How to Shoot a Sex Scene (And Not Be a Creeper)
Keep It Sexy, But Don't Try to Sex Them
Sex scenes can be very important in cinema. I'm not talking about porn, (no real sex here) I'm talking about regular movies, TV, commercials, music videos. .. really any visual medium that broaches the subject of sex/romance/intimacy between its subjects.
But, it's also awkward, and weird, and there's a room full of people, only two of them are naked, they probably are not dating, may or may not find each other attractive and everyone is nervous.
The Language of Sexy Cinema…
...long lenses, shallow depth of field, bokeh, steady camera movement, silhouettes, slow motion, attention to detail (hands touching, grabbing the sheets, a hand on a foggy window) and ECU (Extreme Close Up) on faces, the EYES... So potent, so powerful, so ... sexy.
Here are 9 Tips to Improve Your Bedroom Skills!
...I mean, Your Skills for Shooting Bedroom Scenes:
"Bachelor Night" (2014)
1. Try Not to Be Weird
As the Director and DP, you guys set the tone. Generally speaking, it only gets weird if you make it weird. *However, other people on set can get in your actor's head and make it weird. A flippant comment at crafty or in the wardrobe room could ruin your whole day. Make sure you know your crew, ain't nobody got time for creepers nor prudes on a film set.
2. Have a Private Conversation with the Actors First.
It can be brief, but especially if it's day 1 of your feature and they were cast yesterday, it's important to open up a dialogue with your actors. Let them know you are looking out for them and feel out any worries or issues that might pop up later when you are desperately trying to make your day.
3. Everyone Is Insecure About Their Bodies.
And this goes double for actors. Tell them they look great and mean it. If you can see them naked before hand, do. If you have a chance, ask them what their favorite parts of their body are, or if they have any areas or body angles that they would like you to help them with. Believe me, they have spent hours upon hours staring at their body from every angle. Most actors will have something to say here. If they don't, then at least they know you are looking out for them. Again, it's only weird if you make it weird.
4. Shoulders Back and Down...
...Chest high, stomach tight, rib cage up out of your hips, and imagine pulling a string straight up from the crown of your head. It's called posture! That's just something I learned from dance class as a kid, but I share that with all of my actors right before I roll the camera.
5. If It Doesn't Look Sexy, Don't Shoot It.
Cellulite city? Everybody has it, but unless that's part of your story, find another angle. The guy has a soft belly? Don't shoot it. Sagging boobs? Leave the bra on or find another angle. Stomach pooch? Have her arch her back. This isn't to say that your actors need to have perfect bodies! However, it's your job to make sure that they look like their characters need to look in that moment. You can choose what to show and what NOT to show. Use your lighting to flatter and accentuate the "sexy." Your audience assumes everything on the screen is an intentional part of the movie... don't confuse them. If he's supposed to be "every woman's fantasy" then make sure he looks like that... if she's supposed to be "beautifully flawed" then make sure you capture that. ...but never just "point and shoot." Such a thing doesn't even exist. Every angle is a perspective and tells a different story. The requirement of the filmmaker is to be aware of the power of perspective and wield it to make the audience FEEL the way you want them to.
6. And, for the Love of God, Get Close Ups and Inserts
Sex is intimate. Literally, your vantage point during sex is usually inches away from whomever or whatever you are looking at. You may open your eyes, or close your eyes, but your focus (whether it's what you see or what you think) will move between many small details of your bodies, your life, your memories, fantasies, whatever. So... unless you are the type with a ceiling mirror or wall-to-wall mirror ed bedroom, you experience sex in "close ups and inserts." 🙂 Remember that.
7. " They Have Sex."
You've seen this before. The script says "[and then] They have sex." Unless the blocking is literally: they grab each other passionately, then comedically fall out of frame, that line is written wrong. What the writer meant to do is present an opportunity for visual character and relationship development. AH! WHAT?! You mean actually telling a story with the visuals? !? Impossible! Oh wait, that's actually what we were supposed to be doing. As a director, if you get a script that says "They have sex," break that down into beats and write that scene. You can leave it open for your actors to discover the physical motions, as long as you give them clear emotional beats to hit.
8. Don't Be Afraid to Get Specific
And if it looks like they are phoning it in, you've got to let them know. They'll appreciate it later. No one wants to be in a bad sex scene. I've absolutely had to go in after a take and say "Guys, it really feels like you should put your mouth on her nipple. Are you guys ok with that?"
9. If They Have Zero Chemistry...
And/or just don't know how to have sex, then get it in pieces: "Look here," "do this," "touch this." Shoot it all in close-up or audio over shadow puppets, a moving headboard, and twisted sheets... but at all costs, don't shoot a shitty sex scene! You'll do a disservice to sex, for everyone, everywhere.
*If it's a rape scene, or otherwise abusive scene, then you may choose to ignore #4, #5 and #6.
Sex Scenes Don't Need to Be Scary
In fact, if you're scared of a sex scene, you probably have some valuable self examination to do as prep before you try to direct actors through that scene. I envy you this opportunity for growth.
You aren't shooting a sex documentary, you are creating an impression of a feeling; you are creating moments. Just like shooting a fight or action sequence, we don't really care about two people just going at it, but we might care about a character getting what he/she wants, or one character affecting another.
And Remember: It's Not Porn, It's HBO.
Best of luck! And let me know how it goes!