Closure Recap Day 11: How to Shoot (my wife in) a Sex Scene

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  I have recapped each day of shooting, most recently Day 10. Next up, getting near the end.


Spirits are better today. We can see the finish line. We are down to three actors: Catia, Milena and John, and two of them will wrap today. Now, with most of the film in the rear view mirror, it finally hits that we are almost finished.

Not going to be an easy day (what day is) but at least we are back to our home location for the rest of the shoot, which makes all of our lives easier. Now we can focus on sex.

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“I want you to go in there and have sex with another guy. And we’re all going to watch.” (Photo: Beau Genot)

Those familiar with my writing are aware that sexual content frequently pops up in my script. This movie is no exception. I wrote previously about shooting the sex cult scene but today brings on new sexual situations. In multiple scenes Nina is trying to sleep when she hears her neighbors Jack and Prudence either having sex or arguing. And those sounds have to be recorded. A few days ago I mentioned to Milena Govich, who plays Prudence, that we will likely pick it up in post production, and she said “why? Let’s bang it out now.” (Her word choice, not mine). Indeed. We have the equipment and the personnel. Let’s do it now.

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Milena Govich: ready for anything (Photo: Herb Hall)

So while the camera team is working on the next set up, I steal the actors to the other room. How do you direct a sex scene for audio? Say something like “okay, when I say action, pretend you are having sex. Jack, you are enjoying it slightly more than Prudence. And… action!” And they did. Got to hand it to the actors, they jumped in and did it, with gusto. When you hear it in the movie, keep in mind that in reality it was two actors sitting on opposite ends of a couch, in broad daylight, while a boom operator hovers over them with a microphone.

15 minutes of moaning and slapping later, we walked out of that apartment and Greg, our G&E team swing, sat there, grinning. He said “it took me about 10 minutes to figure out you were recording sound in there.” Now that would have been a way to spend my break!

We picture-wrapped Milena, then while preparing to shoot a Nina scene in the kitchen while she is on the phone, we realized we never got the other side of the conversation. So we called Marcelo Tubert who plays Iskandar to see if he was available. He was, so we briefly un-picture wrapped him to grab his scene, and then we moved on.

As time flew quickly and slowly as it does on a film set, day turned to evening and we prepared for the big sex scene. Actually, it’s a near sex scene that is interrupted, but no spoilers here. I had a chance to do some rudimentary blocking with our actors, so we were good to go.

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Nina (Catia Ojeda) and Jack (John Sloan) pretend to take my direction while planning the big scene.

People asked if it was difficult directing and watching my wife in a make-out scene. It was honestly not a problem. First, it is such a technical thing, stringing together beats, moments and camera setups, that it doesn’t feel real or honest (although I hope it does on screen). And second, after nearly two weeks of long days, I was purely interested in getting the shots done correctly, and quickly, so I could go home and get some sleep.

However, we did have two unforeseen obstacles to overcome: first, due to a scheduling conflict with the actor playing Franklin, we had to wrap him yesterday which mean that the fight scene had to happen yesterday. Therefore, our lead actress now has bruises over much of the skin she is about to show on camera (she’s an easy bruiser, I HOPE we didn’t beat her up too much last night). Our makeup artist worked double time and managed to cover her with makeup.

The second obstacle was financial. The art department couldn’t afford a real bed and wisely decided to not grab an abandoned mattress from the highway overpass. Instead they purchased an air mattress. Under sheets and with bed posts (as you can see above) it looks very realistic. However, once our actors started going through the motions there was a loud sound every time they moved. And not a pleasant sound. Basically, a farting sound.

Sure, we can cut out a lot in post production. But it certainly was a mood killer, even more of a mood killer than having a small crew of people watching while the making out occurs.

So we adjusted the blocking to minimize the amount of noise, at least when dialogue was happening. In all of my film studies, no one ever advised “make sure you adjust your sex choreography to minimize mattress farting noises.” Another day, another lesson.


Coming up next: Day 12, the last day of principal photography. Also, it’s my birthday.

Closure Recap Day 3: How to Stage an Orgy

Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun.  I have recapped our last days of prep, day one and day two, and now we move on to day three.


After our difficult and volatile day two, we were all happy to return to our home base. After all, nothing majorly went wrong on the first day, right?

Of course, one has to make it to home base first. I arrived on set on time and ready to forget yesterday’s problems and start the new day fresh when I quickly learned of our latest setback: the grip and electric truck broke down on its way to set. On The 101. I heard grumblings about an alternator needing replacement, and a P.A. was on the way to pick up the crew (who were stranded on the highway) and any “essential” equipment that can go from a large truck to the trunk of a car.

What constitutes “essential” when everything gets used on a near daily basis? And how long was this going to set us back?

We didn’t have the luxury of time to figure that out. Even though we were home it was a complicated first scene. We are dealing with four actors, and a group of “sextras.” More on them later. As we learned yesterday, time is too precious for us to wait. We can’t afford to lose a half day. Or an hour. So what do we do?

Improvise. Our art department quickly stepped in, raiding their own supplies and taking down curtains to become an impromptu grip department:

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Art Department MVPs! Paul and Cameron hold up a curtain from one of our apartments. The golf umbrella is from their collection as well. Notice the back of a framed picture being used as a bounce board.

Amazing. It wasn’t perfect, and the color might be off in some of the shots, but we were well on track when the real G&E team showed up on set. Almost back on schedule.

“Get to the sex orgy, Goldberg!” Ah right, of course. In the first two days I dealt with two actors at a time, or in one scene four actors, but the blocking was mostly simple and the two additional guys weren’t doing much talking.  Today, for the first time, I’m dealing with a complicated scene (on a small indie film, not as complicated as this). This scene involves four principal actors. And five sextras. Nina leaves her apartment to discover the neighbors Jack and Prudence in a fight. Prudence is leaving Jack, bringing her luggage to the curb. He struggles to find out why, all the while Yasmina provides positive “energy” via chanting and incense for Prudence’s journey. Lots of movement back and forth, different setups, and then at the climax of the scene, a blacked-out van appears to whisk Prudence away. And inside the van, a rolling sex party.

After conceiving (yep, a deliberate word choice) this scene, I knew I would need help. I can manage my principal actors and getting the shots I need. But casting and choreographing a moving tableau in a van, where it looks like people are having sex without looking pornographic (meaning, show the sex without showing man and lady parts) is a challenge. Fortunately, I knew where to turn for help. I’ve known Yehuda Duenyas since college and followed his remarkably varied career, which included being part of a sensational off-Broadway theater company, working at Disney’s Imagineering department, creating award-winning commercials and virtual entertainment experiences, and serving an interesting niche as a sex choreographer on Broadway. Also, he lives just a few miles from me in L.A. Weeks prior to shooting we met for lunch and discussed how to make it happen. We had no line item in our already thin budget to hire him, but I pushed Beau and Steve to find a little bit. They did, and he came on board.

And it saved the day. While I was focusing on most of the scene with our principals, Yehuda guided our extras, made them comfortable, and staged exactly how it would work. And when we were ready for them, they were ready for us. And it was fantastic. One of the first times in the process where we made something look how I envisioned it when I wrote it.

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You think I’m actually posting a photo of that? You’ll have to wait, like everyone else…

 

The scene may have taken an entire half day, setting us behind, but it was worth it. We played catch up for the rest of the day, and rushed to an outside location to shoot footage of two characters on a foot bridge, then a car sequence where Nina follows Iskandar, who she thinks will lead her to her sister. A simple shot when you watch it: side view of Nina driving. But practically, another matter. Senda sat in the passenger seat, lugging her camera. In the back seat I was in the middle, wedged between our sound guy (with his pack in the trunk) and Brieana, our first A.C.

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Senda getting it done.

Who would have thought my years of improv training would actually pay off in a real world situation? If you can’t adapt quickly, you will quickly fall behind. The shots need to be made, no matter the obstacle. And if it means contorting your body to keep a camera steady, or taking down part of the set to create makeshift grip gear, so be it. That’s the attitude we need to make our days. Let’s hope we can continue like this. But, let’s hope no more vehicles break down.


Coming up next: A big dinner, and a big farewell to one of our principal cast members.