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Directors UK launches guide to shooting intimate scenes during the pandemic

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- The British professional association of directors has published a dedicated booklet entitled "Intimacy in the Time of COVID-19"

Directors UK launches guide to shooting intimate scenes during the pandemic

Last week, Directors UK, Britain's professional association of screen directors, published a booklet entitled Intimacy in the Time of COVID-19. Directing Nudity and Simulated Sex. The organisation has worked with directors Susanna White and Bill Anderson, as well as intimacy coordinator Vanessa Coffey, to update the previous guidelines “in light of the added restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.”

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Most of the booklet's recommendations assume that productions have already complied with the current health and safety regulations, but it also aims at helping directors during script development, preparation and rehearsing stages.

While developing their scripts, filmmakers should primarily consider whether sex on screen is really necessary: “Does a physical act need to be shown? If working within a series format, can the intimacy be delayed? The build up to an intimate scene can sometimes be more exciting than the scene itself. Emotional intimacy can be as engaging as physical intimacy.” In this phase, all physical interactions should be included in the production risk assessment and mitigation agreed by the performing, editorial and production team.

During the preparation stage, guidelines recommend scheduling intimate scenes at the end of the production, allowing extra time for planning shots and storyboarding (given the nature and volume of on-set risk), asking performers  to sanitise their hands, skin and clothing beforehand and using longer lenses to create “a sense of close-up intimacy whilst maintaining a safe distance”, among other suggestions.

Regarding rehearsals, great importance is placed on the trust “between a director, performer and intimacy coordinator”, which “is essential even under normal circumstances.” In addition, the production should implement procedures “to enable performers to feedback on scenes that concern them” as they “should always be able to explore narrative alternatives with the director without the risk of repercussion”, the rehearsal space should be big enough to allow for adequate distancing and initial discussions should be done remotely.

The booklet also contains a list of possible narrative and technical alternatives to show intimacy. Among these examples are characters saying “what they will do to each other” instead of depicting the intimate scene, showing the “closing of a bedroom door”, considering the usage of metaphorical alternatives such as “objects, silhouettes and shadows, dancing, even the preparation and serving of food and the pleasure of eating it”, using angles to “sell proximity”, using split screens, casting real-life couples (a dedicated paragraph highlights the challenges of this practice), and using POV shots to edit bedroom scenes together.

Finally, shooting guidelines include taking and recording temperatures on arrival and after lunch as an indicator of health status, not keeping performers or intimacy coordinators hanging around on set, and considering the usage of multiple cameras to reduce the number of times a scene has to be played.

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