4 Awkward Realities Of Filming Love Scenes In Movies And TV
If you think watching a sex scene with your parents in the same room is awkward, imagine how it must feel to make them surrounded by a director, a crew, a bunch of lights pointing directly at your butt, and (if they happen to be visiting that day) your parents again. Simulating intimacy on-screen presents serious logistical problems with inevitably ridiculous solutions, like ...
There's A Range Of Dong-Covering Options For All Sizes And Needs
Based on the promotional materials, one of the big selling points for Sandra Bullock's The Lost City is that she had to deliver a "two-page monologue" to Channing Tatum's ... sock.
Yes, in that Colbert interview, she makes it sound like she was speaking directly to Tatum's exposed "Magic Mike" (the "XXL" part is undetermined), but, elsewhere, one of the directors confirmed that the appendage in question was covered with a sock that, we're guessing, has already sold for at least $15,000 on eBay.
That's actually really common: plenty of movies and TV shows use regular tube socks to protect the actors' modesty during nude scenes. Of course, a simple sock isn't gonna cut it if the actors have to do more than just stand there staring at each other. To ensure nothing slips off during lovemaking sequences, actors use a specialized sack made for this very purpose which is tied around the Channing AND the Tatums. According to the UK's leading intimacy coordinator, this essential item is known by the technical term of "c**k sock" (as she calls it at 2:58 in this enlightening NSFW video).
But those socks are only one of the three required barriers separating the actors' uglies. Actresses will often get a pubic wig/merkin glued over the real thing for the sake of modesty and protection, and then you need some sort of "intimacy barrier" like a half-inflated netball or a yoga ball -- anything to cushion the, uh, blows.
But, wait, "intimacy coordinator" is a real job? Yep, in fact ...
Sex Scenes Are Choreographed Like Fight Scenes (Down To The Broken Furniture)
Some directors like to approach movie sex by just going with the flow and others by creating a detailed plan of action in tandem with a team of specialized professionals. You know, just like real sex. Director Adrian Lyne, responsible for the deranged Ben Affleck/Ana de Armas thriller Deep Water, is in the former category -- for Fatal Attraction, he simply got Michael Douglas and Glenn Close buzzed on champagne and margaritas and let them improvise stuff like Close splashing herself with a running kitchen faucet or Douglas almost tripping on his pants. "You can't do that now!" Lyne decries, adding: "Why is everything so serious? God, it's not like they're gonna get paralyzed or something." We're not sure about that; tripping while in a turgid state could easily lead to some rather traumatizing fractures.
Lyne isn't a fan of letting intimacy coordinators on his set, but more and more directors consider them essential. In Netflix's unusually horny period drama Bridgerton, the intimacy coordinators will draft a form detailing which exact parts of the actors' bodies can be shown and touched, based on their preferences, and then the sex scene will be choreographed around that -- like a fight scene, but with a fluid other than blood jumping at people. And like with fight scenes, there's always the risk that all that action will end up breaking part of the scenery, which is a problem when your show is shot in an authentic 19th century home, and some of that furniture is more expensive than all the cast put together. Sometimes, they would be shooting a deeply intimate moment, and the house's mandatory monitor would chime in with a "go easy on the bedpost."
As intimacy coordinators become more common, they insist that they're "not the sex police" (that's a different job). They're there to make the scene, be it a 30-second dry hump or a 12-minute all-nude orgy, safer to shoot for everyone involved. But when you're dealing with human bodies rubbing against each other for prolonged periods, no amount of coordination will change the fact that ...
Boners WILL Happen, And Not Always On The Cast
Some intimacy coordinators say that, while "vascular reactions" (hard-ons) can happen while shooting these scenes, it's "not a big deal" -- but surely that depends on the actor. Henry Cavill admitted that it happened to him once and had to "apologize profusely afterward." Still, Bridgerton's resident sexpert claims that because of the many barriers between the pretend lovebirds, "They can still do the scene without drawing attention to that or the other actor knowing," which is kind of an unnerving thought in itself. Presumably, actors on that set are instructed to reply, "Yes, that is a banana."
On the other hand, intimacy coordinator David Thackeray, who has worked in shows like Sex Education, The Crown, and Foundation, says that when there's a boner on the set, "the worst thing you can do is carry on." Instead of Bridgerton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the protocol in Thackeray's shows is to let the actors know that this is normal and that they can call a time-out and take a five-minute break to think about baseball or whatever if they need to.
Thackeray makes sure to let the crew know that "Hey, this can happen" because you don't want them to "gawk or make it a massive deal" – literally, if the actor enjoys being gawked a little too much. Importantly, he also tells the crew members that they can call time-outs if necessary. We're taking this to mean that Thackeray has been in at least one set where the boom mic wasn't the only thing being raised by the crew. This makes sense: the main star can always "relieve tensions" in the privacy of his trailer before shooting the scene, but if every member of the crew did that, the bathrooms would be occupied 24/7.
Of course, this problem isn't so serious when the only thing the crew can see is a green screen ...
If All Else Fails, There's Always CGI
There's a long history of actors using prosthetics to be nude without really being nude, especially when the appendage in question is supposed to be something special, like the generous schlong in Boogie Nights or the talking flesh-colored Gonzo puppet in Pam & Tommy. But the past decade has introduced a new technique that has secretly been growing under our noses this whole time and might end up becoming the industry standard: CGI nudity.
It started with Jessica Alba's fake nude scene in 2010's Machete, where they shot her taking a shower in her underwear and then removed it digitally.
The following year, Olivia Wilde and Leslie Mann both got fairly seamless CGI boobs for The Change-Up, which ended up being the most noteworthy thing about that film. And movie breasts aren't the only thing you can't trust anymore: Dakota Johnson got digital pubic hair inserted over her modesty patch for 50 Shades of Gray. But the watershed moment was Game of Thrones' season 5 finale when Lena Headey's face was swapped for another actresses' for the famous "walk of shame" scene. In that same year, anonymous digital effects artists confessed to The Verge that stuff like that was already being done in "a number of productions we don't even know about." We could be getting our rocks off to digital animation without even knowing it. Are ... are we all secretly hentai fans?
In 2020, once shooting sex scenes became a potentially life-risking occupation, the film editors' trade association released a document stating that "close contact moments" should be "either rewritten, abandoned, or CGI fixes them." It's possible a number of productions shot after that followed those guidelines and simply didn't advertise it. Now that digital composing techniques have taken a big leap (see: every major movie and show faking realistic crowd scenes) and deepfake technology is a thing, it's probably only a matter of time before sex scenes and nudity, in general, go all, or mostly, digital. Hope Sandra Bullock got a good look at that sock, in that case.
Top image: Netflix, Paramount Pictures Studios