Sunday, 2 September 2012

Love Scenes

Love scenes, also known as sex scenes, are as inevitable for actors as death and taxes and held in roughly the same esteem. Youth and Beauty are not pre-requisites for naked horizontal performances, although, as in the Real World, they may be asked to the party more often. Independent, low-budget, literary or artistic films might deliberately include graphic depictions of sex between the old and the faded to gain some reality points. Independent, low budget, genre or exploitation films will employ the more genetically or cosmetically favoured. Only big budget studio films tend to eschew sex altogether; R-rated movies limit potential box office revenue. So, if you want to avoid disrobing, your best bet is to be American, attractive and extraordinarily famous. If you still find you're rolling around the set with your ass in the air, you must really want to.

Once agreed upon, the days of shooting love scenes are marked indelibly in the schedule and on the consciousness of all involved. And that is a lot of people. The entire crew will be made aware of the sensitive nature of the filming with the large printed 'Closed Set' on the call sheet, if they hadn't already spotted the haunted faces of the actors and director flitting between caravans. Most directors enjoy filming sex scenes as much as they would taunting dancing bears; there is an unpredictable mood to an actor placed in such a vulnerable situation and if they turn, it is the director who will get the first swipe.

With the crew alerted, all bets are on. For the make-up and costume departments it will be a particularly challenging day. Tattoos, scars and other blemishes will need covering. Twenty-nine different types of underwear will need supplying for all eventualities, including the dreaded 'stunt pants'; flesh coloured triangles of synthetic fibre with Velcro sides, for last-minute nudity. Tousled hair, various stages of coital make-up, perspiration application and the soothing of egos will be among the day's work. They will not get to see the results of their labours for some time. The large television monitors, which relay a live feed from the set, are switched off during closed set filming. And although one member of both the make-up and costume department will stay on set to assist the actors between takes, the convention is for them to discretely turn their backs during a take. The first time I looked up in the throws of simulated ecstasy to see my good friends facing the corners like so many naughty students, we had to stop thrusting for several minutes while water and a thump on the back was supplied. I wasn't being paid to laugh that day.

The mechanics of filming sex scenes are complex. Who puts what where being a matter of story, character, personal preference, artistic interpretation and gravity. Not necessarily in that order. While rehearsal is in progress, clothes are kept on and the crew continues work on the sound and lighting. When shooting starts, only the camera crew, a sound operator, and the few facing the wall, remain. The director and the DP will have a monitor. For the actors, the amount of people watching is almost irrelevant, after all, everyone will be looking at it on a screen as big as a double-decker bus in the near future. Even if the camera was rolling with a remote operator there is always going to be a live audience; your fellow actor. And whether you like them,  or rue the day they were born, it is they who will witness the baring of your body, and even of your soul if you aren't very careful.

Every actor deals with the forthcoming event differently. "I apologise if I get an erection and also if I don't." The Gentleman Actor is known to have said to his Leading Lady. And while it is true that the subject may arise, male actors are legally protected from having to display their full proportions. Actresses may find it harder to disguise their disinterest from the public view but a cold set and the liberal use of ice cubes can assist if sheer terror has not sufficed.

As soon as each take ends, robes are replaced, cramps attended to, make-up re-applied and hair combed. If outdoors, any thorn scratches, gravel burns or sand grazes are dressed. At this moment, actors can find themselves wondering about the nature of their profession. It is best to keep them distracted with baby wipes and chocolate. They still have another take to do and then several different set-ups from other angles. Let them cry about it later, for now there is stubble rash to conceal and an awkward shot of the consummation in profile. Such are the labours of celluloid love.


  1. Even though it was specified in the contract exactly what, how much, how close and for how long a specific body part could be exposed during filming, Bridget Fonda once said she had been put under pressure when the camera had caught more than previously agreed upon while filming a love scene. They wanted to use it anyway. This annoyed her so much that she started covering her nipples with small band aids. If these were caught by the camera, there was no way they could use the shot. I don’t know if this is a common procedure but I never heard of it before and it seems like a clever trick.

  2. The occupational hazard, the love/sex scene, (no way around it is there) is hardest on those who love you, more than any other I should think.

  3. If that's any comfort (and I apologize if I'm making it worse) and because I had read your blog prior to watching, all I could think about during the sex scene in "Book of Blood" was: "I know what she's craving right now: chocolate chip cookies."