British film and TV directors are being encouraged to seek inspiration from classic romances such as Casablanca and ditch depictions of sex altogether when planning intimate scenes under new guidelines for directing during the Covid-19 crisis.
Directors UK, the professional association for screen directors in Britain, suggested some creative alternatives to avoid sex scenes with physical interaction while social distancing is required, in an update to its Directing Nudity and Simulated Sex guidelines, which are focused on safe working during the pandemic.
The guidelines suggest that characters “could be shown fixing their own clothes/re-dressing after the event” or limbs could be depicted “moving under bedclothes”, while another option is to show “the closing of a bedroom door and leave the action to the viewer’s imagination.”
Directors are encouraged to find inspiration by revisiting classic films such as It Happened One Night or Casablanca, which were made under the Hays Code that was introduced in the 1930s and prohibited the depiction of sex on screen in Hollywood.
Bill Anderson, who has directed episodes of Doctor Who and was part of the team who has worked on the guidelines since June, admitted that shows such as I May Destroy You and Normal People, which contain multiple sex scenes, would not abide with the guidelines.
He said that directors and writers would have to come up with different ways to show intimacy, and he encouraged creatives to question whether a sex scene is absolutely necessary. “At this time when so many people are watching TV, I think that audiences are really hungry for intimacy and connection,” said Anderson.
“Intimacy is not biology, it’s about mutual vulnerability, an openness and sharing of trust between human beings. If you shoot a sex scene that doesn’t have intimacy in it you’ve totally failed – what you’ve produced is a poorer cousin of pornography.”
For productions that require sex scenes, alternative ideas from the guidelines include motion capture and digital performances, green screen or animation to “composite the required encounter” and another suggested option is casting real life couples who won’t need to socially distance.
Director Jessica Hobbs, who worked on the forthcoming series of Netflix’s the Crown, said directors needed to think outside the box in order to work safely during the pandemic.
She said: “For the next few months at least, maybe a year we need to be creative in the way we approach intimacy. We’re not saying ‘shut everything down’, we’re saying let’s look at our material and try to make it safe in the current climate.”
In May, the UK’s biggest broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and ITN signed up to guidelines which recommended that on-screen talent does their own makeup, while cast and crew were advised to bring their own cutlery and cups to sets.
That was part of a push to get the industry, which is worth more than £16bn to the UK economy every year, back up and running. Several shows, including Line of Duty, are due to start filming by the end of August as the industry starts to resume after grinding to a halt in March, although some shows – including EastEnders and Top Gear – were able to start shooting by the end of June.