Some people say there’s nothing sexy about doing a sex scene. I’d like to say that’s true, but the truth is, sometimes they can be incredibly sexy. Perhaps they aren’t doing it right. Anyway, one of the tricks to filming a sex scene is almost exactly the same trick as filming a scene with gruesome violence. Basically, anything that is supposed to be graphic should always follow this rule: less is more.
Give the audience something to feel and they will feel it. If you show it to them, they will not feel it. Instead, they will look at it. The more they see, the less they feel. Whereas, if you limit the graphic shots, you will give the audience a visceral reaction to what you’re showing them.
In my film WATCH OUT there’s a scene in the end where the actor playing Jonathan Barrows cuts the toes off a Britney Spears type popstar played brilliantly by Jillian Lauren. The only reason this scene works is because the graphic visuals are kept to a strict minimum. I think there are three times we see something graphic in that scene, and each shot is less than a second. The narration and sound effects create something so gross and violent that the audience doesn’t really know that they are, in fact, not really seeing anything.
The best sex scenes are done in the same way. The more you hear breathing, see shots of skin in the shadows, and careful camera angles to avoid seeing anything explicit, the more erotic it will be.
In my film CASSEROLE CLUB, the sex scenes are primarily raw and gritty, not really all that sexy, but rather, off putting. The story is about the destruction of relationships, so the sex in the film needed to be treated in a gritty way that is more realistic than most slickly shot sex scenes.
Filming those scenes with actors can sometimes be difficult but they don’t have to be. One of the tricks is to get the actors together and ask them what parts of their bodies are they comfortable with, and what parts of their bodies are they uncomfortable with. Most people know their own bodies well enough to tell you from what angle certain shapes or features are accentuated, and which angles to avoid.
If you can bring your actors into the creation of the sex scene (or a graphically violent scene), they will be more comfortable in the process of filming it. It’s also a good idea to keep them as relaxed as possible or else it will show on screen. Unless the intent is to show nervousness, in which case, I might avoid getting them involved in order to accent their nervousness.
If you’re doing a sex scene with a woman who loves her breasts but hates the way her butt looks, or a guy who loves his ass but doesn’t think his abs are good enough, it can be really fun to use these obstacles as fuel. Don’t think about them as obstacles, but rather, an exciting experiment in creation. How can you storyboard a list of shots that gives the actors what they want, and also the audience what they want, without compromising either side? I love challenges like those.
It’s also a good idea to have a closed set when doing any kind of graphic scene. There’s no reason for every person to be present. In reality, you only need the DP, the director and the sound guy. Gaffers and grips, Assistants and the like, can easily step outside for the take and return immediately after the shot. The less people present, the more comfortable the actors and the better the scene will be.