Are celebrity sex scenes a thing of the past thanks to COVID-19?
COVID-19 has not only changed the way we live, but pretty soon, it may change the way stories are told. As studios struggle to get films made under safe conditions, filmmakers continue to look for workarounds when it comes to depicting sex on screen.
Some have scrubbed it from films and shows in the interest of social distancing, while others have found more creative ways of maintaining safety while still conveying a sexual intimacy between characters.
The Directors UK organization recently issued a set of guidelines on how to safely depict intimacy during the pandemic. The guidelines suggested that filmmakers use the Casablanca method, which is to say, they should rely on the implication of sex rather than the simulation.
“Be innovative and come up with new ways to convey sexual desire or intimacy without resorting to conventional tropes,” the guidelines read, “You may even find inspiration by revisiting classic films such as It Happened One Night (1934) or Casablanca (1942) — some of the greatest screen romances ever made and all filmed under the Hays Code, which prohibited the depiction of sex on screen.”
If a filmmaker considers physical contact to be a necessity, the guidelines advised putting actors in quarantine for two weeks prior to shooting. “Work on the assumption that no physical contact will be allowed,” the organization added. “So have a plan B.”
One such “plan B” is the use of actors’ real-life partners during sex scenes. It’s been implemented during the filming of the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, but the Directors UK organization is hesitant to condone what could be seen as an “exploitative” practice. The organization asserts that some partners will be uneasy with the blurring of personal and professional boundaries.
The Girlfriend Experience, on the other hand, has refused to let COVID-19 impede on its sexually explicit material. The HBO series has continued to film sex scenes for its upcoming season, but producer Steven Soderbergh has assured fans that the cast and crew are taking every precaution.
“As a participant in the creation of The Safe Way Forward document, I’m happy and relieved we’ve been able to go back to work safely and thrilled to be partnering with Starz for the third installment of the series,” the producer told Entertainment Weekly.
Soderbergh explained that the series is utilizing digital technology and careful staging to give the illusion of sex, without having to place the actors in dangerous situations. “Our approach to this series has always been to empower independent filmmakers, and what [director] Anja [Marquardt] has achieved in blending cutting-edge technology with The Girlfriend Experience world is super exciting and very provocative,” he added.
Screenwriters have also been forced to reconsider the social changes that have occurred during quarantine. Gilmore Girls scribe Sheila R. Lawrence told Cosmopolitan that she plans to incorporate these changes into her work moving forward.
“That would seem very sad to me if there could be no contact even in our entertainment,” Lawrence remarked. “But I think we have to acknowledge it and make it part of the story. Like if you’ve met someone and there was attraction and you would normally start kissing . . . I think it might, in this day and age, be preceded by a conversation.”
Jen Kirkman took a more casual stance when asked whether the pandemic would affect her creativity. The Marvelous Ms. Maisel writer told Cosmo that she doesn’t foresee a radical shift in content. “Honestly, by the time you write something, and it’s purchased, and rewritten, and everything . . . it could take two years,” Kirkman stated. “So by that time, the pandemic will [hopefully] not be top of mind anymore.”
While there seem to be disagreements on how to proceed in a COVID-19 landscape, the efforts of writers and filmmakers have made it clear that screen sexuality won’t be going anywhere.