Sex, drugs, murder, and copious amounts of profanity. Watch enough student films and you’re apt to see each of these elements play a part, sometimes all within the span of a few minutes. Aside from making excellent points of reference for a drinking game conducted at a short film festival, there is a legitimate reason that directors and actors are attracted to R-rated material for their films: when done correctly, it can demonstrate the competence that comes from successfully navigating a creative challenge.
Today we’re going to focus on the sensitive subject of nudity and sex scenes, and how to handle them professionally on set.
- ASK YOURSELF IF A NUDE/SEX SCENE IS NECESSARY
Before you begin preparation on a scene that requires one of your actors to strip down to little more than a modesty sock, ask yourself if such a scene is absolutely necessity to your film. It can be easy to write a nude scene into a script or treatment, but actually making it happen can complicate the process of casting, shooting, and screening your film. Consider possible alternatives, and whether or not a lack of nudity and on screen sex would have a negative impact on your film.
- START WITH THE AUDITION
The first step to working successfully with actors for scenes that include nudity or sexual content, is to make your intentions clear from the very beginning. Specify in your audition notice that the role will include nudity, and explain the nature of the scene– whether it’s sexual in nature or not. The initial audition with the actor should be entirely about their acting ability, and absolutely should not require any hopefuls to appear nude for the camera.
Shortlisted actors can be requested to return for a callback, and if any nudity is required of them at this point it must be explicitly stated. Only required crew members should be in the room during this time, and if footage or photographic images are taken at this point, it must be with the actor’s permission.
- SPECIFY ALL THE DETAILS IN THE CONTRACT
Contracts are an extremely important part of this process, as they protect the rights of both the actor and the filmmakers. Put into detail exactly what kind of scenes will be filmed and the amount of nudity, especially what will be required from the actor and what will actually be shown in the finished film. There are many ways to cheat nude scenes that allow the actor to remain partially dressed, so it’s important to work with the actor to determine what is necessary for the film and what they are comfortable doing. It may go without saying, but there is no actual penetration or genital-to-genital contact during a scene like this, as all sexuality activity is simulated.
- DURING THE SHOOT
When it comes to the day of shooting your scene, there are several things you can do to ensure the actor and crew are comfortable on set, and the aforementioned contract is not breached. First, the set should be “closed,” which means that only crew members that are indispensable will be present, and no outsiders will mistakenly walk in during a take. A robe should be close at hand for the actor to wear between any pauses during filming. To avoid overly graphic crotch shots (and possibly a NC-17 rating), the wardrobe department can prepare flesh coloured pads, underwear, or a bodysuit to minimize the amount of the body actually shown.
Shooting these kinds of scenes can be a very vulnerable moment for actors. They are putting their trust in the director and crew to behave professionally, and not do anything to demean or exploit them. Sex is a natural part of life, so it makes sense that they should sometimes be included in our storytelling, but the actual act of filming these scenes can be very awkward and potentially embarrassing. Use your good judgment, respect your actors, and use this opportunity to be a positive role model for the rest of the crew.
- LEARN FROM OTHER FILMS
When considering whether or not to include a scene that includes nudity or sexual content in your film, look into the experiences of other filmmakers to see if it seems like it’s worth the work required. Most of these links contain materials that are NSFW.
Some great accounts include:
It may come as a surprise that film scenes with sex and nudity are really quite technical and awkward. Communicate with your actors and crew, act respectfully and put everything into writing. If everything goes right, you’ll have some great footage, a happy cast and crew, and a salacious scene that’ll get audiences talking.