DIRECTING SEX SCENES

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.

DESIGNING MOVIE POSTERS

When it comes to design, there are no rules.  But there is such a thing as bad taste.  Bad taste on purpose can be a great way to communicate your product—especially if it’s a campy satire.  But if you’ve made a gothic horror or character drama, you don’t want to have crappy looking artwork.

There’s a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that looks like the latest hit.  There’s also a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that is totally misleading, just so that company can make a buck when the film is released.

My film FIRECRACKER could be cataloged as a Gothic horror.  But it is far from a horror film.  But the distribution company had the idea of marketing it as a horror film, with blood dripping off the letters and so forth.  That was a horrible idea.  I fought them, and got them to release the film with the Key Art I had designed, which communicated more honestly about the atmosphere and tone of the film.

My film CASSEROLE CLUB could be cataloged as a drama, or character study.  It has some campy moments (it takes place in 1969, so the costumes and art direction lend itself to looking campy even if the subject matter isn’t funny at all), and might have some sexual situations, but there really isn’t anything “sexy” about it.  The distributors for that film wanted to market the film as a “sexy” and titillating soft-core exposé.  I thought that would be a horrible mistake as well because the people expecting to see a sexy and soft-core movie would be totally disappointed.  But why did they want to market it that way?  Because sex sells.  That’s why.

My thinking is: if you want me to make and then sell you “Babes & Bikini Bingo: Summer Camp” or “Haunted Carnival, Part 3” I’m happy to do so, but don’t do something dishonest by marketing a movie that isn’t the movie.

When you design your movie poster, it’s important to remember that although different fonts can sometimes look cool, they do not look cool when you place them all together at the same time.  I always cringe when I see a design that features more than two or three different fonts.  It’s a dead giveaway that the designer just discovered Photoshop when you get the sense they had an urge to use EVERY font they could find.

I try and keep fonts simple and usually only use two.  One font is used for the main title, and another for actors names, blurbs, and other copy.  I try and make sure that the font I use for the main title is not used anywhere else in the design.  Using it more than once diminishes the impact of the main title.  So I always find a complementary font to use for everything else.  Remember: less is more.

With regards to the image or visual art, think about a memorable moment in the film and use it.  Before someone sees your movie, they don’t know what that image means, but after they see your movie, next time they see the artwork, it’ll remind them of your movie.  I try and avoid showing something if it’s giving too much away.  Like, if your movie is a murder mystery you probably wouldn’t want to show the killer on the cover holding a knife, because it would ruin the viewing experience.  But maybe if you wanted to throw off the viewer, you would show each character holding a weapon—then the viewer won’t know whodunit.

Saul Bass was a great designer of movie posters.  You might want to look him up.  His designs were far from the traditional Key Art you see today.  But, in this world of the Black Market Punk Rock Film Distribution, Key Art that is actual Artwork might be the perfect idea.

IN WITH THE NEW

Each New Year’s Eve I try and be in bed as early as possible.  My favorite thing is to celebrate by having a great dinner and having a really nice sleep.  That way, I can wake up feeling refreshed and focused, ready to start the first day of the New Year in clarity.  It’s also quiet—no calls or emails to answer—because most everyone else stayed awake waiting for midnight to roll around, and are likely still asleep.  It’s really a wonderful way to start the year.

2013 was a wild ride, to say the least.

In January I produced and directed my 13th feature film – a romantic comedy from Jim Lair Beard’s acclaimed screenplay OCCUPYING ED.  It was a welcome diversion from the pain of being blind-sided, betrayed and abandoned by my partner of 14 years two months earlier.  I was dreading the new year, but with the help of a new film and some great new friends, I managed to repair the broken heart, keep my spirits up and navigate into a new future.

While I was producing the new film, I completed my previous movie, FAR FLUNG STAR, which was filmed in Hong Kong.  Critic Richard Uhlig calls it, “a Visually-stunning gem, a NORTH BY NORTHWEST for the digital age.  This caper film doesn’t let you rest for a second.”  What a compliment!  You can watch the film here: www.Vimeo.com/ondemand/farflungstar

FAR FLUNG STAR premiered at London’s Raindance Film Festival in September, where I met up with my mom’s cousins Karen and James Lowther.  Karen is an author (her amazing new book THE PERFECT CAPITAL is out now), and James is co-founder of M&C Saatchi, one of the world’s largest ad agencies.  The Lowthers invited me to stay at their country house called Holdenby.  It was magical.

While in London I also taught my first Masterclass on Maverick Filmmaking to actors and aspiring filmmakers.  Teaching is an inspirational experience and I’m looking forward to doing it more frequently.

I also traveled to Santa Barbara, the wilds of Maine, Paris France, and even down to Texas (where I spent a surreal weekend at a festival with my friend Jane Wiedlin, her man Travis, and Rutger Hauer and his wife).

2013 also brought the passing of my dear friend, the legendary Hollywood actress Karen Black.  Karen starred in several of my films and became a dear friend to me over the years.  While losing her to a rare cancer was heartbreaking, reflecting on her amazing life and career and the fun we had together has been inspiring.  Karen planned her own funeral, and it was the first funeral I’ve attended that was actually fun!  Sure, everyone was moved and in tears, but the stories we all shared were hilarious and everyone was laughing out loud.  To have known Karen, and to have had the privilege of being one of her “insider” friends, has made my life immeasurably richer.  Though I will miss her, the support and encouragement she gave me will live with me forever.

I come to the end of 2013 feeling renewed and invigorated.  What started off fairly depressing has ended with much hope for the future.  Between several new film projects, some commercial work with 502 Media Group, the new teaching gigs and a new editing suite featuring the latest in technology, I’m raring to hit the new year with gusto and with creativity cooking on all the burners.

Join me!  There is no better time to finally put that pen to paper and write that script you’ve always wanted to.  Start a new project!  Travel and see something magical and expand your horizons!  Eat a wonderful meal with friends and dare to dream the impossible.  There is proof all around you that those seemingly impossible things are just within reach.  So grab them.