement, which will be aired in the Los Angeles and New York markets in April, as well as a longer, more risque director's cut that will be shown on XXXchurch.com's website.

DiGiorgio, who was raised Catholic but no longer practices, admits he has a conflicted view of his work. He attempted to be a part of mainstream Hollywoodand a stand-up comic before joining the adult industry 10 years ago. He enjoys his work but concedes he doesn't often tell people what he does for a living or call his mother and tell her about the scenes he shoots.

DiGiorgio, who has directed more than 100 films has received harsh criticism about the commercial from his industry. In industry publications, he has been accused of careerism, as well as of being a turncoat for directing an anti-pornography ad, and he said he has lost work.

DiGiorgio, a father of two, said he believes the industry has to take responsibility.

"Porn's a commodity these days, like coffee beans and pork bellies," he said. "This stuff is not for kids, like liquor and cigarettes are not for kids. We have to take extraordinary steps to protect them from it. When they get to be adults, they can make their own decisions."

XXXchurch.com also expects its share of criticism.

"We both get flak," Gross said. "We've got some people who really don't get it. They think he's the enemy and we're the good people and we shouldn't have anything to do with that. That's what Jesus faced."

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