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Everything You've Always Wanted To Know About Filming Sex Scenes

Updated April 6, 2020 385.8k views15 items

It takes a lot of movie magic romance to make it appear as though actors in a sex scene are actually in the throes of passion. Most famous movie sex scenes are choreographed right down to each passionate kiss and every gentle caress (although, in rare cases, actors actually did get intimate on camera). Ever wonder how sex scenes are filmed? Here are some intriguing details.

It’s best to think of an elaborate love scene like a choreographed dance, with the director acting as a cheerleader. Although it all looks intimate and exciting once the raw footage is edited, filming sex scenes is usually pretty awkward for the actors. Even on a closed set, there are still crew members present. And even if the final scene only runs for 30 seconds, it may take hours to film, while actors are in various states of undress. Thank goodness for flesh-colored privacy undergarments.

  • The Scene Is Usually Tightly Choreographed

    How choreographed or spontaneous an intimate scene is depends on the director. Lena Dunham's Girls was known for graphic scenes and almost constant undress, which often came totally out of context. All of the love scenes on the series were choreographed.

    Actor Jake Lacy, who played Fran, one of Hannah's (Lena Dunham) love interests, explained:

    It's handled incredibly professionally and delicately and that comes from the top, with Jenni and Lena from the get, saying like, 'Here's what's on the page, here's what the nudity is, here's how we're going to shoot it, here's who's in the room. There's no freewheeling element, to like, 'Take it off if you want to, show what you can, let's just have fun.' That's not really how this goes down.

  • The Degree Of Choreography Can Get Extreme

    David Fincher is known as an extremely meticulous, multi-take director. He often asks an actor to do a scene upwards of 50 or 60 times. That need for complete control naturally transfers over into the director's bedroom scenes as well.

    During an interview with Out, Neil Patrick Harris talked about the graphic scene between him and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl:

    We had to rehearse the [intimate] scene with David [Fincher], like every inch of it—’Then you put your mouth on [him] here, and then this number of thrusts, and then you [climax].' It was weird because we’re technically breaking down the... scene, He wanted it to be almost robotic, that we know exactly where we are, position-wise, where everything goes.

    Paul Verhoeven, who directed NC-17 rated Showgirls, believes in very detailed choreography. He tells actors exactly what the camera will depict and where the camera is going to be placed:

    All [intimate] scenes in my movies are precisely choreographed... Every move is already clear before we start, because I talk with my actors and actresses in a very open way about what will be visible, where the camera will be, what the actions are. I do it in extreme detail... to make absolutely clear to the actors how we are going to shoot that scene. And when we shoot it, we really stick to the script. I don’t come to the actors later with additional details that are perhaps unacceptable — it should be clear in the script what’s happening.

  • Some Directors Are Okay With A Little Improv

    One of the steamiest and most memorable scenes in cinema occurs in Fatal Attraction. During a 2016 cast reunion issue of Entertainment Weekly, stars Glenn Close and Michael Douglas talked about the thriller's famous kitchen sink scene.

    “[Intimacy] in movies is always a delicate line. Glenn was raring to go,” Douglas recalled:

    We got up there on the kitchen table, and she came up with this great idea with the sink, with the water running and making herself wet, which is always good... The only thing I threw in, I remember, was this moment where we were going at it, [and since] I like comic relief, I think you need a second [of it], and there’s a second where I had my pants down [while] carrying Glenn, then tripping, and then having to make this run for the bed. It kind of let the audience relax for a second.

  • The Scenes Are Not That Hot For The Actors

    Because bedroom scenes are often so technical and crew members are present, filming them is never as steamy as the final product. Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed several graphic scenes in HBO's Big Little Lies, said he has never seen an actor visibly turned on in any intimate scenes he's filmed. However, that doesn't mean actors don't get a little aroused. "It’s so technical, but we’re humans, and they’re [undressed], and they touch each other," he admitted.

    Actor Michael Shannon may have described filming intimate scenes the best: "I always say [love] scenes in movies, it's just like [doing it], except without any of the pleasure, but all the horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness is all there to enjoy, just none of the pleasure part."