Directors U.K., the professional association of U.K. screen directors with more than 7,000 members, has published “Intimacy in the Time of COVID-19,” containing guidelines toward shooting sex scenes during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The suggestions offered in the new guidance, that assumes that a production has already complied with COVID-19 health and safety practices, lay out a plan of action for directors that begins with working with the script, and continues with preparation, rehearsals and shooting.
At the script stage, the guidance suggests that the director, writer and producer review the scenes together and decide if the intimate act needs to be shown, or in a series format, if the intimacy can be delayed. “The build up to an intimate scene can sometimes be more exciting than the scene itself,” the guidance states. “Emotional intimacy can be as engaging as physical intimacy.”
At the preparation stage the guidance recommends scheduling intimate scenes toward the end of the shoot and assume there will be no physical contact allowed between performers, and if contact is allowed, performers should sanitize their hands, skin and clothing beforehand, with performer health checks to be completed prior to kissing scenes.
“You may even find inspiration by revisiting classic films such as ‘It Happened One Night’ (1934) or ‘Casablanca’ (1943) – some of the greatest screen romances ever made and all filmed under the Hays Code, which prohibited the depiction of sex on screen,” the guidance suggests. “Consider what tools classic works offer for contemporary storytelling.”
The booklet also goes on to suggest considering filming actors side by side rather than face to face; shot separately and edited together; putting the actors in quarantine for two weeks; and using longer lenses to create a sense of close-up intimacy whilst maintaining a safe distance.
At the rehearsal stage the director must discuss the scenes with an intimacy coordinator, should one be available, to help plan blocking; the rehearsal space must be cleaned, and be big enough to allow for social distancing; and performers should always be able to explore narrative alternatives with the director without the risk of repercussion.
During shooting, the guidance suggests that performers and intimacy coordinators be on set only when required, temperatures be taken and sets be disinfected regularly.
The guidance also provides a host of narrative and technical alternatives to intimate scenes. The narrative suggestions include focusing on characters’ reactions; have characters say what they will do to each rather than depicting the scene; video calls, phone sex or sexting; characters shown re-dressing after the event to indicate what took place, rather than showing it; or limbs moving under bedclothes; the closing of a bedroom door and leaving the action to the viewer’s imagination; and metaphorical alternatives, such as objects, silhouettes and shadows, dancing, or the preparation and serving of food and the pleasure of eating it.
Suggested technical alternatives include performers taking turns to wear PPE while off camera; using POV shots to edit bedroom scenes together; using angles to suggest proximity; using split screens; using foley or voiceover over a black screen; using suitable archive footage; using motion capture and digital performances, greenscreen or animation to composite the encounter; and casting real-life couples who won’t need to socially distance.
The guidelines were compiled in consultation with Directors U.K. board members Bill Anderson (pictured during a pre-coronavirus shoot) and Susanna White, alongside intimacy coordinator Vanessa Coffey.
“Directors have a pivotal role to play in ensuring the film and TV industry restarts as safely as possible,” Anderson said. “Now more than ever we need to delight audiences hungry for the intimacy of connection, and contribute to a creative culture that has proven so valuable to us all during this pandemic.”
“We’ve always used our craft to convey intimate stories and relationships on screen, and now, we must do that more creatively than ever,” said White.