From left to right: Joy Blake, Alicia Rodis, Nicki Micheaux, and Tanya Saracho

ATX TV Festival 2019: Let’s Talk About Sex (Scenes)

Coming back to Austin TV Festival, I was most excited for this panel, “Let’s Talk About Sex (Scenes).” Just the title itself was enough to hook me in.

Panel Summary

While it’s true that television producers are increasingly aware of the emotional and physical stakes of performers on set, many writers, actors, and directors still struggle with how to safely navigate scenes that contain intimate or sexual content.

Panelists Joy Blake, Tanya Saracho, Nicki Micheaux, and Alicia Rodis discuss empowering both writers and actors and improving safe “sex” practices behind the camera.

Let’s Talk About Sex (Scenes) Panelists

From left to right: Joy Blake, Alicia Rodis, Nicki Micheaux, and Tanya Saracho
From left to right: Joy Blake, Alicia Rodis, Nicki Micheaux, and Tanya Saracho / Photo credit: ChinLin Pan/Geek Gals
  • Tanya Saracho, Creator/Executive Producer of Vida
  • Nicki Micheaux, Actress (Animal Kingdom)
  • Alicia Rodis, HBO’s Intimacy Coordinator
  • Joy Blake, Producer/Writer of Outlander

Panel Recap

"Outlander" producer/writer Joy Blake introduces the rest of the panelists for the "Let's Talk About Sex (Scenes)" panel at Austin TV Festival.
“Outlander” producer/writer Joy Blake introduces the rest of the panelists for the “Let’s Talk About Sex (Scenes)” panel at Austin TV Festival. / Photo credit: ChinLin Pan/Geek Gals

Blake led the discussion as the moderator.

First sex scene filmed?

Blake asked Micheaux what was the first sex scene she filmed. Micheaux shared that no one had helped her prepare for it. The sex scene was a dream sequence and the guy she worked with was great: “For sex scenes, it’s important to let people know what you’re willing to do.”

Micheaux explained how she was fully nude and she had a piece of felt cover her genitals. But the felt would not stick to her skin so she freaked out, understandably so. She brings up a point that it is also about societal judgement–sex scenes are a double-edged sword for women.

Enter the Intimacy Coordinator

Alicia Rodis, Intimacy Coordinator at HBO
Alicia Rodis, Intimacy Coordinator at HBO / Photo credit: Tammy Perez/ATX TV Festival

Luckily, there is a new role in the television industry called an Intimacy Coordinator. Alicia Rodis is an intimacy coordinator for HBO and works on The Deuce. Intimacy coordinators are present as a third party to coordinate sex and intimate scenes, to make sure there is context in the scene, consent among all parties, choreography explained clearly, and closure. The closure can be a moment between actors or a handshake–it is used to acknowledge the work actors do and move on. Rhodes called it a “psychological quarantine”: “Thank your co-worker, we’re at work, let’s move on.”

How should sex scenes be treated?

Nicki Micheaux, actress on "Animal Kingdom"
Nicki Micheaux, actress on “Animal Kingdom” / Photo credit: Tammy Perez/ATX TV Festival

Micheaux reminds us that sex scenes are not treated with care like action and violence scenes with guns. Saracho explains how on her show Vida, they rehearse sex scenes two days before shooting. All the female staff on set communicate and she allows her lead actress to choose the guy she does sex scenes with.

Michaeux calls for an industry-wide standard for sex scenes, particularly for actors who are younger in acting years who are desperate to have work so they say yes to work that comes but may not necessarily know what they have signed up for with the sex scenes.

Micheaux commends Saracho for how she handles coordination of sex scenes with her actors: “We should use what you do on Vida as a model.”

So how should you write a sex scene?

Tanya Saracho, creator and executive producer for Starz's "Vida"
Tanya Saracho, creator and executive producer for Starz’s “Vida” / Photo credit: Tammy Perez/ATX TV Festival

Blake says sex scenes should be scripted like action scenes–specific. And asks the panelists how to write a sex scene. Saracho explains that on Vida, she specifies that minor actions like washing hands and putting condoms on a vibrator are important to include.

Do we have a responsibility to show awkward scenes?

Rodis said yes to not only writers taking on responsibility to show awkward scenes but also that there needs to be the right representation in the writers room and in the process itself.

Micheaux brings up another point: Sex scenes are often an escape and that shows that include a disclaimer for example, if they show a sex scene where people are not using condoms. Micheaux also said that “so much of what we have is objectification. I don’t think art should be burdened with that all the time.”

Rhodes added that we should exercise our creativity but it all needs to be communicated.

How do actors and directors feel about the role that intimacy coordinators add?

Rhodis and Micheaux during the "Let's Talk About Sex (Scenes)" panel
Rhodis and Micheaux during the “Let’s Talk About Sex (Scenes)” panel / Photo credit: ChinLin Pan/Geek Gals

Rodis explained that some actors are grateful for her presence and help on set, while some are already comfortable with doing sex and nudity on screen.

Are people tired of seeing rape used as a troupe?

YES.

Saracho said, “I hope our distaste for it gets so big that it goes away.”

Micheaux added that “There needs to be less of it. In storytelling, if there needs to be rape, we need to see the woman or man react to it in a real way. A lot of people don’t understand the mental journey, the trauma of rape.”

How do we navigate around the euphemisms often used in describing sex?

Micheaux states that the clearer the blueprint in writing the sex scene, the easier it is for actors to embellish and take the scene to a new place.

Featured image credit: ChinLin Pan/Geek Gals

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