ELI5: How do actors/actress do sex scenes in tv/film?

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Question has been answered and the comments are mostly anecdotes about that one scene in that one movie and this thing I heard. Sorry guys, topic is getting locked.


I’ve posted this before: I work in film, so I can shed some light on this actually happens. When a script calls for nudity or simulated sex, there is an additional contractual discussion about what can and cannot be shown, the way in which the scene will be filmed, and many other aspects (they basically go through everything line by line, shot by shot, which is why you want a good agent and lawyer). Unlike the stories you may hear about the seventies, or some indie films, Hollywood is very strict about these scenes, and there are no surprises. A lot of the guidelines are regulated by the guilds, such as having bathrobes standing by, etc. Keep in mind that you are not going to be filming anything real, because you couldn’t show it anyway if you wanted to get an R rating or below. Everything you can get away with at the R level or below can be faked. NC-17 (formerly X rating) is the kiss of death, because most theaters refuse to screen NC-17 films. That is why some films will choose to be unrated, or get into a fight with the MPAA like Blue Valentine or more recently Charlie Countryman. If the scene is showing a lot, like Game of Thrones, the actors are probably naked, and the man will wear a small skin colored sock. The set is designated a closed set while filming, which restricts the set to only essential personnel. That would include the actors, director, cinematographer, assistant director, assistant cameras (possibly only the 1st AC), hair/make-up, and wardrobe. A few other people may be on set, and then others may be watching from the monitor depending on the scene, like the production designer. The Assistant Director (AD) team would lock the set up, despite the grips trying to get a peek. In between every take, the wardrobe team rushes onto the set with bathrobes for the actors. Then for the actual act they are touching naked on screen, and it is very awkward but most actors will tell you it is not romantic in the slightest. I seriously doubt many people would enjoy being naked in front of a dozen people, starting and stopping every few minutes for a few hours while people run out periodically to adjust a light. Every situation is different and I am sure some actors are comfortable crossing the lines of professionalism, but this is how the vast majority of major films handle these scenes. A few funny anecdotes: I cannot remember which actor it was, but a male actor was quoted telling the actress before a sex scene the following, “I’m sorry if I do, and I’m sorry if I don’t.” My mentor also told me about the day she was walking across a backlot and a grip came running out of a sound stage in his boxer shorts. Apparently, the actress said, if I have to take my pants off then everyone watching does too. So the entire crew removed their pants to make her more comfortable while filming.


Intimacy coordinators are becoming much more popular on sets! HBO has them for any of their shows that have sex scenes. The coordinators job is a mix between a counselor and a stunt coordinator – they chat with the actors and directors and set firm boundaries of what each person is comfortable filming. Then they plan out the scene very much like you would plan a fight scene – where the hands are going, what movements will happen etc. Once filming, the coordinator stays to make sure that no boundaries get crossed, that the actors are happy and thus reducing the chance of an accusation of sexual assault. Basically they look after everyone working on a sex scene and keep them happy and safe! Most of them come from dance and stunt coordinating backgrounds.


They let prospective actors know about the nude scene up front, so the actor can refuse the part if they’re not comfortable. They clear the room of everyone who doesn’t absolutely need to be there. It may be only the director and the camera operator, once they’ve got the lights and so on set up. Careful placement of bedclothes (sheets). Instead of showing you long single takes, they edit to show lots of short cuts that look suggestive but aren’t. Sort of like they do for fight scenes. They focus on things other than crotches and butts… hands, arms, necks, legs, feet. Again, making it look suggestive without being X-rated. They can add sound later, if needed. They can use flesh-shaded thongs and CGI to make you think you’re seeing something that you’re not. If it’s a foreign film (not a U.S. film) the actors and the audience may accept fully-nude scenes. In the U.S. we can kill dozens of people with guns or let zombies rip them apart and splatter blood and guts everywhere, but crotch shots give people the vapors.


Genital guards — cloth or plastic, sometimes even menstrual pads — are attached to the woman with latex glue so she can be seen from different angles without showing off more than she wants to. Men wear modesty bags — a sack with a drawstring, basically. And there is rarely any chance of accidental sex because when someone’s acting under the lights in front of 20 people for seven hours, arousal is rarely an option.