How to Shoot a Sex Scene in a Pandemic: Cue the Mannequins

Of all the bizarre ways in which Covid-19 has affected life in this nation, considered one of the most weird is going down on a soundstage in Los Angeles. That’s the place actors on the CBS cleaning soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” have been taking pictures intimate scenes with mannequins.

“At first, we took out the love scenes, and the show was falling a little flat because we’re all about romance and family interactions,” mentioned Bradley Bell, the govt producer of the CBS daytime drama. “One of the first ideas we had was to bring in mannequins for the intimate scenes and hospital scenes, and it’s working quite well — we’re shooting it from a great distance or in a way you can’t see the form is inanimate.”

How are the performers reacting to their lifeless co-stars? “We’ve had a lot of strange looks and questions like, Do you really want to do this?” Bell mentioned. “But everyone is game. They are getting their first latex kiss.”

Viewers will decide for themselves how lifelike this seems when new episodes of return on July 20. “The Bold and the Beautiful” was considered one of the first TV collection to restart manufacturing after the coronavirus triggered an industrywide shutdown in mid-March. Since then most TV creators have been assembly with their staffs in “Zoom Rooms,” penning plotlines and episodes, not understanding whether or not — and when — they’ll give you the chance to safely seize them on digicam.

Covid-19 has been notably vexing for the writers of TV’s sexiest and most romantic collection as they fight to work out how to painting bodily intimacy — the scenes that draw in viewers and spark Twitter hashtags — whereas protecting their performers protected. So far, producers of exhibits like “Riverdale,” “Dynasty” and “The L Word: Generation Q” are planning on a mixture of security protocols and narrative tips. These embrace aggressive testing of solid and crew, quarantining, on-set medical professionals, digicam wizardry, phantasm and innuendo-laden scripts with subtext paying homage to 1970s TV. (It was an open secret, for instance, that Mary Richards of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was sexually lively, regardless that the collection by no means addressed it.)

And sure, the occasional model.

“Riverdale,” for instance, shut down throughout the closing moments of its characters’ senior 12 months in highschool — a promenade was filmed; commencement was not. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the showrunner of the CW collection, has plans to characteristic mannequins in the viewers at commencement, however not in love scenes. In reality, it’s possible the program’s performers shall be displaying a lot much less pores and skin.

“There’s a weird retro 1950s vibe to ‘Riverdale,’” Aguirre-Sacasa mentioned. “One of the things we sometimes do is suggest sex through coded language — I think we’ll almost lean into that melodrama and suggestive behavior.”

The collection, like others, may also characteristic extra “bottle episodes” — a time period that describes an installment that dives deep into the story of 1 or two characters, typically with a restricted variety of units — in order to assist handle the variety of individuals current throughout filming. But don’t count on to see Archie and Veronica observe social distancing.

“We’ve done mysterious diseases, so my hope is that ‘Riverdale’ will be an escape from the real world, rather than a reflection,” Aguirre-Sacasa mentioned. A beforehand deliberate 5 to six-year time bounce in the plotline may also assist skirt the coronavirus concern.

“Legacies,” a younger grownup drama about vampires and the vampire-adjacent, didn’t have a likelihood to movie a long-anticipated romantic reunion between two of its major characters earlier than manufacturing ceased. (To identify them would spoil the present and inflame hundreds of thousands of followers.) That’s been weighing on the thoughts of Julie Plec, an govt producer who’s strategizing how to ship this payoff in a pandemic.

“Twenty episodes is a long time for nobody kissing, so we have to look at the logistics of how we could make it work, “ Plec said. “Maybe we can mount a separate intimacy unit that has its own quarantine and its own testing. Maybe we could just hire a crew that’s going to shoot our intimacy.”

This pondering is in line with the solutions in a “The Safe Way Forward” a 36-page document crafted in tandem by four major Hollywood unions: SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Teamsters. Among its recommendations is a “zoned” approach to production that limits the number of actors and staff on sets where the use of personal protective equipment isn’t possible. The unions also call for capping workdays at 10 hours to allow for more cleaning time, and Covid-19 testing for all cast and crew that ranges from weekly to rapid (in which results are delivered in 1-12 hours) for actors performing intimate scenes.

It’s the first time in decades that the four groups have released joint protocols. “We’ll definitely see an increase in specially trained professionals on set,” says Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the chief operating officer and general counsel of SAG-AFTRA. He adds that intimacy coordinators — who became fixtures on many productions, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, to ensure the comfort and safety of actors — may also be trained in Covid-19 prevention techniques.

Of course, these problems are not just the province of teen shows. “The L Word: Generation Q,” Showtime’s revival of the groundbreaking series, premiered in December with a graphic 1 minute 20-second long sex scene. These types of moments that can only be depicted on premium services have become a hallmark of the program, which has presented a challenge to the showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan as she and her staff plan the second season.

“I try to write in two different phases.” Ryan said. “I write the dream first and then somebody tells me ‘Your dreams can’t come true.’ Then I try to figure out: What is it about this dream that really matters to me? And I make adjustments from there.”

“My independent film background is going to be really imperative, because in that world you hear ‘no’ all the time,” she added. “I do like puzzles, so maybe it’ll be OK.”

Ryan, like many of the other producers interviewed for this story, is considering limiting guest stars and background actors — it’s going to be a tough time for anyone who makes a living as a television extra — and hiring cast members’ real-world partners. (“The Bold and The Beautiful” has already done this.) Multiple “L Word” stars are dating or married to people who “also happen to be very good actors,” Ryan said.

“Our joke is I’m going to have a lot of wigs, and I’m just going to be in every scene,” she added.

Wigs aside, TV’s showrunners are examining how some cinematic sleights of hand could give the illusion of intimacy. Avoiding romantic situations really isn’t possible on Netflix’s series, “You,” which stars Penn Badgley as a hyper-literate, unhinged stalker with a mounting body count in constant pursuit of his “true love” — so far a different woman each season.

“Smoke and mirrors,” the “You” showrunner Sera Gamble said, “are basically the entire job description of making cinematic entertainment. Everything requires fakery.” (Gamble knows something about cinematic shenanigans — she also ran “The Magicians.”)

“You’ve definitely watched a scene where two people are speaking intimately and not noticed that you’re looking over a stunt double’s shoulder, for example,” she continued. “This season, our particular job is to say, ‘Everybody think of 100 percent of everything you’ve ever done to make something look a certain way on camera, because we’re going to work our way through all of it.’”

The past offers lessons on how not to handle the filming of intimate scenes during an epidemic. The last time Hollywood confronted this issue was in the early 1980s, before many people fully understood how AIDS was spread.

One of those people was Rock Hudson, who had joined the cast of “Dynasty” in 1984 as a love interest for Linda Evans’s Krystle. After reading a script in which his character was supposed to passionately kiss Evans, he agonized over whether to tell the series producers and his co-star that he had AIDS, according to his autobiography, “Rock Hudson: His Story.” Ultimately he did not — instead he gargled lots of mouthwash and performed the kiss with a closed mouth.

As Evans wrote in her own memoir, “Recipes for Life: My Memories,” her puzzlement about “why his kiss was so passionless” gave way to clarity “when the news broke that he had AIDS. In retrospect, it was incredibly touching how hard he tried to protect me.”

This piece of television lore hasn’t come up in conversation among the actors of the CW’s “Dynasty” revival, the showrunner Josh Reims said. Like its predecessor, the show, which was forced to end its third season without filming an eagerly awaited wedding, is known for its sexy, soapy antics. This has Reims and the other writers reaching for creative solutions.

“Phone sex has certainly come up a lot” Reims said, laughing. “I was looking through the first episode written before all this, and basically removed everything that said, ‘And then they kiss.’”

“The joke among the writers,” he added, “is that we will watch two characters say they want to have sex and then cut to them saying, ‘That was some great sex.’”

Reims is hoping that when the show returns to the air next spring, Covid-19 — and the challenges of plotting and filming intimate scenes — will have subsided. Regardless, you won’t see the Carringtons in face masks.

“No one,” he said, “is watching ‘Dynasty’ to be reminded of a pandemic.”

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