Filmed in the Act: New Ways of Coordinating Intimacy

[Content warning: sexual abuse]

The image most often associated with the #MeToo movement is that of the young actress alone in a dark hotel room with the powerful, older producer. It is rightfully a terrifying scene, but also an isolated one — this abuse takes place away from the prying eyes of Hollywood and the film industry, behind locked doors. It may be even scarier to consider that sexual abuse in the film industry may run so much more subtly and be so much more mundane, an almost insidious part of the workweek.

It is common knowledge that on-screen sex isn’t real— there are prosthetics involved, artsy cutaway shots, or the occasional Hitchcockian tongue-in-cheek shot of a train driving into a tunnel to imply what we don’t see onscreen. When talking about filming love scenes, actors like to point out how awkward to shoot they are, how unsexy. Yet in an increasingly more liberal and unrestrained era of film and television, where extensive nudity and graphic sex scenes are no longer novelties but expected commodities, actors are pressured to film more and more explicit scenes, frequently
putting them in vulnerable positions.

Directors UK, the professional association for British film directors, issued the first ever guidelines for coordinating nudity and sex scenes in British film and TV productions this November. These guidelines aim to standardise shooting practices across the UK and to ensure that filming scenes of a sexual nature is made as safe and comfortable for the people involved as possible. Suggestions include calling for a ban on nudity in auditions and having actors thoroughly debriefed before filming any sex scenes. The guide also encourages the use of intimacy coordinators, which are professionals trained to coordinate scenes of a sexual nature and to make sure everyone involved feels confident
and protected. Guidelines like these have been previously implemented in the US film and TV industry, but are now coming to the UK as a result of the impact of the #MeToo movement.

Whilst the Directors UK guidelines are a key step in the attempt to equalise power dynamics in the workplace and to protect actors from being exploited, they are as of now only suggestions, and, especially things like required nudity in first auditions, where there is inherently a massive power imbalance, should be outright banned. Still, the publications of these guidelines show that the British entertainment industry is moving towards a more nuanced understanding of consent, where just because something is simulated and ‘make-believe’ doesn’t mean that there can be no underlying
abuse of power or psychological impact for those involved.

The publications of these guidelines comes on the heels of the news that Emilia Clarke, 23-years-old at the time and in the early stages of her career, was pressured into shooting uncomfortable nude scenes in Game of Thrones. Especially for young actresses, refusing to shoot scenes or complaining on-set is a precarious career move that may result in them getting blacklisted, thus essentially forcing them to consent to whatever they are being asked to film. Another notorious case of on-set exploitation comes from the film Blue Is The Warmest Colour, where actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulosz stated in interviews that they felt humiliated by the exhaustive simulated sex scenes that director Abdellatif Kechiche made them film for hours on end. Incidentally, Kechiche, who was accused of sexual assault by an actress in 2018, premiered a new film in Cannes this year, and it was rumoured that his actors in that film were plied with alcohol to shoot its numerous unsimulated sex scenes.

It is easy to claim that abuse in the film industry happens only behind locked doors, but in truth, complex power dynamics must be carefully navigated on a daily basis to prevent the exploitation of young and vulnerable people in the industry. Calls for regulations of nude and sex scenes often get dismissed as prudishness, but this isn’t the case— sex and nudity deserve a place on the screen, not at the expense of the lived experiences of actors and actresses though. No one is calling for the return of train-in-tunnel visual metaphors, but for a healthy, consensual and open environment in
which actors feel comfortable and assured in filming whatever is required for a scene.

[Amelie Voges – she/her – @amelieleav]

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