Sex, drugs, murder, profanity. You’ll see these elements play a part in films, sometimes all within a few moments. Aside from making points of reference for a drinking game, there are legitimate reasons that filmmakers are attracted to R-rated material. 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. We’ll go through the ins and outs of how to film a sex scene 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, ask yourself if such a scene is absolutely necessary for 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 important part of this process. 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 that will be required from the actor. They also need to know 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. You can use camera tricks and angles to fake nudity. It’s important to work with the actor to determine what is necessary for the film and what they are comfortable doing. In the majority of cases, there is no penetration or genital-to-genital contact in a cinematic film. All sexual activity is simulated.
DURING THE SHOOT
There are several things you can do to ensure the actors are comfortable on set. The set should be “closed,” which means that only crew members that are indispensable will be present. A robe should be close at hand for the actor to wear between any pauses during filming. To avoid graphic nudity, you can use flesh-colored pads, underwear, or a bodysuit to create the illusion of no clothing.
KEEP THE MOOD LIGHT
Believe it or not, between portraying the serious, seductive Christian Grey, actor Jamie Dornan cracked jokes on the set of Fifty Shades. This was especially true during his intimate scenes with co-star, Dakota Johnson. It’s said that he always tried to make her laugh to try and diminish the awkwardness and intensity of their sex scenes.
As a filmmaker, don’t be afraid to keep the mood light and crack jokes on set. Anything to keep the actors from focusing on the fact that a bunch of people are going to watch them “bump uglies.” Or at least simulate the act. Just try to keep things PG, as sex-related jokes might amplify the awkwardness.
CHOREOGRAPHY IS KEY
Some directors are known for being extremely meticulous in the way they film. The rules do not change when it comes to sex scenes. It’s a good idea to have a bit of a game plan before the day of the shoot. It’s rumored that David Fincher has actors rehearse their scenes together, right down every little smooch upon their bodies. He will also plan every camera angle, movement, body movement. No detail is missed. Rehearsing the scene will help your actors get comfortable with each other and knowing your shots ahead of time will minimize time spent while capturing the picture. That being said, don’t be afraid to let your actors do a little bit of improvisation. Magic can happen in the heat of the moment.
BE CLEAR WITH WHAT YOU WANT
At the end of the day, everyone is there to do a job. If you are not getting the passion you need for the scene, the actors need to know that. Intimacy is an extremely delicate scene and needs to be done right to be believable in cinema. That being said, if your actors are doing things you do like, let them know that too. As strange as it may seem, if you liked a certain moan after a certain grab or the way one actor rubbed their fingers down the other’s face, make them repeat it. Let them know you are buying into their performance. It’ll boost their confidence and may deviate their awkwardness. Don’t be afraid to be their cheerleader.
HIRE AN INTIMACY COORDINATOR AND KNOW THE GUIDELINES
Believe it or not, intimacy coordinators are now required on set for sex scenes. Make sure to have one on set, they will further help you in properly working with actors. And don’t forget to read the intimacy on set guidelines for the dos and don’ts.
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. Sex is a part of life, so it makes sense that it sometimes be included in our storytelling. However, the actual act of filming these scenes can be very awkward and potentially embarrassing. Use your better 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 adding sexual content to your film, look into the experiences of other filmmakers. See if it seems like it’s worth the work required. The examples below can be helpful for filmmakers who want to learn how to film a sex scene. 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 a happy cast and crew, and a salacious scene that’ll get audiences talking.
TALK TO A PROGRAM ADVISOR