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Directors encouraged to revisit classic films for tips on no-touch intimacy

A film in production (Yui Mok/PA)
A film in production (Yui Mok/PA)

Filmmakers have been urged to revisit classic movies such as It Happened One Night and Casablanca for inspiration on how to convey sexual desire or intimacy without actors having to touch each other.

New guidance from Directors UK, the professional association for screen directors in the UK, offers suggestions on how productions can manage sex scenes and intimate encounters under Covid-19 filming restrictions.

The Directing Nudity And Simulated Sex: Intimacy In The Time Of Covid-19 guidelines suggest reviewing what physical interactions are crucial for the storytelling and if it needs to be shown or, if working within a series format, if it can be delayed.

Batman filming – Glasgow
Filming is resuming in the UK (Andrew Milligan/PA)

If they are deemed necessary extra time for planning and storyboarding is suggested and intimate scenes should be scheduled towards the end of the shoot.

When they go ahead performers should sanitise their hands, skin and clothing beforehand and if scenes involve kissing, actors should have health checks beforehand.

The guidelines, which were compiled in consultation with Directors UK board members Bill Anderson and Susanna White and intimacy coordinator Vanessa Coffey, also suggest being “innovative” in coming up with new ways to show sex and intimacy.

They say: “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.

“Consider what tools classic works offer for contemporary storytelling.”

Directors are also asked to consider if it is necessary for conversations that are normally shot face to face to be filmed that way, when single shots or having the actors side by side might also be viable.

The guidelines also suggest ideas for showing intimacy whilst adhering to social distancing rules, such as focusing on reaction shots, having characters describe what they will do instead of showing an intimate scene, using video calls or phone sex, or having characters re-dressing to imply sex has taken place.

They also suggest using silhouettes and shadows or even the preparation and serving of food and the pleasure of eating it.

There are also suggestions for technical alternatives, such as having performers to take it in turns to wear masks, visors and PPE whilst off camera, using motion capture and digital performances, greenscreen or animation to composite the required encounter or even considering casting real-life couples who will not need to socially distance.

The Nordic Film Guide has suggested that real family members may be suitable for certain types of scene work, and the US soap The Bold And The Beautiful has already used real-life partners for scenes where hands touch faces and other body parts.

However, the guidelines acknowledge there are physical risks of bringing another person on to a set, not all partners would be comfortable doing this and not all partners will be a physical match for the on-screen lover they are standing in for.

The document says: “Portraying intimacy on screen should be separate to a performer’s private life.

“In exceptional cases the production might want to consider using a real-life partner as a body double for limited intimate moments (particularly if the partner is a performer and is willing to step into ‘work mode’).

“However, our overall advice would be to avoid imposing on a real relationship just to get a shot; it’s always better to find a creative alternative for the scene.”

White said: “One of the effects of social distancing has been to appreciate and re-evaluate physical contact as never before.

“The simple act of hugging has taken on a value no one ever dreamt of.

“It has made us really mindful of the power, both positive and negative, of touch and we need to carry over that mindfulness into the workplace.

“We’ve always used our craft to convey intimate stories and relationships on screen, and now, we must do that more creatively than ever.”

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